The North Coast 500

Chris Spencer-Payne x Freya Raby x GOAT Roadtrip

So where to even begin? Oh I know where to begin. Lets address the elephant in the room of "half that shits not even on the nc500 though" comments from @sam_shott and the bandwagon brigade. I know it's not Sam, I just like pretty pics ok. It's a vibe, let it slide.

Scotland. Caledonia. The Highlands. Whatever you want to call it, it's a place you have to see before you die. With the Scottish border being a mere five hour drive from Leeds to driving through the Cairngorms National Park an hour after that and arriving in Fortrose at the foot of the North Coast 500 shortly after that. Scotland is somewhat of a marvel with the vastest of landscapes and the most diverse nature in the whole of the UK.

Myself and Freya were lucky enough to be approached by GOAT Roadtrip, who specialise in roadtrips around the UK in a variety of camper vans, Jeeps and motorhomes, for the mother of all branding shoots. This consisted of taking a camper van and a Jeep for a total of ten days and completing the North Coast 500 whilst using said vehicles as subjects for the most unholy amount of content you ever did see. (We took over 6000 photos shhh).

Begrudgingly we accepted this offer and away we went on a trip spanning from the 19th of April to the 29th. The tricky part was, although it was legal for us due to work, the whole of Scotland was on a national lockdown which meant toilets and showers were more and more difficult to find as the journey went on.

The route was the tough one as there was so much we wanted to see and do and it was ALL weather dependant. This was the first draft of the route we came up with starting from Inverness and finishing in Glencoe. Although we didn't see everything you can see on this route, we did smash through an awful lot. So, from here on out expect less words and more photos. Enjoy the journey.

The Destinations

Fairy Glen Waterfall, Loch Glass, Dunrobin Castle, Duncansby Head, Dunnets Head, Lochen Hakel, Kylesku Bridge, Glen Docherty, Poolewe, Torridon, Applecross, Eilean Donan Castle, The Quiraing, Old Man of Storr, Glenfinnan Viaduct, Corpach Shipwreck, Glencoe.

There were a lot of places that we couldn't get to which I was and still am disappointed about but like I said, Scotland is extremely accessible and I'm positive I'll see the remainder of Scotland one day soon.

Day One

The first day of the trip was by far the longest and arguably most laborious. We essentially drove for seven hours straight with the odd stop here and there to take in the fresh mountain air and delightful mountain ranges we saw.

We were pretty nervous as the time escaped us about wild camping on the first night, we are both incredibly inexperienced when it comes to that side of UK travel. However, I was lucky enough to have self certified 'Tech Whizz' at hand, Freya Raby who found this incredible app called 'Park4Night' which lets you know all the free parking spots around the UK where it is legal to camp!

We found this incredible spot and were the only people there. So we pulled up and set up for our first night in the Tentbox.

Day Two

After spending what was a surprisingly comfortable night atop a jeep in an unfolding fabric case we woke up bright and early to head to our first destination of the North Coast 500, the Fairy Glen Waterfalls.

Fair Glen was the perfect start to our trip. It's a short walk from the carpark and aside from one woman texting abuse to GOAT about us being there mid-lockdown (FOR WORRRRRRKKKKKKKK) it was as peaceful as they come.

There's something about ambling through a deserted woodland to stumble upon two beautiful waterfalls (in that obviously common way) that'll just never get old. They weren't epic like some waterfalls in Scotland but they were lovely. The sound of gushing water splashing against slippery rock faces will forever calm me down.

Following Fairy Glen, we knew we had a big old busy day ahead of us and it was abundantly clear that Freya was not cut out for the camping lifestyle as mid-sentence I was greeted by a snoring 25 year old woman on what was her first midday nap of the trip. The aim of day two was to make it all the way to the end of Scotland at John O'Groats stopping off at Loch Glass for the famous pink house, Dunrobin Castle for the picturesque castle on the coast and ending at Duncansby Head for sunset before camping there for the night.

Loch Glass was first and god damn it was difficult one to find. When you type in the postcode (IV16 9XW) on Google Maps, it looks like it's going to take you right to the door and I can confirm the only door it takes you to is someones house - and said house is neither abandoned, pink or on the edge of a loch.

You CAN walk down the path which Google Maps tells you drive down and when you reach the inhabited house, you can walk through the gates and head on down, following the Maps path. Don't be deterred when reaching the turnaround spot, because that is the way.

Plus, the path you walk down has the start of the famous Scottish views (keep in mind that these views are nothing compared to the East Coast).

The Pink House was something I'd seen on Instagram (duh) and it was immediately on my list and I'm so glad we ended up seeing it.

However, if you are planning on a visit to see this miraculous lil house, you might wanna push those plans forward a little bit because rumour has it, it's on the cusp of being demolished. There is little information online about the Loch Glass pink house but from what I found it was built in the early 80's by the owners at the time. They then sold it to an American outfit who still technically own the property but have absolutely no interest in it and have no plans on coming back to finish the build.

They did introduce the fundamentals into the estate; electricity, phone signal etc etc and they installed a water turbine but it has been empty since 1982 and there are plans for demolition in the near future.

Go now before it's too late.

Stop after stop, we were conquering the North Coast 500 and now all we had to do to to finish day two in style was head on up to JOG and enjoy the sunset, which in my mind, was about to be something special.

We drove for around three hours without stopping to hit golden hour at John's place but before we got there, we looked at Google Maps and found a place called Duncansby Stacks which looked out of this world. What we didn't realise, is that it was a sunrise place, not sunset so they looked shocking. The wind was horrendous and battered us more than you could possibly imagine. And then, out of nowhere, the sun descended into the most gorgeous golden light we ever did see, and suddenly being pelted by the wind didn't matter so much.

So after this rather saucy sunset, we decided to see Duncansby Stacks at sunrise. We'd come all this way and the weather showed no sign of letting up so how could we not? So Freya and I set off on our way to find a camping spot. We tried around John O'Groats, we tried the back roads but honestly, never in my life have I experienced such wind. It genuinely didn't feel safe to pop the tentbox! So we decided to sleep in the car that night. It wasn't the best, but the sunrise that followed, although not epic, was just delightful and made the one meh night more than worthwhile.

Day Three

We headed up at about 4:30 in order to catch first light and this is what we shot. My one regret was not using the drone to capture footage to boot but we had more important drone footage to capture that day as our final stop was Kylesku Bridge.

After the most relaxing morning I've had in a long time, we ate some breakfast, got changed in a desolate, normally heaving, car park and decided to head on over to Dunnets Head which is the most Northern point of Mainland Britain as I'd heard the rumours of Puffins. Unfortunately, as beautiful as it was, we managed to see a grand total of zero puffins and that took my life count to zero. I am 26 years old and I've still not seen a puffin.

From here we were set on hitting the West Coast by sundown so we bombed on over to Lochen Hakel for midday and hoped to hit Kylesku Bridge for sunset and bedtime. It was a pretty easy drive, as is most of Scotland but we were so psyched on the West Coast that nothing else really mattered.

Lochen Hakel was lovely but it was TREACHEROUS. The ground was essentially a Crocodile ridden Florida swamp except for there were no crocodiles and we weren't in Florida. It was a bit boggy though and my socks got damp.

Alongside my wet socks we did get some pretty pictures.

*Chants in football* KYLESKU, KYLESKU, KYLESKU! This was it. The drive on down the one of the most instagrammable and famous bridges in the UK and it was lush. It was the first time on the trip I was really able to utilise the drone for video and to show off the glorious landscape that surrounded the bridge. The one downside I feel, is that if you don't own a drone, I can imagine it being rather underwhelming. AND it's a sunrise place, not really a sunset lol. This is a trope that will happen again on this trip.

And with this sunset day three came to a mellow conclusion. Flying the drone around Kylesku was a lovely experience and capturing the Jeep in action was equally as satisfying. Our camping grounds were in a car park just up the road found on our trusty app and we managed to eat and sleep quite peacefully before THE WEST COAST BEGAN.

This is where we slept.

Day Four

So today was the day. I'd already experienced the West Coast and had already felt my jaw hit the flaw at the faux-Icelandic landscape BUT Freya hadn't ventured further than Edinburgh so my excitement for her reaction was sky high.

It was her time to drive which meant it was my time to nap and my god did I nap. To my hilarity I was awoken by an audible gasp when we hit Glen Docherty (surprisingly not even on the NC500 wtf) and with good reason because h o l y s h i t. I'm not gonna talk now. I'm just going to display.

After our collective minds had been sufficiently blown we called it a day. Nothing could top this and even if it could, we didn't want the memories of being totally surprised by this view to be overshadowed.

The upcoming evening was the first night we were desperately in need of an Air BnB. On the one hand we needed to charge two MacBooks, a drone and 20+ camera batteries which, surprise surprise, is not possible with the cigarette lighter in a Jeep. So we headed on over to Poolewe where our bed awaited.

On the way we stopped off at a Chinese takeaway LITERALLY in the middle of nowhere, it was so bizarre and we saw one of the best deals of all time advertised to us on a table upon entry...

Anyway, Chinese demolished. Poolewe and a bed awaits.

We stayed with a lovely elderly lady in a home straight out of the 70s and it was everything we needed. We did however head out in the evening just to see what was around and Poolewe was a wonderful little town full of gorgeous landscapes and quaint locations.

It's situated right on the edge of a loch and it overlooks a beautiful mountain range. We took the Jeep to try to catch the sunset but unfortunately the sun failed us. We did take some pretty pics of the car though so all wasn't lost.

Day Five

Torridon. We woke up in Poolewe with a clear goal in mind - to get over to the West Coast of Scotland and experience it for all it has to offer.

Torridon was the first stop and it didn't disappoint. It's not really a tangible location like Glen Docherty or Kylesku it's more of a generic location that just provides endless views. I'm sure all the hills and mountains in said area have names but honestly, google it yourself.

A few years ago I went to Iceland at Christmas and was greeted with views beyond belief. It was like a barrage of natural beauty that overwhelmed you at every stage. I never in my life thought that the feeling I had in Iceland would ever be matched. Then Torridon happened.

Torridon was the stop before we reached one of the most famous roads in the UK, Beach na Ba Road (Applecross).

It's a huge, basically single track road, through the Applecross Peninsula which brings you down into the town of Applecross and in the height of summer it is SCARY. There's so many cars coming up and down that if you're not a confident driver, I'd highly recommend either avoiding this road or doing it in the early hours of the morning to avoid the inevitable footfall of tourists.

It is incredibly beautiful and if you're lucky it can play host to some incredible sightings of the local wildlife. We weren't so lucky although I did have an encounter with a stag staring down on me from the ridge.

Because we drove Applecross on the quietest day of the whole year, we only saw a single car and we had the whole of the top entirely to ourselves which was genuinely incredible and it allowed us to pose like this for photos.

Day Six

The sixth day of the trip was one to forget, simply due to the weather and two total failures to capture something incredible. We headed over to the Glenfinnan Viaduct and hoped to follow with a shipwreck I found on Instagram close by to Fort William.

The famous Glenfinnan Viaduct, home to Harry Potter and a breathtaking amount of drones being shotgunned out of the sky by Darrel the Drone Sniper, the train passes over the Viaduct twice per day (although now it may be 4 times a day but don't hold me to that).

In my mind, the train passing over IS the shot that everyone aspires to get. I now understand that that shot only happens in the morning. The afternoon passing is GENUINELY POINTLESS. The train comes past the wrong way with no warning, blows no steam and doesn't stop. It's over faster than anything you could ever imagine and it ultimately leaves you disappointed.

And although the Viaduct was a sad shame, the drone shot I got was an unseasoned *chefs kiss* simply because THERE WAS NO TRAIN.

Corpach Shipwreck was another similar story but solely down to the fact that the clouds came in thick and fast during the afternoon and blocked the view of Ben Nevis. So I took an underwhelming photo of a sad old rusty boat.

God this section has been SO whiney. So at least the day ended on a high and we booked a beautiful Premiere Inn for us to sleep at instead of a van in the pouring Scottish rain.

If anyone has ever used the app 'Sleep Cycle' then we definitely hit a good 92% that evening.

Day Seven

DAAAAAY SEVEN BABY AND WE HIT THE WEATHER JACKPOT. We didn't let say six get us down and we got up, headed to Harry Potter land and WE GOT THE SHOT. I feel some kind of motivational speech about battling adversity coming so imma head to google and copyright some trashy phrase before I show you a photo I've wanted for yeaaaaars.

"Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly."

"Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle"

"There will be obstacles. There will be doubters. There will be mistakes. But with hard-work, there are no limits."

AND THEN WE SMASHED THE SHIPWRECK. God this was one hell of a day.

Day Eight

Day eight turned out to be our final day because we absolutely smashed Glencoe. The weather was absolutely perfect for it and we went photography wild. We headed out super early to hit all the sensational locations Glencoe has to offer and honestly this turned out to be one of my favourite days.

This is basically the end of the blog now, I've written close to 3000 words and I'm sick and tired of my own inner monologue so here's the rest of the pretty pics we took and then lets be done with each other.

And we're done. Scotland was mint. GOAT Roadtrip was mint. Photography's mint.

Cheers for reading.

Appreciate you all.

Chris x