North Coast 500 – anyone done it?

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  • North Coast 500 – anyone done it?
  • Premier Icon scotroutes
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    It’s certainly gaining in popularity this year. We’re getting quite a few enquiries at work about it. For most folk it’s beyond a weeks cycling so many want to chop it into two bit or just do the most scenic “central” bit north of Kyle to Tongue.

    Lee Craigie and half a dozen mates are doing it in a relay fashion this weekend, hoping to get round faster than Mark Beaumont did.

    We’re suggesting some alterations to the published route to better cater for cyclists. Two main changes spring to mind; the NC500 misses out the “wee mad road of Inverpolly” and it uses the A9 down the East Coast. We reckon that it’s better to pass the bottom of Stac Polly on the way to Lochinver and we have a couple of better options for the East once you get around Dornoch. One is to head to Bonar Bridge and then take the high road to Alness/Evanton and Dingwall. The other is to head for Tain then Nigg for the ferry (which is due to be re-instated this summer). Assuming the ferry re-opens, the official NC500 route will go this way anyway.

    flannol
    Member

    I made a film about it (1st cam op) and the charity are using it internally to gain investment, etc

    It was beautiful, and I wish I was riding (three of my clubmates, one being the creative director rode it)

    Agree with the re-route mentioned above^

    https://vimeo.com/147333350

    [video] https://vimeo.com/147333350 [/video]

    Premier Icon fatmax
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    Hi
    Keen to have a pop at this in 2017 – https://www.northcoast500.com/interactive-map.aspx – anyone done it?
    Could potentially be supported by someone in a van, or could use some bikepacking bags and travel light – staying in B&Bs / hotels.
    Clockwise or anticlockwise?
    Would love to spend longer doing it, but limits on holidays / family commitments probably means 5 days maximum.
    Anyway, any feedback and tips appreciated.
    Cheers
    Fraser

    Premier Icon Sundayjumper
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    My brother recently drove it, camping each night. Said it was fab. Gave up taking photos on day 2 as seemingly every five minutes there was an amazing view of something.

    Even though he drove it over six days he wished he had more time each day. Trying to ride it in five days is going to be tough, and you’ll miss out on off-bike time to enjoy places along the route.

    Premier Icon fatmax
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    Thanks folks, much appreciated. Will have a look at the variations Colin, cheers.

    Premier Icon scotroutes
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    I should also add that while the East Coast section has its merits, returning via Alltnaharra is by far the better option. Of course, you’re then not really doing the NC500(a bit like those folk doing the WHW but skipping out the bit north of Rowardennan).

    Premier Icon Andy
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    Scotroutes, would you favour clockwise?

    Premier Icon scotroutes
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    Definitely. The Bealach Na Ba, Torridon, Laide, Assynt… They all work best in that direction. Arguably, Loch Maree and Tongue are better anti-, but not enough to swing it. In many ways, the route as it stands does end in an anti-climax. Including the Nigg ferry will help (just don’t ask what the locals are called)

    Premier Icon fatmax
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    Daisy Duke – here you go!

    beka
    Member

    5 of us did it clockwise last year.
    3 long, tough days stopping in Ullapool & Thurso overnight.
    Stunning scenery, and we got lucky with the weather.
    To ‘enjoy’ the ride & the surroundings to full potential you need longer than 3 days though 🙂
    And remember its 520 odd miles, not 500!

    Premier Icon felltop
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    There’s work to be done to create a cycling version of the. North Coast 500. Mrs Felltop is in correspondence with them, and they seem to be receptive to ideas. I’ve noticed a real increase in the number touring / fast touring cyclists already this year (NW Highlands). Good to see!

    Premier Icon Andy
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    Scotroutes missed yiur reply – many thanks and yeah there was a guy called Onion who got in a lot of trouble for talking about that ferry crossing 😀

    Fingers crossed weather holds fir next 2-3 weeks!

    rents
    Member

    Me and a friend rode it last september and did it in 5 days light touring using youth hostels.
    It was a fantastic ride but very tough. We are thinking of doing it again this year but over 7 days.
    The roads are almost totally traffic free but roll very slowly due to the surface.

    Day 1 . Inverness to applecross
    day 2. Applecross to ullapool
    Day 3. ullapool to tongue
    day 4 Tongue to helmsdale
    Day 5. Helmsdale to Inverness

    550miles and LOTS of climbing :0)

    Premier Icon fatmax
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    Just seen the wee taster vid or the girls who did it in 36hrs non stop. So I’m further enthused!
    Any further advice from anyone? I’m thinking of this time next year. Would that avoid peak midge time on the west coast?
    F

    tang
    Member

    I’m riding with a couple of the women who did the 36 tomorrow, looking forward to hearing about it.

    Premier Icon fatmax
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    Hugely impressive feat, fair play to them!
    I’d like to stop for a couple of pints each night tho!

    Premier Icon scotroutes
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    fatmax wrote:

    Just seen the wee taster vid or the girls who did it in 36hrs non stop. So I’m further enthused!
    Any further advice from anyone? I’m thinking of this time next year. Would that avoid peak midge time on the west coast?
    F

    Surely you’ll be moving so fast the midge won’t keep up with you?

    Premier Icon fatmax
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    Not the speed that I climb!

    fraochmor
    Member

    I live on the west coast on the NC500 route and do a lot of cycling on these roads. This year, felltop and I are certain that there is more traffic on these roads; cars, cyclists and motor bikes. We have also had convoys of traffic, mostly 5-10 motorbikes or sports cars, but one recent convoy in support of Scottish independence was reported to be about 70 vehicles; I got stuck in it! So there are bound to be safety factors arising from the publicity of the NC500. Having said that, these roads are usually very quiet and safe and a pleasure to cycle, provided you like hills and don’t mind some wind and weather (it is completely gorgeous this week though!). You won’t find any NC500 signs but navigation is very easy, especially once you get beyond the network of minor roads out east between Tain, Inverness and Contin. A couple of pages from a road atlas will suffice to find your way beyond the minor network.

    There are some sections I would avoid as they are really not good for cycling (but then I am not used to urban cycling and traffic). I would use the more minor roads to get to get out of Inverness to Contin but then the A835 trunk road between Contin and Garve is very winding, up and down with poor sight lines and fast traffic including big lorries heading out west. I have never cycled it and wouldn’t want to. For those with chunky wheels, there are good forest roads north of the river and you can re-join the A road near Garve (OS map required or the local mountian biking map). The train or bike bus is an alternative. If you cycle it watch out for the level crossing at Garve and walk it as signed!! Same for the one south of Achnasheen at Balnacra – if you do cycle, weave to cross the rails at as close to 90deg as possible.

    The Bealach na Ba over to Applecross and around the coast to Sheildaig is fabulous (my favourite ride). Most drivers are kind to cyclists ascending long steep climbs. Over the Bealach climb, hold your ground (use the primary road position as I teach in Bikability) and try not to be intimidated by the occasional vehicle trying to bully you out of the way -it is very narrow and gets quite steep just before the first left bend on the head wall so you are anything like me, will be slow and wobbly and working hard – don’t let cars try to force past you – there isn’t room, but do use the passing places to let them pass – most are just long enough to let 2 cars past before you need to re-join the road! The descent to Applecross has some great fast sections but some blind bends as well. The cattle grid at the bottom is very smooth…’nuf said!! Be ready for the roller-coaster of a road as you head South East around the coast back to Sheildaig – great fun on empty roads but narrow with poor sight lines when the trees are in full leaf.

    I agree with the post above, the Inverpolidh road south of Lochinver is brilliant but perhaps they haven’t included it as it just wouldn’t take the traffic so I’m pleased it isn’t on the NC500. I will include it in a cyclists version though.

    Personally, I wouldn’t take the A9 trunk road back from Thurso/Wick to Inverness – I would cut cross country from Loch Hope, Tongue, Bettyhill or Melvich to join the A9 at Helmsdale or Lothbeg – some lovely quiet singletrack unclassified and B roads over the wild open flow country – not to be done into a strong southerly! (The A897 may take some Dounreay commuting traffic on Sunday evenings/Monday mornings and Friday afternoons).

    South of Brora, look at the map for detours to avoid the A9 if you want, but certainly use the minor road between Alness and Dingwall (and the cycle tack for chunkier bikes between Alness and Evanton) then train or the network of minor roads back to Inverness. There is also a cycle track which mostly runs next to the A835 after Dingwall and then the A9 to the Kessock bridge. The A9 would be a real anti-climax and quiet unpleasant here – I certainly wouldn’t cycle it!

    Keep an eye on the NC500 website – there may be more for cyclist posted soon….I’m hoping to work with Kenneth on this.

    Premier Icon scotroutes
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    fraochmor wrote:

    Keep an eye on the NC500 website – there may be more for cyclist posted soon….I’m hoping to work with Kenneth on this.

    Would you mind contacting me (email in profile)? Ta.

    Premier Icon YoKaiser
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    The Bealach na Ba over to Applecross and around the coast to Sheildaig is fabulous (my favourite ride).

    This was part of a recent mini tour and have to agree it was wonderful. The road back from Shieldaig to the bottom of the Bealach was very good too(and a nice café).

    fraochmor
    Member

    [/quote The road back from Shieldaig to the bottom of the Bealach was very good too(and a nice café). ]

    The Bealach Cafe – very nice indeed and the Whistlestop at Kinlochewe, seem to see lots of our ex-pupils working in these in the holidays! Walled Garden Cafe at Applecross isn’t to be missed to re-fule after the Bealach! On a light road bike, the whole Applecross circuit is just wonderful…when the weather is good and gives you the west coast light in the evening coming back to Sheildaig….

    Premier Icon YoKaiser
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    Returning from a Torridon mountain bike trip we stopped in at the Whistlestop, outside was a guy doing a bit of credit card touring which hatched the idea for the mini tour. It was very nice, both places run by nice folks too. Bealach refuelling was at the Inn 🙂 I’ll keep in mind the Walled Garden Café for next time.

    fraochmor
    Member

    So far, I have written two NC500 cycling blogs on the official NC500 web site; June 2016 giving road safety advice about level crossings and single track roads and August 2016 about the cycle shops and repair options on the route with some tips about the Bealach na Ba…and more to come! Hope this information will be useful to you! Please share to let it be more widely known that this information is out there and readily available to anyone thinking about cycling the NC500 or anywhere in the North Highlands.

    Premier Icon scotroutes
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    LOL – I was just about to post a link to your blog 🙂

    fraochmor
    Member

    Thanks Colin!! We must speak…

    Premier Icon fatmax
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    fraochmor – thanks for the long post and the promise of more cycling stuff on the website soon, sounds good.
    Anyone else been and cycled it this summer or planning a trip?

    dahedd
    Member

    Met a mate in Edinburgh last week. Not seen him in 5 years or so. Hh asked me if I fancied doing this with him next year. He’s always done heaps of road biking far more than he’s ever done on an mtb. I think he’s mad, I’ve never been into road biking. I’ve a sneaking desire to join him but I doubt my fitness levels.

    kev84
    Member

    I’d love to do this route too.
    Jimmy Mac did it in June, smashing the record, and raising a bunch of cash for charity. He’s shared a video of his trip at: https://vimeo.com/171766940

    flannol
    Member

    Jimmy’s time was legendary

    That was some accomplishment.

    Premier Icon fatmax
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    For anyone that’s done it, does this sound like an ok itinerary?
    Inverness-Torridon via Achnasheen, the Bealach and Applecross – 109m, 8600ft.
    Torridon-Inchnadamph Hotel via Gairloch and Dundonell – 108m, 7700ft
    Inchnadamph-Tongue via Kylesku and Durness – 100m, 9000ft
    Tongue-Helmsdale via Thurso and John o’Groats, 114m, 7000ft
    Helmsdale-Inverness via Glenmorangie Distillery and Dingwall, 73m, 3000ft.
    ?
    Any thoughts welcome.

    Premier Icon scotroutes
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    Early start from Inverness should see you fine. Make sure you have lights though.

    You’re missing the Wee Mad Road of Inverpolly. I’d much rather take that than the A835/A837 to Inchnadamph. Similarly there’s a route from The Mound, past Loch Buidhe to Bonar Bridge then climbing over the Struie to Alness that is much preferable to NCN7 from Tain (and don’t even think about the A9).

    If the Cromarty-Nigg ferry is running then that’s a good option too (just don’t ask what the locals are called).

    old donald
    Member

    Yep found it quite tough- did it the last week of September. The weather was pretty good
    INverness to applecross -82 miles – easy first 70 miles then the pass.
    Applecross to ullapool – 117 miles – long day
    Ullapool to Durness – 70 miles ( i cut the loop out round the coast 27 miles)
    Durness to JOG – 93 miles – easier the further east you go
    Jog to Golspie – 70 miles -OK but the wind!
    Golspie to inverness – 60 miles ok butthe wind – the A9 gets busy

    Took 5 and a half days – on a salsa fargo with panniers -should have travelled much lighter. the last two days were into a head wind all day – all day!!!

    Did I mention the wind ?

    Premier Icon fatmax
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    Thanks chaps. We are hopefully having a back up van (one of the lads missus) so will be travelling light and meeting up each lunchtime get full bottles, waterproofs etc.

    devs
    Member

    I go up and camp at Clachtoll in the van. This route has become such a magnet for car clubs and boy racers that I wouldn’t like to bike it now. Or I’d do it away from predictably busy times. It’s stunning though, I’ll be back fat biking around Assent with a fishing rod attached to my pack next year.

    Premier Icon fatmax
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    Thanks devs, we’re going 20-21 May next year, and so hopefully before it gets too mobbed.

    Premier Icon crazy-legs
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    I did a section of it in mid-September, had a route from Ullapool > Drumrunie > Inverkirkcraig > Lochinver and then picked up the NC500 where it goes round to Clashnessie and Drumbeg.

    That part was noticeably busier than the early section of the ride and had a couple of 3-car convoys, usually all one type of car. Little sports cars like MX-5s.

    When I turned off the route at Unapool and went down to Inchnadamph, the roads returned to peaceful solitude.

    And as others have mentioned, the A9 / A99 road on the east coast is absolutely dreadful to ride on. Far better off doing a variation on the route and going up (or down) the middle through Altnaharra. I’ve got a nice route from Thurso to JOG as well that avoids all the main road but still gives you amazing views over the coast.

    Premier Icon scotroutes
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    FWIW we’ve had quite a few customers on the NC500 this year and none have reported any issues with traffic. In fact, feedback this year is that drivers thoughout the Highlands and Islands are almost universally courteous and patient. That’s coming from some European riders too.

    kcr
    Member

    Great cycling roads up there, but I’d echo what others have said; don’t get too hung up on following the official route. You could miss out on some fantastic and very quiet alternatives.

    Premier Icon crazy-legs
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    FWIW we’ve had quite a few customers on the NC500 this year and none have reported any issues with traffic. In fact, feedback this year is that drivers thoughout the Highlands and Islands are almost universally courteous and patient. That’s coming from some European riders too.

    Oh they were – on some stretches of road round there you can’t be anything other than courteous and patient as there simply isn’t any space to get past!

    I’m a little bit wary of these advertised driving routes though. It brings some much needed income and tourism to some of the more remote areas certainly and that in turn means better facilities but eventually it leads to a tipping point where you end up with gridlocked traffic and roads that while they’re fine for 3 cars an hour can’t cope with 8 camper vans meeting head on!

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