I’d been aware of the North Coast 500 (NC500) for some time but when my son suggested we do it in his MX5, it was one of those offers you just can’t refuse.
For those that don’t know, the NC500 is 500 miles around the northern coast of Scotland, starting and ending at Inverness. It’s been voted the fifth best coastal road trip on the planet and is Scotland’s answer to Route 66.
Ocean views, dramatic mountains, white beaches, picturesque fishing villages and lonely lochs are all visited on route.
And of course, there’s mile after mile of twisting, rising, falling black stuff, or tarmac to you and me, that’s just perfect for a nimble MX5. The route can be completed in as little as 24 hours (crazy people in sports cars), or as long as a fortnight (crazy people in camper vans) but we chose a sensible 4 days. Accommodation is key to route planning, as it can be hard to find away from centres of population, which are few and far between in the North West.
We started at Inverness Castle on a surprisingly sunny, late August day and headed west to do the circuit in a clockwise direction.
Day one was 150 miles of this
with the highest point being Belach na ba on the Applecross peninsular and yes, that’s the road in the background.
And the next 3 days were pretty much the same. You can google fantastic photos of NC500 so I won’t bore you mine which can be seen here if you wish (not too good due to weather – at least that’s what I’m blaming. Either that or I need a new camera).
What I will do however, is recommend you add NC500 to your bucket list, near the top – do it in whatever transport you’ve got and you won’t regret it.
And I’ll share my top tips to help you,
- Don’t worry about their being too many camper vans. In our experience the vast majority were very considerate and usually let you straight passed at the first passing point.
- Don’t make enemies as you go (or grudges) as you keep meeting the same people and may even be in the same B&B. We were, with the Citroen driver we passed in a passing point when a car was coming the other way.
- Watch out for Mercedes SLK drivers (or SLGay as they are often called) as they don’t like being overtaken. One tried to keep us behind him (I was driving) but he didn’t succeed and was history after a few twisty bits.
- Also watch out for any car that’s gold or beige, as they are often “slightly nervous” drivers. We went to pass one and it wandered in panic, then tried to dive off the road.
- Keep alert for cattle grids. I came across one in the middle of a very fast, downhill, left hand sweeper. Fortunately, I was able to straight-line it as nothing was coming the other way but it could have been “nasty”.
- Fill up at every petrol station you come across as you can’t be sure when you’ll find the next one and it may be closed – it happened to us in Aviemore as the BP station was closed for refurbishment.
- Make sure your brakes are it top condition AND check the inside pads for wear. We only checked the rear outers which were 5mm and the inners ran to metal shortly before we arrived home. Don’t assume they wear evenly.
- Don’t forget the midge cream or assume they won’t like your blood group or aftershave; they will. They are so small you can hardly see them but I’m sure they’d be nothing but wings with teeth under a microscope!
- The curries at the Lockinver Mission are excellent and great value. Also the “all you can eat” 3 course meal at the “La Taverna” in Aviemore is not to be missed.
- Continuing the food theme, if a B&B asks you what you want for cooked breakfast the night before, refuse to tell them. We didn’t and got a warmed up breakfast out of the microwave that was the worst I’ve ever had. I eat everything but drew the line at rubber bacon and wet soggy mushrooms. Probably the best breakfast I’ve ever had (not just on NC500) was at The Old Armoury Guesthouse in Gairloch which is run by really nice lady called Pam.
- And finally, the Moray Motor Museum is definitely worth a visit, to complete your motoring extravaganza. It’s in the centre of Elgin which is only a short detour from the route south. The exhibits are of the highest quality and even include a Cyclemaster – but it’s not as good as Sir Walter!
Finally, relax and enjoy the drive. There are no speed cameras and we only saw one policeman. But please do obey the speed limits in build-up areas; there’s no excuse as they use a count-down marker system which works great.