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    Scotland's Top 10 Switchback Turns

    By Rupert Shanks
    More by Rupert

    Scotland's Top 10 Switchback Turns

    There is something magical about cycling up (or down) a few sweeping switchback turns. The way these bendy roads carry us up or down steep hills, often with spectacular views that change as the curves take us round. As with many hilly countries, Scotland has its fair share of these cyclist hotspots.

    1. Bealach na Ba


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    Although not technically the UK’s steepest climb, the Bealach na Ba must be the most intimidating. A true monster of a route into what feels like the Gates of Mordor. Leaving the shores of Loch Kishorn you climb up through a series of wide sweeping bends as buttresses of rock flank the sides. An extended stretch of 20% gradient is then finished off by 4 tight switchback turns as the road hangs on with its fingernails to the craggy hillside. Views at the top over towards Skye make up for the sufferfest on the way up!

    2. The Bog Road Climb


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    This is a simply divine little climb but don’t underestimate it. You know, it’s good at any time of year when the weather lets you out but I think the climb coming into its own in late May as the beech trees burst into leaf and your eyes are left with no mistake of just how green the lushness of spring in Scotland really is. May and also from the 2nd week in October as those leaves turn and take on the autumnal colours that make each tree look like a firework.

    You can work this climb nicely into some larger loops from Inverness, Loch Ness side and my folks live just outside Beauly, so it’s on their doorstep so to speak. I like the flexibility around these super-quiet backroads that allow for endless options of elevation and distance. 

    Back to the climb though, the main event, you turn off the A833 at Tomnacross, which you need only touch for a few metres anyway, and head for Foxhole. You weave over a bridge and through a farm steading and no more than 200m the road forks and you want to be taking a left for the fun. 

    Don’t be fooled into thinking these are the flattest switchbacks ever, because as soon as you take the 90deg right-hander your eyes will be telling your legs to reel it in and unless you’re feeling confident then reel it in you should. At 850m long it’s not the biggest climb but an average gradient of 9% makes up for that, and although the segment stops as the climb gets shallower in the middle of a triangle house driveway, you’ll want to leave a little in the tank to head to the top. At the top I recommend hanging a left again as you can work your way along towards Inverness and pop out on the main road at Bunchrew. Or hop across towards Kirkhill and work your way around the north side of the Beauly Firth on a road that hugs the shore.

    3. The Ratagan Pass


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    This is an epic climb among some of Scotland’s most dramatic scenery. Most people tackle it from Shiel Bridge to climb up over the pass and descend down to Glenelg on the other side. As you leave Shiel Bridge, the shores of Loch Duich begin to recede behind the forest on your right hand side. Climbing higher you enter a series of switchbacks with incredible views opening up of the jagged peaks of the 5 sisters of Kintail and Loch Duich below you. After an essential photo stop, your climb is gradual from here through more forest before a long and sweeping descent down into the lovely wee village of Glenelg. Drop into the cracking wee Glenelg Inn for a pint and some food.

    4. The Quiraing


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    Road cycling on Skye is such a brilliant way to soak up the grandeur of this beautiful island. The road weaves around through cliffs, peaks and rock, giving you visual treats that help keep the legs turning. The Quiraing is one of the most iconic climbs on the island as the road curls up and around into the rock, as moorland, mountains and sea surround you. Leaving Staffin on the eastern coast you join the pass on your left as the sea recedes behind you. Before long you are climbing up into the Quiraing and the road switchbacks to give you stunning views along the peninsula. The small car park at the summit can get busy on Summer afternoons but is well worth a stop and a short walk.

    5. Inverfarigaig Shoelaces


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    Also known locally as ‘the corkscrew’ this is a series of shockingly tight and steep hairpin bends climbing up from the village of Inverfarigaig. Built back in 1815 this piece of road is rarely bothered by motorists as the turns are intimidatingly sharp and narrow. Although the road surface may not be the smoothest it is definitely rideable and makes a brilliant short, punishing climb. This makes a fantastic section within a longer loop from Inverness to take in the shoreside road along Loch Ness before heading back up from Inverfarigaig.

    6. Cairngorm Mountain


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    This local classic should be on everyone’s must-do list. Don’t be fooled by the initial drag up to the Allt Mor bridge – that’s the warm up! The real climb kicks in now as you head towards the Sugarbowl car park. There are three rightward bends and, as you pass each one, the gradient increases. Only the bravest riders will get out of the saddle to attack here! Passing the Sugarbowl, catch your breath before another sharp pull takes you up to The Ciste. You feel like you’ve got it now – but there’s a final kicker, this one almost guaranteed to be accompanied by a fierce headwind. The top car park is reached with relief. Savour the views and take care on the descent – it’s fast!

    7. Lowther Hill


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    This punchy wee climb to the summit of Lowther Hill can be combined with a longer route to make one of the UK’s most demanding and lengthy climbs! If you combine the climb with the ascent of the Mennock Pass, from start to finish you will have ridden more than 15km which is longer than the famous Alpe d’Huez climb in the French Alps. A good option however, is the start in Wanlockhead at an altitude of 400 metres, its a steady climb all the way to the top at Lowther Hill at 725 metres. The distinctive radar tower at the top is a great line of sight to keep an eye on as you wind your way up there.

    8. Trinafour Climb


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    At just over two miles long and an average gradient of 6% this hill will test the legs especially if you have had an epic day around Loch Rannoch and the surrounding Perthshire hills. From the first cottage you pass the road kicks up steeply and sharply into double figures gradients almost straight away.
    Ahead lies a few switchbacks but don’t forget to lift your head and enjoy the fantastic views back across to the local mountain of Schiehallion and of Errochty Dam and reservoir to your left.
    Passing through the last of the switchbacks, you will think your are almost there, but ahead is the final push to the top of the climb. Once you are there you can enjoy the sweeping descent as you enter the Cairngorms National Park and over the River Garry.

    9. The Serpentine Hill Climb


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    Can this sweeping wee series of switchbacks lay claim to one of the UK’s most undiscovered road climbs? Combining 18 hairpin switchbacks and a taxing 10 percent average gradient. this pretty wee road on the Isle of Bute should not be scoffed at. To ride it you ll have to travel out to the island of Bute and get to Rothesay, the most significant seaside town. Being only 40 miles from Glasgow this is a great wee cycle adventure for a day out. The typical loop to cycle around the island is only 23 miles and the Serpentine climb is a must-do if you re making the journey.

    10. The Ross on Arran


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    The Ross on Arran bisects the island from Burnside on the west to Lamlash on the eastern side. Although relatively straight on the map, this hilly route offers a few tightly-knit switchbacks to get you up and over the steepest sections. We recommend including it in a circular loop that leaves Lamlash heading south along the coastal road around the island to Whiting Bay. Continue on along the coast to Lagg before turning north on to the Ross shortly after. Arran is a fantastic cycling location. The coastal loop is 56 miles in total with options to increase that with the Ross and more northern String road that cut the island between East and West.

    Meet the Author: Rupert Shanks

    “After a spell in the corporate world in London Rupert decided to find a more rewarding way of life involving a closer connection to the outdoors and to his camera!”

    View profileMore by Rupert

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