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Scottish Motorcycling Alternatives to the NC500

May 21, 2021

As some know, we operate from Ullapool in the north west coast of the Scottish Highlands. It's a lucky spot for any business, especially one catering to the motorcycling crowd, and we try to make the most of all the incredible riding we have at our doorstep with regular weekend day trips. Over our time here we have seen the introduction and development of the North Coast 500, a route launched by the North Highlands Initiative in 2015 which has been a huge hit for the pleasure driving and motorcycling sector (as well as for cyclists). While we certainly enjoy the NC500, it can often be packed with vehicles small and large that hamper enjoyment. Additionally, there are already plenty of articles and guides out there to help you make the most of the main roads on the trail. This year we have decided to take the time to share some of our local knowledge of the Scottish routes that we like to ride that are off the NC500 and still offer unique and thrilling twisties, panoramas and unique spots for a cup of coffee. Hopefully this will be helpful if you're looking for something a bit different this year or just want to avoid the crowded NC500 main route. We'll be providing Calimoto links you can use to follow these trails to make things easy.


1. Dead Rabbit Run (283 Miles) - The Lecht/Cairngorms

2. Over the sea to Skye (346 Miles) - Skye/West Coast

3. In search of Nessie (271 Miles) - Loch Ness/Inverness/Cairngorms

4. Giant's Country (341 Miles) - Glen Coe/Torridon/Heading North

. Iron Butt (450 miles) - Fort William/Loch Tummel/Glenshee

6. Community Submissions


1. Dead Rabbit Run (283 Miles)

This is an excellent day trip in either direction, taking you through a wide variety of scenes, jagged highland scenery at the north most point and lush forests and valleys towards the south (with inverness in the middle if you want to stop for lunch). This has quickly become one of our favourite and most returned to day trips. The name was coined due to the abundance of roadkill we noticed on our first trip this way - perhaps not the most appealing aspect, but certainly made up for by the rest of it! We start in Ullapool but you could easily start further south and make Inverness your end point for the day if you are coming up from further South, though we still recommend trying to get in a bit of north highlands riding if you can. It also serves as an excellent detour for anyone coming up to do the NC500 proper.

The run starts in Ullapool (or Glenshee if you decide to come up from the South) and takes you first through the winding and open stretch of road between Ullapool and Inverness. Depending on the season you will often see large herds of deer roaming this area and deep purple hues of heather on either side. Of note is the dam at loch Glascarnoch which submerges the ruins of an old road, bridges and crofts.During a dry spell these occasionally re-emerge, a very interesting and unique sight if you're lucky enough to see it.

The Cairgorms are best enjoyed with some company

After passing through Inverness and a quick blast down the A9 - where you will often see red kites overhead - you will arrive at the Carrbridge for the Cairngorms leg of the journey. The Cairngorms offer some spectacular scenery, with plenty of densely wooded areas and sweeping hills. Snow and deer will again be abundant depending on the season. You could spend as much time as you wanted here as there is plenty to see, but we like to make a pilgrimage down to cock bridge for a photo to send to your favourite chum before heading to Braemar to finish at the Linn of Dee, a particularly scenic bridge and water feature that is the perfect place for a sandwich stop and a cup of coffee. Overall this is a great little run that offers a lot of the best of the highlands in one swoop. Remember to prepare for occasional showers or cold spells as you never know what you're riding into when you cover this much latitude in Scotland.

Stopping for a snack at the Linn of Dee


2. Over the sea to Skye (346 miles)

This is a full day trip that takes you in a loop around the isle of Skye, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful (and popular) travel locations in Scotland. You'll see a lot of the spectacular geographical features that make Skye so well known and will also ride along loch ness briefly. This would be an excellent route if its your first time in Scotland and you really want to see as many famous locations as you can in one day. It's another route that could also be done on your way up further North if you want to break up your riding and see a wider variety of what Scotland has to offer.

On our route we start in Ullapool as usual, but as the rest of the route follows a loop after you get to Inverness you could easily start at Inverness or Invergarry. If you decide to come all the way up to Ullapool in any time but the Summer then dress up warm as the stretch of road leading our way is notoriously cold. Assuming a start in Inverness, you'll make your way Southwest down towards Strathcarron. The road this way is strewn with lochs and streams and if you get it on a quieter day it offers some exceptional riding. If you're in a meditative mood its a great place to just tune out and enjoy the scenery before you get to Skye.

Eilean Donan Castle is a high point of the journey

Continuing on past Strathcarron down to Kyle of Lochalsh you will then take the crossing over to Skye. It's worth a thought as you pass over that only 25 years ago this crossing didn't exist, and you would have to have taken a short ferry journey over to reach the island! This accessibility to Skye is a big part of what has seen it rocket to one of the most popular tourist destinations in Scotland, an occurrence that has been both a blessing and a curse to those who live and work there. As you drive up towards Portree you will start to see why, with some truly spectacular scenery wherever you look. During the first part of the drive up you can get a good look at the Cuillins, Skye's small mountain range, in the distance to the North.

The deep greens and rocky outcrops of Skye are unmistakeable

Portree makes a nice spot to rest and get some lunch, or if you prefer you can continue on to the loop of the Northern part of the island where the real postcard scenery awaits. You will likely find you want to take your time during this relatively short stretch of the route looping around the north of Portree. Taking lunch and stopping to walk the Quirang is recommended if you have the time and the energy and want the full Skye experience! The island has a rich history and while diminished you will still see many of the traditional crofting families littering the roads in this part of the island, albeit with many of them now offering BNB services.

Make sure you're fully waterproofed as Skye is often full of clouds

When you have had your fill of Skye you will loop back down and make your way back in the same direction you came before heading East to Invergarry for the Loch Ness leg of the journey. Loch Ness will certainly offer its own excitement but will be discussed more in the next route. Eventually you will finish your day back in Inverness where you can stay for the night or head on to your destination having been well and truly round the block!


3. In search of Nessie (271 miles)

Our next day trip suggestion will take you down the entire length of Loch Ness, you'll take some very scenic roads and encounter quite a few major tourist spots. Assuming again Inverness as a starting point (although feel free to start anywhere on the trail) you take the back road to Cawdor to avoid traveling on the A96. This is our preference and allows for a few more fun twisties and more enjoyable riding overall. Continuing out to Fernes you will notice things starting to feel very remote, crosswinds can get extreme here as you are quite high up so take care and slow things down to enjoy the views if its a particularly windy day. Aviemore is the first major town you'll come to, during the tourist season it will be very very busy so you may wish to go straight through, although it is a great spot for lunch or a biscuit if you're in the mood. 

You'll be surprised just how good some of the roads are on the way over to Loch Ness

For the time being you will keep heading south, travelling through the cairngorms with some beautiful scenery wherever you look. The A86 is a particular road to watch out for when you get to this part of the journey and is one of our favourite roads, full of tight, sweeping bends where you can lean the bike over. Spean Bridge marks roughly the half way point where you will turn around and start heading back up towards Inverness along the length of the loch. The road itself that follows the loch is excellent and very twisty, with the one downside that it is usually very busy, particularly during the height of tourist season. Watch out for camper vans and tour buses!

The lock at Fort Augustus is an interesting place to stop and watch the boats coming up the canal

At Fort Augustus you can stop and watch boats accessing the loch at the canal centre and lock chambers before getting back on your merry way. Invergarry castle and the more touristy "nessie experiences" also litter the roads here if you feel like grabbing a memento or learning the history of the loch and the people who live around it. Its a long ride all the way back to inverness and you will get used to the sight of the water next to you, seemingly uninterrupted for many miles. Unsurprising consider there is more water in loch ness than in every lake in England and Wales put together. What would a guide be without factoids?

Eventually you will find your way back to Inverness for the end of this route where you have plenty of options for continuing your journey or resting up for the day. A very highly recommended ride!


4. Giant's Country (341 miles)


The A82 through Glen Coe is one of the classic cinematic highland journeys, taking you through a dramatic volcanic landscape blanketed in lush green colours in the summer and a dusting of snow in the winter. While the map we are providing doesn't go all the way to the southern end, if you are driving up from the central belt or from rest of the UK then using the A82 as a detour up to the North would be an excellent way to take advantage of this route. Travelling up along the West coast is a fair bit slower but more than made up for by the more interesting roads and the abundance of scenic views. 

An encounter with a group of Japanese students at Eilean Donan left us feeling very Kawaii

We start up at the Glen Docherty viewpoint looking down towards Loch Maree before heading down the A896 from Kinlochewe down to Torridon. This part of the journey is single track road with some awe inspiring views. If you get up early you can get the road to yourself and avoid the campervans for some excellent riding. Eilean Donan will be your first coffee stop, if its summer time bring something to wipe your visor down as the amount of beasties around on the way down will be phenomenal. 

A87 Dornie sweeping bends with motorcycle and smartphone in Ultimateaddons case

The A87 is full of sweeping bends and some of the best tarmac in Scotland

Continuing on, the A87 is another fantastic road full of fast sweeping bends (the tarmac here is excellent). You can stop for the marked view of Loch Garry where it looks oddly like the map of Scotland before riding on to the beautiful Spean Bridge (a mainstay of a few of our runs and always a good spot for lunch). South of Spean Bridge traffic always increases 10 fold so bear this in mind, especially in the heat of summer. Getting through Fort William can be a real slog if it is ice cream weather but is worth it to get into Glen Coe for spectacular views. A word of warning is that Glen Coe is a lot more accessible than many areas in the highlands and on a pleasant day it is often jam packed. The views are exceptional but if you are looking for uninterrupted riding as a priority this may be one to avoid during peak times.

Glen Coe Motorcycle Touring, busy with cars.

Glen Coe, beautiful but busy!

5. Iron Butt (450 miles)

 This is a long route that combines many of the best parts of the previous routes. It passes by Eilean Donan Castle, Loch Garry, Spean Bridge, Fort William, Glencoe, Killin, Loch Tummel, Pitlochry, Glenshee and Braemar for a truly comprehensive tour of what Northern Scotland has to offer. We have given the route this name due to both the length and the large number of country roads along the way. Make sure your bike seat is as comfortable as it can be! You may choose to break this into a number of smaller trips.


Community Submissions (send to media@ultimateaddons.com)


"This is probably my favourite longer route to do in terms of scenery and road changes. Starting in Forfar and heading West is always a good bet for some seriously fun riding. Along this route you'll pass through Perth, Creiff, Glen Ogle, Tyndrum and Glencoe before hitting Fort William which has plenty of places for lunch and a petrol station on the way out for the more fuel hungry bikes.

Heading east out of Fort William and on to Spean Bridge with a nice stop at the Commando Memorial which is both humbling and beautiful with its views of the surrounding area. Carrying on East and sticking to the A86 all the way to Kingussie will keep you away from a lot of traffic. I always take the B9152 from Kingussie to Aviemore as it avoids the less exciting A9, then head to Grantown-on-Spey, this is where it gets exciting as it's much narrower and steeper roads to Tomintoul over the Lecht through Braemar and over Glenshee where you end up back on some wider, more sedate roads to wind down and head for home. It's such a mix of roads and scenery that for me keeps me coming back"


Nick McClellan

Nick has suggested the short stretch of road from Mosstodloch to Rothes and has this to say about it:

"Rather than heading back home from Elgin to Glenlivet, I took a longer route via Mosstodloch to Rothes and rejoin my usual route afterwards. 

Its an early June morning with the sun at my back.  The road, bike and rider just seemed to gel into one. Nine miles only but shear pleasure.  

From Mosstodloch, its a couple of long sweeping bends on excellent surface and the rest on reasonable tarmac with continuous wooded bends until Rothes. Oh, and not one vehicle all the way to Rothes."


Have a good season!

At risk of giving you too many options that will conclude our riding recommendations for now, but we'll be sure to keep updating throughout the rest of this year and beyond if we find some roads that we love. Thanks for taking the time to read and we hope you have an excellent season this year. Don't forget something for the midges if you're coming in the summer and check us out over on our Instagram and Facebook pages to see what we are up to!

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