North Coast 500 - tips from campervan owners
Scotland's North Coast 500 route is scenic, rugged and a magnet for campervan and motorhome owners - so we asked Sussex Campervan owners: why is the NC500 so popular?
Scotland’s famously beautiful 516-mile North Coast 500 route is on so many campervan owners’ bucket lists - but why? Four of our Sussex Campervan family of owners have followed the route, which goes from Inverness west to Applecross, then up to Ullapool. It takes in Caithness and John o’Groats, then returns to Inverness.
Mandy and Steve live in Hampshire and have just spent three weeks exploring the NC500 in the Paradise Compact campervan that we built for them. The camper is based on the Renault Trafic and Mandy says, "The van performed brilliantly, allowing us down some very minor roads, where no others dared to tread. We used campsites every night, because we needed the heater on. We saw stunning scenery, day after day. We are very lucky to have all this a drive away, albeit a long one."
Manhattan campervan owners Jeff and Jane went last autumn, so they also wrapped up warmly and were glad of their campervan heater. Shrimp their whippet loved chasing rabbits in the dunes at Dunnet Bay, and they saw dolphins from their camper at Chanonry Point, near Rosemarkle C&C Club Site.
At Applecross they were thrilled when stags joined them, laying down for the night between the camper and the shore.
Suzi collected her brand new silver Manhattan campervan, with bespoke purple seats, in April 2019. Her story is as colourful as her camper, as she’s given up her job and rented out her house to become a full-time mindfulness travel blogger (www.mindfulvanlife.com) and vlogger. She drove straight to Gretna Green and the NC500 route. Since then she’s been wild camping and made a camp fire on the shores of a loch. With each passing day this idyllic route worked its magic on her.
Steve and Birgit’s NV200 CamperCar must be a familiar sight all along the NC500. As walkers, climbers and mountain rescuers, they’re hardy all-weather campers. We've been pretty impressed at their adventures, and the fact that the NV200 CamperCar we built them has turned out to be an extremely capable campervan in all weathers and altitudes (you can read more about that in A Van for All Seasons).
On the NC500 route Steve found Ullapool’s campsite crowded in early May 2019, so he drove north until he ran out of road and spent the night on the western shore, disturbed only by seals and seabirds. In the morning he left a set of footprints on the white sandy beach, freshly washed by the tide. Other highlights were spotting otters in Gairloch, staying warm in the van while snow fell on the mountains in May, enjoying a sundowner pint of beer beside the camper on the shoreline at Applecross, and stopping at Ardnamurchan to take photos of Skye’s Cullin mountains, as well as Rhum and Eigg islands.
The call of the wild is strong in us - and it’s the perfect antidote to modern life. Is it time you discovered Scotland’s beautiful NC500 route, too?
12 Top tips for your NC500 coastal drive
- Allow at least 5-7 days to drive the NC500.
- Book campsites ahead - or plan to go wild camping.
- Take walking boots so you can explore the beautiful coast and mountains.
- Take bicycles if you enjoy cycling - they're perfect for exploring the smaller tracks.
- Most of the NC500 is suitable for experienced drivers of campervans and even motorhomes.
- Avoid the Bealach Na Ba part of the NC500 - it is steep, with sharp bends. If you're nervous or driving a large motorhome it's safer to use the A896.
- Avoid the B869 from Lochinver to Kylesku if you're driving a large motorhome.
- Practise reversing your campervan - you might need to reverse a few hundred yards on one of the single track roads we've just mentioned.
- The best months to visit Scotland's NC500 route are from May to September - but Scottish weather is changeable.
- Wild camping is legal in Scotland, but you need to look out for any parking restriction signs before camping for the night.
- Midges are common in Scotland from May to September, especially in the West, at dusk and dawn. Remember to pack your insect repellent.
- Don't forget to take plenty of photos!
NC500 Dinnet Bay
NC500 Wild Camping
NC500 view of Skye
NC500 view of Eigg
NC500 Cromarty Firth
NC500 Loch Morlich Cairngorms