Alternatives cycle routes: Contin – Garve
As part of Karen Newman’s series on cycling the NC500 – Karen has provided a suggested alternative route for cyclists doing the North Coast 500 from Contin to Garve.
A835 Contin to Garve alternative
The main A835 is twisty, up and down and quite narrow between Contin Garve where the A832 Achnasheen road junction is. It is a trunk road and can get busy with lorries, campervans etc – it can be potentially dangerous to cyclists. If you are not used to this sort of road, it may present you with few problems.
However, note that you MUST dismount and walk over the level crossing in Garve (the yellow signs telling you this are not clearly visible until you move out towards the middle of the lane). The railway lines cross the road at an accute angle making it easy to catch bike tyres, possibly throwing you off.
The only alternatives are:
- Off-road on good forestry roads and rough landrover track
- Train from Inverness, Beauly, Muir of Ord or Dingwall to Garve.
- Six miles through forest and natural woodland on a core path. Core paths give the public rights of access, so if forestry operations are close to the path, you must be granted safe passage.
- Only suitable for more lightly loaded touring bikes or hybrids with tyres which have good tread, gravel and mountian bikes.
- Undertake this if you have a bit more time on you hands and you are happy to get off and push over the rougher sections.
The map below gives you an idea but the 1:50,000 OS maps (sheets 20 and 26) show it better, as does the Trailmaps Highland Map 5, Strathpeffer (available from www.trailmaps.biz or from a shop in Strathpeffer).
- Just to the west of Contin village, turn right off the main road and follow the signs for the Forestry Commission car park.
- Immediately after the forestry buildings, turn right to take the up-hill track for a short way
- Follow it left where it continues to a railway bridge, undulating gently with one reasonable hill.
The first half, up to where the route goes under the railway bridge, is on a forest dirt road which should present most bikes with no problems in the dry. In fact, most of it is smoother than some Highland tarmac you will encounter!
- Pass under the railway bridge.
- Turn sharp left and continue on somewhat rougher roads on which you may have to push for short sections, depending on your bike and luggage.
The section which goes up a short hill, away from Loch Garve and then back again, would be a push with anything but a mountain bike, not because of the steepness but because the surface is loose with sharp stones.
The route crosses one small ford:
At a sharp left turn onto the unclassified tarmac road into Garve (green marker on last map below), you have a choice:
- Turn left to go into Garve if you have booked accommodation or want to eat at the burger van.
- Carry straight on to continue on minor roads, over the military bridge to Garve Beag and then left onto the main road for a hundred yards to the junction to Achnasheen. (See below)
Train: the only other option. It’s run by Scotrail and can take up to 4 bikes (no trailers or tandems) – it’s definitely best to pre-book the bike when you buy your ticket, or call Scotrail on 0344 811 0141. To give you an idea, here are the 2016 times – but don’t rely on them for subsequent years.
2016 Times: Monday to Saturday: leaves Inverness at 08:55, 11:00, 13:35, 17:54.
Sunday: leaves Inverness 10:59, 17:54 (possibility of an extra train in the summer)
Journey times: Inverness to Garve about 1 hour, or Dingwall to Garve 20 mins.
Cost (full prices): Inverness to Garve £10.30; Dingwall to Garve £4.40.
Onwards from Garve to the A832 Achnasheen road: NB: the bridge is not passable by motorised vehicle
Even if you have taken the main road to Garve, you may want to cycle this lovely little detour on surfaced minor roads. It crosses the Garve river by an old military bridge dating from 1767 when the Jacobite clans were being ruthlessly subdued after the 1745 uprising, to get to the tiny settlements of Little Garve (Garve Beag) and Gorstan.