Autumn Camper Van Trip: NC 500 in Scotland
Why Go On A Campervan Trip in Autumn:
Autumn may seem like an odd time of year to go on a campervan trip but I have found that there are actually quite a few advantages to saving your campervan trip till the out of season period.
My number one reason for an autumn camper van trip is the colours. I’m a huge tree fan at the best of times but nothing beats seeing the trees in Autmn. We enjoyed some beautiful walks and drives taking in the awe-inspiring senescence of the trees letting go of this years leaves to welcome winter. Unfortunately, my amateur camera skills just don’t do it justice.
Cost, many camper van companies offer discounts during the ‘low season’ which can end up saving you quite a bit of money if you can be flexible.
It’s quiet. During our trip along the North Coast 500 we spent a lot of time on single track roads that were narrow. Because we chose to go at the end of October the roads were relatively quite meaning we made good progress relatively stress free. There are lots of good over taking points in Scotland but once or twice when it was a particularly narrow part of road or it was hilly if there were a few vehicles together it sometimes required a bit of thought.
Is it Cold in The Camper Van?
The camper van has a powerful internal diesel heater that can be left on for long periods. We relied on the heater as we chose to do a fair bit of wild camping (which is legal in many parts of Scotland). The temperature was typically 12 degrees in the day down to 4 degrees at night. Most of the time we wore a t-shirt in the van (with the door shut) with pyjama bottoms (if you haven’t tried driving in pyjama bottoms I highly recommend it when you are on a long drive).
Why use a Camper Van for the NC 500?
Being in a camper van came with quite a few advantages. I loved the freedom a campervan allows. Especially in Scotland, where you can just pull your camper van over and wild camp legally. Waking up in a new beautiful place and having breakfast and a coffee is an awesome experience.
For Some of the narrower roads, there are alternative routes for motor homes due to their size. So if you want few restrictions and an easier driving experience the much more nimble VW T 6 are the ideal choice. especially if you don't have much experience driving something bigger.
Leeds to Loch Lomond
We set off from Leeds at 4:30 on Friday evening. Up the M1 to Scotch corner. We stopped in Cumbria to do a big food and supplies shop ( I would recommend that you do this prior to your trip if you are short on time) and took the M6 up to the M74 and M8 eventually coming to Loch Lomond. We found a beautiful spot to park right next to the Loch using the website https://park4night.com. We arrived here at around 21:00 thinking brilliant were here, in Scotalnd, but looking at the map we still had a long way to go.
The next day we had planned to visit Ben Nevis, but not having a set agenda and to be honest poor planning felt we hadn’t allowed enough time for it. It was also raining so we decided to get some miles behind us and made our way to Torridon. The drive was beautiful. We saw a few castles such as Eilean Donan Castle.
In Torridon We wild camped at the community centre after having a pint at the local pub the Torridon. Here
we had the most memorable experience of the trip. A Stag jumped out of the woods directly in front of our camper van. We were going very slowly so had no problem and managed to garb this short video of our encounter.
*** If you have young ears around please kill the volume as the excitement may have been a little too much for some of us
Beinn Eighe Mountail Trail
The next morning we travel to the foot of Beinn Eighe. This was my favorite part of the trip, starting in the Coille na Glas Leitre car park the walk divides into two paths. One for the mountain trail and one to a tree walk. We took the mountain walk which starts gradually with a pleasant walk through scots pine trees and trickling waterways.
As you ascent through the trees, you are greeted with impressive mountain views before the walk gets tough. The walk quickly becomes steep and not a walk for the faint-hearted. The route is well signed using large-way maker cairns (below). There are also areas where the rocks have been scored with a grinder to make them less slippy.
I loved this walk, but it was fairly tough and should not be tried by someone who isn’t a confident walker without good walking boots. It took us about 3 hours to You can find out more about this walk here on this blog https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/torridon/Mountaintrail.shtml
Big waterfall – Ardessie Falls, Achnasheen
After our big walk we were quite grateful to spend some quality time in the van. We had a long drive to our destination Ardmair holiday park where for the first time we could enjoy the luxury of a shower. We took the costal route along Loch Maree and had two stop before we arrived at the camp site: Ardessie Falls was an interesting stop around mid-way through this journey that to our relief doesn’t actually require you to get out of the van as it’s directly on the side of the road (though I do think it is worth getting out).
Corrieshalloch Gorge National Park
Corrieshalloch Gorge was perfectly positioned breaking up a long drive and was well worth the short walk maybe a mile and a half the full way round. The gorge is beautiful, tree lined with a powerful water fall feature. The bridge and viewing deck allow impressive vistas of the gorge and water fall. We Stopped at Ullapool for a few drinks in the Seaforth one of the several pubs in Ullapool and had fish and chips from next door before stocking up at the local tesco and heading towards Ardmair Holiday Park.
Ardmair Holiday Park
The next day we enjoyed a late start and a hot shower. We couldn’t see it when we arrived but where we parked directly on the shoreline was beautiful.
Clashnessie Falls & Beach
This was a short walk maybe 2 to 3 miles tops with a sandy beach at the beginning with beautiful sea views. The waterfall is worth the short walk.
We stopped in at Kylesku Hotel which overlooks a Loch where we saw seals.
Kinlochbervie Overnight Park
We parked up for the night at Kinlochbervie, cooked some dinner using the camper vans hobs and enjoyed a few drinks in the Kinlochbervie pub setting the world to rights playing pool pool.
Sand Wood Beach, NC 500
The next day we drove the short journey to Sand Wood Beach. I have never been so grateful for having full water proofs. The long 2 hour walk there was quite nice, a bit bleak with not a lot to see other than barren lochs as the visibility was poor. We had quite the pace going but looking forward to what lay ahead of us paid with the fact some of the paths were completely flooded and required creative use of the limited stepping stones added to our fun.
The weather cleared up for us when we arrived at Sand Wood Beach and we had a great time, running up and down the huge sand dunes to be met with an ever more impressive view. The beach was absolutely beautiful and was well worth the walk there.
On the walk back the weather came in and it was a bit grim, with persistent rain and wind we were happy to get back to the van. We met two other travelers back at the van who asked us if it was worth it which we answer undeniably yes, but they arrived there around 1 or 2 pm meaning they would probably be returning in the dark which I wouldn’t have wanted. They didn’t go which I feel was a mistake on their part as it was one of the highlights of the trip
We had a short drive to Sango Sands holiday Oasis which is a well-equipped camp site with beautiful views. There is also a good bar in which we enjoyed a few drinks, we had planned to eat as they are paired up with a local takeaway but when our neighbor’s food appeared we thought better of it as it looked disappointing.
Right next to the camp less than a 5-minute walk is Smoo cave, which is a very short walk less than a mile. Well worth a short visit to see the huge gaping cave out of which flows a river from an internal waterfall.
Dunnet Head - Most Northerly Point In The UK
We drove about two and a have hours to Dunnet Head Mainland UK’s most Northly point then made our way to John O’Groats. We went for a dink in a Little distillery there and camped in the car park.
Strathpeffer Waterfall & Vista
The next day We had a recommendation from some travellers to head down to Ardtower campsite in Inverness. The East coast didn’t seem to offer quite as much as the west. There were a few whiskey tours but I think due to the time of year some where not operating.
We visited Startpeffer Waterfall which was a short walk I would say less then a mile and a half there and back. Surrounded by beautiful trees which due the Autumnal colour looks spectacular.
We stopped off a a lovely little spot called the Bad Girl Bakery which I loved https://www.facebook.com/badgirlbakery
We stopped off at Ardtower campsite which we were told had great food but we actually ended up fending for our selves. There were good facilities a nice view, though perhaps not quite as dramatic as some of those on the west coast. http://www.ardtower-caravanpark.com/.
We weather came in quite hard the next day and the friend I was traveling with discovered Scotland were playing Tonga at St James stadium, Rubgy is his thing. I also had always wanted to see the Cairngorms so we needed to get a move on. We drove along Lochness travelled through the Cairngorms to Aviemore where we stayed at https://oakwoodcampingpark.co.uk/. In Aviemore we went out for wood-fired pizzas at Cheese and Tomatine and went to a few pubs. Some places were very busy so booking ahead would be wise if you are looking to eat.
We made our way down to Edinbrugh caravan club quickly hopped in a cab and made our way to St James to watch Scotland destroy Tonga. We grabbed some food and ventured out into Edinburgh to enjoy a night out and some food. The following morning we packed up and headed home.
We had an awesome trip it was 9 days in total we cover an insane number of miles but the drives were some of the best parts. Driving along the narrow, winding costal roads offered some of the best views of the trip. The kind of views photos just can’t replicate. Yes it rained, but it’s Scotland, it rains at all times of the year! You chuck on a water proof and get on with it.