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2014 – Scotland's remote Northwest coast

Date of tour: July 2014 (3 weeks)
Distance travelled: 2800km (within England and Scotland only)
Total cost of tour for two people and two motorbikes: approx. €2800 (including €560 for the Amsterdam-Newcastle ferry)

Getting there and around

To get to Scotland from mainland Europe, probably the easiest route to take is the DFDS service from Amsterdam to Newcastle, which cost €560 return for two people and two bikes in a cabin in 2014.

From the ferry terminal at Newcastle, there are a number of roads which head north into Scotland. The A1 follows the Northumbrian coast and allows for stop-offs at popular visitor attractions such as Bamburgh Castle and Lindisfarne Island. One possible inland route is the A696/A68 which goes through Northumberland National Park and allows for visits to Jedburgh Abbey and Melrose Abbey. Alternatively, you can take the A69 westwards to Carlisle and then, for speed, the A74 motorway north to Glasgow.

North of the Central Belt (the more densely-populated area of Scotland between Glasgow and Edinburgh), the roads become more interesting for motorbiking. They also become narrower the further north you go, and in many of the remoter locations are only single track roads with passing places (Photo 1). Sheep on the road are an occasional hazard (Photo 2). It takes a long time to get anywhere on these roads, so don't expect to cover a lot of distance in one day.

There are sufficient petrol stations, even in the remotest parts of mainland Scotland, which are open 7 days a week, although some operate only with credit cards on Sundays.

Good motorbiking routes

Click on the photos on the right to enlarge them.

1. After a stopover in Stirling we headed north on the A84, the A85 and the A82. Around 5 miles north of Crianlarich is a well-known biker-friendly cafe at the Tyndrum junction called The Green Welly. The A82 then takes you northwards through the beautiful valley of Glencoe until you reach Fort William at the foot of Ben Nevis, which, at 1344m is the UK's highest mountain. This road continues past Fort William, along the banks of Loch Lochy and Loch Oich and at Invergarry we turned westwards onto the A87. Around 7 miles further there is a viewpoint at Ardochy House with very good views over the lochs and glens of this area. Continuing along the A87 takes you past the famous Scottish landmark of Eilean Donan Castle (see Photo 3 and Worth a visit below) and before we reached the bridge to the Isle of Skye, we turned north towards Loch Carron and headed for our first overnight stop at Plockton (Photo 4).

2. TOP TIP From Plockton we followed the A896 around Loch Carron until the road signposted Applecross - a must for motorbikers in this area. This 8-mile long road rises from sea level to 700m and back down again and from the viewpoint at the top you can get clear views across to the Isle of Skye and many other islands (Photos 5 & 6). We camped at Applecross campsite, which is situated above the village and offers superb views of Applecross Bay and the Inner Hebrides (Photo 7).

3. Our next stop on the way northwards was Gairloch, which we reached via the A896 and A832. The A896 partly follows the River Torridon through the Beinn Eighe Nature Reserve, which contains some spectacular mountain scenery. The A832 follows the southwest bank of Loch Maree and in Gairloch a good stop-off point is the very quaint eco-friendly coffee shop Mountain Coffee Company with an extremely well-stocked bookshop next door.

4. Our tour continued northwards on the A832 and we stopped for a break at a lochside cafe in the pretty port village of Ullapool, before heading into the area known as Coigach (Photo 8). We camped that night in Altandhu (see Accommodation below).

5. TOP TIP The single track coastal road between Altandhu and Lochinver is extremely picturesque (Photo 9) and the B869 between Lochinver and and Kylesku is one of the best biking routes in northwest Scotland (Photos 10 & 11). It's worth taking two short diversions from the B869: just north of Lochinver is a beautiful sandy beach at Achmelvich (Photo 12) and a little further north a single track road leads to the lighthouse at Stoer Head (Photo 13).

6. Continuing northwards, our next stop was the spectacularly located campsite at Scourie with views over Scourie Bay to the nature reserve of Handa Island (Photos 14 & 15).

7. The final part of the route took us to the most northwesterly point of mainland Britain - Cape Wrath, a private military area reached via a passenger-only ferry and minibus service from the pier just south of Durness (Photos 16-19).

8. After reaching the extreme northwest of the country, we turned around and went back the way we had come, working our way slowly down the coast again to see things from a different view. Finally, we headed east to the capital city of the Highlands - Inverness (See Photo 20 and Worth a visit below).

Accommodation

We camped in all places except Plockton, where there is no campsite. This is a selection of our favourite places for budget accommodation between Plockton and Cape Wrath:

Worth a visit

1. Eilean Donan Castle near Dornie on the A87 is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Scotland and has featured in many films, most notably Highlander in 1986. You have to go there simply for the obligatory motorbike photo in front of the castle (Photo 3).

2. Applecross is a picture postcard village with a relaxed atmosphere which seems to be populated more by English people seeking peace and quiet than by local Scottish residents (Photo 7). It is worth visiting simply for the trip over the pass, although the Applecross Inn does give a very friendly welcome and serves excellent locally-sourced food.

3. You have to visit Cape Wrath just to say you've been to Cape Wrath, the most northwesterly point of mainland Britain. It's a bit of a trek to get there as you have to wait for the ferry and the minibus, which run on a first-come, first-served basis. But the ride and the views make it worthwhile. Plan in 4-5 hours for the round trip and take something to eat and drink.

4. If you're into lighthouses, there are plenty to see on the northwest coast of Scotland, most of which were designed and built by the family of Robert Louis Stevenson (of Treasure Island fame). The ones we visited were Rua Reidh lighthouse northwest of Gairloch (even if you're not staying in the lighthouse accommodation, the 3km private road to get there is worth the journey) (Photo 22); Stoer Head lighthouse northwest of Lochinver (Photo 13) and, of course, Cape Wrath at the tip of the country (Photos 16 & 17).

5. If, after all that remoteness, nature and fantastic mountain and coastal scenery, you yearn to be near people again, then Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, is the place to visit. Situated on the River Ness, it has a castle, a cathedral and a bustling town centre. There are numerous good places to eat and drink and a wealth of hotels and upmarket accommodation in which to stay. The campsite is located a pleasant 20-minute walk along the river from the city centre.

Recommended reading: Lonely Planet Travel Guide to Scotlands Highlands and Islands

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1. Single track road 2. Sheep on the road are an occasional hazard 3. Obligatory bike photo in front of Eilean Donan Castle 4. Plockton 5. On the way to Applecross over the pass 6. View from Applecross Pass 7. Applecross Bay from the campsite 8. Ben Mor Coigach, north of Ullapool 9. Road near Inverkirkaig with Suilven in the background 10. On the B869 north of Lochinver 11. View from lookout point at Drumbeg on the B869 12. Achmelvich beach near Lochinver 13. Stoer Head lighthouse 14. Islands near Scourie 15. Taking photos of the islands from Scourie peninsula 16. Cape Wrath looking northwards 17. Cape Wrath looking westwards 18. Cape Wrath looking eastwards 19. The road to Cape Wrath 20. Inverness 21. Bunkhouse Hostel at Plockton Railway Station 22. Rua Reidh lighthouse and hostel 23. The Summer Isles from Altandhu campsite 24. Scourie campsite