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Wednesday May 15, 2024
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Travelling the NC500 in a motorhome or campervan – Part One

Written by:  Chris Dickson

You may have seen our overview of the NC500 route and how Dicksons customers can enjoy it. But in this new two-part edition of our blog we present our detailed in-depth guide for motorhome and campervan users to make the most of the NC500 adventure – including specific stops, notable attractions and the mileage between the listed key points.

What is the NC500?

Affectionately referred to as the NC500, the North Coast 500 is Scotland’s most famous route, and offers the ultimate road trip. This scenic span of more than 516 miles loops around the northern tip of Scotland and showcases breathtaking landscapes. From rugged coastlines to quaint villages, and from historic castles to pristine beaches, the NC500 offers a truly enriching travel experience for everyone who drives it.

NC500 starting point: Inverness

Travelling the route from an eastern point to its conclusion a western point, your journey should begin in Inverness. Granted city status in 2000, Inverness is the administrative centre for the Highland Council and is known as the capital of the Highlands. It’s a vibrant city with rich history and culture, and so travellers will find plenty to see and do.

  • Inverness Castle: The current structure was built in 1836, though there has been a succession of castles overlooking the River Ness since 1057. Notably, Inverness Castle played a role during the Jacobite risings in 1745 and 1746. The castle is not open to the public at the moment as it’s being renovated, with a planned opening in 2025 as a major tourist attraction. Standing on Ness Bridge in the city centre offers an inspiring panoramic view of this historic building and grounds before you set off on your NC500 trip.

Inverness Castle

1. NC500 first stop: Black Isle

Just 15 miles north of Inverness brings you to the Black Isle, a peninsula known for its picturesque villages and the historic town of Cromarty. It’s an ideal first stop to ease into the NC500 journey.

  • Dolphin spotting: At Chanonry Point bottlenose dolphins are often visible, particularly on an incoming tide when salmon are returning towards the Ness and Beauly rivers which feed into the Moray Firth. The firth shelves very quickly and there is a strong rip tide, making this the perfect fishing ground for the dolphins – and they are very close to the shore, which is thrilling for spotters. If you visit, take note that because Chanonry Point is now well known, parking is sometimes difficult and there are no toilets or other facilities there. Dolphin spotting boat trips are available.

Chanonry Point

2. NC500 second stop: Dornoch

Travelling 48 miles on and to the north of the Black Isle you will arrive at Dornoch, a charming town with a beautiful sandy beach and a rich golfing heritage. The 13th-century Dornoch Cathedral and the nearby Dunrobin Castle are must-see attractions.

  • Dornoch Cathedral: A chance to soak in some clerical history and enjoy great architecture is always a highlight of any road trip. Dornoch Cathedral has stood in the small town since the 13th-century, though the current building is a renovation from the mid 19th-century. With a rich and interesting history, this modest yet stunning small cathedral is a beautiful stop-off on your NC500 trip.

Dornoch Cathedral

3. NC500 third stop: Wick

Heading 51 miles further north from Dornoch, the town of Wick offers a mix of history and coastal beauty. Its time as a herring fishing port is showcased at the Wick Heritage Museum, and the ruins of Castle Sinclair Girnigoe are also worth a visit for a dose of history with stunning sea views.

  • Wick Heritage Museum: Located in the heart of the Thomas Telford designed Pulteneytown, the somewhat rambling building housing Wick Museum offers a treasure trove of the area’s history. The Fishing Hall showcases the town’s prime industry, the Boat Section features examples of herring fishing boats, and Wick Voices is an oral history section featuring memories of, and information about, Wick’s varied past. This museum is a fascinating stop-off on your NC500 journey.

Wick Heritage Museum

4. NC500 fourth stop: John O'Groats

Just 16 miles from Wick is one of the most famous parts of Britain – its north-eastern tip. The northernmost point of the British mainland is nearby Dunnet Head, but it is John O’Groats which is the most renowned. This village, with a population of around 300, was named after Jan de Groot, a 15th-century Dutchman who ran a regular ferry from the Scottish mainland to Orkney.

  • John O’Groats signpost: An iconic signpost marks the end of the journey to the most distant part of the British mainland from Land’s End in Cornwall, and offers a ‘must-do’ photo opportunity during your NC500 trip.

John O Groats

5. NC500 fifth stop: Thurso

Twenty miles on from John O’Groats is Scotland’s most northerly town, which offers beautiful seascapes and a rich Viking history. Thurso is a great place to explore before heading west across the top of Scotland.

  • Scrabster Harbour: This harbour on Thurso Bay in Caithness is a key hub of economic activity in the area, including sectors such as oil and gas, renewables, cruise ships and – of course – fishing. Scrabster was an exceptionally busy fishing port during the 19th It is considered to be the gateway to Orkney, Shetland, Scandinavia and the Faroes. As a stop-off on your NC500 jaunt, this is a fantastic spot for stunning views – which may or may not include massive cruise ships!


6. NC500 sixth stop: Tongue

Leaving Thurso 44 miles behind, Tongue is the main village in a series of crofting townships that runs through Coldbackie, Dalharn, Blandy and the harbour of Scullomie to the deserted township of Slettel. Tongue is a picturesque village offering stunning views over the Kyle of Tongue, with the isolated 764m mountain Ben Loyal in Sutherland offering the northwestern tip of the Scottish Highlands.

7. NC500 seventh stop: Durness

Thirty miles from Tongue, the remote village of Durness is well known for its dramatic cliffs and beautiful beaches. Smoo Cave, a sea cave with a freshwater waterfall, is a must-visit while Balnakeil Beach and the John Lennon Memorial Garden are also worth exploring.

  • John Lennon Memorial Garden: If you are wondering what the village’s connection to one of the most famous men to have ever lived is (and why wouldn’t you wonder, it seems so implausible), we can explain. Between the ages of nine and fifteen Lennon spent summers in Durness with his cousin, and these childhood trips left a lasting impression. In the Summer of 1969, he visited for a holiday with his wife Yoko Ono, her daughter Kyoko and his son Julian. In a letter to his aunt in 1975, living in New York just five years before his untimely death, Lennon told her: “I miss Scotland more than England”.

8. NC500 eighth stop: Scourie

40 miles south of Durness is Scourie, a small village offering access to Handa Island, a wildlife reserve home to thousands of seabirds including internationally important numbers of guillemots, razorbills, great skuas and puffins. The dramatic cliffs at Scourie provide stunning ocean panoramas, with the bay offering the perfect position from which to spot marine mammals, and to enjoy a relaxing stroll or a picnic.

Remember, if you don’t own your own motorhome or campervan, Dicksons of Perth offers a comprehensive vehicle hire service as well as providing a great selection of new and used vehicles for sale. So, whether you’re planning a weekend getaway or a lengthy exploration, we can supply you with the right vehicle to meet your needs. Travel in comfort and style! Our rental fleet includes a great selection of well-maintained modern vehicles from some of the leading manufacturers. Get in touch for more details.