If you’re driving around Scotland’s Northwest, there is a road you MUST take, even though it really doesn’t go anywhere (well, to Applecross, but that’s it). Noted as one of the top 10 roads you must drive in the world, it is all of exhilarating, scary, amazing, frustrating and something you simply must do if you’re there.
While we were driving from Inverness to the Isle of Skye, I knew we had to take the small detour to try out this mountain road. I had read about it, and it sounded amazing. Steep cliffs, tiny, winding one-lane road, what else could be better for a trip?
As a very small side road off of A896, it wasn’t too easy to find. Thankfully our GPS got us close enough. Once you’re close you can just find the signs for Applecross and follow them. There is actually now a cafe (http://thebealach.co.uk/) at the corner of A896 and the unnamed road that you have to take, so you can fuel up for the ride (or use the toilet before you start the drive, as you’ll probably wish you did once you see how tiny the road is on the cliffs.
When you start up the hills, it feels like a normal Scottish single lane road – narrow with some passing points.
Then you get to the climb.
First, just a note, if you have a standard shifting car, make sure you’re good at slow speeds. You’ll have this in second gear the entire way, if not just first.
Once you start into the climb, you’ll realize why this is a crazy road: hairpin turns on a single lane slowly curving up the mountain, with curves so tight and steep that you should honk before you go around them.
Then there is the drop. You’re essentially driving up the mountain, back and forth, with a 20-100 foot drop just inches from your tires. Yes, there are guardrails. No, you don’t really believe they’d do anything to help if you hit them.
But talk about exhilarating.
On our trek we made it to the top with only a couple oncoming cars (and one very poor driver ahead of us that probably didn’t know what they got themselves into and wished they could get off the road). Unfortunately there are no places to turn around at any point til the top.
There are a number of passing points, so the key here is to make sure you note them as you go past them, then watch ahead for oncoming cars in case you should back up into it. The road zigs and zags so often that you may not see too far ahead.
If you can manage to make it to the top without burning out your engine, and without losing your nerves, you’re rewarded with a rest stop area and a great view.
Our initial goal was to go all the way to Applecross, then back, but our nerves were a bit on edge from the drive, and going to Applecross meant going down the backside of the mountain, then coming all the way back up and down again.
So we decided to just take a break then head back down the way we came.
It was going well, just coasting down the turns for the most part (hoping the brakes didn’t burn out), until two things happened. First, we just happened to be behind a driver that wasn’t confident on the hills, and second, a touring group of 10-12 luxury sportscars decided to go up the mountain as part of their tour.
The result was the car ahead of us stopping at a passing point too early, not letting us pass to the next passing point, and us having to cram two cars into a passing point and get out and help wave each sports car through with about 2 inches between our car and the cliff edge.
Needless to say, it was an experience. And I’m even more impressed with the amount of bicyclists that took the road up AND down! That’s impressive.
And even with the crazy slopes, the feeling of driving inches away from a 100 foot fall, and the annoyance at drivers who should not be there, this was a drive to remember, and I would definitely recommend it if you have the nerve.
GPS Coordinates to the road: 57.418364, -5.602576