The NC500 is publicised as being Scotland most scenic route, because of the publicity it is now Scotland busiest route, the road infrastructure cannot support the number of vehicles using the roads, vehicles often struggle to pass each other on the single-track roads and are forced into the soft verges, we have lost a 30+ wing mirrors now along this route. This is a beautiful and scenic route but without proper planning and preparation this can also quickly become one of your most stressful holidays, nobody wants to get stuck in the soft verge or lose a wing mirror, so think ahead and consider this as an out of season route.
We appreciate this is a bucket list trip for a lot of our customers, so we have put together a route with suggested stops and places to visit, the route takes you from Perth to John o' Groats – Durness – Clachtoll – Ullapool and back to Perth approximately 586 miles in total. I can’t emphasise enough how busy this route is in the summer months and would always recommend this route to be done out of season, remember to book places campsites in advance to ensure you get a pitch, i do not recommend wild camping along this route.
The motorhome collection point is in Perth, from here you will travel up the A9 towards Inverness. There are many places of interest as you travel up the A9 towards Aviemore which would be my suggested first night stop.
After a busy day exploring you will want to get something to eat and settled for the evening, there are a few campsites in and around Aviemore but we like to park at the Cairngorm ski centre, the views from here on a clear day are spectacular – there is a fee of £15 and your best to book the day before but this allows you to dispose of waste and top up your fresh water.
There is so much to see and do in and around Aviemore, if you enjoy the outdoors there are plerty of paths for walking and cycling, loch morlich offers you the opportunity to try some water sportsor and there is the opportunity to try the tree top trails. If you’re looking for something more relaxed, try a train journey on the strathspey railway or if you have children with you Landmark is a fantastic.
From Aviemore continue to head north up the A9 towards Inverness, I would recommend a stop at Dunrobin Castle & Gardens, this grand castle resembling a French Chateaux dates back to the 13oo’s, and overlooks the Moray Firth - this was the historic home of the Duke of Sutherland who was responsible for the highland clearances of 1810 to 1820. He evicted thousands of families by burning their homes leaving them to flee while he repurposed the land for grazing sheep, the sheep farmers could afford to pay more than the villagers.
As you head on towards Helmsdale, its worth stopping at “The Trawler” fish and chip shop at Golspie this was one of my favourite fish and chip dinners and right by the sea with a bottle of prosecco.
There is a fantastic spot for wild camping overnight down by the Helmsdale harbour, but please don’t forget to put a donation into the Life Boat Rescue fund and remember to use the local facilities, we found a lovely pub and were able to enjoy a glass of wine or two.
From Helmsdale head north on the A9, about 5 miles outside Helmsdale, I would recommend stopping and taking the short walk to visit – Badbea, this 18th century village perched on the steep slope was where people lived self-sufficiently – until Sutherland made them flea there homes and turned the areas into grazing for sheep as he could achieve more rent from the sheep framers, their homes were burned and the villagers were forced to move inland where they could work in the towns.
The ruins of this village have been preserved as a memorial to the highland clearance village, the last villager left in 1911 and his son erected the monument in the picture, it is definitely worth stopping and taking a moment to think of stark difference from the village to that of Sutherlands Dunrobin Castle.
From the Badea village continue driving north to the Cairn o get and the Whaligoe steps, outside of Lybster, parking here can be more challenging there is very limited parking near the cairn o get.
The Whailgoe steps – the 330 steps are made of flagstone and zig zag down to a disused fishing harbour below, once at the bottom you should be able to find the old ruin that was once the salt store for curing the fish, the old barking kettle and fireplace used to heat tar to waterproof the nets and floats, an old winch and anchor, being mindful off the tide there is caves you can explore and a waterfall.
Only a short walk from the Whaligoe steps is the Cairn o Get – this is an ancient burial chamber dating back 5 thousand years, it was a sacred place for ancestral spirits and people would gather here to ask for help from there dead relatives.
From here head up to John o Groats, this was a strange stop I’m not sure what I was expecting but it was quite underwhelming this is clearly a tourist spot having a dedicated souvenir and coffee shop, but for me like most it was on my bucket list – at least there is good parking facilities.
We stayed at the Ferry view campsite, this is a small family run eco campsite, I loved the ethos behind this site, they have an onsite shop selling some of the essential and offer food and drink to take away. https://www.ferryview.scot/
From Ferry view campsite we headed along to Dunnet Head lighthouse, the Dunnet Head lighthouse marks the most northern point of the Scottish mainland, the 19-century lighthouse is still active, sitting on top of the 300-foot cliff top, we were lucky enough to visit on a clear day so we could see over to Orkney. Dunnet head was an important site for the army, it was a WW2 radar station and near the lighthouse you will be able to see the disused forts that were used to protect the naval base at Scapa flow.
There is a great cliff top walk where you can explore a bit further and if your lucky spot some of the wildlife this is a great site for birdwatching.
From Dunnet heading west towards Durness, we stopped at Sandyside Harbour for some lunch the harbour is still in use by local fisherman and a few leisure boats can be seen in the harbour coming and going. There is a lovely walk along the harbour and the cliffs – this is a popular spot for surfers with some good waves.
Continue on the A836 towards tongue, we stopped at the local shop to pick up some fresh groceries, if you have time follow the signed path up to Castle Varrich, it’s a lovely wee walk with some fantastic views from the castle when you reach the top. Please be aware the road to Durness (A838) is all single track and in the height of summer it will very much be stop start the whole way along, it might only be 29 miles from here to Durness but in summer this will take at least 1.5 to 2 hours to drive it took us an hour and the road was quiet!
We stayed at the Sango Sands campsite near Durness, as we drove along the road, we notice a few off tomorrows activities - such as Smoo caves and the golden eagle zip line, as we were a bit weary now, there has been a lot of driving today approximately 3.5 hours so we were glad to get parked up for the night.
The beach is accessible from the campsite, and I can quite honestly say I don’t think I have seen waves as big or impressive as here – so don’t miss a wander along the beach after breakfast - with the cliffs and sand dunes its quite a walk.
From the campsite you need to head back along the A838 for about 3-4 miles or so to visit Smoo Caves, there is limited parking here so if you’re visiting in the summer months you will need to be here early or hope luck is on your side and you can get a space. There is a circular walk that takes you down a steep path to visit the natural sea cave.
The entrance to the cave stands over 15 meters high and 40 meters wide its quite something once inside the cave you will see a wooden bridge that takes you to a waterfall, if you want to venture further into the cave secret Scotland offers cave tours. https://www.secret-scotland.com/place/smoo-cave
Head back along the A838 and you will come across the Golden Eagle Zip wire, zoom along the zipline at up to 45mph and 100 feet above the beach and enjoy a birds eye view of the beach and the sea. This is a weather permitting activity and again the parking is limited here.
From Durness enjoy the drive down the west coast heading towards Clachtoll please do NOT take the Drumbeg road, go round via loch Inver this is the quickest route but also the easier road to drive the Drumbeg road is challenging due to the size of the motorhome and to be honest boring.
A mile or so past the turning for the Drumbeg road there is a small car park (larger parking spaces at the top of the hill – you can visit the top of the waterfall from here) if you follow the path along the side of the burn for about 15 minutes you will eventually come to a truly remarkable 30 meter waterfall, known as the wailing widow waterfall, named after an folk story where a mother threw herself from the top in mourning for her son who accidently fell there to his death whilst shooting deer in poor weather.
From the waterfall carpark, continue on the A894, turn right after a few miles on to the A837 up the side of Loch Assynt to Clachtoll, this route is 40 minutes quicker than following the Drumbeg road plus you can stop at Achmelvich beach along the way. We stayed at the Clachtoll beach campsite, again another wonderful clean and friendly campsite with a fantastic beach, we took advantage of the weather and enjoyed a BBQ and toasted some marshmallows before retreating to bed after a busy day.
We drove up to Stoer lighthouse before making our way down to Ullapool, it’s not far from the campsite and a lovely drive, the lighthouse itself sits high on the cliffs, the views from the lighthouse are quite something, the dramatic coastline with the picturesque 18th century lighthouse and the sea in the background.
There is a walk you take to visit the old man of Stoer sea stack, follow the path starting by the lighthouse along the cliffs and eventually you will come across the old man of Stoer, we were lucky to have a beautiful October’s morning and thoroughly enjoyed our walk.
From Stoer lighthouse make your back along the B869 to join the A837 heading towards Ullapool, if you have time stop at the ruins of the 16th century Ardvreck castle on the banks of Loch Assynt.
In Ullapool we recommend staying at the Broomfeild campsite, the campsite over looks the sea where you can watch the ferries come and go from the Isle of Lewis. If you like seafood have a walk into the town centre and visit the Seafood Shack there you will find delicious freshly caught and prepared seafood.
Unfortunately, it’s time to head back to Perth and return the motorhome, the drive to Perth is about 3 and a half hours so bear this in mind to ensure you are back for your scheduled return time, on the way back to Perth if you have time there is a few things of interest on the way back to Perth such as the battlefield of Culloden, Urquhart castle, or the Dalwhinnie distillery.
This is a suggested route of things to see and do along the very popular NC500 as you will see we did not have time to complete the full route in our 7 night holiday, we can do that as part of a west coast tour at another time. With planning and preperation this can be an enjoyable holiday out of season but i dont recommend this in the summer months.
In Scotland we are lucky to have such an abundance of outdoor pursuits on our door step, set amongst some of the most beautiful landscape and all within easy driving reach when combined with a motorhome you can enjoy a holiday while experience some adrenaline based activities.