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An adventure along the North Coast 500

Published on: 10/07/23

We can’t deny our tribe are a pretty adventurous bunch! Back in June, co-owners Mel and Dave and their two dogs set out on the ultimate Scotland Road trip along the North Coast 500, here’s how it went:

By Melissa Daborn 

The NC500 begins in Inverness and circles around the coast of the Scottish Highlands. The total distance is 516 miles and our transport for the trip was our trusty campervan Bertie (a ford transit minibus that we converted last year). The Highland scenery was as breath-taking as one would imagine, made even more exciting by the single-track country roads and hairpin bends. We decided to do the NC500 route anti-clockwise, we had read this was the most popular route and decided we would rather be stuck in traffic then facing it!


Day 1 – Inverness to Dornoch – 65 miles


Our first stop after exploring Inverness was the seaside town of Dornoch. What surprised us the most about the trip was how stunning the beaches are, we were expecting glorious mountains and scenery but had not anticipated the white sandy beaches and crystal-clear water.

We first discovered this in Dornoch, we woke up after our first night’s sleep at the campsite and walked a very short distance over the dunes to Dornoch beach. It was peacefully quiet, and we spent some time taking in the scenery while the dogs ran around and stretched their legs before returning to the van for our next stop.

Day 2 – Dornoch to John O’Groats – 91 miles

Our first stop on day 2, was Dunrobin Castle. Dunrobin Castle is the most northernly and largest of Scotland’s Great houses. We enjoyed an hour or so taking in the history and watching the falconry displays before jumping back in the van for a short drive to Brora beach, another stunning beach where we stopped for a walk and lunch. Our next stop after refuelling was the Whaligoe Steps.

Whaligoe Haven is one of the most remarkable harbours in Scotland, surrounded on three sides by 250-foot cliffs and can be reached by the steps which zigzag down the cliffside. Once we had climbed back up the steps and got our breaths back, we jumped back in the van to our next stop, Castle Sinclair Girnigoe. The ruins of this spectacular castle teeter precariously on a cliff edge and we had to peel ourselves away from the stunning views to make it to John O’Groats.

After setting up camp for the night, our first stop was to the infamous John O’Groats signpost, this was installed in 1964 to mark 'Journey's End'; the very top tip of mainland UK. The evening was then spent watching the sunset from the roof of the van and keeping our eyes peeled for Killer Whales and Dolphins which are commonly spotted in the area.


Day 3- John O’Groats – Durness – 90 miles


Although no whales or dolphins were spotted, we woke up well rested ready to head to our first stop of the day which was Duscansby Stacks. The Stacks lie just off the shore of Duncansby Head on the most north-eastern point of mainland Britain. These towering sea stacks are believed to have stood in this position for the last 6000 years! It was a lovely walk to the stacks and just off the cliff on the walk up we were fortunate enough to see hundreds of puffins.

Our next stop was the Castle of Mey, this picturesque castle, surrounded by beautifully manicured gardens, was the Queen Mother's beloved summer residence. We then drove further west where the scenery really got spectacular. We stopped several times on route to our campsite to take in the view and dip our toes in the crystal-clear waters.

Day 4- Durness to Scourie – 30 miles

The drive from Durness to Scourie was stunning, the dramatic mountains on either side of the single-track roads made us feel like we were driving through a Lord of the Rings set. After seeing that the campsite in Scourie was on the beach, we decided to park up for the rest of the day and hit the water on our paddle boards.

After a chilled afternoon paddle boarding with the dogs in tow, we headed on a search for Highland Cows. It didn’t take us long to find some and we very much enjoyed watching the woolly coos chilling in their field before heading over to the campsite pub (which was inside a spar!).


Day 5 – Scourie to Laide via Ullapool – 84 miles

Another beautiful drive awaited us so, after a quick morning paddle, we jumped back in the van and started our next day of travelling. Our first stop on route was to Ardverk Castle, a marvellously scenic ruined fortress in a magnificent location.

With several photo breaks on route to enjoy the views, our next stop was the picturesque fishing town of Ullapool, nestled on the shores of Lochbroom. We had a lovely walk around the town and stocked up on supplies at the small Tesco there.

We had planned to stay in Ullapool overnight but, as we had seen all we wanted to see, and it was still early, we decided to carry on to our next stop, the Falls of Measach.  These waterfalls are an impressive 46-metre-high with a pleasant walking route and Visitors Centre (with good snacks!).

We drove another 40 miles to a campsite in Laide, a small village. We parked up at the first campsite along and fortunately for us they had one Campervan Pitch left - we are glad they did because it was stunning.

We parked up a stone’s throw away from a very small beach with the calmest and clearest sea we had seen yet. At 10.30pm that evening we headed out for a sunset paddle, which was surreal. The water was so still, and the sky was a beautiful purply orange colour which reflected off the sea. We were joined by seals who popped up along the shoreline, it really was a WOW moment and possibly my highlight from the trip.

Day 6 – Laide to Applecross - 70 miles




We had read that this part of the journey had the most challenging roads, and this was not wrong. However, as we live in the Lake District, we aren’t strangers to ‘exciting’ roads, so didn’t find it too bad. The most difficult thing was taking on the steep inclines in such a large and clumsy vehicle.

Despite the roads the scenery was stunning, and on a few of our stops we got to marvel at the stunning backdrop of the Islands of Skye and Rasaay. At one of our parking stops we were greeted by a very chilled out and friendly wild red deer. The regal chap was not spooked by people or the moving vehicles and was even being fed biscuits by some other visitors.

We pulled up for some lunch in the lovely village of Sheildaig, which has a population of 85! It only had a small shop, a hotel and a pub. Shieldaig Island lies just opposite the village and is a bird sanctuary owned by the Scottish National Trust, which Sea Eagles have nested in recent years.

We then continued our journey to Applecross, deciding not to drive the Bealach na Ba road on this occasion. This single-track road rises over 2,000 feet (0.61 km) at its highest point and is famous for being one of the most scenic drives in the world -  as well as one of the most dangerous due to its tight hairpin bends. We had read that it was not suitable for large vehicles, so opted to take the slightly longer and more coastal route into Apple Cross.

Day 7- Applecross to Inverness – 80 miles

We woke up in the Applecross campsite on our final day of the NC500, Applecross is a beautiful place, and it has a wonderful “end of the world” feel about it.

Fun fact: the primary school in Applecross has only 9 students! After having a mooch around the town we hit the road back towards Inverness to end our road trip.


Embarking on a journey along the NC500 is a truly unforgettable experience. From enchanting natural wonders to historic castles and picturesque beaches, the route offers a myriad of attractions that cater to all interests. Whether you're a nature enthusiast, a history buff, or are simply seeking adventure, the NC500 has something for everyone. So, juice up your car, pack your bags, and get ready to embark on a road trip filled with breath-taking landscapes, cultural discoveries, and unforgettable memories. The NC500 awaits!

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