VanLifeDiaries: Scottish Highlands Route NC500. Inverness to John o’Groats


The North Coast 500, better known as the NC500, is our latest adventure in Esméralda. This coastal route around the Scottish Highlands placed in the top 5 scenic coastal routes in the world and we couldn’t wait to see what the highlands had to offer!

**Wild camping will be mentioned a few times in our VanLifeDiaries posts. For us and the purpose of our blog we define wild camping as sleeping in our van in unregulated and free from charge locations which are often rural, peaceful and beautiful. Cheers!**

A Google Map viw of the North Coast 500

We began in the city of Inverness. We spent 2 nights wild-camping here along the Inverness Marina to prepare ourselves and our van by stocking up on groceries and supplies and also do a little research. You can either, typically start on the West coast side in a clockwise direction or take the anti-clockwise route on the East of the NC500. Once we decided we wanted to start East due to forecast weather conditions on the West coast, off we went, following the signs for Wick along the A9 motorway.

Inverness Marina. A spot to wild camp

Our first stop along the way was at Dunrobin Castle (which is on your right if heading east). The drive way is lined with huge trees and it makes for a mood setting entrance to the castle. With the going rate for adult entry priced at £11 each we decided to take some photos outside the castle and of Esméralda parked up by the trees.

Dunrobin was busy!
She makes bug splatter look schmick

Helmsdale is a cute town with beautiful houses nestled at the bottom of a lush green hill. Stop at the Bannockburn Inn for a quick lunch and a drink if you fancy it. The Inn has been around since the late 1800’s and since it’s located around the halfway mark between Inverness and John o’Groats it makes it the perfect stop for a homemade meal.

In Dunbeath, once you get into the Caithness county area, there are many spots to pull up for a bit of wild camping with toilets and water taps along the harbour. Just turn left and go down the hill under the bridge. There are 2 more small towns to go through after Lybster until you get to the historical burgh of Wick.

You know you’re in Wick when you see the huge cemetery on your right and the even bigger shopping complex on your left. We stopped in Lidl to buy our next 2 days worth of meals. We stopped over in Wick for a night of wild camping around the business complex. No majorly beautiful scenes or anything just a spot to rest up for the night.

Photo stop!

In the morning we continued along the A99 for our final destination for that days driving; John o’Groats! The town that marks the North east end of the British mainland. It wasn’t a long drive at all from Wick to Jo’G but there’s a good deal to see and do here and we fund a beautiful spot to park Esme! We chose to drive up the one lane street to Duncansby Head Lighthouse for our sleeping spot. It made for a perfect view over John o’Groats and of Pentland Firth, with one of the most dangerous sea currents in the world.


From this spot we were able to take a short walk to Duncansby Stacks and Long Goe. Down at the Stacks was not only a majestic view but we even saw a couple of grey seals poking their heads up at us from the ocean below.

The Stacks at Duncansby Head

While staying up at Duncansby Head Lighthouse we were woken in the night by the van rocking about! The flocks of sheep were taking it in turns using Esméralda as a scratching post!! Too funny.

A few culprits!

Down in Jo’G town by the coast there is many places to stay including the caravan and camping site and options to eat including The Storehouse, The Cabin and The Tearoom. We had a scone and tea at the Tearoom, yummy! While in this area you can see the Jo’G sign and the Jo’G House Hotel which has marked the end of the line for visitors for many many years.


The John o’Groats House Hotel

Also along the road up to Duncansby Head, just as you turn off from the main route, is Puffin Croft Farm Shop. It is full of farm fresh fruit, vegetables, jams, bakery items and even knick knacks. The most adorable part is it’s a self service shop with an honesty box. I love the countryside!

Our next travels will be along the North coast heading west! We can’t wait to see the sites such as Ben Loyal, Talmine Bay and Smoo Caves!

Sam, Kirsten and Esméralda x

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2 thoughts on “VanLifeDiaries: Scottish Highlands Route NC500. Inverness to John o’Groats

  1. Happy days guys 👍🏻 so glad you stayed at Duncansby Head Lighthouse & saw the AMAZING Stacks !! Yr in for a real treat as the scenery only gets better and better from this point..
    Ian & Angie (Hotel du Van) ❤️🚐

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    1. Yes we are glad too! Happy to have seen a couple of seals but only wish we saw more! It was the perfect first wild camping spot along the route. We’ve just driven along the North coast since this post and my golly you weren’t kidding. We couldn’t believe how beautiful it was!! Cheers for reading guys xx Sam, Kirsten and Esméralda

      Liked by 1 person

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