Travel StoriesNorth Coast 500 2017
By Ren Withnell
Another successful night's sleep - more evidence that I am in a parallel universe. Things are slow to get going this morning. Sharon and I never consciously make a decision to ride with the rest of our small breakaway group it just seems that we're all sort of ready at the same time, we're all going the same way and we're all sort of in the same kind of mood I guess. It just feels natural and right today.
Pack up and load up. Dry and warm in the morning sun.
With bags on our bikes and the sun in the sky we depart. We are being lead by everyone's hero, the infamous Bernard Smith then alongside Sharon and I ride Sue, Dawn and Peter. That's 6 bikes all winding through a serpentine trail along the peninsula coast and of course the superlative scenery. It takes what seems to be an age to cover just 25 miles but this is single track that rises and falls then writhes and wriggles through the angular multilevel geology. Speed is impossible with blind bends and hidden dips, such is the nature of this road. It is still great fun though.
Bernard takes us off the main road for a brew break at a cafe in Sheildaig. As we return to the bikes there's just a spot of rain, I suggest it may be time to waterproof up again.
Sheildaig, beautiful as expected through the skies are darkening.
The road between Kinlochewe and Gairloch is twin track and a much faster more sweeping affair. The rain is intermittent but heavy enough to ensure the road is wet and Bernard is maintaining a just about legal 60 or so mph speed through all but the sharpest turns. I have a feeling for the road today and keeping up in spite of my usually gentle wet weather pace seems perfectly natural and secure. Given time and practice I may make an average motorcyclist one day.
Gairloch is the next brew break and the rain is more intermittent now to the point where you could argue it's "mainly dry". One more photo opportunity is taken just before we turn onto the A835 and into Ullapool. Considering the changeable weather I must say the ride has been wonderful, matching the scenery. I am thankful we've split this leg, it's made the journey much more relaxing and pleasurable.
The rain comes and goes, the views are always melodramatic.
Regular readers will know I fell in love with Ullapool quite a few years ago now (The Scottish Trip 2008 - Thurso To Ullapool). I feel right at home here, I know where the petrol station is to fill up, I know where the campsite is and I know where the pubs, chippy and shops are too. Adventuring into strange and unfamiliar territories is all very exciting but sometimes the familiar can be welcome too. I get that ridiculous coming home feeling again.
We get the tent up and the gear stowed away just in the nick of time. As we depart to go to the shops the rain starts, I'd say that was perfect timing. I have just declared how well I know Ullapool only to find I'm lost and I've taken the longest and most convoluted route to Tesco, I ought to be ashamed of myself, fool. At least we have supplies for the next couple of days as the rain grows heavier on the now short walk back to the tent.
Here comes the rain!
I am quite concerned about those making the full journey from Glencoe to here. While it won't go dark until after 2200 I do hope they're OK, as and when they do arrive they'll be making camp in the rain and they will surely be exhausted and travel weary by now. A little later I'm relieved to hear the sound of multiple motorcycles pulling onto the site and up close to our camp. They are indeed wet and weary but everyone is fine and in good spirits. They're a hardy bunch I must say.
One member has a brand new Triumph Bobber, another lady is on a Yammy scoot with "L" plates.
The evening brings a sit down meal in the curry house at the entrance to the campsite. While I doubt the restaurant will win any Michelin stars the food is satisfactory, the prices manageable and the company is perfectly convivial. Sharon and I engage with people we know, people we only met yesterday and people we've only just met this evening. What is patently clear is although some of us are strangers there's no holds barred with the banter being both teasing and rude tonight. I shall don my thick skin.
After a drink in one of the pubs Sharon and I retire for the evening. It has been another worthwhile day and tomorrow should hopefully bring more of the same. I do like Ullapool.
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North Coast 500 2017 Prologue
Ren looks at the wheres, whys and hows of this year's trip to the North of Scotland. This time they're with a group, kind of, sort of, maybe.
Panicking, Boredom and Pleasure
After the pre-departure concerns and a dull stretch of motorway things improve as Sharon and Ren head north on the first leg of their adventure.
Letting Sleeping Sad Sacks Lie
It's Sharon's turn to tell her version of the first day's events for this trip. After recently having surgery to remove a tumour is she even fit enough for the forthcoming journey?
The Best Of The Worst
Heading into the Highlands brings forth both rain and midges for our travellers. Fear not though as they are both prepared and fortuitous (ready and lucky).
Twisty roads and Twisted Friends
Sharon discovers the joy of riding Highland roads is more than enough to blow away the blues even in the rain. Nothing can stop her now.
Muggles at Bealach Na Ba
With improving weather and impressive surroundings Sharon has to make a major life changing decision. Will she...won't she...can she...should she...?
A Day Full Of Mystery And Magic
Sharon's journey into The Highlands is a mixture of magic, fear, delight, beauty and sheer survival. Can she remain shiny side up over The Applecross Pass?
While the weather takes a turn for the worst it's not nearly enough to put the dampeners on a group ride. Follow our trekkers along the Highland coastline and into Ren's favourite town, Ullapool.
There's a lot of emotions flowing through Sharon today but they all lead to one conclusion. Life is for living because tomorrow is not a certainty. The Highlands is an excellent space to make the most of life today.
Priceless Scenery And Pies
The next part of the NC500 adventure is arguably the most beautiful part. Will the weather hold out and just how expensive can 2 pies be? All this and more besides.
Friends Come In All Shades Of Blue
Fabulous scenery along fabulous road put a big smile on Sharon's face. There's friends old and new and some of the new friends are wearing blue. But why?
Riding across the very top of the country is always a pleasure even if it's raining. However Ren's day is ruined due to Sharon's fame.
Envy Attracts Envy And Fame
Sharon is revelling in the wonders of The Highlands, the delights of meeting fellow travellers and in upsetting Ren by being famous.
Sleeperzzz In The Rain
It's a soaking wet day riding from John O'Groats back south. There's the promise of a hearty meal and a proper bed at the end of the day to keep the riders going.
Fairly Dry And Rather Bracing
In spite of the awful weather Sharon's making the most of the last day riding the North Coast 500. At least she gets spoiled at the end of the day.
Failure and Reality
There is nothing left any more, nothing to look forward to now the adventure is complete. Ren just wants to get home but is that just a little too much to expect?
Thrills And Spills
There's a whole heap of miles to be covered for Sharon on her way home. How many can she cover, can she enjoy or endure them and will she survive?
North Coast 500 2017 Epilogue
Ren sums up the experience of riding the NC500. It's all about the people, the route just speaks for itself.
The End Of The Story Leaves Me Speechless
Sharon rounds off the NC500 adventure with the wrong breakfast, the wrong weather and the wrong traffic. Luckily these are just tiny hiccups on what was a most excellent adventure.
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Travel StoriesNorth Coast 500 2017