The best of Scotland’s miles – NC500 route

The plan to do the 500 miles of Scotland’s Highlands started as a seed, implanted in our minds when our workaway host told us about the magnificent views we could see.

This seed took root and bloomed into a spontaneous decision once our friends living in Scotland confirmed that the drive would be one of the best in the world. We were curious, and the anticipation grew quickly as we started looking at vans to rent.

The first day of the trip, we packed our bags, threw a double mattress in the back of our rented van and off we went. Armed with 20 litres of water, ten cans of tuna and spam, a loaf of bread, some vegetables and fruit, and a downloaded map of the route, we were ready to explore the Highlands.

In the east, we saw endless fields of golden wheat and uninterrupted views of the sea constantly accompanying us as we drove along from Inverness to Dornoch beach, and all the way up towards John O’Groats.

As you drive up north and down the west, the landscape changes drastically as you see the fields roll into hills and valleys. You start feeling smaller and marvel at how insignificant we are compared to this land that’s been around for billions of years.

All along the NC500 route you’ll find castles, gorges, great hiking routes, plenty of small towns with their boutique stores and seafood restaurants. You can also opt to take ferries to the different Isles, and spend extra days just camping on Ben Nevis.

I’m already missing the adventure of exploring the Highlands. We had 8 days of very good sunny weather so the beauty of the sea, hills and fields was glorifyingly displayed to us.

I enjoyed having little plan for the day except for a rough idea of where to go to and if we should find places to refuel or get groceries. Camping around does require more effort to find public toilets so you don’t resort to leaving human waste where ever you park.

Apps that I found helpful were Park 4 night and All trails. The first helped us to find many good overnight places, with updated comments from previous campers. It tells you which are paid campsites and which are free. The second told us where good walking and hiking trails are, and gave directions on how to drive there too. Of course, downloading offline maps on Google will help too if you don’t have data. WiFi at tesco was great, also the bathrooms and cooked meals there turned out extremely helpful.

We met campers from all around Scotland as well as from England and Wales. We’ve had coffee from neighbors and in the mornings, were given tours of their van set up. Some looked shabby but cosy, some looked extravagant and well lived in. The van life definitely attracts the in-built explorer in many of us who come visit the Highlands and choose not to stay in hotels.

Van rental was about $90 sgd for the 2 of us per night, inclusive of insurance. For meals we ate ham and cheese sandwiches, sometimes canned beans and tuna or spam. Lots of raw vegetables like carrots, peppers, Zuccinis and tomatoes. If we had a cooker it would have been much better but it was a last minute plan to do this trip so food was of little priority.

The sights of Scotland are so beautiful, I only hope you will visit the Highlands yourself and come to witness it too.

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