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Not just a driving route: New plan to encourage more people to explore the North Coast 500 by bike

Markus riding on a gravel track parallel  to the NC500 near Torridon.
Markus riding on a gravel track parallel to the NC500 near Torridon.

It’s known as the ultimate road trip for those in cars, campervans and motorcycles. But a new drive hopes to encourage visitors to explore the NC500 by bike.

The route is teaming up with international cycling expert and filmmaker Markus Stitz to create a range of on and off-road cycling itineraries for the 516-mile journey.

It will include a route planner, cycle-friendly accommodation, cycle cafes and storage facilities, as well as bike maintenance and cleaning points.

More than just a driving route

The new cycling initiative aims to promote the NC500 as more than just a driving route by highlighting experiences suitable for all levels and abilities.

It also aligns with efforts to encourage cycling as a healthy outdoor activity, with benefits for wellbeing and mental health, as well as for sustainable and responsible travel in the Highlands.

NC500 already offers advice for cyclists.

Markus recently spent five days on the route as this spectacular footage shows.

The founder of Bikepacking Scotland is an experienced long-distance cyclist who knows the NC500 from previous visits and research for his new book about gravel rides in the UK.

He is putting together his own set of tips on planning ahead, advice on sustainable travel and following the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, ‘leaving no trace’ and being considerate to communities.

He used the free NC500 app and the route planning app Komoot to plot his journey and devise the new itineraries.

They include sections between Shieldaig and Kinlochewe, Dundonnell and Ullapool and Beauly and Inverness.

Helping cyclists plan their own journeys

Markus said: “Through my work with Bikepacking Scotland I have worked with a number of different communities in Scotland to create opportunities for people to experience the beauty of Scotland by bike and public transport.

“When creating itineraries, I see those as a guide and inspiration to people to plan their very own journeys.

“For this project I have used the NC500 route as inspiration to devise an itinerary that shows people how to use the route as a connection between several iconic off-road journeys, and to use trains to connect those further.

Markus looking over Torridon Bay shortly after Shieldaig.

“The NC500 takes people through stunning landscapes, and I hope that, through travelling this way, people can have a positive impact on the communities along the way.”

Craig Mills, head of operations from North Coast 500 Ltd, said he is keen to show the area has more to offer than just a driving route.

“As we cautiously open up to visitors again, it’s more important than ever that we promote the unique wide-open green spaces, coast, countryside and natural beauty of the NC500 to be enjoyed by everyone for the benefit of positive mental and overall wellbeing.

Slow down and enjoy new NC500 experiences

“By slowing down and spending more time cycling in specific parts of the NC500, people can enjoy new experiences exploring the region’s history and heritage, Highland food and drink, as well meeting local people and learning more about Highland community life.

“While we are encouraging visitors to enjoy the experience of the NC500, we also stress the importance of being aware of, and respectful to, all types of road users across the route.

Markus on a gravel track off the NC500

“We also encourage visitors to stay alert and continue to follow UK and Scottish Government guidelines on health, safety and social distancing measures.”

Earlier this month, Lord Thurso, the chairman of VisitScotland, said he wants drivers to swap fossil fuel-powered vehicles for electric ones on the NC500.

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