I'd love to get some insight into the Bealach Na Ba/Applecross Pass from someone who's driven it fairly recently. We're looking at doing the drive Applecross detour outlined in Rick's Scotland book but we're on the on the fence about it. Is the scenery that fantastic vs Skye or other areas? I've driven many narrow passes in Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Italy but were alarmed at the amount of motorcyclists (and normal cyclists) that made those passes less than enjoyable to drive. Thoughts?
Marcus, I’ve never been on that pass, but for the others you mentioned, what were the 2-wheelers doing that made it unenjoyable? Tailgating, weaving around cars and cutting back in front, passing unsafely, traveling in a pack, spread across the roadway, blocking traffic, riding unpredictably? Did they treat it as if it was their own private road?
I’ve bicycled up a couple of passes, although not with single lane road, and sticking to the edge of the pavement where possible. For me, it was careless/distracted motorists, some in massive campers or pickup trucks with side-view mirrors that stuck out far enough to whack a bicyclist when they were too close to the edge, that made it less than pleasant. And they were going a lot faster, with much more mass than was I, and protected by a lot of steel. My blood and guts would wash off their grille easier than my bones would heal, had a collision occurred. So it can go both ways, but just being on a bike doesn’t allow people to use the road irresponsibly!
Cyn, in answer to your questions, all of the above from the motorcyclists: unreasonable speeds, passing unsafely, riding in packs, crossing over lanes in hairpin curves, no yielding to traffic, cutting off drivers to keep up with the pack, etc, etc. I lived in Switzerland for a good chunk of my life and drove and rode my bike over many of the passes in the alps (Furka, Gotthard, Susten, Simplon, Stelvio, Grimsel, Grossglockner and many of the passes in the Dolomites). In the last 20 years the lack of courtesy and respect on the part of crotch rocket riders has become a serious issue for locals and sightseers alike; I'm trying to figure out if its the same on the Bealach Na Ba.
The last time I drove the Bealach was 2018. It's not for the faint of heart heading west, as there's not a whole lot to prevent you from falling off the edge. It's a gorgeous view for passengers, especially looking back to see where you've been. For the driver, however, it's pretty much eyes on the road at all times.
Once you get to the top, there's a small pull-out where you can look back down to see where you've come from. The view over Loch Carron and Loch Kishorn is one of the best in Scotland, if you're up there on a clear day.
The road down the west side of the Bealach is a lot less nerve-wracking. There are no cliff faces to worry about. The first toilet facilities you'll encounter are at the Applecross campsite. There's a small hotel in Applecross, where you can get a meal. I stayed there about 45 years ago. I'm sure that it has been upgraded since then! In 2018, there were many visitors enjoying a meal in front of the hotel.
To get back to civilization, you have a choice of driving back across the Bealach, so that both driver and passengers can see the vista opening up in front of you; or you can take the pleasant coast road around to Loch Torridon and Shieldaig.
The Bealach is part of the NC500, but for the most part, oncoming drivers are courteous (at least in my experience). The thing that you have to be concerned with would be visitors who ignore the warning signs and decide to take their camper vans up the pass. Fortunately, there are sufficient passing places. This is one road where a little courtesy goes a long way!
I hope that you decide to tackle the Bealach. It's well worth the detour.
Best wishes, and stay safe.
Hi again, Marcus,
I'd forgotten that there were several videos of people driving the Bealach on YouTube. You should check them out to give yourself some sort of idea what the drive will be like. Some of the videos are entertaining - most done from east to west, the preferred route; but some from west to east.
There are some "cowboys" in these videos - drivers who should never have been on this road; and some who seem to have no concern for their front seat passenger.
Enjoy the videos, and have a pint for me at the Applecross Inn. I hope to be back in '22 - I've been saving my stimulus money in order to stimulate the Scottish economy! :)
Marcus, it’s unfortunate that so many riders have more nerve than courtesy or intelligence. I wonder how many eventually wind up becoming a hood/bonnet ornament?
Glaswegian Craig Ferguson, who of course had a late night talk show on CBS several years ago, had a guest who mentioned having a motorcycle, and Craig had been a biker, as well. Craig asked him, with a wry grin, “Have you had your accident yet?” Craig then said that after his own crash, he was done with motorcycle riding. It would seem it’s not if, but when.
I live on Skye and have driven the Bealach Na Ba many times. On one memorable occasion I encountered the bin lorry (garbage truck) coming in the other direction, but we managed to pass each other safely using the passing places. However, recently the number of camper vans, motorcycles, bicycles and rental cars has made the experience much less enjoyable. There is a sign at each end of the pass saying not suitable for large vehicles or caravans, but camper van drivers seem to think this doesn't apply to them. Often these vans are rented and the drivers appear to have little spacial awareness leading to interesting experiences when one encounters one coming in the other direction. Motorcyclists often seem to think that overtaking is fine on the pass (it isn't) and cyclists labour uphill at about 2 mph, not wanting to pull in at passing places to allow cars to pass.
The scenery is great, but as a driver you won't to enjoy it until you get to the fairly large parking area at the top. Of course unless you pick a sunny day it could be clouded out at the top too.
Mike is right that there are some good videos on You Tube to show you what to expect.
We were headed for Applecross in 1997, and we picked a week where they were repaving the entire road. It was closed to inbound traffic, and our outbound traffic crept at the speed of the paving equipment, until they got to a layby to let a few dozen cars past. There were lorries of asphalt moving on the other stretches, again, forcing a pause as they moved between laybys. Of course when we did get past a piece of equipment, we went as fast as the slowest tourist, then ran into more machinery. Trip took 4 hours, which gave us lots of time to admire the views. At 3 mph, the narrowness wasn't that worrying. It may have changed, but Applecross only had one pub and one inn. To top it off, the paving crew was staying in the next room entertaining local lasses all night long :-)
Overall, one of our most vivid memories of Scotland!
Hi once again, Marcus,
I just found these videos on Youtube. They're both by Andy Campbell, who has done some truly wonderful videos of the Northwest Highlands and Islands. These videos will give you a realistic view of driving the Bealach, and also the coast road around to Shieldaig.