I thought I would share my experience of the North Coast 500 which I did last October. It was an incredible road trip that I strongly advise anyone to do. (Thought I'd pick my favourite pic from the journey)
On the run up to the road trip I did the standard things you'd expect when embarking on a long journey so changing engine oil, oil filter ,gearbox oil,brake fluid and also both front and rear pads. Bridged the two ports with a paperclip to ensure no fault codes, checked tyre pressures, got the celica washed and bought a litre bottle of engine oil and coolant for the boot. Biggest issue was Petrol.
Yes we decided to do a 1940 mile round trip in the height of the Petrol Crisis (for anyone in the north of the UK you might have heard about it on the news or from a friend of a friend who lived in the south)
We booked our accommodation in advance which was B&B's and an Airbnb but was limited as October is off peak season so alot of places are closed up for the autumn/winter.
Living In Thanet, East Kent we had a long drive to start with so we left at Midnight, Thursday going into Friday and headed to our nights stay in Inverness via a brief stop in Glasgow. My wife done the first two and a half hours in abysmal weather conditions before we swapped over and carried on towards Glasgow. We predominantly stuck to 60/65mph for the whole way up there , that way it ticked just under 3000rpm and helped get 34 mpg. 640 miles later we arrived at our nights stay in Inverness getting there at 3pm.
First Day on the NC500
We filled up with Tesco Momentum which in Inverness was a staggering £1.39 per litre! When we had been paying over £1.55 down south and even £1.60 for Shell V Power. We then crossed the bridge to start the NC500 travelling anti clockwise. Now it's down to personal preference but I feel it's more enjoyable to end it this way as it's the drive from Inverness to John O Groats is pretty tame.
Heading along the A9/A99 we stopped of an old broch, dunrobin castle (see heavily photoshopped photo below) Whaligoe steps before entering Wick harbour.
Wick is where the ST205 met the ST185 for a blast to John O Groats. However the best stretch is actually from John O Groats to Duncansby Head Lighthouse which I'll attach in a comment below. Was great to enjoy a small portion of the NC500 with another Celica which highlights although it's not necessary to go as a Group/ convoy, it's definitely a lot more fun as you'll always have something incredible to look at either Infront of you or behind you.
We carried onto our next resting place which was a short drive to Dunnet Head and the weather decided it wanted to rain so despite a short walk from the car to the B&B we did get fairly wet.
After a great nights sleep and good breakfast at Windhaven B&B we set off on a lovely bright day to become the most Northern Celica in Mainland UK.
But the road to Dunnet Head is worth the detour as it offers twists and a long stretch of road running alongside a small loch.
Right by the B&B is a steep slope that goes to a jetty which unless you have a very low car you will make it down there. Offers stunning views, the opportunity to see a colony of seals and a good photo opportunity
Moving away from Dunnet Head we set course for Smoo caves, had a breif encounter with a GR Yaris and stopped for this edited photo opposite a loch
We stopped off at Smoo Caves but just before that i encountered a duet of V8 German powerhouses which raised a valid point here. Modern powerful cars like their's m5 and C63 AMG are too big and heavy for alot of the roads up there. I was in no way speeding or doing anything drastic but we was stuck behind them at a reduced pace because in something like that you have to be overly cautious with that much power on tight and twisty roads. Im not proposing the Celica is the best car to take there but it was well suited, plenty of useable power, decent grip and isn't too wide or too heavy.
We headed to our next stay which was in Drumbeg. To do so you pass over the Kylesku bridge and turn right. As soon as you do that the road becomes singe track with pull in/ overtaking areas dotted every now and then. You start off in the open without much issue but then you have a guardrail on your left which you head into a wooded section. The road is bumpy with a fair amount of elevation change and at certain points you have blind bends to contend with.
We made it to Croft B&B but word to the wise if you're off peak then get something to eat before heading to this region as you'll need to go back down the road to find somewhere to eat.
Day Three was our last day tackling the NC500 and we sure did hit it hard, I felt drained by the time we checked into our B&B as it was 240 miles worth of the most incredible roads I've had the pleasure of driving but also physically and mentally demanding.
My personal favourite was the coastal road to clashnessie
Not great quality but you can see both the road and the views are sensational.
We stopped shortly after to see Achmelvic Bay before grabbing a excellent pie in Lochinver.
It isn't until you come back onto the A894 by Ardvreck castle that you can relax as it's back to "normal" single carriageway rather than the single-track roads.
To be fair the next few hours were a blur, we stopped in Ullapool for food and Petrol (I'll come into this at the end) and soldiered on until we reached Kinlochewe. Single track road again that keeps climbing, so many twists, blind bends and steep inclines to keep you on your toes. You reach the top and are greeted with sheep galore, run out in the road, casually laying on the road, on the apex of the corner. And to top it off the Highland cows are also just laying on the edge of the road as well .
We made the descent to Applecross where we gave the GT-Four a nice break with a view
We then had the pleasure of driving up a steep road to then descend down the UK's steepest road, the Bealach na ba. Now it's down to preference and wether you're confident in your brakes or your engine.
But the reason why I recommend anticlockwise is the view you have of going down this road. Breathtaking it truly was.
No pic of the GT-Four until I got down the other side.
We then continued onto Fort William (Loch Ness) for our last stay in Scotland before we headed back to Kent via an overnight stay in Manchester and quick visit to Blackpool and Liverpool.
As mentioned earlier 1940 miles in total but was woth the trip.
We did the NC500 in three full days but it all depends on what you want from it. There are plenty beautiful landscapes to see of which we missed some out .
Petrol! Yes you can buy E5 on the NC500 but the only places that sold 99 was Inverness and Wick. This isn't enough to get you around without having to put 97 Ron from the local garages they have around Northern Scotland. The day we left Scotland the GT-Four was running rough, it was idling high and lumpy and I felt a lack of power that wasn't rectified until 10 minutes after I put a vast amount of 99 in.
So be aware.
Cyclists, Sheep, Cows are your main obstacles. If unfortunately you hit a lamb you need to do the right thing and report it as that's been a big issue with sheep farmers and the NC500.
The road can be deceiving and I almost got caught out thanks to the road curving sharply left after a crest.
It is a requirement on the single track roads that slower traffic especially canpervans let you pass when approaching an overtake/pull in spot. But this also applies to you. Some Locals who know the road can be quicker than you. Not embarrassing as it's better to be cautious at times then it is to feel pressured to go quicker or p*** off the locals.
No matter how you approach the NC500, alone, with family/friends, over two days or 6 make sure you enjoy yourself and be safe.