28 June 2023

North Coast 500

Come on an adventure with our Marquis Berkshire Branch Manager Guy as both he, his wife and two dogs discover the North Coast 500, Scotland’s ultimate road trip...

North Coast 500... Scotland’s ultimate road trip

Story told by Guy Gilbert.


We decided to stop on our route to the NC500 and have a full day in Edinburgh. We stopped at Mortonhall Caravan and camping park which has a bus stop right outside the driveway with busses into city centre every 15 minutes.


When walking through the gardens under the shadow of the impressive Edinburgh Castle, a word of warning to be prepared at 1pm every day for the cannon sound. For some reason, the day we were there it was particularly loud!


A brisk walk up the hill to the castle ensures stunning views of the city, but you cannot take dogs into the castle itself, and as we had 2 of them, we decided to walk the Royal Mile down to Holyrood taking in the street artists along the way.

After a leisurely start, we make our way up to Culloden taking in the fantastic views and realising that there is so much of our country we have yet to explore.


Staying at Ardtower camp site, we are less than 2 miles from the Culloden Battleground of 16th April 1746, where the last pitched battle on British soil took place, and Jacobite’s fought the Government. 


Only when you stand on this relatively small patch of ground you realise that around 1,300 men were slain as you see the stones with the various clans scattered around the edges as remembrance.

The start of our NC500 trip...

Whilst there is a route to follow, the idea is that you find some places of interest and divert off to explore. We firstly wanted to investigate Rogie Falls, a lovely hillside cascade along with a suspension bridge. This was on the route that would see the end of our trip as we wanted to travel the route anti-clockwise, we decided to start here as we were unsure of our timings on our last day.


Then on to our first stop in Golspie which ended up as a small, but perfectly adequate and clean site in an industrial area.

Leaving Golspie, we headed for Dunrobin Castle but, unfortunately, another place where dogs are not allowed in the castle or gardens, so onto another diversion – Dolphin spotting.

We had read about Cromarty being a good place, so off we went, stopping next to a stunning beach to let the dogs go for a swim and then a spot of lunch. Sadly, the dolphins had decided that Cromarty was not the place to play that day.


We had to see a castle on our first day, so just past Wick the ruins of Castle Sinclair Gringoe stand above the sea. Surrounded by crystal clear waters that could be mistaken for any Mediterranean coast but with seals bathing on some of the rocks created by parts of the castle falling into the sea below.


Leaving Castle Sinclair Gringoe we arrive at John O’Groats and have our obligatory photo taken beside the signpost (we also have the same shot at Lands’ End). A quick drink at the John O’Groats brewery (as you have to) then on to the famous Duncansby Stacks next to the lighthouse before moving along the coast to find a place to stop for the night. We find a carpark next to the beach at Dunnet and for £5 stay the night just 100 feet from another stunning beach. This stop could have been a holiday all on its own with several miles of soft sand and shallow water.

Struggling to leave our new found paradise, we have to move on to our next stop which was pre-booked before we left in order for us to keep to some sort of itinerary.


Just outside Durness you will find Smoo Caves, a combined sea cave and freshwater cave. For £10 you can even have a ½ hour tour inside the caves by boat.


Then onto our next stop, situated on the hilltop above Durness beach we stayed at Sango Sands. With walks down to the beaches, and also reputedly one of the best hot chocolate shops around, this was a good stop to blow the cobwebs away.


Being so far north, one thing you can notice in mid-June is that it is still light at 1am, however during the winter it would be the opposite which is why it is a good place to see the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights in the UK.

We start to head back south towards Ullapool. Some of the roads can only just be described as breath-taking, not only by the views that they offer but also the narrow , single track way (with passing places) climbing hills then tipping over the top to finally reveal where you are heading once you are there. 


For part of the way, second gear seems to be the most used for up and down hill. One thing that is getting more use that the gearstick is the camera with every corner and crest offering another view that makes you appreciate why we travelled over 600 miles to get to the start of our adventure.

Ever since we first ready about the NC500 this is the one day we were looking forward to more than any other. We have seen videos, ready books on what the Applecross pass is like but NOTHING can prepare you for the reality.


If you are not careful you will miss the turning for the pass and just keep heading to Gorstan on the alternative and direct route.


At first you are lead to a false sense of ease as the roads are quite wide and not too bad in comparison to the previous day. We stop around 2 miles from Applecross at another stunning beach where the water is clear, shallow and warm.


Shortly after Applecross the real pass we had read about starts, with a very steep climb and a hairpin (there are 3 hairpins to contend with) you just seem to keep climbing. At the top, you are greeted with a viewpoint to utterly take your breath away. This trip just keeps delivering the stunning views and scenery.  Now you start to drop down the pass with a steep zig-zag road that you see in movies, but remembering to pull over to allow the up-coming traffic pass which allows you a couple of moments to just look at the view.


Once off the pass and heading back to Inverness, we had decided that we would bolt on a couple of days in Skye – but that’s another story.

We re-join the NC500 route heading back to our start point taking in the scenery and now the wider and better surfaced roads. Passing Rogie Falls again and completing our NC500 route.

We ended up at 770 miles but this was also allowing for our Isle of Skye detour.


We decided that we would have to do this trim at least once or twice more to get the full experience of the NC500, and would recommend that if anybody is thinking about it, plan it and do it!


In Scotland you are able to Wild-Camp in a lot of places, but we used several sites so that we could use the service points and so had a good supply of water.


We were incredibly lucky with the weather as it was between 23 and 28 every day that we were there and the midges were minimal but that was expected to chance the week after we left Scotland.