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NC500

Ravers

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
We’ve had a fair bit of discussion over this in some other threads, including wild camping and this years holiday.

Time for its own thread I think.

I have just returned from an epic 9 day road trip around Scotland. We did the bulk of it on the NC500 but took a few diversions, including Skye and the Black Isle.

After a massive failure of a camping trip to Loch Lomond in 2017, I’d pretty much had enough of Scotland. It pissed with rain the entire time and we got eaten alive by midges. Even the dog hated it.

The final straw came when the miserable **** of a campsite owner had a pop at my 5 year old daughter for having the audacity to ask what the cat’s name was.

Scotland, I shit it. We have lakes and mountains and rain in Cumbria. No idea why we bothered.

We packed up 3 days early and went home.

Having vowed never to return, I found myself there again just 3 months later doing the West Highland Way (See Walking the West Highland Way thread if you’re interested in that adventure). I even walked past the same campsite. I stuck two fingers up at the owner‘s office as I walked past just for good measure.

I really enjoyed this trip and it slightly smoothed out my relationship with Scotland. A further trip to Aviemore for some skiing made me realise that it wasn’t so bad after all.

So fast forward to now, August 2020. We’re meant to be in Gran Canaria but Covid has put a big fat stop to that. The time is booked off work, dogs are booked in kennels, we have arranged for people to look after the farm etc. etc.

Basically we needed to go somewhere.

Now the NC500 has been a scratch I’ve wanted to itch for a while. A proper road trip adventure. Something mildly arduous but still fun for the family.

A mate had recently done it in a rented VW camper to rave reviews.

We decided to go for it.

I did a little research so I wasn’t stabbing completely in the dark. Joined a few Facebook groups and got some tips on here from a few locals.

Seems like they are having a rough time of it with tourists at the moment. If Facebook was to be believed, the only people who do the NC500 are “dirty campers” intent on shitting in everyone’s gardens, campervannners who clog up the roads and park illegally everywhere or suicidal maniacs on motorbikes or in supercars.

We were none of these things. Just a family with 2 sprogs in a normal family SUV.

I took most of the shit on Facebook with a pinch of salt, for every irate local posting pictures of a badly parked campervan, there was someone else posting fantastic pictures of the perfect holiday they’d just had.

So we kitted up and started making a rough plan. I wanted to be as flexible as possible so that we weren’t tied to being in a particular place at a particular time. I didn’t want the hassle of having to rush parts because we had to be at such and such campsite or hotel at a certain time.

As such we booked nothing, deciding to take advantage of Scotland’s liberal land access and wild camping laws, stopping in campsites if and when we could find ones with space.

My neighbour very kindly loaned us his roof tent. We tried it out the weekend before we were due to leave, just to make sure it all worked and didn’t leak.

It occurred to me that it was quite a squeeze for a family of four. We’d have to take an additional tent if this was going to work. It also occurred to me that there are some wild camping spots where you can’t drive a vehicle, beaches for example. So we’d need enough back packing tentage for all 4 of us.

The roof tent was looking like less and less of an option to be honest, we could’ve got by with our 3 man backpacking tent and my 1 man mountain tent. But in the end, the wife and kids decided they wanted it.

So we ended up taking 3 tents in the end. The roof tent, an OEX Jackal III (3 man backpacking tent) and a Jack Wolfskin Gossamer (1 man mountain tent). It didn’t matter, we had space and it offered flexibility to camp either in proper wild spots away from the car, or in lay-bys etc. in the roof tent.

All part of the adventure.....
 
Did they meet you at the border to shout incomprehensible abuse at you?
 
Something I’ve always wanted to do, but accessible accomodation is a real pain in the arse.

Ive just found this though

 
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Ravers

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
Now one of the main problems with this wild camping lark is going to the bog. The locals on Facebook were particularly irate about people shitting in lay-bys and what not (as anyone would be) and we were keen not to add to this problem.

There are plenty of public loos around the route, but many are currently shut due to Covid. As a precaution I packed a folding entrenching tool and purchased a small foldable bog that allows you to shit into a bin liner.

Another benefit of the roof tent was that it had a large porch that offered plenty of privacy if required. Perfect as a makeshift thunder trap.

We didn’t really need to buy too much other kit as I’ve already got enough camping and outdoorsy shit to equip a small army. The only other real purchase we made was a 12v cool box that plugs into the fag lighter of your car. Handy for keeping food and all important milk for coffees fresh.

The night before the trip I packed everything up in the boot of the car. It was like playing Tetris trying to get everything to fit. Luckily this car has a big space under the boot where a spare wheel would normally be (it’s got run flat tyres and one of those inflater things instead). We used this space to its full potential, filling it with the tents, roll mats and a few other bulky bits and pieces.

First night testing the roof tent at home.
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Tetris.
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Combat shitter.
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West coast of Scotland compares to anywhere in the world for scenery IMHO. Leave each z platz as you found it (as I'm sure you will) and buy some hats with nets attached. There is no repellant on Earth that can deter a hungry Scottish midge from supper!
Enjoy.
 
I wouldn't go for that car roof tent personally, it must be windy when you're belting it down the motorway , trying to get a brew on in there even at 50 mph is going to be a right lick out.
 

Ravers

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
Day 1.

Cumbria to Cromarty.

Not a lot to report. Our objective was to just get to Inverness as quickly as possible and start the NC500.

It’s about 300 miles of M6, M74 and then dual carriageways.

We briefly stopped at the McPherson Clan museum not far from Aviemore. The missus’s great great grandfather was the Clan Chief and we thought it’d be worth a look.

We tried going a few years back when we were in Aviemore, but it’s seasonal and doesn’t open in the winter.

It was closed again this time due to Covid.

As we neared Inverness, the scenery became more interesting, a glimpse of what was to come over the coming days.

We stocked up on some food essentials, things we could cook on a small gas stove and a Jetboil. Again, fires are frowned upon and we didn’t want to give anyone an excuses to give us shit, so no BBQs.

There doesn’t appear to be any official start to the NC500. On the West Highland Way the start and finish is clearly marked with signs and a line. There is a bit of ceremony and excitement when you set off.

Nothing of the sort on the NC500. It wasn’t even that well signposted and we had to rely on the sat nav for most of the way.

We used an app called Park4night which recommends wild camping spots. It was invaluable in getting off the beaten track and on to more discrete camping spots.

The Black Isle is off the route a little, but it’s meant to be a hot spot for dolphin watching so we headed up there.

Didn’t see any dolphins, but we did find a nice secluded spot for the night, up a hill with a great view of the North Sea oil rigs undergoing maintenance in the Cromarty and Moray Firths.

Roof tent up in minutes we feasted on pot noodles and hot dogs made on the Jetboil.
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Now one of the main problems with this wild camping lark is going to the bog. The locals on Facebook were particularly irate about people shitting in lay-bys and what not (as anyone would be) and we were keen not to add to this problem.

There are plenty of public loos around the route, but many are currently shut due to Covid. As a precaution I packed a folding entrenching tool and purchased a small foldable bog that allows you to shit into a bin liner.

Another benefit of the roof tent was that it had a large porch that offered plenty of privacy if required. Perfect as a makeshift thunder trap.

We didn’t really need to buy too much other kit as I’ve already got enough camping and outdoorsy shit to equip a small army. The only other real purchase we made was a 12v cool box that plugs into the fag lighter of your car. Handy for keeping food and all important milk for coffees fresh.

The night before the trip I packed everything up in the boot of the car. It was like playing Tetris trying to get everything to fit. Luckily this car has a big space under the boot where a spare wheel would normally be (it’s got run flat tyres and one of those inflater things instead). We used this space to its full potential, filling it with the tents, roll mats and a few other bulky bits and pieces.

First night testing the roof tent at home.
View attachment 498719
Tetris.
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Combat shitter.View attachment 498724

LOOKS LIKE HELL....
 
You must be so relieved that the roof tent doesnt look absolutely dog shit.
 
Looking forwards to this review as it's on the Mrs list in her camper van......
I'm not so keen as been fortunate to see the NC500 or much of it before it became a thing...in particular spent time in Skye with previous Mrs.... a nympho Red Head (not natural so WTF ! ) for company and wildcamped and walked , swam without seeing another person.......
Hoping Ravers can convince me
 

Ravers

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
Day 2.

Cromarty to Dunnet Head.

Everything I’d read told me to get the East Coast out the way as quickly as possible because it’s pretty dull in comparison to the West.

We woke up to very light drizzle and a few midges but nothing unbearable. We had midge nets and 3 different kinds of midge repellent. A quick breakfast, coffee and then back to the NC500 and on to Dornoch Beach to utilise the facilities there and have a little paddle.

By the time we got to the beach, the weather still wasn’t great. The kids didn’t mind though and still managed to get covered in sea water and sand.

The bogs on the beach were shut, but we found some in the town so all was well. A quick top half dhobie and a shit for the princely sum of 50p. Still no requirement to get the combat shitter out yet.

The beach was nice but as mentioned above, it wasn’t even in the same league as what was to come. In hindsight I wouldn’t have bothered stopping here.

As we drove on, the weather started to clear up a bit. We got to Dunrobin Castle and decided to go for the full tour. You’d think given their ancestry and where we live, the wife and kids would’ve had enough of castles, old furniture and oil paintings of dead blokes.

Anyway the castle was nice. Usual shit, old furniture, oil paintings of dead blokes, stuffed stags, nice garden and a falconry display.

Next stop was a gorgeous little village called Latheronwheel and this is where it started to get good.

This place is a stunning little harbour on a rocky beach. The locals maintain it meticulously and there is a bbq area with picnic tables and pot plants that can be used for a small donation in an honesty box.

They even have a mowed area for tents, so people can camp there. In the woods there is a lovely little walk where people have carved fairy houses into the trees.

It was a far cry from the photos of rubbish strewn lay-bys that I had come to expect from reading Facebook posts.

I could‘ve stayed forever. If I was doing this route again, I’d plan to spend at least one night in Latheronwheel.

It was only about 2pm when we were there, so had to bash on.

We stopped in at the Whaligoe Steps but the car park (with space for about 4 cars) was full, so we sacked it off and kept going, through Wick and on to John o Groats for the obligatory phot by the sign.

The roads up until this point had been mostly decent A roads with some nice twistys. I could certainly see why you’d want to do the trip on a bike or in a fast car. It was still remarkably quiet though. At no point were we stuck behind a campervan plodding along at 30mph, which I’d been led to believe was the norm.

We were making good progress.

Beach at Dornoch.
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Dunrobin Castle
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Latheronwheel.
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Ravers

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
So on to John O Groats. Not a lot going on there to be honest but the views were amazing, proper turquoise sea and Orkney across the water. We looked into getting a ferry across but they weren’t running due to Covid. We could’ve got one from Thurso but decided Orkney would be best left for next time.

John O Groats has a few gift shops and fish and chip vans dotted around but that’s about it.

We queued for a phot by the famous sign and spoke to a few other road weary travellers, including a pack of Ewan Mcrgreggor Walts on massive BMW GS motorcycles with matching clothing and panniers.

Once again we used Park4night to find a spot to plot up for the night and headed up to a small Loch near Dunnet Head.

Home for night 2 was a small lay-by off a seemingly quiet road. No one else about for miles and a view of the sea in one direction and the small Loch in the other.

The place had clearly been well used with the remains of a few campfires scorching the earth and some loo roll strewn in the bushes a few metres into the bushes.

The first real evidence we’d seen of any antisocial behaviour.

We put the tents up and had another feast. Burgers and boil in the bag rice this time. At around 7pm, the midges came out in force so we went to bed early and that was that.

Until 4.30am when I heard some cyclists go past sarcastically shouting “good morning! Enjoy your holiday!”

Not really any need for it. Presumably locals just being cnuts, but it showed that tensions were running high.

JoG
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Camping spot.
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Ravers

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
I’m intrigued at the cat story. It beggars belief that someone could be that unpleasant.

There was a cat wondering about the campsite that my kids had become attached to and were playing with.

My daughter kept saying “I wonder what it’s name is” so I told her to go and ask the lady in the shop.

We went over and she mustered the courage to ask while squeezing my hand tightly.

“Excuse me, what’s the cat called please?”

“Whet?”

“What’s your cat’s name please?”

“I dunno, go away, can’t you see I’m busy!?”

Charming.
 

cymraeg

War Hero

Ravers

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
For some reason the gobby cyclists had really gotten on my tits. I couldn’t get back to sleep and was now paranoid about pissing the locals off, even though we were doing absolutely nothing wrong.

I slept badly and decided to try and find a proper campsite for the following evening.

All the reviews said Sango Sands was a brilliant spot so I gave them a buzz. They don’t take bookings for tents, it’s first come first served. Our itinerary for the day meant we could be there by around 2pm, which seemed more than early enough to get a spot.

So tents away as quickly as possible to avoid the midges and we drove on to Thurso to have coffee and breakfast there. There is a Tesco so we took advantage of the facilities there and stocked up on essentials.

Day 3 and still no requirement for the combat shitter.

The next part of the drive was truly breathtaking. The scenery completely changes to wild hills and stunning beaches. Everything is covered in purple heather. I could now see why the East Coast is considered dull in comparison. We hadn’t even reached the good bit on the West yet.

The sun also started to come out and the weather turned from reasonably nice, to spectacular.

The amusingly named Kyle of Tongue has some great views and we stopped at a bridge with a nice beach so the kids could have a play around.

As was to become a running theme, there was some **** with a drone buzzing over everyone’s heads. It affirmed my decision not to bring mine and just live the moment and not worry about the hassle of the thing.

Further on, after more stunning twisty roads through purple mountains, we came to Loch Eribol. A pretty little island accessible by a causeway looked like a great spot to stop for lunch, so we did.

Again, I was amazed by the lack of people. Everything I’d read up until this point, had led me to expect that the entire place would be rammed with campervans in every lay-by and on every verge.

Apart from two fishermen fixing up an old boat, we had this island to ourselves. We walked around it and had a picnic on the beach in the sun.

It was a stunning, stunning place but the abandoned house on it made us realise that this was probably a very bleak place for the other 49 weeks of the year.


Tongue.
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Loch Eribol.
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We live on the NC500 route, near a train station. We encourage anyone who visits to enjoy themselves and take advantage of what is on offer. Last week we had 8 bikers wild camp nearby, and in the morning dropped off 12 litres of water free (I'm not a sweaty) before they left as it was hot, they had been on the piss, and they probably hadn't preplan the need. Most round here are the same, so I hope you enjoy the trip and recommend it to others
 

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