The North Coast 500, often referred to as the NC500, is not just a road trip; it’s an experience. Nestled in the heart of the Scottish Highlands, this route offers some of the most breathtaking and scenic views in the world. As you embark on this journey, you’re not just driving; you’re immersing yourself in a rich tapestry of history, culture, and nature.
Understanding the North Coast 500 (NC500)
The NC500 spans 516 miles, weaving through the rugged landscapes of the Scottish Highlands. Its history is as vast as its landscapes, with ancient castles, battlefields, and tales of clans that once ruled these lands.
From the fairy-tale Dunrobin Castle to the picturesque Applecross Peninsula, the route is dotted with iconic landmarks. Don’t miss the Smoo Cave, a geological wonder, or the Bealach na Bà, a historic pass with panoramic views.
Every twist and turn introduces a new sight. The NC500 is a medley of pristine beaches, towering mountains, and historical sites. Whether you’re gazing at the azure waters of Achmelvich Beach or the majestic peaks of the Quiraing, there’s a vista to enchant everyone.
While the route can technically be driven in a few days, to truly soak in its beauty, a leisurely pace of 7-10 days is ideal.
Living the Vanlife on the NC500
Wild Camping vs. Van Parking:
While wild camping allows tent users to set up in remote spots, van users must be more cautious about where they park overnight.
Essential Equipment and Packing List:
a. Basic Camping Gear: Ensure you have a comfortable sleeping bag, portable tent (if needed), and a good quality torch.
b. Cooking and Food Storage: Portable stoves and cool boxes are essential. Remember to pack non-perishable foods and a few Scottish treats!
c. Navigation Tools: While GPS is handy, a detailed map of the Highlands is crucial. Familiarise yourself with ‘passing places’ – designated areas to let oncoming traffic pass on narrow roads.
Best Time to Travel:
Late spring to early autumn offers the best weather, though always be prepared for a sudden Scottish drizzle!
Be wary of sudden weather changes. While wildlife encounters are rare, always store food securely. Some areas can be remote, so inform someone of your itinerary.
The Highlands are pristine – let’s keep them that way. Respect nature, avoid loud noises, and always seek permission if unsure about camping spots.
While some areas might have patchy service, larger towns offer Wi-Fi spots. Portable chargers are a lifesaver.
Always clean up after yourself. The Highlands should remain as you found them – beautiful and untouched.
Top Stops and Hidden Gems
- Torridon: Its mountainscape is perfect for trekking aficionados.
- Whaligoe Steps: A stairway carved into cliffs leads to a historic harbour.
- Dornoch: Known for its cathedral and pristine beaches.
- Loch Ness: While not directly on the route, this famous loch is worth a detour.
- Applecross Pass: A challenging road with unmatched views.
- Durness: Known for its Smoo Cave and stunning beaches.
- Balnakeil Beach: Crystal blue waters with almost no tourist footprint.
- The Secret Tea Garden of Ardgour: Perfect for a peaceful afternoon tea.
- Achmelvich Beach: A sheltered bay with white sands and crystal-clear waters.
- Corrieshalloch Gorge: An ancient gorge with a breathtaking suspension bridge.
Beyond seafood, relish Highland game meats, cheeses like Strathdon Blue, and beverages – from Highland whisky to local craft ales.
Consider sea kayaking in sheltered bays or stargazing in the dark sky areas.
The NC500 and vanlife are a match made in heaven. As you traverse this iconic route, remember to tread lightly, respect the environment, and immerse yourself in the local culture. We invite fellow travellers to share their stories, tips, and memories of this unforgettable journey.
Safe travels and may the road always rise up to meet you!