the North Coast 500: A Great Wilderness?

Cycle-touring, Expeditions, Adventures, Major cycle routes NOT LeJoG (see other special board)
althebike
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Joined: 10 May 2018, 12:58pm

Scotland north coast 500

Postby althebike » 28 May 2019, 11:17am

I notice that the route for this ride is almost entirely on A roads. Does anyone have any suggestions or advice on bits to avoid, or paved detours that would make for a more relaxing trip?
There does not seem many options on the west coast, maybe not too busy? The stretch up through tongue, bettyhill, thurso, dunnet and JOG I am familiar with, but the route then goes south through Wick following the main road to Inverness


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Tinnishill
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Re: Scotland north coast 500

Postby Tinnishill » 28 May 2019, 12:11pm

Last week, heard a woman comment that she had been round the route and "had lots of marvelous views of the back doors of camper vans".
Agitate, educate, organise.

mattheus
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Re: Scotland north coast 500

Postby mattheus » 28 May 2019, 12:29pm

Do you have a link to the "official" NC500 route?

I can tell you that I rode the A-roads up to/past Durness twice before the "500" became a thing - both in July - and there was bu99er-all traffic. Same for a lot of the A-roads in the NW - single-track with passing-places, hardly trunk roads.

I would only use the A9 when it is very very quiet, and would divert to lairg and/or Bonar Bridge on the way to Inverness - very nice roads.

bohrsatom
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Re: Scotland north coast 500

Postby bohrsatom » 28 May 2019, 12:36pm

Mark Beaumont recently bikepacked the NC500 for a GCN video. It's great to watch and really makes me want to head up to Scotland to ride it myself! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8J2gAY-WZhU

Mark plotted his own route which made some diversions off of the main roads onto quieter tracks, you can get the full GPX trace from https://www.komoot.com/tour/64346227

althebike
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Re: Scotland north coast 500

Postby althebike » 28 May 2019, 12:53pm

That was the video that inspired me. I note the JOG bit was cut from the route and so avoiding the A9 .I cannot get the gpx file from Kamoot.

Navrig
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Joined: 9 Apr 2018, 12:46pm

Re: Scotland north coast 500

Postby Navrig » 28 May 2019, 3:34pm

There are two things to consider.

A-roads in the north of Scotland are not the same as A-roads in the south of England.

This is a typical NC500 road.
A835.PNG


Except when you get to the east coast. Unfortunately you cannot easily avoid the A9 and the A99. Probably best cutting south at Melvich.

Traffic levels have been and continue to increase because the NC500 has been massively oversold. As a result there are many tourists working their way around the NC500 in a variety of vehicles. Unfortunately Motorhomes have become very popular and tend to clog things up a bit. If you chose the right time of year it wont be an issue but late JUne to mid-Sept will be busy(ish) but not A34 busy if that makes sense.

It's all relative.

climo
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Location: Warminster

Re: Scotland north coast 500

Postby climo » 29 May 2019, 9:23am

It's motorhome madness. Lots of them. Horrible.
Because of a major mechanical on a trike and unable to cycle further, we retrieved and loaded up the car and continued on our chosen bike route and found ourselves on parts of the NC500. I'd hate to cycle the main route as it's ruined by inconsiderate motorhomers. However you can escape them by going from Ullapool north on the minor coast road to Lochinver then Scourie, which is stunning and generally too narrow for motorhomes. From the overcrowded Durness fight your way west around the loch until you get to a wee hamlet and a very quiet minor road going SE to Lairg. This has not been discovered by motorhomers yet as it's off the official route. Very remote feeling and a brilliant route. From Lairg we turned west back to Ullapool on a quiet A road then down through a packed Torridon and then made the mistake of going out to Applecross. Last went there 25 years ago when it was a charming place. It's now become a Mecca for car drivers and many large motorhomes bravely crossing the high pass from Lochcarron. We too went over the pass and witnessed cyclists being forced off the road by motorhomers.
Motorhomes are ruining that delightful part of the country. Many can't seem to drive them and / or bully people out of the way, forcing other road users and most cyclists off the road. The locals must be furious at the motorhomers holding up traffic, not pulling in to let people past or driving way too fast.
There is considerable doubt over the economic benefit of the NC500. I know we were part of the problem but at least we tried to cycle the route and we camped, ate in restaurants, coffee in cafes, shopped locally. Didn't see many motohomes parked outside these places. They fill up with food in the south and some even "wild camp" by the roadside dumping their waste tanks in the countryside.
On the other hand there's not many caravans as most camp in sites and drive the route in a car, probably at least stopping for coffee.
All I can say is stay off the NC500 main route, take an aggressive primary or be prepared to end up off the tarmac.
Rant over

althebike
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Re: Scotland north coast 500

Postby althebike » 29 May 2019, 10:22am

Thanks for the replies folks . It looks idyllic in the GCN video , and perhaps it still is with early starts .The only part I have ridden are the JOG-Thurso-Bettyhill-Lairg section, and I did not find traffic a problem, but I can see the appeal to drivers to go to the west coast.

Navrig
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Re: Scotland north coast 500

Postby Navrig » 29 May 2019, 12:09pm

There is no economic benefit from the motorhomes on the NC500. They damage the, already poor, roads leaving the council with the repair bill. The council could impose a tourist tax on B&B, hotels and hostels but that doesn't cover the motorhomes.

I fancy one for post retirement but wouldn't venture onto anything like the NC500, it's just not fair.

Most of the motorhomes on the NC500 are probably hired which explains why the driving is so bad.

Oldjohnw
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Location: Northumberland

Re: Scotland north coast 500

Postby Oldjohnw » 29 May 2019, 7:16pm

Navrig wrote:There is no economic benefit from the motorhomes on the NC500. They damage the, already poor, roads leaving the council with the repair bill. The council could impose a tourist tax on B&B, hotels and hostels but that doesn't cover the motorhomes.

I fancy one for post retirement but wouldn't venture onto anything like the NC500, it's just not fair.

Most of the motorhomes on the NC500 are probably hired which explains why the driving is so bad.



Apparently large numbers are hired in Inverness (by people who have never driven one before), often in convoy, and stocked up at Tesco. End of spend. No experience or understanding of passing places.
John

Cycling and recycling

ossie
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Re: Scotland north coast 500

Postby ossie » 29 May 2019, 7:34pm

Tinnishill wrote:Last week, heard a woman comment that she had been round the route and "had lots of marvelous views of the back doors of camper vans".


A bit like cycling the Loire then :wink:

HarryD
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Joined: 9 Jan 2007, 5:44pm

Re: Scotland north coast 500

Postby HarryD » 30 May 2019, 10:36am

Here's my tuppence worth as a campervan driver and keen cyclist. I first visited the area in 1978 and have been back many, many times since. Wild camped with friends on Applecross for a month and even ended up with our own postal address, Little green tents, Ard-Dhubh Road Junction, Culduie nr Applecross. Have been cycling, cycle touring and hill walking most years mostly pre NC500 and also post NC500.

I was not surprised that the NC500 or something similar was set up. What did surprise me was that there appears to have been no effort in improving the infrastructure. No conversion of single track 'A' roads to two lane roads never mind the B roads. No extra toilet facilities. No facilities for campervans to dump waste (loads in France and Spain without charge) etc. Just some signs. The increase in traffic on these single track roads does cause extra delays which may be frustrating for those on holiday but can be a real pain for local going about their daily business and emergency services.

As to the route. Whoever thought of sending it over Bealach na Ba needs their head examining. Car drivers have problems doing it never mind the increased challenge of a larger and often unfamiliar campervan or motor-home. Glad they didn't send it round the southern loop of Assynt but disappointed they did round the north. However, I rode the full Assynt loop this time last year and most NC500'ers seem to bypass Assynt entirely.

Now for campervans and motor-homes. Lets classify them all the same in way that some drivers classify all cyclist by what they see bad ones do. Seems fair to me. Bad car drivers probably make even worse campervan drivers. The highlands have always attracted a disproportionate number of campervans. Road side overnight parking has always gone on. If you were to force all campervans to use campsites it wouldn't work because there isn't the capacity. There isn't sufficient hotel, B&B capacity either. If you put together an attraction and market it then don't be surprised if the hoards turn up. You generally don't go to Blackpool for a quiet weekend by the seaside.

As to bringing money into the local economy. Comment has been made about shopping and hiring in Inverness. Well it is on the route and is a pretty good place to start with its decent rail, road and air connections. The hire places employ people to do the paperwork, maintain and clean the vans. They also pay business rates, VAT, national insurance, income tax and corporation tax. I understand that the Scottish and UK governments are in discussion about taking over a share of the VAT raised in Scotland. Scotland already sets its own income tax rates and bands. As to how much campervaners contribute elsewhere try asking local businesses whether they would refuse to serve them. Comment was made that most doing the NC500 are from the 'south', I hope that was not meant in a negative way because to be honest there are not many living north of it.

Rant over. Now back to the original post. Go and ride the NC500. You'll have a great time because it is a great route. You'll share it with many cyclists from across the globe. Many who have only discovered Scotland through NC500 marketing. Seriously consider the GCN options because they are better than the official route. You choose whether to be uplifted by the scenery or depressed by staring at the back end of a van. Enjoy sharing the route with others who are not as fortunate as you on your bike.

mattheus
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Joined: 29 Dec 2008, 12:57pm

Re: Scotland north coast 500

Postby mattheus » 30 May 2019, 11:08am

HarryD wrote:Here's my tuppence worth
...


I think we got good value for our tuppence there :thumbsup:

Navrig
Posts: 89
Joined: 9 Apr 2018, 12:46pm

Re: Scotland north coast 500

Postby Navrig » 30 May 2019, 1:04pm

I would be surprised if most motorhomes were hired in Inverness. I simply don't see there being that much demand for pickup in Inverness. There are a number of hire places in Perth, Fife and the central belt areas which are closer to the main incoming hubs of Edinburgh and Glasgow.

It's also worth differentiating between a campervan and a motorhome. The former is a good bit smaller and easier to manouvre. I'd happily drive a campervan anywhere in Scotland confident that I could cope with the tightest of roads, corners and descents. I would be much more cautious with a motorhome. I have driven large vans regularly, even for a living in the past, so it's not lack of experience just knowledge that motorhomes are not appropriate for many roads in the Scottish Highlands.

As to the route. Yes it was a mistake IMHO to put it over the hill to Applecross. I would hate to think that the NC500 ever drives the development of 2 lane roads in the remote areas. It will ruin the environment and encourage even more visitors to an area which is at capacity already in the summer months. Very quickly the appeal will be lost. That has already happened in some locations - Skye, Glenfinnan etc.

Perhaps I am being protectionist but we have created a monster in the NC500 and other areas are now playing copy cat:

https://www.visitsouthwestscotland.com/attractions/southwest-coastal-route/
and
https://www.northeast250.com/

Having lived in Inverness for 12 years (moved 12 years ago tho'), toured the Highlands extensively by motorbike and, still, regularly holidaying in the highlands (twice a year typically) I am genuinely concerned that the NC500 has been oversold and the damage cannot be undone.

Apologies for the rant...... but this subject is very dear to my heart.