As a guest author, Flo Schmidbauer tells us about his eventful journey through Scotland, which is already motivating us to plan the next tours, or simply to start driving again.
“Pavement to the left, median to the right,” my buddy Bene and I repeat like a mantra as we head west out of Inverness. Hands and legs shiver a bit, the panniers gently rock back and forth during the first few meters.
A week awaits us with bikes and tents along the North Coast 500, a 500-mile route through the wild north of Scotland. Steep coasts, bays, lakes await us, approx. 10,000 meters above sea level spread over a thousand small hills, Highland cattle and rugged nature, so rugged that you almost arbitrarily surrender to the power of the elements.
Heading west through the Highlands we cross the Bealach na Ba Pass, the UK's highest pass at 626 metres. In countless serpentines we struggle the heavily loaded bikes step by step up the road and fill our lungs with Scottish air. After almost 100 kilometers we reach the coast on this first day, which we will always have on our left until our return to Inverness in just under a week. Soon after, we start looking for a place to sleep for the first night - wild camping is allowed in Scotland - and find what we are looking for on a hill overlooking the sea and the opposite Ile of Skye. For dinner, there's spaghetti carbonara out of the bag, gummy bears and a breathtaking sight, alone in nowhere.
The second day begins with a gas filter coffee and a thousand hills, always with a view of the Ile of Skye, small lighthouses, large bays and countless sheep. After two hours we reach a tiny village with a café and treat ourselves to bagels and several pieces of cake. Strengthened, we continue to the only supermarket on the way for today. Places with shopping facilities are few and far between in the north of Scotland and so we have to think in the morning where we will pass a supermarket for the day and how long the supplies will have to last. The limiting factor is usually the water, as there is simply no space on the bike for more than approx. 4 liters.
With every kilometer we drive and every hill we cross, the landscape changes a little bit, a new bay opens up to our eyes, a new lake becomes visible and the next mountain range pushes itself in front of the horizon.
The second night we camp on a high plateau and make our first acquaintance with Scottish midges - small mosquitoes that are a real nuisance in north-west Scotland and make everyone outside uncomfortable in the morning and evening and near water. Instead of having breakfast in front of our tent, we often only have breakfast after a 1-2 hour drive in the next town, where the mosquito clouds are not that bad. After three days we have about 420 kilometers and more than 6,000 meters of altitude behind us and are completely overwhelmed by the beauty and variety of the rugged landscape. We find our next sleeping place on a mountain ridge overlooking the sea and the rugged coast.
The next day begins cold, foggy and with the first raindrops, which become a real cloudburst after an hour. The mood drops with the rain and I have a first low. To make matters worse, the only café for the first 50 miles of the day at Balnakeil Bay doesn't offer indoor seating and doesn't really serve anything to eat. In the supermarket next door we get something to eat and try to wait out the downpour - after half an hour and countless rain radar checks we come to the conclusion that nothing will help and we have to continue driving in the rain. After an hour on the bike, however, the rain stops and mystical fog accompanies us for a while. Then the fog makes way for the sun and at the latest with it the good mood returns. We drive along a long fjord, "Loch Eriboll", and rolling terrain, some tailwind and breathtaking, constantly changing landscapes make the next few hours pure enjoyment.
During the day we reach the north-east coast of Scotland and the rugged, wild landscape turns into rolling hills. With them also come the fields and gates, sheep and Highland cattle to our left and right. However, this also reduces the chance of finding a hidden place to sleep and so we search unsuccessfully for at least 20 kilometers for a nice campsite for the night. The planned 130 kilometers for the day become 150 kilometers, after which we finally end up in the small town of Thurso and find a campsite to our rescue. Running water, showers, a view of the sea, no midges - feels like a wellness hotel. Overnight and during an extensive breakfast with a camping stove in front of our tent, we gather new strength.
Day 5 begins with a short detour to mainland Britain's most northerly point and continues with long rolling hills, sheep pastures as far as the eye can see and the rough sea always on our left. When looking for a place to sleep, we leave our route a few dozen meters above sea level and turn towards the coast. Next to the boat landing stage in the small town of Dunbeath we find another paradisiacal place for the night. We set up our tent on a small beach overlooking an old castle at the other end of the bay. After setting up the tent, we are offered a hot coffee by a complete stranger who is standing a few meters away, which is incredibly good and warms us up. We end the day at sunset with a view of the sea and two canned pale ales that we've been looking forward to for half the day - it doesn't get any better than this.
The next day will be the toughest in terms of external conditions, actually we'll be riding in the rain and fog the entire afternoon. We drive as long as we can, hoping that the rain will stop and for lack of alternatives. We have to set up the tent in the evening in the rain and in the dark. The only consolation is that this is the last night in the tent, so it doesn't matter that we pack most of it wet the next morning. On the last day the sun is back and so the last 100 kilometers become a Tour d'Honeur. We make extended coffee stops again and review the last few days. In the afternoon we roll towards Inverness again, the traffic is increasing, the sheep pastures and rough nature less. Already after the first few minutes with traffic noise we miss the silence and solitude of the Scottish north. At the same time we are glad that our legs, back, bottom and head don't have to cycle for the time being. We are happy, proud and look back with pleasure on the past week, which gave us many unforgettable moments and the realization that the best thing is to just get on your bike, start riding and experience something.
The bottom line is 7 days, over 900 kilometers, approx. 10,000 meters in altitude, lots of coffee, countless bays, even more unique experiences.