This Easter holidays, we decided to do something a bit different: from the Canary Islands to the Scottish Highlands, we swapped our sandals with trekking boots, and made our way North.
We flew to Inverness on the Monday evening, and were welcomed at the airport by Alan, the owner of Lochness Motorhomes, picking us up on the camper we hired to take us on our road trip. He took us to a massive Tesco where I could go buy food while he explained all the camper’s bits and bobs to Alle, and then dropped us off at our first camping in Inverness, where he was kind enough to have checked us already in.
Now, having never been camping myself, I had no idea on what to expect from the whole experience and I am no expert in camping sites. However, I think I had a fair bit of experience during these days to critically judge the places I have been to.
The first was called Bunchrew Caravan Park, just outside Inverness and had a stunning view on the loch. It was beautiful to wake up to the sound of birds instead of cars, and we felt ready to start our NC500 roadtrip.
Leaving Inverness behind, as we knew we would come back at the end of the trip, we made our way to (of course) Loch Ness, or the village of Drumnadrochit which has become the ‘hub’ of all that has to do with Nessie. We stopped here just to see Urquhart Castle, sitting right on the Loch, but unfortunately shut. We found this to be rather recurring during our trip, and soon realised that travelling in the Highlands out of season would have been a bigger struggle than what we initially thought.
One hour or so later we arrived to the stunning, and equally famous, Eilean Donan Castle in Dornie. We decided not to spend the £7 entry fee and enjoyed the views from the outside, including some great photo opportunity for some of us…
Then we decided to stop in Isle of Skye, rather than going to Applecross and continuing on the Coastal Route. I had never been, and I was extremely curious to know what the fuss was all about. Of course, Skye is big enough to deserve its own week-long trip, and we gave it only a day, but I was very pleased with what I saw. On our way to the Fairy Pools in Glenbrittle, we stopped at Carbost to have lunch. Here we found The Oyster Shed, an actual shed-cum-shop owned by a young couple that had a variety of seafood and meat dishes. We each got the half lobster and chips, which got to £22 including the drinks. I started to realise here it would have been a pricey holiday…
Driven by the smell of malt and alcohol, we went to the Talisker Distillery just five minutes walk away, where we took a tour and were walked through all the stages of this single scotch whiskey production. I am not a massive fan of this drink, but you just can’t go to Scotland without going to a distillery, and I was really happy with the one we chose.
After that, and no we weren’t drunk, we went straight to the Fairy Pools, and hiked the 30 minutes to get to see them. It’s actually interesting because the walk goes on beyond them, and the landscape around makes it absolutely worth continuing for a little longer. Most tourists don’t seem to venture that far as well, in case you needed another incentive.
These are gorgeous, but unfortunately the path is a bit hard at times, so not for everyone. Note that they are terribly signed posted, so you really need to know where they are before making your way there. Not having any signal, we got lost a couple of times until finally found them! Remember to turn at Sligachan, following the road to Carbost, but turning just before the village toward Glenbrittle. They are about four miles down this single track road.
We were then hoping to stop for the night at the Glenbrittle Campsite, but we soon learnt the harsh truth: most of these campsite were close until Easter Friday or even April. Our dream to stop at any one that we found on the way crashed before our eyes, and we had to start calling them in advance. That night, we ended up wild camping on the shores of Loch Alsh, which was actually pretty cool.
Having ditched Applecross, we made our way to Ullapool through Gairloch and many other villages or lochs were we could take a stroll. We stopped for lunch in Gairloch, after taking us a while to find an open restaurant, and ending up at Spiral Café & Bistro.
We stayed the night in Altandhu, after really struggling to find an open campsite, many miles on single track roads full of sheep and getting lost in Alchitibuie. Port a Bhaigh Campsite not only saved us from another night wild camping (which would have been fine, but we ran out of water and electricity so not ideal), but was also by far the best one we have been to. Small, right on the sea, wifi included and brand new facilities, it came at £21.50 per night. Best of all, it had a pub right across the road.
On day 3 we made our way to the edge of Scotland, stopping in one of my favourite places: Durness. When the road to this town ends, you have you decide whether to turn left or right, with a few options that seemed to be the same on either way – ‘cafes, restaurants, shops’ etc. Except for one: Chocolaterie! I couldn’t miss the chance, and thanks to a local who confirmed it was amazing, we turned left first. We stopped at the end of the road for lunch, just between a golf course and a cemetery (both very common there), facing a beautiful beach. For dessert, we had a home-made hot chocolate and truffles at Cocoa Mountain, which made it the perfect pit stop before our next destination.
Going back at the junction, we turned right – towards John Lennon Memorial, Smoo Cave, and, well, the rest of the NC500. The memorial is a stone with not much fuss about it, but if you are a fan then it’s worth stopping for a couple of minutes and a photo… The Cave is absolutely magnificent. I suggest you walk along the coast after visiting the inside, they are both equally beautiful and the views from the cliffs are stunning.
We stopped at a campsite on the way to John O’ Groats, the Halladale Inn in Melvich. Arguably the worse of all, it still did the job and we didn’t have many other options. We paid £20 for the night, and there is a pub right next to it. As well as a very noisy road.
This is the day we got to the northernmost point of mainland Britain: Dunnet Head. There’s a great view of the Orkney Islands from here, and a great feeling standing there. I admit I do have a bit of a thing for reaching the tips of countries. It’s also a bit of history there, as it’s where soldiers used to be signposted during the war to check on the seas.
After soaking all that in, we moved to the northernmost village in mainland Britain – John O’Groats. There is nothing much to see in the village itself, but the walks along the coast are stunning. Also, one of the highlights of the whole trip was visiting the Stacks of Duncansby. You can reach them easily once you parked by the lighthouse, and they are an absolute natural wonder.
We had to spend the night as near as possible to Inverness, as we were returning the camper the following morning unfortunately, so we made our way south in Caithness. I was warned this region didn’t stand up to its neighbouring ones, but I didn’t want to listen and wanted to check it out for myself. Well, they were right. It’s still a beautiful landscape all along, but nothing compared to Wester Ross or Sutherland. Still, we drove through Thurso, which looked very pretty, and stopped in Wick for a walk, which was a bit of a let down as there is not much to do or see there.
After a quick stop at Dunrobin Castle (that was closed by the time we got there), we ended up by chance in Dornoch for the evening. I fell in love immediately with it, it’s a small village full of character, history and of course, the sea! There is also a whiskey bar inside a castle, can you ask for more?!
We spent the night at Dornoch Caravan and Camping Park, the closest to the town centre among the two campsites that are there, and paid £21 for the night. It had all we needed, and it was quiet enough at night, but still only a few minutes walk away from the town centre.
In the morning, we had to wave goodbye to what had become our home for the past week. Alan kindly picked us up and dropped us off at our Hotel in Inverness. Because we were early for check out, we went straight to Culloden Battlefield and Museum (by bus from Inverness) where we spent the rest of our day learning a bit of history of Scotland. I am not a massive fan of battlefields or 1700s feuds for the British throne, but the museum was very well made and managed to grab my attention and hold it throughout the visit. At the end, you can walk around the fields where the last man to man battle on British soil happened.
When we finished the tour, we walked towards the Clava Cairns, an open and free 4,000 years old burial site. This Bronze Age chamber tomb cairn won’t take up much of your time as it’s fairly small, but I would definitely suggest a visit there, especially if you are at the Culloden Battlefield already. Many people seem to skip it, but it’s a great experience to walk around such ancient ruin – and one that doesn’t happen often either.
On our travel day we decided to try one of the dolphin tours that are in Inverness, only to be extremely disappointed. Without a car, we set up by foot towards the fishing port, where not even buses would take you there, and after about 1 hour walk we realised we wouldn’t have found anything. To be fair though, we did know there was a high chance of the tours not being there as it wasn’t high season, so I am sure that if you visit during the summer you will definitely find something.
We spent our last few hours in Scotland visiting Inverness town centre, having a beer in front of the castle and having our Easter lunch in a vegan restaurant (yep, you heard that right).
Now with the boring part: how much we spent. My budget for this trip was around £500 each, which is massive for a week holiday, but being in Europe I thought it was appropriate. Given the camper alone was already £437, it became clear to me that it would have been hard to respect the budget… We ended up spending £1,255 between the two of us, so about £630 each, which included everything from flights to petrol to food. I tried the Trail Wallet app for the first time, which I found really useful to track all our spending and review them later:
This was definitely a trip of a lifetime, I was already deeply in love with Scotland after going to Hogmanay, but this time I got to experience all of that its nature has to offer. I am a big fan of city breaks and meeting locals to experience the culture, but for once I enjoyed spending the time in touch with nature and nothing else. There are so many places on the road that I haven’t mentioned as I could go on for days, but it was great to stop the car wherever we wanted and each and every time be amazed by what was surrounding us, the fresh air, the silence.
This Route was officially opened only last year, so I would love to hear from you if you have been there, how was your experience and what did you see?
To see more photos, visit my Facebook album. 🙂