Many roads lead the motorcyclist to Scotland. A very good, but often overlooked option, is the route via Northern Ireland.
At the narrowest point, Northern Ireland and Scotland are barely 20 kilometres apart. The ferry between Larne in Northern Ireland and Stranraer in Scotland has a few more miles to cover.
But it manages to do so easily in a journey time of little more than an hour. With docking and disembarking, it's then about two hours of travel time in total. There are several ferries a day and for motorcyclists the connection is also very inexpensive.
This opens up unimagined possibilities in the truest sense of the word: With the rental motorcycle you can easily make a combined Ireland-Northern Ireland Scotland tour from Ireland!In this episode, I present you a combination of a Northern Ireland round trip with a tour along the famous North Coast 500 in the Scottish Highlands.
Highlights of this Tour:
2) The Causeway Coastal Route
3) The North Antrim Coastal Route
5) Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park
6) Glencoe Valley
7) Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle
9) John O'Groats and the North Coast
10) The North Coast 500 Route via Ullapool and the West Coast
11) The Applecross Pass
12) Eilean Donan Castle
13) Belfast and Titanic Belfast Exhibition
To 1) Londonderry:
From our motorcycle rental in Ireland, is a day trip up to Londonderry in Northern Ireland.
Londonderry, as the British say, or Derry as it is called by the Irish has one of the best preserved historic city walls in Europe.
The wall almost completely encloses the old city centre and you can walk around the old town in about two hours, walking on the wall.
In more recent history, Londonderry also played an important role in the Northern Ireland conflict of the 1970s and 1980s.
Today, it is a city popular with tourists, with many sights to see.
To 2) The Causeway Coastal Route
You may have heard of the Giants Causeway, a geological feature on the north coast of Ireland. There about 40000 basalt columns rise from the ground and form bizarre steps.
According to legend, the Irish giant Fionn built a dam here out of chunks of stone in order to reach Scotland and challenge his adversary, the giant Benandonner, to a fight.
Or maybe the pillars were formed by a volcanic eruption about 60 million years ago - who knows, anything is possible on the Irish island.
In any case, the Causeway Coastal Route is named after the Giants Causeway and runs along almost the entire north coast.
On the north coast you will also find the mighty ruins of Dunluce Castle. The castle ruin stands directly on the rugged cliff. In fact, a part of the cliff broke off and pulled a piece of the castle with it into the foaming sea. According to legend - yes, another legend - the entire kitchen with the kitchen staff disappeared into the sea.
Another highlight, only a few kilometres away, is Carrick a Reede, a long suspension bridge leading to a small island.
To 3) The North Antrim Coastal Route
This beautiful piece of coastline is particularly scenic and wonderful to ride by motorcycle. It is much less busy than the Causeway and the small coastal road often runs right along the water.
Especially impressive is Torr Head. From there, in good weather, you can see the Scottish coast, which is only 20 kilometres away at this point.
To 4) Glasgow
The ferry takes you from Larne to Cairnryan anch Scotland in barely two hours. From there you follow the coast to the north. In Turnberry you leave the A77 and follow the small coastal road.
A short distance further you will come to Culzean Castle. The magnificent castle was built in the late 18th century and sits majestically directly on the edge of a large cliff. The huge park is beautifully landscaped and can be visited, as well as the luxuriously furnished castle with its large collection of historic pistols and swords.
You can spend the evening in Glasgow, a modern and very lively city with lots of art, culture, pubs and restaurants. Just drive into the centre and enjoy the hustle and bustle. If you don't like the hustle and bustle so much, it's better to stay outside the city, which also has quite a lot of traffic due to its size.
A bridge brings you over the River Clyde and after a short drive you reach Loch Lomond near Alexandria. Follow the A82 along the west coast of the big lake.
At the beginning you will see more forest than lake, but as the road narrows it leads picturesquely along the shore. In Crianlarich the A82 turns off in the direction of Glencoe.
To 6) Glencoe Valley
The valley of Glencoe is one of the most beautiful landscapes of the Highlands. On the left side after a while you will see a striking mountain formation, the "Three Sisters".
Take your time and stop often for photo stops. Look back too, the valley is picturesque in both directions!
Shortly after Glencoe you will reach Loch Linnhe, which is actually more a fjord or sea bay than a lake.
To 7) Loch Ness
You follow the Caledonian Rift to the north. This is a fault of tectonic plates over a distance of about 150km. The lochs on this stretch are partly several hundred meters deep. After Loch Linnhe, the Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and finally the famous Loch Ness follow along this graben.
Everyone knows the stories about the sea monster of Loch Ness. Keep a lookout, who knows...?
To 8) Inverness
Inverness is the capital of the northern Highlands. It has many hotels and B&Bs, but it is also well visited. It is therefore advisable to book your overnight stay in time.
An evening stroll through the historic city centre and to Inverness Castle is very nice and there you will also find all kinds of restaurants and pubs to end a nice motorcycle day. By the way, Inverness is the start and finish of the North Coast 500 on which you will ride tomorrow.
To 9) John O'Groats
The small town of John O'Groats is considered the northernmost point of the British mainland. In fact, the headland of Dunnet Head, a little further west, is even further north. But there is no place there to market. Well, what the heck, a little photo at the position sign and on we go!
To 10) The North Coast 500 Route
Inverness is the start and finish of the North Coast 500, on which you have been driving for a while now. The NC500 is about 500 miles long and streches from Inverness along the north coast and the west coast as far as the Isle of Skye and along Loch Ness back to Inverness.
You follow the coast further west to Durness and then further south to the harbour town of Ullapool. On this stretch the roads get narrower, the towns smaller and the gas stations fewer. Better refuel in time, the next gas station could be closed on weekends!
Via Poolewe and Torridon we reach Tornapress. From there a small road leads over the mountain to Applecross.
To 11) The Applecross Pass
The small road leads to the famous Applecross Pass, or "Bealach na Ba" as it is called in Gaelic. It is considered Scotland's and Britain's most dangerous pass. The small road is partly one lane and in case of oncoming traffic passing might get a bit difficult.
The road surface is not always good and at the top there are a few tighter hairpin bends. If you take it slow and drive with foresight, however, you will have no problems with the pass and can really enjoy the great view at the lookout point at 626 meters above sea level. In clear weather you can see all the way to the Isle of Skye!
Those who have enough time can still make a detour over the magnificent Isle of Skye, all others must drive further south.
To 12) Eilean Donan Castle
At the junction of Loch Duich and Loch Alsh lies Eilean Donan Castle. A long stone arch bridge leads to the castle, which is situated on a rock.
The fantastic castle has often been used as a film set, including for the movies Braveheart, Highlander, Rob Roy and James Bond's "The World Is Not Enough".
The castle is one of the most photographed landmarks in Scotland and can be visited.
On the way back you can make a detour via the beautiful town of Oban and then the ferry will take you back to Northern Ireland. From Cairnryan you can either take the P&O ferry to Larne or the Stenaline ferry directly to Belfast.
To 13) Belfast and the Titanic Belfast Exhibition
Belfast is a rather modern city that offers many places to stay, including in the harbour area. There you can also find the very interesting Titanic exhibition.
Belfast was an important port for a long time. Many large ships were built in the shipyards, including the famous Titanic and her sister ships Olympic and Britannic.
The multimedia exhibition tells about this time and also about the Titanic and its tragic sinking.
Another short drive, perhaps a break at Trim Castle, a huge Norman castle, and you'll return to our rental station.
This route has a total length of about 2400 kilometres long. You can expect to travel about 250-300 kilometres per day for most of this route. On the northwest coast of Scotland, between John O`Groats and Applecross, I would expect about 200-250 kilometres per day.
So you can calculate at least 9-10 days for this tour. If you have less time, you can shorten the route in Northern Ireland or Scotland and if you have more time, you can extend the route according to your wishes.
It is a good idea to take a break in the historic cities of Edinburgh or Stirling and take advantage of the many sightseeing opportunities.
Londonderry has historical and modern elements and also the more modern cities of Belfast or Glasgow offer many possibilities to use a break day.
Depending on your preferences, you can easily turn this tour into a 12 or 14 day trip.
General Travel Information:
Northern Ireland and Scotland are part of the United Kingdom. You will need a passport to enter the country and the currency is the British Pound.
The Republic of Ireland is completely independent and a member of the EU. Here, for EU members, the identity card is sufficient for entry and the currency is the Euro.
On all islands you drive on the left. In Ireland the speed is in kilometres per hour, in the United Kingdom it is miles per hour.
As a motorcyclist, you get used to driving on the left very quickly, since the controls on the motorcycle are in the usual place, while in a car the steering wheel is on the right and you shift gears with your left hand. Also, the often quite narrow country roads are less daunting for the motorcyclist than for the car driver.
The ferry service from Larne to Cairnryan is operated by P&O Ferries. For sailing times and prices, visit their website at: www.poferries.com.
The route from Belfast to Cairnryan is operated by Stenaline. You can find all the data at: www.stenaline.de.
Conclusion and Outlook:
There are many wonderful possibilities to combine a motorcycle tour in Ireland or Northern Ireland with a tour in Scotland. In this tour 1 I introduced you to the North Coast 500. In the very north of the West Highlands, the NC500 tour impresses mainly by wonderful motorcycling in a fantastic mountain landscape with many routes directly at the picturesque coast.
There are also some sightseeing opportunities, but not too many. This makes the NC500 tour especially suitable for motorcyclists for whom riding and the scenery are the most important things.
In tour 2 I present you a variant, where the Northern Ireland part is the same, but the routing in Scotland varies:
You'll get more opportunities to sightsee and experience city culture, but you'll also be in the gorgeous landscapes of the central Highlands and the Isle of Skye. In return, the trip doesn't go quite as far north.
Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg, March 2022
Picture credits: cover picture: Glencoe "Three Sisters", easycruiser.tours. The source is indicated for all images in the text. All maps are from Google Maps 2022.
Sources: easycruiser.tours, Wikipedia 2022, visitscotland.com.