Heading South from the NC500

It was a clear night last night and Mrs Slaw was stargazing through Helga’s bedroom roof light. A myriad of twinkling lights shining hues of blue and pink that lulled her to sleep. It was night 12 of the Slaw’s Scotland road trip in the motorhome taking in the NC500.

Day 13 was a lovely sunny start in Dornoch. Mrs Slaw, Prince William and the Cottingham Cowgirl enjoyed a pleasant morning constitutional to the beach. Only a 10 minute walk from the Dornoch Caravan and Camping Park. Today is tinged with sadness though as it is the day the NC500 is completed. However, there are still four days left of the holiday and the weather forecast is promising.

Dornoch beach.

The drive south from Dornoch takes you over the Dornoch Firth. There are very pretty views to the right, of mountains in the distance and to the left looking back you see the full vista of the miles and miles of sandy beaches. It’s a fairly unremarkable stretch of road along the Cromarty Firth to Dingwall. However, a very fast road compared to those of late. A crumpled shell of a car, tied up like a birthday present in police tape, had its resting place in the ditch as a reminder to other travellers. One lady did not take heed and performed a very dangerous manoeuvre behind Helga, which very nearly resulted in her making a garage out of Helga’s bedroom! Slaw gestured rudely to her out of the window as she sped past 🤬

Helga turned off the drag strip just before the Cromarty bridge and took the Moray Firth Tourist Route to Dingwall. This is the official NC500 route. Mrs Slaw had identified a picnic table icon on the map just out of Dingwall and earmarked it for a brunch stop. Sadly, although there is a very pretty picnic area at the end of Ferry Road, it’s not really suitable for large motorhomes. Back on the road to find a better place, Mrs Slaw directed Slaw to a Forestry car park. Slaw declined as he thought it was a bus stop 🤦🏻‍♀️ Helga ended up parked in the services at Tore for Slaw to make sausage and egg butties. Mrs Slaw was quite happy observing two very buff loggers attending to their flat bed trucks 😜 All too soon, Helga crossed the bridge in Inverness with a view of the castle and the NC500 was complete! Helga had covered 575 miles. The official route is 516, but Helga had a few additions to Badachro, Firemore, Sheigra etc.

Inverness, the end of the NC500

Wester Ross is definitely a place that the Slaw’s will return to. The North and East did not hold the same delights for the Slaw’s and it’s a case of ‘been there done that’; however, the elusive NC500 T-shirt in a size less than large is still to be found 😉

The final leg of the holiday has now commenced. Wending our way down through the Highlands and Lowlands and back to God’s own county, Yorkshire. Helga hugged the shores of Loch Ness, seemingly not wanting to leave this beautiful area. The route passed through Drumnadroicht; a hive of activity with bars and cafes with their outside tables full of holiday makers enjoying the sunshine. Loch Ness’ waters are a deep cobalt blue. Stare at them for a time and who knows what you will see? The Loch follows the Great Glen Fault that was formed around 430 – 390 million years ago and cuts diagonally from Fort William to Inverness. Loch Oich was the next Loch en route. The waters were so still and tranquil. The images reflected in perfect symmetry. The waters so clear, Mrs Slaw was tempted to go for a swim.

Loch Oich

Fort William is the stop for the night. The Ben Nevis Holiday Park is aptly named with superb views of the Nevis Range, including oor Ben. All facilities are open at the time of the visit. It’s a very well set out site with hardstandings, lush green grass and pretty trees affording shade. There was a conundrum though, Mrs Slaw was directed to pitch 15. Pitch 15 was duly located, with a marker for pitch 15 and also a marker for pitch 16 on the same pitch? It was also the last pitch on the row, but the leaflet showed 15 and 16 as separate?? After a bit of head scratching, Slaw decided that as the pitch was next door to 14, it must be 15. God help the poor beggar who arrives to pitch on 16. It’s seems it’s like platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross. Everyone knows it’s there, but no one can find it 🤣

Helga in the shadow of Ben Nevis

This stop was chosen for the Neptune staircase locks on the Caledonian Canal. The lady on reception told Slaw it was a 15 minute walk to the locks. She lied. It’s 30 minutes. Mrs Slaw knows because she timed it! The locks were not as photogenic as the locks at Fort Augustus according to Mrs Slaw. But there was some interesting artwork lockside. Mrs Slaw thought it was a urinal from afar 🤣🤣

Neptune’s Lock artwork

Slaw had done his research for the area and booked a table at The Moorings Hotel next to the locks. Mrs Slaw chose mussels and Prosecco and Slaw steak and San Miguel. Mrs Slaw waited, just waited, for the complaints from Slaw. It started. A disdainful look. A smacking of the lips. A sniff of the drink. Oh no, here we go! Slaw even argued with Italians about how Peroni should taste (see my blog Tre Laghi in un giorno) how will a Scots lady serving Spanish beer fare? He had his drink replaced and seemed content. Oh dear, Mrs Slaw’s food arrived. It looked magnificent. However, no receptacle was brought for the shells. Mrs Slaw had to ask. A bad sign. A few mouthfuls in and it wasn’t good. Mussels served in a white wine and cream sauce should have garlic as a flavouring in the opinion of Mrs Slaw, and believe me she is a bit of a seafood connoisseur. These were flavoured with tarragon! Yes, really 😱 In addition, the pancetta (yes, really!) was fatty and the baguette extremely dry. Mrs Slaw is an expert mussel eater. Using a shell to extricate the others. Wait! No finger bowl had been brought. Even worse. Mrs Slaw had to ask again (take cover!! The pocket rocket could be about to launch!) Luckily for the hotel, no one came to ask how the food was, and when the plates were cleared, no one asked how the food had been. Slaw ushered Mrs Slaw out very quickly and The Moorings Hotel lived for another day!

Mussels served with no shell receptacle or finger bowl.

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!