Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to ride in some stunning locations. From the magnificent Shropshire Hills that are on our door step, to the high peaks of the Alps and Pyrenees, each location offering their own unique cycling experience. Nothing however prepared me for the four days of cycling which I’ve just enjoyed; Scotland’s North Coast 500.
Eleven of us made the trip up to Inverness which serves as the start and finish for the route, 10 riders, and our support vehicle driver, Gareth. We’d all prepared as best we could for the challenge ahead, but as we rolled away from Inverness Castle I for one was feeling ever so slightly daunted by the prospect of what lay ahead.
Much has been written about the route itself, and all I’d add is that it’s everything you’ll ever read, and so much more. From what’s widely regarded at the toughest climb in the UK, Bealach na Ba, to the relentlessly undulating roads of perhaps the remotest part of Scotland. At times, the assault on your senses threatens to overwhelm you, with hour after hour of stunning scenery. With Lochs and mountains for as far as the eye can see, I don’t think I’ve ever felt smaller and more inconsequential. The scale of the surroundings is just breath-taking.
The ride itself is just one aspect a trip like this. Along the way we shared experiences which we’ll remember for a long time, some good, some not so good. All however, playing their own part in making the trip so memorable. Whilst out twitter fuelled detour to the world famous Attadale Gardens may not have been our best decision, visiting the Tea Room still resisting the march of the Latte most certainly was. The quite fabulous Cullen Skink we enjoyed in Ullapool is also worthy of a special mention.
Our accommodation along the way is also something we’ll look back on fondly. Whether it was sleeping with wild pigs in the Kinlochewe Bunkhouse, drinking fine malt whiskey in The Rhiconich Hotel, or the quad rooms (named Stalag 17 & 18 by their occupants) in John O’Groats, all added to the overall experience.
As the final few miles passed and Inverness came back into view, it began to dawn on me that over the last four days I’d been lucky to experience something really quite special.
A massive thanks to those I’ve shared this experience with. Gary, Mark, SA, Darren, Charles, Dai, Max, Nick, and Simon, I only hope you all enjoyed the trip half as much as I did. Chapeau to you all.
A special mention to Gareth; our support driver for the trip. An absolutely awesome performance, I’m not sure he’ll ever quite appreciate his contribution to the trip. Thanks for allowing us to focus on the riding.
For me this trip has made me re-calibrate what constitutes a great ride, it’s like hitting the re-set button. I’ve really no idea where we go from here……..
Vive la Velo