The Ultimate Cycling Road Trip
Ben Eige Nature Reserve near Torridon
In June 2002 I led a group of keen cyclists up the West Coast of Scotland from Mallaig to Lochinver. This 4 day Ride in late May was fabulous. We were blessed with dry and mainly sunny weather with snow still on the tops, creating endless beautiful scenes of mountains, glens, lochs, islands and beaches. 18 years later, some of these now experienced riders still regard this cycle tour as the ultimate road trip in Europe. Indeed, it has been listed as one of the top 10 scenic road routes in the world! All that is missing is reliable weather. When it wet and overcast, yes, it can be miserable. But that’s the chance you take and it’s a chance worth taking. You can increase the odds of success by planning a trip in May, early June or early/mid September when the chance of clear skies increases and of rain reduces. Also, you avoid the midges which are massively prevalent in July and August and the relatively heavy holiday traffic.
The West Coast is the highlight of the official Scottish North Coast 500 (SNC500). In contrast, the East Coast is nowhere near as scenic and the main A9 coming South is relatively busy. However, I agree that for purists the official route may be the ride to do.
If this Blog was just about the official route then it’s not worth a read- you may as well go to the many of the existing web sites, including the above. My suggested route takes in more of the fabulous West Coast, avoids the East Coast and returns via an alternate route back to Inverness through the wild northern interior. This route can be viewed on both Ordnance Survey and Strava, and for detail I definitely prefer Ordnance Survey.
You leave Inverness following the Great Glen which of course features Loch Ness
You reach the West Coast at the stunning Lochalsh which features the famous and beautiful Five Sisters of Kintail (sorry, but they're mountains!), the epitome of the West Highland scene and the Castle of Eilean Donan – one of the great Highland landmarks (and often featured on TV)
Because the circular route is a little short of 500 miles, you can add excursions. This first one is to Rattigan from which there is the best view of the Five Sisters and the loch. Some would say this is the most beautiful view in NW Scotland.
The key town of Kyle of Lochalsh, gateway to the isle of Skye which you can access from the relatively new bridge.
The village of Plockton, one of the prettiest of fishing villages on the West Coast.
The shores of Lochcarron after which we join the official route.
Cycling along the shores of Loch Maree; Descending towards Little Loch Broom; Remote cottage on Loch Torridon
More photos of this extraordinary ride can be found here.
From here, highlights of both routes along the coast include:-
- The sensational climb through the red sandstone Applecross Mountains over the Bealach Na Ba pass at 2100ft -the highest tarmacked road pass in Scotland with views of the Cuillins on the Isle of Skye from the top.
- After a steep descent, the pretty coastal village of Applecross with its famous inn.
-The Applecross peninsular provides grand views of Skye and the Inner Hebrides
- Next is the most beautiful of all sea lochs -Torridon, surrounded by the majestic Torridean mountains and featuring the majestic Loch Torridon Hotel -a converted castle.
- The 12 mile long Loch Maree, regarded as the loveliest freshwater loch in Scotland, across which there are uninterrupted views of the Great Wilderness, 300 sq miles with only one habitation.
- The small town of Gairloch and its bay where dolphins may be seen, and then onto to Loch Ewe and Inverewe Gardens, which are home to a profusion of tropical plants and trees, as a result of the influences of the Gulf Stream.
- Gruinard Bay, with one of the most beautiful untouched and remote sandy beaches, a cycle climb to the northern edge of the Great Wilderness, a view of high ravine waterfalls, and a final run down along Loch Broom to Ullapool – the 'white village' of the Far North
7. From Ullapool, my NS500 now diverges from the SNC500 route to take the ‘Wee
Mad Road’ to Lochinver, which is actually the coastal route. It passes the iconic mountain Stac Pollaidh (affectionately known as Stack Polly), a possible excursion to a beautiful beach at Achnahaird, and to Achtilbuie , the jumping off point to the Summer Isles. You also see another iconic isolated mountain Suilven from the optimum viewing point. This alternative , and in my opinion far better route is also described in this web site https://coigach.com/see-and-do/north-coast-500/7.
8. At the far NW corner of Sutherland, the SNC500 omits the single track road to Cape Wrath, the most NW and wildest point of mainland Scotland. This should be included as an essential excursion.
9. The flat North East and towns of Thurso and Wick are avoided as is the tourist site of John O’Groats and also the busy A9 down the East Coast.
10. There is an option of 3 routes from the North Coast to Lairg
11. NS500 has a similar elevation gain to the official SNC500.
Subject to being practical, the plan is for a recce to be carried out in September, with the objective of designing a 7 to 8 day ride in May/June 2021 with 3* or 4* hotels en route averaging 60 to 70 miles per day.
If you are interested in either the recce in whole or in part or the actual event in 2021 please contact me to discuss. You can phone me on 07770 647319 or write to me at email@example.com.