Sarah: Cycling (and swimming) across Scotland

In case anyone’s wondering what the heck I was doing swimming in a Scottish river in the middle of October, here’s a little more about my ride.

Over the past six days I’ve been mountain biking across Scotland, coast-to-coast. My route was based on notes and maps found at with a few deviations and variations. Instead of riding from Montrose to Kyle of Lochalsh as described, I rode from Aberdeen to Lochcarron, starting on the east coast from the home of my friends Malcolm and Karen in Aberdeen, and meeting them again in the west at Karen’s parents’ place in Lochcarron. For me, more meaningful start and end points.

I ride from Aberdeen to Ballater, mainly via the Deeside Way – a cycle route based on a disused railway line. This means skipping out the “Mount Keen” section but I’m not too bothered as I’ve been lucky enough to ride that with Karen the day before. I’m a big fan of old railway lines. I stop for a recommended sensational hot chocolate in Banchory, and am grateful when the predicted rain holds off til evening.

Ballater to Tomintoul. It has rained most of the night and continues to do so incessantly all day. I follow “the Scotland trail” but (sensibly and conservatively, I think!) take the “low level wet weather alternative”! Results of that are described in my previous post. Up until the ill fated ford crossing I’m actually having a fine old time and enjoying being out alone in the Cairngorms. The rain per se doesn’t bother me – just its effect on the rivers!

Tomintoul to Newtonmore. More deviations from “the Scotland Trail” are called for, in part to avoid further fords and in part cos I need a bike shop. My day starts with a car ride to Grantown-on-Spey, courtesy of my kind Tomintoul B&B host, where a young bike mechanic with fabulous dreadlocks fits a new gear cable to replace one that is very bent and frayed after its trip down the river. Whilst pottering in Grantown I am lucky enough to happen upon info about “the Speyside Way”, which I then follow to Aviemore. It proves perfect for someone recovering from a slightly traumatic experience the day before: again based on an old railway line, but more interesting than that implies with some lovely remote-feeling bits of flowing single track. The riding is relatively easy and a delightful way to get from one town to another. From Aviemore I follow National Cycle Network 7 for a bit and am back on “the Scotland Trail” to Newtonmore.

Newtonmore to Invergarry. Corrieyarack Pass day! A delightful and sunny climb up General Wade’s Military Road over the UK’s highest pass, made only slightly irritating by the frequent irrigation ditches. Glad I’m not hauling a trailer. Then beyond Fort Augustus, more canal riding and some undulating forest trails to round out the day.

20121017-060310.jpgRiding towards Corrieyarack Pass

Invergarry to Bealach Ratagan. Forest roads, then a long stretch of very beautiful C-road to Loch Hourn.

20121017-060329.jpgBeautiful single lane road between Loch Quoich and Loch Hourn

From there it’s walking track through to Arnisdale, and the toughest riding I have done this trip. I have to push for about the first km of STEEP rocky ascent before getting onto the nice stuff. Short of Arnisdale I break a chain link and, not knowing how to fix it, walk into town where I have to embarrassingly play damsel in distress once again. I am lucky enough to find a young cyclist just back from 6 months touring in India who happily teaches me how to use my own multi tool…. Hmmm. Living and learning now that my personal bike mechanic is half a world away.

Bealach Ratagan to Lochcarron. Tarmac all day for me. There’s no doubt a more interesting way to do it but I lack the relevant maps and the necessary enthusiasm so I do the obvious and turn off the A87 before Kyle of Lochalsh onto the A890. Around here, A roads really aren’t busy and the closer to Lochcarron I get, the tinier and nicer the road becomes.

20121017-060349.jpgThis sign is unusual enough in the Scottish highlands to make even me stop for a photo!

20121017-060404.jpgLochcarron, trip’s end and the place I am now resting up

Overall “the Scotland Trail” is a great ride, and though there are no doubt endless routes one could figure out for this kind of trip, sometimes it’s nice to use the work someone else has already put in. This ride is not all mountain biking but a mixture of on and off road, with some delightful little single-lane low-traffic sealed C-roads to give a break from the tougher riding of the dirt sections. I may need to go back some day and fill in the sections I missed – especially the Ryvoan Pass and Glenmore forest beyond Tomintoul. Fine on and off road riding across the Scotland I’ve always loved and unexpected sunshine for a generous chunk of the way have made me very glad I set out from Aberdeen when I did, despite the grim weather forecast.


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