Our first foray into cycling was John O’Groats to Lands End. Approaching 30, slightly older, much stiffer, more injured (and not quite patient for golf), we picked our bikes back up. The bikes are newer and yes, a bit more expensive. There is a plentiful amount of other kit required too.
These now highly sophisticated bikes (not machines – unfortunately) make life much easier than a non-cyclist understands. That said the North Coast 500, a route starting in Inverness, heading clockwise round the Scottish Highlands and ending in Inverness was a challenge with the extreme terrain and cumulative fatigue…. As the name suggests the route is 500 miles. We did it in five days carrying our possessions on our bikes.
Here’s a bit about our experience.
We elected to travel unsupported, we knew this was going to add to the challenge, but probably hadn't anticipated actually packing up our kit being such a testing, daily chore. Mainly not up to the task, we sent kit home on day two. For anyone taking this challenge on, travel as light as possible or better still, have a support car carry it.
We were in awe of the outstanding natural beauty throughout. I remember thinking, it might take a while to get out there, but this wasn’t the standard boring route out to Surrey from London. The NC500 has become increasingly popular, perhaps driven by COVID travel constraints or just some better coverage. We saw a video on YouTube and thought, why not.
Some posts on Instagram story prompted dismay to my fans/followers that it was in fact Scotland. There are so many places to stop and admire, but then again we had to make it to our accommodation for the evening. Motorcyclists were most common tourists we saw, (that was after we heard their rather off-putting vroom vroom behind us). In many instances, I wished my bicycle had an engine too.
The Applecross climb was the standout ascent across the whole trip. It was also on the first day. A total of 625 metres climbing, but it seemed to go on forever. It has recently been featured in Amazon’s Grand Tour. Not quite the French Alps, but a significant climb for the UK.
I couldn’t believe how rural it was. We could go for hours without seeing a person or a shop. On the first day we ran out of water which could have been nasty, but we were rescued by some friendly Scots doing maintenance works. NB - always carry more water than you think.
From a nutrition perspective, it was necessary to graze all day, every hour. It would involve a bar, some fruit or if we were lucky, something hot. We were fully stocked on GRAB bars and rationed ourselves sparingly throughout. If there was a chance to buy some fuel we would, but GRAB bars were our insurance policy. Food, water and scenery were the three main considerations.
Somehow, the weather was sunny every day. It was the last week of June and first week of July. Our Scottish hosts were just as surprised as us. Perhaps more importantly for Max and I, we didn’t have any mechanical problems. We continue to be deficient in this area.
The beers in the evening were fantastic. The hot meals also provided vivid taste after burning over five thousand calories a day.
This trip comes highly recommended to enthusiastic cyclists. Pack light and make sure you are stocked up on GRAB bars.
Day one – Inverness to Torridon – 183.6 km
Day two – Torridon to Ullapool – 138km
Day three – Ullapool to Tongue – 192 km
Day four – Tongue to Lybster – 150km
Day five – Lybster to Inverness – 150km