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 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 …