Disclaimer : Having completed the Wild Atlantic Way in under a week I thought a reasonable time period to complete the North Coast 500 would be two days. However you will notice that this ride report actually covers four days – so what’s that about? Well it’s simply about travel. One day to get to the start and one day takes me home. So really it’s a four day trip to Scotland, during which I completed the NC500 in two.
Download the NC500 GPS File Here : http://www.tbni.blog/downloads/North-Coast-500.gpx
Day 2 : 30/07/2016 : Inverness – Scourie : Day 2 of the trip is actually Day 1 of the NC500 route and after the glorious day we had travelling over to Scotland I was so very hopeful for more of the same for the start of the actual NC500. However it was not to be. As any resident, or visitor, with experience of the United Kingdom, Ireland, British Isles, outlying islands will be all to aware – the weather is changeable – and it had changed. What was blue skies, fluffy white clouds and sunshine had been replaced by grey – and to make things that little bit worse all that grey was now wet – wet and grey.
We started off with the easy choice for breakfast – a nearby Morrison’s Supermarket for a fry. The grub was decent, but the tea was horrible. I blame the UHT milk, for goodness sake – surely a supermarket should be able to stretch to proper fresh milk for the tea? It took ages for the food as well which meant we weren’t getting on the road until just after 10:00 am. This late start would bite us later, so if you are planning on following a similar timescale get moving earlier. This is a pretty long day.
On leaving Inverness it was raining, this rain would actually continue on and off for most of the day- when it was off it was never too far away from being back on again! It was never overly bad, it certainly wasn’t torrential and my trusty BMW trousers preformed flawlessly as I have now come to expect. At the time I was wearing a Spada Camo motorcycle jacket and it did pretty well too and kept me dry all day. It does have a short style to it so not great for keeping the waist area perfectly dry but at it’s price point it is impossible to fault. I had opted for a pair of waterproof Magnum boots. I liked Magnums for their comfort factor, especially when off the bike. However they certainly weren’t waterproof. The left boot was the first to fail and I put that down to the angles and amount of road spray it gets when changing through the gears. The right boot failed as well – so that was me with two wet feet – not pleasant. (I have since upgraded my boots to Forma Adventure boots. They are water tight, as comfortable as trainers and have so much more protection than even reinforced Magnums.
It wasn’t too far into the day that we missed a turn, and took an accidental detour for about 30 miles along what I believe was the A835 which took us alongside Loch Glancarnoch. If you are into fast sections of road you really should factor this into your route. It was only after travelling along this road for many miles that I looked down at the sat nav and seen the U-Turn symbol and 30 miles. So after 60 miles in total we got back onto our proper NC500 route which continues along the A832 road. But hey ho it was certainly an enjoyable 60 mile stretch along the Loch and even with the grey back drop it certainly was very scenic.
From the late breakfast, then the wrong turn to getting back on track we were now even more behind schedule, but schedules are only a guide. The problem is when this guide is trying to get you to your night’s accommodation at a reasonable hour. We were under a little pressure time wise now and that meant that lunch was a flyer.
A filling station lunch of sandwiches and crisps eaten off the top of the top box. If you find yourself behind schedule this is some good advice – Have a top box lunch. You wont want to stop for long, because as you take the opportunity to eat your sandwiches the local midges will take the opportunity to eat you! It was crazy, it was almost instant. As soon as we stopped and took the lids off they were feasting on any piece of exposed skin. Horrible. So eat and run and there you go you have saved a little time.
The route takes you past this hotel though – this is where the plan was to eat – it didn’t happen, but it has parking right outside, gets good reviews and welcomes everyone – especially bikers :
Good views from those windows too :
The next stage of this leg of the trip was the ride up Applecross to Bealach Na Ba. This road takes you up 2053 ft above sea level, and whilst the low cloud and greyness can add a little atmosphere to photographs at lower levels the further up you go the lower the visibility gets until it is effectively nil.
That makes this road a little challenging. Then add a real life problem to this ascent – no Pinlock.
Somehow a short distance into the Applecross section I lost one of the pins of my Pinlock. That meant the Pinlock wouldn’t stay in place on the visor and I had no option other than to remove it. So now I have no Pinlock, the weather is so wet it is just like riding through a wall of water vapour miles deep – the result is a visor that I simply can not see through. The only option I had was to lift the visor and ride on with no face protection. To say it was uncomfortable would be an understatement – but we are made of harder stuff that being beaten by having no visor – so it was time to tighten up and ride on.
Having reached the top to Bealach Na Ba, a mere 2053 ft into the sky the view was spectacularly grey. A quick Google search shows what this view point reveals on a clear day… (or at least a more clear day)
Add a bit of snow to the equation and it gets truly spectacular…
So that’s the view we had – if it had have been coloured in – grey!
Pretty special eh?
This improved somewhat when we came back down the other side and colour appeared again back into the landscape.
From the Applecross path the next scheduled stop was Ullapool – although still wet the scenery was amazing. The ruggedness of the West Coast of Scotland was really showing itself, the biggest problem I had now was wanting to stop too much, every corner opens up another view and with the scale of the landscape every new view was so different and worthy of a photograph, there are mountain peaks, Lochs, rivers, twisty roads and beaches all to take in and enjoy – pace yourself because it is still a long ride to Scourie so keep moving, take it in, enjoy it, set up the GoPro and enjoy the ride.
Ullapool for dinner and we stopped at the ‘Ferryboat Inn’ for a burger and chips. The grub was really tasty, the bar itself was brilliant. Small but full of character. The pub was one room that would seat about 20, a proper village pub and well worth stopping into. Seems to be popular with the bikers too and there was a line of bikes parked outside. We were treated to a rainbow falling into the water outside our window whilst we had a dinner – an epic view made that little bit more special…
Having only stopped in Ullapool briefly I now fully understand why this acts as a base camp for so many bikes exploring the Scottish Highlands. It really is a cracking village and I look forward to returning.
From Ullapool the final leg of the day’s journey was to Scourie. This section of the North Coast 500 was very rural (as you should expect) – for the BMW it raised no problems, but was pretty technical for the Kwak – it clearly wasn’t made for the single track road game – but fair play to bike and rider, both made it to Scourie – the bike unscathed, the rider sore as hell. That’s one of the benefits of a mic and Comms set you hear every element of pain and struggle your mate is going through – it makes you even more grateful to be sitting on what then seems like a throne of a BMW F800GS Adventure.
One particular point of this section still makes me chuckle, we came to a sign post that said something like ‘Scourie 7 miles’ pointing us to the right however the NC500 actually takes us left for about 30 miles. I think at that point I actually heard a human mind break.
Although it’s the final stage of the day (and if you followed this two day plan it will have been a long day) – don’t neglect it! There is still some amazing scenery to be seen and good rural roads to enjoy. The Scottish scenery just keeps giving so even if you are struggling a bit keep the head up and the eyes open, when you get to Scourie and get your feet up and a nice cup of tea you will look back on the day and any pain in your wrists or back will all be irrelevant.
We arrived at the B&B at about 9:00 pm – that’s a bit late to sit down relax, chill out and just unwind – so an earlier start would have been really beneficial with the end time considered, but that’s the hand we were dealt. The accommodation was the ‘Scourie Guest House’. clean, tidy with a 19″ TV and WiFi – the room was very wooden but the kicker was the fresh home made shortbread – absolutely delicious.
After a bit of photo backing up and a good brew it was time for some kip – tomorrow was another 250 ish miles according to the schedule and the completion of the NC500 in 2 days.
The room had a sky light which when opened let you listen to the weather outside. Magic.
The Scottish West Coast is simply beautiful even though I have no idea what the view from Applecross is actually like!