Scotland’s North Coast 500 – To the finish in Inverness.

Scotland’s North Coast 500 is fast becoming a ‘must do’ experience for motorhome owners as well as bikers, drivers using B&B’s as well as anyone else who loves incredible scenery, history and an incredible driving experience. Our journey in our 7.5 metre motorhome has seen us witness beautiful coastlines, deep lochs, isolated communities as well as the full spectrum of weather, from torrential rain to blue sky and sunshine.

In my previous NC500 blog about our journey from Scourie to Kyle of Tongue I mentioned the rugged scenery but as you travel through the villages of Bettyhill and Melvich on the actual north coast of Scotland the scenery quickly changes from rugged peaks to undulating moorland and coastal cliffs. Fields start to appear as the land becomes more fertile. Halfway between Bettyhill and Melvich the road becomes two lanes and you feel like you might soon see civilisation once again!

As well as stunning scenery this area has an infamous history. As we drove through the ruined houses in Bettyhill we were wondering how the village got its strange name. It turns out that Bettyhill is named after the Countess of Sutherland who created the village to accommodate evicted tenants of the Highland clearances to create sheep farms in 1814.

We continued our drive east towards the town of Thurso and the rest of Caithness. It’s on this road that you will see Dounreay nuclear power station, which is being decommissioned.

When we reached Thurso we parked our motorhome in the car park near the harbour and took a stroll around the harbour area and along the beach front. There is plenty of parking for motorhomes near the harbour and this is good to see.

Thurso beach

Thurso was an important place in Norse times but we didn’t find much to interest us. The town seemed quite drab to us but maybe that was because it was a grey Sunday. After a quick coffee in a pleasant cafe near the beach we headed off again to Dunnet Bay. There is a good beach here and this is where you will also find the Dunnet Bay Distillery which is well known for its Rock Rose Gin and Holy Grass Vodka. You can also drive out to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point in mainland UK, and here you can see the lighthouse built in 1831 by Robert Stevenson.

I’m at John O Groats

After the obligatory visit to John O Groats, named after a Dutchman named Groot who had a house here in 1488, and a distance of 876 miles from Lands End, we headed south towards Wick.

Wick has a very interesting history and is where my wife’s ancestors once lived. There is even a ruined castle named after one of them! If you ever visit Wick, and are interested in history, then a visit to The Wick Heritage Centre is a must. It was in the early 19th century that Wick rapidly developed into Europe’s largest herring fishing port. At its peak there were over 1,000 ships in the harbour, 16 firms processing the herring into barrels and hundreds of people employed included many women who were responsible for the herring packing. You won’t find any herring boats in the harbour now because greedy over-fishing eventually led to the demise of the herring industry in Wick.

Whist in Wick we stayed at Wick Campsite. It’s a nice site with good sized pitches but the toilet and shower building needs demolishing and rebuilding with something more modern!

The final leg of our Scotland NC500 motorhome adventure took us from Wick to Inverness on the A9. The road follows the spectacular coast road where we stopped a couple of times to admire the views.

We spent, in total,  just over 2 weeks in Scotland and covered about 1,300 miles. We didn’t do as much ‘wild camping’ as we had hoped. As motorhome ‘newbies’ we preferred campsites although these campsites were in amazing locations. The best location we stayed at was Ardmair Point near Ullapool as the views were incredible and we were parked up a few feet from the sea. We met very nice people on the way and we both wore shorts throughout the whole trip!

The Scotland NC500 is a journey we can highly recommend and you won’t find such amazing scenery anywhere else in the UK. driving the Scotland NC500 was fine in a motorhome, although being novice motor homers we didn’t see as many of the tourist attractions as we could have done because parking was often difficult. I would like to see more parking available, especially for motorhomes, at interesting tourist spots.

One final point I would like to mention is about the infamous Scottish midges. They were not as bad as I was expecting. We were only ‘attacked’ by midges once or twice on the whole trip and I only suffered 3 midge bites, but maybe that was because midges don’t like strong winds and rain, of which there was plenty!

Other blogs about the route include Scotland’s Route 66

Scotland’s NC500 – Scourie to Kyle of Tongue

The road from Scourie to Durness on Scotland’s North Coast 500 is spectacular. The A838 is mostly single track but there are passing places every 100 metres or so. I had read much beforehand about how local drivers don’t give way to motorhomes on Scotland’s NC500 but our experience was that all the drivers we encountered were considerate and we had no problems at all. The landscape between Scourie and Durness has some of the most complex geology in Britain. The whole area is rock with sparse vegetation and it gives the whole area a prehistoric feel. You almost expect a dinosaur to rear up from behind a rock.

The open spaces make driving on single track roads fairly easy because you can see way ahead of you so if you see a vehicle driving towards you it’s easy to pull into a passing place. The passing places also allow you to let faster vehicles such as local traffic, and bikers (of which there are many) overtake you. You don’t want to be driving fast when there is so much to look at.

Scotland NC500 single track road

The North Coast 500 official map says that you need to be able to reverse confidently 100 metres along a single-track road before you attempt this drive. Whilst this may be true we found that we did not have to reverse at all because I always pulled into a passing place when I was aware of on-coming traffic.

One place I forgot to mention in my first blog about the Scotland NC500 is the pretty village of Kylesku and the magnificent Kylesku Bridge which is south of Lochinver. It’s worth a stop in the village where there are boat trips in the summer to Kerrachar Gardens and the waterfalls. It’s also worth a stop at the parking area at one end of the Kylesku Bridge so you can admire its 276 metre span and 24 metre height.

Kylesku Bridge

Durness is the remotest and least populated community in the UK There are spectacular cliffs around Durness and they reach 190 metres high at Clo Mor. A radar station was built in Durness in 1940 as part of an early warning system and hundreds of personnel worked here. New buildings were built after the war but never used although they are used today as Balnakeil Craft Village. Our favourite place here was Cocoa Mountain, a chocolate shop, café and factory.

Sango Sands just outside Durness is also worth visiting. The beach here is stunning and there is a motorhome campsite on the cliffs which is worth staying at. We found a rock on the beach to sit on and had our lunch here. You will also find Smoo Cave here and there is also a zip wire ride for the more adventurous visitor.

Sango Sands, Near Durness

After Durness the road continues as single track and winds its way around famous Loch Eriboll. 10 miles long and 130 metres deep in places Loch Eriboll has long been used as an anchorage for ships. Norwegian King Haakon and his fleet of Viking ships anchored here in 1263. In 1937 HMS Hood anchored here for 9 days and in May 1945 the loch was the site of the surrender of over 30 German U-boats.

Our next stop for the night was at the stunning Kyle of Tongue There is a causeway and bridge here with parking areas at either end. We parked up for the night at one end of the causeway and watched the sun go down over the water with Ben Loyal mountain in the distance.

Cocoa Mountain Durness

Scotland’s North Coast 500

After driving through the popular tourist destinations of Glencoe and Fort William we stopped overnight at Morvich, a stunning location surrounded by mountains. It rained most of the night and when it rains in Scotland it really does rain, there is no such thing as drizzle in Scotland it’s torrential! This is where we joined Scotland’s North Coast 500. The next few days will see us drive through some of the best scenery in the UK and one of the remotest and least populated parts of The British Isles.

After Morvich we drove north up the side of Loch Carron, through Shieldaig and Kinlochewe where we stayed at Sands Campsite. Due to all the rain over the last few days the ground was fairly wet but firm but the views were fantastic. We could see the Isle of Skye and The Outer Hebrides from our pitch. By the way, the shower and toilet facilities at Sands are excellent and worth mentioning.

Sands Campsite

The next morning, we set off with a plan to drive to Ullapool about 56 miles further north. The drive took us past amazing scenery and the historical Loch Ewe. Loch Ewe was used as a naval base between 1939 and 1945. It’s a natural deep-water sea loch that links to The Atlantic Ocean and used by Arctic convoys taking vital supplies to Murmansk in northern Russia. Loch Ewe was protected by anti-aircraft guns a boom net and a mine defence system to protect the ships from German submarines and air attacks. There is a museum here dedicated to the Arctic convoys and the men who bravely lost their lives. The 56-mile drive took us several hours because there were so many panoramic viewpoints to stop off at.

A few years ago, we used the Ullapool to Stornoway ferry to spend a week on The Outer Hebrides. On that ferry journey, we had seen a fantastic campsite on the headland that we had planned to stay on. When we arrived, however, it was far too boggy to stay. A sign saying “Call us if you get stuck and need a tow out of the mud” said it all really so we left and found probably the best campsite so far at Ardmair Point, 3 miles north of Ullapool. The views from this campsite are truly breath-taking and we parked up only a few feet from the water’s edge.

Ardmair Point camping near Ullapool
Ullapool sea front

Whilst it was tempting to stay an extra night at Ardmair Point we decided to press on and head up the A894 to Scourie where stayed on the cliff top at Scourie campsite. It was a well spent £20 and we treated ourselves to an evening meal at The Scourie Hotel where I had ‘chicken in a basket’ for the first time in many years. The food menus from the 70’s are the best!

The scenery so far has been breath-taking and The North Coast 500 is living up to expectations. The route is popular with Germans and we have seen plenty of other motorhomes and convoys of bikers, all of whom are very considerate and gave us a wave when we let them past on the narrow roads.

Tomorrow we will be driving further north and to the northern most part of mainland UK, and this is when we will encounter a lot of single track roads. I can’t wait!

Glencoe in the mist and glorious camping by Loch Linnhe

I was looking forward to the drive through Glencoe to Fort William but we didn’t see much of the stunning scenery at all. The A82 that runs through Glencoe was almost like the M62 on a bad day. Huge lorries, and dozens of coaches taking tourists to the popular sight seeing spots as well as driving rain, low cloud and mist don’t make for the best of driving conditions, especially in a motorhome, so it was a frustrating experience. I even drove straight past the entrance to the the Glencoe Visitor centre, as I was focusing on driving, so had to do a complicated u-turn in Glencoe village itself to get back to it.

Glencoe, of course, is infamous for the Glencoe massacre that took place on the 13 February 1692 when the Campbells massacred 38 members of the MacDonalds family.

As we travel further north on our motorhome tour of Scotland we are discovering places that we have not visited before. Yesterday we were in Killin and tonight we are staying at the Bunree campsite in Onich, 6 miles south of Fort William. Our motorhome is parked at the water’s edge of Loch Linnhe and has breathtaking views of the mountains. We arrived in pouring rain but the sun came out shortly after to reveal spectacular views of Loch Linnhe. If we were staying in a hotel we would have paid a huge amount of money to have such a special view.

Our motorhome was parked right up to the waters edge as you can see from the photo below.

Bunree camp site overlooking Loch Linnhe

The Scottish Highlands are wonderful and as we drive along we are witnessing some of the best scenery in the world.

Keeping and updating this blog about our motorhome adventure is a bit of a challenge, because obtaining a good internet connection is not easy. Back in Leeds I was used to a 70 mbps  internet connection and I could download large files in minutes. In the Scottish Highlands I’m lucky if I can get any connection at all and when I do get one it is frustratingly slow. Uploading images is a problem so I am tending to use my smartphone for taking images, rather than my proper camera, because the file sizes are smaller.

Tomorrow we are heading for Morvich and we will be joining the North Coast 55 route.