Wrapping up the NC500

We were due for a stomp. We’d heard that Sandwood Bay has the most gorgeous beach, which is a big claim in Northern Scotland, and that you can only reach it on foot, so it was an obvious choice for a leg stretch. We’d glanced over the reference in Lonely Planet, registered something about 4km and happily set off in the morning, planning on a couple of hours walking and tootling along the beach. Neither of us can fathom where the 4km came from because the sign at the start of the trail informed us that it was 4.5 miles… each way. We headed back to the car, loaded up with suncream, water and clothes for every possible weather scenario and set off on our slightly longer than planned walk. It’s a fairly popular walk, particularly on a glorious day like this one, but we still had plenty of time to ourselves. It’s also very gentle, although it feels mostly uphill regardless of which direction you are walking in, which is impressive.

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The approach to the bay itself is particularly beautiful.

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We clambered down the dunes to the beach. As we were completely sheltered from the wind, it was hot and sweaty work trudging through the deep sand and, whilst the beach is lovely, we actually preferred the view from above to being down on the shore.

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There were more walkers out as we retraced our path back to the car and a good number of dogs for Caro to cuddle. We ended up walking alongside a Scottish chap who was training two collie puppies; they were only 9 months old and already beautifully behaved, they showed remarkable restraint when we encountered a small herd of gorgeous hairy coos.

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Our new friend was telling us some bone-chilling stories of camping in the Cairngorms in winter, the very thought of which made our teeth chatter in our heads. He told us that he had camped in a lovely campsite in nearby Scourie and that we should take a look. We’d had vague plans of getting a bit further south that day but the longer than anticipated walk had scuppered our grand schemes anyway, so we took his advice and moseyed along to Scourie. We bagged a superb spot right on the cliff edge overlooking the water.

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Caro settled herself in a chair with her bird book and a pair of binoculars and passed a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours misidentifying the many birds swooping around the tent.

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The following day was a long day of driving smattered with stops to admire beautiful views, including Caro’s favourite beach, Clashnessie Bay, where the pink and white sand swirled together to look like raspberry ripple icecream.

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Another gorgeous stop was Ardvreck castle, an emotive ruin on a spit of land jutting out into Loch Assynt.

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Sometimes, the fact that Caro needs to pee every 20 minutes is actually a good thing because it means that we end up stopping in any weird and wonderful place that has a bathroom. So it was with Elphin and the eponymous Elphin Tearooms, whose uninspiring exterior gives no hint of the delights within.

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First there’s Merlin, a donkey of a red setter who has his own chair.

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Then there’s the lemon drizzle cake, which is out of this world good. Finally, the woman who runs the place is just the right kind of crazy, which adds enormously to the appeal. A must visit for us.

And then we drove. Honestly, this was one of the most beautiful drives we have ever done and there isn’t enough space in a single blog for all of the photographs we took in just a few hours, but we will give you a taster of the other gorgeous places that we saw throughout the day.

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We’d passed our anticipated campsite sometime around lunch so were well ahead of schedule when we pulled up and Beinn Eighe (which we haven’t the foggiest how you pronounce) to do a four mile walk that was recommended in Lonely Planet. LP had, once again, pulled a blinder by failing to mention that the walk is straight uphill and that you should leave at least 8 hours to complete the whole loop. We settled for a stroll through the woodland for 40 minutes with the rain threatening to inundate us at any moment.

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Fortunately, we made it back to the car before the heavens opened, unfortunately, we were now faced with the prospect of a potentially very soggy night in the tent. So, we attempted to outdrive the weather, which is an interesting undertaking on Northern Scotland’s roads. Despite our best efforts, we found ourselves parked up at Shieldaig watching the rain thunder down on the loch and thought that our endeavour had failed. We had little choice but to put in one final push along the inland road to Lochcarron where it looked as though the skies might be clear but it did mean missing out on Bealach na Bà, which is supposed to be one of the most amazing and intimidating roads on the NC500. We were lucky; the rain held out long enough for us to get the tent pitched and most of our belongings inside before proceeding to belt down for an hour. It was short-lived however, and we found ourselves with a clear evening and a beautiful view. We hadn’t seen a single midge on our circuit but the short shower had woken them up and, as we stood admiring the view, they descended on mass. Our host at The Wee Campsite encouraged us with much enthusiasm to enjoy the view from the water’s edge and then hide in the local pub.

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This turned out to be an excellent idea, it was filled with a few local characters and we enjoyed some very tasty food. The next morning the weather had cleared and we headed up a bastard of a hill to the local viewpoint, past the resident pigs.

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The weather was much improved the next day and we decided to retraced our steps a bit so that we could tackle Bealach na Bà.

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We could tell why it was so popular, and also why it is considered to be treacherous. Larger vehicles and campervans aren’t supposed to drive the road, but of course they do, which adds to the challenge significantly. James found it absolutely beautiful, Caro was driving and so doesn’t remember the views so much because concentration is key.

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Our first stop was Applecross, where we’d hoped to spend a night because we’d heard amazing things about the pub there. The rain had thrown us completely off plan however, and 10am seemed a bit early for a roast and a pint, so we had a quick stroll along the pretty waterfront and Caro had some truly superb homemade icecream from a van outside the pub; Applecross is the only place where you can get it and it is 100% worth driving to northern Scotland just to try it.

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The drive continued to be a beauty, Caro continued to get rage at idiots driving motorhomes.

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It was high time that we sampled some of Scotland’s famous seafood so we pitched up in Plockton, along with many, many other tourists.

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Despite the crowds, we managed to snag a table at the popular Plockton Shores restaurant and had an amazing lunch with an epic seafood platter.

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After lunch, we hit the road towards Glen Nevis with the intention of doing some walking the next day. We pitched the tent in the shadows of Ben Nevis and relaxed in the sunshine with a G&T toasting our last day on the NC500.

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It started to rain around midnight and it just didn’t stop, ever. The walk was quickly removed from the agenda the following morning; we couldn’t see the mountain, we could barely see the car. Porridge required stepping outside so we stood in the tent doorway munching on bits of bread and admiring the determination of a pair of cyclists who were sat at one of the picnic tables having breakfast as though the ground around them wasn’t rapidly turning into a lake.  A very swift break of camp followed but there really wasn’t anything to help it; we were soaked through by the time we bundled the sopping tent into the back of the car.

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A quick check of the weather told us that it wasn’t going to let up any time soon and we abandoned any plans we had of staying in the area. We found a cheap B&B in Dunfermline and drove for a good chunk of the day through the pissing rain. To be honest, we’d been spectacularly lucky with the weather and, if it had to turn, at least it was after we’d finished the NC500, which is what we’d come to do. Edinburgh and an indoor bed beckoned.

 

 

 

 

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