The best road cycling routes in the Highlands!
Posted on Jul 20, 2012 by Craig Little
Our resident road cycling junkie, Craig, has tried and tested a bunch of road cycling routes in the Highlands and here, he discloses his top picks for a weekend cycle.
And, being the super nice guy that he is, he’s even included some vital stats – just so you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into!
Where It Started…
At this time of year, my attentions always focus to, in my opinion the greatest sporting event in the world – Le Tour de France. Now in its 99th year, British interest is gripped with former Olympic and World Champion, Bradley Wiggins, who looks set to become the first Britain to win the tour since it started almost a century ago, assisted by fellow Brits Christopher Froome and Mark Cavendish as part of Team Sky. Scottish interest comes in the shape of David Millar, who is also participating ahead of the Olympic Games.
Thinking back to last year, I got one of my friends interested in cycling and Le Tour – a few weeks later he had bought a new bike, all the kit and was ready to go. No sooner had we started to talk about cycle events and routes, than none other than Lance Armstrong announced he was going to be doing a ride in Dornoch and was inviting people to join him. We packed up the car and made the drive from Edinburgh to join the masses on a 30 mile circuit. How about that for your first proper bike ride?!
It’s safe to say that a few of the Wilderness Scotland staff are passionate amateur Road Cyclists, our little white board in the office has times of the fastest rides and routes – not that we are at all a competitive bunch!
Having moved from Edinburgh to our new base in Aviemore in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park and the Highlands of Scotland, we are really spoilt for choice for road cycling routes. Over the past couple of months, whilst training for an event, I have clocked up more than 1000 miles on my road bike and enjoy discovering new roads and routes.
My Favourite Highland Routes
Whatever your age or ability, there is always a cycling route to suit you. Here are a few of my favourite rides in the Highlands, ranging from a lunchtime ride, an after work commute, or a day trip with a much longer ride. Check out the gallery above for some images of the routes.
Office to the Top
What better way to spend your lunch hour than cycling to the top car park at Cairngorm Mountain?! From the Wilderness Scotland base at Inverdruie House, we start on the ski road, passing through Coylumbridge, Rothiemurchus Estate, Loch Morlich and Glenmore before taking on the ascent to the top ski car park. On reaching the summit you are rewarded for your efforts, with some stunning views down the valley and towards Aviemore. The descent down is fast, and you barely have to pedal back to the office!
Approx Time: 01:13:00mins
This short lunchtime ride proved useful when I was training for the Corrieyairack Challenge, as it takes in the last 1.5 mile of the route, including the infamous “Brae” at Kincraig. It might not seem like much on a normal day but after 42 miles on the duathlon it’s good to know what’s coming and that you can do it!
Starting from Inverdruie Visitor Centre and following the B970 road towards Feshiebridge, this road doesn’t have any major hills on it, but undulates nicely.
As you cross over the River Feshie, you take a right turn towards Loch Insh and through to the village of Kincraig to then take on The Brae.
Approx Time: 0:51:22mins
Aviemore to Inverness
I have used this route as my “commute” home, living on the Black Isle, I thought it would be a nice long distance ride after a day at work. Following the National Cycle Network Route 7, from Aviemore to Tomatin, before turning left and taking the climb over the Garbole. This climb is highlight of the trip, followed by the great descent down into Farr, and then into Invernes, before picking up the Cycle Network, crossing the Kessock Bridge onto the Black Isle and homeward to Easter Kinkell.
Approx Time: 3:29:55 mins
Aviemore to Ballater
This route is a classic Cairngorm Cycle, passing over the Lecht Ski Centre and has some fairly big climbs. Starting out at Coylumbridge and taking the road to Nethy Bridge, the first hill starts with the climb up past Corriehullie and joins the A939.
There is a fast and windy descent into Bridge of Brown, followed by the second climb of the day. The road up to the Lecht takes you to 2090 feet, before another descent down into Cockbridge. The final ascent is over Gairnsheil and then onwards to the village of Ballater.
Approx Time: 3:25:55mins
Applecross and The Bealach na Bà
The Bealach is the UK’s biggest road climb at 2053ft (626m) and covers the pass from sea level to summit in just 6 miles (10k). Passing through the mountains of the Applecross Penisula, this route is popular with cyclists and home to a sell out cycling events every year.
The Road has recently been voted by National Geographic one of the world’s greatest car journeys, along with Route 66 and the Silk Road in Asia. We think the best way to experience it is on your bike, in low gears and ensuring you have plenty of energy! Once you are finished, make sure you have enough time to sample some food and a beer at the Applecross Inn.
Approx Time: 03:13:41mins
Assynt Achiltibuie Circular
The Achiltibuie route offers a challenging cycle with stunning coastal scenery on a mixture of single track and A class roads. Starting in Achiltibuie, cycle north towards Lochinver, if time allows then its well worth stopping into the Lochinver Larder to sample one of their famous pies. Following on the coastal road to Drumbeg and Newton, before joining the A894 passing the side of Loch Assynt and Ardvreck Castle.
Once you reach Ledmore , continue on the A835 turning right after Drumrunie and back to Achiltibuie. Expect lots of ups and downs on the route as well as an abundance of other road users – the sheep!
Approx Time: 05:22:11mins
So, there you have it – enough road cycling routes to keep you on the roads for a few weeks at the very least! The beauty of road cycling in the Highlands really is the freedom on the roads – some days you’ll have nothing but the local wildlife for company, and you can peddle until your legs can take no more! But, as Craig says, make sure you have enough time, and energy, to sample the local culinary delights and perhaps a pint, or two, of the local brew!
Road Cycling in Style
Having plenty of experience of going on multi-day road cycling trips have taught us which 5 essential items can make your trip that much better. These items are equally useful on a day trip, so have a look before your next day out!
Any avid road cyclist will know that things can get comfortable when cycling for a longer period of time and may have considered purchasing some bib shorts. If you are still on the fence about them, read the Pros and Cons of Cycling Bib Shorts to help make up your mind!
Road Cycling with Wilderness Scotland
We’ve been running road cycling holidays in Scotland since 2011 and now offer a choice of 6 trips across the grades, from easy to challenging. New to road cycling? Try the gentle island-hopping classic that explores the cultural and historical immersion on a tour of Skye and the Inner Hebrides. Venture a little further and visit a total of 9 islands on our road cycling trip to the Outer Hebrides. Keeping with the island theme, discover the whisky, wildlife and wonder of Jura, Arran and Islay on our Island Explorer trip. Alternatively taken on a point to point epic on our Grand Tour of Scotland where we start in the Highland capital Inverness and wind our way through the Cairngorms National Park before eventually finishing in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh. Or cross the Scottish Highlands from east to west on our epic Highland Coast to Coast trip, which features some of the routes above. And for those with plenty of puff, we have our Mountain Passes cycling holiday – this epic trip crosses 5 mountain ranges in Scotland and tackles the highest and hardest mountain climb in Scotland, the ‘Bealach na Ba’.