North Coast 500
You've probably heard of Route 66 in the US, so famous they even made a song about it. Well the NC500, (or North Coast 500) is Scotland’s equivalent. The infamous 500-mile route across the top of Scotland will take you to and through some of the best scenery the country has to offer. What’s more, caravanners and motorhomers will find they're well catered for with plenty of dedicated stops en-route. The complete journey can be comfortably fitted in to a five to seven day itinerary, although more time will allow you to find those lesser known spots.
Your gateway to the NC500 is the city of Inverness. Sitting on the mouth of the River Ness with majestic views of the Moray Firth, Inverness is the largest city in the Highlands of Scotland with much to see in its own right, including the imposing Inverness Castle, offering a 360 degree vista of the city. Alternatively, you can enjoy a cruise on Loch Ness, which is just a short drive away, so be sure to pack your monster spotting binoculars!
Heading west from Inverness you’ll eventually come to the shores of Loch Shieldaig. This picture postcard village consists of mainly white-washed buildings, including a hotel, shop and various dining establishments. There’s also a campsite available for motorhomers and caravanners. Popular with hill-walkers and climbers are the nearby Torridon Hills which comprise of well known peaks such as Beinn Alligin, Beinn Eighe, Liathach and Sgurr Mhor. Unfortunately, we can't help with the pronunciation!
South of Shieldaig you’ll find Applecross. This sleepy picturesque village overlooking the Isle of Skye is reached by a coast road from Shieldaig. Here you'll find the Applecross Inn, a favoured lunch or dinner stop, and the Applecross Campsite for those who want to stay overnight. There are just two roads in and out of Applecross and you'll need to retrace your steps as the other road is the infamous Bealach ‘na Ba which is narrow and twisting, making it unsuitable for larger vehicles or those with caravans. Read more information on driving conditions.
Heading north you’ll reach the shores of Loch Gairloch, so prepare to be wowed with more spectacular vistas. Gairloch has several sandy beaches nearby with sweeping views across Raasay, the Isle of Skye and the Western Isles. You'll have a good choice of restaurants, bistros and inns together with a fish and chip shop to satisfy your hunger and there are two touring sites to overnight at.
This picturesque fishing town is located on the shores of Lochbroom and provides a gateway by ferry to Stornoway and Lewis for those who wish to make a detour. It's large enough to keep you engaged with experiences such as mountain, coastal and inland walking routes with outstanding views, and there are four touring sites to choose from. You'll also be spoilt for choice with many eating establishments in the surrounding area.
To be found on the shores of Loch Inver, this small town is most noted for a sizeable fishing fleet and its large associated fish market. It's the home to Highland Stoneware, a distinctive brand of pottery and numerous restaurants and a café provide opportunities to eat and drink. The Shore caravan touring site is a short drive from the town centre.
Famous for being the most northerly town in Scotland, Thurso has enough attractions to occupy a stay of a few days. Visit the circular well house of Meadow Well, constructed in 1818, go fossil hunting on Thurso beach or view the exhibits at the Caithness Horizons Museum. There's no shortage of eating establishments and touring sites are available at two nearby locations.
Literally the end of the road, John O'Groats is known as one end of the longest route between two inhabited points on the British mainland, the other being Lands End some 874 miles away. The area is a must for wildlife viewing, including killer whales at certain times of the year and coastal walks. The village is quite small with a hotel and restaurant, the Storehouse licensed café, a gift shop, post office, and grocers amongst others available to travellers. A caravan and camp site is close to the village centre.
Heading south along the east coast, your next must-see is the seaside resort of Dornoch. Its beach is perfect for walking and swimming from, with its gently shelving sands. Wildlife is in abundance around and about with dolphin spotting close by in the Dornoch Firth. Restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, pubs and takeaway establishments are available to the hungry and thirsty.
Grannie's Heilan' Hame Holiday Park is available to tourers who want to experience a holiday park experience with show-time entertainment and swimming pools. For those wanting a simpler overnight stop, the Dornoch Caravan and Camping site is closer to Dornoch town centre.
Other resources worth checking out:
The official tourist office website of the route including what to see and do, where to stay, supported my stunning imagery of the coast, country and seascapes.
One couples chronicled adventure as they travel the North Coast 500 route, complete with hints and tips of where to stay to get the best views and see the sights.
The North Coast 500 route takes you close to some idyllic secret beaches. This article highlights some of the best.