North Coast 500.
Sunday 5th September to 11th September 2021
What does the ride involve?
FULLY SUPPORTED ROAD CYCLING TOUR
Grade: Hard/Very Hard
515 miles (834km) in 5 days
Prices start from £950pp based on sharing a twin room, with breakfast and evening meal included in this package, with an additional supplement for anyone that requires a room to themselves.
Cycling almost 520 miles around the Scottish coastline in five days is a tough ride. The total ascent is the equivalent of cycling to Camp 3 on Mount Everest, twice and we haven’t even mentioned the wind, it’s almost guaranteed to blow and as we are navigating the coastline at some point it will be in your face. Yet this tour is perfect for the sportive rider, looking to test him or herself on some of the most challenging and spectacular scenery that the United Kingdom has to offer.
Rolling out from Inverness overlooking the Castle on the first morning of the tour
Spectacular scenery of Strathconon Forest
Gazing at the Isle of Skye from Shieldaig
The amazing climb up the Bealach na Ba
The beautiful smell of the sea at Applecross
The stunning view of Upper Loch Torridon from Badan Mhugaidh viewpoint
Counting the species of whales and dolphins seen by whale watchers close to Gairloch
The amazing ride from Rhiconich to Durness
Sighting the Atlantic Ocean at Bettyhill
Looking for a hen harrier in Strath Halladale
The final celebration in Inverness
Inverness to Shieldiag Approx. 108 miles 7229ft
Kickstart your tour with a wholesome Highland breakfast before you make your way along the North Coast 500! You will follow the route through the villages of Beauly, Muir of Ord and Contin. Beauly French beau lieu, meaning 'beautiful place' is a town in the Kilmorack Parish of the Scottish County of Inverness, on the River Beauly. The land around Beauly is fertile - historically corn was grown extensively and more recently fruit has successfully been farmed. The town historically traded in coal, timber, lime, grain and fish.
Muir of Ord Glen Ord Distillery (Muir of Ord) is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland. Local folk have been making whisky here in Muir of Ord for hundreds of years, but it was Thomas Mackenzie of Ord who founded a legal distillery in 1838 to create local jobs and provide a ready market for local grain. For generations Glen Ord was a secret delight among those who know its charm and because it is so sought after all of the Singleton of Glen Ord is exported to South East Asia.
Glen Ord is firmly rooted in the Black Isle sourcing its barley from local farmers and using the waters of heaven and earth from two local lochs situated two miles from the distillery to produce its renowned whisky.
As we leave Muir of Ord we will pass the famous fish ladder at Rogie Falls, onwards through Garve and Lochluichart whilst passing the diminutive railway station at Achanalt and continuing along the A832 to Achnasheen. At Achnasheen we turn left onto the A890 and ascend alongside Loch Gowan with spectacular views of Ledgowan Forest away to our right. We will now be riding alongside Loch Dughaill with stunning views of Achnashellach Forest to our left.
The Bealach Na Ba, which is Gaelic for Pass of the Cattle, this road was built in 1822. The original road was rough gravel and very difficult to clear in winter, meaning it could be blocked for weeks on end. In 1950 it was asphalted. The road has gradients of 1 in 5 and includes hairpin bends. It’s not advised for learner drivers, very large vehicles or caravans after the first mile.
Perhaps the closest to an Alpine pass it boasts the greatest ascent of any road climb in the UK, rising from sea level at Applecross to 626 metres (2,054 ft). Boasting an average gradient of seven per cent, the fierce road kicks up too much more than that with some of the steepest sections close to the summit
The route demands 100% concentration. This road has humbled many egos. It’s not for the sissies and shouldn’t be attempted by novice drivers. It's similar to the great mountain passes in the Alps, with very tight hairpin bends which switch back and forth up the hillside, with gradients approaching 20%.
It is recommended that beginner riders and those who don't know how to reverse avoid this road. The road is so narrow that there are several ‘passing places’. It means they are places when to stop when a vehicle comes from the opposite direction. The road is dangerous because: very narrow, sharp bends, steep gradients and lacks places to pass. The ‘UK’s toughest climb’ goes against the grain of many of the other British climbs, in that it is fearsome both in length and gradient.
Between the mainland mountain masses and the Island of Skye lies the Applecross Peninsula
Home to just a couple of hundred people, and accessed by only two roads, the Bealach pass road from the south and the coast road from the North, this is a haven from the noise and clutter of modern life. Applecross is the name for the whole peninsula and the community is made up of the various crofting townships from North to south namely; Ardheslaig, Kenmore, Fearnabeag, Fearnamor, Cuaig, Lonbain, Applecross Bay and Shore St, Milltown, Camusteil, Camusterrach, Culduie, Ard Dubh & Toscaig. The Gaelic name for the area, ‘a Chomraich’, means ‘The Sanctuary’.
It’s not the easiest place to get to but you’ll never forget the journey or the time you spend here, however brief, before heading towards Shieldaig, where day 1 concludes.
Shieldaig is a picturesque fishing village, on a sea loch, with stunning and dramatic Mountain / Sea views. For many this is the ‘real’ Highlands, accessible only on single-track roads; close to Torridon and Applecross. Time takes on a different meaning here and the weather can dictate what happens when,
but that’s part of the charm. Red deer, otters, seals, red squirrels, pine marten, sea-eagles and dolphins are all regularly seen in Shieldaig along with a myriad of other flora & fauna. Great walks in and around the area. We have a number of outdoor activities/providers
Shieldaig to Ullapool Approx 92 miles
Leaving Shieldaig we have some more short sharp ascents and descents, whilst the route gives some exceptional views of Torridon, a tiny village on the shore of Upper Loch Torridon. Leaving Torridon we will be cycling through Glen Torridon along the southern front of Liathach one of the most imposing mountains in all of Britain, eventually we will reach the village of Kinlochewe itself dominated by Beinn Eighe the largest mountain of the Torridon Peaks. Leaving Kinlochewe we head alongside Loch Maree before turning to the north-west to eventually arrive in Gairloch. Perhaps a little tired but undoubtedly excited and inspired by what we have seen and achieved during a superb day on the bike.
Ullapool to Durness Approx 94 miles
Today is the hilliest day of our tour of the northern coastline of Scotland, with 11,365 feet of Scottish climbing in prospect a good breakfast is essential. As we leave Lochinver we turn northwest once again, cycling alongside the coastline on the B869. The landscape is notable for its numerous small limestone lochs, many un-fished for years and holding the wildest of wild trout.
By now you will be in the familiar routine of short sharp ascents and similar descents. As you cycle through Drumbeg and Nedd look out for the striking Y-shaped Quinag which dominates the landscape.
Near Ullapool we will be leaving the B869 and taking the A894 once again heading northwest cycling over the curved bridge at Kylesku which traverses Loch a Chairn Bhain and heading to Scourie once a stronghold of the Clan Mackay and now situated in the very heart of the North West Highlands Geopark.
The final miles of this memorable adventure take us through Laxford Bridge past the entrance to Ardmore Activity Centre home to British adventurer John Ridgway MBE, who in 1966, in company with Chay Blyth rowed across the North Atlantic in 92 days in an open dory called English Rose III. From Ardmore we continue to Durness, our home for the night.
Durness to John O’Groats
From Durness we hug the coastline cycling southwest alongside Loch Eriboll before turning back north and then west to cross the Kyle of Tongue and pushing onwards for a cup of tea with our friends at the excellent Bettyhill Hotel. The terrain stays hilly for a few more miles before we eventually reach Reay. Just beyond is the unmistakeable sight of the white golf ball shape of the fast breeder nuclear reactor at Dounreay. This former nuclear power station is now being decommissioned but, in its day, it was at the centre of the ‘white heat of the British technical revolution’. Dounreay marks the start of flatter cycling, and today’s hard work has been done, all the way to John O’ Groats a is our home for the night. However, if your legs are up to it, why not cycle to nearby Dunnet Head, the most northerly point on the island of Britain. John O' Groats (Scottish Gaelic: Taigh Iain Ghròt) is a village 2.5 miles (4 km) NE of the village of Canisbay, Caithness, in the far north of Scotland. John o' Groats lies on Great Britain's north-eastern tip, and is popular with tourists as one end of the longest distance between two inhabited British points on the mainland, with Land's End in Cornwall lying 876 miles (1,410 km) to the southwest. It is not the most northerly point on the island of Britain (nearby Dunnet Head is further north).
John o' Groats is 690 miles (1,110 km) from London, 280 miles (450 km) from Edinburgh, 6 miles (9.7 km) from the Orkney Isles and 2,200 miles (3,500 km) from the North Pole. It is 4.25 miles (6.84 km) from the uninhabited island of Stroma.
John O’Groats to Inverness Approx 129 miles
The final day and the longest leg of the journey sees us hugging the coastline along the A9, passing through Wick, Lybster, Dunbeath, Bora, Golspie, where we will break for lunch.
Following lunch, we continue towards where the tour began back to Inverness, where the journey ends with the splendour of Inverness Castle a welcome sight.
Having cycled nearly 520 miles in 5 days, a few pints of beer or glasses of Prosecco are called for to unwind during your last nights stay in Scotland.
From £950 based on two people sharing a room.
Single supplements apply (approx £150).