Sleeping under dark skies gazing at the stars, enjoying the tranquillity of the Highlands and treating yourself to a dram from a hip flask – Scotland is one of the best destinations in the world for bikepacking. Markus Stitz, round the world cyclist and creator of the new West Coast route for Wild About Argyll Trail Bikepacking Scotland, shares his top ten reasons why Scotland should be on your cycling bucket list for 2018.
1. The Access Rights
When it comes to exploring the countryside, Scotland has some of the best access rights in the world. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 ensures everyone has statutory access rights to most of Scotland’s outdoors. For bikepacking adventures this means you can ride your bike almost anywhere and pitch your tent for the night, a great asset for outdoorsy people. Consideration for others and for the environment is a given to ensure everyone can benefit. There are byelaws in place at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park from March to September, when you need to stay at one of their designated campsites.
2. The Weather
Yes, you read right! While we often complain about the rain and dreich weather up here, Scotland has a very favourable climate for outdoor pursuits year-round. It lacks the dangerous hot and cold extremes of other countries and the rain ensures an abundance of good quality, fresh water. This makes bikepacking not only possible, but also a far less strenuous activity than in countries like the USA or Australia. Planning your trip between September and May should also help you avoid the midges.
3. A great network of trails
You can plan your own route, but you can also make good use of the hard work others have put in already. Bikepacking Scotland works with local partners to constantly develop new routes, and with the Capital Trail, Reiver Raid, Central Belter, West Island Trail, West Highland Rover and the Wild About Argyll Trail there is plenty of choice already. The routes are all free to download as GPX files on the website, and a few other popular routes like the Highland Trail, Cairngorms Loop and Deeside Trail are linked there as well. The Sustrans National Cycle Network in Scotland offers great choices for bikepacking as well, especially the routes that include some stunning off-road sections. The Caledonia Way (Route 78) and Loch and Glens South and North (Route 7) are great bikepacking routes to start with.
4. Stunning Mountains
Torridon and the North West Highlands offers the most rugged peaks, while Glen Coe and the mountains of Lochaber and Argyll are a brilliant choice for breath-taking mountain scenery. The more rounded tops of the Cairngorms offer great bikepacking choices as well. If you want to push up a Munro and enjoy a blast down on the other side, then Mt Keen is your place to go, which is included in the Central Belter route.
A bothy is a basic shelter found in remote locations for anyone to use. Protection from the elements is sometimes all they will provide as they often have no tap, no sink, no beds, no lights, and even if there is a fireplace, perhaps nothing to burn. Despite being very basic – without even a water supply – bothies are great for bikepacking, as they are in stunning locations and will at least provide shelter from wind and rain, but also great conversations if you happen to meet other travellers.
6. Coast and Islands
Did you know that Scotland has over 790 offshore islands? Most of them are found in four main groups: Shetland, Orkney and the Inner Hebrides and Outer Hebrides. For coastal rides you are spoilt for choice as Scotland’s mainland alone has 6,160 miles of coastline. Including all islands, Scotland boasts a whopping 10,250 miles of coast. If you are looking for a bikepacking adventure that includes stunning coastal scenery, then the Wild About Argyll Trail is the best choice.
7. Malts and Hops
According to a survey Bikepacking Scotland conducted in October last year, distilleries and breweries are the favourite visitor attraction for bikepackers. If you arrive in Edinburgh when the wind is right, Edinburgh is flooded with the sweet, malty smell of brewing, hoppy aromas flooding over from the Caledonian Brewery on Slateford Road. By the end of 2016 more than 100 craft breweries were in operation across Scotland, and there’s an abundance of distilleries to match that. It would be impossible to recommend anything, but if you give the Capital Trail or Reiver Raid a go, Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders are spoilt for choice. For distilleries the West Island Trail is a great choice, as Islay is home to some of the best known distilleries in the world. For the suitable outfit, have a look at Endura’s Whisky Jerseys.
8. Dark Skies
One of the most magnificent sights in all of nature is the night sky peppered with stars, distant planets and streaking meteors. Luckily, Scotland has some of the largest expanses of dark sky in Europe, making it a perfect destination for eager stargazers. Dumfries and Galloway in particular offers starry, ink-black skies so if you are looking for a perfect place to roll out your bivvy bag or pitch your tent, look no further.
9. Heritage Paths and Hill Tracks
The Heritage Paths website features old routes that are often suitable for bikepacking. Scotland boasts an extensive network of Roman roads, drove roads, pilgrimage routes, miners’ paths, trading paths, military roads, turnpike roads and shieling paths. The website offers maps as well, using Google Maps street map overlaid with 1930s mapping by Bartholomew and Ordnance Survey, and is a perfect resource for planning your own routes. The book Scottish Hill Tracks is another great resource including a map of all the hill routes.
10. A Warm Welcome
Rough Guide readers have recently voted Scotland the most welcoming country in the world. Whether you are exploring the streets of Glasgow, or you end up in on Knoydart, you are guaranteed a warm welcome from the locals. If you don’t know where Knoydart is, check out the West Highland Rover, which passes The Old Forge in Inverie, Britain’s most remote pub. The Scottish Youth Hostel Organisation offers great places to stay across the country, and ‘A Warm Welcome Since 1931’ is not just a strapline, but something you can bank on!