North Coast 500 VI.2021

Riders: Maciej Malyszka, Paul Hunt, Ben Keeley
Text: Ben Keeley
Pictures: Maciej Malyszka, Ben Keeley

Three pioneering Flyers took a pilgrimage North on the British Isles and headed for the Scotish Highlands. Planning take in as much of the local experience as possible they travelled with their tents, sleeping bags and stoves. Starting off from Inverness Castle the Velouse trio set off on their fully ladened gravel bikes with enough breakfast and dinner for 3 nights over a North Coast route plotted which would take them out to Wester Ross, along the North and then down the East Coast of the Highlands.

At the start
At the finish

With a route of 500 mile that totalled 31,000ft of climbing over 4 days it was going to be tough ride especially with machines weighing in over 22kg each.

Much of the route is single track often following the coastline, passing mountainous landscapes, moors and wild scenery. The coastal road around Wester Ross from Applecross to Lonbain which looks out over the islands of Rona and Skye was just spectacular. Even more impressive, but harder to ride was the Corrieshalloch Gorge with elevation up to 19% and averaging 6%

We rode another tough climb at Gairloch before reaching the stunning Corpach peninsula with views across beaches backed by impressive mountains which will be highly memorable.

Taking all of our luggage with us we needed to ensure we stopped wherever we could for water and knew there would be little in the way of amenities and facilities along the way. One friendly local offered bottle top from his garden hose (hopefully it wasn’t pumped straight of of his garden pond (Loch Tollaidh)!

We camped where we could which included in a wooded nature reserve (Ben Eighe, Kinlocinewe), 160m up on an exposed rocky moorland in the foothills of Sail Ghorm mountain range (between Lochinvor and Unapool) overlooking the North West Coast, and on the third night upstream along river Helmsdale.

We were caught off guard on the first night as we were malestered by thousands of small flies but after we had time to pull our night gear on we got ourselves organised and got our heads down for the night.

The second night we had no issue with flies but did contend with some rainfall and although we remained dry we had to resume in our tents to keep dry (and warm) so cooking was simple and late.

Our third day of riding was fairly relentless with lots of constant climbing. We rode through until late, nearly 10pm and settled for a perfect spot along a grassy section of the riverbank. Dinner again was brief due to the sheer number of flies. Cooking was simple but included macaroni cheese, cous cous with mackerel, rice and stir fry. As we all had stoves were able to cook dinner and drink tea each night, and by the morning consume a good breakfast with coffee. We even managed to scramble up some local eggs!

After some final washing-up headed south east to finish our final day. We passed wild deer herds charging across the grassy flood plains and through the river Helmsdale, and plenty of grazing sheep in the rocky moorlands.

Ending the ride around the Black Isle before renetering Inverness, we stopped off for a late lunch essential drinks top-up at the Highlands Cafe and farmshop. The ride 9ut to Cromarty point was fast and beautiful. The return was a little harder on the legs with a little more undulation and many miles in our legs. We opted for a longer but more scenic return to Inverness and avoided the busy A9. The scenery soon changed around a the fertile rich soils of the Black Isle compared with the Highlands region we had been spending so many hours in only days before. We were lucky with the weather where the wind was overall fairly calm nd the sun was shining most days, we also got lucky with the equipment and bikes with no mechanicals which was remarkable considering we had collectively cycled 1500miles over such mixed terrain. Good planning and experience carried us to end of an epic adventure bike paking across the Highlands where many happy memories were formed.

Inverness, Wester Ross, Sheieldale, Loch Maree, Kinloch, Coast at Gairloch, Scourle, Tiny village of Durness, Tongue, Strapby point

More picture from the trip on Maciej’s website HERE