From the Scottish coast to the Channel Islands, gear up for our pick of the best ways to explore the British isles on two wheels
Sun 30 Sep 2018
Round the top: Scotland’s north coast wilderness, by Nell Nelson
Just as I was about to launch myself from the comfort of a minibus on to a bike and into some of the most remote country in the UK, I was reminded to “hold on to the door, or the wind will rip it off”.
I am on a taster trip of Wilderness Scotland’s new North Coast 500 seven-day cycling adventure, a 516-mile circular scenic road route round the top coast of Scotland that starts and finishes in Inverness. On my first cycling day, winds are blustering around 30-40mph, but my cycling guide and driver Mark Cox, with 30 years of cycling, sea kayaking and mountaineering guiding experience, has no qualms. Mark the “wind whisperer” can adjust the route to make sure cyclists are not riding into strong headwinds, he explains, which is why this trip is about half the official route. They have cherry-picked sections, avoiding busy roads and adding in a rest day to explore.
Live streaming: crossing a bridge near Durness. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian North Coast 500 was launched in 2015 as an initiative to help the local economy and such is the marketing potential of this route, it is co-sponsored by Aston Martin. The switchback single track road from Achiltibuie to Drumbeg in Assynt is a great equaliser: no one can go faster than 25mph, so there is delightful synergy between car, camper van and cyclist, as we all want to give way to the other to stop and enjoy the white beaches, soaring peregrine falcons, cormorants, sea eagles and dive-bombing gannets.
While eyeing up the 20-plus range of freshly baked pies at the Lochinver Larder (yes please to fresh poached salmon in a creamy seafood sauce with dill and potato), I meet four lean Lycra-clad cyclists from the army on a “fun” cycling and camping training trip. They made me realise how Wilderness Scotland makes the NC500 very achievable: they book all the meals and accommodation, due to the overwhelming popularity of the route and relative scarcity of restaurants and hotels. They also provide bikes, which are valeted every night by the guides, and picnic refreshments en route, such as cafetière coffee (specially blended by the Inverness Coffee Roasting Company).