…Now back on the mainland I headed up to Strathcarron where I would actually join the North Coast 500 route and head west and snake my way up the incredibly impressive Applecross pass. From east to west you start with a very picturesque view of the countryside and mountains as you slowly wind up the single track round approaching the mountains on the applecross pass. I was very lucky that the weather was perfect with blue skies and sunshine giving me an awesome view over Loch Kishorn and the islands even seeing right over to Plockton in the distance. Bealach na Ba is the Scotish Gaelic name for the applecross pass which means Pass of the Cattle, and snakes its way up to 2054ft and is the third highest road in Scotland. If you are lucky and find the single track road quiet you can have a lot of fun working your way up, if it is busy there are the usual passing points every 100 yards. Once at the top you will come to Bealach na Ba Viewpoint which again offers some great 360 views of the countryside and its earie piles of rocks before you ascend quickly down to the quaint little town of applecross itself.
After a nights stay in Applecross I took a very leisurely ride 120 miles north to my next stop, the surprisingly bustling harbour town, Ullapool. This leg was the wettest part of the whole trip, so far I had been VERY lucky with the weather only seeing a few showers here and there. After riding in torrential rain for about an hour I was soaked to the bone and my soft panniers had leaked so all my dry kit was wet (good tip, black bag your clothes inside your panniers!) As I came down the coast towards Ullapool I was greeted by a huge ferries and tall ships in the harbour which was quite a site considering the backdrop. I managed to find a good campsite in town right next to the sea called Broomfield Holiday Park which I was relieved to find had tumble dryers, and then ventured around the town while it was dry, successfully finding a good pub with food ale and a selection of bikers to converse with. In the morning I was pleased to see the weather had turned back to clear skies for the final push north to Durness.
After my soaking the day before and maybe having a few too many beers, I decided on a short leg of only 70 miles up to Durness. Durness is quite remote there is a main campsite (yes there is a bar next door) a shop and a petrol station. unfortunately I needed petrol and there had been no delivery, so that was going to be interesting the next morning. Make sure you take a wonder down to smoo cave which is a popular place to visit in the area. It is a sea cave with good access from the cliff and is joined internally buy fresh water caves and a large waterfall, if the weather has been good, in the summer months tours are run by boat through the cave system. unfortunately it had been raining quite heavily so no tours were running but is a good reason to have another visit.
I set off in the morning from Durness in the sun heading for Dunnet Head and John O’Groats. Firstly my tank was very nearly empty and due to the lack of fuel in Durness had to take it very easy the 30 miles to the next petrol station in Tongue. If you do stop here for fuel make sure you pick up an I Love Tongue sticker, because, well why not. I then continued right the way along the north coast of Scotland until I reached Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of mainland Great Britain, you can be sure of some fantastic views when the weather is nice, which again I was lucky enough that it was. You have the Dunnet head light house looking out over the cliffs towards the Shetland Islands and just a short walk up the hill you have a lookout point with 360 degree views right over the north east corner of Scotland. After a while taking in the views here and fending off the midges I headed to my final point before I had no choice but to start heading towards home, John O’Groats.
It is a very short ride from Dunnet to John O’Groats but very satisfying parking next to the famous sign post and taking a few pictures and watching people arrive with just as much excitement as you. John O’Groats is 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. There is not a great deal in John O’Groats mainly the famous sign post, hotel, and ferry port, so after a bite to eat and a look in the souvenir shop it was time to start the journey south.
The East coast of Scotland is a great deal different from the west coast, its reasonably flat as you wind down the east coast with the North Sea on your left. I got down about 17 miles to Wick when disaster struck……..
I reached a crossroads turning left, there was a car in front of me that was also turning left, the car set off as the crossroads were clear I had a look to make sure there were no vehicles coming and set off to follow the car into the junction, as I gave a final look to the right I didn’t see the car in front had slammed on its brakes and came to a stop. The next thing I know I’m laying on the ground next to my bike with what felt like my balls pushed back inside my pelvis and pains in my back. Surprisingly, the bike wasn’t in that bad a way I had only cracked the front mud guard and thanks to the soft panniers the rest of the bike hadn’t even touched the tarmac. The car didn’t even have a scratch on it and they made sure I didn’t need an ambulance and then left. I had definitely come off a lot worse than the bike as my back was killing me, I dusted myself off and got back on the bike to continue the return journey. I had 103 miles to Inverness where I would officially finish the NC500 which needed to be achieved, it was pretty hard going with my back absolutely killing me, I took it nice and steady and reached Inverness in about 3 hours.
I tried to find a hotel where I could get a room and have a hot bath and a soft bed to easy my bruised muscles and get a good nights sleep but there was 2 music festivals on in Inverness and everywhere was full and had to go to 2 campsites until I could find one that had some room for me. so I had a very uncomfortable night camping once again. luckily the campsite was just up the road from a motorcycle dealers which after explaining what had happened didn’t mind checking the bike over to make sure it was road worthy to get me home.
BUT.. I had done it I had completed the NC500 loop, plus added some amazing places to the start of it on the west coast of Scotland. Now it truly was the return journey, I headed south through the Cairngorms National Park and a quick stop in Edinburgh to see the bustling crowds of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Then all that was left was the 210 mile leg back to Lancashire.
The NC500 does truly give you an in site into a little of everything Scotland has to offer from bustling cities to rocky mountain passes. It definitely has some of the most beautiful scenery that I have ever seen and there is something about being in this environment that makes you feel very humble.
I have noticed I’ve avoided mentioning the very hungry wildlife that you will no doubt come across just about everywhere in Scotland, the midges. These little sods will eat you alive especially in the summer months which is probably when you are going to want to travel around Scotland, and to be honest, there is not a lot you can do about them. whenever I stopped I would just leave my helmet on and make sure I had my snood up around my neck, you do kind of get used to them though and they wont ruin the trip that is the North Coast 500. To be honest neither did crashing which says a lot about the scenery and roads throughout Scotland.
Below is the route that was taken, all 1303.5 miles with the highest point being reached at 2014ft which was on the Applecross Pass.