Travellers’ tales: The North-West Highlands

The Summer Isles, off Coigach peninsula
The Summer Isles, off Coigach peninsula
Janet Paske and her partner Greg cycled through stunning mountain and coastal scenery

When a lack of experience ‘sunk’ my kayaking holiday off the Summer Isles, I was inspired to try a cycling holiday in north-west Scotland instead. Our route started from Lairg – ScotRail’s phoneline staff were genuinely helpful – and we loaded it into Komoot, mainly to estimate distances (220 miles in total) and climbs (4,250m). There is only one road along the coast so there’s not much need for a guide! 

We had inadvertently included a geologically significant region in our route: the North-West Highlands UNESCO Geopark, which has the oldest rocks in Europe. In one of the visitor centres we learned that we may have glamped on a meteor’s 45km-wide impact crater from 1.2bn years ago. 

We travelled some way along the North Coast 500, and about half the vehicles on it were motorhomes (not caravans these days). Mostly drivers were well behaved. Singletrack roads with frequent passing places featured prominently. 

Our first day’s cycling was our longest: 55 miles from Lairg to the campsite above the beach at Altandhu. We were on holiday and wanted to see places rather than rush through them. After that we rode no more than 30 miles in a day. We also had stops of two nights in two places. 

Day one: Lairg to Altandhu

We couldn’t believe the views. I kept stopping to take panoramic photos, then realised that it would take much longer to arrive if I did that everywhere there was a view. We passed many virtually empty sandy shores, and at Scourie in the far north-west, I was tempted into the water for a swim. 

We saw a young stag at 30 yards, which was so unfazed it gave me time to get my camera and take several shots. I managed to get really close-up photos of seals during a Lochinver boat trip, too. We saw puffins on the rugged north coast and lots of other seabirds as we continued. 

The trip was so good we’ve already started planning another one, combining Caithness on the north-east coast with Orkney.

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