Trip to Scotland to ride the NC500 – Part 2

Leaving the Philpin Farm campsite Ben and I headed north west to the Lake District to ride the Wrynose and Hardknott passes. These are well known passes that can get very busy in the summer months so, we were ready for them to be packed with traffic.

The sun was shining and there was hardly a cloud in the sky as we arrived at the Wrynose pass. Pretty much free of traffic we made our way along the single track road gradually getting higher and higher. The views were spectacular and we stopped multiple times to get photos.

The Wrynose pass leads directly into the Hardknott pass so it’s just a case of continuing along the same track to ride both passes. Fortunately there wasn’t much traffic so, this allowed us to stop whenever we wanted to take photos and enjoy the views. The ride gets more difficult the further into it you get with the climb ending with some very steep, tight switch back turns. Thankfully we negotiated them without issue.

Views from the passes on the way up
Map showing the Wrynose and Hardknott passes

Since it was peak holiday time we weren’t able to find anywhere by the lakes to camp for the night and so we ended up staying the night at the Wallace Farm Campsite near Brocklebank. We actually stumbled across this campsite whilst on our way to another campsite closer to Carlisle. The Wallace Farm Campsite is pretty much on top of a hill overlooking the area with great views. The facilities are excellent (has the best bathroom facilities I’ve ever seen at a campsite!!) and John the owner is a biker so we were made most welcome!

Plenty of space at the Wallace Farm Campsite

The next morning we were up bright and early to head north to Gretna Green and then on up to Lockerbie to visit the memorial to Pan Am flight 103

Lockerbie Memorial

Gretna Green was a funny little town full of wedding chapels. There wasn’t that much there for us to see and so we pushed on through to Lockerbie.

The Lockerbie memorial is in a small, quiet garden area on what looks like a new housing estate. Being quietly tucked away from everything around it, the memorial lists the names of the locals who were killed in the tragedy. It’s a peaceful place to be whilst remembering those who lost their lives.

Before we left Lockerbie we needed to get some breakfast and a brew, Cafe 91 gets great reviews so we headed straight there. This is a super little cafe that has a great menu with something for everyone. We went for the cooked breakfast of course and weren’t disappointed. The staff are great, service is excellent and the food excellent too!
If you’re in Lockerbie drop by and sample their breakfast or lunch, you won’t be disappointed.

Cafe 91 Lockerbie

Upon leaving Cafe 91 full of the finest Scottish breakfast we crossed over the road to take a look at some sheep that were on the pavement opposite. Of course, being the guys we are, we had to have a test ride! Sadly neither of us got our knees down but, Ben was close!


From Lockerbie we continued north towards Lochaline to get the ferry across to the Isle of Mull via Glencoe. The weather was great, warm, sunny and pretty much cloud free. Upon arriving at Glencoe we decided to ride the cable car up to the top of the ski area.

It was great to get out of most of the biking gear and head up onto the mountain in the fresh air and just enjoy the views. It was surprisingly quiet for peak summer so we made the most of watching the mountain bike riders racing down the trails. (Video of the cable car ride to come!)

Once we’d come down from the mountain we jumped back on the bikes and continued towards to Lochaline.

Rather than ride all the way up to Fort William to get on the other side of Loch Linnhe, we took the short ferry crossing at Nether Lochaber Ferry Terminal to save a few miles of riding. It’s a very short crossing of only a few minutes but, a most pleasant experience and highly recommended. No booking necessary, just turn up and wait in line, you’ll normally be across within 20mins and get to meet some of the locals who are full of information of where the best places are to stay.

Map showing Nether Lochaber Ferry Terminal

Once across the loch the ride to Lochaline was mostly single track road with many passing places taking much longer to traverse than we thought. Fortunately it was very scenic and a most enjoyable ride. Arriving at the Lochaline Ferry Terminal there were already enough vehicles there to fill the ferry when it came in and so we had to wait for it to come back and collect us on the next pass. This gave us a couple of hours to relax, get a bite to eat, a coffee and chat with the other people waiting for the ferry. You meet people from all walks of life at these kind of places and it’s always great to make the most of the opportunity.

Arriving at Fishnish on the Isle of Mull we headed straight for a campground a chap at the ferry terminal had told us about. Apparently it was run by a mate of his, was a good campsite with excellent facilities and we’d be made most welcome.

The Pennygown Holiday Park looked pretty empty as we pulled in so we thought we’d have no problem getting a pitch for a couple of days. Going into reception it all looked fairly new and the people were friendly enough and made us welcome, strangely though we were told there was no space for us at the campsite even though there were plenty of empty pitches. We queried this only to be told a little more firmly that they were all booked and there was no space for us. So not wanting to push any further we headed back out to the bikes and started looking for somewhere else to stay.

Within minutes we’d spoken to the Tobermory Campsite on the phone and they had plenty of room for us, so we suited up and headed off.

As a side note, a couple of days later we rode past the Pennygown Holiday Park again and it was still very empty, all the same pitches were still vacant. This wouldn’t be the first time we’d be turned away from a campsite on our trip and we got the feeling that some places didn’t want bikers on their site.

An hour later we were settled in at the Tobermory Campsite and ready for a bite to eat!
We decided to head into the town and see what culinary delights were available as we were both pretty hungry.

Arriving in Tobermory I was a bit disappointed to say the least. All the glossy brochures and online photos etc show Tobermory as this lovely, bright well kept town full of happy tourists, if only!

To me Tobermory looked really sad, full of tacky little takeaways that looked decidedly dodgy. The painted buildings looked like they needed a repaint and the town in general looked tired and could do with some investment. I was saddened.

On the other hand Ben loved it! He thought it was full of character and would definitely be back. It’s amazing how two people can see the same thing so differently!

Tobermory Sea Front from the Pier
People queuing at the only super market in Tobermory
View of the harbour from the cliff top

After walking the entire length of the sea front and back again we decided that the Indian take-away that also did chinese and something else looked the least dodgy and so we grabbed some food from there and took it back to the campsite to eat.

One thing we had been told about the Tobermory Campsite was that it had the worst midge problem on the island and they weren’t wrong! The next day we headed back down into the town to get some smidge and anthisan from the pharmacy to deal with all the bites we’d got over night. Those little bugs love to bite!

Evidence of midge activity in Tobermory

The Isle of Mull has some great riding, there are lots of single track roads that go out into the mountainous wilds. The views are stunning.

If you’ve made the effort to ride all the way up to Scotland then the Isle of Mull is one of those places you just have to visit. Ride the big loop routes in the north and south of the island and take in the views, even in the wet it’s truly beautiful.

Map of the Isle of Mull showing north and south loop roads

Whilst riding the southern loop road we took the detour out to Fionnphort on the south western tip of Mull and caught the ferry across to Iona. On this little island you’ll find the old abbey and nunnery ruins. There’s also a campsite and a heritage centre. It’s a very peaceful little place mainly due to the fact that you cannot take motor vehicles there unless you have a residency permit. So be prepared to do a lot of walking if you venture to Iona.

Iona Island off the south western tip of Mull

After two days on the Isle of Mull it was time to head back to the mainland and ride up to the Isle of Skye.

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 …