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NC500 highlight: Cycling the 'Mad Wee Road of Sutherland'

Fiona Russell, aka Fiona Outdoors, is an outdoors and adventure journalist and blogger based in the Scottish Highlands. Here she reveals one of her favourite bicycle routes, which happens to be part of the North Coast 500.

There is a section of road on the famous North Coast 500 route that I call the "Mad Wee Road of Sutherland".

The road is actually the the B869 and it starts just north of the north-west Highlands' village of Lochinver, before meandering around the coast to just below Unapool.

The singletrack road is narrow, winding and very hilly. Take a look on the map to see how it wanders between beautifully remote locations such as Achmelvich, Clachtoll, Stoer, Clashnessie and Drumbeg.

Also take a closer look to see the many steep gradient markers along the road. These are muscle sapping but also great fun (once you get over the top of each steep bump).

There are, however, many rewards for cyclists who take on the challenge of the Mad Wee Road of Sutherland. The views in this area of Scotland, known as Assynt, over land and sea are frequently breathtaking.

It’s difficult to describe the otherworldly mountains and vast expanses of unspoilt coastline, but beautiful, scenic, spectacular and dramatic all jump to mind.

Lochinver coastline. Credit: Ivor Bond/Pixabay

Clachtoll beach. Credit: Emma Gibb/ Pixabay

Highlights of the Mad Wee Road of Sutherland

The small and pretty fishing port of Lochinver provides incredible mountain views, white sandy beaches, wildlife and legendary pies.

The coastline is gorgeous with fabulous, white sandy beaches, such as Achmelvich, Clachtoll and Clashnessie, hidden around almost every corner in the road and over attractive rocky headlands, themselves covered with swathes of grass, which are filled with pretty wildflowers in spring and summer.

Stoer Lighthouse is situated on the most westerly point of Assynt. Ride a short detour from the NC500 to visit the lighthouse, which dates to the 1870s. It’s possible to book this for self-catering accommodation.

The landscape in Assynt is unique with amazing mountain views. Great mounds of isolated rounded mountains rise dramatically from remote moorlands that are peppered with lochs and lochans.

Your eyes will be drawn to humped-back Suilven, the crazy ridgeline of Stac Pollaidh, Quinag with its undulating series of peaks along the Y-shaped crest, plus the striking Munros of Conival and Ben More Assynt.

Wailing Widow Falls. Credit: Fiona Outdoors

Other sights to visit nearby

Kylesku Bridge: Once you reach the main road just south of Unapool, you can continue north. Kylesku marks the northern boundary of Assynt and here you’ll find Kylesku Bridge, which spans 270m across stunning Loch Assynt.

Wailing Widow Falls: Also just off the main road is a fantastic waterfall known as the Wailing Widow Falls (or Hanged Man Falls).

UNESCO Geopark: There are lots of signposts and information boards detailing different places to visit and see on the North West Highlands Geopark Network. The aim of a Geoparks is to tell the story of the landscape and make it accessible to visitors.

Fabulous sea views. Credit: Ivor Bond/ Pixabay

The breath-taking landscape of Assynt. Credit: Ivor Bond/ Pixabay

What's it like? Cycling the Mad Wee Road of Sutherland

The last time I rode the Mad Wee Road I enjoyed a tailwind and a warm-ish sun in a mostly blue sky.

I decided early on to have the mental and physical determination to ride every hill, whatever the gradients threw at me. I am fortunate to have a good range of gears on my road bike.

Riding solo meant I could ride at my own speed and make detours to visit beaches and Stoer Lighthouse according to my own timeframe.

The views made my heart sing, even when the hills made my legs scream. Assynt is one of my favourite areas of Scotland and the views are always breath-taking.

Because it is a narrow, single-track road there were a few hair raising moments when I descended at speed around a corner only to narrowly miss a car coming in the other direction.

I also had to slow at a number of passing places in courtesy to allow cars to overtake. But on the whole this is an extremely pleasant road to cycle with plenty of pleasing tarmac.

What are the hills like?

Most of the hills are fairly short, but some are so steep that even in my lowest gear and with all my leg strength I feared I might come to a total standstill.

As I was clipped into my pedals I knew that if I stopped I would keel over on to the road because I would not be able to unclip my pedals, seeing as I was exerting so much downward power on to them.

Twice I had to give myself a good talking to, to make it up the hills. But I didn’t give up and with gritted determination I kept turning the pedals. Afterwards, there came all the magical downhills.

It’s possible to make a circuit, from Lochinver to Lochinver, including the Mad Wee Road of Sutherland, by heading back south along the A894.

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Totally agree, the Assynt Peninsula is one of the most stunning roads anywhere in the UK. Some of the landscapes look like they belong on another planet and this part of the NC500 is worth seeing in its own right. There are probably only 1 or 2 ascents which could potentially bring you to a standstill but given the right gearing and a positive mindset you will be up them before you know it! If you have been promising yourself a wee visit to this part of the world then you won't be disappointed, go on give it a go!

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