Me and my friend Sam drove the North Coast 500 route – a 500 mile route along the Northern and North Western coasts of Scotland around the end of May. Setting aside a week, with a few day-hikes planned in, we drove the route anti-clockwise as recommended, coming off the route at the end to visit Glen Coe and Loch Lomond national park. With the added distance to and from Edinburgh, the whole trip came to about a 1000 miles, some motorways but mostly winding, narrow B-roads. The map below shows the official route.
Up to John O’Groats was a pretty boring ride with agricultural land and hills similar to what you’d get in the rest of the UK.
We moved swiftly onto Dunnet Head where we managed to capture an awesome sunset shimmering onto a sheer 50m cliff face, inhabited by puffins and crowned by a light house.
Sam taught me some tricks to shooting night shots and I’ve captured my first stars on my new Fujifilm X-T20.
The next morning, we took a bath in a small loch near by and visited some beautiful pristine beaches with turquoise and marine blue waters. I’ve read about how beautiful the Northern beaches are but my God, in our current heat wave and some good sun, you could probably fool yourself that you’re on a tropical island.
We also got frighteningly close to some braw Highland coos. They were incredibly docile, probably well accustomed to Asian tourists sticking cameras in their faces.
The scenery took a wild turn as we reached the Western coasts. The mountains became rugged, settlements few and far between, small lochs and wind swept ridges dominated the landscape. I think we managed to catch the best moment to travel in Scotland’s wilder parts – late enough that we didn’t freeze our balls but early enough that we didn’t get eaten alive by midges. It wasn’t raining all the time and there were some short but spectacular displays of light beaming through the clouds.
As we headed into Assynt, we noticed a waterfall up on the hills quite far off the road. We, being utter nutters, climbed the bushes and bathed in the most refreshing and one of the coldest waters of this road trip.
We were quite excited by the idea of climbing one of the peaks but the forecast wasn’t good for next day. Sure enough, the clouds were so low that the tops of those mountains you could see above were completely covered. After a hearty breakfast (because nothing starts on a road trip without some coffee, bacon and eggs), we opted, with a help of a friendly local, to try a valley hike through wilder paths where no tourists go. Scotland does bogs very well. Be sure to wear good waterproof boots if you ever venture off track.
We arrived at a small but vibrant fishing town of Ullapool and immediately injected ourselves with a spectacular Cullen Skink soup (a highland speciality of smoked haddock in creamy broth) from ‘Seafood Shack’. I highly recommend it.
We followed the light as it set, looking for a spectacular view to capture on our cameras. Entering into Wester Ross, the snow capped mountains and glowing red skies made the back drop to the best cold water dip of the trip.
The next day, we splashed out on some smoked Salmon, twice. One from a random granny’s house, and the other from an award winning smoke house. Granny’s was the winner by far. A fiver for a big chunk, sold from their modest home. So the lesson here is – if you see a shabby roadside sign for smoked salmon near the coast, and a granny answers the knock, buy it. Approach ‘award winning’ with caution.
We ventured onwards towards Applecross. At the pass, as I was parking, I accidentally rode one my wheels off the ground. There wasn’t any structural damage and we managed to crank our way out of it pretty quickly but it could have been catastrophic. I must remind myself to always keep an eye on the road, particularly when the scenery is as stunning as this.
After another dose of cullen skink (which wasn’t nearly as good as the one from Seafood Shack), we drove off the route and headed to Glen Coe. The sun God blessed us by hitting the Glen from the side as we arrived. Such a magnificent space. It’s hard to show the scale of it in photographs.
The next morning, we climbed up one the gorges in Glen Coe, took another cold water dip in the snow melt rapids and drove on to Loch Lomond national park.
We weren’t expecting anything spectacular and took a long walk into the woodlands. A little off the track into the woods revealed an incredible green mossy environment with a fallen tree trunk hosting a bridge of fairy like flowers. A quiet magical moment to finish a week long road trip.
We ate out a few times in a pub or bought roadside delicacies (£100), but most of our food budget was spent at local supermarkets and cooked in the van (£82). Total petrol expenditure was £133 for the 965 mile trip. Divided between us both, the cost of the trip came to about £160 each. Not bad for a week long holiday.
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