Cycling wise, there isn’t a lot to say about the route from Ullapool to Scourie. The day was so dominated by short, sharp climbs that describing the feeling of all 24 as the gradient rose into double digits would be time none of us will get back. But, with an easterly wind disrupting things for the first half of the ride and a swarm of midges rising up against us in the second, there’s plenty to waffle on about for the next few hundred words.
Having checked out of the Hotel Caledonia, it turned out it was actually quite easy to leave. By 9 am, we were on the road and, as with every other town we had stayed in on this trip, the first climb of the day came along almost immediately. The difference today was that we were being buffeted by that pesky easterly wind for the first 15 kilometres until we hit the sheltered banks of Loch Lurgainn and Loch Bad a’ Ghaill.
This stretch of road was one of my favourite of the NC500 so far. We were in the North West Highlands Geopark so were surround by spectacular, mountainous landscapes and, for a further 15 kilometres, we were actually able to enjoy the scenery without wincing. With the roads staying relative flat, momentum played a major part in dealing with any slight changes in elevation.
Lochinver and beyond
Turning right at the end of this stretch brought us down to earth with a block headwind and an 11% gradient. Luckily, the full on gales didn’t last too much longer as we veered in a more northerly direction. However it would take five more eyewatering climbs over the next 20 kilometres before we’d reach Lochinver and our lunch stop of the An Cala Cafe.
The break gave the weather chance to rethink its strategy and the calmer winds were noticeable on the steep hill out of Lochinver. This was good timing considering we were coming up to a 25 kilometre eastbound stretch.
But it would be wrong to paint this as a bad day. There was still plenty of time for stopping and chatting to people. The French couple cycling the route anticlockwise, for example, who had brought everything with them including l’évier de cuisines. Their jealousy at my lightweight bike packing set up was reciprocated by my envy of their plan to finish for the day two kilometres up the road. Or there was the family who kept passing us all day, who had the same idea as us to grab an ice cream at Drumbeg. Then of course there was the Type II fun to be enjoyed in the coming weeks.
The midges come out
The drop down from the highest point down towards the River Ardbhair was the single biggest challenge of the day. I had clearly gotten stronger since Bealach na Bà, where I was ready to get off the bike at 14%, and was surprised to see that I was still in the saddle when the gradient shot past 17%. At 20% though, I was left with a choice: unclip or fall off. Not wanting to hit the deck, for the first time on the trip I unclipped and pushed. As quickly as possible up and around the blind bend on the narrow road.
Our shadows were getting longer and longer as the evening starting to creep up on us and, with the wind all but gone, the midges decided to come out and grab some lunch. Every time we stopped there were crowds of them. Midge nets on, it still didn’t help us from the ones that somehow managed to get inside. No amount of Midge Magic would deter the little vampire flies either acting as more of a pheromone than deterrent.
From then on we stopped as briefly and as little as we could. Heading over the Kylesku bridge, photos were taken quickly. We didn’t even stop to catch our breath at the top of the last two climbs into Scourie. Even stopping to find accommodation was brief and business like.
Best Guest House Ever
Although the local campsite was our last resort and backup plan, we had nowhere to stay tonight. With the amount of bugs around, we feared people would discover our bloodless, desiccated bodies in the morning. Suboptimal though camping was, at 8 pm, our chance of getting a nice hotel was slim.
Booking.com said there was a vacancy at the Scourie Guest House so we chanced our arm and headed over. Ignoring the no vacancy sign outside, we knocked on the door, trying to look exhausted and pathetic and asked if there was a room…
Considering the day we had, we didn’t have to try that hard. We had ridden for two hours longer than yesterday and climbed over 2,000 metres (500 more than Komoot of 500 predicted. As it was, they did have a room and a garage for the bikes. The only condition was we didn’t let the midges in.
Jane and Ian our hosts could not do enough for us from that point on. Concerned we hadn’t eaten, they were happy for us to use our camping stoves in the garden, which in seconds was revised to the conservatory and then upgraded again for them to cook our stuff in their microwave. They brought out a spread of our tuna, rice and sweetcorn along with additional cheese, tomatoes and cucumber. And yoghurt. And coffee.
If you want to stay in a top quality guesthouse with fantastic hosts in Scourie, this is the one. Book ahead though as this was the first time in weeks they had a vacancy. For that we were incredibly thankful.
Ullapool to Scourie
06:55:30 (moving) / 11:04:25 (elapsed)
14.9 kph / 9.4 kph