The Challenges and Triumphs of Vanlife on the North Coast 500

With its stunning landscapes, windswept beaches, and a smattering of picturesque hamlets, Scotland’s North Coast 500, or NC500, has rightfully earned its place as a top choice for the adventurous ‘vanlifer’. Yet, like every journey of significance, traversing the NC500 in a van does come with its unique set of challenges and triumphs. This article will guide you through the bumps and highlights of embarking on a vanlife journey along this iconic route.

1. Navigating the Route

Starting at Inverness and hugging the northernmost edges of the Scottish mainland, the NC500 takes you on a breathtaking journey. Yet, the narrow, single-track roads in many sections of the route can be a test of both driving and patience. Manoeuvring a van around tight bends or backing up into passing places for oncoming traffic can be daunting, especially if you are new to driving larger vehicles.

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However, don’t let this dissuade you. With a bit of practice and alertness, navigating these roads can become a triumph in its own right.

2. Weather Woes and Wins

The unpredictable Scottish weather is a challenge that vanlifers must be prepared to face. Rain can come without warning, turning those stunning vistas into a grey blur. A chilly gust could whip up at any time, making it important to have warm clothes on hand, even in summer.

Yet, the changing weather also contributes to the visual drama of the landscapes. The dramatic play of light and shadow as the clouds roll in can create breathtaking photographic opportunities. When the rain clears and a rainbow arches over the rocky coastline, you’ll find the unpredictable weather isn’t a challenge, but a triumph that adds to the magic of the NC500.

3. The Call of the Wild(erness)

Wild camping, a favourite aspect of vanlife, is permitted as long as you are parked legally and obey any parking restrictions, but it comes with its own challenges. It’s important to be mindful of the ‘leave no trace’ policy to protect the delicate ecosystem. Further, not all areas are suitable for van parking overnight.

Yet, the triumphs far outweigh the challenges. Imagine waking up to a glorious sunrise over a secluded beach or watching the northern lights dance across the night sky through your van’s skylight. These unique experiences are the rewards of a responsible and respectful approach to wild camping.

4. Essential Facilities

Finding facilities, such as petrol stations, shops for supplies, and proper sanitation services, can be a challenge on the more remote parts of the route. It’s crucial to plan ahead and stock up whenever facilities are available.

On the other hand, the scarcity also nudges you towards being resourceful and self-reliant – values at the core of vanlife. Plus, many local communities along the NC500 route offer essential services. Supporting them not only helps your journey but also contributes to the local economy.

5. The Sheer Magnitude of Beauty

While not exactly a ‘challenge’, the overwhelming beauty of the NC500 can indeed be a bit much to take in at once. The changing landscapes – from rugged mountains to serene lochs, from wide-open moorlands to cascading waterfalls – demand constant attention and can be a sensory overload.

However, this ‘problem of plenty’ is a triumph in disguise. The sheer diversity and magnitude of the natural beauty you encounter are what make the NC500 a bucket-list item for vanlifers and photographers alike. It’s an ever-changing canvas that constantly surprises and enchants.

Vanlife on the North Coast 500 isn’t always smooth sailing, but the challenges encountered are part of the journey, each adding a chapter to your adventure story. The triumphs, on the other hand, are truly profound, creating memories that will linger long after the journey ends. So, buckle up, stock up, and set off on an adventure of a lifetime!

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14 COMMENTS

    • Thanks for your comment. We did check the code and it only says “ If public or private land owners restrict or regulate parking on their land, you must comply with this.”

  1. Thank you for your reply.
    It doesn’t only say that, it also says:

    “Access rights do not include motor vehicles.”

    Please check out:

    https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Vict/28-29/56

    and

    https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1988/52/section/34

    Please also download the link above to Highland Council advice.

    Either way, you cannot “wild camp” in a vehicle in Scotland is you are travelling in a vehicle. The laws are the same in Scotland as they are in the rest of the UK.

    • “The laws are the same in Scotland as they are in the rest of the UK.“

      That’s exactly the point. There are no laws in the U.K. that say you can’t sleep in your vehicle as long as you’ve parked it legally. Obviously you can’t go driving over moorland in your van but we’d hope a bit of common sense would have made that obvious.

  2. From The Land Reform Act 2003.
    Section 9.
    Conduct excluded from access rights
    The conduct which is within this section is—
    (a)being on or crossing land in breach of an interdict or other order of a court;
    (b)being on or crossing land for the purpose of doing anything which is an offence or a breach of an interdict or other order of a court;
    (c)hunting, shooting or fishing;
    (d)being on or crossing land while responsible for a dog or other animal which is not under proper control;
    (e)being on or crossing land for the purpose of taking away, for commercial purposes or for profit, anything in or on the land;
    (f)being on or crossing land in or with a motorised vehicle or vessel (other than a vehicle or vessel which has been constructed or adapted for use by a person who has a disability and which is being used by such a person);
    (g)being, for any of the purposes set out in section 1(3) above, on land which is a golf course.

    This is the law in Scotland, the SOAC is guidance only.

  3. Wild camping, a favourite aspect of vanlife, is permitted under the Scottish Outdoor Access Code,

    Wild camping is permitted by the SOAC but NOT in a van, motorised vehicles are specifically excluded.

  4. Yes you can sleep in your vehicle, to rest, you cannot camp. If you are going to sleep in your vehicle you must be self self contained as in no bbq, chairs out with the vehicle. So you’re wrong to to suggest ‘wild camping’ with any type of motorised vehicle.

  5. Your blog is being invaded by a bunch of miserable no-life misanthropes from a Facebook group called NC500 The Land Weeps. Feel free to join and engage with the community there.

    • No they’re just people who are fed up of seeing vans in every view point, beach car park, cemetary car parks, passing places. Toilet cassettes emptied in lay-bys. . In England signs have gone up everywhere about no overnight parking it’s on a lot of videos, they even say head to Scotland. Height restrictions are in place too and they say now head to Scotland it’s easier to wildcamp where you like so Scotland will change to be like England because people like you won’t pay. I do but I don’t blame them one bit for moaning. It seems a constant battle against rude and ill mannered people who think they’re entitled to park where they like. You’re spoiling it for all of us. There’s very reasonably priced Aires in gorgeous spots but they aren’t used

        • The article has been changed since the first complaint.
          The term “wild camping! is still being used which is misleading.

        • This is what the original article stated, which is untrue, hence the complaints.

          “Wild camping, a favourite aspect of vanlife, is permitted under the Scottish Outdoor Access Code,”

    • I am not a member of ANY Facebook group. Just a hacked of local fed up with freeloaders dossing at the sides of our roads & lanes & dumping sh*te everywhere.

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