After reading our other blog posts raving about the North Coast 500, you might feel like you know everything there is to know about this incredible roadtrip. Think again.
Despite our initial thoughts, driving the North Coast 500 wasn’t as easy as hopping in a car and shooting off, you have to… plan.
I know, I know, we are the worst planners in the world but that means we made a lot of mistakes you can learn from.
If we’d read this list before we left for Scotland then it would have saved us a lot of time, effort and nights spent sleeping in the car…
Here’s 9 Things You HAVE To Know Before Driving the North Coast 500.
If you need to rent a car, Arnold Clark are your guys!
We have never hired a car solo before so we were naturally apprehensive about signing our lives and bank accounts over to a car rental company. Arnold Clark is great for first-timers and incredibly popular around Scotland – so they must be doing something right!
Being under 25 also means that you pay a premium on top of the already weighty price. Adding the ‘young driver’ charge ended up doubling the price of our 7 day trip when we looked at the big international rental companies. Arnold Clark, however only added an extra £10 a day which was a bargain in comparison to their competitors.
We also got an upgrade to this beast. Thanks, Arnold!
Bonus tip: Never buy your excess waiver from the rental company. We saved around fifty quid by buying ours separately online.
Beware of the midges
We scoffed when we were warned about the midges and continued scoffing all the way up the North-East coast of Scotland.
Then they appeared.
Visiting in summer, we were arriving slap-bang in the middle of midge season. Although it by no means ruined our trip, every time we left the car we were confronted with clouds of midges which have an annoying habit of flying into your eyes…
As we were spending most of our time in the car, it wasn’t too much of an issue but nonetheless, a good coating of midge-repellent is mandatory when venturing out into the fresh air.
If your planning on taking big hikes, consider packing a very stylish midge net.
Make the most of Scotand’s wild camping
We were blown away by Scotland’s relaxed wild camping rules. In Scotland, you can pitch a tent on practically any unenclosed plot of land you fancy – for free!
You could wake up on the beach, on top of a mountain or in the middle of a heather covered field without another soul in sight. It’s the most incredible accommodation you could ask for.
We struggled finding as many suitable stops along the North-East which is more populated and farmed, but along the North-West coast we found it hard to whittle down our options!
However, if you do decide to camp, take heed of our next nugget of advice below…
For all the rules and regs, read the Scottish Outdoor Access Code here.
Pack the best camping gear you have
We love our camping set-up in Australia and it was such a shame we couldn’t replicate it for our time in Scotland. The combination of a hand-luggage only trip and
bad organisation skills limited time meant that we were left with some pretty ropey gear.
Considering that we were planning on camping every night, our flimsy pop-up tent matched with the unpredictable highland weather weren’t the best mix.
When we inevitably return it will be behind the wheel of a motorhome or with a boot full of high quality, weather proof gear.
Book accommodation as far in advance as possible
Travelling in the peak summer season meant that making last-minute bookings along the North Coast 500 route was almost impossible.
The majority of beds along the route are in small, family run BnBs or expensive fairytale castles which were unfortunately way out of our price bracket…
We ended up sleeping in our car (classy I know) on more than one occasion when we couldn’t find any accommodation and the weather wasn’t cooperating with our tiny tent.
When we were successful with on-the-day accommodation bookings, it was after using the interactive map here and ringing up almost EVERY bed and breakfast at our destination until we found a spare bed. Another triumph came after knocking on the doors of BnBs as night fell and finally stumbling across one of our favourite hostels we’ve ever stayed in!
As a reference point, when we visited in August bed and breakfasts averaged at £65-70 for a double room and a hostel was £20p/p.
Have as many drivers as possible
Although it looks like a relatively manageable distance (especially after living in Australia), driving the North Coast 500 involves a lot of…driving.
Poor Ryan was the only one insured on the car, despite Arnold Clark only charging an extra £5 a day for another named driver.
Some days we would be on the road for 5 or 6 hours and Ryan would be exhausted at the end of the day. It’s definitely doable with a solo driver but for your own sanity, and that of your fellow roadtrippers, pop as many of you on the insurance as you can!
Always over-estimate travel times
As I said before, the 500+ mile stretch of road is not as easy to tackle as it looks. Single-track roads, mountainous terrain and the sheer number of times you can’t help but stop to take in the incredible scenery all add up to elongated travel times.
We ended up almost doubling some of the Google Map travel estimates due to the amount of times we stopped to take photos or got stuck behind an uninterested herd of sheep.
Bonus tip: Make sure you’re not relying on your phone for navigation. Signal is scarce way oop North so have a sat-nav or good ol’fashioned paper map as back-up.
Be prepared for all weathers
This one is obviously a given when visiting Scotland in general but rings especially true up in the highlands.
Although we got pretty good weather for our trip there were a few times when the mist rolled down the mountains and the storms came in from the sea.
Just make sure you don’t get caught out and take extra care when driving through fog.
Keep your supplies well stocked
Once you get west of Thurso it will be a little while until you hit major conveniences again.
Most of the shops in this remote corner of Scotland close early around 4 or 5pm at the latest so make sure you’re well stocked. They may not be open at all on Sunday so, if you can’t function without a car-load of snacks and 3 meals a day like us, make sure you always have some emergency food at all times!
This also applies to petrol. The fuel economy on our car was great so we only ended up topping up 3 times on the trip. Petrol stations become few and far between so don’t pass one on less than half a tank, just in case.
Find our whole Scotland archive here.