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A Scottish Love Affair: Cycling the North Coast 500

by Cheryl Fox on September 13, 2020
What an epic adventure!
Cycling 505miles, 10000m elevation, 39.5hrs moving time over 6 days with a 12.5mph average speed.
Day 1 Dingwall (just outside Inverness) to Sheildaig: 90miles, 2000m including the infamous Applecross / Bealach na Bà pass (pass of cattle in Gaelic). It has the steepest ascent of any road in the UK starting from sea level and rising to 2,054 feet (626 meters). It’s 5miles (9km) long with hairpin bends and gradients that approach 20%. It’s a single track road to has to be shared with car/ motorbikes travelling up and down which is hard when it’s windy and you’re being buffeted around on the road. At one stage I had 3 Ferrari’s behind me!
Applecross Pass
At the top
Day 2 Sheildaig to Ullapool: 95miles, 2000
Day 3 Ullapool to Rhiconich: 75miles, 2100m. We did the detour around the coastal road to Lochinever which I highly recommend.
Day 4 Rhiconich to Thurso: 88miles, 2000m
Day 5 Thurso to Brora: 83miles, 1500m. This was a tough day because the head wind was relentless. It was push all day even standing up to cycle down hill sometimes, every pedal stroke counted!
Day 6 Brora to Dingwall via Inverness Castle (closed due to work on it to make it a tourist destination): 72miles, 773m.
When Clare mentioned cycling in Scotland and would I want to go I suggested the NorthCoast 500 route. I had little time to prepare though. I had been bike touring before (in fact I have even done Lands End to John O’Groats but that was 25yrs ago) but everything has changed so much in terms of kit and technology. I had previously toured with panniers on a mountain bike. I no longer own a mountain bike so was looking to tour with my racer which I had bought on FaceBook Marketplace for £200 and currently resided on the indoor turbo trainer. Due to Covid it was impossible to buy a new bike (in an ideal world I would have liked a gravel/ cyclocross bike but a road bike was absolutely fine) or in fact any cycling accessory such as bike packs. Luckily a friend at work kindly let me his bike packs. They were the best- made by Apidura. I took a front pack, a saddle pack and a frame pack. Packing was easy- I always like to travel in a minimalist fashion. This was new to Clare and it was fair to say next time she may go lighter! Ha ha!
For those that are interested here is a Kit List:
Tent (Nordisk Halland 2 LW) shared between 2, sleeping bag, Thermarest sleeping mat, one set of cycling clothes (shorts, jersey, t-shirt, thermal), rain coat, windproof, 2 pairs of socks, gloves, buff, down jacket, 1 clean top for camping, cotton shorts to sleep in, sliders, toothbrush/ paste, midge repellant (although the wind did a great job at keeping them at bay), phone charger, LedLenser headlamp, bike tool kit, electrical tape, camping stove, plastic mug, metal bowl and spoon.
We tried to aim for a coffee shop mid morning most days but this wasn’t always possible because of Covid shut shops. Another essential was the regular application of chamois (premax) cream!
Wild camping every night was not a problem. Taking 10mins or so to find the perfect spot.
What was harder was to find food. On the first day I suggested whilst the weather was good and we were fresh (well ish…..after cycling up the Applecross pass) we cycle on a bit further as Applecross was due to be our end destination that day. On arriving in Sheildaig the restaurant was full booked and could not even accommodate takeaway requests. The shop shut at 5. We were left to eat the bag of peanuts for supper! After that we carried a lot more food and an emergency evening meal which we needed on day 3. We ate a lot fo fish suppers (as the Scots call fish ‘n’ chips).
The food I carried included coffee, peanuts, energy bar selection from Komfuel, noodles/ sauce (emergency evening meal) and 32Gi Race Pro energy drink powder.
The views were outstanding- in the cloud, sun or rain. It was a different scene every day. Truly breathtaking.
Get out there and enjoy it! 
by Jo Meek: 13th September 2020