By Karen Newman
Local cyclist, cycle trainer and bike-ability provider
Published: 4th May 2018

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.

Off-Road route:

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).

Off-road route – Contin to Garve

Forest Road Sign

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!

Smooth Forest Roads

Open Forest just beyond the railway bridge- a bit rougher.

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:

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.


Please note: 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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