The Bealach na Bà is one of the most stunning mountain roads in Scotland, and it’s certainly one of our favourites. It makes a thrilling drive, or a gruelling cycle, but it is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful and challenging roads in the UK.
The Bealach na Bà is a narrow, winding single track road that connects the A896 to the small village of Applecross. It cuts through the mountains of the Applecross Peninsula in Wester Ross. In a car, it takes about 30 minutes to drive.
The road is both impressive and rather daunting. After all, it is the third highest road in Scotland, boasting the steepest ascent of any road climb in the UK. Over 9km, the steep mountain pass rises to 2053ft above sea level, with hairpin bends navigating the steep 20% gradient. In places, the road is perched atop a steep drop, and tall mountains loom on either side.
It’s certainly not for the faint-hearted. The narrow road, tight turns and adverse weather make it unsuitable for learner drivers, large vehicles or motorhomes - but if you’re a confident driver, or an insane cyclist, there is no better route in Scotland.
The Bealach Na Bà was built in 1882 as a drovers road, allowing farmers to move livestock and produce over the mountains. Originally, it was just a rough gravel track, but in 1950 it was upgraded and the surface was tarmaced.
Today, the Bealach Na Bà is one of the most popular sections of the North Coast 500, and attracts petrol-heads, cyclists and sightseers from all over the world.
Bealach Na Bà means ‘Pass of the Cattle’ in Gaelic - a nod to its original purpose when it was first constructed over 130 years ago. It is pronounced ‘Bee-al-uch nu Ba(h)’.
The most common (and easiest) way to experience the Bealach Na Bà is by car - although you need to be a competent and confident driver. It is a popular destination for car clubs and supercar owners, but don’t get misled. It’s not safe to drive at speed, and most people average about 30mph.
With the road itself nestled in a valley until it rises to the summit, it is subjected to high winds, heavy rain, unpredictable snowstorms and blizzards. As a result there is a snow-gate at either end, and in the worst weather, the road is closed entirely.
If the road is closed, there is 7.5 mile long coastal road that provides alternative access to Applecross.
To find out if the Bealach Na Bà is open, we recommend following the Applecross Inn on Facebook. They post regular updates, including information on road closures - so you can check your travel plans and decide what you’re having for lunch at the same time!