I live very close to it and regularly ride large parts of it on ride outs, I have also ridden the whole route over a three day period.
Be prepared for it to be extremely busy in the summer months mostly with camper vans , this can cause frustration and tail backs as much of the route is single track roads.
Accommodation is expensive as it has become so popular and you need to book well in advance, there is plenty of camping available as an alternative and it's also legal to wild camp.
The West Coast sections are by far the best, the main highlight for most being the "Bealach Na Ba" (pass of the cattle) which is the road to Applecross. This is the steepest climbing road over the shortest distance in the UK and is made up of a series of hairpin bends again on single track roads, it is a challenging ride with a distracting spectacular view, so best to wait for a suitable stopping place to enjoy the view rather than when riding as there is nothing to stop you going off the edge.
I think to truly appreciate it, you should plan to do it over five days, this will give you time to explore the many attractions both on and off the route, so don't be frightened to explore the areas away from the designated route.
The East Coast section from John O'Groats down is really quite dull, so you are not missing much if you choose an alternative route back to Inverness.
When I did the whole route it was in March and there was still a lot of snow on the higher parts.
What bikes are you taking, it would be challenging on a large Indian, I have done most of it on the CDH, but the roads are tight and in poor condition for a lot of it. When I did the whole route on the same trip I was on a BMW GS.
Fuel can also be scarce in places and some of the more remote stations don't open on Sundays but there are some areas with a random unmanned single pump at the side of the road (Loch Carron and Applecross) and you can fill up 24 hrs and pay by card.
If you have any specific questions let me know and I'll do my best to answer.
Yeah Scout should be fine- did most of it on my scout last year- Inverness round to Ullapool and back to Inverness in a day
Bob has covered most of the points:- I'd add a card pay petrol at Durness as being pretty essential on a a Scout. Thurso>Durness is ~100 miles of nothing so rather needed.
Other things:- be prepared for wild swings in weather (as well as the scenery and road surfaces). Bring spare gloves for when 1 pair gets wet.
The single track roads can be 'interesting'- but I did find majority road users are 'bike aware' and pull in/over as long as you aren't being a jerk. Reckon on 30-40mph max for these sections.
Watch out for wandering sheep🐑
Hotels, cheapest way I found was a 'roach motel' in Dingwall for 4 nights, and did 3 'loops' from there, being flexible with routing due to weather- always have a plan b(and c and d) in your pocket- I found some glorious bits of road that aren't on the designated route.
Started to do a write up of it last year- and never got round to posting it, so here goes:
I’d always wanted to ride around Scotland on a bike, and this year managed to find a week when I wasn’t a)-working, b)-the weather wasn’t totally rubbish.
The plan was a ride up the East Coast, stay 4 nights somewhere around Inverness, try and ride as much of North Scotland as possible, mainly based on the North Coast 500, then come home via the west coast back into England.
My Scout is ready, luggage is securely RokStrapped, it’s time to hit the road.
A nice easy 280 miles to ease into things, taking me up the East Coast
A47, A17, A16 to Grimsby and then cut across the Humber bridge then up the coast through Scarborough onto A171 to get a taste of the North York Moors as a prelude of things to come.
Then skirt Middlesborough to A1 and a Motel for the night.
FOG ON THE TYNE
DURHAM TO DINGWALL
Checking the weather, it’s looking like rain sweeping in over my destination during the early evening, Outside it’s starting to get light, skies look fairly clear so on the road by 5am.
All’s well for about 15 miles when a fog develops nothing too heavy but in the early light it is distinctly gloomy, with a fair few trucks on the road as we skirt Newcastle. After about 30 miles the fog lifts to overcast skies, just in time as the A1 turns into a lovely single carriageway, rural views to the left, glimpses of the North Sea on the right.
Time soon to refuel and grab some breakfast before heading into Scotland. The weather keeps getting better until by Edinburgh the clouds have completely burnt away; the day is turning into a cracker.
Apart from the Forth crossing, the section to Aberdeen is boring dual carriageway made more tedious by average speed cameras nearly all the way. But it does allow me to munch some miles and get to a section of he coast I really want to ride- and it doesn’t disappoint, complete changes every mile or two, open flat farmland, tunnels through trees, narrow twisty bits, even a bit of sea fog around Banff. A really stimulating section of road.
Then it’s onto the A96 through Inverness and skirt the south of Moray Firth to come into Dingwall from the south and find my hotel. 444 miles with some glorious weather, superb riding, a really good first days riding in Scotland.
An hour later the skies darken and it starts to rain.
GREY SKIES, BLUE SKYE
So it rains all night, forecast says it should be better out West until about lunchtime so it looks like the 500 loop clockwise.
Head off on the A835 in a fairly filthy ‘Scotch mist’, hoping for things to ease up. They don’t for ~30 miles until, as I come alongside Loch Glascarnoch it almost stops raining enough to reveal a great view, enough of a spur to press on to Ullapool and then up into the mountains. Bad move, it just gets wetter and wetter until after 15 miles I turn round and head back to a café for a coffee and a rethink.
Its looking less dark to the Southwest so decide to turn off the A835 at Garve and head for Stromferry. At first it is an open fast ish road (and it’s no longer raining) but after about 10 miles it is narrowing to a single track with passing places so the pace slows and stays consistently ‘interesting’.
From Stromferry on it gets twisty and climbs into the hills. I get stuck for a while behind the first of many RV’s. Then it’s onto the A87 and over the bridge into Skye with traffic definitely becoming ‘touristy’ and plentiful.
The scenery can best be described as prehistoric and the views make up for the slow pace.
By the time I get to Portree it is becoming obvious that nearly everyone else is planning on doing the loop round Skye through Uig that I was half planning on doing so turn around and go back to Broadford for lunch and another think.
I try heading South heading to Amandale, a real change as it was flat agricultural land with a road you could see for upto a mile ahead changing to narrower twisties as it snaked it’s way along the shoreline. The vague idea of catching the ferry across to Mallaig was scuppered as I could see it leaving as I arrived, 1.5hrs till the next one. Still it was a joy to ride that road in the other direction
So back to the roach Motel via A87 to Fort Augustus and up the A82 along Loch Ness, both roads that would ordinarily elicit gushing compliments, but after today they seem a little tame, it’s raining again.
It’s not raining, so today I decide to try the loop again this time anticlockwise.
The first hour or so of the A9 is flat with sweeping bends and very little traffic so make good progress.
Crossing the Dornoch Firth bridge the hills to the left start to change into mountains and from Golspie on the road turns into fabulous roller coaster of a ride for ~20 miles or so before flattening out for the run to Wick. Then on to John O’ Groats for the obligatory tourist pic.
Thurso for a quick top up as the next petrol station I know of is 80 miles away- the next 150 miles are the wildest terrain in the UK so best crack on.
Once past Dounreay the road narrows then with increasing frequency switches to single track and the elevation changes start to get more dramatic and frequent. Another ~25 miles of rollercoaster even more intense than the last before dropping down into Tongue to cross the Kyle, another stunning view.
Leaving Tongue it’s a climb up onto unfenced moreland with sheep wandering, as they will. It’s now all single track to Durness and traffic is building, lots of bikes (mainly BMW) from all over (seemed to be a lot of Swiss), even more RV’s, again from all over.
This could easily have turned into “the road to hell” but everyone seemed to instinctively “play the game” pulling over to allow passing.
From Durness the road becomes single carriageway and slightly faster as it wends its way along the shoreline/valley to Laxford Bridge where it opens up even more and starts to curl around the mountains then climb and descend around Scourie. Simply stunning road and scenery.
Then it’s down to Ullapool, finally getting to see the views that were hidden by clouds yesterday, then onto the now familiar A835 and back to base.
Only 290 miles, but this ride packed in stunning riding and views that are hard to beat.
My original plan of splitting the return journey now doesn’t seem so good as heavy rain will be sweeping across England on the second day and a 600 mile run for home tomorrow looks like a better option. So today is going to be taking it easy doing a very ‘freeform’ route through the Cairngorms.
South onto the A9 and past Inverness before rush hour. Average speed cameras plague the A9 so it is with relief I turn off onto some back roads twisting their way to Grantown on Spey. A quick fill up here and it’s heading towards Tomintoul on the A939 and into the heart of the Cairngorms. By now every junction seems to have signs for distillery tours and the road slowly climbs into the heart of the Cairngorms, the Grouse moor became sparser, the scale of the landscape growing as it does so.
After Tomintoul it suddenly plummets down into a valley, mountains towering on both sides then slowly climbs back up to Lecht, where the ski drag lifts look rather alien in the summer. More descents and ascents before a final plunge into Cock Bridge. Wow, another absolutely cracking section of road.
By now we are back in the tree line and the character of the landscape has completely changed to a rural/woodland mix for another complete change of pace. Reach the A93 near Balmoral where it’s time to stop and decide which way to go. As I’m pondering this 8 police vans pull out and head towards the castle: so Ballater it is . Back on a ‘proper’ A road it’s good to get in the swing of series of fast sweepers for a while. Then after taking some back roads heading vaguely North I seem to end up back in Cock Bridge again: - Oh dear I’ll just have to ride “that section” again
At Tomintoul I take a right turn down a small road that twists it way down out of the Cairngorms past the Glenlivet distillery
RUN FOR HOME
Today is all about miles and I’m keeping the route simple, but the A82 promises a good variety of scenery before hitting the motorway parts.
I leave at 5am and for the first hour along Loch Ness the road is almost totally deserted- totally peaceful. Then, as the world slowly wakes up, the sun starts to break through and lights up the surrounding mountains in a glorious light, another stunning view.
A quick fill up in Fort William, almost in the shadow of Ben Nevis and onwards across Loch Leven where the road starts to twist and climb through the mountains into the clouds onto a plateau of moorland broken by small burns and lakes glimpsed through breaks in the cloud.
After a quick coffee and warm up at the Green Welly Stop the road descends out of the clouds and back into the treeline, becoming more and more green and lush as it reaches Loch Lomond, whose shoreline the road hugs.
All too soon the traffic starts to build, as I near Glasgow and urban carriageway becomes motorway. The fun 1/3rd of the ride is over and its time to hunker down for a long motorway slog.
On the M74 the clouds have almost disappeared, it’s going to be a warm day, and the miles slip by easily, as does the English border. Then past Carlisle turn off on the A66 to cut across to the East side of the country. Traffic builds up on the single carriageway sections a bit but is a change of pace before more motorway in the form of the A1M. Another 100 or so miles pass before it’s time to turn off on the A17 so on the home stretch as everything becomes flat.
600 miles in just over 12 hours, 2,242 miles in 6 days