In this epic North Coast 500 post, we’ll tell you all about the things to do and see on this 500+ mile scenic loop around the coast of the Highlands.
If you are doing NC500 in a campervan or motorhome, we made the whole loop in our van conversion and have some good tips for you on where to wild camp.
We’ve also divided the guide into five sections with the top highlights for easy navigation. The NC500 highlights are all hyperlinked, so you don’t have to keep on scrolling up and down.
If you have very little time to spare but want to do the Route 500 anyway, you can book a 3-day whirlwind tour from Inverness with the very popular Rabbie’s minivan.
Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links; we may receive a small commission for any purchases at no extra cost to you. Lovely.
Section 1: Inverness – Applecross
North Coast 500 Highlights from Inverness to Bealach Na’ Ba
The Bealach Na’ Ba Pass will be the most challenging climb of this road trip so stay focused, enjoy the ride and don’t worry; the descent to Applecross will be much gentler.
- Lovely Inverness
- Beauly Priory
- Bealach Na’ Ba Pass
- Applecross Village
- Wild Camping Tips for Campervans
An Afternoon in Inverness
Inverness is where this epic Scottish road trip begins and ends regardless of whether you’ll do it clockwise or anticlockwise.
It’s up to you whether you want to spend a day in the city, but we recommend spending at least an afternoon here. It’s the largest city in the Scottish highlands, in case you need to stock up on essentials for the road.
Situated along the River Ness, Inverness is easily walkable on foot, and, in our humble opinion, the walk along the river is one of the best things to do here. It’s relaxing and picturesque.
If you are spending some time here, check out Leakey’s Bookshop or, rather, an old church filled to the brim with second-hand books. It’s very Harry Potter-esque.
Beauly Priory – The Beautiful Place
From Inverness, it’s only half an hour’s drive west to Beauly. Follow the A862 road.
Located in a cute town called Beauly, the ruins of the priory, which is still in very good condition, are worth a quick look. The original priory consisted of many buildings, but only the church is all that remains today.
It was founded by the French monks in 1230, hence the name “Beautiful Place,” which comes from the riverside setting (beau lieu). And it appears Mary Queen of Scots endorsed it during her visit in 1564.
Now buckle up; you are about to embark on one of the most challenging parts of the North Coast 500 loop. Drive further west from the priory for under two hours and witness the scenery become more dramatic.
Challenging but Breathtaking Bealach Na’ Ba Pass
Like the mountain passes in the Alps, Bealach Na’ Ba, aka the Pass of the Cattle, is the steepest road ascent in the UK. At 626 metres (2,053 ft) high, the single-track road twists and turns sharply in places and should be taken seriously. It’s dangerous and breathtaking at the same time.
The road across the mountains of the Applecross peninsula is open all year round; however, occasionally it gets closed during extreme weather conditions. We drove up in the rain, and it was uncomfortable in places, so do take care and stay alert.
On a clear day, you can explore the spectacular summit of Bealach Na’ Ba and check out the post at the viewpoint pointing to some of the iconic landmarks in the area. You can even spot the Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye if it’s not too misty.
However, we don’t recommend wandering in the mist, as visibility can be abysmal. Also, be careful when crossing the road; there are lots of blind summits and hairpin bends.
Rest at the Applecross Village
Halfway down Bealach Na’ Ba, the tiny village of Applecross will start to appear. Also known as “the street” to the locals, it’s one of the earliest settlements in Scotland. Today it’s home to the famous Applecross Inn and Smokehouse.
If you are after breakfast, the inn serves food to the residents only. But The Junction Cafe nearby serves up a really good full English including a fab veggie option. Not cheap, but absolutely scrumptious.
Applecross is very small and finding accommodation here at the last minute can be very challenging. Be sure to book early and enjoy your stay stress-free.
Wild Camping Tips for Campervans/Motorhomes
Bealach Na’ Ba summit: Driving through the pass will be an unforgettable experience in itself, but if you want to enhance it even more, sleep atop Bealach Na’ Ba.
The viewing platform here is perfect for an overnight stop if you are doing the North Coast 500 route in a campervan/motorhome. But it can get cold at night even in the summer so bring warmer PJs. A hat will also be handy if you are thinking of going for a wander in the valley later in the day.
The valley was covered in thick mist when we were driving through the pass. But we hung around until the weather improved (at around 9 pm) and got to see the legendary valley with our own eyes.
Section 2: Applecross – Ullapool
North Coast 500 Highlights from Applecross to Ullapool
The second leg of the road trip, Applecross to Ullapool, is no less exciting than the first. You can take the quick route (approx 2h) but you’ll miss some epic drives.
We recommend the longer route and taking a few detours along the way, such as Torridon glen. As you cross the valley, you’ll feel like you are in a James Bond movie, rushing to save the world through the vast wilderness.
- Shieldaig Village
- Red Point Beach (longer detour)
- Gairloch Village
- Inverewe Gardens
- Toxic Gruinard Island (quicky stop)
- Little Loch Broom
- Falls of Measach and Corrieshalloch Gorge
- Wild Camping Tips for Campervans
Shieldaig and the Tastiest Banana Bread
From Applecross head east towards A896. At Kinlochewe the road turns to the left onto A832 all the way to Shieldaig.
The village was originally founded in the 1800s to train up seamen for war against Napoleon, hence the cannon along the seafront. Today it’s a peaceful fishing village with a pretty name meaning “herring bay.”
Because of the scenic surroundings, Shieldaig is a popular spot among the NC500 tourers and gets booked up quickly. Don’t chance it, follow the link to check out the accommodation options before all the best rooms get sold out.
The picture-perfect Shiledaig will forever be known to us as the “best banana bread stop” on Scotland’s most scenic North Coast 500 route.
As you wander around the seafront, look out for “Bread in a cupboard.” It’s a nest looking hut filled with sourdough, rye and (the tastiest) banana bread for sale. Take your goodies and leave money in the box.
Unspoiled Red Point Beach
The drive from Shieldaig and especially from Torridon towards the Red Beach is, you probably already guessed, stunning and picturesque. You’ll be passing right through the Torridon valley on the A896, with a view into the mighty Ben Eighe with its many summits.
Wild and remote, Red Point Beach is worth a quick detour or an overnight stay if you are tackling the North Coast 500 in a campervan or motorhome.
As you leave the valley, follow the road sign to Gairloch and Ullapool. The turn off for the beach is at Kerrisdale. Look out for the sign on your right-hand side pointing to Red Point. From here cross the stone bridge on your left if driving clockwise and then it’s around 9 miles on the one-track road.
The beach is at the end of the road, past the inn, gin distillery, and many small communities along the way. You’ll see a smaller red-hue sand beach in the distance but keep driving further until you crossed two stone bridges and reached a small car park. Opinan is the last settlement before the beach.
If you have time, check out Badachro Inn and the small gin distillery under the same name. Oh, and look out for some Heilan’ Coos, the beautiful long-haired Highland cows, as soon as you cross the first stone bridge.
Tiny Gairloch Village
On A832 and shores of Loch Gairloch, sits Gairloch, a pretty harbour village with galleries, shops, a post office and inns.
Have some spare pennies? Then book a glass-bottomed boat tour to sneak on sea stars, urchins, seals and sea birds. Check out their website here. There’s a visitor centre in the town if you are looking for more things to do and see in the area.
As you start leaving the town, Look out for a lovely beach on your left and stop at the viewpoint of Loch Garliosh.
The Scottish 500 route is becoming increasingly popular and you might miss out on great places to stay if you don’t book in advance. Follow the link to see what’s available in Gairloch today.
Enchanted Inverewe Gardens
Quick 15-minute drive northwest from Gairloch is the perfect stop to unwind from all these one-track roads on the North Coast 500 route.
Inverewe is a delightful stop to inhale the dreamy English rose scent and walk the woodland trails. This lovely botanical garden is a true manifestation of the founder’s vision to plant and grow as many exotic plants as possible.
Allocating a good chunk of time is a good idea. This heritage garden has several trails, plus a museum and a cafe.
Toxic Gruinard Island
Don’t miss the tiny Gruinard island inhabited by sheep. Located between Coast and Mungasdale in Guinard Bay, it holds a grim past dating back to WWII when the British tested Anthrax, a dangerous infectious chemical for use in the war.
They filled bombs with the Bacillus anthracis bacteria and dropped them on Gruinard island to check if they could contaminate cities in Germany.
In 1986, the government started the cleaning process and declared the island safe to visit in 1990. But is it?
You can catch a glimpse of the oval-shaped island from the car park along the road; it’s only 1 km offshore.
Picnic at Little Loch Broom
With picnic tables and fantastic views of Little Loch Broom and An Tellach, the highest mountain in the area, this place is what the NC500 route is all about – Scotland at its best.
There’s a big car park on the A835 with plenty of space to park even the largest motorhome. Tour buses stop here, too, so you might have a mob of tourists suddenly obstructing the view, but don’t worry; they don’t hang around for long.
There are also some lovely beaches between Coast and Mungasdale if you fancy a quick stop.
The Extraordinary Corrieshalloch Gorge
Keep driving on the main road for the magnificent Corrieshalloch Gorge and Falls of Measach. Take the woodland trail and cross the Victoria suspension bridge to see the spectacular show of the falls plunging into the River Droma.
If you are not going into the gorge, enjoy the fabulous drive to the next leg of the North Coast 500 trip – Ullapool.
Wild Camping Tips for Campervans/Motorhomes
Red Point Beach: Wild camp here if you are not in a rush. There were a couple of families camping on the beach and two other campervans next to us during our stay. It’s a lovely peaceful spot for the night.
And if you leave the beach early enough in the morning, before 9 am, you’ll be lucky to miss the oncoming traffic along the one-track road. Plus, the countryside, bathing in the morning light, is so beautiful and fresh – great for photos.
More adventures from Scotland: How and where to see the Harry Potter Train a.k.a “Hogwarts Express.”
Section 3: Ullapool – Durness
NC 500 Highlights from Ullapool to Durness
There’s beach after beach after beach on this bit of road and you don’t have to see them all. But don’t miss Achnahaird Beach, it’s well worth a detour, especially on a sunny day.
- Achnahaird Beach (detour)
- Northwest Highlands GeoPark – Knockan Crag (detour)
- Ardvreck Castle
- Clachtoll Beach (detour)
- Clashnessie Beach
- B869 alongside Clashnessie Bay
- Sandalwood Bay
- Wild Camping Tips for Campervans
Explore the Route from Ullapool
Ullapool, situated on the shores of Lochbroom is the first big village on the North Coast 500 route (when driving clockwise) and a good hub from which to explore the nearby sights.
Surrounded by beautiful scenery, Ullapool offers great hiking and cycling routes, good accommodation options and has a few pretty cafes.
From here you can also catch a ferry to Stornoway and Lewis in the Outer Hebrides if you are thinking of exploring further away from the initial NC500 route.
We recommend popping into the Ullapool Smokehouse shop in the town and stock up on cured salmon and other locally produced goodies. We enjoyed a few delightful breakfasts in our van conversion made from traditionally smoked malt whiskey cured salmon. Yum.
During our visit, every B&B we passed in Ullapool was marked with “no vacancies” sign, therefore, pre-booking accommodation is a smart move. Check the link to see what’s available right now.
Wild and Beautiful Achnahaird Beach
Achnahaird beach requires a slight detour from the main NC500 route, but what a find! It’s a tidal almost-white sand beach located in Coigach peninsula.
If you are craving peace and an off the beaten path spot, then Achnahaird beach is worth the detour. From Ullapool head southeast and follow A893.
The drive itself to the beach is a beautiful winding one track drive for about 12 miles from the turn-off.
Another great thing about the beach is that it’s only a short and easy walk away across the cliffs from the car park.
The Fascinating Knockan Crag
From Achnahaird beach, head southwest and re-join the A835 at Drumrunie for the short drive to Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve.
The walk along the Knockan Crag was a pleasant surprise. Here we learned about how continents collided millions of years ago and we had a great circular walk atop the ancient crag.
The walk is easy but steep in places, with very limited visibility on a rainy day. We were lucky to see panoramic views at the summit just before the mist covered the site completely. You’ll also find many lovely stone art pieces and poems carved in rocks and stones along the way.
There is a hut with lots of information about, supposedly, the oldest rocks in the world, at the start of the walk. The boards explain in detail the controversy of the 19th century when two Scottish geologists, Ben Peach and John Horne, discovered that there was something wrong with the sequence of the rocks here.
The discovery that the older rocks moved on top of the younger rocks due to tectonic action had a significant impact on the science of geology. This kind of phenomenon has never been detected anywhere else in the world at the time.
The Ruin of Ardvreck Castle
As you join the A837 road at Ledmore towards Inchnadamph, make a quick stop to explore the ruins of the 16th Century Ardverk Castle, once owned by the Macleods of Assynt Clan.
Nearby, you’ll also see the ruins of Calda House, once a lavish mansion, it has remained a ruin since 1745.
White-Sand Clachtoll Beach
As with many roads in the Scottish Highlands, the stunning single-track route from Lochinver to Clachtoll beach is full of turns and twists winding through the rocks. Full attention must be paid to the road here.
The beach itself is a lovely white-sand bay framed with beautiful black rocks sticking out into the sea. A great spot for chilling, paddleboarding or dipping your toes in the crystal-clear waters.
The parking lot for the beach can be accessed via the town and then a drive through the campsite. The latter looked extremely busy during our visit.
Lovely Clashnessie Beach
A 10-minute drive away northeast from Clachtoll Beach, you’ll come across Clashnessie Beach.
Even though perched close to the road, Clashnessie is another lovely beach in beautiful surroundings. It’s broad and easily accessible with a small patch of land for parking.
Scenic B869 Road Alongside Clashnessie Bay
This crazy picturesque stone-walled road alongside Clashnessie Bay is not for faint-hearted. If you are a passenger, look out for two little cute sandy bays on your left (if driving clockwise), if you are the driver on NC500 – keep your eyes on the road.
The road is quite narrow, with hairpin bends on every corner, but a joy to navigate for experienced drivers. If you’ve never been on one track roads, just keep left at passing places.
Unfortunately, there’s nowhere you can stop to take a photo of this stunning road. You’ll have to either do it from the car or simply enjoy the ride.
The detour drive from Clashnessie Bay all the way towards Balchrick (detour for Sandwood Bay) is lovely, even on a misty day. It’s like a mini highlands. At times it felt like we were in a movie set when passing by the deep green and brown coloured rocks perfectly reflected in the mirror-like lakes.
Drumberg viewpoint is a lovely stop along the way with a view of Eddrachillis Bay, Handa Island and mainland Sutherland.
Unspoiled Sandwood Bay
From Drumberg, make your way towards Balchrick. From here, the only way to reach the unspoiled beach is on foot for just over 4 miles one way.
Framed with sand dunes and adorned with Am Buachaille, a sea stack in the distance, Sandwood Bay is a 1-mile long fine-sand beach, unspoilt and spectacular.
But, if the weather is gloomy, be prepared for a mundane 8-mile round trek with rain drumming into your face and a hazy view of the beach. Needless to say, we came back soaking wet despite wearing waterproof gear. Luckily we had our van conversion waiting patiently at the car park. A hot cup of tea was the ultimate reward.
There are many more easily accessible and beautiful beaches along the route so skip it if you don’t fancy sloshing across puddles in the rain.
Wild Camping Tips for Campervans/Motorhomes
Campsite in Ullapool: Showers, washer and dryer, but very busy.
Achnahaird beach: This is our top wild camp spot. The car park is small, but if you can squeeze in your campervan, stay here for a night. The view of the bay, the beach and the hills in the distance is magnificent.
We stayed here for 2 nights and found it peaceful. Plus, it wasn’t that busy during the day either. A hidden gem for sure and worth the detour if you are after a good wild camping spot on NC500.
Clashnessie Bay: There’s a tiny car park across the road from Clashnessie beach, suitable for overnight parking for around 4-6 motorhomes.
We skipped this spot and drove further west for around 5 minutes along the picturesque B869 road until we reached a tiny lake by the road. There is a substantial patch of gravel land for overnight parking. It was busy during the day, but the traffic died down at around 9 pm.
Sandalwood Bay: If you are running low on the water, there’s a tap behind the toilet block. We didn’t stay here overnight, but the car park is suitable for wild camping in a motorhome or campervan.
Section 4: Durness – Wick
NC500 Highlights from Durness to Wick
Starting with the Smoo Cave, the rest of the ride between Durness and Wick will be pretty spectacular with many high viewpoints along the North Coast 500 route.
- Smoo Cave
- Golden Eagle Zipline
- Cape Wrath (organised ferry crossing only)
- Eilean Choraidh island
- Talmine Viewpoint (detour)
- Farr Beach near Bettyhill
- Hollandale Inn – Great Pub
- Dunnet Head (detour)
- John o’ Groats (detour)
- Duncasby Head (unmissable detour)
- Noss Head + Girnigoe and Sinclar’ Castles (unmissable detour)
- Wild Camping Tips for Campervans
Spooktacular Smoo Cave
From Balchrick head towards Rhiconich and from here join the A838 road all the way to Durness.
Smoo Cave is located on the main road, easily accessible from the car park. Plus it’s free of charge! Just like many other incredible sites on this route around the Scottish Highlands.
Formed over thousands of years, Smoo Cave in Durness is well worth a visit. The first chamber of the cave was carved out by the sea and the second by the river which was dry when we visited.
The wooden steps descend into the waterfall/lake chamber but during heavy rains, the cave floods and you might not be able to access it. But you could still admire it from the top of the stairs.
Once inside the cave, take the wooden path into the spooktacular waterfall chamber but be sure to protect your camera. You could be met with a violent spray of water coming from it.
It’s a real shame the boat tours weren’t running during our visit. We would have loved to see what’s inside further down the cave. Sadly Colin, the main Smoo caver and tour operator has passed away in early 2019. You’ll see a plaque tribute for him as you explore the information boards outside the cave.
Check out the official page for Smoo Cave to see if the tours are still running.
Thrilling Golden Eagle Zipline
As soon as you leave the cave to continue your epic North Coast 500 adventure, there will be two fabulous, easily accessible beaches on your left-hand side.
The further one, Ceannabeinne beach, has a zipline if you fancy thrills on your Scottish 500 route. You can just show up and glide over the Atlantic at 40 mph, no booking required.
Cape Wrath – Scotland’s Most North Westerly Point
Cape Wrath is a serious detour on the NC500 route. The only way to access the peninsula is by the Cape Wrath Ferry, a foot passenger only boat. The journey to cross the Kyle of Durness takes around 10 minutes.
You will then be picked up by a minibus service and given a 3-hour tour with commentary. Once you reach Cape Wrath, you’ll have some time to explore the area independently before boarding the bus for a return journey to the ferry terminal.
Due to the dangerous tide and often wild weather, the ferry and bus service don’t have a regular schedule so it’s best to contact the minibus company first.
Uninhabited Eilean Choraidh Island
You don’t even need to make a special effort to stop here to admire the view. But you might want to slow down and snap a few shots of this tiny island, Eilean Choraidh, connected with the mainland by a causeway.
The causeway hugged by the turquoise waters of the Kyle of Tongue Bay, looks especially beautiful on a clear day.
During the 19th century, the island was used for lime quarrying which was then calcinated in limekiln on the nearby peninsula.
Just before the Kyle of Tongue bridge, you can take a quick detour to Talmine viewpoint. From here you can enjoy a lovely view of the bridge.
We missed the sign for the viewpoint and went all the way up into the tiny village. Which was lucky as we needed to stock up on fresh fruit and veg. There’s a nice view of another bay from up here. As it goes, you’re never short of bay views on the NC500 route.
Farr Beach – No More Beaches!
“No more beaches,” we said after our epic fail at Sandwood Bay. But the sun was out and we found ourselves trotting off yet to another beach.
Once you cross the Kyle of Tongue bridge, join the A836 road for Bettyhill.
The small historic Bettyhill town has a lovely beach nearby, a leisurely 5-minute stroll across the fields. And it is absolutely stunning with the purple-coloured river Naver rushing into the blue sea.
It was quite fascinating to see the river quickly eating into the sandy ridge. As if it was a fast-forward movie of natural coastal corrosion. Charlie had lots of fun demolishing and arch that looked like a mini version of the long lost Azure Window in Malta.
Stop at Hallandale Inn
Have yourself a wee break and stop at Halladale Inn in Thurso. They serve great food and drinks and the staff is very friendly.
They also have a sign in their garden (kind of hidden away behind the smoking bin) of the Route 500 which is a copy of the Route 66 in the US. Tacky, but we still took a quick picture.
Dunnet Head – the Most Northerly Point of Mainland Britain
Get excited. Driving away from Thurso, you’ll be able to take quite a few dramatic detours, starting with Dunnet Head, a peninsula on the north coast of Scotland. Thurso is only a 45-minute drive northeast from Bettyhill via A836, then a left turn onto the 4-mile long B855.
This is the most northerly point of mainland Britain and home to puffins, razorbills (which we were lucky to spot), shags and cormorants. On a clear day, you can see the islands of Stroma, Hoy and the Orkney Mainland.
Wander up the hill away from the lighthouse to investigate the bunker and other tiny huts built during World War II. The hill was used as a monitoring station as it affords good visibility across the Pentland Firth.
Thurso is a great base from which to explore the dramatic peninsulas of the NC500. Follow the link to check accommodation options in this area and keep exploring.
John o’ Groats – the End of the Road
From Dunnet Head, head east for John o’ Groats.
There might not be any dramatic views at this stop, but John o’ Groats is an iconic landmark in Britain. It marks the longest distance (874 miles) between two extreme points in the southwest (Land’s End in Cornwall) and northeast (John o’ Groats) of the country.
John o’ Groats is often used as a starting or finishing point for charity walks or cycling challenges and can take up to 14 days to complete the end-to-end trail. But it can take months if you take off-road routes.
If you are planning to stay close to John o’ Groats, check accommodation options in Canisby.
Must-See Jagged Stacks of Duncansby
From John o’ Groats, drive up to Duncansby Head. It’s busier than the other peninsulas on the road, but for a reason. The coastline is so striking it’s hard to take it all in.
Be sure to follow the path leading over the highest point of the peninsula for fantastic views over the Thirle Door and the Stacks of Duncansby.
We saw so many people turn around at the point of a slight incline, which is a shame. Yes, you can see the craggy rocks from further away, but the most delightful part of Duncasby Head lies a little further along.
There’s a well-trodden path leading up to the summit from where you can look down on to the huge breathtaking craggy sea stacks. Plus, you’ll get a great view of the Duncansby Head cliffs that broke away from the main peninsula.
Noss Head and the Ghostly Castle
From Duncansby, it’s a straightforward drive along the A99 road to Wick where Noss Head is located.
Sitting on a dramatic coastline, the 16th Century Castle Sinclair Girnigoe is the absolute star of this site. Be sure to (carefully) walk around the cliff to take in the view of the thrilling rocks beneath the castle.
The castle is currently undergoing renovation, but part of it is open for an atmospheric wander in the courtyard just across the windy bridge.
Come here for the sunset or early in the morning to hear the wind howling in between the walls. I swear I was feeling chills when taking pictures early in the morning with no one else in sight. Maybe I wasn’t alone after all?!? ?
Wild Camping Tips for Campervans/Motorhomes
You’ll find lots of little wild camping spots between Achiriesgill and Keoldale (ferries for the Cape Wrath).
Hollandale Inn: At the back of the pub, there’s a camping and caravan/motorhome site as well as glamping pods. Here’s the website where you can check out prices and availability.
Dunnet Head: A popular nightspot among campervans/motorhomes on NC500. It can get crowded and a little bit noisy with people coming and going, but in general, it was quiet at night.
Noss Head: Less crowded than Dunnet Head car park. Plenty of space for caravans/motorhomes. Great spot if you want to be the first or the last one to have a spooky wander around the castle.
Section 5: Wick – Inverness
North Coast 500 Highlights from Wick to Inverness
Once you’ve done the dramatic bit of the coastline, you might be tempted to head straight for Inverness. But don’t rush just yet to complete the Scottish 500 route. Check out some of these less-visited sights.
- Whaligoe Steps (quick detour)
- Grey Cairns of Camster – Neolithic Tombs (quick detour)
- Lybster – Best Crab Rolls (quick detour)
- Dunrobin Castle + fantastic wild camping spot
- Clootie Well (quirky detour)
- Urquhart Castle on the Shores of Loch Ness
- Wild Camping Tips for Campervans
330 Whaligoe Steps
Around 10-15 minutes south down the road from Wick, there’s a quick detour to Whaligoe Steps on your left just before Ulbster.
There is a small car park at the top of the stairs and a sign leading you to the 330 steps descending into a harbour.
To the left of the steps, there’s a bump on your right-hand side. If you are not scared of heights, you can cross a super narrow path to the summit of the bluff. Look to your left to discover a lovely waterfall rushing down the impressive rocks.
Take care when going down and up the steps, as they are steep, uneven, and cracked in places. And don’t hold on to the walls – they might be unsupported or just recently repaired.
It’s a small site maintained by a local chap who works really hard to replace the dilapidating steps. We met him while he was repairing one section of the footpath and had a quick chat about the amount of time he spends repairing the stone slabs. Please be respectful and leave a small donation if you can.
Grey Cairns of Camster – Neolithic Tombs
Next up will be the intriguing Neolithic Tombs – Grey Cairns of Camster. It’s a lovely site to explore and also very peaceful. Many NC500 travellers miss these ancient tombs.
They are duplicates of Scotland’s oldest monuments, built here over 5000 years ago. Even though they aren’t the original pieces, they are fun to investigate. Like a true explorer, Charlie had a go at crawling into each of the three tombs through a narrow passageway to explore the inside of the monuments and got a bit muddy in the process.
To get there, look for a big brown sign for Cairns of Camster just past Camster. In a quarter of a mile past Occumster. Turn right and drive on a what feels like Roman Road for around 8-10 minutes until you see grey bumps in the grass.
Lybster’s Best Crab Rolls
Once a big herring fishing village, these days Lybster is a sleepy harbour village. We didn’t plan to stop here but were intrigued by the big brown heritage sign. To visit Lybster, turn off the main road on the left, pass the main town and drive down the steep road into the harbour.
Down in the bay you can park at the harbour and have some of the best crab rolls on the North Coast 500 route. The ladies at Waterlines cafe will serve you freshly prepared rolls with different fillings and delicious homemade cakes.
It’s a good stop before tackling the remaining east coast of the Scottish 500 route.
A Castle Out of a Fairytale
Elevated so that you could enjoy this elaborate mansion from the gardens, Dunrobin Castle is the seat of the Clan Sutherland. The family still lives here but a large chunk of the manor is open for exploring.
The garden is beautiful and probably in full bloom in May, but couldn’t even begin to compare to some of the stately homes in England.
The middle section of the garden looked pretty empty during our visit but it was still nice to walk around the grounds, play cricket and wind down after the 11 days we spent on this incredible Scottish road trip.
If you can time your visit to this fairytale castle on a Monday (or any other weekday) morning, you’ll have a pleasant wander without too many crowds.
If you have time on your hands, you could also explore the amazing tidal Littleferry beach, part of the Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve. The 15-minute drive along the road hugged by the Scotch pine trees is as lovely as the beach itself.
Clootie Well – Quirky Scottish Tradition
As you leave Dunrobin Castle, you’ll cross the bridge into the Black Isle, towards Inverness. If you want to discover this quirky site, follow the A9 motorway for about an hour until you reach Munlochy village.
Clootie Well or a Cloth Well is associated with ancient Scottish and Irish traditions and dates back to pre-Christianity. It’s a wishing well where pilgrims would make offerings by leaving a piece of cloth to the water spirits. They believed that if you leave a piece of cloth here, over time, as the cloth disintegrates, it will relieve their bodies from illnesses.
The Clootie Well site is very much alive today, covered in cloth of all kinds and sizes. Although people are asked to leave only biodegradable cloth, we’ve noticed that some are getting the whole idea wrong. The healing works as the cloth rots, so if you leave a non-biodegradable cloth wrapped around a tree, it won’t heal you!
Urquhart Castle on the Shores of Loch Ness
You could either do a quick detour from Inverness and visit Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle at the start of your NC500 journey or at the end. We chose the latter.
Boasting 1,000 years of history, the castle has witnessed the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th Century and was passed repeatedly from hand to hand between Scots and English.
Perched on the shore of legendary Loch Ness, this 13-16th-century castle is just about visible from the A82 road.
From here you can explore Loch Ness further, but if we are brutally honest, there are many more beautiful and less touristy lochs around.
Wild Camping Tips for Campervans/Motorhomes
Littleferry beach: This is our 2nd top spot for wild camping on the North Coast 500 route. The spot is peaceful, offers great walks and views. We only had two other campervans parked next to us during our stay.
We highly recommend staying here before visiting Dunrobin Castle if you want to beat the tour buses and get there as soon as it opens.
Clootie Well: If you didn’t get spooked by the nature spirits and need a place to crash for the night, stay in the woods right next to the wishing well. Dog walkers come here throughout the day, but the spot is quiet at night. No one bothered us.
What was your North Coast 500 highlight? Let us know in the comments below…
Wow, what a resource. Lot’s of useful information – thank you! How long did it take you to cover this route?
Hey Nick, glad you found the post useful! It took us around 11 days to cover it and it has been a spectacular road trip 🙂
Hi, I loved reading this. I’m doing the trip in July with my family (young children $ & 10) and friends. I’m wondering if you would recommend any stops that wouldn’t be good for them (too long a walk, dangerous walk, too many steps).
Also, can this be done in one week?
The wild camping spots, do they have toilets, I can cope without showers, but not toilets. We were going to hire a converted van, as I’m thinking campervans may be too big for some of the route?
Hey Colette, thanks for your kind words, we’re glad you loved the post!
Most of the stops we’ve mentioned have decent footpaths but some spots might have some steep steps down towards the sea etc. Neither of us is particularly fit so wouldn’t do anything akin to rock climbing or walking along narrow ledges. Your best option is to stick to the stops by the roads which are made by the local authorities. These will have clearly marked trail maps and so you’ll be able to judge is they are suitable. There are also a lot of places just to pull up and wander down to the sea or beach in a few minutes. You’ll have lots of options around the entire coastal route.
As for wild camping, it means just that and there are often no facilities, just spot to park up. My advice would be to either book a couple of campsites (or hotels) around the route ahead of time or hire a campervan with a basic toilet included. That way you’ll never be caught out but there are often toilets at the carparks by the start of walking trails. Download an app called park4night and it will show you all the facilities and parking spots around the route.
For van size, we did it in our converted Citroen Relay van, it’s around 2m x 6m and had no issues. It would only be the massive RV type motorhomes which would struggle on the smaller roads.
Hope that helps! Cheers, Charlie.
Nice read. The photos look really beautiful. I would go the zip-line, that would be interesting activity to do.
Thanks, Lakica, the NC500 route is quite spectacular.