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When people ask me about my favourite part of my long bike trip, this part always comes to mind! The landscape is absolutely breathtaking. Mountains and sea, nicely entangled. Lots, and I mean lots, of hills and views that sometimes seemed unreal. These 650km on the North Coast 500 were an absolut highlight of my cycling trip!

The North Coast 500 is a scenic driving route encompassing about 500 miles through the northern Highlands of Scotland. Starting and ending in Inverness, it offers diverse landscapes including coastal areas, mountains, historic castles, and quaint villages. The route takes you through remote regions like the Applecross Peninsula and Assynt, showcasing the wonderful nature of Scotland.

And while it's absolutely beautiful, there are some things to be aware of before starting this adventure. First of all, I would not recommend it to people who don't have a base level of fitness. While it's not the Alps, I found it quite challenging. There is only one pass, the Bealach na Bà, but many climbs, and sometimes quite steep ones. I had moments, where I was absolutely exhausted.

The other thing to know: there are many RVs on the road. And when I say many, I mean many. At times I was absolutely annoyed with them. But after some time getting used to them, I handled it more gracefully. Earlier I often screamed at them... Overall, I could live quite well with them. First of all, they somehow come in flocks, so they're not always present. And they can't go fast. You'll find many passing places, and on the way up, they'll invite you to have a quick break. On the way down, I mostly ignored them. While I was at times angry at the RVs, the people in them were mainly friendly and recognized me, when we stayed at the same campground. The definite plus that it's quite popular with RVs is that the roads are great for biking. I'm not big on gravel.

Another note. Every time I mentioned that I would be going to Scotland, people warned me about the midges. I was there in July, and miraculously, I had no trouble with midges. They seem to be sensitive to strong wind, which I had. Maybe something to keep in mind as well.

Now, onto the journey!

From Inverness to Applecross

North Coast 500 - Starting in Inverness. View on Beauly Firth.
Katharina Birkenbach in Inverness
North Coast 500 - Contin Village Store
North Coast 500 - Sgurr a Ghlas Leathaid in the Scotish Highlands
North Coast 500 - On top of the Bealach Na Ba
North Coast 500 - view on the Isle of Skye from Meall Gorm

Inverness to Strathpeffer was not a highlight. In the beginning, the road led along a very busy street. But eventually, it calmed down and it became more pleasant. In Contin there was a little shop, claiming to be last one before Applecross. And while that was not really the case, it's always good to top up drinks and snacks. This area of Scotland has a relatively low density of inhabitants, and accordingly, you can't expect a shop every few kilometers.

Contin to Lochcarron, absolutely great! It's a relative flat stretch and on the day I was doing it, there was the Celtman Triathlon. I'm quite competitive, and the bikes who passed me, definitely pushed me to go faster. I tried to catch up with them, which was hopeless.

In Achnasheen is a great cafe, the Midge Bite Cafe, to get some food. Definitely get some!

After a good night sleep, the Bealach na Bà was waiting. And I was quite imitated, to be frank. I looked at some pictures the night before and some seemed unreal. And not for no reason. The ascend is a total of 626m stretched out over 9.1km. The incline can near 20%, with an average of 7%. You need to take your time, slow and steady. You'll be passed by road bikers, that's ok. And usually they are up for a quick chat and have some encouraging words. They go up a lot lighter... Cars and RVs were very polite there, the road is narrow and I believe they've been a bit flabbergasted, seeing my load.

Once you reach the top, you get a fantastic view over the Isle of Skye, and the downhill stretch to Applecross is a lot of fun! A lot less steep and fun, winding roads.

Applecross is obviously small, but has, in my humble opinion, one of the best fish and chips!

From Applecross to Scourie

North Coast 500 - little house with a red roof
North Coast 500 - beautiful trees close to Kenmore
North Coast 500 - parked boat with the funny name KitKat
North Coast 500 - View on Little Loch Broom after a very grueling ascend
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North Coast 500 - View on the beautiful Kylesku Bridge

The stage to Kinlochewe was again absolutely beautiful, and compared to the Bealach na Bà quite easy. A coastal road with a lot of mountains and stunning views. The final stretch to Kinlochewe has new tarmac and it's an absolute joy to bike on it. Kinlochewe itself is very small and when you're lucky to arrive when the gas station, you should go there. It has a lot to offer in terms of food and coffee, and they're very friendly.

The next stop was at Dundonnel. And yes, beautiful, but very exhausting. On the way are pretty steep climbs, sometimes stretching out a lot further than expected. My Garmin gave me on this stretch absolutely non-sense values. Sometimes it told me that I would be going down, while I definitely was struggling to make the ascend. Other times it said that the incline was 75%, which was obviously not true either. Therefore a little note, to take a route preview on this stretch with a little bit of caution. The last climb before Dundonnel was so hard and endless, but the view of Little Loch Broom was definitely rewarding. The plan was to camp at the Hotel Dundonnel. You can do this, at least when you're having your dinner there. But while having dinner and some drinks, a massive downpour happened and the whole parking space was flooded. The waitress was so kind, that she offered her RV as an alternative. Which was very much welcomed!

The next day to Clachtoll was possibly the most challenging on my whole trip. More than 100km and more than 1400m up. But the worst part, the wind. Needless to say, it was again stunning. The hardest part was along Loch Lurgainn. Hardly any incline, but wind directly into your face, for 13kms. Only when the direction changed to North, it got a lot better. And actually insanely beautiful, it's hard to describe. Once Clachtoll was reached, it was time for a rest day. The campsite there was absolutely welcoming and the beach it was on, couldn't have been more beautiful. Turquoise water and white beach.

From Clachtoll to Scourie was a relative short day. One highlight was certainly the Kylesku Bridge. In Scourie, I spontaneously decided to call it a day. A campsite with a shop and a bar closeby was too tempting.

From Scourie to John o'Groats

North Coast 500 - a road sign for the NC500
North Coast 500 - passing places on Loch Eriboll
North Coast 500 - road along the Ard Neackie viewpoint
North Coast 500 - busstop near Coldbackie
North Coast 500 - beautiful flowers in Salmon Landings, Strathy
North Coast 500 - Wee Shop in Westfield near Thurso

The last stretch to John o'Groats was starting and the landscape was shifting quite a bit. Less seaviews and more highland feeling. Lots of large, rolling mountains and moorland. Beautiful in a different way! The fellow travelers shifted as well. Far fewer RVs, but a lot more motorcycles. I find them generally less agreeable than the RVs...

But the ride to Tongue was beautiful, the landscape exactly how I imagined Scotland. If you ever make your way to Tongue, go get a burger at the food truck on the bridge to Tongue. And say hello from me. Some of the kindest people I've ever met!

Tongue to Strathy, quite challenging. A lot of rain and a looming thunderstorm. Thunderstorms are a thing that worry me a lot when on the road. Specially when you're in moorland and have absolutely no trees around. In Bettyhill, the general store was a highlight for me! Run by an elderly couple it offered everything one needs and they were very friendly. I got some cookies, which I eventually ate at a bus stop while taking shelter. With the heavy rain, I decided to get a hotel for the night. While approaching the hotel, I saw my next destination on the horizon: the Orkney Islands. John o'Groats was not far!

The day getting to John o'Groats was easy-peasy. Definitely less remote than the last few days, and to be honest, not as spectacular. Nevertheless enjoyable.

For me, this marked the end of the NC500 and the finish line of LEJOG! I took the ferry to the Orkney Islands and continued on my way up North.

Mood: happy :)