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Bike-packing the NC500 with 10IronWomen

Elena, Eve, Donna, Morgan, Mona, Lucy, Row, Pilvi and Freyja are part of 10IronWomen, a community encouraging women to take part in endurance sports. Some of them only discovered cycling when they started their triathlon journey and now they are hooked! Last month they cycled the famous North Coast 500 in 5 days and they loved it.


10 Iron Women collective who encourage women to take part in endurance sports


Day 1 - 132km from Inverness to Applecross


Rating > Difficult

Terrain > Rolling hills

Elevation Gain > 1340 m


We started the NC500 outside Inverness castle. We were all full of nervous excitement about what lay ahead. The first day started with nice rolling hills and long stretches on quiet roads with lochs and mountains in the background. It was really beautiful! When the rain started we found a perfect lunch spot - Miidge cafe - that did amazing brunch and cakes. The rain didn't stop so we had no choice other than to keep cycling and put our waterproof overshoes to the test!



On this first day we also tackled the 'road to Applecross' (also known as Bealach na Bà in Gaelic ) segment which is a 9.1km single-track-road that starts almost at sea level, then rises over 625m, with the steepest gradient hitting 20%. It was tough and the visibility kept decreasing as we hit the clouds. We reminded ourselves that we were seeking a real bike-packing adventure and that there is nothing more rewarding that getting to the top.


Descending in poor visibility and a very narrow track was challenging but once we were out of the clouds it got easier and it was really beautiful. After that all we had left to do was roll to the hostel and heat up some food.


2023-06-10IW x NC500 - Day 1 - Inverness to Applecross
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Day 2 - 188 km from Applecross to Ullapool


Rating > Difficult

Terrain > Rolling hills

Elevation Gain > 2286m


Day 2 of the trip started off tough with big headwinds followed by lots of short steep hills all the way to Shieldaig. After cycling 132km the day before, it was a struggle to get through but well worth it for a quick lunch at the Shieldaig Coastal Kitchen followed by a cycle through Torridon to Gairloch.


Cycling through a relatively flat single track road with huge mountains on either side made Torridon one of our favourite sections of the route.



After one snack stop in Gairloch Community Cafe, we carried on all the way to Ullapool. This final section was testing, with long inclines and a super long downhill ride into Ullapool. We were counting down each km in the last hour and the the fish & chips we had for dinner was well deserved.


We were well and truly knackered, it was probably the toughest day of the trip. At that point we had no clue how we would get through another 144km the next day but somehow we prevailed.


Day 2 - Applecross to Ullapool
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Day 3 - 147 km from Ullapool to Durness


Rating > Difficult

Terrain > Rolling hills

Elevation Gain > 2664m


We had a much needed lie in the morning of day 3, many of us having completed our longest ride ever (and most climbing ever) on the journey into Ullapool. Before we set off, a Tesco stop for essential snacks gave us a chance to stretch out our sore backs and quads with some parking lot aerobics!


Once on the road the magnitude of the day started to set in: the ride from Ullapool to Durness would be the same daunting elevation as the day before, only across 48 less km! The first 40 km were quite tough with several climbs ticked off the list of 30 for the day. Gorgeous weather and sun kept our spirits high despite the tired legs and we encountered stunning scenery, I think some of the best of the trip around Drumrunie.



We had a lunch stop for the best pies in the UK at Lochinvar Larder and we were ready to tackle the reaming 96 km which proved to be a bit quicker. The sun really came out and we stopped for a quick ice cream, a welcome surprise stop that also gave us a chance to send a few postcards. By then the legs were really feeling the previous days and our crew knew we'd be out cycling the final stretches at sunset.


The last 40 km were tough as the temperature dropped and the sunset made the fairly barren and rocky landscape feel as though we were cycling on Mars. We welcomed the long descent into Durness and were quite excited to get a glimpse of the sea again though our hostel was a bit cheeky being at the top of a very steep hill.


We split into groups and the last group got in at 22:15, feeling a bit shattered and very happy to manage a hot shower, a modest hostel frozen curry and for some of us a pint by the fire before crawling into bed.


Day 3 - Ullapool to Durness
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Day 4 - 86 km from Durness to Strathy Point


Rating > Difficult

Terrain > Rolling hills

Elevation Gain > 1369m


After another YHA buffet breakfast loading up on bread and jam, we set off for our easiest day of the trip (still a big day in the saddle). The start of the day was relatively flat, sweeping round Loch Eriboll. At around 30k, we had a beautiful winding 4km climb, followed by an even better descent taking us down into Tongue. Not letting us get off too easily the Scottish Hills threw in a short & sweet 20% surprise climb just before lunch.



We stopped at the Norse Bakehouse for a leisurely two hour lunch. After finally rolling out (full of focaccia), we had 30km of ups & downs to navigate before reaching Strathy Point. The final stretch over Betty Hill included some spectacular views and a small corner shop for our final pitstop of the day. We stuffed as many fresh vegetables into our jerseys as possible, for our only homemade dinner of the trip. Turns out leeks travel very well.


Although this was our ‘chilled’ day, we still arrived at 6pm feeling shattered! Row & Lucy got a historic tour of the Strathy Point lighthouse, and the other ladies went for cold water dip.


Day 4 - Durness to Bettyhill
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Day 5 - 188 km from Strathy to Inverness


Rating > Difficult

Terrain > Fairly flat with some rolling hills

Elevation Gain > 1280m


After a comfortable sleep in the clifftop pod overlooking Thurso Beach, spirits were high as we packed up to ride the final 188km from Strathy to Inverness but soon died as we encountered brutal headwinds across the wilderness en route to Helmsdale.

Despite only averaging 15kph over 70km, we kept motivated, gritted our teeth and pushed on taking stops when needed to stretch our battered bodies.


After five hours we redhead the cafe stop at Thyme and Plaice in Helmsdale, where the great service and food revived us. We all resolved to finish no matter how long it took.

Once we left the cafe we hit the coastal A9 road to Inverness, the wind was at our backs, the sun came out and we started eating some miles.



Flying up and down inclines, alongside fast traffic, the smooth tarmac propelled us forward and we began to experience cycling joy. Almost 50km flew by before we had to battle scary crosswinds crossing the Dornoch Firth Bridge. And Lidl was a welcome sight as we stopped to refuel.


Climbing was thankfully minimal on this day, just a measly 1280m so it felt like a victory lap as we cycled through the picture perfect village of Dornoch and the heather stuffed lanes in brilliant sunlight.


Our bodies were hurting but with less than 12km to go we reunited again with the rest of the group and elatedly rode to Inverness Castle to cheers from ourselves and the locals.

We finished where we started and a stunned American man kept asking why we did it - because we can sir, because we can!


Day 5 - Bettyhill to inverness Castle
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10 Iron Women bike-packing the NC 500 on Scotland

10IronWomen Team


map of the routes of the NC500

 

Disclaimer

All routes are illustrative only and users take full responsibility for their own safety when following any routes suggested on the Moloko Cycling website or app.

Only follow route if safe and legal to so, local traffic laws always take priority.

Take care to ride safely and respect other road users.




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