Who knows when we can start flying again so why not consider a staycation in beautiful Scotland. Our contributor, Markus, spends his time plotting cycling routes around Scotland so we asked him to share a few of his favourites with us.
Cycling has been my main means of travelling since I moved to Scotland eleven years ago. After my round the world trip, which I finished in 2016, developing bikepacking trails has been one of my biggest passions. Here are my five top tips for a cycling holiday in Scotland. These routes give you the chance to experience the country and its stunning beauty, while at the same time taking you to places which give you as much space as you wish, far off the beaten track. Whenever you visit, please leave no trace and treat everyone and everything responsibly.
John Muir Way
For beginners to bikepacking and cycle touring, the John Muir Way is a great cycling route around Scotland. A classic coast-to-coast itinerary and fully signposted, it runs 215 km through the Central Belt of Scotland and can be ridden in both directions. Using the prevailing winds it is best cycled from Helensburgh in Argyll to Dunbar in East Lothian. There are frequent train stations along the route, which make the John Muir Way one of the most flexible long distance routes in Scotland. Almost all sections of the walking route are suitable for cycling. In some places there are cycling ‘braids’, shown in green on the interactive map on the website. These usually provide smoother and flatter options to the main route which may be steep and bumpy. These braids are more suited to touring bikes with panniers. In some places, such as on the Antonine Wall, the braids avoid damaging a particularly vulnerable surface. The route offers splendid views over the Trossachs and Loch Lomond from Gauk Hill and near Burncrooks Reservoir, and features the Falkirk Wheel and Avon Aqueduct, two masterpieces of world-class engineering. The John Muir Way takes riders past some fine examples of Scottish country houses like Callendar, Kinneil, Hopetown and Dalmeny House, as well as the castles in Balloch, Blackness and Dunbar. The beaches and cliffs along the East Lothian coast offer a stark variety to the more mountainous section in the west and the more urban section in the middle. A visit to the sights of the Scottish capital Edinburgh and the gentle cycling along the canal towpaths make this one the most most varied and enjoyable cycle trips in Scotland. More information here: www.johnmuirway.org
Highland Perthshire Drovers Trail
This new 331 km route is a great choice to experience the beauty and history of Highland Perthshire. While it should be cycled anti-clockwise, the starting point can be anywhere along the route. Pitlochry offers the greatest choice of accommodation and services, as well as trains to the south and the north. There are further train stations in Blair Atholl and Dunkeld, and both Comrie and Crieff are about 30 km on scenic country roads away from Dunblane, which has more frequent connections to Edinburgh and Glasgow. Bike reservations are not mandatory on this line, which makes this a great choice if bike spaces are booked on the Highland trains. The Drovers Trail follows in the footsteps of the cattle drovers of the late 17th century through the vast Glen Fearnach and Glen Tilt in the southern Cairngorms, before continuing across mountain ranges to Loch Tummel and into the Tay Valley. The Tay is Scotland’s biggest river. A short side trip to the Scottish Crannog Centre gives you an idea how the Tay once served as the main transport route towards the coast, long before paths and roads existed. Four distilleries offer plenty of choice for whisky buffs, including Scotland’s smallest, Edradour Distillery near Pitlochry, and Scotland’s oldest, Glenturret Distillery near Crieff. The Birks of Aberfeldy, the Falls of Bruar and Glenturret have inspired Scotland’s best known writer and poet Robert Burns. The route also includes one of the grandest views across Loch Tummel and the majestic mountains surrounding it, the Queen’s View. Continuing in the drovers footsteps the most remote section of the trail leads from the shores of Loch Tay to Crieff. Crieff, which was Scotland’s biggest cattle market in the late 17th century, is now host to a range of accommodation and eateries. As Perthshire is best known as Big Tree Country, the Hermitage near Dunkeld, with huge Douglas firs, and the Birnam Oak, mentioned in Macbeth, offer magnificent proof. The bikepacking route is part of a network of gravel routes spanning across the area, which offer plenty of opportunity to either shorten or extend the journey. More information here: www.perthshiregravel.com
Wild About Argyll Trail
If Scotland’s stunning beaches and coast are what you are after, the Wild About Argyll Trail is the best choice. At 655 km the Wild About Argyll Trail provides an amazing cycling adventure on gravel tracks, forest roads, singletrail, quiet roads and cycle paths to discover Scotland’s Adventure Coast. It can be ridden in one go or split up into different sections, with train stations in Helensburgh, Garelochhead, Arrochar and Tarbet, Taynuilt, Connel and Oban. The route is never far away from the sea, lochs and and rivers and offers great cycling on military roads, mountain passes, walking tracks and tiny country roads, making it best suited for gravel and mountain bikes. This is a great option for an autumn cycling adventure, as the midges will be on holiday by then and some of the wet and muddy sections are the driest in September. The Wild About Argyll Trail highlights include the rugged beauty of the Arrochar Alps and Argyll Forest Park, Puck’s Glen on the Cowal Peninsula, the dramatic scenery and remote beaches of Kintyre, sampling the best Scottish seafood in and around Oban and the relaxed island atmosphere on Lismore. You can enjoy the views from the highest point at Allt Dearg Community Wind Farm and the descent to Achahoish and cycle through the Glen Nant National Nature Reserve and along the forest roads around Loch Awe and Avich Falls. And if you are not cycling, there’s plenty of opportunity to taste whisky and craft beers, swim in crystal clear water and enjoy magnificent sunsets and starry skies. More information here: www.bikepackingscotland.com/argyll
Go East Lothian Trail
This is a much shorter route than the others described here, but at a length of 65 km the Go East Lothian Trail offers just as much of an adventure. It starts and finishes at the harbour in North Berwick, with stunning views towards the Gannet colony on Bass Rock and over the Firth of Forth. The route is well-served by public transport with train stations in North Berwick and Dunbar. Including some sections of the John Muir Trail, the Go East Lothian Trail features the beautiful coast between North Berwick and Dunbar, passing along Seacliff, Yellowcraig and Belhaven beaches. Dunbar is the birthplace of Scotland’s greatest conservationist, and the forests, open fields and cliffs along the coast have inspired the young John Muir to explore and enjoy the countryside. The Dunbear, a newly installed sculpture by Andy Scott, who also created the Kelpies, sits at the edge of town, just a short detour from the route. The journey back to North Berwick takes you past Preston Mill, of Outlander fame, and the small but very scenic village of East Linton. The tea room in Smeaton offers not only great food, but also a lovely garden to explore. With plenty of stops along the way, the Go East Lothian Trail is particularly suited for a bike trip with children. A small section along the main road out of North Berwick can be altered by using the John Muir Way cycling route as alternative. More information here: www.bikepackingscotland.com/eastlothian
The Caledonia Way
The Caledonia Way runs from Campbeltown on the Kintyre peninsula to Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, along 376 km of spectacular scenery. This is a route suitable for a classic cycle touring setup as well as a more lightweight bikepacking setup. The Caledonia Way offers a variety of cycling, from challenging on-road hills to lengthy sections of traffic-free path through the magnificent terrain of the west coast of Scotland. As the logistics of getting to Campbeltown can be tricky, with only a limited ferry service, an alternative starting point is Tarbert. It can be reached by using ferries and cycle routes from Dunoon and Ardrossan. Some sections of the Caledonia Way overlap with the Wild About Argyll Trail. The first half of the route between Campbeltown and Oban is mainly on roads, offering spectacular views to the islands of Arran and Jura, and the chance to explore Scotland’s rich past in Kilmartin Glen. Dunadd Fort is believed to be the capital of the ancient kingdom of Dal Riata, established after the Romans had abandoned Scotland. There are various standing stones and brochs in Kilmartin Glen, making this on of the best places to explore the country’s early history. From Oban, the seafood capital of Scotland, the route continues on mostly traffic-free paths and just a few sections on minor roads to Fort William. This section is most suited for families and beginners, and a network of forest trails and a detour to the Isle of Lismore offer plenty of opportunities for shorter day trips. Much of the path between Oban and Ballachulish, gateway to the magnificent Glen Coe, is built along the former railway line which ran from Connel to the slate quarries near Ballachulish. From Fort William, home to Britain’s highest mountain Ben Nevis, the Caledonia Way follows the Great Glen on the Caledonian Canal towpath, as well as cycle paths and on forest roads to Fort Augustus. From here it uses quiet roads along the east of Loch Ness and ends in the Highland capital of Inverness. More information here: