In early April the weather forecast was very favourable for Scotland and so Acme Wheelers Chairman, Jeff Matthews, decided to take the opportunity to travel the North Coast 500 with his wife in their camper van. The North Coast 500 is an old road, though three years ago the tourist board had the brilliant idea to market it as a tourist route comparing it to Route 66. The NC 500 starts in Inverness and travels along the east coast of Scotland, reaching John O’Groats. Then through Thurso along the north coast finally heading south along the magnificent west coast and highlands.
The first stop was just outside the centre of Inverness between the River Ness and the Caledonian Canal. The canal tow path leads to Loch Ness only about eight miles away so this was the first short ride of the trip. The evening was fine and sunny with little wind, extraordinarily good weather for the area. The footpath was well maintained and well used by walkers, runners and cyclist. Once I had reached the locks which hold back Loch Ness from the Caledonian Canal it was not safe to cycle any further as the tow path gives way to the narrow and busy A82. So it was a tricky carry bike crossing of the lock gates and a return journey up the other side of the canal. The Caledonian Canal travels around the east of Inverness before reaching the lock gates which signify its end and the entrance to the Moray Firth.
The NC500 is not good cycling territory, unless you are Mark Beaumont, who did it in 37 hours. The roads are often narrow and, along the east coast, busy with traffic including articulated lorries. The camper van was the much safer option for travelling around. The next opportunity for cycling came while we stayed at Dunnet Bay, a beautiful setting right alongside the beach. Just outside the campsite was the road to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of mainland Britain. Yes a few hundred yards further north than John O’Groats, 58.6 Degrees North. It was only a ride of about 5 miles each way but there was always an incline on the way out and a head wind off the sea. Of course the opposite was the case on the way back. From the end of Dunnet Head there were views across the coast to Cape Wrath to the west and John O’Groats to the east. To the north we could see the Orkney Islands, a mere 8 miles away. For a short while I was the most northerly cyclist on the UK mainland.
The roads on the west coast are for the hardened cyclist, often single track, always up and down, always a wind blowing but affording magnificent views for those with the energy to try it. I’m afraid I found it easier to use the campervan to seek out the views and keep me out of the wind.
We had a virtual rain free three weeks travelling around the north of Scotland which showed off the magnificent scenery in its best light. We travelled in April and avoided the midgies and were lucky with the weather. Maybe one day I’ll go back again with the bike and challenge Mark Beaumont’s record and then again I may just use the campervan.