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NC 500 and Skye Trip Report 2018

Seriously...Are we gluttons for punishment? My wife and I are renting another campervan to travel northern Scotland after doing it for 15 days in Iceland. At least we are well practiced and have the routine down. 

Day 1 Aug 23: We fly Easyjet from Iceland to Edinburgh. Arr 3 PM. We have a place booked in Livingston,  just a few miles from where we pickup our campervan in Broxburn the next morning. The taxi ride from the airport is roughly 35 minutes in stop and go traffic at 5pm. Welcome to the suburbs. Our place has a small kitchen/livingroom downstairs and bedroom upstairs. Plenty of room to get all our gear organized for round 2. Since we don't have a vehicle yet and we need dinner. There's a Beefeater Restaurant, walking distance from our place, and a small convenience store to get a few breakfast things for the morning. Decent enough meal and an easy walk. An after dinner wine/beer at our pad, and we are ready for the next part of our big adventure.

Day 2 Aug 24: We do a casual breakfast and then get a taxi over to Spaceships Campervan UK in Broxburn. We're campervan experts now, and go over the vehicle and then pack our gear.  We're heading north to a Tesco superstore in Perth to stock up on food, beer and wine. Huge!  If it isn't in this store, you don't need it. 

Our destination is Dornoch, and we're glad we're driving mostly highway, to get use to driving on the other side of the road. (Also glad it's an automatic.)  Dornoch campground is sandwiched between a golf course and a huge beach. Nice place to spend our first night camping. We hike over to the beach after dinner, for a feel of Scotland's northeast coast. We plan on seeing a lot of beaches and coastline on this trip. Really nice beach walk and... we get treated to a rainbow too. Good start, so far.





Day 3 Aug 25: Today is our 40th anniversary. The reason we decided to do this trip in the first place. My original plan is to camp at John O'Groats.  We drive north along this beautiful coast with occasional stops, including a quick poke into Dunrobin Castle. We reach John O'Groats just after midday. Very breezy! No...let's call it a big steady, strong northerly wind.  No way we will camp here today. The wind exposure will not make this a comfortable place tonight. On to Plan B. 

Since we're here.  We drive out to the Ducansby Head and hike over to the lighthouse, and then along the cliffs, to see the Stacks of Ducansby. What a beautiful area. The cliffs, the sea stacks, the views north, up to the Orkney's. Feels good to hike around for a couple of hours. This is....some great Scotland scenery. 

New plan....We're going to Thurso to camp. I make a call to Captains Galley in Scrabster to see if they can fit us in for our 40th anniversary dinner tonight. 2 things going against us. It's Saturday night, and 2nd.....it's also a bank holiday weekend. No mercy! The host tells me zero chance, unless someone cancels. That's what I get for not booking way back when. Oh well, we'll find somewhere worthy to go for dinner. We hope.

The camp at Thurso Bay has nice grassy grounds and big views of the bay. Not near as windy as the exposed NE corner of John O'Groats. We get showered up. Put on our finest duds. Open up a nice bottle of French Champagne and do a toast above the lovely bay. We share a glass or two with our next door campers. Now the tough part. Finding a decent restaurant. We park in the center of town and walk around a bit. We notice a busy pub and restaurant at the Holborn Hotel. OK.... It appears this pub is going to be our only choice, as the restaurant is booked thru the night Wait minute!.  The hostess from the hotel's Red Pepper Restaurant (next door,) tells us that a table opened up for us, and we can sit immediately. Only in the movies!! What luck! Turns out to be a superb meal. Dinner specials were a Morrocan spiced monkfish and perfectly baked and seasoned haddock. Scallop app, a bottle of wine and salads fill out a perfect  anniversary dinner.  We even get to see a marching bagpipe band just outside the hotel. Couldn't of planned it this good! Totally awesome evening.













Too be continued

Comments

  • powderglutpowderglut Member ✭✭
    edited November 2018

    Day 4 Aug 26: It's a bit cloudy this AM. We spend about an hour in Thurso taking pictures and head west towards Durness. The clouds are building up over the mountains to the south and it appears we will be in for a windy, rainy afternoon and evening. We take our time going thru the Kyle of Tongue and then stopping at Smoo Cave. There's light rain as we climb down to see the cave. We spend some time walking around the pretty Sango Sands beach and then over to Balnakeil Bay cemetery and hike that  beach too.  

    We discuss our camping options as the wind and rain increase intensity. I told my wife before we left for this trip, that if we needed the occasional hotel or B&B (to get out of the weather),  then let's just do it and be comfortable. There's not a whole lot of choices at a moments notice, but we manage to find a place called the Wild Orchid guesthouse. Turns out to be a good move, as the the rain and wind continue until morning. We make our dinner here as we are pretty stocked up with groceries. We have a comfy night here in Durness.

    Thurso


    Bettyhill beach


    Kyle of Tongue view


    Lime Kiln


    Lime kiln


    Smoo Cave inlet


    Smoo


    Smoo


    Sango Beach


    Sango


    Sango


    Balnakiel


    Balnakiel



    Day 5 Aug 27: Breakfast comes with the room and it is a good one. The day is looking good too. We get going by 8 am and drive south to Tarbet. Our destination today is Handa Island Wildlife reserve. This is where you pick up the small ferry boat over to this island park. There are 10 of us that head over on the first ferry of the day. The full circle hike around the island is about 4 miles, with cliffs and sea stacks and plenty of birds. The view back to the mainland is pretty sweet too, especially on this nice sunny day. We spend around 3 1/2 hours on the hike and.... waiting for the return ferry. I'd say we made a small mistake by not bringing our day packs and just 1 water bottle to share. The day was really comfortable, so it didn't turn out to be a big deal. But.... on a potential weather day, or very hot sunny day, it might be nice to have a day pack along with some extra clothes, food and drink (My tip if you're going over). This is a very worthy trip, especially if you're into a nice oceanview hike with no people. Really liked this place.There is a neat little seafood restaurant called the Shorehouse above the ferry dock in Tarbet. We decide that we deserve a lunch here, since we didn't bring anything with us on the island. Crab salads and a beer were delicious.

    Ok.....where to camp next? Achmelvich or Clachtoll beach. We choose Chlachtoll. I don't think you can go wrong at either one. Both pretty beaches. I think I liked the campground and facilities a little better at Clachtoll. Besides the owner of this place is a hoot.

     It's a very nice afternoon and evening so we hit the beach, cook up dinner and meet a bunch of the camping locals. We get told that we may want to batten down the hatches before we turn in, as it's supposed to get very windy later tonight. I think I had already heard that the Handa Ferry was cancelled for the next day, even before we had even left the island. Good to have local weather info. Glad I precook up some potatoes and hard boil some eggs while it is nice.

    Handa Island 


    Handa


    Colorful Handa Lichen

    Handa Island cliffs


    Handa


    Handa Waterfall


    Lunch spot


    Clachtoll Camp


    Clachtoll Beach


    To be continued

  • powderglutpowderglut Member ✭✭

    Day 6 Aug 28: Oh Yah!!! The wind is howling. There are at least 4 tent casualties (broken poles), pretty much leveled by the strong wind. Must not have been a fun night for any of them. We are very comfy in our campervan.... and everything we left outside is still sitting behind the vehicle. Zero chance of using my stove for coffee and tea by the van. Fortunately, this campground has an eating and cooking area (with picnic tables) enclosed on 3 sides and roofed. I guess this isn't the first time it's blown around here. After breakfast we pack up our kitchen stuff and wind our way back towards Lochinver and then south to Ullapool. 

    Talk about windy narrow roads. With plenty of sheep to dodge. No shoulders. Oh yah! Then.... driving the full, west coast, of the NC500, mind you... not on the side of the road you are normally used to. And then.... throw in a lot of wind, and maybe some rain. Are we having fun yet? This is a driving experience everyone should do once in their life. We'll probably do it again. Yeehaw!

    We stop in Ullapool and find the grocery store for a few things. Looks very angry and gray out on the water this morning.  I'm glad we are not getting a ferry out to Stornoway today. I have Gairloch  as our next overnight destination, so we have a little further to go.  The weather hasn't changed. In fact, it is blowing harder. We hem and haw about what we're going to do tonight. Campervan or room? We eventually stop at the Gairloch visitor center. After much discussion about there being little, or no availability, anywhere around here. I happen to see a brochure for the the Sands Beach Caravan and campground. Besides having tent and caravan camping spots, they have these small cabins called Wigwams. Less than double the cost of a campsite w/electric hookup. I make a phone call, and yes, they still have 2 available. Do we want one? Yes we do! Perfect!

    We drive thru Gairloch, about 4 miles west along the coast, with cloudy, misty views down to Rona and Skye. This place is beautiful. The beach and sand dunes are awesome. In my opinion...this is the model for commercial campgrounds. They have just about everything you need for all types of camping.  I especially like the huge indoor kitchen and dining area. Perfect place for cooking and dining when the weather is not cooperating. 

    We made the right choice getting out of this windy, wet weather. Nice having a comfortable place we can move around in. Small campervans can be somewhat limiting. They are great most of the time, but do have their drawbacks when the weather is crappy and you need to cook. The wind is howling out on the beach, but we don't care. We head out in our rain gear, and walk up and down the beach and the dunes. Just a lovely day on the Scottish coast. The giant kitchen/dining area works out great for dinner, and meeting other fellow campers. We have a very comfy night in the Wigwam despite a wee bit of Scottish weather attitude.

    Near Alchmelvich

    Alchmelvich

    Alchmelvich

    Ruin near Ardvrech Castle Loch Assynt

    Gruinard beachSands  Beach near GairlochSands Beach

    Sands BeachAnybody got a kite?


    Day 7 Aug 29: We awake to clearing skies. Our camping destination tonight, is Applecross. What a scenic day of driving! We make stops at Loch Maree and Beinn Eigh and numerous pullouts along the Torridon road. This whole area is my vision of the classic Scottish Highlands. Wow! Stunning scenery! I really regret that we do not have a few days to hike and explore this area. Next time.

    We reach the crossroads at Shieldaig, and choose to wind around the very narrow roads of the Applecross Peninsula.  This whole northwest coast has really been an amazing ride.  

    We do a bit of exploring towards Toscaig and then come back and choose a spot at the Applecross CG. We're doing dinner at the Applecross Walled Garden tonight, so my wife goes for a shower. I had already showered early this AM at the Sands. So...I  share a beer or two with some Glaswegians camped across from us. We have some good laughs about American politics. They  show mercy on this "belter" Yank", speaking clearly for my benefit, and spare me needing a translator, unlike our first  "Edinbra" taxi driver. (Still trying to figure out half the things he said to me.)  AH Scotland!! Definitely learning different versions of the English language.   

    My wife appears........ all clean, dressed and ready to go. The Glasgow crew laughingly send us off, telling us to behave like proper Scots. (I'll leave out the details). Dinner and drink at the Walled Garden, is excellent. So is their garden. There are red deer all over the place, when we get back to camp. They must be vey used to people, because they are not spooked at all when you approach close to take pictures. You could never do this with our muley's back in Colorado. We are definitely enjoying Scotland and the Scots. On to Skye tomorrow.

    Torridon mountains and lochs


    Near Shieldaig


    Applecross deer


  • VisitScotlandLiamVisitScotlandLiam Member, Administrator, Moderator, VisitScotland Staff
    @powderglut This is amazing!  We are so glad you've had a fantastic time.
    Lead vocalist & rhythm guitarist for The Bright SkiesTwitter, Facebook, SoundCloud, YouTube.
  • powderglutpowderglut Member ✭✭

    Day 8 Aug 30: We're especially excited this morning. 3 things happening. First, we will be driving over the Bealach na Ba, (the highest road in the UK). Second, we are heading for the Isle of Skye, for a couple days of camping and hiking. And..third... best of all, we are meeting up with our English friend (met thru theTrip Advisor Utah forum, and actual meet-ups in Utah) Axelbobo. 

    We're up early and plan on meeting Axel at the Eilean Donan Castle parking lot by 9AM. The drive over the Bealach na Ba is a beautiful classic mountain pass (albeit single lane the whole way with passing pullouts). We are the only car on the road this morning, except for two very fit cyclists pedaling  up from Lochcarron on the other side. Loved this drive with all the big views of Skye, the Highlands and lochs below. I highly recommend all Scots experience this road sometime in their life. (I actually was very surprised, at how many local Scots people had never been over this pass). Anyway...  do it if you haven't.  

    Axel is already taking pictures at the castle. when we arrive around 8:30 AM. We do our few mandatory pics in front of this iconic castle scenery, and then head over to Skye. There were no decent size stores from Applecross over to Eilean Donan to stop at, and we still need a few things before we are ready for hiking. Some Ice, groceries and gas canister for the stove. The ice and groceries we get in Broadford, but we have to go to Jansvans Hardware in Portree to find gas canisters. Just about a wasted morning, when we finally get headed to the Fairy Pools.......... Seriously!!!! There are enough cars down there to fill up a department store parking lot. We continue past this overcrowded fiasco and drive on down to the end of the road into the Glenbrittle campground. Perfect, my wife and I are camping here tonight, next to a beautiful sandy beach and surrounded by mountains (the Cuillins). I might just have to call this the most scenic place we camped on our whole trip including Iceland.

    OK..what about hiking? Well..we're not about to go back up to Fairy Pools with that zoo going on. About 2 miles  up the road from camp is a youth hostel. Across the road is a really nice stream and waterfall with a faint trail leading up into the Cuillins, with nary a car parked here. We decide that this place is going to be every bit as good as Fairy Pools, but with no people. And ...is it ever. Nice little cascades and green pools. Big mountains all around us, with the stream reaching deep into the alpine valley above. The views all around us are simply stellar  as we continue our uphill hike to the base of these very steep mountains. The trail stays mostly along the creek, so we are accompanied by the sounds of the rushing water for most of the way.  We finally call it quits just above a nice long rocky cascade. Up top, we all agree that this was an excellent choice for our fist Isle of Skye hike. 

    Back at camp, we break out a cold beer or 2, and Axel declines dinner and decides it's best for him to get over to the Skye Walker Hostel he has booked for the next 2 nights. Maybe a 35- 40 minute ride from camp at the most. We make a plan to meet at Sligachan in the morning, for the next day's hike.

    This day started out pretty cloudy and gray, but kept improving all day, until it finally ended with a nice sunset and superb alpenglow. After our dinner, we walk along the beach eying the lit up colorful evening sky and hills. What a great day! I'm still in my shorts!  I can't get over what a sweet camp this is.  If and when I ever come back, this place definitely gets more than  a single night of camping.

    Eilean Donan Castle



    Glenbrittle Stream Hike






    Glenbrittle Beach camp





  • powderglutpowderglut Member ✭✭
    edited November 2018

    Day 9 Aug 31: All Right! It looks like we have a beautiful sunny day ahead of us.  Leaving Glenbrittle, There's a bit of sadness. What a beautiful place to camp! A couple more days here with this kind of weather is the only way to do it justice. It's just 7AM as we drive back to Sligachan. There are already a half dozen cars, parked at the Fairy Pools as we go by. We meet Axelbobo at the hotel parking lot, grab our daypacks and extra clothes, and hop in his car. 

    We drive on past the Old Man of Storr until our first stop this morning. Lealt Falls and then, Kilt Rock/ Mealt Falls. Lucky us. There is only one car in each parking lot. Nice to be able to take pictures without lot's of people in the way. We eventually move on to our main goal for the day. A full circle hike of the spectacular Quiraing.  (about 4+ miles RT) We wind our way up the steep road to the parking area. It is very busy up here, and we luck out finding a parking spot at the trails starting point. We load up our packs, cross the road, and head out to one of the most iconic walks in Scotland.

     The hike starts out with quite a few people on the trail, but in less than 5 minutes we've already separated ourselves from most of them. We share the trail with a few others all the way to Needle Rock, after that we pretty much have the rest of the hike on our own until the final boggy descent. This hike is "non stop" on spectacular scenery and views. No wonder it is so popular. Having a bluebird day to hike it doesn't hurt either.  We continue on, hiking along the cliffs and all the craggy, rocky features. There are endless views to the further northern hills and finally out to sea. My favorite hike in Scotland for pure scenery.

    The rest of the day is spent, with a quick stop on the road south, just past the Old Man of Storr for a picture or two. Too many cars to even get close to it. We then wind around Portree, back north for a peek at Fairy Glen. Very busy here too. Nothing like a nice sunny day to bring out the hordes. OK...it's time to head back to Sligachan for our final reward of the day. Well deserved....Food and drink at the pub. 

    I guess it's finally time to break down and have a taste of one of the hundreds of malts, Scotland's "Water of Life" available at the Sligachan pub. We toast to  a fantastic day, with a Cuillin ale and a taste of a very smooth Scotch (sorry I can't remember). We order up some dinner and laugh about the great day of sunshine and hiking. After dinner we notice the clouds are starting to cling to the mountains and feel a bit of mist filling the air. It appears this may be the end of our fair weather. We'll see tomorrow. My wife and I move across the street from the pub to the campground. Axel heads back to his Hostel. We will meet here at the campground in the morning for the next days plan. Another stellar day in Skye!

    Mealt Falls


    The Quirang


    Quirang


    Quirang



    Quirang

    Quirang


    Quirang



    Old Man of Storr


    Sligachan Pub


  • HorizonsHorizons Member, VisitScotland Ambassador ✭✭✭✭
    I had an absolute ball reading all the daily writeups and personal experiences. Tent casualties are as real as it gets camping in Scotland. Your photos are fantastic and both of your look in great spirits across the trip. I love the fact that you made so many friends across the journey!

    Thank you @powderglut for sharing this set of very authentic posts!! Made my day :smile: Hope you come back for another roadtrip, perhaps across some of the islands
    I'm Anirudh, an Indian travel blogger who has explored a lot of Scotland by public transport. My blog. Find me on Facebook | Instagram

    Best of Scotland in 1 week itinerary (fully by public transport)

    My Scotland travels (includes EdinburghSkye, HarrisMullArranOrkneyLoch Lomond, Islay, Oban, Speyside fest)

  • VisitScotlandMarinaVisitScotlandMarina Member, Moderator, VisitScotland Staff
    edited November 2018
    @powderglut I loved reading all about your campervan capers and what brilliant photos! Looks like you certainly enjoyed your trip. And congratulations on your anniversary too!!
  • VisitScotlandAmandaVisitScotlandAmanda Member, Administrator, Moderator, VisitScotland Staff
    Hi @powderglut I was just looking at your first discussion thread on the community where you asked for tips and advice on planning your trip - and it's amazing now to see it completed and see your pictures and stories! Thanks for sharing this journey with us and I'm really glad our wee community has been a part of it! 
    Kiwi gal, relocated to Scotland. 
    Instagram
  • powderglutpowderglut Member ✭✭

    Day 10 Sep 1: It's raining! As a matter of fact, it's been raining almost all night. When I finally get out of the van this morning, it's very foggy and the air is still. I fire up the stove for hot water to make coffee and tea. Uh oh!!! They're here!! The dreaded Sottish midge! Not just a few, mind you. Clouds and clouds. Like you have to keep your mouth shut, so you don't breath them. I experienced them a few times on this trip, but to such a small degree, that I barely gave them a passing thought.  But..this....this is an all out assault. I hurry to get our coffee and tea made and pack the van. We meet up with Axelbobo and depart Skye in a very foggy, buggy, morning.  It takes 30 minutes of opening and closing the car windows, to finally suck out the last remaining midges that made it into our vehicle.Wow! What an experience! 

    Originally, my goal for today was to get to Glencoe, hike, camp, do laundry, and pack up one of our bags with all the things we won't need in Italy/France. We head towards Fort William and realize that there is little we can do about the fog shrouded mountains. It's ashame we are driving through some of the most spectacular mountains in all of Scotland and really can't see them. We both stop for gas and decide this is where we part ways. Great couple of days my friend!

    Axelbobo heads south, on his way back to Bedford, England through Loch Lomond. We head in the same general direction, but pass on camping in Glencoe.  It's raining, very foggy, and the morning's midge experience has us changing plans. We decide we'll salvage this rainy day in Stirling. 

    We get into Stirling late in the afternoon and walk around by the very busy Stirling castle, but don't bother to go inside and tour. A little later, I search the internet on my phone to find us a room for the night at the Holiday Inn. I'm also hoping to find a Laundromat to get our stuff cleaned, but we are not finding anything open on this Saturday afternoon. The girls at the Holiday front desk go out of their way, making phone calls to find any type laundry service. They finally tell us, nothing in Stirling until Monday morning. We may be heading to Edinburgh tomorrow just to find a laundromat. OK, forget that, on to dinner. We chose a restaurant in Stirling called Mediterranea. Very enjoyable dinner with a Greek flare. We walk off dinner in town and end the evening with a "night cap" in our room. Share a tub and go to bed. I think this is the best night's sleep I've gotten on this whole trip in Scotland. Very comfortable bed.

    Glencoe Waterfall


    Stirling


    Stirling


    Stirling


    Stirling


    Stirling dinner


  • powderglutpowderglut Member ✭✭

    Day 11 Sep 2: Sunday morning. I'm up early and head down to get hot water for my tea. Wow! What a breakfast spread!  So... this is a full Sottish breakfast. It is all here for the pickings. After a huge breakfast (at least for me, not my wife) we pack up and walk around Stirling for an hour or two. Our main mission today is to get our laundry done. Also.... pack up one bag with sleeping bags, down coats and all the other cold weather gear we needed while camping in Iceland and Scotland for 28 days. We definitely will not need any of this stuff for the rest of our trip in Italy, France and Southern England. Our last 4 days of this 45 day anniversary trip, will be with our  TA friends in Sussex. I just have to figure out how I will send the bag to them.

    The weather is going to continue on the rainy side. We'll need one last night at a hotel just to get all our gear sorted out and repacked. We choose the last night at a Marston Inn in Livingston, an easy drive to the Broxburn drop-off for our van. I search the internet to finally locate a laundry facility to get all our stinky clothes clean. We find a place in West Calder with 3 machines outside a convenient store/ gas station. Craziest looking Laundromat I've ever seen. The afternoon is spent doing laundry here. We make friends with a local lady, sharing the machines, as she's using the dryer on two comforters. She suggests we just go to the postoffice tomorrow morning (a mile down the road), to send our extra bag to southern England. Good idea! We send her off happy, with a small load of unused groceries that we have no room to pack on the plane. We feel like we got a lot accomplished today after we reorganize our bags with clean clothes back at the hotel.

    Our last dinner is at an awesome little pub in Mid Calder, called the Black Bull Inn. A nice old local pub, not far from all of the newness of Livingston. We really liked this place. The locals, the staff, the food, the drinks...a slice of real Scotland. One day left before we fly to Milan tomorrow night.

    Stirling garden


    The outside laundromat in West Calder


    Black Bull in Mid Calder




  • powderglutpowderglut Member ✭✭

    Day 12 Sep 3: A bit rainy drizzle this AM and my knee feels tweaked. Don't exactly know why....but I plan on "nipping it in the bud" before it becomes a bigger problem Some Ibuprofen with breakfast, and an hour of ice, before we head to the West Calder Post Office. Time to send our extra gear bag down to Sussex until we return to England. The PO desk is on one side and the rest of the place is a convenient store. Small town PO I guess. 

    "Any problem sending this soft zippered luggage bag down to Sussex?" I ask. "Not a problem" he says. "But we will have to wrap it in tape first to cover all the zippers."  2 rolls of packing tape later, my bag looks like a giant mummified potato.  At home in the States, I'm used to going to either UPS or Fed Ex for this type of pkg, but this really turns out to be  pretty easy. All Right!..That's done! 

    We were thinking of going into Edinburgh to the gardens or castle, but my unhappy knee. wants an easy day.  We decide to go back to the Black Bull Inn for lunch and a very easy walk around Mid Calder. We have a nice casual lunch. Nothing fancy but very fresh and well prepared pub food. The owner shows us the closed pub bar and tells some history of this place. I think it a fitting end to our visit to Scotland. What a great journey this was. Lot's more to see in the future..that's for sure.

     We need to get the van back between 4PM and 5PM and then get a taxi to the airport. Everything goes smoothly except our flight is running late. Oh well.... it looks like we won't be in Milan until midnight. We finally check into the Moxy Hotel by the Malpensa Airport at 1 AM.  But that's the next chapter....


    A squished picture of the Black Bull whiskeys


    Last lunch in Scotland


    Thanks to everyone in this Visit Scotland site who chimed in on suggestions. You gave us so much of what made this a great trip.  This just whet our appetite for another visit. A stunningly beautiful country with some of the friendliest locals we've ever met.  We hope to come back again and explore the islands and maybe get in a few highland hikes or two.  

    Cheers!

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