North Coast 500 – Part I

This blog also appeared on 9to5Adv, a blog site dedicated to adventuring away from the 9 to 5 routine. 

The NC500 has been described as the ultimate road trip. 500 and a bit miles around Scotland, starting in Inverness, and depending on what way you go working your way up the east coast, across the north coast, and down the west coast and back to Inverness.

Getting organised

We did it the opposite. My partner and I packed up the car and the dog, and all our camping supplies and headed up to Inverness on Sunday 27th May. We picked late May/early June as we knew that the route was expected to get busier the closer we got to summer.

We arrived in Inverness, around 5 pm on Sunday evening, looking forward to our first-night camping (first-time campers here, hello!), pitching the tent and having a barbecue. We stayed at Bunchrew Caravan Park, space 3 miles west of Inverness, a quiet campsite overlooking the shore of the Beauly Firth.

A successful pitching attempt

We set up for the evening with a barbecue of traditional Scottish food, lorne sausages, black pudding, tattie scones; the usual. The view, idyllic. The company, excellent. We planned out how to tackle the next day, and whether we should get up and pack up early, or just take it all at a leisurely pace.

Beauly Firth
Beauly Firth

Naturally, we decided to take the next day a leisurely place. We were on holiday. That’s the whole point. As we bedded down for the night, we both became acutely aware how cold it had become. Lounging about in the evening, we became somewhat complacent to the scorching heat we’d had during the day. It became bitterly cold, fast. Waking up in the middle of the night, freezing, was something I hadn’t experienced in years! A lesson learnt!

“Can’t say I’m too impressed with this camping lark”

The next morning we were up and showered, embracing our first night as successful campers, ones that had however neglected to take into account we were effectively sleeping outdoors. In Scotland. We made breakfast, packed up our campsite and headed off to the local shop. Food supplies were purchased, alongside a fleecey blanket, something that would keep us warm for the entire trip! No more cold nights for us!

With all this done, we headed off to Applecross, heading west from Inverness. Our first stop was at Blackwater Falls, a stop on the A835. We didn’t intend to stop here, in fact, I think we took a wrong turn. An accidental wrong turn, but an excellent view to take in for 15 mins, and the chance to stretch our legs after driving for about an hour.

Blackwater Falls
Blackwater Falls

A common thread throughout this blog is how long it takes us to get anywhere. It’s not that I’m a slow driver, it’s more the fact that we didn’t have a timetable to keep, and could freely go at our own pace. in fact, getting from A to B usually required driving less than 100 miles!

Achnasheen Station
Achnasheen Station – open, but the shops were closed

But I digress. after our leg stretch we hopped back into the car and headed off again, in the right direction this time. We stopped off at Achnasheen, in the hope of getting a coffee (to no avail, damn you Bank Holiday Monday!), but again took in the spectacular views Scotland has to offer. We drove on a bit further and stopped at Lochcarron, to get some coffee for me. Having been up early (thanks sunrise), I was in dire need of some. Another common thread throughout this holiday!

Lochcarron
Lochcarron

Again, we set off, on our way to head up and over Bealach na Bà. I’d heard from colleagues and guidebooks that the road up and over was windy and twisted, but the views spectacular. It must’ve taken us at least an hour to climb up to the top of Bealach na Bà, but the stops on the way up were worth it, and the view at the top amazing. Until the late 20th century the road over Bealach na Bà, was the only road to Applecross! It also sports gradients of about 20% AND is the third highest road in the Scotland.

Bealach na Bà
Bealach na Bà
Bealach na Bà
Bealach na Bà

The viewpoint at the top was crowded. From a personal point of view, this small area of the NC500 was one of the most jam-packed, mainly due to lack of space and overcrowding in the area.

Views from Bealach na Bà
Views from Bealach na Bà

As we made our way down the windy roads of Bealach na Bà to Applecross, the overcrowding became more apparent. Applecross is tiny, has great views, but the amount of people is high. After a long day of driving (five hours, with stops in between) I was glad to arrive at the Applecross campsite and set up our tent for the night.

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