The Scottish NC500

Is it the best motorcycle route in the UK?

scotland nc500 top 10 bike routes

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Riding The NC500

One of Scotland’s claim to fame is the North Coast 500. The NC 500 is a very scenic loop that goes around the North of Scotland and is approximately 513 miles long. Its Scotland’s version of America’s route 66 and is becoming very popular with motorcyclists from all over.

Best Time Of Year

The one time not to go would be the winter season for obvious reasons, that far north most of the roads would be more likely to impassable most of the accommodation shuts for the winter. As the rest of the UK’s climate and the weather is never predictable. I made my trip in September, I was unlucky, and it rained for at least two days out the 4. The other issue I had heard about was the many millions of flies that seem to be about. They say it is May to September Midge season. I guess that is seasonal too. It was something that missed going in late September.

Clockwise or Anticlockwise?

I’ve always believed that clockwise was the best route because you are naturally keeping the coastal views on your left-hand side and will not be obstructed by oncoming traffic, especially by the large volume of campervans that use the route. On my way around, I saw many bikers coming from the other direction, so it seems to be a 50/50 answer. Next time I will try the route backwards, and then I may have a more definitive answer. Many of the roads on the course are single track and does not allow two vehicles to pass. The train of campervans seen around the route, it has been said, can slow the ride down a lot, but in my experience, most of the vans would pull over on the many passing places that are conveniently provided and let bikers pass.

How Long Does It Take?

It can range from 1 day to 2 weeks. Head down and other bits up; you could ride it in a day, but you’re not going to see much and will probably miss what the NC 500 is all about. I spread the distance over four days to actually ride around the coast. It took me a good day and a half to get to a starting point that brings me on to the next question. Where does it start? You can begin the route where you like, to be honest. But a good preference would be on the south side of the route. Most people start and finish at Inverness. I picked up the A896 at Lochcarron and then headed west to begin my journey.


applecross on the NC500

John O' Groats

motorbike riding in the snow

What's on the route?

The route is made up of lots of winding, twisting roads with coastal views, beaches, waterfalls, mountain views, small harbours, Lochs and a lot of open countryside that all add up to that absolutely fantastic riding experience that we are all looking for. There are many places to stay around the coast. Plenty of fuel stations can be found on the way around, most of them being so small in size that they only have one fuel pump that can be a bit of a pain if you’re riding in a group. Also, most of them are not twenty-four hours so just be mindful. The route itself is easy to follow and has many NC 500 road signs for you to follow. Most of the roads just flow into the next and so on.

There are many places to see on the way around NC 500. Here are just a few.

Applecross In an idyllic setting, Applecross beach is surrounded by mountains and is in the Highlands council Region. You will find a variety of places to stay, campsites, B&B’s, cabins and caravan parks readily available. Lots of bikers using the camps at this location. The Applecross inn and The Junction popular bars for food and drink and come highly recommended by other bikers.

Shieldaig Riding on the A896, you will come across a quaint little fishing village. Consisting of a small harbour that has views of Shieldaig island. Hotel, B&B and a campsite available.

Victoria Falls Off the A832, A nice stop off for a few hours to take in some of Scotland’s breath-taking views. Named after Queen Victoria after her visit in 1877, Victoria Falls is on a river that runs between Loch Maree and Loch Garbhaig. A big car park is available and picnic area, park up your motorbike, and you can stretch your legs for a short walk to the man-made viewing platforms.

Charlestown A832 takes you through Charlestown, where you could stop for the evening or longer. Heathdale B&B welcome bikers, and I could also recommend Gairloch Highland Lodge that welcome groups of motorcyclists any time. If you have time on your hands, you could take a short ride to Gairlochs Harbour, where you may be tempted to take a Whale cruise. You should get a glimpse of some dolphins as well as whales.

Drumchork and Aultbea Continuing on the A832, you will arrive at Drumchork. More lodges, self-catering and hotels available. Public toilets are available. The fantastic scenery includes coastal views of the Isle of Ewe. You will be able to view the pier at Aultbea from here as well. At this point you will be travelling the A832 you will lose the coastline for about 5 miles and will find a small post office, petrol station & general store possibly an excellent stop to fill up as the next fuel stop is in Ullapool 41 miles away, and the other direction would be 55 miles to Contin.

Gruinard Beach Popular spot to stop for more scenic views, large sandy beach, views of the Gruinard bay. Plenty of parking available on the side of A832 in a gravel base car park, popular with campervans stopping off overnight.

Following the A832 around through Durnamuck, Badcaul and Dundonnell with mountain views on the left and sea views on the right-hand side, you will find Corrieshalloch Viewpoint ell worth a stop, again gravel car park. About a mile on, and you will join up with the A835.

Ullapool Heading North on the A835, you will come across Ullapool. One of the larger towns and ferry port this end of Scotland, The Lochbroom filling station very popular with motorcyclists. Everything you need is at Ullapool. Plenty of places to stay, including a Youth hostel. Self-catering, B&B’s and hotels, a Tesco superstore to stock up in if you’re camping. From the port, you can catch a ferry to Stornoway on the isle of Lewis, plenty of places to eat also lots of takeaways to choose from.

Continuing north on the A835 passing through Ardmair beach, fantastic sea views, from this point you will be able to see the Isle of Martin. You may even see the Ullapool ferry passing in the distance.

Bettyhill Now on the A836, you pass through Bettyhill. More places to stay and eat, the craft shop becomes a fish and chip shop on Fridays and Saturdays also a café called the Bettyhill. The main attraction is the Strathnaver Museum that is dedicated to the Clan Mackay.

Thurso Heading Westerly, you find another town called Thurso, this the most northern town on the British mainland. The main and last town before John O’Groats. If you like fishing, the River Thurso is 26 miles long and famous for Atlantic salmon fishing. The town is a hive of traditional shops, cafes, bars and restaurants. It has a Tesco and several filling stations. The population of the town is about 7600 people.

Dunet Dunet Head is the most northerly point of Britain. You will find a Lighthouse at the point. With old fortifications from world war 2, Dunet Head is an RSPB nature reserve and has become a popular site with Bird watching.

John O’Groats One of the main attractions on the route is John O’Groats, a must for the passing motorcyclists to stop and take a snapshot of your motorcycle adjacent to the landmark post. A coffee shop, a gift shop and a post office. There is also luxury accommodation available, but you will need to book this popular destination in advance.

You are now heading South on the coastal road, the A99. You can see the oil and gas rigs in the North Sea off this route. At this point, you will join the A9 and heading towards Inverness. The coast will be on the left as you travel towards Inverness. A popular stop would be in the Dunrobin Castle and gardens. Dunrobin Castle has a museum if you have time on your hands, a café, restaurant and beautiful views all round. “Jewel in the Crown of the Highlands”

Inverness From the meaning “Mouth of the River Ness”. With a population of over 10000 people made up of over 47000 people living in the city. Inverness is full of history. Lots of motorcyclists start and finish the NC 500 from Inverness. Spoilt for choice for places to stay, restaurants and cafes aplenty. Several motorcycle shops around Inverness if you’re in need of a part or two. Camping shops if you need to stock up on equipment if you are planning to camp around the route.

Rogie Falls A quick stop here. Nice place to stretch your legs. Through forests and fantastic waterfalls and suspension bridges that span the Black Water River.

Lochcarron A896 back to Lochcarron. The place where my motorcycle journey of the NC 500 begin.

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