Kerry & Craig’s North Coast 500

With all of our travel plans for 2020 completely cancelled and our Penelope Plans having to  slow down, we decided to hire a van and spend a week driving, parking, walking, camping in the UK. 

We had two options – North or South, but with children likely to be off school – we felt that the north would have less children running around screaming (don’t get us wrong, we love kids, we just choose not to spend our holidays with them) so we decided to take up something Craig has wanted to do for a long time – the NC500 (that’s North Coast 500 if, like me, you didn’t know), taking in the sites of the North Coast of Scotland. 

FAST FACTS

  • Distance: 516 miles (ish – we’ll be going a little ‘off path’ – as per)
  • Trip length: 7 days 
  • Accommodation: Various (camp sites and Park4Night)
  • Transport:  VW T5 (for now – See the van on GoBoony.co.uk here)

The Camera equipment is still basic in that we use our iphones, but we also bought ourselves a drone the day before we left (the credit card is still warm to the touch!) so we will be able to do the stunning highlands some justice.  

Day 1  – Inverness – The Gateway to the Scottish Highlands

A 6am start to go pick up the van from LGF, then we brought it home, threw in the bags and hit the road… for 7 hours!  We’re both on the insurance so we took it in turns, just the one stop for a vegan sausage roll from Greggs on the way.

We did a food shop at Tesco in Inverness, planning our one pot meals ahead meant we could save money on eating out and last minute buying.  

Back at the van we had a big old pot of easy pasta with tomato and roast veg sauce and even treated ourselves to some violife ‘cheese’ on top.  We shared our dinner straight from the pot rather than put into bowls – less dishes (life hack or just lazy??) and with a glass of red wine tried watching an episode of Down to Earth before crashing right out. 

Accommodation: Bunchrew Caravan Park, a tad pricey at £25 for the night, with an electric hook up and hot showers, but after that drive, we weren’t all that fussed and the view pretty good too…

The view from Bunchrew Caravan Park

Day 2: Inverness to Port Mahomack

After a quick breakfast, coffee and a hot shower at the camp site we took a short drive today after the long one yesterday, we wanted to stretch our legs!  

Our camp for the night is an hour and a half away from our first (our second and final camp – it’s ‘wild camping’ from there on in – though I don’t like that term – that’s for when we’re in the tent).

We stopped at Munlochy Cloothie Well on the way as it was close by, such an eerie pace! 

Clootie wells are wells or springs, almost always with a tree growing beside them, with an assortment of garments or rags left, often tied to the branches of the trees surrounding the well. The tradition is that if you are ill you need to tie a piece of cloth that belongs to you to the tree near the well after it has been dipped in the water of the well. 

After this, and a little chat with two ladies passing by who were interested in the van and very excited to hear about Penelope (we gave them a sticker – obv), we hit the road again and took the one hour drive up to Tarbat Ness Light House, and we were so very glad we did!  The clouds parted and the sun shone down and it was stunning up there, we spent a little time wandering around the cliffs and down to the waters edge before heading back to the van for a brew with a view.

Tarbat Ness Light House

Craig to to play with his drone too – video coming soon! 

After a little lunch – a Mexican bean wrap with some Sheese and Onion crisps (game changer!) – we went back down the road, literally, to our camp for the night. We met the lovely owner John and hooked up our electric.  This is our last night with an electric hook up so it’s time to charge everything up and settle in (and update this blog!).

Tonight’s dinner is tofu and mushroom curry with rice and another glass of red wine – we are on holiday after all! 

Accommodation: Port Mahomack caravan site, £10 per night, with a little meter for the showers, which we are happy to pay.  

We enjoyed the luxury of a hook up and hot showers, as well as supporting a few local businesses, we were also looking forward to the solitude of a wild park up for the rest of the trip!

Day 3: Port Mahomack to Reiss Sands

Today we took a leisurely drive to Kerry’s personal highlight of the trip; Castle Sinclair Girnigoe via Dunrobin Castle and a little wander to Carn Laith Broch – as well as a little surprise location! 

Dunrobin Castle isn’t our cup of tea really, and half of it was closed, we paid anyway and had a mini tour of the castle (one of the guides told us about the bit that was closed off and it does sound quite interesting tbh) but the real treat was in the walk around the outside, through enchanting woodland and around to a little bay where we were treated to a quick sight of a seal pup and it’s mother nearby – we didn’t get a photo so you’ll just have to believe us!  Some things are meant to be for our eyes only after all.

Just down the road, and quite randomly by the side of the road, we had to stop at Carn Liath Broch, an ancient structure and with lots of them dotted throughout Scotland in various states of ruin, this one had a guard cell and a stairway running up between the two walls, which would have led to upper floors and although only the base remains now, it would have been around 3 times as tall at least.

Read more about Broch’s here at NorthCoast500.com

After this, we hopped into the van and headed for Castle Sinclair but on the way, Craig made a seemingly random right turn to find somewhere to stop for lunch, we followed the signs for ‘harbour’ and came across a true hidden gem – Lybster Bay, where we had lunch of ‘Cheese’, hummus and salad wraps followed up with vegan magnums we bought the day before (yay for that little freezer compartment!).

On to Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, perched precariously on a cliff edge this stunning ruin is in a critical state of dilapidation but wonderful efforts have been made for it’s conservation and even some restoration.  With great information and illustrations of how the castle would have looked, you can really get a feel for how this place looked and thrived throughout its history.  

You can read a great story of the castle’s history here including it’s interesting demise and even deliberate ruin – https://www.northlinkferries.co.uk/caithness-blog/a-trip-to-castle-sinclair-girnigoe

The original plan was to camp here for the night, but something said that we should carry on a little further, so with a brief stop at Tesco for some unnecessary but essential supplies (chocolate) we pushed on and found Reiss Sands, only an extra 10 minutes away but well worth it! The beach here is gorgeous and there is an awesome remains of a shipwrecked trawler! 

We parked, we had dinner (tofu chilli and rice!) and a glass of red wine then off to bed – we had an early start planned for Day 4! 

Day 4 (Thursday) Reiss Sands – Port of Droman

Day 4 was a day of winding roads and ticking a few more things off the tourist to do list!

We started our day early with a wander up to Old Keiss Castle, another ruin not far from where we had parked up.  It was so much smaller close up than we imagined it would be but it was still impressive nonetheless.  

Then we hit the road up to Duncansby head to see the sea stacks and we were not disappointed.  The weather had turned today from bright blue to moody grey skies, no less majestic though as we were treated to some stunning views and surrounded by more bird species than we could think of – the sounds of hundreds of birds in one place on the cliffs was incredible.

Back on the road now, our next stop was Castle Varrich (via John O Groats for the obligatory photo!), another small structure, more of a tower than a castle, approached by a nice little stroll from the village of Tongue.  We didn’t actually get a great photo of this one so you’ll have to read about it here; www.thecastlesofscotland.co.uk

“There is a cave in the rock upon which the castle [Varrich, near Tongue] is built called Leabuidh Evin ALaruich, i.e., John of Lochaber’s bed, whither he is said to have retired in time of danger. A family of Mackays is descended from him, and are reported still to have in their possession his banner, with the motto wrought in golden letters, Biodh treun—Biodh treun, i.e., Be valiant.” – The Book of Mackay by Angus Mackay (1906)

After a little drone footage and another magnum, we went on to our accommodation, just beyond ‘the usual’ Sandwood Bay car park and just up the road and a little left turning, down a questionable, definitely less than single track road is a little place called Port of Droman and it was lovely and quiet – perfect park up for the night. 

On our way here we found an awesome waterfall by the side of the road, you’ll have to see our YouTube video for that though – it was truly gorgeous.

Next up is a little change of plan as we make a spontaneous stop roadside to climb a mountain and then head up to our final true stop of our trip at the Old Man of Store.

We will be posting a vlog of our trip on our YouTube channel soon but in the meantime you can follow us on our socials for regular updates on our adventures!

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Facebook: Penelope the Truck

YouTube: Penelope the Truck

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