The Highlands of Scotland may well be a long trek away for most of us, yet this very special slice of the British countryside attracts visitors from all around the world, all coming to see itís legendary beauty, and to soak up itís uniquely friendly Celtic atmosphere and culture.
The Western Highlands, around Wester Ross, are home to some of the most spectacular and remote scenery in Britain, and some of the most impressive cycling youíll find in the country. There may not be many roads in these parts, but the ones there are spectacular, traffic free, and tough.
Our chosen route is a 60 mile circuit around the very best or Wester Ross. After riding through glens surrounded by high mountains we hit the coast, and follow a dramatic rolling road around to Applecross, from where we hit the deadly slopes of the Bealach na Ba pass, Britainís highest surfaced road pass. Itís a real grind, but take time to look back over your shoulder. The views are simply amazing, right across to the Isle of Raasay.
Distance: 60 miles
Grade: extra hard
Duration: 5 hours. These are not easy roads, or conditions
Bottom gear: 39 x 27, or better still a triple
Map: OS Landranger 24
Climbing: The climbs along the northern stretch of the peninsular are really tough, and will seriously drain you for the near six mile ascent of Bealach na Ba, which climbs some 626 meters from sea level to the highest road point in the UK. From the opposite direction the climb is steeper, though it is more sheltered.
Bealach na Ba translates to ì Pass of Cattleî
The Applecross area is to the far north west of the Scottish Highlands. If you’re travelling from a good distance away it is well worth taking a flight to Inverness and then hiring a car – Easyjet have regular flights from Luton and Liverpool to Inverness www.easyjet.com
By road from most places the best access is also via Stirling, Inverness and then along the A9, A835, A832 to Garve and continue on to Lochcarron.
The more scenic option is to head along the motorway to Stirling, then to head west through Callander and the Trossachs to Tyndrum, from where you take the A82 through Glen Coe to Fort William, along the Great Glen then head north towards Kyle of Lochalsh and on to Lochcarron.
For rail travel check out www.scotrail.co.uk
When to go
The scenery in the Highlands is superb year-round. During the winter the snow-capped mountains make for superb views, but rule out any high level riding, especially on Bealach na Ba, which is often blocked well in to spring. During early summer you often encounter the infamous Scottish midges, so stock up on insect repellent. The best times for touring in the area are generally between late April and June and early September to late October.
Food and drink
During the summer season there are loads of hotels and B&B establishments open in the area, though during August they can get busy, so itís best to book a few days in advance. For the ride we stayed in Lochcarron, which has a couple of hotels and a long line of B&Bs. Try the Bank House on 01520 722332 or Rockvilla Hotel on 01520 722379 The Rockvilla also does great bar and fresh seafood.
In Applecross there is a campsite, a teashop, and the Applecross Hotel, which serves up some of the best pub food in the Highlands. Tel. 01520 744246
There is also a great seafood snack bar at Kishorn, which serves up good value fresh fare during the daytime.
For further info contact the Tourist Information in Lochcarron on 01520 722357 or for general info go to www.visitscotland.com
Bealach na Ba Challenge
The first ever Bealach na Ba cyclo sportive event takes place in this area on the 29th July [which is this Saturday! – ed] and crosses the pass and covers some 90 miles in total. For details check out www.cyclosport.co.uk