Scotland has always been on the plan, we just needed wheels to do it. With our bright red Land Rover (Clifford) set up for self sufficient travelling, we are off to explore the UK.
With other campers recommending the famous North Coast 500, we point our wheels north and off we go. Our plans are fairly fluid and Inverness is the direction in which we head.
Scotland Is great for campers. They have access rights that allow you to wild camp on most pieces, as long as you are out of sight of any housing etc.. This differs slightly if you are a camper van, roof tent etc… as the car can only be 13m from a road, but this still enables you to find may secret spots down farm roads. We are super lucky camping in Scotland as we have some of the most amazing views, better than any camp grounds we have paid to stay at. The downside is obviously no facilities (our ablutions are now on a tight schedule), but being alone with magical views is amazing!
The North Coast 500 starts in Inverness, you can either take a clockwise or anti clockwise route, the views on the west coast being more spectacular. Scotland has been enjoying a beautiful summer but as soon as we arrive it turns cold and wet (more like winter than summer), not the start we were hoping for.
We drive from Inverness to John O Groats on our first day, the whole east side of the route. We don’t expect to cover so much distance in one day but the roads are easy and we are happy just to keep driving rather than stop. The exception is for Debrobnin castle which looks like something out of a fairytale. It is truly beautiful and we spend 3 hours walking through the castle and gardens. The falcon show is mesmerising and the whole thing is well worth a visit.
We make a quick stop at Keiss beach and the Flores ruins (not much more than a wall of bricks) on our way to the top of the east coast to arrive at John o Groats. The weather is cold and miserable and we are searching for a place to camp for the night.
We managed to find a camping spot up a 4wd only track near the lighthouse at the most Northern point of the UK. This camp spot was rather exposed although we managed to hide behind the brick ruins of a house. Huddling round the small fire that Sam managed to make out of scattered twigs, we make a very quick dinner and then head to the comfort of bed.
Unfortunately the day dawns as miserable as the night before and find we are completely enshrouded in fog. After layering as much warm clothing as is possible we head off exploring.
Our visit to the light house at Dunnet Head is in vain as the fog is too thick to see anything other than ourselves. We can imagine how amazing it would be on a good day. Thank goodness for Clifford and his heated seats as we continue our North Coast 500 journey. The Highland cattle at Strathy point lighthouse are just beautiful.
Ceannabeinne beach is fun as you are able to take a flying fox from one end of the beach to the other. It is late but we make one last stop to look at Smoo caves before we find camp. We are lucky to come across a farm road that leads to the top of a hill overlooking Balnakeil bay. This campsite is exposed to the elements but is private and the view is awesome.
Kinlochbervie (a small port ) is our first stop. The weather has started to clear up a little and the drone shots over Laxford bridge are beautiful. Scorie bay is a gorgeous beach to have a walk around and a stop for lunch.
Between Unapool and Lochhinver provides many beautiful places to stop and take photos along the way. As the sun is shining we make the walk up the hill to see the Stoer lighthouse, where we found another herd of highland cows completely blocking the road. We are able to close enough to get some great pictures and I even manage to pat them.
We make a quick stop off at the castle Elphin which is now a ruin and then onto the town of Ullapool. The public bathrooms here had showers and they are hot! This is beyond exciting for two travellers that had not had a decent shower in 4 days. It is Football world cup semi final night so we are off to a local pub to watch the game.
We wake to sunshine that inspires us to get out and walk.
It is a quick re organise of Clifford and then onto Ardessie falls. As we want to keep making tracks we moved onto little Gruinard beach, a beautiful beach where the sand has a pink tinge to it. The sun was shining so a drone flight was well needed to capture the beautiful surroundings.
Stopping off at Victoria falls (think mini Zambia Victoria falls)
we are so very lucky to come across a beautiful deer that was more than happy to pose for photos and let us get close. Torriden has many deer in the area and if you don’t manage to see any on the side of the road, there is a deer park near the Torriden visitors centre where you can walk around and get up close and personal with the local deer.
A free campsite in Torriden was an ideal place for us to spend our fourth night camping. A tiny field with a a shower and toilet block was perfect for travellers on a budget. Although this campsite is free they do accept donations to help maintain the facilities. We are happy to be here in the warmth.
An unusual sleep in this morning was a luxury. Today we get to do the most scenic drive of the whole North Coast 500, including the famous Bealach na Ba scenic route. This is the most beautiful drive along single track roads. The drone and camera activity means that the drive takes time but the spectacular scenery and results are worth it.
The road is not recommend for camper vans as the they are very narrow and you have to be prepared to reverse at any point.
We have planned now to go to the Isle of Skye as a detour. We are so close so thought we should. We have a quick stop to use the public showers in Kyle of Lochaish, thankfully we are finding it easier and easier to find public showers along the west coast. Isle of Skye is accessible by car or ferry depending on where you would like to view the island from. We choose to drive and set up camp in a gorgeous meadow overlooking Loch Slapin. We spend our evening having dinner amongst a herd of cows and sheep keeping a watchful eye on us.
Rain… a lot of rain. This is not what we were hoping for but I guess you just never know what the weather is going to do in Scotland. Not wanting to waste our time in the Isle of Skye we headed towards the Fairy Falls up north. As the Isle of Skye has limited roads especially main roads it does take awhile to get places with not a lot of direct route options available. By the time we arrive at Fairy Falls the rain is torrential and completely horizontal. The Fairy Falls themselves are beautiful with pool after pool flowing from waterfalls. Sam opted to have a swim as we were already drenched.
As most of our activities that we planned to do on the Isle of Skye are outdoors this weather is challenging us. We decide to go through the Talisker distillery. Super interesting learning about how whisky is made. Stopping for a bite to eat at the local pub to warm up and get dry we try to come up with a new plan. As the weather wasn’t looking to clear for another week or so we decided to make a beeline back to mainland Scotland and finish off our North Coast 500 route in Inverness.
The drive took us through Scotland country sides and past numerous lochs. Tonight we sleep on the side of loch ness and although I sleep with an eye open there is still no sighting of the great Nessie.
We are finished!!! Overall the North coast 500 has been a lot of fun and a great experience. It is a shame about the weather being so wet but I guess that all adds to the character of Scotland. Personally I would do it all over again just to see those beautiful cows. The North Coast 500 truly is one of the most scenic drives we have ever been on with massive scale open landscapes. The beaches along the north coast have water as clear as the Mediterranean. We would love to go back when it is warm enough to swim. We now head south back to England to warm up and hopefully find some sun!