7 day self drive tour of Scotland

Away from the crowds

The NC500 is a popular choice for a 7 day self drive tour of Scotland – but there are less busy alternatives. 

Thinking about doing the NC500? Since its creation in 2014 as a tourism marketing initiative to bring tourists to the Highlands the NC500 has been a triumph. Often described as ‘Scotland’s Route 66’, the NC500 really seems to have captured the imagination of visitors to Scotland. And why wouldn’t it? Everyone loves a road trip and this particular road trip is a 516 mile loop of great driving, stunning scenery, rugged coastline and beaches that can almost feel like the Caribbean. OK – perhaps a degree or two cooler.

North Coast 500 Itinerary Clachtoll Beach

Seeking solitude in the peak summer season?

The NC500 may not be for you.

The NC500 is a stunner. No doubt about that. But if you are planning to do it in the peak Summer months so are alot of other people. Of the 516 miles of road on the circuit, at least 200 of them will be narrow, single track roads. Remember these roads also serve local communities. So it is possible you may experience a bit of congestion in the peak months, as well as perhaps a frustrated local trying to get to work. You may find a lot of the walking routes and ‘sights’ along the NC500 route are busier than you expected. As part of Ramblers Scotland’s #RespectProtectEnjoy campaign they advise having a Plan B to fall back on if you arrive somewhere and find too many other people have got their first. 

Accommodation also books up fast along the route. We’ve heard tales of accommodation for July being totally booked out by January. The canny traveller can avoid the worry of where to find a bed for the night by taking the smart option of renting a campervan. Of course, as campervan enthusiasts we would encourage this. If you are thinking along those lines, do book early if you can. Our campervans were totally booked out for the summer period last year.   

None of this may matter if you have your heart set on the NC500 and you don’t mind sharing the views with others. You will be sure to have an awe inspiring road trip. But if you are looking for solitude this Summer, there are alternatives. Read on…

North Coast 500 Intinerary John O'Groats

Is there a less busy 7 day self drive tour of Scotland?

The NC500 was a great initiative to boost the economy of the remote North Highlands and we applaud it. But there are many other places to visit in Scotland which are just as stunning. Ones without the risk of congestion in the peak season. And where local communities could equally benefit from increased tourism. Scotland has a lot of space. There are hills and glens, mountains, lochs and strathes that are rarely gazed upon, except by the locals and the local wildlife. Waterfalls that tumble like a secret in the landscape. And magical nooks and crannies that can only really be stumbled upon on foot. Secluded spots for wild swimming, places steeped in history and folklore. The chance to view incredible wildlife away from the throng. 

Wild Swimming Scotland

A 7 day self drive tour of Scotland away from the crowds

It is possible to get away from the crowds and feel like you really are away from the hustle and bustle of a busy life. The pace slows down and the landscape opens up and allows you space to breathe.  We’ve put together a special itinerary for a 7 day self drive tour of Scotland for those of you yearning to be away from the crowds. 

We’ve made sure to include some family-run or small, independent businesses in the itinerary. We always encourage our customers to support local independents. Not only will you have the memories of some of the finest local produce you can taste. And be able to acquire items of superb craftsmanship. You’ll also be supporting local communities by ensuring tourism dollars go directly to the pockets of local businesses, not just to the supermarkets and corporates. 

You will need at least 7 nights for this trip, but if you can linger a little longer, you’ll find plenty of places along the way where you’ll want to stay a while. 

Queen Elizabeth Forest Park Trossachs

The Trossachs

Head from Big Sky Campers HQ, just outside of Edinburgh, towards the Trossachs, pass through Callander and then turn off the main road to Balquidder.  Mhor 84 is a wonderful motel, cafe, bar and artisan bakery where you can stop off for an early dinner or stock up on delicious baked goods. Head towards Loch Voil and enjoy the loch side, pop into the beautiful wee church and find the gravestone of the famous Rob Roy MacGregor as you are truly in Rob Roy country here. If you have a couple of hours to spare and you want to explore the countryside, you will find the start of a walk to the magical Bracklinn Falls just north of Callendar. It’s a moderate walk which you need to allow around 2 to 2 and a half hours to complete. 

A good stopover is the Balquhidder Braes Holiday Park This family-run business in the heart of the Trossachs has a mixture of lodges and hook up points for campervans.

Balquhidder-7-day-self-drive-tour-of-Scotland

Glencoe

Head north for a leisurely drive through Glencoe.  There will be plenty of places to tempt you to stop and enjoy the view even if it is wet and the cloud is low. The Glen is the fabled home of Fingal, the Gaelic warrior and you will find many references to his name through stones and landmarks.  More recently in 1692 Glencoe was the site of the Massacre of the MacDonalds. In February of that year 30 members of the MacDonald family and their associates were murdered by the the Campbells who were loyal to King James II.  Glencoe is truly beautiful. If you want to spend some time walking in the hills here then we suggest a stop off at the Red Squirrel Campsite. Situated on the banks of the River Coe and with 22 acres to explore you can wander its woodland tracks or take a dip in the river pools. You can build a wee campfire in one of the firepits to warm up afterwards.

Glencoe 7 day self drive tour of Scotland
Pitch up Scotland Red Squirrel campsite

Ardnamurchan Peninsula

Leaving the Red Squirrel, head north and follow the signs for the Corran Ferry where you will cross Loch Linnhe and arrive on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, Scotland’s most westerly point.

Ardnamurchan has a number of small campsites, notably the Ardnamurchan Campsite  No caravans or larger motor homes are allowed on the site so you really are just with fellow campervan travellers and folk in tents. The site is right on the shore and you can easily get to the sea for a dip or to fish. There are plenty of side routes and dips on the shore where you could wild camp, just make sure you are not in view of any properties or sitting on croftland.  Also, check that the surface beneath you is firm. Peaty land is full of water and on the surface it may look firm and dry but that can all change in a nanosecond!

For walks with wonderful views across the undulating landscape, head to the Ardnamurchan Lighthouse and to Sanna Bay. The Arshealach Smokehouse is a small family business specialising in high quality Scottish smoked salmon from sustainable stocks. It also has a fantastic range of smoked fish, meats, including venison charcuterie and local cheeses. They use the traditional Scottish method of smoking salmon, using only sea salt, a pinch of sugar and the smoke of whisky barrel oak chips. Everything they produce is handcrafted and smoked in small batches in their own traditional kiln. To complete your shopping, pop to the Kilchoan Bakery This artisan microbakery uses organic ingredients wherever possible and makes a range of pastries and breads, including sourdough and focaccia.

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Ardnamurchan-7-day-self-drive-camper-van-hire-beach

Beguiling Ardnamurchan can put you under a bit of a spell, so you may find yourself unwinding so much here you are in no hurry to move on too quickly.  If you have the time, stay, rest and restore – time spent patiently sitting will reap rewards in terms of wildlife spotting. There are plenty of lovely places to eat and drink including 13th Century Mingary Castle for fine dining.

7-day-self-drive-tour-of-scotland-smokehouse

The Isle of Skye

Hop on the ferry from Mallaig to Armadale.  Don’t forget to look behind you as well as ahead as you head to Skye as the scenery is spectacular. Here you will find local people, who speak Gaelic, still living a crofting lifestyle and cutting peat for their fires. Skye is a great place for animal lovers – along with the sheep and highland cattle kept by the Islanders you will see red deer, roe deer and eagles. Skye has the most incredible skies at night. If you are lucky you may see the Northern Lights.

Skye is a large island and you will find plenty of places for solitude. However, it is incredibly popular and campsites and accommodation can get busy in the Summer months so it’s worth booking ahead – or visiting outside of the peak summer period. Our recommendation is the Glenbrittle Campsite at the foot of the iconic Cuillin mountains and right on Loch Brittle beach. Booking is a must at this award winning campsite close to the Fairy Pools. We can’t claim that the Fairy Pools, famous for their crystal clear waters, are off the beaten track but no trip to Skye would be complete without a visit.   

Fairy Pools Skye

The Outer Hebrides

The ferry to Tarbet, Harris leaves from Uig.  With its turquoise seas and golden sands, Harris is a stunning island. The West Harris Trust offers small (between 3 and 7 pitches) sustainable camping sites and camping spots (no facilities) all with spectacular views. Be sure to book if you want to secure the best spots. There are also some beautiful campsites on Harris like Lickisto Blackhouse Campsite which offers woodland and sea view pitches. You’ve made a big effort to get to the Outer Hebrides so if you have the time, stay a while and really relish the scenery and abundant wildlife. For lovers of outdoor activities, this is a wonderful place to paddle board or hire a kayak.

7-day-self-drive-tour-of-scotland-beach-outer-hebrides

Back to the Mainland – Ullapool

When you can drag yourself away from Harris, take the ferry to Ullapool. It’s worth stopping for a meal at the Ceilidh Place before you begin to wind your way south. The Ceilidh Place was founded by the actor Robert Urquhart, who was born there in 1921. It started life as a small cafe with a dream of making it a place for people to eat, meet, talk and make music together. Today it has rooms to let and a bookshop alongside, but the idea of it being a space for magical nights of music, conversation and friendship remains the same. Spend the night at Badralloch Campsite. With just 12 pitches this small and friendly campsite is a short walk from the picturesque Little Loch Broom.

7-day-self-drive-tour-scotland-Ullapool

The Cairngorms National Park

The next step of your journey brings you back to a bit more hustle and bustle as you head south to Inverness and the Cairngorms National Park. The Cairngorms National Park isl 4,500km2 of heathlands, mountains, lochs, forests and rolling grassland with nearly 300km of trails to explore. You can spot deer, otters, ospreys and, if you are lucky, golden eagles here. Among the ancient woodland and close to the sandy beaches of Loch Morlich, you will find Glenmore campsite

Cairngorms-7-day-self-drive-tour-scotland

Final night

A couple of choices for your final night: 

Glengoulandie Campsite. For a final night of peace in nature, this small, secluded family-run, independent campsite is in Dùn Coillich, home to over 70 species of birds. The site is bordered by a red deer park. Fiona and Andy who own the site are touring enthusiasts themselves. They have modelled their place on everything they loved about their favourite campsites and have an eco-conscious ethos. They try to recycle absolutely everything and the site operates a biowaste system. If you have any energy left, you can attempt the climb of the legendary Schiehallion mountain which is directly accessible from the site. 

Blair Castle Caravan Park If you need to acclimatise yourself to human contact before returning to the daily grind, this large site is conveniently located for a short drive to return your vehicle in the morning. It sits in the grounds of historic Blair Castle and has loads of facilities including a games room. Camping pods and lodges are available if you fancy a final night in a real bed.

Schiehallion-7-day-self-drive-tour-scotland

If you are looking to explore wild, beautiful Scotland in a campervan, Big Sky Campers are here to help you plan your perfect trip.  We are very happy to help you choose the best van for your needs. We have 12 to choose from – vintage style VWs, automatic and manual T6 VWs, a Land Rover camper and super sporty Mac the Jeep Wrangler camper. Most of our campers are dog friendly campervans but we do keep a couple dog free. We also offer a full itinerary planning service. If you have any questions, are interested in our itinerary planning service or simply want to hire one of our lovely campervans, please get in touch. You can also book directly on our website.  

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