I was glad we were doing the Bealach na Bà
, Pass of the Cattle, or Applecross Pass on the first day of the NC500 proper, otherwise I might have spent all week worrying about it. Steep, narrow, high and twisty, it's one of the UK's most challenging roads.
We set out from Inverness across the Moray Firth, heading for Wester Ross. Fast, sweeping roads gave way to a section of pretty, narrow ones with good visibility round the bends, and I felt my confidence rise.
In Lochcarron we stopped for fuel, bumping into forum member Trev who was doing the NC500 the other way round on a hired BMW. Eyeing the band of rain passing over, we decided to make it a coffee stop. Then: the pass!
We turned off the main road, travelling past rocky slopes and purple heather, with the sea below. The track wound upwards ever so gently and gradually, with miles of visibility. What was all the fuss about?
All at once, the fog descended and we arrived at three sharp hairpins. Cars slowed for a coach looming at the side of the road, taillights faded into the gloom ahead, and, at the top, rain and wind battered us. No hope of the splendid views afforded on nicer days; the rest of the group hightailed it for shelter, and, after a drink of water and a brief wibble, I followed.
I tiptoed down after Howard, my visor and glasses streaming with water. Soon I was safely at the bottom, where I cheered myself up with a golden syrup ice cream from the van outside the Applecross Inn and a possible sighting of a nuclear submarine out to sea.
The weather improved as we rode north along the coast. Pretty single track roads took us past Highland cattle with ridiculous hairstyles, while cars obeyed the police notices and pulled in to passing places so we could overtake. We travelled through the beautiful Bein Eirgh national park to Kinlochewe.
The Kinlochewe Hotel
had friendly staff, a wide range of ales, whiskies and gins, delicious local food, and, next to the kettle in our room, the elusive Tunnocks Caramel Log.
After dinner, somewhat optimistically, Giles, Dave, John and I went for a walk to look for the Northern Lights. We didn't see them, but did see plenty of bats swooping after insects under a bridge.Miles: 128