NC500 – Day One: If at first you don’t succeed, try and try… to find phone signal. 

“Scotland’s answer to Route 66”

I found out about the North Coast 500 over a year ago and have wanted to drive it ever since. With my boyfriend visiting, it seemed like the perfect time to make some new memories while travelling around the most beautiful parts of Scotland for the first time.

Anyone who has heard of the NC500 probably knows that Aberdeen, where I live, is not actually on the route. So adding in those extra miles, our four day roadtrip was really an NC750. The added distance meant even more photo stops, so if we were to make it from Aberdeen to our campsite at Applecross, we would have to be fairly efficient, even with our 7am departure.

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Auchindoun castle feat happy boyfriend and excited pup. (Disclaimer: dog is not mine, but the man is).

Instead of following the A96 (the main Aberdeen to Inverness road), we decided to drive a series of quieter roads passing the picturesque ruins of Kildrummy, Auchindoun and Balvenie castles. What these castles had in common was that they were slightly off the beaten track, meaning we had them exclusively to ourselves during our visits. There’s something incredibly special about experiencing historic buildings like these when no one else is there.

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Balvenie Castle – saving the best till last for castles on Day 1.

Before reaching Inverness we had one more stop – Old Pack Horse Bridge in Carrbridge. It wasn’t really en route but we thought the detour would be worth it. You wouldn’t know it from the picture, but this old age bridge is actually in the town centre, beside all the shops and restaurants and parallel to the modern road bridge that we had just used to cross the river. The contrasting environments make it even easier to  appreciate the beauty of the historic structure and the ingenuity that must have gone into building it.

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Old Pack Horse Bridge

While we were heading in the right general direction, I’m pretty sure that the route we were following from Inverness wasn’t strictly the NC500 the hole way. However, a couple waterfalls seemed to be a worthwhile deviation and it didn’t look like making these adjustments to the route was going to add on too much time or at least that’s what we thought…

All started fine and well, we drove along Loch Ness on the road which followed the south side of the loch, soaking in the views. The weather seemed to have taken a brighter turn for the day, at points it even seemed sunny. We made our way to the village of Foyers where we hoped to see the burnt remains of Bolskine House, a manor previously owned by Aleister Crowley and Jimmy Page. Unfortunately it was gated off and you couldn’t actually see it from the road, but luckily it wasn’t the only reason we had come to Foyers.

After a bite to eat we were able to explore the dramatic Falls of Foyers. A short walk down a hill from the cafe takes you to a striking rock gorge. It is here where you find Scotland’s fourth highest waterfall. The best thing about this particular waterfall is how close you’re able to view it from. Being that close to the falls meant that their sound was almost as impressive as their appearance.

Up until this point, everything had gone to plan. We were on schedule and hadn’t got lost yet. YET.

Foyers on the left, Plodda on the right.

Our next stop was Plodda falls, and with that our smooth running day was about to change. We left Foyers around 14:45 but didn’t reach Plodda falls until 17:50… This was a journey that should have only taken just over an hour. A combination of what could only be described as a malfunctioning, drunkenly disorientated GPS and the vast signal dead zones meant that finding the pothole infested dirt track leading to Plodda falls was much harder than expected.

My only hope was that when we finally arrived, the waterfall would be somewhat worth the unbelievably long and stressful journey. At first I thought that my nightmare was about to become a reality as we were greeted by a rather underwhelming waterfall, a mere trickle compared to Foyers. However, that familiar sound of flowing  water hinted that there might actually be more to discover, so we followed the water. It wasn’t long before we found the viewing platform which hovered over a vast 150ft gorge, which was the setting to the magnificent Plodda falls. The platform was directly over the waterfall which gave an interesting perspective (especially for an Acrophobiac like myself) but its positioning also made it difficult to appreciate the waterfall which is quite ironic for a viewing platform.

Had we explored a little further I’m sure a better view was available but in all honesty, we couldn’t really be bothered – we were tired and hungry and had lost most motivation for the day but were still over two hours away from our campsite. The waterfall was beautiful but I feel our reaction to it may have been warmer had we seen it a few hours earlier as planned.

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None of the traffic, all of the scenery.

I am a planner, and getting lost certainly was not part of the plan. I think a weakness of mine is my lack of adaptability. When my plans fall through I often struggle to form that Plan B. Often instead of focusing my attention on what can be done to rectify the situation, I just become frustrated with myself to the extent that it really hinders my ability to think rationally. Luckily on this occasion, my boyfriend, Brian, was able to provide me with a voice of reason, but I won’t always have this luxury. Adapting on my own is something which I’ll need to get better with, especially with my upcoming travels. I’m sure my European tour will act as a sink or swim experience for me.

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Driving the Bealach na Ba put some hairs on my chest.

As we began our journey from the Plodda falls to our campsite, the weather grew increasingly bad, almost reflecting the mood in the car. Despite the rain, it was a surprisingly nice drive but we could only enjoy it as much as the average hungry person can enjoy anything that isn’t food. When we had signal we eagerly Googled for restaurants that were on our route. Eventually we came to the Lochcarron Hotel that provided a busy bar and restaurant, that was wall to wall with a mixture of locals and fellow tourists.

Refuelled by our pub grub, we hit the road again – we were on the final stretch. However, little did we know that, between us and our campsite was the daunting Bealach na Ba. This road is one of the most challenging I’ve ever driven – a single track through the mountains and into the clouds with sheer cliff drops, steep hair pin bends and poor visibility. It was a great experience but as we came to the midpoint of the road, a stranded car with a blown out tire reminded us of  how desperately we just wanted to be off this remote road and at the campsite.

The relief of reaching the campsite lasted only seconds as we then realised that we now had to assemble a tent that we had never seen before without any instructions. I’d have taken a picture of our home for the night but our effort was pretty poor, our tent looked a little sad and had the potential to fall over in a stiff breeze – but it would do for the night.

Time for a Brewdog beer and a good nights sleep, before doing it all again the next day.

Sometimes things don’t go according to plan and that’s okay.

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