The city of Nice seen from the surrounding hillside bathed in sunshine

Home Travel StoriesNorth Coast 500 2017

A Day Full Of Mystery And Magic

By Sharon Parker

Day 3  Glencoe to Applecross 125 miles. 

It is a grey misty morning, perfect I believe for a touch of magic and I have a mission this morning. My mission is to find Hagrid's Hut of Harry Potter fame. According to Nick, the great organiser of this trip, it is around here somewhere. My quest is joined by Ren, Pete and Kelvin who is wearing a skirt, not the kind of magic I had in mind. As a family my children and I went to see every Harry Potter film at the cinema and it became a great event. I think my girls will be thrilled if I can get a photo next to the famed giant's hut. 
We walk through lush green forests surrounded by a cinematic backdrop of mountains. No wonder they chose to film here, it really is stunning.

Massive hillsides in the mist and dark clouds at Glencoe and The Red Squirrel campsite
Mist and Magic..lets hope so 

The walk is not particularly far but I am getting out of breath already. I really am unfit, I should do something about this lack of fitness. However riding is so much more fun than walking, so walking is not really on the list these days. Hagrid's Huts fails to materialise before our eyes and we are surprised to find no signs declaring its whereabouts. Hmm, strange. Phones are pulled out and a reassuring dot appears on my map showing the whereabouts of the hut. We have inadvertently walked passed it because it is up that there hill. Oh dear that be climbing needed...did I say how unfit I am? 

3 men walking through Glencoe looking for hagrids hut. One is wearing a black skirt
We have yet to find magic but we already have strange sorted thanks to Midge nets, tights and skirts.

Being the intrepid explorer that I am I for once take the lead. Ever upwards but we are nearly there now...just a bit further...and behold we arrive to be stunned by...errr nothing. Errr, hmmm. Our maps on our phones all confirm this is the spot ...but there is no hut. We scratch our heads and do the usual confused human thing of just walking around in circles and keep looking even if there is nothing to look at. I get up the picture I have on my phone of Hagrid's Hut and behold yes this is definitely the spot. Same trees, same mountain but no hut. 

Massive mountains, small lochs, trees and steep hills all make Glencoe quite amazing
I have seen this all once before, in a movie not just in my mind.

We all look at one another and it all suddenly becomes clear. We are muggles and therefore cannot see it. It is here, just not for muggle eyes. I mean we arrived on motorbikes and not on a magical train after all. I always thought I might be a bit of a witch myself so though I understand the boys not seeing it I am rather disappointed I can not.

Sharon points at a small rock where Hargrid's house ought to be
Squint hard enough and I think you can turn this rock into Hagrid's Hut

Checking on the internet later ( reveals the following information 
"Filming for the third Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, took place on location in Glencoe in May and June 2003. Regular visitors to Clachaig Inn and Glencoe will spot a familiar looking backdrop in the film, and in subsequent Harry Potter films. During the spring of 2003, three sets were built near to the bottom of Clachaig Gully, and quite literally, just across the road from Clachaig Inn. The sets were located so as to take in the fantastic scenery, overlooking the Torren Lochan, and the Signal Rock forest to the rugged hills of the glen. The sets have now been removed and the hillsides returned to their natural state, leaving behind little evidence of the excitement that descended upon this quiet corner of the glen for a few weeks."

I however prefer our fiction rather the internet facts. After all you have to believe in magic to make it real. I could do with some magic on my fringe right now. Once again there is nowhere to plug in my straighteners and I have some kind of unruly over excited pet now residing where my fringe used to be. Thank goodness for helmets, even the wet soggy variety...hmm don't you just not love that squidgy feeling of wet helmet linings.  

Back at camp it is time to pack up and take a last appreciative look at our awe inspiring location. Butterflies begin to flutter around in my stomach as I contemplate today's ride. Today is the day I may or may not negotiate the notorious Applecross Pass. Although I know it has somewhat of a reputation and has hairpin bends on it I have done my utmost to know as little as possible about it. Fear wise the less I know the better for me. I am much better if I just have to handle the situation as it happens rather than knowing too much and getting nervous before hand. However the Pass was discussed last night and a few of the riders have decided to give it a miss and are going to take the easier alternate route. They are on unfamiliar new bikes and intuition is telling them not to attempt it. I am a great believer in going with your gut instincts but their guts have interfered with mine and now I am also undecided if I want to do it myself. Is it really so bad??? Yikes. 
I decide to hold fire on an ultimate decision until I get to the pass. I too can take the alternative route then if I so choose. 

A hearty breakfast at Morrisons settles the tummy somewhat. Then we ride and oh my, oh my what a ride. I squeal with pleasure inside my helmet at the feast of nature before my eyes. I shout out loud "Wow, wow, WOW!!" at every twist and turn. I giggle like a true lunatic at the sheer exhilaration and fun of it all. I feel slightly drunk on sheer happiness. I am in a biker's heaven and I am loving every single nano second of it. 
A sluggish motorhome briefly slows me down but not for too long. I do a much better overtake this time and I am back to whooping as they disappear surprisingly quickly from my mirrors. The Kawasaki Z250SL is performing a treat on these roads. What a little pocket rocket she can be...bharrrppppp!!! Oh what fun this all is.

Ren sits on his bike overlooking the magnificence of Loch Duich
We make sure we find the time just to stop and stare

We stop for a brew at the romantic looking Eilean Donan Castle. Ren tells me how it features in the film Highlander and then tells me off for being too happy and smiling too much. I can not help it I am so happy I think I might actually burst.

The Eilean Donan castle bathed in sun. The castle is on an island into the loch
It's so pretty but best not smile at it...the Ren is watching
Next stop is Lochcarron. A serene place to finally make the big decision as to whether or not I attempt the pass and ride the Bealach Na Ba, the infamous, historic, single track twisting road through the mountains. Caution is advised on this road but luckily for me today caution had been blown away and left behind. I have had a fantastic ride so far. Confidence is about as good as it is going to get so today is a good day to die...I mean ride. Lets do this thing.

Impressive Loch Carron with blue skies and a little seaweed in the waters
Spirits riding clouds on high, please keep me safe as I ride

At first all is well. I begin to relax, this is not as bad as I expected at all. But the road soon gets steeper and the drops at the side more precarious. The road narrows and the the tyres crunch through gravel. Steady now girl, steady. We catch up a to a car and then things go from a little bit nervous to down right scared. The car stops while going uphill as another car approaches it. The car in front of us begins to reverse towards us. Arghhh!! when are car drivers going to learn that bikes do not have a reverse gear? He obviously wants to get into the passing place we have just passed. Easy enough for him no doubt, not so easy for me. Heavy bike fully loaded, slippery gravely surface, only toes touching the floor and now I have to go backwards. Oh my God my heart tries to come into mouth as my foot slips, I am so going to drop this bike...I am sweating, I am scared. I want to have a long talk with myself about what the hell I am doing here but first I need to get this bike and myself into the passing place if I can. I can and I do...phew. 

I am now on high alert, this road is every bit as difficult as its reputation would have you believe. No fairy tales here this is cold hard twisty hell. I see the first hairpin, an extreme up hill right. Now is the time to call on every bit of my 30,000 miles of riding experience to help me. My hearts races as I rev the bike hard, do not stall, please do not stall. First one done but no time to relax here comes the second, a left hander this time, which feels easier than the first. Finally the third. Oh s#!t I am shaking now. I can not see around this bend at all. I am going in blind. If anything is coming the other way well err lets not think like that. This for me is the worse bend so far and I am petrified. I think I actually close my eyes at one point so as not to see any approaching doom. I really can not say how but somehow, someway I am still here upright and riding. Thank you bike, thank you stars above and anything else that kept me upright. The difficulty finally eases off as we approach the top of the mountain. Ren pulls in to stop, I just hope my shaky legs can support me as I do like wise. 

Sharon is jumping for joy having survived and conquered the Applecross Pass
Skies, Lochs, the sea, island and mountains all seen from the top of the Applecross passI am alive and on top of the world and what a view to behold

I am shaken up but elated. I did it I actually bloody well did it. Hooh ha.   
My heartbeat settles as I admire the magnificent views and we chat to a young lad. He is having a rest after just riding up the pass on his bicycle. He admitted it was hard work. This is his second time and probably his last. I wonder if this may be my first and last go. After all I now know how difficult it really is. 
We are joined by another couple on their motorbikes. We strike up a conversation about the terror of the road and the problems of waterproof bike gear never really being waterproof. I suggest they try the over trousers and Regatta style jackets that we wear. They are here on holiday from Germany and their big smiles and enthusiasm is endearing. I feel an instant bond to this couple I have just met on this mountain top. Kindred spirits are not easy to find so I am sad to have to bid them farewell so soon after meeting. 

The journey down the mountain in not without incident. Car drivers refuse to move over an inch and like to push me into gravel and almost over the edge. I have to squeeze past some cars without a millimetre left for error. Yes this is a challenging route. Not for the faint hearted, more for the slightly deranged. 

Applecross itself finally emerges and it's time for a nice cold cola from the pub in celebration. We are approached by another rider who had also just done the pass that day. In all the time I have been riding I have never encountered any one who is surprised that I am a female rider. In fact on this NC500 trip where there are many male riders present whom I had never met before I was surprised that no one was surprised in the least that women were riding in the group. There are 3 other ladies as well as myself. The males all treat the women totally the same as the men, just bike riders. No wows, no derogatory comments, just totally natural.  However this gentleman who said he had just completed the pass asked if we had just done the same. Ren says yes to which the guy replies," Oh right you did it two up then." He then looks at me and says, "So you are the pillion then?" The boyfriend laughs and replies, "Hell no she has her own bike she has just done the pass on, it's parked right next to you." 

Ren stands next to his 500 smiling in the sun at the Applecross Pub
This gorgeous man lead me to this gorgeous place. Thank you Ren

Applecross is a charming place. Gazing across the water to the Isle of Skye I still feel as high as the distant mountains. What a ride, what I day, I am so thrilled that I achieved the pass with both myself and the bike remaining in one piece.
We pitch up in glorious sunshine and I take a needed shower. Needless to say I sweated a bit today. We are joined later on by some of the other riders from our group and we all take a stroll on foot to the local pub. As the sun goes down, nature puts on a spectacular display. Orange and crimson tones fill the sky as the sun slips below the horizon and bids us farewell to a truly remarkable and memorable day. It may not have contained a giant's hut but we had magic all around us. 

Looking out over the short stretch of sea to The Isle Of Raasay and Skye from Applecross
The sun set over a peninsula from the sea wall at Applecross. Deep red sunset
A tree outlined against the setting sun and skies, very artistic
a small boat with outboard motor on the still waters near applecross as the sun sets deep orangeThe perfect end to a perfect day.

There's a comments section at the bottom of the page if you've anything to say about Sharon's magical day.

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

Anita Murphy said :-
Just read your review of the applecross pass - What a brilliant write up - looking forward to reading your others.
7/7/2017 6:24:45 AM UTC
Tom McQ said :-
Fantastic read. Sounds like a fab adventure you two had up there :-)

7/7/2017 7:55:45 AM UTC
Billy sherratt said :-
Beltin writeup Sharon. The muggles bit made me laugh. It sounds like cars should be banned from the applecross road. One day i will do the NC 500. You guys go when both me and my sharon are away.
Catch you and Ren soon.
Love Billy xxx
7/7/2017 12:24:34 PM UTC

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