Photography: Tristan Gale SBS Getaways: Wild Atlantic Way & North Coast 500 featured image

SBS Getaways: Wild Atlantic Way & North Coast 500

19 Aug 2018
It's a classic Celtic combo... west coast of Ireland and a lap of northern Scotland...

Greg Kingston rode from the east coast of England to follow the Wild Atlantic way along the west of Ireland before crossing the Irish Sea and tackling the bulk of Scotland’s North Coast 500 for good measure. 

Greg rode his BMW S1000XR alongside friend Tristan Gale, a professional photographer who was on a Triumph Explorer 1200. Here’s their story…

How long were you away and how many miles did you cover?

We were away for eight days and covered just under 2700 miles. That may sound like a lot, but around 1100 of those miles were on the first and last day, leaving everything in between for more enjoyable riding. I’ve become a real advocate of grinding out the miles on the first and last days to maximise your time where you want to be. Having the right bike to do this helps, but if you can get through 600-700 miles in a day then a lot of Europe is within reach.

What was good about your trip?

Far more than you’ll allow me to write, I think! We found it a very relaxing ride, even on some of the longer days. There are so many interesting places to stop and walk around or explore all along the Atlantic Way and the North Coast 500 (NC500). The sense of not being rushed to get to the next destination is great. On longer summer days, the amount of daylight riding time available is huge, especially further north.

"I love riding with mountains on one side and sea on the other"

I love riding in the Alps, but find there’s a constant temptation to attack the passes. This trip had its fair share of spirited riding but it was just as enjoyable on the more steady sections. I love riding on the coast, with mountains or hills on one side and the sea on the other. The scenery is varied and spectacular. We also caught four ferries, and they’re a really good way to take a break and recharge while still enjoying the views.

Some highlights? The best oysters I’ve ever had, at Moran’s Oyster Cottage on a river off Galway Bay, riding back from the Isle of Skye, under low cloud in the loch, the whole west coast of the NC500 – there’s just too much to mention. A lot of it was just being away with good mates on good bikes on great roads.

Did you stay in any cool places?

I’m a very reluctant camper, but the best places we stayed were all campsites. Strand Camping in Doonbeg on the Atlantic Way has a lovely view over the bay with a few good local pubs within walking distance. The owner has a dedicated biking area with a covered shelter for the bikes.

The most spectacular site was Sango Sands in Durness, right on the north-west tip of Scotland. That’s about as far away as I can get from home on the mainland, and it has a white sand beach with beautiful crystal blue water.

Were the locals friendly?

Unfailingly friendly at every point along the way. We enjoyed great hospitality everywhere we stayed, ate and drank.

It was pouring with rain and nearing darkness but the A82 was still a joy

Surprisingly we saw very few other bikes along the way, especially in Ireland, but everywhere was very well prepared to cater for touring bikers.

Anything that wasn’t good about the trip?

The worst part of the trip was actually the first day. Our fast ferry had been cancelled, and we were bumped onto a ferry that was one hour slower and left two hours later. That meant a much later arrival time than planned, and a fair fewer pints of Guinness too.

Cancelling a ferry for poor weather when the sea was so still you could use your reflection in the water to shave probably wasn’t Irish Ferries’ finest hour. Nor was their decision to let the bikes disembark last, breathing in exhaust fumes for one hour after the ferry had docked.

Let’s not leave out the infamous Scottish midges either. I sense we didn’t see them at their worst, but what we did experience was certainly bad enough. They’re no problem when you’re riding, but reach for the insect repellent the second that you stop…

What was the best road you covered on your trip?

I’d like to be greedy and mention two please. The first will be known to many – the A82 north along Loch Lomond through the Trossachs. It was pouring with rain and nearing darkness when we rode through and it was still a joy. But the road I’d really like to highlight is the A2 Coast Road from Giant’s Causeway to Larne in Northern Ireland. It is fabulous for mile after mile of sweeping road following the coast, with the sea right next to you for most of the journey. It is crystal clear, and if you’re lucky there’ll be the occasional seal or dolphin alongside for company. You can ride it as fast or as smoothly as you like, and it is only interrupted by two or three villages. If we hadn’t had a ferry to catch, I’d have turned around and ridden that road twice more.

Would you do the same trip again?

I’d definitely ride it again in the future, but probably not for a while as there’s not a lot about the trip or route that I’d change. Stay in different places, maybe allow more time in south-west Ireland to see more of the inland part of the Ring of Kerry as we only rode one route through. I’d also like to see more of the Cairngorms in Scotland – we had a great route through but there’s a whole lot more to do with an extra day at your disposal.

"If you can afford an extra day or two on this route then take it"

What advice would you give to someone who’s keen to do the same trip?

Make sure your gear and luggage is waterproof. When it rains in this part of the world, it can really rain. If you want real freedom, then pack the gear to wild camp – there are plenty of suitable places all along the route. If you’re not camping take care to book in advance in busy periods.

If you can afford an extra day or two on this route then take it – there’s a lot to do, ride and see both on the coast and inland too. If you’re ferry hopping then generally being on a bike will ensure you can get the next one without booking in advance, though It will probably be safer to book in advance for groups of more than four or five bikes.

Where do you think your next bike trip will take you?

That’s easy – a long weekend to Wales mid-September, and then the next big trip will be back to the Swiss Alps in June 2019. Since this trip Tristan has swapped his Triumph Explorer for a KTM 1290 Super Adventure so both trips should be something to look forward to and endlessly talk about all winter!