Road Trip (Part 2)
(Make sure you've read Part 1 - this post might be a bit confusing otherwise!) DAY 5
Skye has always been on Tabitha's bucket list.
Which is why, when planning the trip, we decided that we needed two nights rather than one to give us more time to explore this beautiful island.
The extra night also gave us a driving free day which was much needed after 4 consecutive days behind the wheel.
As a treat, our parents had booked for us to have lunch at the Three Chimneys, a previously Michelin starred restaurant across the loch from Dunvegan village.
The food was incredible and so much better than the rice and boiled veg we'd been living off.
Considering we hadn't done anything cultural yet on the trip, after lunch we visited Dunvegan Castle - the oldest continually inhabited castle in Scotland.
Though it wasn't the prettiest castle I've ever seen, its gardens and its setting on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Loch more than made up for it.
Packing up a tent in torrential rain has to be one of the most depressing things of a camping holiday.
Add in a swarm of midges to the mix and it makes the prospect of driving 250 miles that little bit less exciting.
The next stop on our route was Gairloch, a little seaside town on one of the west coast's headlands.
We left early from Dunvegan so we had time to drive around the top of Skye, instead of heading directly to the bridge - had we known it was single track the whole way, we may have made a difference decision!
We did get to drive past a Grand Designs house. How they managed to get all the building materials and lorries to the site is a mystery to me.
Once we were back on mainland Scotland, we headed North towards Gairloch.
Following the NC500 usually means taking the most indirect route - every headland has to be driven around, rather than simply cut across.
Which meant we had to do the Applecross Pass.
And as the sign before you start shows, it's not for the faint hearted.
The views as you wind your way upwards on, yep you guessed it, a single track road, are breathtaking. There's a scale to Scotland that you can't find in other parts of the UK.
We reached the top without any problems but it was on the way down when we had the second incident of the trip.
As Tabitha was reversing to avoid another car she slightly misjudged the edge of the road, and we ended up with our front left tyre in a ditch and the main body of the car resting on the tarmac.
Luckily the car behind us realised what had happened and stopped to help.
It turned out we couldn't have been in front of a better car.
Two men got out, and after apologising for not having their tow rope with them, pulled on heavy duty gloves and walked round to the front of the car. With one at the front, the other by the wheel arch, me at the side and Tabitha slowly reversing, we managed to lift the wheel out of the ditch and back onto the road.
And like that, we were on our way again.
At times, it felt like we were in Greece or Southern Italy rather than Scotland.
The sun was shining and the deep blue of the sea, the stone walls and the light green of the trees made everything seem very Mediterranean.
When we reached our campsite which looked out over a sandy beach it really was as if we were in a different country.
The amazing weather continued and we woke up on the seventh day of the road trip with blue skies and the sun shining.
Before packing up and heading to the next campsite, we managed to fit in another quick visit to the beach.
The drive from Gairloch to Durness was a pretty easy one, especially considering we didn't have to contend with any single track till the last 20 miles.
On the way we stopped for lunch at the ruins of Ardvreck Castle.
Not a bad picnic spot.
The thing which first drew us to read the article in Evo about the NC500, and in turn try to do it ourselves, was the magazine's front cover.
The picture is of the 11 cars which took part in the ECOTY (Evo car of the year) 2015, lined up on Kylesku Bridge.
So naturally we decided to recreate it.
I may not have the ability to close roads, or the same photoshopping powers as the guys at Evo but I think I did a pretty good recreation job considering I didn't have the magazine with me.
Durness wins the prize for the windiest campsite.
Even with the Punto acting as a windbreak, I was still convinced the tent was going to blow away.
Day 8 was probably the longest part of our road trip. We had to drive from the north-west corner of Scotland along the top to John O'Groats and then down to Balmoral. (i.e 2 sides of a square in one day when 1 side had previously taken us 3 )
After hundreds of miles of beautiful scenery, the drive along the North coast was a bit disappointing.
And John O'Groats has to one of the most depressing places we drove through.
It is quite literally the end of the road. With the signpost the only indication of where you are.
After a brief stop at John O'Groats, we turned right at the T junction in the centre of town and began our journey southwards.
The best thing about driving down the east coast was that we had left single tracks well behind us. The bad thing is it meant we were on the A9
The A9 is the main road route north of Inverness so naturally it is full of lorries and other slow moving vehicles. The annoying part is that it's not a dual carriageway. However, it did mean that I got pretty good at overtaking multiple lorries at once.
Our campsite for the eighth night was The Lazy Duck. It's a farm which has been turned into an eco hostel with 3, 2 person cabins and enough space for 4 tents. Tiny but beautiful.
After packing up our tent for the final time, we headed to Balmoral Castle to say hi to the Queen.
The weather closed in as we left the campsite and I got to use the fog lights on the Punto for the first time. Luckily by the time we reached the castle it had cleared up a bit.
Balmoral is beautiful and I totally understand why the Royal family spend so much time there.
After lunch at the cafe, we set our sat nav for a premier inn near Harrogate and got back on the road again.
Once we crossed into England, we realised a big difference between Scottish and English roads. Speed cameras.
In Scotland when you get close to the border there are loads of speed cameras. Clearly trying to catch English tourists out. But the moment you get into England they suddenly stop.
We finally reached the service station and I don't think I have ever been more excited for a night in a premier inn than after 5 days of camping.
The journey from a service station near Harrogate to a small village in Devon along motorways probably isn't worth writing too much about.
But it was the final of the journey of the road trip so requires a mention.
However, motorways and traffic jams are not how I want to end the post.
Instead, what deserves a paragraph or two is the wonderful lunch we were given when we had a quick detour to a friend's house in Somerset and the relief when we pulled into my Grandad's drive.
We realised that we would be driving practically straight pass Connie and Mima's house on our way to our Grandad and seeing as the two of them were about to head off on their own adventure to Australia and New Zealand we decided to stop and say hi.
When we arrived we were met with a table covered in food and a freshly baked victoria sponge waiting to be eaten. It was a lovely surprise and a welcome break from driving.
After a couple of hours of eating and chatting, we got back in the car and drove the final hour and a half to my Grandad's house.
We then sat on the patio in the sun and did the first of many retellings of our trip.
The road trip was an incredible adventure.
Tabitha and I got to see some amazingly beautiful parts of the country and had to constantly remind ourselves that we were still in the UK.
It was also really nice to spend so much time just as the two of us. Yes, we had some arguments but most of the time was spent laughing and singing along horrendously out of tune to our Road Trip playlist.
I couldn't recommend doing a road trip enough.
Grab a friend. Buy a map. Decide your route. Pack up your car. And drive.
It's that simple and it'll honestly be one of the best decisions you make.