North Coast 500 XL

Me and a buddy bikepacked the NC500 last week, He’s written a short write up for the club FB page & I’ve shamelessly copied it here as I’m lazy :grin:.

No races or events in 2020 so a DIY NC500 Cycling Challenges looked perfect…

Day 1 - Inverness/Loch Ness to Applecross - 110 Miles, Elevation 5,449ft


Basically a Coast to Coast ride, Wind on our back, open roads, sun shinning… The grumpy B & B in Inverness all forgotten haha. Pretty much nice rolling roads with a great cafe stop (Tarvies cafe & coffee shop) best coffee and breakfast butty we had, and a little cake… check it out on the A835, 22miles from Inverness

Then is was just a case of ticking over the cadence and enjoy the awesome scenery and weather until we hit ‘Balach na ba’, 9.1k uphill, 20% inclines that go on for ever, 626mtrs above sea level, probably the toughest climb in the UK… and with panniers and camping gear… then add 32degrees heat… a micro climate compared to the rest of the UK that day. Its definitely the hardest climb I’ve ridden, simply because it’s relentless….there’s no easy sections, no switch backs to catch your breath (until the top… there’s two little ones 😂 )

BUT very rewarding, the views on the top were immense, very clear, could see the isles of Skye… We cooled off before enjoying the descent into Applecross. Still steaming hot we jumped into a Crystal clear steam about a mile from our stop over… swimming, chilling and chatting to the local ‘Ranger’… we dumped our kit and headed to the Applecross in for a celebratory beer & fish & chips… what a great start… wild deer and views a plenty

Day 2 - Applecross to Ullapool - 121miles, Elevation 9,436ft

Long Haired BULL - Pain is Temporary…

Big day ahead, lots of small climbs and ONE BIG ONE at the end… Riding the West coast and getting covered in midges (use skin so soft from Avon), the midges go after an hour or so in the morning

7am we loaded the bikes and followed to single track road that follows the coast, the sun was just rising and we were just getting our rhythm… You have to stop yourself taking photos every 2mins… there’s too many great views/scenery/wildlife etc… But we did get spooked by a Long Haired Bull 💪 standing in the middle of the road, we’d just come up a small climb and this BEAST was just starring at us…. He owned this road 😂 … the size of an Elephant ‘at least’… very impressive! I remember we both stopped talking and a slowly rode around him…

The day just kept getting better, we stopped for a Coffee ☕️ in Sheildag next to the loch, road on for another 2hrs Went swimming in the ocean, I forget where but the beach was too inviting to miss out… It was a long day in the saddle but we still had the long climb to get up & over into Ullapool… ‘The Ann Tealloch’ 8miles climb… I had a real energy crash at the top, I’d eaten well but only really drank water (school boy error) luckily I had a snickers and a chocolate eclair from my bike mate Brett… its all down hill now to Ullapool but my legs had gone 😂 . Fish & Chips in Ullapool will sort that out!..

Day 3 - Ullapool to Kyle of Tongue - 118miles, Elevation 11,240ft

Probably the best day on a bike ever 🚲 😎

Refuelled and ready to go… 8.30am start… Big Breakfast…

With out going on and on about views and scenery and Golden Eagles 🦅 , Stags, Bulls… This was simply the best day on two wheel ever… we’d learnt to minimise our stops and just ‘KEEP CRANKING’ we had two good refuel stops… lots of sports drinks, lots of nibbles on the go… Just a stunning ride following the coast and lochs… oh and one big old climb again to get up and over to our campsite in Tongue…

We’d rang ahead to order food from the local pub near our campsite and the guys who owned the campsite went to collect it for us… the day just kept getting better… Nice food, cold beer, nice shower, washed clothes… ofta bed by 8pm… DONE… BIG DAY TOMORROW haha… oh and we met Rocket Ron the Mountain biker… 👍

Day 4 - Kyle of Tongue to Gills Bay (near John O’Groates) then Ferry to Orkneys… Ride the Orkneys… - 130miles Elevation 7,790ft

Coffee with a guy in the middle of no where…

Up and at it… 4am start to ride our ferry in Gills Bay. Pitch Black, Midges and Stags darting across the road, two crazy cyclist navigating in the dark, just keep the ocean on the left and smile…

Nice rolling roads… and tough little climbs… The sun ☀️ was rising nicely… there was a little lay-by for a perfect sunrise photo just at the top of a slow climb, a guy called Chris was already up there, He made us a great coffee from the back of his Vauxhall Corsa, we chatted for 5mins and then road on through the town of Thurso and then to the cycle tracks towards John O’Groates and Gills Bay for our 9am ferry.

Ferry ⛴ over to the orkneys was super easy… and only a 1 hour crossing, costa coffee onboard then sleep for 40mins or so.

Part 2 of day 4… Ride the coast of the Orkney roads… I loved the causeways the joined the isles together… lots of sunken ships from WW2, lots of hills again haha… stopped in Kirkwall for food, found a great cafe doing the eat out to help out deal… SO LOTS OF FOOD FOR TWO HUNGRY CYCLISTS!!

Brett fancied revisiting Stromness, a fishing and diving village about 14miles away… why not eh… Stromness was picture postcard kinda village… cobbled streets, great ocean views.

Ride back to our Hostel… get the nutrition sorted for day5… then shower clean up… 2mins walk to the pub for Pizza, Chips and Lobster (it was on offer, and neither of us had tried it before… verdict, overrated, but glad we tried it)

Day 5 - Orkney Ferry to Gills Bay… then North Coast to East Coast… Dornoch Bay 92miles, Elevation 4,833ft

Easy day ahead… mmmm

We’d agreed the night before that we’d both gone through the pain barrier and our leg were now numb to anymore pain… its just a case of ‘turning the crank’ and Brett said… ‘tomorrow is an easy day!!’…

So we road back on ourselves so we could take a road through the heart of the highlands, traffic free, and panoramic views …

We turned off just before Bighouse on the North coast, then a 40 odd mile road with no cafes, no shops, no pubs… empty railway stations… 20mph head wind… sun beaming down… Just Golden Eagles waiting for us to fall off our bikes… WOW what a day… really testing the mental and physical boundaries… and we still had a crazy climb up Lothmore (with panniers and camping gear) to be honest we loved it though… the view were amazing all day…

Todays nutrition = water and nuts!! So a Quick refuel in Brora (ICE CREAM) and then off to our campsite in Beautiful Dornoch bay… food was always a hot topic so we booked a table at a pub just about a mile from our campsite… Steak Pie, Veggies, Chips, with sticking toffee pudding for afters, and a nice cold beer… tomorrow the short ride back to Inverness 48miles or so…

Day 6 - Dornoch Bay to Inverses 46miles, Elevation only 1,870ft

620miles done… wow

The ride back… taking on the back roads and cycle tracks to keep off the busy ‘A’ roads… felt a bit like riding through a country park… lots of woodlands… no massive hills, it does get a bit lumpy about 8miles out from Inverness but in general a nice easy ride

620miles Done… the NC500 and the Orkneys, its Brutal and Beautiful… Its a great for the Mind and Body

Yes we were very lucky with the weather, but we were prepared for all seasons… I’ll definitely do it again… Maybe this is the NEW RACING!!

(all road we road on were good quality, much better than our local roads, you could ride on standard road tyres)

There is loads of Hostels, campsites etc on the route… wild camping is allowed (leave no trace)


Sounds great, a lot of miles per day though, would you take longer next time?

I’ve been up the north coast driving, Tongue was brilliant.

Getting the ferry to Cape Wrath would also be good but I think it’s still closed?

Not longer but would go shorter, just do the loop as the GCN guys did. Time it takes would depend on the company and kit, we hit it pretty hard. Tenting was cool but there’s an attraction to going lighter and just commiting to hostels and bnb’s too.


An amazing week of riding :ok_hand:t2:



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That does sound the right side of EPIC! :grin:

It was pretty cool. The day from Ullapool to Tongue is the best day I’ve ever had on 2 wheels & I highly recommend it. You just have to take your chances with the weather & midges, we were very lucky.

Tongue is really nice, also going to get back one day.

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This is quite starting to float my boat to do, one day.

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There’s a Facebook group NC500-Cycling which is guaranteed to wet your appetite.

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Cheers @Doka Looks really epic. This and the Bryan Chapman are on my to do list over the next couple of years. Quite interesting looking at your daily mileage, when compared to the published guidance on a few websites that I’ve looked at. Would prefer not to take 8 days to do it!

Seems the Bryan Chapman needs to go on my ever growing list :slight_smile:.

Finally a topic comes up on TT that I can help with rather than just read for advice!

If you need any help with the planning please just give me a shout, I am head of the company behind the NC500. I also sat with Mark Beaumont to help him devise his version of it with GCN a while back.

Its a great route with some of the best scenery in the World, the west coast is a constant stretch of ups and downs. Everyone targets the Bealach but in my opinion, day 2 is much harder with very little flat sections and quite often very windy