Cycling the coast – phase 3
“This is going to take some time to finish” said Mike
“No-one said it was a race” replied Fiona
And so began phase 3 of cycling the coast.
North Coast 500 and beyond
As a result of the superb marketing by Visit Scotland many people have heard of the NC 500. You may also have heard Mark Beaumont rode it in a shade over 38 hours – well it took us a bit longer.
We set off in mid-May from Dundee (yes I know technically not on the NC 500) in cold east coast weather but we did not let it dampen our spirits. The plan was to go up the east coast through places such as Stonehaven, Aberdeen and Peterhead (where Fiona’s grandparents came from) across the top of the Moray Firth to Inverness to pick up the true BC 500. Then carrying on up to John O’ Groats, across the top of Scotland, turn left at Cape Wrath (as the Vikings did) and head down the west coast as far as time allowed.
However, rather than let this be a travelogue of “we did this, ”went there”, “did 60 miles today” Mike has decided to pick out his highlights and learns.
Where to start?
When there’s a photo opportunity around every corner its hard to know, and to make progress! But here goes:
- Stunning beaches – east coast, north coast and west coast. Caribbean watch out.
- Even before we got to the actual 500 we had gobbled up many beautiful beaches at places too numerous to mention but included St Cyrus, Stonehaven, Newburgh, Cruden Bay, Fraserborough and the whole of the Moray Firth beaches! Further north and still on the East Coast was Brora before giving way to rockier profiles and many castles.
The north coast beaches are an idyllic golden/white sand which beckon you to walk on them barefoot – but not in the weather we had. It howled and rained like there was no tomorrow so it was batten down the hatches and hope the west coast would be up to it – and it didn’t disappoint. The road teased us with distant glimpses of gorgeous beaches on the horizon but with no roads to them they remained unspoilt.
- Sultry and startling mountains – particularly on the north west coast
- They may not be the highest, even in Scotland, but they rise vertically from the peat bogs. Even on a clear day, which we mostly had, they are both majestic and mysterious. My favourite is Suilven – I rode and drove with it in my vision in the middle of Assynt. My mind constantly straying to the Lord of the Rings land of Mordor and “Ramble On” by Led Zepplin (“In the darkest depths of Mordor…”). But there were others like the isolated and perfectly shaped Ben Stack which seemed to follow us around for ages. Finally the trio of Torridon peaks making up Beinn Eighe – a haven for walkers with it’s two Munros and great scree slopes.
- Scottish drivers – yes really.
- As cyclists we value our life and limbs, but sometimes it seems not as much as some of the motorists we encounter. Scotland was different! Motorists, almost without exception, were courteous, respectful and safe. Why? When at the end of the ride were in Dundee we discovered why – Police Scotland were taking Operation close Pass seriously and had taken advertising space at the back of every bus – “3 feet or 3 points”. No new law but a rigorous and public communication of the Highway Code appeared to be working. Come on England, get on with it.
Meeting Andreas and Val
- Sometimes you think you are the only two crazy people doing this cycling the coast thing. Then you meet someone who is doing the same and you feel vindicated. Andreas was a lovely German national (though living in the UK for many years so we could claim him!) and his wife Val. We first met in Montrose on our first halftime stop and followed/led each other all the way round sometimes camping together and finally cycling together on the last day over Bealach Na Ba.
- Weather forecasts – they are for guidance only
- Sometimes they are annoyingly correct! Most times they are, as we say, for guidance. We check multiple forecasts and though they seem to focus in on where you are they are in reality using GPS to find you and then pair you with their nearest weather station, balloon or whatever.
- The distance you cycle is in direct proportion to a) the weather and b) the terrain
- There is nothing so annoying than planning an A to B route only to find lots of arrows on the road against you indicating steep gradients or the wind is against you which can be worse. So before you set off on a 50 mile route to be somewhere at a given time, check to terrain and wind direction. As an example we planned a 45 miles route around Assynt – the first 10 miles was full of 25% hills and the last 10 miles included many long 10% drags; all of which left us rushing to our dinner reservation.
- Separate from the weather, wind can be very annoying and spoil the best of views
- One final mention of wind reminds Mike of the last 10 miles into Applecross. The was scene was set fair – a sunny day, alongside the azure sea with constant views of the Cullins on Skye – but turning into the last ten miles caught the full force of the wind. It turned a potentially epic ride into a bit of a slog; but worthwhile.