Reblogged from hollydixon.co.uk with kind permission from Holly. She’s a yoga instructor, reiki practitioner and an all round awesome human! Holly and her partner Chris were the first people to rent Homer in August 2020, they took their paddleboards up to Scotland and drove the epic NC500 route.
We’ve just got back from an incredible 9 day adventure with Homer; driving, exploring and paddle-boarding around the North Coast 500 in Scotland. We returned from Scotland questioning, could we move there in the future? No joke, it’s utterly beautiful. From the incredible mountain range, to the white sandy beaches, turquoise sea (like the Caribbean!), endless lochs and beautiful wildlife. It’s a perfect escapism from city life, but definitely pack your woolly socks!
The best bit about travelling the North Coast 500 is the incredible scenery along the North and West Coast. It’s pretty spectacular! From lochs, mountains, munros, white sandy beaches, turquoise sea and endless wildlife… there is so much to stop and take in but thankfully we had ample opportunities to pull in at the side of the road and capture the beauty of the Scottish highlands.
The North Coast 500 starts and ends in Inverness, although this isn’t 100% necessary. You can take the route clockwise or anticlockwise. It’s completely up to you. We chose to go up the east coast first as we wanted to save the best for last. If you drive clockwise you will climb the Apple Cross pass, also referred to as the Bealach na Bà. If anticlockwise you will wind your way down.
There are a few sections of the North Coast 500 (including the Apple Cross pass) which require you to drive down a single track country road. If you’re not a confident driver, maybe opt for the passenger seat. There are lots of pull-ins along the way making it accessible for tourists but you may need to back up once or twice.
Inverness > Loch Fleet > John O’Groats > Betty Hill > Tongue > Balnakeil > Scourie > Clachtoll > Achmelvich > Ullapool > Gairloch > Sheildaig > Apple Cross > Inverness
The route is pretty much signposted the whole way from Inverness. You will follow many campervans, cyclists and sports cars also exploring the route. Along the way you can stop off at small villages, castles, distilleries, beaches, lochs and woodlands. To ensure you see the incredible landscapes it has to offer, always choose the more scenic, narrow routes. Unless of course, you’re in a huge camperbus!
Our Favourite North Coast 500 Drives:
Kinlochewe > Apple Cross
Applecross Pass (Bealach na Bà)
Balnakeil > Scourie
On the way up we stayed around Brig o’ Turk, Loch Lomond (the less touristy side) and on the way back to Leeds we stayed near Glasgow, passing through Glencoe and Fort William which was pretty spectacular!
We drove around the North Coast 500 in 6 days and we had 1.5 days either side. In total we travelled for 9 days from Leeds and we were happy with our choice but could of easily had an extra one or two days to relax. (Or weeks if we had more time!) In total we travelled 1360 miles (remember you’ve got to get there and back, plus you might want to go off-piste!) and spent £266 in diesel. We stopped at a petrol station in Inverness and Ullapool.
You can travel the North Coast 500 on a budget. Your biggest expense is going to be the cost of the campervan and fuel. It is a pretty rural trip with limited restaurants, bars and attractions, so stock up on food, drink and essentials before you set off.*
Breakdown of Essential Costs:
*Hire of campervan = £80 – £120 a night
*Cost of petrol/diesel = £260 (from Leeds, West Yorkshire)
*Cost of stocking up the campervan = £100 (food, drinks & snacks)
*Campsites (£20-25 a night)
*Attractions (many are free)
*Eating and drinking out (limited)
*Hire of outdoors equipment
*As much as we like to travel on a budget we think it’s important to support local businesses… please stop at the cute coffee shops along the way, visit local tourist attractions and drop-in to a campsite every few nights.
Prepare yourself for every season in Scotland even if BBC Weather tells you otherwise! On our 9 day trip we experienced cloudy days, rainy days, windy days, sunny days and even experienced a bit of hail. (Yes, in summer!) If you plan to go wild swimming, paddleboarding, kayaking or any other outdoor sport I would 100% recommend packing a wetsuit. We braved a dip in the sea one morning without our wetsuits on and boy was it cold!!
Download Park4night app for camping spots
Fill up on petrol in big towns and cities (!)
Stock up on food, drink and essentials beforehand (it’s remote!)
Use the provided pull-ins only on your side of the road
Prepare for every season (pack your waterproofs)
Explore wild camping spots but respect locals**
Support local businesses along the way
Pack midge repellent spray and citronella candles
Set off early if you’re not a confident driver
Wave at your fellow campervanners (!) and support cyclists
*Please respect wild camping spots in Scotland by taking your rubbish with you and tidying up before you depart. Follow: @leaveitbetterco
*Our favourite wild camping spot was along the drive from Shieldaig to Apple Cross. Stunning sunset and no midges! It’s on the Park4Night app.
The best bit about travelling the North Coast 500 is the incredible scenery along the North and West Coast. It’s pretty spectacular! From lochs, mountains, munros, white sandy beaches, turquoise sea and endless wildlife… there is so much to stop and take in!
You will have ample opportunities to pull in at the side of the road and capture the beauty of the Scottish highlands. Here are 10 places to visit along the North Coast 500..
Apple Cross Pass: climb the famous ‘Bealach na Bà’
Clachtoll: a cute fishing village with lots of wildlife
Achmelvich Bay: white sands and turquoise waters
Balnakeil Beach: sand dunes and the famous ‘Smoo Cave’
Dunnet Head: the most northerly point in Scotland
Betty Hill: long stretch of beach with pristine waters
Sheildaig: a cute village perfect for a sunset paddle or beer
Dunrobin Castle: explore it’s beautiful botanical gardens
Ullapool: grab some seafood at The Seafood Shack or chippy!
Tongue: Take in the beautiful views from Castle Varrich
I hope this blog post has provided you with a little insight into how to travel around Scotland’s famous North Coast 500. We had a wonderful time and I’m sure you will too!