NC500, the coastal route round Ross-shire, Caithness and Sutherland is very popular with campers, enjoying the flexibility of bringing their own accommodation. However it’s apparent that many on the route don’t know all the options for overnight stops and the local issues about disposal of wastes.
This is my attempt to help. Information is also available as North Coast 500 Motorhomes V3.1 giving tips and the locations of campsites around the route.
There is also a dynamic GoogleMap with additional details, including facilities offered, opening periods, exact locations (as postcodes are sometimes misleading), and contact details. Last updated 27/02/2019.
There is a full range of options for motorhomes and tents around NC500.
Set in stunning locations and with facilities to match, fully serviced campsites are an essential part of a motorhome/caravan based NC500 trip.Â With electrical hookups, comfortable hot showers, and that all important waste disposal point (including for chemical toilets), it’s likely that you’ll visit at least one during your trip. Most but not all welcome tents.
You choose from great locations between the larger sites with nearby shops, cafes and pubs or smaller sites where, while the facilities might be less, the welcome warm and the peace are unrivalled.
If you want some facilities and an assured warm welcome then these tiny facilities with up to 5 motorhomes or caravans are a great opportunity. Few of these micro sites accept tents due to licensing arrangements. As they are often on small holdings, extras might include really fresh eggs.
You’ll be able to dispose of wastes, including chemical wastes but don’t expect toilets and shower blocks in most of these. Think of them as safe and welcoming places to park.
Some pubs with large car parks in rural locations are happy to accommodate motorhomes and caravans on the understanding that you’ll buy a meal and have a few drinks in their comfortable surroundings.
Similarly there are a number of community campsites and locations where parking is accommodated or even welcomed with toilets available to relieve pressure on your on-board facilities. But see note on chemical toilet waste. If you are taking advantage of informal parking overnight, please make sure that you are discreetly parked, well away from any residential properties.
Please ‘pay back’ to the host community : £3 to £5 into a donation box for the upkeep of facilities would be reasonable and, of course, the area will be litter free when you leave (even if it wasn’t when you arrived!).
Wild camping and parking by the roadside and off road
Although sleeping in any vehicle beside a road or in an off road car park isn’t wild camping, it can be lawful and there are many delightful spots. Even in a tent avoid being close to houses or other occupied buildings (minimum 200m) and keep numbers at any location low to avoid conflict with other users and the local community. Campsites are required to keep motorhomes and caravans at least 6m apart for fire safety reasons and there is increasing concern that motorhomes are parking close to each other at hotspots and in car parks creating a risk. Please leave room for at least two cars between motorhomes/caravans when parking overnight.
True wild camping where you have rights is where you camp in transit between two points, carrying your kit on your back, on bike or horse or by human powered craft like kayaks. The basic principle is Leave No Trace http://www.outdooraccess-scotland.com/Practical-guide/public/camping.
Highland vegetation can easily be damaged and takes years to recover with a high risk of erosion meanwhile. So please park on hardstandings and don’t be tempted to add to erosion by following tracks to beaches. One or two vehicles get stuck every year. Similarly, please only light fires below the high water mark or on solid rock.
Consider toilet arrangements : unless you have on board facilities, then ensure you are well away from frequented spots: ‘Go’ at least 50m from paths or watercourses, dispose of solid waste properly and remove toilet paper, etc. Full advice to follow is here: https://www.mountaineering.scot/assets/contentfiles/pdf/where-to-go-leaflet.pdf or read http://scotlandtime.co.uk/advice/frankly-toilets/
Chemical toilet waste disposal
The only known disposal points on the NC500 are in the campsites, many of whom will, for a charge, accept chemical waste disposal along with your other wastes even if you aren’t staying overnight. Just ask politely with cash in your hand and take refusals with good grace: they are trying to run a business and want you to stay overnight.
With many toilets relying on septic tanks in rural areas and with treatment of main sewerage in villages and most towns being very limited, adding chemical toilet waste anywhere but in the dedicated chemical toilet disposal points on campsites is likely to damage the environment we all enjoy. That includes public toilets.
Please only use the facilities in campsites – and most of those ask that you use the ‘eco’ green chemicals rather than the ‘blue’.