by Andrea Latham
Intro: For our epic adventure we had decided to loosely follow the GCN route as ridden by Mark Beaumont and GCNs Simon Richardson. Our aim was to complete the 500 mile route in 9 days, averaging approximately 56 miles a day.
Day 1: Inverness to Lochcarron (65 Miles)
Leaving our B & B in Inverness at around 08:30 we stopped first at a local bakery for coffee and a pastry before starting our ride proper at 09:30. We then eased ourselves into our first day with several café stops along the way. The terrain was relatively flat and cycling reasonably easy. The scenery was picturesque but not stunning, that was still to come. We had decided to aim for Lochcarron where we found a small privately run campsite overlooking the beautiful Loch Carron. After pitching the tent we walked down in to the village of Lochcarron where we got a welcome hot evening meal in the Lochcarron Hotel.
Day 2: Lochcarron to Kinlochewe (60 Miles)
After stocking up with provisions at the Lochcarron store we set off on Day 2. A few short miles later and we were straight into Bealach-na-ba or Pass of Cattle. Rising to 2054ft from a sea level start, it is the 3rd highest road in Scotland and the longest climb in the uk. It comes with a fearsome reputation, not helped by several of the ramps on the last few hairpins near the top approaching 20%! On a carbon road bike it would be a tough climb, but on a fully laden touring bike it was interesting to say the least! All I can say is thank goodness for an 11- 46t mountain bike rear cassette! Great views all the way up eased the pain. The descent down to Applecross was magnificent! Even if when we arrived in Applecross it was… Closed for the day!
The mountains either side of the road as we cycled through Torridon were incredible!
We cycled on to Kinlochewe, where we were hoping to find a campsite. Unfortunately it too was closed, so upon the advice of a local we pitched our tent on a patch of grass on a small public carpark which had a toilet block. We were soon joined by others who had the same idea.
The Kinlochewe Hotel across the road was only taking prebookings for evening meals so we opted for one of our dehydrated expedition meals that we had brought with us. This proved tasty enough and allowed us to stick two fingers up to the Kinlochewe Hotel! lol
Day 3: Kinlochewe to Dundonnell (51 miles)
Kinlochewe’s service station, with its small pretty outdoor seating area, provided a proper breakfast which included porridge, coffee and filled hot rolls. Fuelled up we left Kinlochewe and started out on day 3 of our big adventure. Our destination for this evening was Dundonnell where we had heard if we got there early enough we could camp for £5 a night in front of the Hotel and for an additional £2.50 would able to get a shower with towels provided! Luxury!
Day 4: Dundonnell to Clachtoll (56 Miles)
Leaving Dundonnell , after bumping into Beth Crumpton, British Cyclocrosser, who was also doing the NC500 with her boyfriend, we headed for Ullapool and to take away Fish & chips on the pier from the famous Seaforth’s! Very tasty they were too. Whilst sitting and eating we got chatting to three luckless lads who were also doing the NC500, but from the sound of it had underestimated the enormity of the challenge and were on the point of quitting. Although they had an open ended plan, they had covered just 3 miles that day and were planning on staying at a campsite just another 3 miles up the road! They had also all managed to come to grief on a railway crossing and had spent the rest of that afternoon sorting out bend bikes! They seemed to take encouragement from our endeavours so I can only hope that we inspired them to continue.
The small single track road from Drumrunie to Lochinver which avoids the A835 is simply stunning and must not be missed. As the day closed we tried to phone ahead to the Clachtoll beach campsite, only to be told that it was fully booked. Undaunted we cycled on through Lochinver and once on the road to Clachtoll found a suitable spot to wild camp for the night.
Day 5: Clachtoll to Durness (53 Miles)
A few miles down the road from our overnight camp we were lucky to find Fossies Beach Store where we ate a welcome breakfast before setting off on our travels for the day. Destinataion Durness, where we booked into the Sango Sands Oasis Campsite for the night. The luxury of showers compared to the previous night allowed for washing and drying of kit.
Day 6: Durness to Melvich (57 Miles)
A misty start to the day soon cleared into glorious sunshine. Our first goal was to cycle to the small village of Tongue where we found a Post office/café and sat out on a picnic bench and enjoyed a coffee and a sandwich. The scenery of the North coast was notably different to the west coast, but never the less as stunning. Setting off after lunch we soon came upon a sign, posted on a fence presumably by an angry local, warning of a horrible death by being sucked down in to a bog should we proceed along this route!! Ever the one to try and maintain world peace we elected at this point to continue on the main road to Melvich, which as it turned out was still a very pleasant and picturesque route. We had pre booked North Coast Touring Park campsite at Melvich for the evening which turned out to be a good call.
Day 7: Melvich to Loch Brora (50 Miles)
Leaving Melvich at 10:00, after breakfast at the campsite, we took the very quiet and picturesque A897 south, favoured by Mark Beaumont. This branches again at Kinbrace onto the B871, which was surely the quietest and least travelled road of the whole journey. In places it is little more than a track with grass up the middle. No motorhomes here! The beauty of this route is that it misses a huge junk of the busy A9. Our intention for the day was to ride for about 58 miles, leaving two more days of just 50 miles, but when we spotted a beautiful place to wild camp on the secluded shores of Loch Brora we couldn’t resist cutting the day short in favour of peace and tranquillity!
Day 8: Loch Brora to Dingwall (60 Miles)
A lovely pleasant cycle on another quiet single track road from Loch Brora to Lairg where we stopped at the Pier tearoom for lunch before cycling on via the Falls of Shin to Dingwall. Here we stayed at the well appointed Caravan & Camping Club site and had another hot shower!
Day 9: Dingwall to Inverness (51 Miles)
Leaving Dingwall it was clear we’d had the best of the weather, having rained heavily during the night. As we headed for the Black Isle it was cold and overcast. Fortunately the wind was with us and we made good pace to Cromarty where we stopped at a small bakery for Lunch. From Cromarty we knew it was going to be into a strong headwind as we cycled back down the other side of the peninsula, eventually getting into Inverness, and the B & B we had left 9 days previously at a very civilised 5:00 pm.
A hot shower, a lie on a comfy bed and a walk into town for a hot meal while reflecting on on an awesome epic adventure in the stunning Highlands of Scotland!
Another successful bike packing mission accomplished.