scotland north coast 500

The North Coast 500 – Reaching the north coast of Scotland

When I last left you on our North Coast 5000 journey we had stopped in Gairloch, just 150 miles in and starting to climb up the West coast. This next instalment of our journey takes us all the way up and along the North coast of Scotland, to the highest point in the UK and to some of the most beautiful beaches we’ve ever seen. So let’s pick straight up where we left off!

Day 4 – Ullapool – 198 miles in

Ullapool is the biggest settlement in the north west of Scotland and the harbour there is a hub of activity, even now. When we arrived we were quite excited to find an actual town (with a Tesco!) as we’d been getting used to seeing only tiny villages up until that point. We stopped for the night in a hotel car park that allowed camper van stopovers. In exchange we bought a drink in the bar and then ventured into town.

The town wasn’t huge but there were some souvenir shops, pubs and chippys, and it was just nice to feel a sense of civilisation, albeit still a very peaceful one. The car park at the hotel was smooth new tarmac so we cooked dinner and played about on our skateboards for the evening. After dinner we decided to walk back in to town and ‘accidentally’ stumbled across a second dinner from the chip shop…

Ullapool is definitely a great place to stop along the NC 500 route, the town seems to get pretty lively at night and there are lots of nice pubs for food or a drink (or two).

Day 5 – Sandwood Bay – 261 miles in

After we left Ullapool we drove further up the west coast through Lochinver, stopping along the way to take a look at the remains of Ardvreck Castle. Eventually we reached Sandwood Bay and we had officially crossed the half way point of our journey.

The beach there was so beautiful that it was almost comparable to the Caribbean. The sea was crystal clear and blue, and it was so sunny. We only had a few hours parking on the van, but we met a lovely couple there that told us to drive just a bit further up to Durness as the beaches were even more amazing up there. And so we did. And they were right.

Day 5 – Durness – 294 miles in

We decided to get a campsite up at Durness as it was right on the cliff edge and looked beautiful (plus we needed to do some washing and have an actual shower!). It was by far one of the most amazing beaches we’ve ever seen. The sun was shining, we played darts, cards and ate dinner whilst watching the sunset. The north coast of Scotland was blowing us away with how beautiful the coastline was.

The next day we watched the sun rise over the beach before breakfast. It was such a peaceful and unspoiled place as it was such a long drive to get too that it doesn’t get flooded with tourists like many other beaches in the UK. We also took a walk further up the cliff top to Smoo Cave. This is the biggest cave opening in the UK and was used as a home for many different generations, going back thousands of years.

We didn’t take the tour through to the smallest part of the cave, but it was so interesting to see. And as expected, surrounded by a beautiful beach. On the walk back we learnt of the John Lennon memorial that had been put there. He used to holiday in Durness as a young boy and they’d held a festival and put up memorial stones in his honour. We were very definitely in love with Durness, so we decided to move on to the next beach town to see if that was just as wonderful.

Day 6 – Dunnet head – 380 miles in

We had originally set off in search of Thurso as we were told it was a surf town. We arrived and saw a surf school going out, but we had been expecting something more like the Cornish surf towns we were used, which sadly it wasn’t. But the beach was another beautiful sandy street and the sun was just beginning to set, so we stopped for an evening walk along the beach before moving on.

That’s when we saw signs to Dunnett Head, the furthest point in Scotland (and the UK). There was a lighthouse there that marked the furthest point and the car park was free to stay in, so we decided to stop overnight. There was nothing else around, but we it was a great to know we’d reached the furthest point we could on our journey and it made a great overnight stopping place.

Day 7 – John O’Groats – 387 miles in

We left Dunnett Head fairly early and drove to the next point of interest, a town called John O’Groats. This is a popular spot for boat tours, especially if you’re hoping to see some of the birds or marine life that can be found in Scotland. It’s a smallish town with a few shops and cafes to be enjoyed when you arrive.

After a look around we took the opportunity to stop and choose our next location to stop for the night. We had now officially hit the East coast and were beginning to head back down towards the finish line at Inverness.

And so once again I’ll leave it there. We are now seven days and 387 miles into our journey and still loving the adventure. In the final post I’ll share our drive back down along the East coast, finishing at a skatepark (yep, a skatepark) in Inverness.