Not a day goes by where you don’t hear about someone’s trip along the 516 mile route around the north of Scotland. The photos from various parking spots, an empty beach and doing it all in a weekend. The Dude and I have wanted to do this spectacular road trip as part of our Forty Things at 40 list but wanted to do it some justice, so we did the North Coast 500 with Bunk Campers in five days. Let me tell you now, that is nowhere near enough time for properly exploring!
Collecting a camper van from Bunk in Scotland is super easy. Located close to the airport in Edinburgh it is accessible as soon as you arrive. If, like us, you live here in Scotland and are hiring a camper then you can leave your own vehicle in the secure on site parking and it will await your return. Airport pick ups are also available (for an extra cost).
As you would expect, the campers are kitted out with a sink, a couple of gas cooking rings and fridge. There is plenty of storage space for kitchen utensils, fire extinguisher, dust pan and brush, first aid kit and some basic cleaning equipment (all provided) as well as whatever else you choose to bring. You can also hire bedding, sat nav, outdoor table and chairs, and a bike rack if you plan on taking your own bikes and doing a bit of cycling too.
Before handing over the keys to our van, the Bunk Camper team give a full handover and make sure you know how to work everything and can enjoy your trip.
We were given the Nomad – a VW with plenty of space for the two of us and a pop up roof which allows for extra headroom, storage and sleeping area when you park up for the night. Perfect size for the single track, windy roads we would be driving on.
North Coast 500 practicalities
We live in Perth and it takes about two hours for us to drive from here to Inverness (near to the official NC500 start) so we had decided to pack the van up and drive up on the same day, essentially giving ourselves a two hour head start the next day. Perth is about one hour from Edinburgh and obviously has to be taken into account for driving straight from the depot up to Inverness.
I have driven a similar size van for work this summer and I like the vantage point you get from being higher up than in a car. As passenger I enjoyed spotting plenty of heilan coos around the route. As the driver it is also a allows you to look further down the road to look for other vehicles/passing places.
We hadn’t planned our trip within an inch of it’s life but we did work out some of the distances between places we would prefer to stop.
For anyone planning a trip to Scotland for the first time, just something to remember; it might not look very far but the roads here may not allow you to travel at great speed. You may have to slow down for livestock on the roads or for other road users. A sizable portion of this route is single track or very narrow with soft verges and being confident with the size of your vehicle is a necessity really as you may be required to reverse to the nearest passing place.
Our plan was to do a mixture of “wild camping” and also use the camp sites dotted around the NC500 to make the most of the facilities. Going five days without a shower is a little bit extreme when living in such close quarters with someone! With plenty of choice for both we weren’t particularly bothered about which nights were on a site or not but at this time of year (October) and the light fading about 7pm our days of exploring were much shorter than anyone going in June/July. There are some public toilets on the route which are well looked after too.
What we also wanted to make sure was that we were spending money in the local area too – not just driving through and being completely self sufficient. It ended up being that we would stop somewhere for bigger lunch and having an anti-pasti style dinner in the camper later, once we were parked up. We found plenty of places that served meals and the shellfish, meat and veg, all locally sourced, so by eating out we actually contributing to the local economy. Speaking to people who live in the area is one of the best ways of finding out about places to eat too.
Traveling along the roads there are many parking spots and viewpoints marked and are much safer for stopping to take photos. Passing places are exactly that, places to pass. Either allowing traffic coming toward you to go around, OR vehicles from behind to pass. If, like us, you are in no rush, allow the locals to go about their business and pull in. This also affords you an extra minute to admire the view before moving off again.
The weather for our trip was very changeable and we had packed for every occasion (apart from a heatwave) and I would recommend doing this no-matter what time of year you travel to Scotland. Just ten minutes before the photo above was taken there was an absolute downpour of rain and the mist on the hills was really low. Thankfully, we had parked up for a coffee stop and it allowed us some great views down the glen afterwards.
I know for most people having rain whilst you are on holiday is not ideal but we shouldn’t be so down about the rain because it can produce one of natures most beautiful spectacles, a rainbow.
Time. Time is the one thing I wished for this trip there was more of. We thought five days would be an adequate amount of time to see things, get out and do some walks, get off the main route, but it wasn’t. Nowhere near enough time for properly exploring. For us, this trip was more of an introduction to Sutherland and Caithness, all of the picturesque villages and hamlets, the glens, the tall mountains, coastline and shimmering lochs.
I wouldn’t change our North Coast 500 with Bunk Campers experience. We had the freedom and comfort to enable us to work to a loose schedule, have a great time, meet new people, share some spectacular views and eat some amazing food. I will be following up this post with a “NC500 – what to see and where to eat” write up, sign up to my blog and make sure you don’t miss it. Over on the VisitScotland iKnow Community there are people who have also driven the route or live on it and can offer other suggestions and tips. Come and join the chat.
I would like to thank Bunk Campers for giving us this Nomad camper van for our road trip in return for blog and social media posts. All views about the weather, time restrictions and the images are my own.