By Karen Newman
Local cyclist, cycle trainer and bike-ability provider
Published: 7th May 2018

Cycling the north/east coast..

As part of Karen Newman’s series on cycling the NC500 – Karen has provided some advice on alternative routes for cyclists doing the North Coast 500.

The A9 from Thurso to Inverness and the A99 from Wick to where it joins the A9 at Latheron are main roads which can take some heavy traffic. They are the only routes along the east coast from the north to Dornoch.

South of Dornoch, the A9 can be easily avoided by using minor roads that run parallel to the A9.

NB: These roads are not appropriate for motorised NC500 traffic – they pass through villages and past farms where children play and cycle back and forth to school.

The North Coast

The far north and north-east of Scotland is characterised by low, open moorland and rare blanket bog ecosystems with single-track roads connecting remote sporting estates and small isolated settlements. In windy weather, the only shelter is afforded by occasional forestry plantations, most of which are now being removed. In good weather, it makes brilliant cycling country. NB: Most of the roads cutting across this area are not appropriate for motorised NC500 traffic – they are narrow, some are very rough, and passing places are few and far between.

The coast roads which the official NC500 follows round to Thurso and Wick are mostly fairly new double track roads which take a wonderful roller coaster trip between the open moorland and deep cut river glens. They are fabulous for driving and give access to Caithness’s beaches but they may not suit all cyclists.

If you decide to go cross-country, consider the following:

The NC500 Cycling Alternatives are described in a clockwise direction from Inverness. This is the most favoured direction as the prevailing winds in the region are south-westerly. However, in the spring, the area usually experiences northerly or easterly winds so use the weather forecasts to help you choose the direction of your trip.

All distances are approximate and can vary up to 3% depending on which mapping software you use. The route maps and elevation graphs have been plotted using BikeHike.

NB: These NC500 Alternative routes have been put together specifically for CYCLING.
Most are not appropriate for motorised NC500 traffic. Some pass through villages and past farms where children play and cycle back and forth to school and where agricultural activities, such as moving animals on the public road, are carried out. Others may be very narrow, twisty and rough with few passing places

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