So, having just returned from completing the NC-500, I thought I’d give a little review of the experience. I’ll be writing a number of pieces with stories, advice, and reviews, but this is just a short overview of advice I’d give straight off the back of the trip.
For those who are unaware, the NC 500 is a road-trip route which tracks around the outer coast of Northern Scotland. The experience on this trip has to be one of my favourites throughout my time exploring the UK. The scenery is stunning, the people are wonderful, and, if you’re really lucky, the weather can even be mildly hospitable!
Without further ado, here was the good, the bad, and the ugly from my time on the NC-500.
- The highland scenery – Scotland is absolutely stunning. The NC-500 takes you through heather covered valley after heather covered valley, past looming black cliffs, and through undeniably beautiful mountainous regions. Everybody I talked to was impressed by the scenery and, in spite of having huge expectations, the Scottish countryside exceeded them. Almost every mile of the NC-500 has something to offer by way of scenery. You’re constantly pressed up against the glass in your car to sneak a peak of the big mountains and that big beautiful sky!
- The beaches – I’ll talk a little latter about why you should prepare yourself for not being able to go in the water; however, Scotland has some beautiful beaches that wouldn’t look entirely out of place on the Costa Del Sol or a Greek Island. Sandwood Bay, with its tranquil setting totally away from people, and huge dunes, is not to be missed. Moreover, Ceannabeinne, located in a beautiful cove with sapphire blue water and flat white sand is also undeniably one of the best-looking beaches I’ve seen around the world. Whilst Scotland might not have the roasting temperatures of the Mediterranean, its beaches are every bit as fine!
- The people – whilst, as an Englishmen, I was low-key raised to feel a natural rivalry with the Scottish, particularly every February during the six nations, I found the locals across the NC-500 to be undeniably kind and generous. Although I gather that wild-campers are not their favourite folk, whenever I needed directions, recommendations, or a hand with something, a local would rush to my aid. I can’t speak highly enough of the many people I came across on the trip, particularly in such a trying climate which many would argue has brought out a wealth of Xenophobic attitudes.
- The weather – Scottish weather is no joke. Even in the height of summer it can get very cold, wet and windy. You’ll need a good tent and sleeping bag. If you aren’t camping, make sure you’re geared up with some good wet-weather gear. We also made the mistake of going some very rough sea and I’d caution you to not risk the full wrath of nature!
- The realities of wild camping – I’ve been wild-camping before and, whilst the realities of sleeping a tad-rough don’t bother me, bear in mind that here are a few negatives. Whilst wild-camping is legal, it can also be difficult to find a good pitch in some areas and certain national parks will not allow wild-camping so please do your research. We found that none of these issues were particularly problematic; however, other wild campers were. They were inconsiderate, left rubbish lying around, and generally didn’t do the rest of us tourists proud. Be a good wild-camper for your sake and for everyone else!
- Racking up the miles – Again I’ll say right away that this wasn’t really a problem for me. I ended the trip by driving from Skye to Brighton in around 14 hours and, so, I do have a fondness for being behind the wheel; however, the amount of time you’ll spend behind the wheel isn’t for the faint hearted. The road is over 500 hand miles before you factor in your journey time to and from Inverness from wherever you live. In addition, the roads are difficult to drive. Much of it single track and that definitely will take a mental toll on you over time. Bear this in mind, especially if you’re going to have kids sitting in the back asking ‘are we there yet?’ every five minutes!
The downright ugly
- The Midges – to be honest, these little blighters were by far the worst part of Scotland. That is way they’ve earned their place in the ‘downright ugly’ category. My body is a mosaic of pale skin and red welts. This is why you do your research folks. My travelling companion and I had no idea of the biological differences between highland midges and mosquitos. We just thought tiny flies were chilling on our skin and, thus, took several days to realise we were being eaten alive. In the Summer months midges travel in clouds and will follow you to the ends of the earth, be that inside your tent or car. Get yourself insect repellant, a head net, hope there’s a strong breeze, and start up a fire every night. You’re going to want EVERY means at your disposal to stop the midges getting under your skin.