The North Coast of the NC500

Oh what a night! Late September, in the motorhome. Not as The Four Seasons sung, and a night to remember for all the wrong reasons. It was windy and rainy when Slaw and the Mrs left the bar on the Sango Sands campsite last night. They were camped at Durness on the 10th night of their Scotland road trip taking in the NC500. Mrs Slaw retired to bed with Nick Dawes and Slaw stayed up uploading his vlogs (really good 4G in Durness). Now, if Mrs Dawes is reading this, she’ll know Mrs Slaw wasn’t physically in bed with Nick, but had in fact taken a copy of his book to bed. ‘Calling the fat pillock’s bluff’. The story of Nick’s ride from Lands End to John O Groats ‘Cycling Britain on a twenty five quid bike’. It’s a really good read. The inevitable happened though (sorry Nick) and Mrs Slaw fell asleep.

Mrs Slaw was rudely awakened by Slaw about 2am just coming to bed. She was not amused 😡 Even less amused to hear Prince William baying like a banshee in the wind when he was let out for a last wee 🤬 It was mighty windy out there now. The wind had really got up and was not just buffeting Helga, but thumping the hell out of her. 50mph gusts threatening to knock her over, or so Mrs Slaw thought 😱 Slaw was soon snoring like a goods train and Mrs Slaw had no chance of sleeping 😢 Then at 3.30am there was a massive crash! The wind had blown over the campsite bins and glass recycling. Although it nearly jolted Mrs Slaw into next week, Slaw slept the sleep of the dead 💤 Ear plugs in and Mrs Slaw managed a fitful sleep until morning came around all too quickly.

The sunrise over Sango Sands was lovely. A lone surfer rode on magnificent breakers, disappearing every so often like a bath toy in a bubble bath. Mrs Slaw walked back through the campsite and witnessed the devastation that the wind had wrought. Tents were ripped into shreds and waved gaily in the morning breeze like Morris Men’s handkerchiefs. Forlorn tenters looked on in despair; cold and dejected. Mrs Slaw is glad her days of tenting are well behind her.

The first activity in the colour coordinated trip folder, Mrs Slaw’s pride and joy, is a visit to the Rock Rose gin distillery in Dunnet. An 80 mile ish drive from Durness. Not long into the journey and Slaw was really wound up. Helga had only travelled five miles and had already lost 15 minutes of travel time. Slaw was following two motorhomes who were obviously, and in no way to be condemned, enjoying the drive and pootling along at 25 mile an hour around Loch Eriboll. What they failed to do was take notice that Slaw, who was right behind them, was travelling faster than them. The single track roads are very clearly signed ‘Use passing places to permit overtaking’. Eventually, they did pull over and allow Slaw through. Calm was restored!

Helga crossed the Kyle of Tongue bridge and Castle Varrich was prominent on the hillside. Its ruin silhouetted against the brooding sky. The landscape had changed again. A flat landscape. The purple heather has almost lost its vibrancy and the muted pinks appear lost in the autumnal browns and oranges. Through the Borgie Forest Christmas trees lined the road casting bluey green hues into the light. Helga was now following the North and West Highlands Tourist Route. The moorland roads akin to Saddleworth Moor, near the home of Slaw and the Mrs. It felt comfortable and homely. Wind farms are now visible in the distance. A sign of the impending civilisation to come. Here was the first sign of negativity experienced on the NC500. Mrs Slaw had lost sleep before the trip, reading reports about the pi**ed off locals with the hoards of tourists caused by staycationers. The blog ‘St Tropez to John O Groats’ explained more of these fears. It was in Bettyhill that this was first seen. A sign at the side of the road ‘GO HOME! ISOLATE’. The first experience in 380 miles of the NC500. Mrs Slaw shook herself off, took a big breath and continued enjoying this wonderful road trip from the self-isolation of Helga.

The next section of road gives tantalising glimpses of sandy coves along the coast. Armadale, Strathy, Melvich and Sandside to name but a few. Fields of cows and sheep became more regular. Farms dotted along the road. Civilisation came back into view. Green, lush, fields and golden, spiky fields full of new bales. This is where the second negative sign was seen. A very large sign in red, on a building in Forss ‘ PLEASE RETURN TO YOUR HOMES…….’ It was passed in a flash, so Mrs Slaw was unable to read the next words. Not a bad thing really, as she now had visions of the flaming torches and pitchforks round the next corner!

Thurso appeared grey and sprawling under a visible mist. Huge, curling waves crashing into the bay, keeping the mist constant, like a 1980s smoke machine in a disco. Just along the coast came Dunnet Bay and the first of today’s activities. A visit to Rock Rose Gin distillery and a North Coast Tales and Tasting session. You are welcomed by a delightful herb garden where many of the botanicals are home grown. Mrs Slaw was drawn to catnip, evoking childhood memories of Mr Hector’s garden at Hade Edge.

Dunnet Bay distillery
Home grown botanicals

The distillery has had to diversify their tours to be Covid safe and have ingeniously created ‘boat houses’ for couples to sit in while enjoying the session. The tales encompass local history and folklore and keep you spellbound with tales of Selkies, Pictish beasts and Vikings creating the swallower in the Pentland Firth! Three tastings are included: NC500 gin, Rock Rose Navy Strength gin and a coffee vodka made with holy grass that smells like a hay meadow on a hot summer’s day.

Boat house and tastings

After the tastings, it was time for activity number two. A visit to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point on the British Mainland. True to form, it rained. There weren’t many seabirds when we visited, mainly kittiwakes floating on the thermals, up and down the huge rock faces.

The final activity for today was a visit to the world famous John O Groats and the signpost. Slaw and the Mrs queued up with the other tourists like only Brits know how, for the obligatory selfie with the signpost. Not much time was spent there as it was still raining. A very short drive up the hill to the Seaview Hotel. A motorhome stopover. Helga was parked up in the car park and Slaw and the Mrs spent an enjoyable evening in the bar having a meal. Decent quality and prices. Slaw treat himself to a barrel stave printed with key places on the NC500. As this blog closes, the rain is rhythmically beating on Helga’s roof and Mrs Slaw is hopeful of a better night’s sleep!

John O Groats signpost

Chocolate, cars and a cave on the NC500

Hurrah! A West Coast sunset was achieved. Slaw and the Mrs stayed on a Crofter’s campsite last night in Sheigra, deep in the Scottish Highlands, on a clockwise NC500 road trip in Helga the motorhome. So called because she is a big German girl 😜

It was a beautiful day spent mostly sunbathing and snoozing surrounded by sheep. Slaw was feeling very smug as the day was organised by him. There was nothing in the colour coordinated folder with activity notes stuffed in plastic wallets, carefully, methodically and time consumingly compiled by Mrs Slaw in the weeks prior to their NC500 road trip. Oh no, this a manly thing. A macho ‘leave it to me’. Planning is not needed. Slaw came up trumps. Mrs Slaw was happy. This makes Slaw happy. It’s so much better when Mrs Slaw is happy!

The sun disappeared over the cliffs at Sheigra. Fellow campers trooped up the hillside to get a better view; like sheep following their heaf, staying together for protection. Mrs Slaw had another glass of wine and Slaw sent the drone up. It was beautiful!

Sunset over Sheigra

Drone put away, Slaw set up his next gadgetry (he is Mr Gadget); the camera and tripod to photograph the night sky. Oh dear. Some very inconsiderate campers arrived in the dark and started to pitch their tent with their headlights on facing straight at Slaw and his camera! A lot of chuntering, muttering, huffing and puffing, stomping and swearing took place until the offending lights were extinguished. Peace resumed. Mrs Slaw wrapped herself in a blanket and lay back in a reclining camping chair with another glass of wine (well, she is on holiday 😉) The sky was superb! Layer upon layer of twinkling stars. The harder you looked the more you saw. Shooting stars flashed across the vista and the Milky Way was clearly visible. Mrs Slaw was not Rosie Probert in the darkness of the darkness to forget she was ever born. Mrs Slaw felt reborn and revitalised, and snug under the blanket with wine.

The night sky and Milky Way over Sheigra

After yesterday’s beautiful sunshine, this morning broke with a sea fret. Mrs Slaw took Prince William and the Cottingham Cowgirl for their morning constitutional up the hillside to the top of the cliff. It was slippy underfoot and Mrs Slaw daren’t let the precious pooches, aka the explorers, off their leads for fear of them jumping off the cliffs like Lemmings 😱 Even with the sea fret, the raw beauty of the Crofter’s campsite was clear to see. Wild, bare; just perfect. Leaving was very difficult. More so, as it was the last stop on the magnificent West Coast.

Sheigra Crofter’s Campsite

It was only a 20 mile drive this morning from Sheigra to Durness on the North Coast. Once on the road, Mrs Slaw drew forth the colour coordinated folder and informed Slaw of today’s activities. A visit to Cocoa Mountain and Balnakeil beach, before arriving at Sango Sands campsite, then a walk to Smoo Cave. Slaw smiled good-naturedly.

The landscape has now noticeably changed. Gone are the lochs and glens. Gone is the heather and the bracken. It is now a rocky desolate landscape. Helga arrived at Cocoa Mountain. Mrs Slaw was salivating. One ginormous, famous, hot chocolate topped with molten milk and white chocolate, and a side of chocolates later, Mrs Slaw was uber happy 🥰

Cocoa Mountain’s famous hot chocolate

It’s just a ten minute walk down to Balnakeil beach from the hot chocolate shop. It was a hairy walk though as there are no footpaths, it’s a single track road with passing places and The ‘Big Ball Rally’ came through. A dozen or so supercars ‘doing’ the NC500 in a weekend and this was one of their stops. Mrs Slaw was rather taken with the Aston Martin 🤩 Slaw got talking cameras with the camera car man, who spends his time suspended in a harness from the car taking photos of the supercars 🤪

Sango Sands campsite is extremely busy. Mrs Slaw tried to book a month ago and all electric pitches were already booked for the Saturday. We could have left it to chance for a first-come-first-served non electric pitch. It was too much of a risk for Mrs Slaw, so we booked the Sunday electric pitch. Slaw got chatting to Helga’s neighbouring motorhome driver at Sheigra last night. He had experienced negativity on his anti-clockwise route on the North Coast. He had tried to free camp in one area near Durness and was moved on by a local. He ended up free camping in a car park and was rudely awoken by cars beeping their horns at 6am. Mrs Slaw is glad she spent hours researching and booking on sites in areas of hostility!

Durness doesn’t have the allure of the West Coast for Mrs Slaw. For her, it is reminiscent of a Yorkshire East Coast holiday resort. However, Mathers Shop is worth a visit. Donnie is a dog lover and always has a treat for them. He prefers dogs to humans. A good choice! Donnie has a good selection of NC500 stickers and pin badges too. The difference is the beach. Oh my! It is simply stunning.

Durness beach

It’s a nice headland walk up to Smoo cave from Sango Sands. Local farmers have placed bales of hay along the road to prevent people from free camping on the machair. This is the first place on the NC500 we have seen anything like this. It must have been bad for the locals to take this step 😢 Smoo cave is accessed via a steep descent down the cliff side on a good path with handrails. Due to Covid, the tours aren’t taking place, but you can still access a part of the cave over a quaint wooden bridge. The colours of the stone are magnificent!

Access to the inner sanctum at Smoo Cave
The inner sanctum at Smoo Cave

Mrs Slaw made full use of the facilities at Sango Sands. Another velvet blankie washed after Prince William puked again! He will eat seaweed and sheep sh*t 🤦🏻‍♀️ Only £2 a wash here, as opposed to £4.50 at Ardmair! The shower blocks are clean and plenty of hot water. The pub is open on site and a table was booked for 6.15pm. Only two-hour slots are allowed and the Covid rules are strict; but that ensures your safety. A couple of drinks later, Slaw and the Mrs got a takeaway from the Sango Sands Oasis restaurant. Surprisingly very good. Tomorrow, the route takes us across the very top of Scotland and gin is involved!

Deep in the Highlands

Saturday 19 September 2020. Prince William is 6 today! Where has the time gone? He’s celebrating his birthday deep in the Highlands of Scotland. Almost off grid. Just as Slaw likes it. No umbilical cord connecting Helga to the grid. No site facilities, such as shower and loo blocks. Also, no vehicle noise, no snoring tenters and no one partying late into the night.

Scourie bay

Last night we camped at Scourie, nestled in Scourie Bay. The hamlet boasts a filling station, shop, hotel and public toilets. Scourie campsite is managed by Highland lassies in wellies and due to Covid only self-contained units with their own facilities can camp here. Usually there is the Anchorage bar/cafe on site, and off site the Whale Tale cafe; sadly neither have re-opened this year. The night was black. Moonless, starless and bible-black. Black as a chimbley. Sloeblack, slow black, crowblack. Like Rosie Probert, Mrs Slaw thought she was going into the darkness of the darkness forever, to forget she was ever born. Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas. One of Mrs Slaw’s favourite modern classics. This morning, however, dawned bright and sunny and the view from Helga’s bedroom window was picture perfection!

The view from Helga’s bedroom

Today was Slaw’s itinerary. When Mrs Slaw was planning this trip, he got tetchy about ‘too much planning’ and so he was given his own day to be ‘free and easy’. Slaw started looking on the internet for free camping. There are a few apps out there to use. Search for sites and Park4night are some of them. However, Slaw found a Crofter’s campsite at a dead end well off the NC500.

Sheigra

We only travelled 20 miles today and Slaw had no ‘activities’ planned. The Crofter’s campsite is £5 per night in an honesty box. It was pleasing to see it stuffed full with money! There are bins and a water tap near the entrance, but that’s it. It was fairly quiet when we arrived and beautiful sunshine. Sheigra or Shegra is a tiny hamlet of a handful of white painted Crofts nestled into the head of the bay. The road was surprisingly busy just before Sheigra, then we saw the car park for the 6.5k walk to the famous Sandwood Bay. That explained it. The car park was heaving, so the secluded beach would have been very busy today. Not great for those perfect insta photos. An afternoon of sunbathing and snoozing ensued instead. Once rested, Slaw had fun poking his new DJI Osmo gadget in rock pools and Mrs Slaw took the pooches on a hike. Top tip. You can get 3G at the top of the cliff 👍🏻 The bay is ruggedly beautiful with the cliffs tumbling to meet the crashing waves at high tide. The waves rising like magnificent prancing Lipizzaners.

Sheigra beach

The campsite started to fill up from about 4pm. A steady stream of tenters, campervans and motorhomes. Mrs Slaw took up her favourite pastime of people watching. The sky was a brilliant blue today and Slaw has all the gadgets ready to photograph a sunset and the night sky. This is our last night on the West Coast and we will be lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves crashing into the rocks. Tomorrow we arrive on the North Coast continuing our amazing NC500 road trip 🚍🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

The explorers

Helga to the rescue on the NC500

Day 8 dawned sunny on the Slaw’s Scotland road trip taking in the NC500. The NC500 takes you 500 miles (ish) around the north coast of Scotland in a circular route from Inverness. We decided to ‘do’ it clockwise. We camped at Clachtoll Beach campsite north of Ullapool last night.

Mrs Slaw was very impressed with the campsite; the attention to detail is excellent. There are three sinks in the ladies shower block. Due to Covid, the middle one is out of bounds. Usually to be found with hazard tape across it and detritus in the bottom. Not here. It has been tastefully planted up. Genius! The ladies also has a hairdryer and straighteners for hire. Not just any old straighteners, they are ghd 👍🏻

We left Clachtoll heading further north on the B869 for Kylesku. The scenery was very different today. Rocky and barren. The headland almost completely orange now the bracken has taken on its autumnal hue. A quick pit stop at Clashnessie Beach to take a photo. Mrs Slaw was NOT impressed. People were actually ON the beach! Don’t they realise they are spoiling her photos? She NEEDS them to be perfect for her instagram page and her hashtag #mrsslawontour

The scenery just keeps on giving around every corner. Picture perfect views over Loch Poll and Loch Drumbeg. White painted crofts with sheep languishing on the lawn, instead of suburbia’s designer sprockers and cavapoos. The viewpoint at Drumbeg is an absolute must, to stop and take in the view. Many of the 35 islands of the coastal parish of Eddrachillis can be seen from here. We were lucky as the sun came out and illuminated the stunning browns, oranges and greens. It was here we met Mr Royale. A lone traveller in an old Swift Royale. Slaw and Mrs Slaw were transported back in time to their first holiday in a motorhome. A 1995 2.5 normally aspirated motorhome on a Peugeot Boxer. It did take us a long time to get to the South of France 😬

The road from Drumbeg, through Nedd and Glenleraig, is particularly narrow. There are passing places and it is doable. We did it in Helga our 7m motorhome. Take it steady and be prepared to reverse. On one downward section, we passed three consecutive passing places, all with cars parked in them while the occupants merrily took photographs of the beautiful views over Loch Nedd. Very selfish and irresponsible 😡

Remember our friend at the viewpoint in his Swift Royale? We didn’t expect our paths to cross again so soon, but they did. As we turned a corner, there was a lovely view of the Kylesku bridge. Mr Royale must have thought so too, as he had pulled off the road and stopped to take a photo. He was talking to a couple in a Sprinter van coming the other way. A lot of head shaking and scratching was going on. Mr Royale approached us and explained his predicament. He had taken his photos and reversed to set off. Unfortunately his nearside rear wheel had dropped off the road and he couldn’t get it out. Although Helga has a tow ball and the Royale a towing eye, none of the three vehicles had a tow rope. Mr Sprinter and Slaw had a quick chat and decided that there was enough muscle in the men and the Mrs’s to push him out. A rock was strategically placed under the offside front, we all pushed and Mr Royale put his foot down like Michael Schumacher! The wheels spun and the rock shot out narrowly missing Slaw! Mrs Sprinter nearly fainted and Mrs Slaw screamed at Mr Royale ‘too many revs!’ Amongst the smoke and acrid smell of a burning clutch, the men decided that attempt was not going to work. Indeed, the Royale has actually gone further back and was now on the point of losing the centre of its balance! More head scratching and then… the Cannonball boys appeared over the hill like knights in shining armour. The men looked at the Cannonball boys’ car with the jerry cans strapped to the roof, looked at each other, gave an imperceptible nod and rushed in unison into the road madly waving their arms. The Cannonball boys stopped. Did they have a tow rope? Is the pope catholic? Can a fish swim? They proudly drew it aloft from their car and brandished it like the holy grail, chests swelling with pride whilst pompously nodding to the Mrs’s like only men can 🤦🏻‍♀️ Mr Sprinter hooked up the Royale to Helga, the Cannonball boys and Mr Sprinter pushed and the Royale was pulled free! Who knew that Helga was a tow truck in disguise 😉

After all that excitement, sustenance was required and it was finally time for today’s planned activity. We had heard that the Kylesku Hotel was THE place to have lunch in the area. Now, Mrs Slaw had been pronouncing it Kyle (as in the boy’s name) -skoo, but when she was chatting to a chap at the Badachro Inn who was quite obviously much more well travelled than her 🙄 he had pronounced it Kyle-ess-koo. Also, this morning at Clachtoll a Scots guy (people are Scots and things are Scottish) was recommending Kyle-ess-koo Hotel to other travellers. So, Mrs Slaw changed her pronunciation. Until we arrived at the hotel and Mrs Slaw checked. It is Kyle-skoo. She really shouldn’t doubt herself 😜 Lunch was delightful! We sat outside in the sunshine overlooking the Loch. The hotel is dog friendly, so Prince William and the Cottingham Cowgirl were with us. Mrs Slaw was in heaven; they had langoustine on the menu! Served in a tower with salad and a foamed garlic butter. Slaw had fish of the day and it was cooked to perfection. Crisp white linen napkins, correct accoutrements for eating langoustine and washed down with chilled Rouvière rosé. Not cheap. Two main course and two wines was £65, but it was worth every penny. Mrs Slaw’s only comment was that Slaw should have been given a fish knife.

We arrived at our campsite at Scourie and were greeted by one of the sisters. Not sure if it was Mhairi or not, but reassuringly they were Highland lassies in their wellington boots, cutting the grass on their tractor and in total control of the site from reception. We’ve not had the pleasure of a proper Highlander since Lochcarron and The Wee campsite. Badachro Inn was a scouser. Gairloch boat trip was Cornish, Ardmair was a Lancastrian and Clachtoll, I’m sure was from South Yorkshire (I heard him talking about Penistone and Slaw heard him say gi orr ). We were ably shown to our pitch. Slaw wasn’t impressed. Although it had electric and magnificent views onto the sea, it was reminiscent of a car park. We parked up and took the pooches to the beach. On the way, Slaw spotted a lovely little grass pitch, secluded with a superb view. That was it, he was on hot bricks on the beach until we went back up to the site and he spoke with tractor sister. She was totally bemused. But it doesn’t have electric? No problem said Slaw. People usually complain when I pitch them there? Not us said Slaw. So, as I write this blog, Slaw is being all manly and cooking meat on the barbecue overlooking the sea in Scourie. Happy days.

Knockan Cragg, Ardvreck and Lochinver

Mrs Slaw was rudely awakened this morning by a gennie! Half asleep she was rattling the window blinds, peering out in all directions, trying to work out where the noise was coming from.

We are now on day 7 of our Scotland road trip, taking in the NC500. Last night we camped at Ardmair Holiday Park just north of Ullapool. It’s a big site with all facilities open. It was also full. Mrs Slaw was ready to kill whoever was running the generator before 8am! Then the generator rode past; it was a man on a motorbike. A very inconsiderate man who had run his engine, with occasional revs, for over five minutes. Mrs Slaw wished him well as he passed, with a gesticulation that could have been mistaken for an insult 🤬

Now wide awake, Mrs Slaw took Prince William and the Cottingham Cowgirl for their morning constitutional along the beach. It wasn’t much fun for their little paws as it’s pebbles and not sand. The sort of pebbles that are great for skimming and pebble art. The bay was calm and a Calmac ferry glided serenely into Ullapool from Stornaway. A brave campervanner, who had free camped in the lay-by outside of the site, was having a dip in the bay.

Ardmair

We left the site and headed north up the A835. We have three more days wending our way up the West Coast before heading east along the very top of Scotland. Our first activity today was a circular walk around Knockan Cragg. It’s an interpretive trail including sculptures and poetry, places to sit and admire the view and a treasure hunt for children. It was steep in places and an older couple behind us gave up and turned back. We continued and were rewarded with stunning views over Assynt.

Knockan Cragg

Next stop on today’s itinerary was Ardvrek Castle, keeping north on the A837. A haunting ruin on the shores of Loch Assynt. It is apparently haunted too 👻 It was the seat of the MacLeods and has not been occupied since 1672.

Ardvreck Castle

It was very busy with tourists and trying to get a photo without anyone in was tricky. It was also sad to see where people have camped near the ruins, flattened the machair and burnt the grass with fires. Prince William and the Cottingham Cowgirl had a great time exploring the ruin.

The explorers

Time for a bite to eat. We called into Lochinver and sampled the delights of the famous Lochinver Larder – pies! Slaw had lamb and Mrs Slaw the steak and ale. The short crust pastry was superb, the steak succulent and the ale very tasty in the gravy. Two more pies were duly purchased for tomorrow. All served from a converted Leyland DAF truck! Lochinver has a few shops; a butchers specialising in venison, a convenience store, gift shops and a petrol station.

Lochinver Larder

Our last stop before the campsite for tonight was Achmelvic Beach. It’s a hairy drive down from the B869. We parked in the car park (sodden with grey clay mud which is now all over the carpet in Helga 🤦🏻‍♀️) Slaw was not happy. Not with the state of the car park, but with the ‘ne’er do wells’ that were sitting in an old Hymer staring at him. If you’ve read my blog ‘To aire or not to aire’ you’ll understand. Ne’er do wells are always lurking ready to pounce! These ones were waiting for no one in the car park so they can break into Helga while we are at the beach. Bear in mind there were lots of other vehicles in the car park and none of them like Helga, lit up like a Christmas tree, flashing neon alarm lights saying ‘come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’. So, it was a quick stroll over the machair to the beach to take some photos then back again. Wow! It is positively Maldivian with talcum powder white sand and crystal clear azure blue sea.

Achmelvic beach

Our campsite tonight is Clachtoll Beach just above Achmelvic. We received the best welcome of the whole holiday so far. Tom and Andy greeted Mrs Slaw by name and showed her round the facilities. She was giddy with excitement! An upgrade to an electric pitch! Oh joy, she can use a hairdryer and straighteners! There was visions of Chrystal Tipps making an appearance tomorrow. Also, a Wi-fi area. Even more joy! Mrs Slaw can download her new book to her kindle (a task she thought she had completed at home but obviously failed 😢) As this blog is written, the sun has set behind the clouds yet again. The famous west coast sunset alludes Slaw once more.

Firemore to Ardmair

We free camped at Firemore Beach near Inverasdale last night on Loch Ewe. Although the weather was atrocious we managed a dry walk with the pooches at sunset. There were another four vans in the lay-by with us. As we retreated to the warmth of Helga, three cars of ‘young uns’ turned up. They proceeded to pitch tents near the beach. The cold didn’t seem to bother them as they partied hard well into the night!

This morning dawned bright and sunny. Hurrah. Mrs Slaw got the shorts out for the first time this holiday! With the sun shining on the wet beach, glistening from the receding tide, we saw the stunning beauty it is famed for. Glorious deep red sand (Mrs Slaw was cursing this later in the day when cleaning Helga 😬)

Firemore Beach

Another lazy morning ensued before we set off for the next leg. We drove around the shores of Loch Ewe heading north and could clearly see Firemore Beach in the distance. We passed through Aultbea with its Russian Arctic Convoy Exhibition Centre. There is so much to see and do in this area. Our measly two weeks will not do it justice and we shall most definitely return. We enjoyed another stunning drive taking in mountains, lochs and glens. The mountain ranges looming over us, their peaks lost in the cloud. Very reminiscent of our time driving through the canyons in America (apart from the cloud) We followed Loch Broom and arrived at today’s first activity.

Mrs Slaw made good use of the website http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk when planning this trip. Today we visited Corrieshalloc Gorge; a slot gorge with an extremely narrow and steep sided chasm. We did the longer walk which took in the suspension bridge over the gorge. Mrs Slaw read the blurb to Slaw about how it was built in 1874. Slaw worryingly noted that the sign states a maximum of 6 people! The Falls of Measach were spectacular; cascading 45 metres to the river below. We visited the viewing platform a bit further along, then retraced our steps along the bridge and took the longer route back. This gave a lovely view back to Loch Broom.

Corrieshalloc Gorge

Ullapool was our next stop. It’s the biggest town we have come across on the NC500 so far. A Tesco, Boots, lots of lovely gift shops and the place of our second activity today. The Seafood Shack! Famous for being voted the 2017 best street food vendor in the UK; apparently an absolute must to visit if you are in the area. Mrs Slaw had been salivating about this since we decided to ‘do’ the NC500. We arrived about 3pm and although they had only been trading a couple of hours and were open for another five hours, they had already sold out of scallops and langoustine 😢 Mrs Slaw is a MASSIVE seafood fan. What a disappointment! Oh well, tempura haddock wrap with lemon mayo it was then. It was delicious. The batter so light and crispy and what a change from our usual fish and chips. Mrs Slaw did her usual trick; split mayo all down her shorts. Clean on and now oily stains on the front 🤦🏻‍♀️ We finished off our sojourn in Ullapool with a walk around the harbour and an ice cream before the last leg up to the campsite.

Tonight is our first ‘proper’ campsite. We’re not classing The Wee Campsite as a ‘proper’ one due to being sardined in and no facilities for motorhomes other than electric on the pitch. We’re staying at Ardmair just north of Ullapool. Last night there was an amazing sunset! Mrs Slaw saw it all over Facebook. Mr and Mrs Slaw settled into their comfy reclining chairs with a Moretti outside Helga. The temperature started to drop. Shorts changed to long trousers. It dropped further. Coats on. Next, out came the fleece blankets. We gave in and took Prince William and the Cottingham Cowgirl for a stroll on the beach in the hope that the sun might just appear out of the clouds and give us a sunset. No such luck; the sun stayed firmly behind the clouds. Oh well, the shorts did come out today; let’s see what tomorrow brings 👍🏻

A lazy day on the NC500

It’s day 5 of our Scotland Road Trip and day 3 of the NC500. Yesterday we arrived in Badachro and free camped in the village car park after spending a lot of money at the distillery and the pub 😳

Today has been a very lazy day. Six o’clock and Mrs Slaw was wide awake (it’s Monday morning, but no work 🥳) She held off getting up until sunrise and eagerly went outside to watch. Alas, no sun 😢 It was so peaceful and calm. A lone heron gracefully crossing the bay; his grey plumage perfectly in tune with the cobalt and indigo hues in the water. The bay was like a mill pond; the boats’ reflections sharp and clear. The midges were a pain though, so she went back to bed! An hour later, the bedroom blind was raised and we were greeted with a glorious view across to Badachro distillery.

Morning view in Badachro

We took our time getting ready this morning. Slaw sent the drone up and cooked sausage sandwiches outside and Mrs Slaw did some cleaning. Why? Goodness only knows! Within minutes, Prince William and the Cottingham Cowgirl had dragged half a field in with them again 🤦🏻‍♀️ We left Badachro for Gairloch. A very short journey of six miles and we parked in the Gairloch Estate car park. There are numerous walks from there, including the Flowerdale Glen waterfall walk. Mrs Slaw spotted a bin in the car park. Hallelujah! Prince William’s poop that has been riding in state in the garage due to a lack of bins was ceremoniously dropped in!

Mrs Slaw, true to form as a control freak, had booked a glass bottomed boat trip on Loch Gairloch. Slaw knew this, as it was in the colour coded itinerary in the plastic wallets in the folder 😜 It was practically a personal tour as there was only Slaw and the Mrs, one other couple, and three dogs on the boat. Tim was such good fun! He did everything possible to make the trip enjoyable and memorable. It was supposed to be a one and a half hour trip, but we were out on the Loch for three hours! We saw sea urchins, anemones, fish, starfish, seals, razorbills, cormorants, gulls and guillemots to name a few. Unfortunately, the white tailed eagle was not to be seen today, but we did see a pod of around 30 dolphins feeding in the bay. It was an amazing sight!

Dolphins in Loch Gairloch

A quick spot of lunch in the harbour, watching the boats selling their catch on the quayside. Then off on another short journey of around 12 miles to tonight’s free camp. En route, we called at Gairloch Community Centre and Mrs Slaw bought Hamish the Highland Coo; he even moos! Prince William doesn’t know what to make of Hamish and Mrs Slaw is now ensuring that Hamish is well out of reach of Prince William!

Hamish the Highland Coo!

We’ve arrived at tonight’s spot; Firemore Beach. The sands are supposedly red and spectacular. At the time of writing this blog, it’s cold and wet out there. The weather is supposed to pick up tomorrow – to the heady heights of 15 degrees! Totally tropical 🌴 Mrs Slaw might even wear shorts 😉 So, it’s time to batten down the hatches for yet another night snuggled up in the warmth of Helga. We’ve got food, beer, wine and Phoenix Nights on box set. Tomorrow is another day on the NC500 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿🚍

A very wet Firemore Beach

Bealach Na Ba and the Wester Ross Coastal Trail

It was still raining when Mrs Slaw took Prince William and the Cottingham Cowgirl for their morning constitutional. It had been a blustery night, with the rain and wind driving sideways into Helga on the banks of Lochcarron. Blowing a hoolie is the Scottish term! It was an early start from the Wee Campsite. Visibility seemed good and so the decision was made to ‘do’ Bealach Na Ba. We drove along Lochcarron and took the road for Shieldaig. We arrived at Tornapress and took the obligatory selfie within the sign.

The sign warns that the road isn’t suitable for very large vehicles or caravans. Luckily, Helga is ‘large’ and not ‘very large’ 😜 We ascended the pass of the cattle (not the cattle pass). The road wasn’t that bad. We’ve done much scarier roads in Switzerland and France, where Mrs Slaw was white as a sheet and couldn’t speak! However, the higher we ascended, the worse the visibility became. Pretty soon we were driving through the low cloud and couldn’t see six foot in front of us. That was hairy! It’s a single track road with passing places (and that’s an overstatement in some parts!) We arrived at the viewing point at the top of the pass and visibility was zilch!

The whole route took us around 40 minutes including a banana stop at the top. We descended through the clouds and Applecross appeared like an oasis before us; a slight glimpse of the views we were not to experience today. As we drove into the car park at the foot of the pass we were greeted with magnificent stags on the beach. Seemingly, perfectly posed for that tourist photo. We had to oblige!

Applecross has an Inn (very busy and you must pre-book if you want to eat there) a coffee van, shop, public toilets and water point. There were lots of vans filling up there, but sadly we saw no one make a donation to keep the facilities open. It was here where Mrs Slaw truly understood the meaning of ‘tak it hame’. No bins anywhere; not even dog poo bins (even as Mrs Slaw writes this blog, we have Prince William’s poop in the garage 😱) We enjoyed a brew with a view before we headed off on our next leg.

Following the Wester Ross Trail Coastal road, we hugged the coastline north from Applecross. The Isle of Rona was a formidable presence to our left for a big part of the route. Mrs Slaw was absolutely delighted to see the Highland Coos just before Fearnmore. Grazing at the roadside and some just languishing seemingly in wait for tourists with their cameras. Mrs Slaw was happy to oblige again!

The sun started to break through and illuminate the purple heather, the green hills and the menacingly black skies. So atmospheric! We just needed to hear haunting bagpipe melodies to top it off! Every so often, we were given tempting glimpses of rocky coves lapped by crystal clear waters. The bracken lining the roads was just starting to turn the perfect shade of Highland Cow. Simply stunning! The road through Glen Torridon and Benn Eighe Nature Reserve was so busy. Luckily, lots of passing places, but it was raining yet again. The route was brightened though by pretty little lochs to the right hand side.

We rejoined the A382 from yesterday and got Helga up into 6th gear for the first time since yesterday! Loch Maree was a perfect accompaniment on the right, up to Kerrysdale where we turned left to Badachro over a very old stone bridge braced with metal.

As we descended into Badachro the vista opened out before us. A beautiful little bay dotted with fishing boats. We had a meal booked at the Badachro Inn and had been informed we could park overnight in the public car park. We arrived to find one space free. Perfect! We parked up and walked up the hill to Badachro Distillery; about a 20 minute pleasant walk. Slaw went into the distillery for the talk and met Delilah and Aisling the stills, with Mrs Slaw looking in from outside with the pooches. Tour complete, came the tasting. Mrs Slaw loved the Coastal gin; flavoured by the local seaweed, wild thyme, juniper and fennel. Another expensive distillery visit!

We dropped off the gin at Helga, and headed off to the pub. Sadly dogs aren’t allowed in the conservatory where our table is booked, so we had a couple of beers on the decking with the dogs first. The views are spectacular. So peaceful and calm. We watched a group of seals playing in the Loch. Slaw was cursing as he’d left the lens he needed back at Helga, so he went to fetch it. As soon as he’d gone, the seals started performing right in front of the pub. Practically lying on their backs and smoking cigars. As soon as Slaw got back, they disappeared 🤣🤣🤣

The meal was really good (so good that we may end up here tomorrow as well) Slaw had Haggis, Neeps and Tatties, Mrs Slaw had Wester Ross salmon. Slaw’s only upset was that he expected to be served by Morag, wearing a pinny, rather than a scouser in a black t-shirt! Hey – ho, that’s life for you.

Do you take water with your whisky?

Water, water, everywhere. The theme of today’s blog!

It rained all night long. Heavy, persistent rain, relentlessly beating down on Helga’s roof. The roads on the campsite had huge puddles this morning and the river running into the Loch was swollen and very fast flowing. Loch Ness Shores Camping and Caravanning Club site is one of the more expensive sites this trip at £27 per night. All facilities were open apart from the laundry, but we didn’t need laundry last night (today is another story – read on!) Mrs Slaw made the most of the shower block for washing her hair; lovely and clean with hot water. It’s unisex facilities, but we’re used to that on European campsites (slight pang for St Tro there 😢) There is a bistro which was serving evening meals and breakfasts. Only take away at the moment though due to Covid. The site also offers a variety of additional activities, such as den building and nature safaris. The nearest pub is a 20 minute walk away, up a steep hill. As the weather was so foul, we battened down the hatches and ate on the van.

This morning, we followed the Loch side road from Foyers to Inverness and to our delight saw a few red squirrels! The road starts as a single track road with plenty of passing places, but also strips of dedicated parking with no ‘No overnight parking’ signs. Quick fuel fill up at Tesco just south of the town before locating the castle for the obligatory ‘setting off’ photo. NC500 here we come!

We took the scenic Moray Firth Tourist route along the Beauly Firth, rather than the busy A9. It was beautiful! Still raining, but we stopped for a photo opportunity. Good job we did as we found that Prince William had puked all over the bench seat 🤢 We do need a laundry now 🤦🏻‍♀️ Luckily, we have puppy pads between the cover and the seat for these very situations! Another good use of puppy pads is to use one as a shower mat in the bathroom #toptip 👍🏻

Slawmingo (the usual furry mascot on Helga’s dashboard) has been temporarily replaced with ‘Heather the Highland Cow’ (a present for grandchild number 1) Mrs Slaw does have cow envy now though, as we’ve passed lots of other motorhomes with bigger and shaggier cows in the front 🤣.

First activity today was a visit to the Glen Ord Distillery in the Muir of Ord. Mrs Slaw had booked us a distillery tour which was sadly cancelled last week due to a lack of staff. However, we were offered a free tasting and exhibition tour. When we arrived the gentleman told us all tours are booked up to October, but we were welcome to look round the exhibition and taste the 12 year old whisky. Quick as a flash Mrs Slaw explained we had been booked on a tour that was cancelled last week. The gentleman gave Mrs Slaw a hand written note to hand in at the bar after the exhibition. It was indecipherable so she popped it in her pocket.

The exhibition was interesting, but soon enough we arrived at the bar. The people in front of us were directed to stand at an upturned barrel. Mrs Slaw handed over the note and the lady welcomed us and asked us to sit at ‘the top table’ and she would be over in a minute. We had a personal whisky tasting session of the 12, 15 and 18 year old whisky. To say Mrs Slaw doesn’t like whisky, she drank all the single malts neat! With no water. The driest part of the day 😜 Just before we left the top table, we were given a lovely round bottomed whisky glass each as a souvenir. Next, into the shop and Slaw parted with £145. We did enjoy ourselves! Right, back to Helga for coffee and the F1GP on the iPad before Slaw drives us to our next destination – hic!

Well, that was a long race! Running slightly behind Mrs Slaw’s colour coordinated itinerary, we set off for Rogie Falls. Just 8 miles up the road in Contin, we located the falls car park. The rain had bated for a while, but the skies were still black. We took the blue Riverside path to give Prince William and the Cottingham Cowgirl a good run. It’s a very pleasant walk through the woods and you come out upstream of the falls for an extra view that the yellow route doesn’t give. The falls were magnificent today after all the rainfall. Spectacular rapids churning and thrashing, with white foam marbling the peaty waters. The falls are famous for the salmon that can be spotted leaping as they make their way up the river to find a mate and lay their eggs. No salmon spotted by us today. The best view is from the suspension bridge high over the falls. Not for the faint hearted!

Activities completed, we set off for tonight’s campsite. A nice drive west along the A382 and A890 to Lochcarron. As always, Mrs Slaw was organised and pitch number 1 had been reserved weeks ago. We pulled into the terraced site with lovely views over the Loch (except we couldn’t see past the sideways driving rain). The site looked worryingly full. The owner drove down to meet us in his car (well, it was absolutely chucking it down ☔️) ‘Are ye booked?’ ‘Yes, pitch number 1’ ‘Aye, that’s away doon at the end’. Slaw had to reverse in along the terrace as it was so packed. A sardine sized, waterlogged pitch was duly located. Mrs Slaw was perplexed. Electric point number 1 was taken by a small van at the end of the terrace? The campsite owner appeared like Mr Benn around the corner of Helga, with a long extension lead for us to plug into. He sheepishly explained that because the weather was so bad this morning, he didn’t put out the reserved signs and our pitch had been taken by another van! We weren’t going to argue, we just wanted to batten down the hatches from the rain (second night now). Mrs Slaw made a tasty salmon tray bake (in honour of Rogie Falls) with potatoes, red onion, red pepper and lemon. Perfectly balanced with a Domaine Proux Provence Rosé ❤️

Tomorrow is another day. The weather forecast is atrocious. Plan A was to get up early and drive over Bealach Na Ba to Applecross before it gets too busy. Hmmmmm, we’ll see………….

On the hunt for Nessie

We slept like babies in the car park at the Old Stables Inn and restaurant in Beattock last night. Even the contractors leaving at 4am didn’t wake us (sorry lads for suggesting that in the last blog ☺️) There was the slightest hum of traffic noise from the A74 in the distance, but it didn’t bother us at all.

Willie Nelson CD playing ‘On the road again’ (our signature tune) and it was early start for the Slaw’s via Glasgow and the Erskine Bridge to the A82 along the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond (you did sing that bit – didn’t you 😜) The Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park is beautiful! Mrs Slaw found a picnic bench icon on the map and Slaw duly turned right off the A82 signposted for Duck Bay. We drove through the resort keeping the Loch on our right. What a gem! Lots of free parking along the Loch edge, lovely grassed areas with picnic benches on the left. Prince William and the Cottingham Cowgirl had an exciting explore of a little beach and Slaw and the Mrs had brunch with a stunning view. Then the heavens opened and it rained for the rest of the day and night ☔️☔️☔️

Back on the road and our next leg stretch was at the viewpoint over Loch Tulla. A very busy little spot with cars and motorhomes and sadly many discarded bags of rubbish. We crossed the border into ‘The Highlands’ whoo-hoo!

The scenery was just breathtaking along Glen Coe; the snow poles are a stark reminder of the harsh weather conditions in the winter. After Glen Coe we crossed an interesting metal bridge over Loch Leven and Loch Linnhe and called at the Commando Memorial just after Spean Bridge.

We continued along the banks of Loch Lochy (yes! just like Boaty McBoatface 🤣) and arrived at Fort Augustus at the bottom of Loch Ness.

There’s a big car park just through the village with dedicated motorhome spaces. We parked up, then another moho parked at the side of Helga. It was so close, we couldn’t open the habitation door fully 🤦🏻‍♀️ Slaw had words, they walked off and Mrs Slaw went on the hunt for another space. Helga was moved to a place of safety and we headed off to explore the village, with Slaw still chuntering.

The rain was coming down heavy and Mrs Slaw had pre-booked a cruise on the Loch. There was time, however, to explore the staircase locks of the Caledonian canal that bring the boats from the Firth of Lorne on the West Coast to the Firth of Moray on the East Coast. There are lots of cafes and pubs up the staircase with picnic tables overlooking the lockd, which would be a great place to while away a sunny afternoon. Alas, not today.

Cruise Loch Ness have a very easy online booking system. Mrs Slaw thought a Saturday afternoon would be busy and so was very organised (standard!) However, it was cold and wet and not busy. We enjoyed the cruise though. We sat on the inside lower deck. It has big windows onto the Loch, comfy seating and is dog friendly. We were warm and dry; add to the mix a bottle of beer and the soft swaying motion of the boat and we were both nearly asleep 😴 Luckily, the audio was loud, clear and very informative. The crew were very friendly and gave us lots of additional info about how Nessie may be a very large eel. Mrs Slaw called in the village store for some supplies before we got back in Helga. There is a nice little gift shop attached to the store and an obligatory fridge magnet was purchased.

Last leg for today was Fort Augustus to Foyers; we stayed at the Camping and Caravanning Club site Loch Ness Shores. It was a windy approach road, single track with passing places in some parts. Good practice for the NC500 and we start that tomorrow!