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    Mountain Biking in the Cairngorms – My Favourite Routes!

    8 min read

    By Craig Little
    More by Craig

    Have you ever tried off-road mountain biking before?

    The Cairngorms are, without a doubt, one of the best places to start…

    With mountain biking in the Cairngorms, you are truly spoiled for choice with trails, terrain and a complete range of technical environments to master, a week could see you progress from novice to a confident rider starting to tackle rock traverses and steep, dirt-track declines!

    Often described as having some of the best backcountry trails in the world, you could find yourself coming back again and again, to continue progressing and discovering new trails and journeys through the wilderness by mountain bike.

    I treated myself to a new mountain bike just a few short months ago – pretty much at the start of the summer.  Really, it was an upgrade from my trail bike which just doesn’t have the tyres for this part of the world, and it allowed me to commute to-and-from the office, getting a bit fitter in the process.

    Things didn’t quite work out like that, and as luck would have it, I’m now hooked and have been zipping about the trails almost every day – I’ve even started working on learning the technical skills!  I definitely didn’t see it coming, but I have to admit mountain biking is without a doubt one of the best ways of getting around this part of the world, and seeing some amazing scenery and wildlife that it would be impossible to access by car, or perhaps even foot!

    That said, most of the folk in the office have been mountain biking in the Cairngorms for years, and could speak with much more expertise than I on the topic, but for those of you keen to try a bit of off-roading here are some of the rides I’ve found a joy to ride on my discovery journey – mountain biking in the Cairngorms.

    Speyside Way - From Aviemore to Boat of Garten

    Terrain: Flat and easy
    Distance: 6.1 miles

    I think this was the maiden voyage on my new bike, and it’s definitely a great beginner trail.

    Linking Aviemore to Boat of Garten, this section of the Speyside Way is completely off-road but the terrain is very manageable, and mostly flat – so would be good for kids as well. There are a few rocks and tree roots, but nothing that can’t be easily avoided.

    The trail runs through beds of heather, and has 360 degree views of the surrounding hills – it really is a treat to ride. Time it right, and you might even be lucky enough to catch the steam train chugging along the Strathspey Railway. Treat yourself to a rhubarb and custard, or chilli choc-chip ice-cream from Anderson’s in Boat before the return journey!

    The Speyside Way – gentle trail with stunning views!

    Rothiemurchus Forest - Inverdruie

    Terrain: Varied, mostly flat
    Distance: From 5 miles

    An abundance of trails await in Rothiemurchus Forest – there is something for everyone!

    Along old logging trails, across rocks and tree roots, past rushing rivers, lochs and through native Caledonian Pine forests the routes in Rothiemurchus tell a different story at every turn.

    A single day alone here could be enough to see yourself progress massively, and with so much beautiful scenery and wildlife to take it, you will definitely be back for more! The routes are well marked and easy to follow using an OS map or a specific cycle route map, and all are within walking distance of the main road – and more importantly a cake shop!

    Cycling in the forest

    Loch Morlich to Loch an Eilein - Rothiemurchus Forest

    Terrain: Downhill, moderate with some rocky sections and tree roots – can be slippy and muddy when wet!
    Distance: 5 miles

    With plenty of places to park at Loch Morlich, this is the perfect route for a fun bit of downhill mountain bike riding, with a few technical bits thrown in to keep you on your toes!

    The route winds its way through Rothiemurchus Forest from Loch Morlich, almost straight down to Loch an Eilein – of course you’ll have to peddle back up to your car at the end, so my preference is to slog it up there on the bike and reward my tired legs on the way back down – the choice is yours!

    Both lochs are some of the most stunning in the Cairngorms and this is definitely a must-do ride for mountain bikers with a little bit of experience under their belt.

    Mountain Biking in the Cairngorms

    Lochan Deo – nestled in the Rothiemurchus Forest, not the easiest to find but worth the hunt. A really secluded and calm little lochan just off the trail from the Loch Morlich to Loch an Eilein route.

    Old Logging Way – Glenmore

    Starting at the Forestry Commission Visitor Centre, this route zips downhill along an excellent trail and through a variety of scenery – pines, heather, lochans, perhaps some red deer!

    Terrain: Easy, downhill
    Distance: 7 miles

    Well laid, this trail has very little in the way of technical obstacles with the exception of a few sharp turns, allowing you to travel at a moderate speed or fly down as fast as you dare – I’ve managed to get my speed up to 57km/ph! Just be aware that the trail crosses a road half-way down – so remember to hit the brakes before the fence!

    Once over the crossing, more lovely, easy downhill that takes you out at Inverdruie. Again, you can park up at the Visitor Centre and off you go, or you can slog it up on the bike – of course, if you go for the former you’ll have the uphill to look forward to on the way back. Great cake shops at both ends.

    Ellan Wood – Carrbridge

    A great little spot for working on your technical skills.

    Terrain: Fun, technical, uneven, plenty of obstacles!
    Distance: From 1 mile

    this is more than going for an actual ride – it can be linked from Aviemore or Boat of Garten which provides a decent uphill climb to Carrbridge, and a nice downhill through farmland, the super-large sheep did bother me initially but they don’t seem to mind passersby themselves!

    Once at Ellan Wood, there’s plenty of technical little trails, with short up and down bursts, plenty of rocks and tree roots, bridge crossings – it can get pretty muddy and slippy when wet, but that’s all part of the fun!

    Ryvoan Pass – Glenmore

    Options for this route are plenty, and really it’s not for the faint-hearted – there are a number of technical sections, and the route does go quite deep into the forest

    Terrain: Challenging, technical, uphill, downhill, uneven – slippy when wet!
    Distance: 26 miles

    In parts you could struggle for mobile reception, and it’s a bit of a trek back if you can’t fix an unexpected puncture!

    That said, this is one of my favourite routes in the Cairngorms and one that I can really see myself improving on each time I try it. I’ve done it from both Aviemore via Glenmore, and from Aviemore via Boat of Garten – in my opinion via Boat is much easier and you have all the downhill to look forward to on the way back. From Aviemore, there is the slog up the Old Logging Way to Glenmore Lodge and then across the Ryvoan Pass, past the Bothy and then down towards Loch Garten, to Boat and back to Aviemore along the Speyside Way. Take the opposite route to go via Boat, making your starting point the Speyside Way and finishing with the Old Logging Way.

    This is a long route, that could take some riders a number of hours to complete, some of the uphill is challenging and you do need to be in good shape, although you can always hop off and walk up with the bike if needs be. Bring a map, and know what route you plan to take – a compass would be a good idea as well, there are plenty of wrong turns just waiting to be taken!

    Make sure you bring a good lunch and plenty of water – no cake stops until you reach Glenmore! I’ve done this alone, but if you’re not sure you would know what to do with your bike in an emergency, bring a pal. Some of this particular route goes along the road as well – it’s not usually busy, but cars do drive at speed along a lot of these roads, so keep aware!

    Mountain Biking in the Cairngorms

    The bothy on Ryvoan pass. great place to stop for a breather!

    Burma Road - Aviemore

    Described by some of the best mountain bikers as brutal, I can confirm it most certainly is this but also an epic achievement and definitely one to work towards.

    Terrain: Very challenging, steep, technical, farmland, remote
    Distance: 24.5 miles

    Starting at Aviemore and crossing the A9 to the Railway Cottages the route for the Burma Road is well signposted. Basically, follow the trail straight up, the terrain on the ascent is pretty good – new stones have recently been laid and I really found my wheels spinning on the steeper gradients, and am more than happy to admit I had to hop off and push my bike up a couple of times. The total ascent to the summit should take about 45 mins for someone who is fit and experienced.

    The view from the top is easily worth the pain and suffering on the way up, and the downhill, although slightly technical and steep in places is an absolute joy to ride down – just be careful not to cook your brakes! The route is pretty easy to follow and takes you across 4×4 tracks, through farmland and past abandoned little crofts. I headed towards Carrbridge over the Sluggan Bridge (one of the strangest bridges I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been to SE Asia!) then shed more blood, sweat and tears along General Wade’s Military Road to a finishing point at the north of Aviemore. Believe me, it was fish and chips for supper that night, never mind the cake!

    As above – be prepared and bring all necessary supplies, and I probably wouldn’t recommend doing alone, it’s a long, hard day and some parts are quite remote – it would be easy to get into difficulty.

    Mountain Biking in the Cairngorms

    Feeling smug at the top of the Burma Road

    A lifestyle, not just a holiday

    So for those of you keen to try mountain biking in the Cairngorms, that’s a few decent suggestions of really good routes that are varied and challenging whatever your skill level – there are countless trails for mountain biking in the Cairngorms – even the most experienced rider will find themselves spoiled for choice – couple that with amazing surroundings, well, you’ve got yourself a lifestyle, not just a holiday!

    Autumn is an awesome time to try mountain biking in the Cairngorms – with all the changing colours and elusive wildlife emerging to forage for food before a snowy blanket covers the hills – there is so much to take in, even at top speed!  Just make sure you don’t miss any of the slippery leave covered rocks and roots when you’re zipping about!

    Meet the Author: Craig Little

    “Craig works as the Bike Programme Manager with Wilderness Scotland but every now and then he likes to escape and guide the odd trip. It's always a highlight of my year, being able to share my passion and enthusiasm for our great country.”

    View profileMore by Craig

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