So this is it, the reason we bought the camper van…..a 12 night trip around the Scottish Highlands. We planned to take the route known as the NC500 (North Coast 500) which starts at Inverness and heads West, follows the West Coast up to Durness, then the North Coast road East to John O’Groats and then South on the East Coast road back to Inverness which is just over 500 miles. We had plenty of time to do it so added in a couple of diversions/extra stops at Fort William, Glen Brittle on Skye and Aviemore.
You know from previous posts what a struggle this could have been and the years of training, patience and baby steps it has taken. Every single second was worth it – We had the most amazing holiday and have hundreds of photos and memories that will last forever.
We left home on a Friday afternoon and drove for a good few hours, stopping for something to eat and then driving further North and finding a car park for the night. This got a good part of the journey out of the way and put us ahead of schedule.
In the morning we crossed the border in to Scotland and the sun was shining 🙂 We drove on to Loch Lomond and stopped at Firkin Point for a quick coffee, lunch and to stretch our legs. Zephyr loves the water and had the best time splashing around in the loch. From here we headed to Fort William as Leon planned to go up the North face of Ben Nevis.
We arrived at Glen Nevis campsite took Zeph for a stroll and then as the sun was still out took the opportunity to BBQ dinner. Leon had an early start for the summit in the morning, so we packed him off and went back to bed. After having a lazy morning Zeph and I packed up the campervan and headed up to the foot of Ben Nevis to greet Leon on his return. Leon had met a Danish guy at the summit and had apparently been helping him learn English (with a Somerset twang) on the return. We stopped for lunch at the Ben Nevis Inn (dogs not allowed in so we had to eat outside) and then set off for Skye.
We had no campsites booked for the entire trip so we took our chances on availability or found a car park and ‘wild camped’. This night was a car park night – we stopped at Contin which is a forestry commission car park and had a beautiful walk which Zeph and I took advantage of.
In the morning we stopped at Rogie Falls. It had got colder overnight and had started to rain, but this place was still beautiful and would make an amazing place for a lazy picnic in good weather. Zephyr was very brave on the bridge (the first of many this holiday). We all got a bit soggy so Zephyr was wrapped in his drying coat when we got back to the van.
We drove to Glen Brittle campsite which was probably my favourite campsite of all. It was quite basic, but beautiful, on the beach, at the foot of the Cuillin Mountains, had the nicest staff and served the most amazing coffee and had absolutely no internet/wifi/3G. (I coped as we were only there for 24 hours 🙂 ) The weather was cold, windy and snowy but this didn’t put Leon off going up Sgur Alasdair!
Zephyr and I remained at sea level and played on the beach in the snow. The sand is black on Skye and the contrast between the sand and snow was amazing, unfortunately I didn’t take any photos. Either my hands were too cold or I was having too much fun. We were the only ones on the beach so I had Zephyr off lead and we were running, playing and exploring. When Leon got back we packed up and moved on.
The next part of the trip was one of the parts Leon had been looking forward to driving the most – The Bealach na Baa. This mountain pass has the greatest ascent of any road climb in the UK with gradients up to 20% rising to 626 metres above sea level through a series of hair pin bends. It had snowed the day before and so there was a lot of snow at the top which made it more stunning/scary!
This road took us in to Applecross where we stopped at the famous Applecross Inn for dinner.
We were to have another car park camp tonight at Torridon. Leon was hoping for another mountain day the following morning but we were starting to run behind schedule so needed to move on. Before we left we walked Zeph through the forest and up to the waterfall. He was having the best time with new places to sniff and investigate every day.
We drove to Clachtoll Beach near Lochinver and booked in at the campsite there. This must be the cleanest campsite on the planet! The sun was back out and we decided we would stay a couple of nights to give Zephyr a bit of a break from travelling every day. In the morning I dropped Leon off for his day in the mountains, today it was to be Casnip and Suilven and Zephyr and I went exploring. We stopped at Ardvreck Castle and wandered around the ruins and then ventured in to Lochinver in search of a butcher. Having a raw fed dog on a 12 day trip in a campervan means stocking up often as we only have a small fridge. The butcher search was a success and I re-stocked us with steak and liver.
Zephyr and I then drove to The Falls of Kirkaig (That was a bit of a scary drive!!) and walked up to the falls to meet Leon. We waited for an hour and he hadn’t turned up so we walked back to the van before it started to get too cold.
We had no mobile signal so I didn’t know if Leon would make it at the arranged time. I was starting to get worried when he was 2 hours late and decided I would give him another hour until I called Mountain Rescue and asked for advice. He then appeared, looking like he had had the best time and wanting to know if I had any chocolate!!! We returned to the campsite for dinner and an early night. In the morning we went down to the beach, we had it all to ourselves and Zephyr loved it. He was off lead again and running around like a puppy. The sand was white and the water was turquoise, if the sun had come out it would have looked like a Caribbean island!
We continued North to Durness where we had ‘The best hot chocolate in the world’ at Cocoa Mountain (they are dog friendly if your dog is cat friendly) visited another stunning beach, where again we were the only ones there (this never happens in the South West of England!) and then a visit to Smoo Cave.
I wasn’t sure how Zephyr would be walking in to a cave, even though it is very big at the front, but he just strolled on in and stood with us while we chatted with the guides Fraser and Colin. He then walked over the bridge and in to the chamber…….and then quickly turned around and pulled me back out. I think the sound of the falling water echoing in the cave was really overwhelming for him as it was quite loud. Leon wanted to go on the boat trip in to the inner chambers so whilst he was doing that Zeph and I chatted with Colin and hung out on the beach. I loved spending so much time with my dog ❤
From here we drove along the North Coast to Castletown where we got out to explore the flagstone beach and look for somewhere to stay.
This is the only night where our lack of planning was a problem as it was getting late, we were hungry (I am always hungry!) and had no where identified to stay. We found a fish and chip shop but it was closed and a pub but they didn’t accept dogs. We drove on to John O’Groats and then found a car park just a bit further on that we could stay in.
In the morning we started early and continued South along the East coast, stopping at Helmsdale for coffee and a leg stretch before pushing on to Aviemore.
We were lucky to get a pitch on the campsite as it was a bank holiday weekend and they were busy. We parked up and went off to explore. We were on Loch Morlich which has to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
We walked along to Glenmore Lodge (has a dog friendly restaurant/bar 🙂 )and back through the forest path and then back to the Loch to sit and watch the world go by. Leon was busy planning his mountain day, he intended to head off in to the Cairngorms in the morning.
Later on that day I left Zeph with Leon at the van whilst I walked up to the toilets. Zephyr got spooked by another dog, backed in to one of our deckchairs, scared himself and backed out of his harness and headed off around the campsite looking for me. By the time I got back Leon had been following him all over the campsite and down to the Loch trying not to lose sight of him but knowing that he couldn’t catch him. As soon as Zeph saw me he came over to me and we had a cuddle and put his harness back on, but we were all a little shook up. We decided to take dinner and wine to the beach and cook our curry there. It was beautiful watching the sunset as we ate on the beach with Zephyr’s head on my lap – one of my highlights from the trip.
We went back to the van and I was sat in a deckchair feeding Zephyr when an off lead dog approached us. I didn’t see it as I had my back to it, but Zephyr saw it coming and spooked (probably more than usual as he was still wound up from earlier), pulled me out of the chair and twisted my knee. Unfortunately I have a previous injury to my knee and it was painful. By the morning I was unable to put any weight on it and we made the decision to leave, head South and attend the first A&E we came across. We stopped at Perth Royal Infirmary where they put me in a full leg splint, gave me crutches and arranged for me to be seen a few days later at my local hospital. (I had partially torn a ligament in my knee…again!)
As it was a bank holiday, late on the Sunday and my mobility to sleep in the van was not great we decided to drive through the night and get home. 550 miles in one hit….we drank a lot of coffee, ate a lot of chocolate and were slightly delirious by the time we arrived home at 4.30am, but we were home safe 🙂
The trip in total was 1827 miles and cost £300 in diesel. It was the best holiday ever, we saw so much, did so much and it felt more like an adventure than a holiday. I can’t wait to return, I feel as though we have unfinished business in Aviemore 🙂
Everywhere we visited was dog friendly unless stated otherwise.