Lonely Planet has just named The Scottish Highlands and Islands as one of the hottest destinations for travellers in 2019, giving special mention to the North Coast 500 driving route. Rochelle Tubb packed her kids and husband into a glampervan to discover this beautiful part of Scotland.
Strolling up the road to our caravan park in Applecross, on the West Coast of Scotland, my daughter stopped dead in her tracks.
“What was that noise,” she said of the bellowing sounds coming from the woods.
“Oh, nothing, just a cow,” I said nervously. As we rounded the next corner a huge, antlered stag was standing still, staring straight at us.
“That is just a stuffed animal for tourists,” I joked. “It’s not real”.
“Well it just turned its head and is walking towards up,” my daughter shrieked as we made a hurried retreat in the opposite direction.
The quaint town of Applecross, on the Wester Ross peninsula, had been on my bucket list to visit since it featured on a BBC documentary called Monty Halls’ Great Escape almost a decade ago.
The program, filmed during the perfect weather of spring 2008, followed marine biologist Monty Hall’s attempts to live as a crofter for six months and featured stunning shots of the scenery of the wind-swept beaches of Wester Ross and the adjacent Isle of Skye.
The jaw-dropping visuals had viewers rushing to their computers to find out more about the idyllic spot and I was among them.
It was 10 years later that our chance to visit Applecross came about when we took to the road in a campervan for a family trip around Scotland’s renowned North Coast 500 Route.
Deer sightings aren’t uncommon in Applecross, or in other areas around the highlands in summer. We came across two other young stags enjoying a nice pick of grass in someone’s garden that had six foot-high fences to keep them out. Obviously no one told the stags.
Once you have become accustomed to the deer sightings, you can’t help but fall in love with the wild beauty of this area that is home to just a few hundred people. The village consists of a long row of tiny white houses that face out to the bay. The white-washed Applecross Inn is a meeting point for all.
We strolled down on a sunny afternoon and grabbed an outdoor table overlooking the bay with the dramatic landscape of the mountains in the background. While we sipped on ciders and pints of beer, the kids ordered fish and chips from the retro-inspired caravan by the sea.
But for the adults more epicurean delights were on the menu inside.
Despite living in Scotland for several years, I had never actually tasted a langoustine - something similar to our crayfish, a little smaller and they live in saltwater. When a steaming pile of them arrived at our table drenched in lemon and garlic butter - the sweetness of the meat was to die for - I understood why most of them ended up on tables in Europe.
The Inn is acclaimed for its fresh seafood - the local king scallops in garlic butter with crispy bacon was also a gastronomic highlight of our trip - but get there early as they don’t take bookings. The Inn is perfect for those not travelling in a campervan, but for us the Applecross Campsite was home for our short stay.
Perched above the main street overlooking the bay the site has mobile homes and huts as well for travellers and provided all the necessary comforts of home with lovely hot showers and free wifi for the kids.
Apart from eating and walking, the beaches in the area are some of the best in Scotland and perfect for a spot of beachcombing. There are kayak tours available from the village, an art gallery and cafe and just a short walk away is the Applecross Walled Garden cafe and restaurant.
Getting to Applecross isn’t easy, as there are only two roads in and one is the highest (and probably one of the most scary when you are in a large campervan) roads in the UK.
Bealach na Ba (pass of the cattle) reaches over 2000 feet high and is full of hairpin turns and passing bays. But once you have reached the top you are rewarded with some of the most glorious views to Raasay and the Isle of Skye. This road is one of the most famous sections of the North Coast 500 Route.
My biggest complaint about our stay in Applecross was that it just wasn’t long enough. It is the sort of place where you could stay for months - just like Monty Halls did - and assimilate into the relaxed local culture and soak up the wild natural beauty and ever-changing scenery.
With hundreds of more miles to go to finish the North Coast 500 Route we had only allocated a two-night stay there. Next time, I will make sure we stay longer. As the old Scottish saying goes - haste ye back.
More information on the North Coast 500 Route can be found at www.northcoast500.com