Mountain hikes and idyllic beaches along the NC500 | Assynt, Scotland

We made our way south on the NC500 where mountain vistas were reflected in calm lochs. Even though we were a little exhausted after yesterday’s big hike I’d read about a route up Quinag, said to be one of Scotland’s best hill walks. It didn’t seem too tough or long so with tired legs we gave it a go. As soon as we set off it began drizzling and we ended up having a riveting argument about the differences between rain and drizzle. The first summit was a total fog fest, we could barely figure out where the route back down was. But eventually we spotted a couple of people through the mist and found the path. As we passed them the guy said “I’d rather be doing crosswords in a campervan”…hmm I know that feeling! I don’t hike for the exercise I do it for the views, so when I’m at the top of a mountain with sweat down my back and cloud blocking all the views I find it rather demoralising.

Luckily as we descended we seemed to come back out the cloud, in fact it just hovered around the top of the mountain we’d just been on. We headed up and down a steep grassy ridge-line which reminded us of the trails in Hawaii. But then the rain began to fall and all the scenery was masked with a foggy haze. It rained the whole way back, a total repeat on our hike yesterday and I was starting to feel rather fed up with the rain already. Some people say ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing’ and I couldn’t disagree more. I really despise hiking in the rain, and albeit my gear is a little feeble I would still hate to stand atop a cloudy mountain, in the pouring rain and gusty wind even if I was wearing the worlds best rain protection. Our tiny campervan bathroom has become a little ‘dry’ room. It doesn’t actually dry anything, but it does allow all our items to stop dripping and then we can move them into the van to dry properly.

We parked up in a lay-by near a Loch with pretty, forested islands. Even though it was still raining we fancied a swim after our sweaty hike so we followed a track down to the water. Along the way we passed two human shits, literally right on the pathway. What the fuck is wrong with people? How hard is it to A) dig a hole and bury it B) do it far away from any water or pathway or C) just drive up the fucking road to a toilet. So many people came to Scotland this summer to wild camp and they didn’t think to research how to do it responsibly.

Anyway…the next morning we woke early as we wanted to hike up Suilven. It’s a popular hike with limited parking so we had to make sure we got a spot and then we could relax and have breakfast. It was a loooong hike of about 20km and most of it was a gravel track leading through moorland peppered with dozens of Lochs. Suilven is an interesting mountain as it’s all alone, rising out the moorland and standing tall like a grand castle. Sadly clouds were wrapped around half the mountain on our approach so we were really hoping it would clear by the time we summited. We stopped for lunch by a lock and were instantly swarmed by midges, in the middle of the bloody day! We could barely eat so we had to quickly eat while walking to try and get rid of them. It wasn’t long after lunch that we reached the bottom of the mountain and our uphill slog began. It was muddy, steep and slippery and even though we were moving the midges still pestered us. As we climbed our way uphill we were soon engulfed by the cloud and it was a persistent bugger. We made it up to the ridge and climbed up and down pinnacles until we arrived at the summit. It was such a shame to not get any views, the ridge is supposed to be quite a dramatic view but all we got was cloud. The route back to Helga seemed to last forever. To make matters worse, an old chap who’d been walking behind us at the same pace on our accent reappeared behind us again. He was dressed all in white and looked quite ghostly, a lovely gent I’m sure but with the way he loomed behind us and walked so fast for a 70 year old he creeped us out a little, we felt like a spirit was following us.

When we got back to the road where Helga was parked a quad bike overtook us. It had a trailer on the back filled with stags!!! How is it possible that we hiked in the wilderness for 8 hours and didn’t see a single deer and these guys killed 5 beautiful stags? We stopped to have a look at them, I’ve never been so close to a deer before and I asked the men if they were for food and they confirmed they were which was a relief, nothing I hate more than hunters killing just for a head trophy. We left them be and as we walked off I said to Craig that I could feel the heat off the deers bodies, to which Craig responded “that was the heat from the quad bike Lauren”. Oops.

Our legs were unbelievably stiff when we got back to Helga and of course the cloud all cleared up in the evening, typical! We crashed out and woke up early the next day so we didn’t take up any of the parking spaces. On today’s agenda was Achmelvich beach, a beach that literally looks like it belongs on a Caribbean island. We visited this beach back in 2014 and were amazed at how clear and turquoise the water was, the sand ripples all visible meters below us. It was a chilly day in early spring and we had the place to ourselves, but we knew things had changed and social media has spread the word about this gorgeous spot. It was trying to be a sunny day but the cloud just wouldn’t budge so it didn’t look quite like paradise as it did on our first visit. There were quite a few people on the beach already so we decided to go for a short coastal walk to the next beach which just had two people on it. The water was so calm and inviting that we decided to brave a chilly dip, Craig was much braver though and did multiple jumps of a rocky ledge.

When we left the area we pulled up by a Loch to have a swim and wash off the salt water but we quickly aborted that plan when we saw multiple human shits and toilet paper along the shoreline! So much rubbish was in the water along with random animal bones. Nice.

We decided to leave the gross area and make our way south where we found a perfect spot to camp. It just fitted one vehicle which is an ideal spot in our opinion as we don’t like neighbours. We had a stunning 180° view of mountains in front of us and we were far away enough from the road that it didn’t bother us. A few people had camped here before though, and left sanitary pads and shit near a path leading down to a little Loch. We’ve never visited a place where we have to literally say ‘be careful you don’t step in human shit’. I feel sorry for the locals living in this beautiful wilderness that’s being destroyed by ignorant twats. We didn’t let the stroll to the Loch ruin our evening though and seeing as it was our first warm day we decided to get our camp chairs out and enjoy the view. It was only about 4pm but the midges started bothering us so we decided to have a little fire to try and keep them away. There was already a fire pit made by previous campers so Craig collected some wood and let the smoke build up to deter the midges…but it didn’t work. We locked ourselves in Helga but as the light was about to fade I had to head out and take some photos of the mountains as they looked so good. Craig had a right laugh watching me trying to avoid the midges. I had to take a few photos and then run around the van a few times, my goodness I don’t know how people can live in harmony with these bastards.

The following day was a bit of a dreaded one, we had to do a big detour out of our way to the big smoke – Aka Inverness. Hardly a big city but after spending a couple of months in nature it was bound to be a shock to us. The reason for the detour was I needed to get my second covid vaccine, I’d been trying to get it for weeks but the northern isles wouldn’t help me as a non resident which meant I had to wait 14 weeks between my jabs and head to a drop in clinic. But before we went there I realised I’d made a bit of a mistake with my travel planning and realised we forgot to hike Stac Pollaidh, a lovely wee mountain which we’d been up back in 2014. So we made an impromptu decision to quickly drive there now and hike up before going to Inverness.

The drive there alone was a beautiful sight and luckily it was a quick mountain to summit. It’s only 612m high and right beside the road so in around 4km you can hike to the summit and back down along a loop track. The weather was…interesting. We had rain, clouds, fog and strong winds. But the good news was the wind seemed to be blowing the weather systems around so we had plenty of views between the drifting clouds. It was a really beautiful viewpoint of the region and such an easy route up. From the east summit we decided to scramble along the rocky ridge to the main summit. The route was a little sketchy at times, especially on the wet rocks but it was a fun little hike, with a very steep and iffy descent down a gully to the main path.

After that busy morning it was time to drive to Inverness. My jab didn’t hurt at all so I had to question the nurse if she actually gave it to me, at which point I commended her on giving me the least painful jab I’ve ever had, which was a relief as I have a phobia of them. Afterwards we did some vital shopping so we’re ready for autumn in Scotland – which meant we bought wellington boots and a waterproof bag cover. We figured while we were in Inverness we might as well go to Chanonry Point, just north of the city. It’s a popular place to see dolphins who tend to swim by after low tide. We had breakfast there and waited on the end of the land for quite a while but there wasn’t any sign of the dolphins. As we were back at Helga however we spotted some people pointing out to the water and there they were, about 5 bottlenose dolphins swimming right past us. That happened a few times with different dolphins passing by. Then it was time for us to head back to the highlands!

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