What is the North Coast 500
Taking the NC500 route helps you to discover the best the Highlands has to offer like magical and mystical castles, amazing local produce, fresh specialty fish from the sea and land, and you can visit the wonderful distilleries and breweries? Why not take to the water on an exhilarating wildlife safari? The North Coast 500 offers a truly unique touring experience, quite unlike anywhere else in the world and many of those who have done it have said it was life-changing for them.
Bringing together a route of just over 500 miles of stunning coastal scenery, the North Coast 500, naturally follows the main roads along the coastal edges of the North Highlands of Scotland, taking in the regions of Wester Ross, Sutherland, Caithness, Easter Ross, the Black Isle and Inverness-Shire.
The route begins and ends in Inverness at Inverness Castle which, perched on top of a hill, is the perfect starting point to the route and offers unparalleled views from its viewing tower over the capital city of the Highlands.
The start: Inverness
The North Coast 500 route starts at Inverness, the gateway to the Highlands. We start the route here, clockwise. You can also drive the other way around, but you won’t drive on the seaside of the road! The two hour trip from the east coast (Inverness) to the west coast (Applecross) starts with riding north and enjoying the beautiful scenery of the inlands of Scotland. It’s a beautiful drive which you will definitely remember. If you go south, starting from Inverness, you might even catch a glimpse of the Loch Ness monster. You will have a bit of a busier drive, with tour buses driving from Inverness to Loch Ness every day. The choice is yours, mystic Loch Ness or a beautiful drive through the inlands?
Enjoy the beautiful west coast nature: Munro’s, Skye and awe-inspiring roads
When you’ve driven your camper through the inland to the coast, you drive towards Skye: one of the most beautiful islands perhaps in the world. Not officially part of the North Coast 500, but we didn’t dare to not mention it. It is perhaps better to dedicate a full vacation to this island. But still, it is up to you. Make a detour or leave Skye for what it is, and continue to Beleach na Bá towards Applecross. Considered as one of the most beautiful and most famous parts of the road, this is a part of the route where you want to keep your camera at hand. Take your time (when the traffic allows you to) and let the view sink in. Farther north you will find the famous Munro’s, the name for mountains over 3000 feet. The name derives from Sir High Munro, who created Munro’s Tables to map out all these mountains. On the route you will find the following in this order: An Teallach, Stac Pollaidh, Suilven en Ben Hope.
North Coast: beaches, castles and surfing
On the North Coast you will find three beautiful beaches to enjoy the rough beach weather, or when you are lucky, the sunny summer. Gairloch beach is one of the first beaches you will find, a secluded spot with not too many visitors. In Alchemic Bay you will find Hermit’s Castle, one of the smallest castles of Europe. Behind the beautiful dunes of the north of Scotland is Balkaneil beach, a large, white beach. Perfect for hanging out before you travel further east with your motorhome or camper. Are you interested in a bit more action? In the most northern town of Scotland, Thurso, there’s surf all year round. Multiple world championships have been held here. This is a famous and well-known surf spot.
Surfboard back in the camper, we’re going to dive into the Scottish culture along the east coast. From Thurso, we drive to the most northern point of Scotland, John o’Groats. You might find some people here who’ve travelled from Land’s End to John o’Groats across England and Scotland. After a walk along the coast, we’ll drive to Dunrobin Castle, the biggest castle in the Northern Highlands. You can do a self-guided tour through the castle here. After the castle, it is time to take good care of ourselves. One of Scotlands finest treasures is, of course, their Whisky. Park the motorhome and find one of the many distilleries, for example, the Balblair Distillery. Prefer beer? Almost at the end of our trip close to Inverness is the Black Isle Brewery. A biological brewery with many different kinds of beer.
From culture back to nature. We are trying to catch a glimpse of dolphins in Chanonry point! They are known to come very close to the mainland since that is where they find their meals. The best chances are at high tide and in February you will find a booklet here with the times when you are most likely to catch a glimpse. This is our last stop on our way to Inverness, but we’ll return with a head full of great memories, a camera full of beautiful landscapes and a belly full of Scottish food and drinks.
Know before you go
Renting a motorhome or campervan is a very popular way to enjoy the trip. There are plenty of campgrounds to visit that allow motorhomes and tent camping. Wild camping in a tent is mostly OK. However, did you know that wild camping is not allowed legally with a Campervan or Motorhome? Have you ever heard of the Land Reform Act of 2003? Wild camping in Scotland is a great experience. However, make sure you respect the laws and follow the rules. You should know before you go. Here is a link to learn more.
Many visitors to Scotland are under the impression that you can wild camp anywhere? This is not the case. The land Reform Act states in Section 9 states the following :
Land Reform Act Section 9
The conduct which is within this section is:
being on or crossing land in breach of an interdict or other order of a court;
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;
hunting, shooting or fishing;
being on or crossing land while responsible for a dog or other animal which is not under proper control;
being on or crossing land for the purpose of taking away, for commercial purposes or for profit, anything in or on the land;
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);
being, for any of the purposes set out in section 1(3) above, on land which is a golf course.
This is what https://www.outdooraccess-scotland.scot/ has on their website about this. “Access rights do not include motor vehicles and there is no specific guidance on campervans and motorhomes in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. There is no legal right to park beside the road overnight, but there may be no objection to this in some instances – so extra care is needed.” Please do your research before you embark on your trip to Scotland and respect the locals and the law.
Enjoy the 500!