April 23rd, 1989, when Scottish winters had an element of certainty about them. It’s good to look back .
Getting home from Durness might be the trickiest part of this wonderful trip. Try these links before you travel. Fortunately, I imposed on a good friend to take my bicycle back to Fort William, whilst I took the Durness Bus to Lairg, followed by the train to Inverness and a Citylink coach to Fort William.
A welcome rest day at the hostel on day 10, waiting for two friends to come along with me on the final couple of short days to Cape Wrath. A night in Kearvaig bothy had always been in my plan and I was fortunate to stay in this idyllic, sandy bay, surrounded by vertical sea cliffs in good weather and good company. A dram or two from the local distillery added to the perfect last night on the journey. On the last day I was joined by the peleton, including the author of this journey. They had completed the trip in a shorter time than my more relaxed pace. How you ride this route is entirely up to you. The other riders had started later than me and travelled farther each day. Celebrations were appropriate.
Access to the north-west cape is gained by Kyle of Durness ferry Be sure to check out the tides and weather locally to find out if this essential ferry link will run. Alternative access may be possible, but entails a long portage over rough country. The very lowest of low ‘spring tides’ might offer a bike carrying aquatic experience, but would require extensive research, good weather and a lot of luck. For walkers the Cape Wrath bus will pick up on the far bank of the Kyle. Much of the remote and bleak land is used by the Ministry of Defence, so check out Cape Wrath firing times
This final section of the journey is characterised by distance views over bleak moorland, softened by occasional gorse forests. The astonishing tide races of the Pentland Firth colliding with the Atlantic Ocean often provide a glimpse, benign or otherwise. The track is the usual rutted and puddled surface, with a central comb of grass and weeds. The steepest section appears immediately after you leave the ferry. Beyond that, mostly gentle inclines are the order of the day. Kearvaig Bothy is a rough side turning off of the route to Cape Wrath, that only takes ten minutes to descend.
Climb back up from the bothy and the route to the lighthouse and Cape Wrath Cafe is short and clear. From the concrete canyons of Glasgow and the River Clyde to this perfect finish will remain a highlight for me, forever. Thanks to Dave Wilson, whose restless mind conceived and researched this route of of the ‘Long Journey’ Without his inspiration I doubt I’d ever have cycled this way. A guide book is available.
A short sunny day, only blighted by a strong headwind going south around Loch Eriboll on the A838, after climbing over the ridge to the west of Loch Hope. The gravel track over to Eriboll enjoys some great scenery and views toward the Pentland Firth. From the previous day this link might be useful. Strathmore River levels
Hereabouts, many vehicles are on the road, following the North Coast 500. Be wary, as the single-track paved roads with passing places are inhabited by people, not used to this system. Swing in to The Tearoom for a calming rest stop, before heading on to the very busy little village of Durness. Again, be wary of where you stop to photograph the stunning coastline, as it unfolds with sandy beaches and rugged cliffs. The first beach to appear is Traigh allt Chailgeag A couple of nights rest at the SYHA Durness hostel before heading over to Cape Wrath.
This day evolved into good distance and some speed. Plenty of paved surface and a wind astern was welcome. Leaving the Oykel Bridge Hotel, a short seven mile downhill section on the A837 leads to Rosehall and the entrance to gentle and quiet Glen Cassley and the Achness Hotel Rosehall for breakfast. Turn north-west up the glen and less than 100m gain to the end of the paved road, then another 100m height gain of gravel track to the powerstation Climb over to Loch Shin on a paved road, ascending 400m from the start at Rosehall, until a really swift and paved descent lands at Loch Shin or Loch Shin This and many other highland lochs are linked to form a large hydro network
Once on the A838 turn north towards Loch Merkland, until West Merkland is reached. Now follow the old drove road from Loch Merkland This is gravel and was the most wild and remote part of the day. Follow the track north-west past Gobernuisgach Lodge, avoiding any attraction to turn up Glen Golly. Keep going until the minor road heading north towards Ben Hope can be followed. This section as far as the turning for Cashel Dhu (GR 458493) can be taken, was glorious with spring gorse, fair wind and good weather. An added attraction is Dun Dornaigil Broch
Cashel Dhu is a river crossing and in some river levels may be impossible to ford. I believe it can be crossed on the bridge at Allnacailich a couple of miles or so upstream, plus a rough portage. Alternatively, continue on to Hope and follow the A838 towards Durness. I was fortunate enough to be able to cross the river (boots off – ouch, ouch!) and camp by the locked buildings on the other side, beneath the western crags of Ben hope. A very good day, going well. This might be of use Strathmore River levels
Another day of mixed, showery weather to start with, which gently improved and by the time I arrived in the beautiful Glen Alladale Estate the sun was shining. The large groups of Highland cattle are no doubt being used to improve the landscape Gleann Mor in it’s lower areas certainly has plenty of trees, including a mature Scots Pine community. A great place to visit and cycle. How about a few Wolves? I’m not sure how the Highland cattle would get on.
Continue heading east, then north towards The Craigs, where a sharp left turn goes north-west to Croick Church on tarmac, before changing to hard packed trail. Follow Strath Cuileannach as far as the junction GR 365979, before heading north-east towards Oykel Bridge Hotel, where I spent the night in the Bothy Rooms which were rather more fancy than any rough shelter that I have used. All of the road and tracks from The Craigs to the junction mentioned previously, form part of the shortest cross-Scotland MTB trail from Ardgay to Ullapool
After a good night’s rest, day six produced some Dreich weather, defined as: …”Wet, dull, gloomy, dismal, dreary or any combination of these. Scottish weather at its most miserable”….This prevailed until Contin and after lunch at the filling station, the afternoon brightened up a lot. The trail from Struy to Orrin Reservoir gains around 200 metres and was muddy and full of water on this occasion. Even the bare shelter at Orrin barrage was unwelcoming in these conditions. Certainly no place to spend the the night, within thankless concrete walls. Fortunately the way ahead was downhill on a good hydro road passing various small hamlets south of the River Conon, before crossing it and gaining the A835 at it’s junction with the A 832. Don’t try crossing at Loch Achonachie, power station. Unless the situation changes, there is no access at this barrage. Onwards to the filling station in Contin. A coffee machine and various forms of food.
The weather had cleared completely. Good cycle trails east of the river and the A835 lead north from Contin, passing Rogie Falls and Loch Garve and Strathgarve Lodge. At the end a minor road is followed to GR 398635 where it meets the A835. Head N.W. on this for 100m and enter the forest trail on your left. Follow the trail through Longart Forest until the river bridge at Gr 405688. My overnight was at the Inchbae Lodge Inn One km along the road, N.W. facing. The friendly and helpful host allowed me to camp on the riverbank at the foot of the hotel. The food menu was good, along with the company and a few well earned beers. A great place to stop for the night. The beginning of the route tomorrow is very close by.
A short day, with two climbs, two good ‘eating holes’, good weather and a comfy bed for the night. Following an ancient drove road north out of Fort Augustus, leading to Glen Moriston and onwards to Tomich. The ascent is via the old drove road through boggy woodland, followed by a quick descent along the power lines and an essential stop for a second more substantial breakfast at the Redburn Cafe. Not to be missed, even though it’s a one mile detour along the main A887 from the Isle of Skye. Suitably refreshed for the steep climb, north over to Strathglass, before descending to Tomich Hotel for a couple of pints and on to the Cnoc Hotel, Struy for the night. Finding a washing machine to freshen up my clothing, became a pressing requirement, midway into the journey north.
Today involved only one big climb, over the Corrieyairick Pass to Fort Augustus. It’s big and brutal but only short. I left Loch Ossian SYHA in gloomy, damp weather, heading north for Loch Laggan. This section is generally simple cycling, on good estate roads and often downhill. It’s a popular outing from Fort William using the early Glasgow train, but make certain to book a bike rack in advance. From Loch Laggan the track turns east, traversing the south shore, passing impressive Ardverickie House and sandy beaches, if the loch is low. On reaching the gatehouse at the junction with the A86, turn left for only a few minutes ride and a rough track leads off right uphill, before the old filling station. A fairly short and easy uphill section approaches the open moor, before descending into upper Glen Spey . The Spey mostly flows east into the North Sea, but some is harvested via underground conduits into Loch Laggan, before being used for energy in the Fort William smelter turbines and finally flushing into the Atlantic.
The River Spey headwaters flow through some beautiful countryside marked by power lines feeding our need for energy. The ascent towards the Corrieyairick Pass is fairly gentle at first, passing Melgarve Bothy. This welcome shelter made a good lunch spot, before tackling the main attraction (?). The trail towards the pass has been trashed by 4×4 vehicles, but is still rideable, however the steep zig zags towards it’s summit are definitely for hiking and pushing. By now the mid-day clearance in the weather was settling into rain and strong side winds. In descent from the pass, south-westerly gusts were catching my bike-pack frame bag. A definite ‘list’ to port was required. The track is steep and rough in places and care is needed, before gaining the lower and better maintained surfaces. After 45 miles I was pleased to find a spare bed at the independent hostel Morag’s Lodge It’s haunted by the way.
Day three of the Clyde to Cape Wrath trail, off-road bike route After two shorter introductory days, today added fifty miles and three climbs. The second of these being the Kirk Road a short distance east of the main refereshment stop at Bridge of Balgie. The journey to that lunch pause involved ascending the peaceful Glen Lochay from Killin, passing hydro schemes that would be appearing more frequently as I headed north. This beautiful glen leads to a paved road that heads steeply north-west from Kenknock, before plunging down into Glen Lyon and swiftly on, passing high cloudy summits on either side of the road, amongst sheep pasture and forested slopes to the Bridge of Balgie.
To this point, the cycling had been fairly mellow, mostly on quiet, paved minor roads. This all changes with the Kirk Road, which is a steep hike up on a gravel forest track, before heading down into the forest, south of Loch Rannoch, where I became misplaced for a while. A ‘spaghetti junction’ of paths that did not agree with my digital mapping did eventually gain access to the minor road, alongside of Loch Rannoch. The way was clear from then on, as I had been here before. All that was left was the estate road loop over from Rannoch towards Loch Ossian SYHA, north-east of the Glasgow to Fort William railway track. A short rest and a brew stop, fueled with some grub, allowed this final height to be summited in deteriorating weather and energy levels. The cosy hostel and spare food cupboard was a welcome spot for the night. A good night’s sleep was simple.