CAMPING ON THE NC500

posted in: Motorcycling, Outdoors, Travel | 2

I have been very fortunate to have lots of opportunities to explore Scotland over the years, by car, motorbike, train and on foot. I often say that Glencoe is my favourite place in the world, and I mean it, but there are so many other places all over this very special country that deserve to be seen and experienced in person.

Splodz Blogz | NC500 | Towards Durness

Northern Scotland. Take me back.

We experienced the NC500 route last summer (I wrote a daily diary and also about my top ten moments), and loved it so much we chose to go back this summer on the motorbikes. I love the freedom of motorcycle camping, and for that week up in the very north of mainland Great Britain I was as far away from anywhere as I could be, enjoying each moment, each turn, each meal as it came along.

I am well aware that many people feel the introduction of the North Coast 500 “official route” has actually ruined the charm of such places, bringing tourists and traffic and rubbish and business. And I can see their point. But it really is an awesome trip, and one that means people can take a week off from work and experience some of the best scenery they will ever see in a relatively easy-to-organise tour. And as long as you are courteous, sensible, and kind to the environment, you will really struggle to beat this one.

Splodz Blogz | NC500 - Bikes near Elphin

Friends on tour.

The weather for our week at the end of June was as good as it could have been – bright blue skies with sunshine and well above 20 every day except one, and up to 30 on some days. We simply could not have picked a better week for a motorcycle camping tour. Our two friends were new to the camping road trip game and I’m not sure they had the proper camping experience because the weather was just so awesome, but it was very nice not to have to worry about rain or wet tents or even cold nights.

In this post I thought I’d share the campsites we used on both tours. We didn’t wild camp, which is an option many people choose in Scotland, rather we headed for paid campsites with toilets and showers, close to places we could find food, reducing the amount of gear we needed to pack. Some of these places we camped at on both tours (does that make us regulars?!). I’ll also indicate below whether we had to book ahead or if we just rocked up and hoped. Note that many of these close for winter, it’s always wise to check ahead if you’re doing any camping tour out of season.

Hopefully this will be useful when you’re planning your own NC500 road trip.

Camping on the NC500

Bunhcrew Caravan Park, Inverness

The NC500 officially starts (and finishes) in Inverness, and Bunchrew is just on the outskirts of the large sprawling city which makes it an ideal location for your first or last night. It’s a large holiday park style caravan site that welcomes tents on the banks of the Beauly Firth, with decent facilities and lovely views.

Splodz Blogz | NC500 - Bunchrew Campsite, Inverness

Bunchrew Campsite, Inverness

I would say it’s supposed to be a quiet site, but unfortunately our sleep was somewhat ruined by the couple in the caravan opposite (I say “in” I mean “outside”) who got progressively more drunk and loud until they crashed at somewhere close to 2am. We had no guilt breaking camp noisily in the morning, as did everyone else around us – what a shame some people are such stupid humans.

We highly recommend the catering van on this site, the food was superb, and was assisted by the gorgeous sunset over the firth. There is a small shop in the reception block selling milk and snacks and camping essentials, which is always useful. I should have got my NC500 sticker from here because I didn’t see another one the whole trip and it seems you can’t buy the official one online – members only, apparently.

Bunchrew would be a very good base for a week-long camping holiday as there is so much to see and do in the surrounding area.

Splodz Blogz | NC500 | Rogie Falls

Inverness

Facilities: Large tenting area, brick-built toilets and free warm showers, games area, right on the beach, catering van on site serving breakfast and dinner, small campsite shop.

For Food: There’s a posh hotel five-minute’s walk through the trees if you want something a little bit fancy, or a pub a couple of miles towards Inverness. There are of course a plethora of chains and independent restaurants in Inverness itself. We made use of the onsite catering van – it was a beautiful evening, the lady serving was super friendly, the meals were good value, and it was really hearty and very tasty food.

Booking: Probably not needed for small tents, but I phoned ahead and reserved pitches. Payment on arrival.

We Paid: £10 per person for tent and motorcycle.

Address: Bunchrew, Inverness, IV3 8TD | Website

Applecross Camping, Applecross

Located on the West Coast of Scotland in the mains of Applecross, this is a good-sized family run campsite with decent enough facilities for one or two nights camping. To be fair there aren’t many options around here (although we did spy some ideal wild camping spots along the coast if you’d rather), but it is a good site, we have stayed here twice and I would happily go again.

Splodz Blogz | NC500 - Applecross

Applecross

You can drive/ride onto the camping fields which is always handy. There is currently just the one toilet block which does the job okay, but the lady signing us in did say that it needs a bit of work, which they are planning.

There are also camping cabins here too, and plenty of space for campervans. It is a site with a real elective mix.

Splodz Blogz | NC500 - Applecross Camping

Camping at Applecross

Facilities: Couple of large tent fields, brick-built toilets and free showers.

For Food: There is no café or shop on site, but you are just 10 mins walk down to the shore for the rather excellent Applecross Inn (get the fish and chips) and the new Junxion café, both serving food all day. There is a shop and post office a couple of miles walk along the shore.

Booking: We’ve stayed here twice; the first time we booked and paid online prior to arrival, and this time we risked it and just turned up. Both fine, no issues.

We Paid: £11 per person.

Address: Right on the NC500 route. Applecross Campsite, by Strathcarron, IV54 8ND | Website

Broomfield Holiday Park, Ullapool

Set on the banks of Loch Broom in Ullapool, looking out to the Summer Islands and Hebrides, this holiday park style site is very welcoming to bikers. Honestly, it’s an amazing view, right on the shore of the loch – if you are early enough arriving you might get a loch-side pitch, but bear in mind the midges will be much worse there than anywhere else on the site!

Splodz Blogz | NC500 - Broomfield Holiday Park, Ullapool

Broomfield Holiday Park from the cliff top.

The site is right in the middle of Ullapool, too, which is one of the larger towns on the NC500 route, with plenty of amenities for restocking (Tesco, fuel, lots of pubs and restaurants). And the sunset from the site is simply stunning, one of the best of the trip (ah west coast you are so special).

Splodz Blogz | NC500 - Broomfield Holiday Park, Ullapool

Sunset over Loch Broom

Facilities: Large site with marked pitches and an additional field for tents, a couple of large ablutions blocks with plenty of toilets and showers (proper holiday park style).

Booking: No need to book ahead.

We Paid: £9 per person for tent and motorcycle / £19 for car, tent and two people.

For Food: Ullapool is reasonably urban. There’s a decent sized Tesco for supplies if you want to cook your own food, and a number of pubs, restaurants and fish and chip shops.

Address: West Lane, Ullapool, IV26 2UT | Website

Sango Sands Oasis, Durness

Sat on the cliffs above some beautiful sandy beaches, Sango Sands Oasis sits right at the north west tip of the North Coast 500 route, and is almost as north west as you can go in mainland Scotland.

Splodz Blogz | NC500 - Sango Sands, Durness

Sango Sands, Durness

The site is a little chaotic in some ways, there seems to be tents and caravans everywhere, and it is very popular with large (and loud) groups. But we were disturbed less here than at Bunchrew! Between our two stays they have made massive improvements to the facilities by providing a new (rather impressive) shower block, which was my main complaint on our first trip. The provision of a camp kitchen is good, and there are enough facilities to keep you here for a week if you so choose.

The best bit about this site is the location; right on the cliffs above the sea, a stunning beach, some cliff walks, the best night time views of the entire tour – just awesome. I would stay here again and again for that sea view. I wonder when I’ll get to go back?!

Splodz Blogz | NC500 | Smoo Cave

From Smoo Cave, Durness

Facilities: Toilets and new shower block, laundry and camp kitchen. Spar shop at the edge of the site.

Booking: No need to book ahead.

We Paid: £9 per person.

For Food: The holiday park has a bar and restaurant serving standard pub food and pizzas. The second time we stayed we walked along the cliffs to the Smoo Cave Hotel for a lovely meal. IF we went back, we’d choose the hotel again. Oh, and there is also Cocoa Mountain Chocolaterie just up the road in Balnakeil if you are in need of a chocolate fix during the day.

Address: Right on the NC500. Sango Bay, Durness,N27 4PZ | Website

Wick Camping

Wick is a reasonably large town on the east coast of Scotland, just south of the north western tip, where the road gets wider and faster. Wick Camping is a central site, on the banks of the Wick River, on the edge of what is basically an industrial area. We have stayed here twice now, returning the second time because the owners were just so friendly and despite not being by the sea, the site is really quite lovely.

Despite being in the middle of a bustling town, the site is quiet. It’s quite small, but there was plenty of space. It would make a good base for a few days if you’re in a van, but works excellently as an NC500 road trip site. It rained both times we stayed here – I’m sure that’s not Wick’s fault!

Splodz Blogz | NC500 - Motorcycle Camping

Motorcycle camping

Facilities: The toilets and shower block don’t look much from the outside but they are perfectly fine. There are a few supplies for sale in the campsite reception.

Booking: We booked the first year and didn’t the second. We generally arrive between 4pm and 6pm when road tripping and so did not have any problems with sites being full.

We Paid: £11 per person.

For Food: It’s a 10-15 minute walk into town along the river where there are shops and a small choice of pubs and restaurants. We ate at Devitas Pizzeria based Tripadvisor reviews, and returned the second year to repeat the experience – we’d definitely recommend this unassuming Italian.

Address: Riverside Drive, Wick, KW1 5SP | Website

Fortrose Bay Campsite

Set on the banks of the Murray Firth just north of Inverness, this long thin campsite was our location for our last NC500 night the first time around, chosen because we were reliably informed we were very likely to see dolphins from the shore.

Splodz Blogz | NC500 | Fortrose Bay Camping

Sheltering from the wind at Fortrose Bay

We booked ahead by phone, and chatting to the owner, discovered it’s quite the windy location – she allocated us a pitch with gorse bushes between us and the water to give us the best chance of our tent staying upright overnight! It was indeed windy, but we had no issues with our tent, thankfully.

The site is small and quiet, with a couple of ablutions blocks and kitchen and laundry facilities. There was a really lovely atmosphere at this one, I would very happily stay again should we head up to Inverness.

Splodz Blogz | NC500 | Dolphins in the Moray Firth

Watching Dolphins near Fortrose Bay

Facilities: Decent toilets and showers, kitchen and laundry facilities. Access to bike hire.

Booking: We booked ahead on the phone.

We Paid: £17 for tent and two people (we were there in low season).

For Food: We visited the local fish and chip shop (about a 15 minute walk from the site) and headed up to Chanonry Point to make use of one of the picnic tables and watch the dolphins play.

Address: Wester Greengates, Fortrose, IV10 8RX | Website

Glencoe Mountain Centre

Not actually on the NC500 route, we needed an extra night away to split up our journey home when we did this tour by motorbike, and I thought this one deserved a mention on here. I’ve eaten here many times (the cakes are very good!) and made use of the camping huts twice now – last year on the West Highland Way, and this year on the NC500. The weather could not have been more different!

Splodz Blogz | NC500 - Glencoe Mountain Centre

The Mountain Centre, which is on Rannoch Moor just off the A82 between Fort William and Tyndrum (right on the West Highland Way), is a popular but relaxed place to spend the night. Exactly what you’d expect a ski hut to be like. We booked into the small but nice hobbit huts, ate in the café, and went for a walk around the area. I would absolutely stay here again, this place has a little bit of my heart, I enjoy the atmosphere and the views – well, I’m not sure there are any better.

There is a huge car park with the Mountain Centre itself at the top of the hill, the micro lodges down the side in a couple of rows, and a campsite towards the bottom of the hill. There are two ablutions blocks, one at the top and one at the bottom. You are quite a way from anywhere else, which is part of the charm, but that does mean you are reliant on the café at the centre.

Splodz Blogz | NC500 - Glencoe Mountain Centre

Facilities: Campsite style facilities with toilets, showers (£1 for 5 minutes, the only time we had to pay on the trip), and a drying room.

Booking: You’ll need to book the huts ahead, but the campsite, which is right on the West Highland Way, was open for walk-ups.

We Paid: £50 per microlodge.

For Food: If you don’t take your own food you’ll be eating at the Mountain Centre Café, which is actually very good. Simple but good food, and some lovely home made cakes. And an open fire for when the weather is chilly. It’s worth noting the café closes quite early (about 8.30pm), and stops serving hot food at 7.30pm. Oh, breakfast is good here, too.

Address: Kingshouse, Glencoe, PH49 4HZ | Website

Splodz Blogz | NC500 -  Bealach na Ba Pass

Bearlach na Baa Pass on the NC500

Have you done the North Coast 500 road trip? Where did you stay? Feel free to add your camping suggestions in the comments below. And if you have any NC500 road trip questions, or indeed any general car or motorbike camping ones, you can ask those below too. 

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