Campervan,  Travel

The NC500 in a VW T3 Campervan – Part 8 – Storms and Stovies.

Day 9 – Applecross to Inverness, and further South to Balfron. – 238 miles (383km)

Part 7 of the series can be found HERE.

Overnight we had made the decision not to head to the Isle of Skye as planned. The North of Scotland weather forecast looked horrendous with 60mph winds and heavy rain forecast for the next few days. Added to the roadworks that we were warned about the previous night in the Inn, heading South to seek better weather seemed a good idea. We now had an excuse to return another time to explore the Isle of Skye.

That’s the beauty of a campervan, being able to change direction and plans when needed. I’d even planned a special surprise for Louise as it was her birthday the next day. However today we had to cover a lot of miles so early in the morning, we set off to drive 5 mile Applecross pass, Bealach na Ba (Gaelic for the “Pass of the Cattle” and pronounced byee-alluch nuh bah)

It has the steepest ascent of any road in the United Kingdom, starting from sea level and rising to 2,054 feet (626 meters). Its challenging hairpin bends are a magnet for bikers and its outstanding views over to the Isle of Skye and magnificent topography delight tourists and locals alike. However, it is not for the faint-hearted.

One thing I’d learnt over the years was the brakes on our 30-year-old VW Campervan “Bellamy” were nothing like the modern brakes found on most vehicles. I’d planned to take the ascent & descent slowly. So leaving early, I hoped not to annoy too many other travellers on the single track road. Unfortunately, I took a wrong turn right out of the campsite! We then enjoyed a wonderful excursion along the shoreline, looking out to the brooding, stormy Isle of Raasay and Seals near the shore. After several miles, we realised that I’d made a navigational mistake and turned around to head back to Applecross to try again. We encountered a herd of sheep on the road on the way back, which we could only trail behind for a long time. So much for an early start over the pass, but happily, the wrong turn turned out to be a memorable one.

So a little later than planned, we started the ascent over the pass, 2nd and 1st gear all the way to the summit. We only came across a few vehicles (and cyclists!) traversing the pass, and we often stopped in passing places to allow more speedy travellers to pass with a friendly wave. Once at the top, we parked up to allow Bellamy to cool down a little as her temperature gauge had reached parts normally reserved for long summer traffic jams.

Then the descent, which to our relief was fairly uneventful as I tiptoed down in 2nd gear most of the way. It allowed us both to drink in the stunning views as the weather improved. It’s a magnificent road and should not be missed if you drive the NC500 unless you have a caravan! At the bottom, we stopped for a short time to allow Bellamy’s brakes to cool and lose the burning smell before we continued towards Inverness and the NC500 finish line.

Strathpeffer and Stovies

The road became wider and flatter as we headed east towards Inverness. We’d made plans to lunch in Strathpeffer, a leafy Victorian spa town, as we’d heard that they served Stovies. Louise’s family have a tradition for Stovies, with a recipe passed down from her Scottish Grandmother that the whole family enjoys. I’d never heard of Stovies before I met Louise, but I’ve been converted and find Stovies to be the perfect comfort food. It’s a potato-based dish, to which you can add pretty much any meat, although mince or corned beef is most popular. Ask 100 Scot’s for a Stovie recipe, and you will get 100 variations, is the saying.

The old Strathpeffer Station Museum Cafe was our destination, now converted into some lovely shops and museums. A hot Stovie and oat-cake lunch warmed us through in the old station waiting room, and after a little exploration before long, we were back in the van. As to the Stovies? They were very nice, but Louise’s Grandmothers recipe was better, obviously.

The end of the NC500. Inverness, but no time to stop.

With little fanfare, we reached Inverness, signalling the end of our NC500 adventure. Maybe a little bit of an anticlimax, but our journey still had a way to go, and we continued south for the next stop, which was still 175 miles away. It was Louise’s 50th Birthday the next day, so as a break from driving, I’d booked an Airbnb (Big View Studio) for us to recharge for a few nights and explore the local area. We arrived at our lovely accommodation near Balfron in time to enjoy champagne and a warming sunset across the hills before stretching out in our huge and luxurious bed. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was heavenly after spending 9 nights in a 3/4 sized campervan bed.

Part 9 of the Series can be found HERE.

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