Marcus and Nik’s NC500 Cycle 2023

My name is Marcus and I work in the Transplant Lab at Manchester Royal Infirmary. I am a supporter of Kidneys for Life, and they supported me by funding my PhD. My research project found a number of HLA types that are linked to kidney function (some good, some bad), and this work would not have been possible without the backing of KFL. Thanks to a KFL grant, I was able to access data from UK Biobank which was essential for my project. I published three papers and was awarded my doctorate earlier this year. I aim to continue using the skills gained to investigate factors associated with kidney dysfunction.

In July 2023, my friend Nik and I embarked on an unforgettable eight-day cycling adventure around the north of Scotland, raising money for KFL. Starting on the east coast in Inverness, we headed across the country, up the west coast, along the north coast, and back down through the countryside – 426 miles in total, with over 7,900m of climbing (90% of the height of Everest!). And we did it all with our clothes, camping gear, food and water packed on the bikes!

Day 1 – Inverness to Applecross (129km)

It was a beautiful day for riding, and we made great time heading west across Scotland on relatively flat terrain. We arrived at our campsite in Lochcarron with plenty of sunlight to spare, but the forecast for day 2 was looking ominous so we decided to keep riding to get ahead of schedule. This meant taking on the biggest challenge of the trip on day 1: Bealach na Ba, aka Applecross Pass. This is one of the highest roads in Britain, rising from sea level to 626m in just 9km (max gradient: 20%), and is rated 11/10 in a book of ‘100 Greatest Cycling Climbs’. It was a serious slog, but the view from the top (sunset over the Isle of Skye) was well worth it and the descent was much easier! We pitched our tents in Applecross and went straight to the pub for some food, pints, and to compare notes with another cyclist from the campsite.

Day 2 – Applecross to Kinlochewe (69km)

The less said the better! After a perfect first day, reality hit as we were completely soaked for the entire ride. The mood wasn’t lifted when we arrived at our lunch spot to find they had stopped serving food. Despite the kindness of a lovely Dutch couple who gave us some bread from their camper van, we were pretty miserable when we arrived in Kinlochewe, and very grateful to find a place that was open and serving pizza. Big up Stephen in the Old Hall Café!

Day 3 – Kinlochewe to Dundonnell (80km)

The sun returned for possibly the best riding of the trip. There was stunning scenery around every corner (sparkling lochs, brooding mountains, mystical waterfalls etc), we had the radio on as the Lionesses won 6-1 at the World Cup, and we even stopped off for a paddle at a couple of pristine white sand beaches. Disaster almost struck in the evening though: we pitched our tents on the shore of a loch without realising that the tide was on its way in, and we quickly found ourselves marooned on our own private island. Fortunately we were able to take evasive action before we got flooded, and we lived to ride another day.

Day 4 – Dundonnell to Lochinver (91km)

Another brilliant day as we progressed up the west coast. There was a big climb in the morning, with a fellow cyclist for company, and we had time to stop and walk over a suspension bridge above a huge gorge which was pretty striking. The lunch stop (Seafood Shack in Ullapool) was a real treat, and the afternoon was all backroads with very little traffic and endless beautiful vistas. To top it all off, we stayed in a cottage instead of a tent that night. Complete luxury!

Day 5 – Lochinver to Durness (23km)

We bottled it! With the forecast predicting heavy rain all day, and still scarred from day 2, the prospect of 97km in the saddle wasn’t very appealing. Luckily, we managed to get a bus to take us most of the way to the north coast. We rode the last 23km through the storm, and that was more than enough for me.

Day 6 – Durness to Melvich (91km)

Fresh from our rest day, we took on the hilliest section of the tour and our only day on the north coast. We were delayed by some mechanical issues so didn’t get to enjoy the beaches (which again looked very inviting), but the views were spectacular from the many summits, and some of the descents were pretty hair-raising!

Day 7 – Melvich to The Crask Inn (94km)

We left the coast and headed south into the wilderness. Midges are a problem everywhere, but they were apocalyptic round here. We had lunch at ‘Britain’s most remote hotel’, and the inn where we camped would also be a contender. Food that night was served ‘family style’ so we had a nice evening with the other guests (all cyclists), sampling the local whisky and chatting on about bike touring. Apologies to the staff who had to listen to us!

Day 8 – The Crask Inn to Inverness (110km)

The final day saw us head back to civilisation. There was still plenty of rugged countryside to traverse, but we knew we had made it when we saw traffic lights for the first time in a week. Arriving in Inverness was bittersweet – I was proud of what we had achieved but sad that the journey was over. All that remained was an eight-hour train ride home, where I started planning next year’s trip…

To donate to KFL through our JustGiving page, please visit: justgiving.com/page/marcus-nik-nc500