Everyone has heard of the North Coast 500 (NC500) as an amazing motorcycling route that is coined as "Britain's Route 66" - but very few people venture off this brilliant route to see some of the brilliance that is slightly off piste......... This is just one of countless brilliant deviations to the NC500 that we believe is worth adding some miles to one of your days whilst doing it. Or if you live in Northern Scotland and haven't ridden these roads, you absolutely should!!
This RIDE covers approximately 25 miles of the NC500 route between Tongue and Melvich where you are following well trodden tyre tracks of every other NC500 rider. Other than that it is out into the northern wilderness of Sutherland which is home to mountains, lochs and shooting estates with not much else - Perfect for biking!!
The section that passes Loch Badanloch is brilliant!! Pretty much all of this route is single width roads with passing places, so not what you would class as somewhere that you can go too quickly. That is just as well as if you were head down you wouldn't get the chance to check out the fabulous scenery that you are riding through.
As part of a shooting estate the area is populated with a strong population of deer. This is another reason to keep your wits about you and your speed slightly restricted. These animals are not really too bothered by vehicles - or weren't when I passed them and they steadily meandered by me without a care in the world, but my what a sight in the wild!!!
This section of road is, in fairness nothing too special but it is all about the remoteness of the location, the fact that you are very unlikely to cross other vehicles and the scenery in 360 degrees around you. This is a place that it can be just you the road and your bike enjoying what riding gives you and just taking in this beautiful area of the world.
As you head uphill away from the Loch you see a lonely white painted building that looks like it has been stuck randomly on the hillside. This is The Garvault Hotel and would be a great location to stop as part of your NC500 journey, right in the middle of absolutely nowhere but right on your RIDE.
Onward from the Garvault Hotel you proceed along the narrow tarmac that dissects peat bogs and passes sporadic patches of commercial woodland and small lochs (or lochans locally). Often here you can see for a good distance ahead and the tarmac is (or was when I visited) actually pretty decent condition so if you felt the urge to wind the throttle a little there are places to do so.
Places to stop, relax & grab a bite or a brew
On this route you can pretty much stop anywhere you like as there is very little other traffic to be affected by your decision to stop to maybe grab a photo or just to soak in the brilliant views. There aren't many places on the route for food stops
I decided to stop at Bettyhill where there is a little store that does a great scotch pie. I was stopping in the to to head down to the beach which looked great on a map and didn't disappoint in real life. it would be a great surfing beach with some cracking waves rolling in - If you were brave enough to get in the water up here that is!!
There is a decent Fish & Chip shop in Helmsdale that does great portions for the money and this kept me going for the full ride, other than my cheeky Scotch Pie.
Other great parts of the ride
Strathy Point is another spot that gives you a good perspective of the dramatic northern coastline. It is a slight detour that takes you directly north up the peninsula that stretches out into the sea, giving great views of the cliffs when you look back.
Between Melvich and Kinbrace there is a place called Forsinard and here the RSPB have built a lookout tower for wildlife spotting. It was still in construction when I visited but it provides amazing views of the scenery in this area as well as the wildlife that inhabits this area. The road from Melvich to Kinbrace is on par with all others you have ridden in this RIDE, single width, great scenery and good fun. Details about the visitor centre HERE
At Baile an Or just to the west of Helmsdale, you can pan for gold in the Kildonan Burn - there was actually a guy doing just this when I passed which seemed a little odd up in the Scottish hills. There is a sign board giving details about this. Here is some info on this spot for those that are interested in the great Scottish gold rush
Some photographs from around this route provided by the Facebook Group members of Highland Bikers
Thank you to the following people for providing the images: