By Chris Mackie
Published: Sep 23, 2013More by
BikePacking – What is it?
There are many market-based buzz-words for it, from bikepacking to micro-adventure, S24O (Sub-24 Hour Overnight!) to off-road touring.
Join Wilderness guide, Chris Mackie as he ventures into the wilds of Sutherland in Northern Scotland with his bike and camping gear and learn from him about BikePacking – How to bike and camp in the wild.
‘He wanted to go away on his own, to meet people here and there by chance, to take adventure as it came and look out for wonder. Not a conscious piece of research, not the kind of thing he had to do in his academic researches, but something quite different in the sense that it would happen to him. All he would have to do was to wait for it. He would have to forget himself, as he had done up there on the hill; forget his ‘importance’, his notion of being ‘somebody’.’
Neil M. Gunn, The Well at the World’s End 1951.
The Journey Begins
Reading this passage on the train rolling towards Lairg I knew I had chosen my reading material and landscape well. Gunn’s wanderer had longer than me to explore the backcountry of Sutherland, the hills were far less populous now and I had a mountain bike loaded with camping gear, but the desire for the unknown in a journey was contiguous across the years and the hills to the northwest left plenty of room for the mind to wander.
By jumping on the train at my local station and heading for the hills I was following in the tyre tracks of cyclists going right back to the early 1900s. It needn’t be any more complicated than this, but with reliable equipment and a little bit of experience it is increasingly easy to push the boundaries of where our bikes can take us. The rising profile of off-road bicycle touring has inspired me and many others to begin exploring the plethora of old drove roads, forestry and estate tracks and mixed single-track that span the Highlands of Scotland in a fine tracery of dotted lines linking map sheets across great distances.
On this trip from Lairg across to the west coast of Assynt I found myself on empty tarmac roads running alongside idyllic salmon fishing rivers up quiet glens, slogging up graded access roads for hydro-electric schemes and windfarms, cresting over bealachs (passes) that have been droving routes for centuries and pushing up stalking paths often rutted by 6×6 Argo-cats. If you’re looking for a summary of Scottish cultural geography for the last few hundred years, then look no further.
If this kind of self-supported backcountry trip inspires you, then read on for some pointers to make the most of bike-packing in Scotland. If you would rather that we did some of the hard work for you, why not take a look at one of our supported mountain bike holidays like the Hebridean Trail or the classic challenge of the Coast to Coast. Hotel accommodation and luggage transfers allow you to concentrate on enjoying the ride!