Trip to Scotland to ride the NC500 – Part 3

Our timing to get the ferry back to the mainland from Mull couldn’t of been better. We rolled up at the Fishnish ferry terminal, grabbed a coffee and a bite to eat and minutes later the ferry arrived. We were pretty much at the front of the short queue and the ferry sailed mostly empty.

From the Lochaline ferry terminal we headed north to the Glenfinnan Viaduct.

The Glenfinnan Viaduct – Ben Jackson

The Glenfinnan Viaduct was made famous by the Harry Potter movies and they make the most of this at the visitor centre. The Hogwarts Express, is filmed crossing the viaduct in  several of the films. The train shown is actually the Jacobite Steam Engine that operates over part of the West Highland Line on a regular basis taking tourists between Fort William and Mallaig.

Another view of the Glenfinnan Viaduct across the stream

It was a dull, misty overcast day and we couldn’t see much of the views along the route and so decided to head to Mallaig to get the ferry across to Armadale on the Isle of Skye.

Map showing the route along the A830 to Mallaig
View of a viaduct going across Loch Lochailort⁩ enroute to Mallaig

The route to the Mallaig ferry terminal was a lovely twisty road but, we saw very little of the surrounding countryside due to the weather. In less than an hour we arrived at the ferry terminal only to find we couldn’t check in until 4pm.

Ben did get a photo of the Jacobite Steam Engine at the station in Mallaig on the way into the town which made up for not seeing it cross the viaduct.

The Jacobite Steam Engine – Ben Jackson

We parked the bikes up in the town and headed off to The Tea Garden Cafe for a bite to eat and to take a look at the map of Skye to get an idea of what we wanted to see and ride there.

Ben taking a nap whilst we waited for the ferry arrive

Having checked in at 4pm we had two hours to kill waiting for the ferry. There’s not a lot to do or see at the ferry port and so Ben grabbed 40 winks whilst I looked at the map of Skye for campsites etc.

Upper deck on the Mallaig to Armadale ferry

Once on board the ferry we got comfy and enjoyed the short ride across the sea to the Isle of Skye.

Upon arriving on the Isle of Skye we headed straight to Camping Skye to get a pitch for a couple of days. We decided to stay at the one campsite and then ride out each day to see the sights rather than move to a new campsite each day. This gave us sometime to use the clothes washing and drying facilities available as some of our gear was in need of some serious drying after the wet weather we’d endured.

Camping Skye

The next day we headed out to Portree, the biggest town on Skye and also the capital of the Isle. It is the location for the only secondary school on the island, Portree High School. Portree has a harbour, fringed by cliffs, with a pier designed by Thomas Telford.

It’s a fairly busy little town with the main square being the place to be for food, drink and the Sheriff court, where we decided to park our bikes!

Portree main square

Fortunately the motorcycle parking outside the Sheriff Court was free and there was plenty of room for our two steeds. We assumed it’s probably the safest place to park in the town.

Portree Harbour

A walk up the hill from the town square gives a great view of the harbour front with its coloured buildings and stone gathering hall in the background.

We spent two days touring around the Isle of Skye taking in the views best we could under the low cloud and drizzle that seemed to follow us around. The scenery is spectacular and it would had been nice to be able to see it on a beautiful sunny day, but we made the most of what we had. There’s some great riding to be had on Skye which is covered in small, single track lanes that both follow the coastline and cut through the wilderness in the centre of the isle.

Skye Museum of Island Life, Kilmuir (Closed due to COVID19)

When the time came to leave Skye we returned to the mainland via the Skye Bridge and headed north towards the Bealach na Ba pass to Applecross.

View from the road at Strathcarron⁩ heading north to the Bealach na Ba Pass

The Bealach na Ba pass is the third highest road in Scotland at 626 metres (2,054 ft), with steep inclines and hairpin bends. The historic mountain pass was built in 1822 so that cattle could be moved easily through the mountains. The name is Scottish Gaelic for Pass of the Cattle and is pronounced Bee-al-uch nu Ba(h).

Sadly once we got up fairly high we found ourselves in fine rain and mist, so we never really got to see any of the views. The video footage wasn’t too brilliant either as the rain constantly filled the lens of the camera. Most of the motorists gave way to us and waited at the passing places so that we could get past without stopping apart from one delivery van who was coming through whether there was enough room or not!

Once we arrived at Applecross we continued along the coastal route heading north to Ullapool where we would stay the night.

Stopped by the side of the road at Achnasheen⁩ to take in the view enroute to Ullapool
Route up to Ullapool from Applecross

By the time we got to Ullapool my Tenere 700 was pretty much out of fuel as it only has a range of around 200 miles, unlike Ben’s Honda AfricaTwin that can cover almost 300 miles between fill ups. Fortunately one of the first things we saw on our arrival to Ullapool was a petrol station.

Ullapool is a small town located in Ross and Cromarty located around 45 miles (72 km) northwest of Inverness. Being a ferry port town it’s a busy little place with lots of people passing through daily. There is a regular ferry service to Stornoway, the main town of the Western Isles and the capital of Lewis and Harris.

Right at the end of the main street on the coast is the Broomfield Holiday Park. It’s a fairly flat, large campsite with great views across Loch Broom.

View across Loch Broom from the Broomfield Holiday Park, Ullapool

Once settled in at the campsite we headed off into town to the Deli-Ca-Sea Fish and Chip shop for a bite to eat.

After a good nights sleep we were up fairly early to get packed up before the rain arrived. Being an early riser I’d had a walk along the beach before Ben had woken. I love the solitary moments where you’re completely alone with nothing more than the view and your thoughts.

There were a number of small Cairns carefully constructed on the beach which created some excellent photography opportunities. It’s the simple little things like this that you always remember about a trip. These simple memory markers will remind me of our time in Ullapool for years to come.

Heading north out of Ullapool, John O’Groats is only 158 miles away via the NC500 coastal road. 158 miles would normally take around 3 hours or so but, on these Scottish single track roads with constant stops to allow traffic through and photograph opportunities we planned for it to take most of the day.

NC500 route from Ullapool to John O’Groats

Our first stop on the road north was at Ardvreck Castle. This 16th century castle stands on a rocky promontory jutting out into Loch Assynt and is just a ruin today. The castle was once the home of the MacLeods of Assynt family.

Ben took the opportunity to give his drone a fly and capture some aerial footage of the castle ruins.

A little further up the road we arrived at the Kylesku Bridge (officially known since 2019 by its Gaelic name Drochaid a’ Chaolais Chumhaing). It is a beautifully curved concrete bridge that crosses Loch aChàirn Bhàin. The bridge is set in a picturesque location and has one of the best wild camping spots we came across on the whole trip.

A panoramic view of the Kylesku Bridge and Loch

This was another great opportunity for Ben to fly his drone and capture the curvature of the bridge which appears somewhat straight in photos.

Ben flying his drone at the Kylesku Bridge

We spent quite a bit of time at the bridge taking photos, chatting with people and capturing video footage using the drone. Here’s a snippet from Ben’s drone footage, I’m sure he’ll be putting more online soon.

We continued north up to the coast at Durness where is was windy and cold. The ride along the north coast road was beautiful but the wind and cold took it’s toll on us and we had to make a stop for food and hot drinks on the way.

View from the north coast road
The ever changing weather with occasional blue sky
Camped at John O’Groats on the cliff above the sea

We finally arrived at John O’Groats cold and tired. We got the tents up and then headed over to the shops to see what we could find to eat. Sadly everything closes early even though there are loads of people on the campsite all looking for food in the evenings! We managed to get a sandwich and some pie and cheesecake from a cafe just as it was closing and headed back to our tents to get out of the cold wind and fill our bellies.

We spent the night at John O’Groats in the howling wind, waking early in the morning desperate for a hot brew.

From this point on every mile we rode took us a mile closer to home for the first time.

More soon …

Trip to Scotland to ride the NC500 – Part 1

I’ve been to Scotland many times in my life but, not once have I ridden the North Coast 500 (NC500) in it’s entirety. Since we’re not able to travel internationally at the moment due to the ongoing COVID19 pandemic that is still causing havoc globally I decided to travel closer to home.

NC500 Route By Thincat – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79134229

Scotland is a good 800 miles or more from home by road and since I’m retired there’s no rush to get there so I decided to take the scenic route.

Looking at the map I thought it would be great to take in Lincolnshire, the North York Moors, the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District on the way up.

I didn’t want to book any campsites or lodgings as I felt I needed the ability to just travel freely without time restraint or restriction, to just wander wherever I wanted for as long as I wanted, whenever I wanted.

I invited a friend of mine Ben Jackson to come along as we’re planning on the doing the Mongolia trip together and so it would be a good idea to try a trip together here in the U.K. Ben was of course up for this and had his holiday booked with work in no time at all. (Yes he still works unlike me!)

I decided to head off a few days before Ben just to take in some of the sights enroute and we agreed to meet up in the Yorkshire Dales a few days later. This left me lots of time to wander around Lincolnshire and the North York Moors on my own riding the small single track lanes as much as possible.

I’ve ridden and camped in the Lincolnshire Wolds before but, it’s a lovely part of the world and I was happy to head back there again. I had a great ride up from Suffolk taking the slow route over the Humber bridge and then north into the Wolds.

I stayed at the Little Owls Campsite for the night, a nice little site just north west of the Wolds AONB.

Set up for the night at The Little Owls Campsite Lincolnshire

I decided to take my big tent with me on this trip as I was expecting rain in Scotland and it’s extremely useful to have a separate area to store wet riding gear whilst keeping the sleeping area dry. I’ve had my Coleman 3 Man tent for a number of years now and it’s lasting well.

After a good nights sleep a coffee first thing in the morning is a must

The next day I took a slow ride up into the North York Moors. This is a lovely part of the world and I’ve not been back there for many a year so, it was great to just get out onto the moors and enjoy the views again.

Whilst riding the tiny lanes around the moors I stumbled across a great little farm campsite. It’s beautifully situated on the side of a hill overlooking the valley below and gets the most amazing sunsets.

Needless to say I stayed there for the second night and just absorbed the view, it was truly wonderful.

The Lawnsgate Farm Campsite was a great find, it’s a super little campsite with great facilities run by a lovely farming family. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere and everyone, including bikers are welcome. I highly recommend you stay at least one night here.

Before I stumbled across the campsite I went to the Yorkshire Cycle Hub for something to eat. This is a great little cafe and cycle shop situated in the wilds of the moors. They’ve a great selection of food available both hot and cold with plenty of seating inside and out. With a big car park out front it’s easy to park the bike up and sit and enjoy the views and some good food for an hour or so.

The following morning I packed up once more and headed west into the Yorkshire Dales, a part of the country I’ve not spent a lot of time traveling through in the past but, somewhere I dearly love.

Once again I had no plan of where to go or where to stay, just ride there and see what happens, my favourite way to travel.

Heading west through the tiny back lanes keeping clear of all the main roads, I lost myself for hours just enjoying the views and the little villages enroute.

My next notable stop was at the Ribblehead Viaduct, a famous landmark in Yorkshire that’s well known to most train spotters (not that I am one!!) and on this day it was no different.

When I arrived and parked up I was surprised to see so many people sitting on chairs with with large telephoto lenses on very expensive looking cameras in lines across the grasslands. Clearly something special was going to happen but, I had no idea what.

Making sure I had my trusty Canon 1300D DSLR camera and lenses with me I ventured over to the area where many people were waiting patiently. After a few conversations with many of the avid train spotters it was clear that a steam engine was going to cross the viaduct any time soon and that it was a special occasion that happens rarely these days. Sadly no one could tell me which steam engine it was going to be, but it was definitely going to be one worth photographing, apparently.

Within minutes of my arrival sure enough a steam engine did chuff across the viaduct slowly to the click of a thousand cameras. The viaduct itself is an engineering marvel, spanning quite some distance, its tall beautiful arches stand proudly above the valley below.

For me the viaduct was the most impressive sight, to think it was constructed in the 1870’s by 2300 workers most of whom lived in shanty towns set up near its base is incredible. After 4 years of hard labour, millions of bricks and the loss of some lives, the viaduct was finally complete.

You can find a lot more information about the Ribblehead Viaduct on Wikipedia.

The Ribblehead Viaduct in the afternoon sun
Ribblehead Viaduct with a little artistic licence

After spending some considerable time at the viaduct it was soon time to think about finding somewhere to camp for the night. Jumping onto Google Maps I soon found a plethora of campsites but, one in particular caught my eye. A little farm campsite not far from the viaduct tucked away in the hills, it sounded idyllic.

Heading off it was only a few minutes of riding and I arrived at the Philpin Farm Campsite. This campsite turned out to be a little gem and so I decided to stay for two nights so that I could explore the area further the following day.

The Philpin Farm Campsite is a small, beautifully maintained campsite run by a small farming family, nestled gently on the side of a valley overlooking fields of sheep and cattle. The facilities are clean and tidy, there’s a barn with a cafe to hide in if the weather is really bad and free wifi in a 3/4g dead zone, absolutely perfect!

A panoramic view of the campsite and surrounding countryside

Since the cafe does breakfast daily I decided to partake of the offering, for £6.00 you get a full cooked breakfast and a cup of tea or coffee, all freshly cooked when you want. Great local produce at an incredibly cheap price, sets me up perfectly for the day.

The following day I headed out on the bike once more and ventured deeper into the Dales. The views are spectacular and I found myself stopping regularly and sitting by the side of the road just absorbing the surroundings. It’s so quiet in the Dales that you can hear people talking across the other side of the valley, it’s an incredibly peaceful place to be.

I decided to follow the route of the railway that went over the Ribblehead Viaduct to see if I could find anymore viaducts or bridges. Sure enough I soon found another, smaller viaduct tucked away in the wilds of the countryside.

The Dentdale viaduct is considerably smaller than the Ribblehead viaduct but, built using the same technique and stone. I wondered if it had actually been built by the same workers that built the Ribblehead viaduct.

The Dentdale viaduct as seen from the road
The Dentdale viaduct viewed from the valley side

I spent the rest of the day just bimbling around the back lanes of the dales for miles and miles getting completely lost without a care in the world.

Later that day I headed back to the campsite to meet Ben as I’d sent him the map location details for the Philpin Farm Campsite as it was an ideal spot to meet up to continue our trip north.

More soon …