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February 27, 2023

Back to Best Motorcycle Routes

The North Coast 500 - NC500

516 Miles

The NC500 is a 516 mile route that was set up by the Tourism Project Board of the North Highland Initiative in 2015. It's original aim was to bring increased traffic and tourism to businesses in the Northern Highlands of Scotland - this aim has been largely successful, though not all locals are happy with the increase in traffic it has brought. Controversies aside, it remains one of the most scenic and enjoyable motorcycle routes in the northern hemisphere and continues to see popularity with motorists of all types. 

We are lucky enough to live on the route of the NC500 and as a result we have ridden parts of the route many times. However, one thing that has eluded us is the mighty feat of completing the entire 500 mile route over the course of one day. It's a journey that takes you across the breadth of the Scottish Highlands through many of the most beautiful and windswept areas the UK has to offer.

Sunrise heading towards Loch Carron

Earlier this year our R&D director Steven decided to finally make it happen as part of a charity ride for Cash for Kids with our local riding group Weekend Warriors. To spice it up, most members of the group decided to dress up and create an interesting spectacle for the tourist hordes along the way.

On route to Bealach Na Ba on the NC500

Luck with the weather wasn't on the groups side for the start of the day, with a lot of moisture on the way to Inverness. The downside of planning a large group ride in Scotland is that it limits the freedom you have to move the date if it happens to be overcast! There was some hope however as the forecast for later in the day looked better, and with 14 hours of riding ahead the hope of some sunshine was much needed.

Descending down toward Applecross on the NC500
The day started with a journey West from Inverness to Kinlochewe (a small west coast village with one of the few filling stations in the area), visibility was low and with the trip starting early in the morning it made for quite a scary portion of the journey. This start of the day anxiety was only compounded by finding out that the 24hr pump along the way wasn't working, leaving a few of the group praying they would make it to Kinlochewe. Thankfully, everyone managed to glide in before their tanks completely ran dry. 

Bealach Na Ba View Point on the NC500The Bealach Na Ba was the scenic high point (literally and figuratively) of the trip as low lying cloud created an incredible view of a sea of clouds over the infamous pass. Made the experience of riding through them worthwhile!

Kinlochewe Fuel Stop
Kinlochewe marked the start of the great journey North all the way up to John O Groats. The first stop along the way was to be Ullapool (the home of Ultimateaddons) and the quietness of the roads between Kinlochewe and Ullapool was very surprising for the time of year. At Ullapool was a stop for a much needed bacon roll and cup of coffee, many thanks to Ullapool Golf Club for their hospitality.
Ullapool Golf Club - Lunch and a first sit down break.
Back on the road things remained blissfully quiet. The expectation during the summer in the highlands is always of a sea of caravans and campervans. The drumbeg road is often very bad but was in this case almost completely clear - one takeaway from the trip was that if you can be bothered to get up early you can miss a huge amount of the traffic before the day really gets going. 
Kylesku Bridge Stop for photo and stretch the legs
It was good to see a nice varied selection of bikes (spot ours)

Along the way a nice chap stopped our rider Daniel to give him a donation, he wouldn't be the first of the day and the generosity of strangers on the road was a much appreciated surprise. Stopping at the Spar in Durness got us donation number two for the day (thanks to all employed there) and after a quick back stretch we were yet again back in the saddle. With such a mammoth day of riding it's important to take regular breaks to walk, stretch and consume bacon in order to reduce wear and tear. That said, I don't think it's possible to do 610 miles in one day on your bike and not come away slightly worse for wear!

The beautiful beaches of Durness heading over the top to John O Groats
After Kylesku was the long haul up to John O Groats - this section involves a lot of single track riding and some lovely ocean views. The roads themselves were varied, some well surfaced single track and some less so. It's always been a strange feature of the NC500 that for such a well publicised route the road surfaces are spotty across much of it. I certainly wouldn't want to be in a Lamborghini for certain parts of the route lest you may come away missing an exhaust.
John O Groats Photo Opportunity

John O' Groats itself was characteristically busy and a bit of waiting was required to get a photo opportunity at the sign. The sign is the closest to a tourist hotspot you get that far north and the rest of the roads are fairly quiet along the north coast. With our tourist pilgrimage done it was time to start heading back down South. Progress down the A9 was rapid other than a small blip with a competitive BMW driver with a roof box. Many thanks to Willie Cowie at the Miekle Ferry Inn for staying open and providing some much needed coffee as we came by. A great spot and very conveniently located at the Dornoch bridge roundabout.

Meikle Ferry Station

The day began to drag a bit as we headed south, with riding pains and tiredness setting in. It's definitely recommended to do this long of a day with a group of like minded riders as its much easier to keep motivated and keep your spirits high as a group when the miles start to pile on. It helps that the scenery is also a constant companion travelling through Scotland, and there is never a lack of views to keep you excited about what is over the next hump.

NC500 Motorcycle Touring Complete

Tired, physically broken and glad to be finished - but proud and happy to have achieved the goal

Sticking to the official route means heading down through Dingwall and back through Beauly before the final stretch back over to Inverness. Massive thanks to Helen and Ernie for waiting for us at the MFR station to give us a very warm welcome at the finish line and a much earned break. Despite the length and the inevitable wear and tear it was an unforgettable experience of a journey. The total number racked up to 610 miles in 14 hours when heading back and from home were taken into consideration. 

Overall the NC500 remains a route that is well worth experiencing, though perhaps you will get the most of it by allowing yourself the time to stop and smell and roses. Thanks again to every rider that came out and for all who donated to the campaign, every donation was appreciated. We will now have to think of a way to one up ourselves. Anyone have any recommendations? 

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