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6 cyclists ride 5-day 'alternative' North Coast 500 route

A group of six cyclists from the same club in Cambridgeshire rode a bespoke North Coast 500 route over five days. They described the support from Highland Transfers as “first class”. Here we reveal more about their trip on the iconic Scottish cycling route this summer.

NC500 in 5 days

The North Coast Cycling holiday took place over five days. The customised route was organised by Highland Transfers and included overnight accommodation, luggage transfers, on the road support and a wealth of tips and advice.

Gareth Howard, who was one of the cyclists from Outlaw Cycling Club, said: “We set out most days at 9am after breakfast and finished most days around 5pm. This usually included general bike faff and an hour’s lunch break.

“The distances per day varied slightly depending on where the accommodation fell, with the shortest day being 93 miles and the longest day 107 miles.”

The total ascent for the trip was around 32,000ft.

'Luggage transfers made sense'

The group decided to use a luggage transfer service rather than competing the route self-supported.

Gareth explains: “It made sense to use a luggage transfer services so we we didn’t need to worry too much about the weight of our kit. Using Highland Transfers also meant we would have peace of mind of having a support vehicle should anyone be unfortunate enough to suffer a major mechanical issue or, worse, an accident.

“Highland Transfers also had the advantage of offering a bespoke cycling trip that they organised ahead for us.

"Ryan, the founder, suggested a route for the trip that took in more of the stunning west coast shoreline than the official NC500 and he also bought us south before Thurso on day four to allow us to avoid the A9 and the John o’Groats area, which aren’t particularly safe for cycling. His advice allowed us to ride on much quieter cycle- friendly roads.

“Ryan also organised our accommodation for the five nights, which were all good and high quality. His local knowledge, including accommodation, coffee and lunch stops are the sorts of things that money can’t buy.

“In addition, we were given the all-important GPX files for each daily route.”

Another cyclist Tobias West adds: “Bike packing is a romantic idea, but sometimes it's quite inconvenient. We knew we wanted luggage transfer so we had maximum enjoyment during the days.

“Also, knowing little about the the north of Scotland, we wanted a company to curate the hotels for us.”

High praise for Highland Transfers

The group of cyclists gave high praise to Highland Transfers. Gareth says: “Personally and from a group perspective we all though the service was first class.

“Ryan worked tirelessly, ensuring our bags were picked up in the mornings and were there at the hotels when we arrived in the evenings.

"We would see him at intermittent points along the route, where he would check we were all okay and see if any of us needed water etc. He was always willing to work as a broom wagon if it was required and somehow he would even find time to ride out from the hotel for the night to meet us on the road and ride the last 10 to 15 miles in with us.

“His local knowledge is exceptional and advice for stops along the route are invaluable, especially on days where civilisation points are few and far between for accessing food and water.

“We also had the privilege of having one of Ryan’s associates Mick ride with us for the full five days. Mick was knowledgeable, great fun and boy can he ride a bike!”

Tobias adds: “Above all else, Ryan was helpful, professional and a really good guy to share a beer with at the end of the day.”

NC500 'alternative route'

The group reports they really enjoyed the experience of riding the NC500 alternative route. Gareth says: “I was greatly impressed with the trip in general and the routes provided by Highland Transfers were excellent.

“We were very lucky with the weather with only some rain on one afternoon.

"There were many highlights, including riding the famous Applecross pass and the Bealach na Ba on day one to the stunning west coast beaches on day three.

“In fact, day three of the trip, from Ullapool to Durness, is probably the greatest day I have ever spent on a bike. The climbs kept coming all day but everything was perfect, including the weather, the lunch stop, the company and the absolutely breath-taking scenery that you didn’t think could get any better until you rounded the next corner.

Tobias adds: “Scotland is beautiful, the people are very welcoming and the roads are fantastic to ride. A highlight for me was the ride to Lochcarron on day three in glorious sunshine and some of the best coastline the UK has to offer.

“Other highlights were stopping at Shieldaig, where we had the most amazing hotel views; Smoo Cave near Durness; the best hot smoked salmon I've ever had; and Altnaharra, nestled deep in some of the most remote parts of the UK.

“Above all else, the route that Ryan has put together for the best of the north was spectacular. There is simply no way we would have been able to put together such an itinerary ourselves.”

What's next for the cyclists?

The group is hoping to do another cycling trip with Highland Transfers. Gareth says: “We are already talking about taking on the Badger Divide with Highland Transfers nd some other people in our club now also want to ride the NC500, so our group may well be back again.”

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