Looking along a long straight road amidst lush green farmland

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North Coast 500 2017 Prologue

By Ren Withnell

You may not know what the North Coast 500 (NC500 or Route 500) is. Simply put it is a route around the northernmost coast of Scotland. You'll find plenty of maps and details if you search the internet. According to most reports this route was created by those people who's job it is to encourage tourism through the Scottish Highlands, which makes sense to me. I have heard a rumour that it is actually the brainchild of some southerner who may never have even been to Scotland but plans to make money by marketing products like stickers, T-shirts and the like. I've not seen any actual evidence this is true so I suspect it's a conspiracy theory.

That said the main website for the NC500 (http://www.northcoast500.com) does seem rather keen for you to "become a member" and "log in". Despite this the website will provide you with maps and advice without logging in so if you wish to find out more then it's a good place to start. 

Typical highland views of hills, mountains and rugged countryside
There'll be much to see on the route

"Ride The Noo!" is the group Sharon and I are going to travel with. In these days of social media it is easy to create a facebook group and promote said group to your friends, other groups and anyone else willing to listen. Nick started the group a couple of years back and has already completed several trips around the route. We know Nick through the Chunky Tread group I've mentioned several times before and Nick works alongside the Chunkies to make all this happen. 

Sharon and Nick together while setting up at the manchester bike show
The first time we met Nick at the chunky Tread Stand.

We know this is NOT an organised tour. This is merely a rough itinerary or guide as to dates and places to be if we should choose to attend. We're free to come and go as we please, ride with whoever we choose and we are responsible for ourselves. Nick is a regular chap with a regular job and does not want to become involved with booking campsites or accommodation, herding lost riders, organising food stops or the legal nightmare of ensuring everyone's safety. He simply provides a list of suggestions, that's all and I don't blame him!

Nick's suggestions are as follows.

  • Friday night 2nd June. Red Squirell Campsite Glencoe
  • Saturday night 3rd June. Ullapool Campsite
  • Sunday night 4th June. Sango Sands Campsite Durness
  • Monday night 5th June. John O'Groats Campsite
  • Tuesday night 6th June. Sleeperzzz, Rogart Station

When I look at this itinerary I spot two problems for Sharon and myself. Firstly in my opinion taking the clockwise route is the wrong way around. I, we have travelled most the roads previously and the most impressive sights are to be found on the west coast and I'd like to save these until last. I take a moment to consider this and look at the places Nick is suggesting. While I disagree with the direction I can see strong logistical reasons why he's doing it this way. Sleeperzzz at Rogart is a hostel with a lot of character, a pub nearby that offers food and more character and is placed such as to provide a crescendo, a high note on which to end the trip. Glencoe provides an easy to find and well known starting point. OK, I get it now.

Secondly is the long ride between Glencoe and Ullapool. If we are to follow the official NC500 route this makes for a 230 mile ride. Again I understand why Nick has chosen to do this. This is the day when most riders will still be fresh, those who don't want a long run can detour and take a much simpler 130 mile route if they wish and Nick wants to keep the ride to as few days as possible as we all have jobs, family and such. 

Sharon skimming stones at ullapool in a glorious sunset
Sweet memories of Ullapool in 2012

I would like to take the official NC500 route but I do not relish the idea of 230 miles of highland single track, the Applecross pass and having to press on through some of the most beautiful parts of the world when I'd rather be taking my time and soaking in the delights. There's a strong chance it will be raining too. I talk to Sharon, pour over the maps and consider our options. The beauty of this not being rigidly organised is we can take a few extra days off work and arrive early. We revise the itinerary for ourselves to the following.

  • Thursday night 1st June. Red Squirell Campsite Glencoe 
  • Friday night 2nd June. Applecross Campsite.
  • Saturday night 3rd June. Ullapool Campsite
  • Sunday night 4th June. Sango Sands Campsite Durness
  • Monday night 5th June. John O'Groats Campsite
  • Tuesday night 6th June. Sleeperzzz, Rogart Station

By throwing in an extra night at Applecross this means we'll not join the rest of the group until Ullapool but it does break up the long day quite nicely. I mention this to Nick via Facebook and his attitude is "yeah, whatever works for you two, cool." 

Castle Stalker, a ruin set against a beautiful loch and hillsYou wouldn't want to rush past this kind of scenery.

Now we need to organise getting all the way up north and all the way back. I have on quite a few occasions travelled to Fort William in one day, passing through Glencoe. However I have learned that this is a long hard slog. I'm sure some of you reading this will say "pfffft! lightweight" and that's fine, I envy the ability of some folks to cover 300, 400 and even 500 miles in one day. I am capable of it, but I find little or no pleasure in it. With some organisation and using up of Sharon's precious holiday entitlement our itinerary becomes as follows

  • Wednesday night 31st May. Heads of Ayr Campsite, Ayr.
  • Thursday night 1st June. Red Squirell Campsite Glencoe 
  • Friday night 2nd June. Applecross Campsite.
  • Saturday night 3rd June. Ullapool Campsite
  • Sunday night 4th June. Sango Sands Campsite Durness
  • Monday night 5th June. John O'Groats Campsite
  • Tuesday night 6th June. Sleeperzzz, Rogart Station
  • Wednesday night 7th June. Somewhere halfway home.

The last thing to do is book into Sleeperzzz at Rogart. This being a hostel it has limited spaces and as such we are told we need to book. It seems the trip is popular and it is already mostly booked up, dammit. However for an extra price the "Strathisla" unit is available. While the extra cost goes against my prudent beliefs it does mean Sharon and I will have our own little space rather than bunking up with the rest of the scumbags...I mean riders on the trip. This appeals to my snobbery.

see also
Chunky Tread Hard Nuts Xmas Do
Chunky Tread Motorcycle Adventure Club Facebook page
Chunking Campastrophy 2017
Travelling Light

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?
Into Ullapool 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.
BEE Happy 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?
Stolen Limelight 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.

Reader's Comments

Mark ukulele smith said :-
Absolutely spot on
20/6/2017 10:48:09 AM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Cheers Mark :)
20/6/2017 12:45:56 PM UTC

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