The North Coast 500, Scotland – A 10 Day Itinerary By The Wedding Taylor

This is a one off for me, as I very rarely have anyone else writing or contributing to anything on here, but when my friends Hannah and Dale did the North Coast 500, or NC500 in September last year I had to ask her to write me a guest blog. They planned the trip for 10 days for Dale’s 30th, taking in all the sights, views and delights of the North Coast of Scotland in their hired camper van. Here’s Hannah’s take on the trip, the itinerary, what it was like and where to stop.

Hannah Taylor here, also known as Mrs T, The Wedding Taylor! I usually write blogs about weddings (of course!)… so I’m no Travel Blogger! But I promised Steph I would make some notes for her about my trip to Scotland for the North Coast 500.

Me & My Hubby did our trip over 10 days, in a Campervan with our 2 year old Aurora and our 2 Jack Russells, Chloe & Belle. We were also joined by another couple who travelled alongside us in a much small VW Camper. I’ll start by mentioning here, that being cramped into a van with the dogs and a toddler for over a week wouldn’t usually by my first choice for a holiday (I’m more of a sun lounger & a cocktail in hand type of girl!), but my Hubby asked to go for his 30th Birthday and I promised I would go with no fuss!…

I have to say… it was an AMAZING trip! Breathtaking scenery and proper family time… I’d recommend it to anyone!

North Coast 500 Itinerary

Our Itinerary was as follows:

1st Day: Northumberland to Kinross (2.5 hours drive)

2nd Day: Kinross to Inverness (2.5 hours drive – Bunchrew Campsite)

3rd Day: Inverness to John O’Groats (2.5 hours drive – John O’Groats Campsite)

4th Day: John O’Groats (Planned to go to Orkney Islands on Ferry)

5th Day: John O’Groats to Durness (3 hours drive – wild camp near Balnakiel Beach)

6th Day: Durness to Ullapool (3 hours drive – Broomfield Campsite)

7th Day: Ullapool to Poolewe (1.5 hours drive – wild camp at Benn Eighh Nature Reserve)

8th Day: Poolewe to Applecross (2.5 hours drive – Applecross Campsite)

9th Day: Applecross to Pitlochry (4 hours drive – wild camp, no plan)

10th Day: Pitlochry to Northumberland (3.5 hours drive – home)

NC500 Day 1 (Friday)

We headed off to pick up the campervan – we used Motorhome Kings, North Shields. We went for a 6 berth one so we had plenty of space for all of us and the dogs. It was roughly £1,500 for the 11 Day Hire, it came fully kitted with Cutlery, Glassware, Plates etc. And also a Table & Chairs for outside. We had to provide our own bedding (COVID) but that just made it comfier! We also had to pay a £1,500 damage deposit (£500 of which was for the dogs), which we got back in FULL.

What is worth mentioning here is that campervan latches, handles, blinds etc. are all very flimsy, so just be GENTLE and you’ll get your deposits back! We packed everything up, did a food shop (see my list below for essentials) and headed up to Kinross.

We stayed at Gallowhill Caravan & Camping Park (pre-booked). As we left at around 5pm we didn’t arrive until around 8pm and it was already dark… which is not great when trying to hook up a Campervan to the electric etc. for the first time! I would advise arriving early to your first site and getting to know your van better. We had an early night and woke up early for breakfast ready to start the day.

NC500 Day 2 (Saturday)

We headed first to Culloden Battlefield – so rich in Scottish & English History, Hubby loved it (me, not as much – but still interesting!). The Museum was £11 each to enter, and there’s a lot to read on the walls and in cabinets (not so great for little ones). The walk all the way round the field was pleasant – for those with toddlers – you can definitely manage with the pram – we didn’t think we’d be able to so left it in the car and had to carry her the whole way!

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Culloden Battlefield

From there we travelled up to Loch Ness. Now the Museum there is FAB! It’s an interactive walk around and explains everything through video, much better for those with kids! We bought Aurora a ‘Nessie’ toy and then stopped by the Loch to take in the view. The dogs were a bit all over the place on the drive on the first day, they were struggling to settle or lie down, but a few hours in, once we’d got the placement of their beds just right for them, they got the hang of it just fine… so don’t worry about taking your pooches – they’ll love it!

Our stop for the night was Bunchrew, Inverness (Pre- booked) which was a really lovely site with a FAB view, great facilities and a food truck on-site – no wonder it was so busy! We ordered scampi and waffles from the van and built a fire. This was BY FAR the best piece of kit we bought for the trip. No mess, no damage to the ground, easy to pack away and only £15! Definitely buy one of these for your next Camping trip.

I think if we could re-do this day again we’d spend much less time at Culloden and more time exploring Inverness (I’m pretty sure missed a lot there!)

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Loch Ness

NC500 Day 3 (Sunday)

I think looking back this might have been my favourite day of the whole trip – it was 20 degrees and the sun was shining. We had a lovely sausage sandwich breakfast on the camping stove – sometimes it’s just nice to cook outside.

Our first stop was Dunrobin Castle, we didn’t pay to go inside as we had Aurora in her carrier (which was the next best purchase of the trip!) and it said no backpacks allowed. The Gardens did look beautiful from what we could see but we actually think the walk we did around the outside, right on the sea front, was even prettier.

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Dunrobin Castle

Our next-door neighbour Georgie who travels up this way a lot had given us a list of some great places to stop (I’ve included her full list down below as we didn’t manage to get to them all) – she was spot on about every single one of them. The first one we tried was ‘River Bothy’ a little cafe and shop, our lunch was absolutely DELICIOUS and the shop was ADORABLE!

From there we made our way to the ‘Whaligoe Steps’. This is 100% worth a visit!! DO NOT MISS IT! The steps are ‘guarded’ by a very Scottish bloke called Davey – and if you look him up on YouTube or drop his name into any of the NC500 Facebook Groups you’ll discover that he’s quite a famous character!

He appeared as if from nowhere and asked us if we were away down the steps… and immediately launched into the full history of them. Now we had no clue who he was, so were a bit taken aback, but he soon started cracking some filthy jokes and had us in hysterics. Listen to his stories and ask him all the questions – you could sit with him for HOURS, what a man!

We headed down the 300 odd steps down to the water (me carrying Aurora on my back) – the views were fantastic and it’s an incredible place with so many tales. We had our photo taken at the bottom by a couple from whaligoeeye. – they run a blog and meet people from all over the world. The photo is free, you can find it on their website – don’t worry, no-one is trying to sell you anything!

Once we’d recovered from our trek back up the steps and waved goodbye to Davey, we continued our journey up to Duncansby Head Stacks – very picturesque! (Nothing much else around here!) and then arrived at the John O’Groats Campsite (pre-booked & pre-paid). Another couple of friends met us there and we all ate S’mores by the fire.

Other places to explore on the way up to this point would have been around the Black Isles – this may have added another stop the trip – great if you’re doing a full 2 weeks!

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Duncansby Stacks

NC500 Day 4 (Monday)

Today was Hubby’s 30th, and the reason we’d chosen to do 2 nights in John O’Groats was because we were going to get the ferry across to Orkney to see some of his friends who live over there. However, when we woke up it was absolutely chucking it down with rain, which definitely threw a spanner in the works.

It’s a full day trip 9-5pm and we didn’t want to be stuck there all day in the rain with the little one / leave the dogs for so long (they’re not allowed on the ferry) so instead we all piled into the Campervan and headed to Thurso and had a Birthday lunch at Y’Not.

We got all wrapped up and had a walk along the beach front and got a picture in front of the famous sign – followed by some drinks inside the campervan. Scotland has a zero-tolerance policy for the drink-driving limit so we couldn’t have too much, and made the best of it! The weather changes every 5 minutes up there, so you’ve just got to roll with it!


NC500 Day 5 (Tuesday)

In the morning we headed straight for Dunnet Head Lighthouse – which is ACTUALLY the most northern point. At which point I slipped and fell down – hard – like a cartoon character on a banana peel. I wasn’t dented… apart from my ego. We had a slightly longer drive today, so stopped at Betty Hill Viewpoint and made lunch inside the Campervan.

We’d heard that Ceabeannie Beach was beautiful so we headed up for a look, we arrived just before sunset and wow, was it stunning! Almost white-sand, the cliffs, the water… so gorgeous and definitely worth a stop.

This was our first wild-camp (you can pretty much stop anywhere in Scotland!) so we thought we would stay somewhere near Durness, but on the way we saw a spot near Balnakiel Beach which was so pretty so we set up camp there for the night.

We pulled out the fire pit and got cracking… 20 minutes later we heard a siren and the firefighters appeared from nowhere!… we got such a fright and were ready to apologise for the fire… it was total coincidence however, they were just out on a drill and we weren’t in any trouble… we gave them some s’mores and off they went! A little bit of unexpected entertainment for the evening!


NC500 Day 6 (Wednesday)

That morning we woke up to the sound of the waves and had the best view from our Campervan ‘bedroom’ window. We headed back on ourselves today as we wanted to visit Smoo Cave, just round the corner. It was beautiful, unfortunately we didn’t get to go in the boat into the other cave as the rain from the day before had risen the water level too high, but we could still see the waterfall and really enjoyed it!

We also headed back to our favourite beach, Ceabeannie, for a morning swim in the sea (don’t be fooled, it may look like a beach abroad… but it’s bloody freezing! Very refreshing!) Over the beach is also a Zipline!! It’s only £14 to go on, and what a VIEW! I could have done it again and again!

At this point we were definitely cold (despite the unexpected 20 degree weather!) so we headed off to ‘Cocoa Mountain’ for the most amazing Hot Chocolate. I also got myself a tasting box with 12 handmade chocolates… yum!

Continuing our drive we stopped on a Whale Watching bridge – didn’t see anything unfortunately though – maybe next time!

Our campsite for the night was Broomfield (Ullapool) – this one you can’t pre-book, you just have to show up and hope there’s space, so we made sure to get there early enough (they close the gates at 6pm). We decided to unload the bikes and see the sites that the town had to offer – it’s such a lovely place with plenty of quirky little shops (but also a Tesco!) and lovely restaurants.

We’d had such a long day and were so tired from the swimming and zip lining. We spotted an Indian Restaurant, ‘Jasmine’ (which was pretty much on-site!), so we ordered a takeaway from there and had a chill night in the Van together.

NC500 Day 7 (Thursday)

In the morning we decided to visit another place on Georgie’s list – this was the one she’d highly recommended so we couldn’t miss it. A full battered haddock in a wrap from the Seafood Shack. We arrived just before opening and the queue was already half way down the street – what a hidden GEM of a place! So so delicious… I would drive back just for that!

We left Ullapool and headed towards Poolewe looking for another wild camp spot, we actually chose to carry on and make the following day’s drive a bit shorter so ended up at Benn Eighh Nature Reserve. This was definitely a fab random last minute find. It’s right on a Loch so Hubby and his friend grabbed our Sea Kayak and off they went to explore… they had a great time, they made it all the way to the other side and then got caught in the rain on the way back – too funny to watch them paddling frantically to get back.

That night we built a den and snuggled up to watch Disney films with our daughter.

NC500 Day 8 (Friday)

At Benn Eighh there are 2 different walks, one is a woodland walk of approx 1 mile – perfect for us with the little one in the carrier – and another mountain walk, perfect for our more adventurous friends. We split up for our walks and then made our own way across the STUNNING West Coast roads, all the way to Applecross.

We of course had to visit the Applecross Inn for Dinner – the Monkfish is delicious by the way – on the way back to the Campsite we came across and huge family of deer and were lucky enough to see 3 stags! We then spent the evening playing card games in the camper van (heavy rain again!)

Day 9 (Saturday)

On site they have ‘The Codfather’ food truck, so we had a fantastic breakfast of sausage, egg, black pudding and haggis, and then made our way back along the Applecross roads. Our friends managed to do the ‘scarier’ smaller road in their VW Camper but in our 6 berth Campervan we had to head back the way we came – we wondered if we should have given it a go but our friends later told us that there’s NO WAY we would have managed it (although some people on the forums say you can!)

Another stop on Georgie’s fantastic list of wonders took us to ‘Bad Girl Bakery’ where I had the MOST amazing double chocolate cupcake (honestly that list is FABULOUS), we also managed to get Aurora a vegan cupcake which was so special as it was her first one (she’s an egg allergy sufferer!)

I had a go at driving the campervan (it was bloody hard work!) and then we called into the Dalwhinnie Distillery for a nosey around and bought some gifts for family and friends (all the best gifts are alcohol aren’t they!). We arrived into Pitlochry for our final night, a wild-camp.

This is definitely the 1 place that we hadn’t prepared a stop as we thought it would be as easy as all the other wild-camps… we were wrong. It’s a busy little town and not many places to stop on the outskirts – after a few attempts of trying to find somewhere that would accommodate the campervan (the VW Camper had no problems) we ended up parking in an overnight car park.

We still definitely made the most of it and built our camp fire – we ended up chatting with a lad called Enzo who had travelled all the way from Switzerland in his truck called ‘Ginny’, who had amazing stories for us (it’s always the people you meet that can make a trip so memorable!) We also had an amazing meal out at The Old Mill Inn, a fabulous pub with a water wheel out front and a huge teepee for drinks outside.

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Pitlochry

NC500 Day 10 (Sunday)

For our final day we had to be up SUPER early as we were heading home for our friends twins Christening – so no stops or sights for us on the way back down… but our friends pottered around Pitlochry and said the shops were super cute… and I managed to start this blog piece for you all!

Overall we spent roughly £300 on food & £500 on fuel over the 10 days. The time of year we chose (end of September) meant that we still had lovely weather at the start and definitely managed to avoid the midgies!!! We did catch a LOT of rain towards the end of the trip though.

Top Tips For Your Campervan Trip

Dust pan & brush is essential – just for sweeping the floor of all the sand and mud you pick up on a daily basis!

An empty bag each for all your dirty clothes to go in.

Slippers! Flip Flops or Sliders for going back and forward to the shower/toilet blocks.

Cheap blankets from B&M for sitting outside by the fire – we bought ours for £6 and they got a bit burnt from the embers but we didn’t care.

If you want S’mores for the fire, buy some marshmallows and pop them between 2 Leibeniz biscuits.

Remember towels for your dogs

Take 2 towels per person; 1 for sea swimming and 1 for showering

Here’s Georgie’s FAB List of recommendations – let me know if the places we missed are worth a trip back to!

Thank you so much for reading – enjoy your NC500 trip… happy exploring!

Lots of Love,
Mrs T (and the Taylor Family) x

The Wedding Taylor is award winning, check out her blog here.

Follow The Wedding Taylor on Instagram here.

If you want to find out more or have any questions on the North Coast 500 route that Hannah and her family did, or any questions on travelling it with dogs or young children she is more than happy for you to message her. She’s a gem!

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