Staycation Stories: The North Coast 500 with the BMW 4 Series

09/02/2021

Staycation Stories: The North Coast 500 with the BMW 4 Series

09/02/2021

The idea of the staycation has got people searching for some fresh scenery and a new adventure whilst staying on our own shores.

We wanted to share our staycation stories to hopefully give you some inspiration incase you were planning a staycation in 2021.

Here is our Park Lane Staycation Stories.

The North Coast 500.

Here is the story from one of our staff members roadtrip last year.

We tackled ten days in the Scottish Highlands in the BMW 435d xDrive Gran Coupe.  The xDrive model was a massive plus with the unknown weather as we drove up in September and we weren’t quite sure what to expect.

The 500 mile journey was made bearable by the Harman Kardon sound system which meant my playlists of the 80s and the 00s kept me well entertained as my partner made the most of the comfort in the car and slept most of the way.

We started at Inverness after a stopover en route in Carlisle to refuel and stay fresh. We added an extra few days to the trip as we really wanted to include the Isle of Skye in the trip too, which was totally worth it! From Inverness to Wick near the north coast we stopped at Dunrobin Castle and the Badbea historical village and the scenery was just amazing. The weather was superb, blue sky and no wind, could have asked for better. After Wick we did the essential stops at John O-Groats and Dunnetts Head Lighthouse, the most northerly points in the mainland.   John O-Groats wasn’t too busy, but definitely worth getting here and spending a bit of time wandering about, there isn’t loads to see but there are more tourists here, so meant we took a bit more time than we thought.

A stop definitely worth including in your plan is the Duncansby Stacks, its maybe 5-10 minutes from John O-Groats and with a 20-30 minute walk its worth the views with the immense rock landscape.

After a night in Wick we jetted across the northern coastline with stops at Smoo Cave (definitely worth it also) and then onto the beaches at Sango Sands, Ceannabeannie and Balnakeil. Note there is an amazing hot chocolate available at Cocoa Mountain at Balnakeil, you won’t be disappointed.

The best hot chocolate in Scotland?

The best hot chocolate in Scotland?

Check our Cocoa Mountain in Balnakeil here...

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We tried to ensure we have the most time coming down the west coast as they has been reviewed as the main area for walking and scenery. The next morning we did the boggy walk to Clashnessie Falls, took stops at Kylesku Bridge and Achmelvich Bay.

The BMW 4 Series was the perfect vessel for us as we packed relatively heavily with a lot of gear, food and snacks for the road and we also included our inflatable kayak. We managed to fit this all in the boot and back seats and packed well to avoid too much stuff being left around the car. Our inflatable kayak came in handy here as we had a paddle around Loch Kylesku, a sea loch where we luckily had a close-ish counter with a seal. The weather again was amazing and we were very lucky to get the views we did.

We did a number of walks, large and small over the ten days so Here are my top 5 walks from the NC500.

Top 5 walks:

  • Old Man of Storr, a must do in Scotland. We made the effort to get this done and even went a day early and drove an extra 60 miles because the weather was right for it. Its around a 2-3 hour return walk uphill but its totally worth it, the fog was just about to roll in as we arrived at the top so got some lovely photos, but you can’t miss out on this landmark

  • Knochan Crag Reserve, a short sharp 45 minute return up a steep hill gives you amazing views over the highlands at the reserve, we timed it well with sunset and got through it before it got too cold.

  • Loch Coruisk. We took an early morning boat trip over to Lock Coruisk from Elgol to have a walk around this quiet but moody loch. It feels like your our in the wilderness in Iceland with its rocky formations, definitely worth the boat ride over

  • The Quirang, Isle of Skye. A 2-3 hour walk again through some amazing scenery like a fairy-tale. It’s a tough walk when its wet, but as long as you have sturdy boots and some snacks to keep you going. The car park is close to the start of the walk, so bring your mac and get hiking.

  • Duncansby Stacks. The views here again are something else, not too taxing, a relatively flat walk gives you the coastline for miles and the Duncansby Stacks rising high from the sea.
The Quirang

The Quirang

One of the best viewpoints during the Quirang walk

Bealach Na Ba

Bealach Na Ba

This stunning spot is worth waiting for the fog to lift on the Bealach Na Ba road to Applecross.

Knochan Crag Reserve

Knochan Crag Reserve

This short, but steep walk gets you this great spot to watch the sunset

The next few days we meandered down the west coast with stops at intervals. One of my main highlights of these couple of days was the Bealach Na Ba viewpoint and road. Not for the fainthearted, this road is a winding single lane track with passing places and blinds turns. They recommend you only take this if you are a seasoned driver. Our 4 Series really powered through there and with its xDrive system gave me complete comfort when taking these wet and windy apexes. We took the road and stopped at the viewpoint and waited for the fog to lift as the scenery was worth it.

The Beinn Eighe National Park and Corrieshalloch Gorge also made for some great stop offs.

The final leg of our journey was the Isle of Skye, including the famous Old Man of Storr which was the highlight of my trip. More detail is below with the walk but by far the stand out hike we did.

Whilst on the Isle of Skye we stayed in Portree which is a lovely, quaint town with a lovely bay.

The two days on the isle we visited the fairy pools and the fairy glen, two great walks which aren’t too taxing. We also did the circular walk around the Quirang, which is definitely a great walk, it is quite tough, and the weather conditions didn’t play into our favour, so it was wet, and I mean ankle deep.

After a couple of great days, we worked our way home with stops at the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct as well as Loch Lomond and stayed an extra night in Fort William to get ourselves ready for the long journey home.

Top tips:

  •  The main tip I would give is to plan your route. We were tight on time, and as we are keen walkers and photographers, we had a relatively well organised plan and we know where we were going to stay and how far we wanted to drive each day.

  • Organise your packing. We stayed at a different place every night, so needed to keep our packing flexible. Instead of having to haul in a suitcase every day, we kept piles in the boot and repacked quickly every morning so we had everything we needed at the start of each day. This meant we packed lighter, and also only took 1 bag in to the accommodation each day.

  • Don’t rush. The route is stunning. So the last thing you want to do is rush through and miss places, so make sure you try and get as much time as you can, so you can stop and enjoy the ride. Also add in some buffer time. The weather, the route and the activities can change, so having some time spare to catch up if you miss a day due to rain will ensure you don’t miss too much.

  • Pack for all weathers. We went in September and had snow, sun, wind, rain and sometimes them all in the same day! Pack warm, plenty of socks, plenty of layers and try and find a place en route as a back up washing machine incase you need have a wash and dry some clothes if they are ruined.

  • Use the car space wisely. We had the pleasure of a 5-door Gran Coupe, but didn’t have a big X vehicle or 4x4, so we used the space wisely to ensure we packed the right stuff, packed well. The car was big enough and give us room to take everything we needed, even a kayak!

  • Enjoy the road. Just remember – you are doing the North Coast 500, the scenery is amazing, the hikes and views are breathtaking, so take your time, and just enjoy the ride.