— Driving the North Coast 500 in a Campervan —

We spent a week in Scotland last summer and couldn’t wait to return. In order to really experience everything this beautiful country has to offer, it’s best to hire a car so you can explore the highlands as you please. For this trip, we wanted to take it a step further, so instead of hiring a car to drive the North Coast 500, we opted to rent a campervan!

Campervan Rental in Scotland

Though there are several campervan companies to choose from in Scotland, we booked with Bunk Campers. They have rental depots in both Glasgow and Edinburgh. They also have a depot in London if you’re planning the ultimate UK road trip, and in Belfast and Dublin in case a visit to the Emerald Isle (Ireland) is also on your list. We love that Bunk Campers offers modern and fuel-efficient vehicles at an affordable price. They aim to be green in their practices by harvesting rainwater to clean the outside of the campervans and using low-energy laundry settings when cleaning the hireable bedding kits. Furthermore, they use environmentally friendly WC fluid suitable for campervan and motorhome toilets. We strive to support companies working hard to protect our planet, so it was a natural fit for us to book with Bunk!

North Coast 500 in a campervanThings to See & Do Along the North Coast 500

Now, you’ve probably stumbled upon this post because you’re already planning to drive the North Coast 500, an award-winning route in north Scotland. Therefore, we probably don’t need to spend too much time telling you how incredible this drive is. You already know that you will be greeted with hundreds of miles of coastline, spectacular Highland landscapes, castles, caves, and forests, along with heritage centers, museums, and distilleries along the way. Of course, you can always read more about our journey along the North Coast 500 and use our guide as a resource for planning your own epic road trip, but for the intended purposes of this post, we’re going to share primarily about exploring the North Coast 500 in a campervan

North Coast 500Harrowing Parts of the North Coast 500

Though much of the drive along the North Coast 500 consists of two-lane highways, there are a few sections along the route that may leave you sweating and white-knuckled. Single-lane roads will occasionally pop up along the drive and it’s important that you understand how they work, especially when you are greeted with oncoming traffic. Pay attention to the signs reading Passing Place. When you encounter another car on the road coming toward you, pull off to the side at the nearest Passing Place (note, it may be behind you) and flash your headlights to let the other person know it is safe to pass. If someone flashes their lights at you, it means they are safely off the road and are telling you to proceed. You’ll then greet each other with a friendly wave and continue on your way. There are two portions of the drive that we want to highlight, as they were definitely the most harrowing, especially in a campervan!

North Coast 500 in a campervanBealach na Ba Pass

Bealach na Ba is THE portion of the drive that everyone talks about! Gaelic for the Pass of the Cattle, as it was historically used as a drover’s road, this drive has been named as one of the best car journeys by National Geographic. With its hairpin turns and gradients reaching close to 20%, it’s a drive you definitely do not want to do in a large motorhome. It was certainly nerve-wracking, but we survived in our Aero model campervan from Bunk Campers. If you don’t feel comfortable driving this portion of the route, you can take the bypass road (A869) from Shieldaig to Tornapress. Even if you’re ready to conquer the pass, you might not want to do this drive on your first day in a campervan, especially if you’re driving on the left for the first time. This was one of a few reasons why we drove the North Coast 500 in a counter-clockwise direction, ending with Bealach na Ba.

North Coast 500The Drive to Drumbeg

After the drive to Drumbeg on the B869, we were puzzled as to why Bealach na Ba was the only harrowing part of the drive getting a mention. We were greeted with a sign reading Unsuitable for Caravans, so having not heard about this harrowing portion of the drive, we second-guessed whether or not we should proceed (there is also a by-pass route here if you simply want to continue on the A894). However, we figured if we were planning to do Bealach na Ba, then we could tackle the B869! Plus someone had to drive the route to be able to tell future travelers to the region all about it! The road was extremely narrow at times, leading up and around blind curves. There were plenty of Passing Places, of which we took advantage often. Some of the gradients were actually steeper (25%) than those advertised at Bealach na Ba. So for us, it was good training for the pass. And we came upon some of our favorite beaches of the entire drive along this portion of the route, including Clashnessie, Clachtoll, and Achmelvich.

North Coast 500Campsites Along the North Coast 500

Ok, so we’ve talked about renting a campervan and driving the North Coast 500 in a campervan, now let’s discuss where you park your vehicle for the night along the route. We spent 5 days exploring the Highlands of North Scotland and wanted to share with you where we stayed along the way, including one very ‘wild’ and incredible night… keep reading! Prices listed are as of April 2016 and are subject to change.

Dornoch Campsite

We absolutely loved Dornoch Caravan and Camp Park in Dornoch. Maybe it had something to do with its close proximity to a gorgeous beach offering castle views. Or maybe it was because the affordable WiFi reached all the way to our campervan so we were able to video chat with family back home. (Trust us, WiFi is very hard to come by in this region, so we were stoked with a strong connection!) We would definitely recommend this camp park! Nearby you’ll find the charming town center of Dornoch. If you’re into golf, tee off on the Royal Dornoch championship course, ranked 13th in the world. COST: Serviced Pitch £19-£22 / Unserviced Pitch £16.00-£19.00 / Max 4 Persons (£4.00 per person thereafter)

North Coast 500John O’ Groats Campsite

This is one of Britain’s most northerly campsites. From the cliff-side pitches, you can enjoy panoramic views of the Pentland Firth, along with the Island of Stroma to the left and the Orkney Islands directly ahead. Just a short drive (2 miles) from the campsite is Duncansby Head and the not-to-be-missed Stacks of Duncansby. The showers provided hot water, though the bathrooms were barely heated, making it a little chilly when we visited in early April. Otherwise, it was a decent campsite. COST: We paid £20 for a pitch with hook-ups in April, though there are no prices listed on their website to discern any cost fluctuations throughout the year.

North Coast 500Scourie Campsite

We found Scourie Caravan Park to be quite delightful. You simply can’t beat the views, as many of the pitches are situated in an elevated position overlooking the bay leading out to the ocean. It’s the perfect spot to catch the sunset! There’s also a short walk along a shore footpath leading to a small sandy beach. COST: £8/per adult (£4/per child aged 6-15, up to two) / Children 5 and under and more than two 6-15 year olds are FREE / £4 for electric hook-ups

North Coast 500Ardmair Campsite

We had actually planned to stay further south in the town of Gairloch on the evening we stayed in Ardmair, but bad weather and poor visibility along the route forced us to stop earlier in the day. We really enjoyed Ardmair Point Campsite, but wish the weather was a little nicer during our visit, as the pitches were perfectly situated right along the bay. The chilly wind coming off the bay was intense, causing us to run to and from the shower facilities, but the views were still great! COST: £20 for a pitch with hook-ups in April, May, June, and September & £25 in July and August

North Coast 500Wild Camping Along the North Coast 500

For our final evening of camping along the North Coast 500, we actually went a little bit off the route, as we were trying to escape light pollution from nearby cities. It was a new moon that evening, so we were hoping to get clear dark skies in order to photograph an abundance of bright stars! We drove along the shoreline of Loch Carron looking for the perfect spot and finally came upon a pull-off near Stromeferry. This would be our first time wild camping in a campervan and boy, did our sense of adventure pay off! Not only did we see a sky full of stars, but the Northern Lights also made an appearance, even if it was ever so brief. To put it simply, wild camping is setting up camp away from an organized campsite. You can read all about our experiences with wild camping in Scotland in a separate post.

Loch Carron near Stromeferry

North Coast 500Perks of Exploring Scotland in a Campervan

Beside being able to stay at campsites with awesome views or having the ability to set up camp (almost) anywhere you want, there are several other perks to exploring Scotland and particularly the North Coast 500 in a campervan. One of those perks was only having to unpack (and then repack) once. Had we rented a car and needed accommodations along the way, we would’ve found ourselves unpacking our belongings every night and repacking every morning. It gets exhausting if you’re constantly on the go. Your campervan is basically a mobile hotel room: you have all of your belongings with you all the time, and you’re not having to haul your luggage all over the place. Definitely a relaxing way to travel! We also had some of the BEST views while dining in our Bunk Campers campervan! We would purposely seek out a nice place to pull over when it was time to eat. One of our favorite views was Gruinard Bay (pictured below). With the route being 500 miles long, there is certainly no shortage of scenic places to stop and enjoy the views!

North Coast 500So, are you ready to start planning your own camping adventure?! Check out our Ultimate North Coast 500 Guide!

 Want to see more? Take a look at our North Coast 500 video!

Dying to know what else we did on our 12-day campervan adventure through Scotland? Check out the video below!

We’d like to thank Bunk Campers for providing us with a discounted campervan rental in exchange for this review. As always, all opinions are our own and are an accurate reflection of the experiences we had.


20 Comments:

  1. This is a greatttttt post for me! I’m planning on doing a Scotland road trip this summer so this is all perfect information. It looks simply amazing.

  2. Ha, my family come from Scotland – and no way would I drive around in a campervan! You are very brave or very foolish!

    But, the scenery is incredible there as you clearly know from your photos, so it’s definitely worth a visit – preferably in a small 4 wheel drive!

    • Ha ha! Campervan travel isn’t for everyone! Sam did all of the driving and while it was nerve-wracking in a few spots, we had an amazing time. But, yes… campervan or small 4 wheel drive, everyone should visit Scotland at least once in their lifetime, if they are able! 🙂

  3. This is a great comprehensive post. It’s so helpful to get an idea of what to expect from the driving conditions from someone who has done it but isn’t a local and familiar with the roads. I would love to see a review on the size / layout of camper you used.

  4. The landscapes of Scotland always so eerie and mystical but also so majestic

  5. Your post, and video, really has me seriously considering a camper van (for the first time I might add) in the UK. I’ve lived in the UK for some time, but have been nervous about the size of driving around a big vehicle and kind of the logistics of it all. But now it looks downright easy! Thanks for sharing.

    • Oh yea! So happy to have possibly inspired a future adventure of yours! There are varying sizes of campervans/motorhomes, so just go with the one that feels right for you. I don’t think we could’ve rented anything bigger and felt comfortable driving. Being from the UK, you would know that the roads get very narrow and tricky in some parts! Hope you plan a campervan trip soon; it’s a blast… and the North Coast 500 is a great way to see much of beautiful Scotland!

  6. Oh, that’s one of my dream holidays!
    I’m going to pin it to my inspiration board on interest – for future reference 🙂

  7. What a lovely trip! How much did you rent the camper van for?

  8. I’m so glad I found your site! We are going to Scotland for the first time in May this year, with our own motorhome that is a bit larger than the campervan you rented – and has furthermore the steering wheel on the ‘wrong’ side. So we will probably use some of the bypasses 🙂
    Thank you for sharing your adventures and guides!

    • Glad you found this information helpful! Based on the research or lack thereof we do before a trip, I always try to put something together that I wish I had before embarking on our adventure!

  9. Hi planning my trip around sept 2017 would it be wise to take smart car towed behind van ?

    • I’m curious as to why you would tow a car behind a van. I’m not sure what your situation is, but a van should be sufficient for the entire route and I wouldn’t see a need to tote around an additional vehicle.

  10. We are trying to debate for a 12 -day trip to Scotland (and another 14 days in Ireleand afterwards) if we should do the typical route of visiting Glencoe, Isle of Skye etc or to do North Coast 500. We will have a 7 and year old with us as well. Just wondering your thoughts. If we did the NC 500 we were thinking a 1970’s VW Camper bus as well.

    • So many fun options in Scotland… followed by some time in Ireland… sounds like a great trip, no matter what you do! You certainly don’t need 12-days to just drive the North Coast 500. We had 12 days with our campervan in Scotland and did the North Coast 500, Isle of Skye, and Cairngorms National Park! Glencoe is another gorgeous region in Scotland and depending on where you start your journey, you just might be able to do all three. We’re not huge fans of packing in too much (and especially if you’re traveling with a 7 year old, you definitely don’t want to spend the majority of time driving), so maybe pick two of the three. Glencoe and Isle of Skye or Isle of Skye and the NC500. If you did Glencoe and Isle of Skye, consider also a visit to Isle of Mull (requires a ferry ride) – http://forgetsomeday.com/reasons-to-visit-isle-of-mull-scotland/. Again, no matter what you choose, you will have a great time. The beauty of Scotland (and Ireland) keep bringing us back! We’ve visited each country multiple times now and we’re still not done exploring!

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