We have cycled to Scotland from Devon, but not by any direct route. We left Devon on 3rd April and bikepacked off-road up through Somerset and Avon. On a blustery day we struggled over the Severn Bridge to Wales and headed over the Brecon Beacons, round Snowdonia and on to Holyhead in Anglesey. A quick ferry ride got us to Dublin and some Greenlanes took us across to Galway. We followed the coast north on Eurovelo 1 through Connemara, Mayo, Sligo and Donegal then into Northern Ireland through Derry and Belfast. Another ferry over to Cairnryan in Scotland got us to the start of this blog on 10th May. And it was wonderful to be back in Scotland; it has to be my favourite place to cycle. See the links at the end for the previous tours.
The best days cycling we have had for ages! The sunshine helped, plus the 30 km/hr tail wind was amazing, endless bluebell carpeted woodland and a garden visit were all added extras. All in all a great day.
About 15 km into the day we headed up through a bluebell woodland to visit Glenwhan Gardens. Lovely place full of Rhododendrons and Azaleas in full bloom, and long views out over the Mull of Galloway to the Isle of Man.
A primula in Glenwhan Gardens
After the compulsory coffee and cake we headed back down a shortcut which took us off road through more bluebell woodlands to Glenluce Bay, where we picked up our 30 km/hr tail wind again
We roared along the beautiful coastline powered by the strong wind watching dramatic rain squalls coming in from the sea just behind us.
Glenluce Bay. We managed not to get wet until, of course, we had to turn north and head up hill, which meant the final rain squall just caught us. But not for long. We headed up, now inland, to wonderful views of the high hills to come tomorrow and stopped in a deserted lane to eat our sandwiches sitting on an old stone wall next to a bluebell wood.
It was an easy cycle from there to Wigtown, which is full of bookshops old and new and spent a happy hour there sitting in the sunshine with tea and homemade cake. Just before the hills we stopped for the day at Newton Stewart.
The next day was a day to get the old legs ready for the Great North Trail that we will be on after passing Glasgow. With 1111 m of climb my legs were certainly tired by the time we reached Ayr.
It started easily enough with more bluebell woods and loud echoing birdsong.
There were waterfalls and lots of butterflies. We stopped off early on at the Glentrool visitors centre, and after a 10 minute wait for them to open we were treated to the freshly made scones she had been making while we waited.
The hills to come
From there it was 20 km uphill. Strangely enough this first hill of the day was fairly easy as the gradient was steady and not steep. We climbed above the lovely Cree woodlands and could see bare hills rising all around us as well as the commercial forestry. We had a tail wind all the way up, which was nice.
As soon as we looked over the top we were met with an aggressive wind roaring up the next valley, which was short and steep. Luckily we changed direction at the bottom and got a tail wind again for the next climb which was good as all the climbs from now on were steep. My legs were really starting to feel it so we stopped in a sheltered spot for some lunch.
The rain started just as we finished eating so we shot down to the green valley we could see far below hoping to find some tea and cake in Maybole, which turned out to be further away than we thought and the wrong side of some steep hills. So we had earned the apple pie we found when we got there. More big hills and we were eventually dropping down towards Ayr with its sand dunes and long sandy beach. My complaining legs were very pleased to stop!
It had rained very heavily all night but rain had stopped the next morning which just left the gale force wind to contend with. Luckily the gale, like us, was going to Glasgow. We charged along the seafront of Ayr and Troon, barely pedalling. I did feel sorry for the cyclists going the other way, but I mainly just felt smug.
The seafront path in Ayr had washed away so we had to head through the town.
The Semple Temple! I thought it was a flat day, but I noticed that after Irvine we were inland up on a hill with a wonderful view of the hills around us either being drenched by rain or in distant sunshine. Must have blown up the hill without noticing. Somehow we stayed dry all day. We turned off NCN7 to head into Kilbirnie for some lunch. It looked like quite a big place and must have been prosperous at one time, but now the whole centre seemed to have their shutters down. We tried the Tesco but they had no cafe, but the checkout ladies sent us up to a local bakery. We had to stand outside it in the cold wind but the pies and cakes were good.
We hoped to rejoin NCN7 on the far side of town, but couldn’t find it. We realised it was far below us in a railway cutting. The wind was so strong now that I got blown off my bike when I tried to turn round. The only way onto it was to slide a long way down the embankment which we managed while somehow staying upright. We were blissfully out of the wind down there and stayed on it most of the way to Glasgow, only popping out to negotiate Johnstone and Paisley.
Arriving in Glasgow was interesting as we were staying at one of the many Premier Inns in the centre. The cycle paths were amazing as they spiralled up high over 3 or 4 layers of dual carriageway. The commuting bikes were buzzing around us and Bernie nearly took out a few who got too close. Some how we arrived at the hotel and stowed the bikes in a staff area.
We then rushed back out on foot to buy supplies for the Great North Trail which we are starting tomorrow. Bit worried about this as the weather is not good and the second night we will be camping. We will see.
For our first off-road day on An Turas Mor we were very lucky to have a perfect sunny day with no wind, which is amazing after the gales yesterday. We had 7 km through Glasgow to cycle before getting to the start of the route, which took us through several parks. As it was a nice day and a Saturday the parks were heaving with dog walkers, non of whom had any control over their dogs and by the end I almost had no control over my temper. It was definitely not a fun experience.
We finally got away and onto a muddy and very slippery single track with a lot of roots and deep puddles. Again, not really fun. So we stopped at Milngavie for some coffee and cake, but mainly to chill out a bit as we were both a bit techy.
From there we joined the West Highland Way. I don’t think I have ever seen so many hikers mostly in groups of 4 or 5. They were all very nice, when we could alert them to our presence, bells just don’t get through, but tended to separate on both sides of the narrow path, leaving the rocky section for us to get over. There were also endless gates.
Views of the hills to come
An escaped herd of cows on the West Highland Way
We got to Drymen and had a really nice lunch at the Skoosh Tea Room
We then headed up to road to the Rob Roy Way on NCN7. This turned into a gravel forestry road and we didn’t see anyone for ages. Bliss. I finally relaxed and started to enjoy the day. There were occasional wonderful views of the hills to come.
We dropped down into Aberfoyle for tea and cake at Liz Macgregor’s Coffee Shop before the climb up into Queen Elizabeth’s Forest Park. As we cycled up the gravel forestry road people were zipping overhead on high zip wires. Once passed this we were on our own again until the top
In the Queen Elizabeth’s Forest Park
There were a lot of orange tip butterflies about
On the way into Callander. We had booked into the Dreadnought Hotel in Callander which looked like it’s name from the outside. It had no staff apart from the manager, so no chef; therefore no dinner or breakfast. There were so many people in the area we were lucky to get a table anywhere for an early dinner but breakfast was proving more elusive as its Sunday tomorrow so most places don’t open until 10.30. Think we have found a bakery that opens at 8, so fingers crossed. It is all going to get much more remote for the next 3 days so we will be camping. After today it will be a relief to get away.
We managed to find breakfast at the bakery down the road and were away by 9. We had a lovely time along a packed mud trail for 2 km before we realised we were heading in the wrong direction! Back on the correct route, NCN7, a surfaced cycle trail alongside a river then along Loch Lubnaig. It was very pretty with the hills looming in the distance. We turned off early into Strathyre where we had coffee at The Broch Cafe along with a lot of motorbikers. They were roaring around Callander last night too.
There was a fair old climb still on NCN7 before it levelled off until we got to The Falls of Dochart, not that impressive and very touristy, and Killin. We had lunch in Shutters Cafe along with a large group of roadies from Dundee.
It wasn’t long after leaving Killin that we turned off NCN7 and its nice surfaced cycle trails and headed along a river valley towards the hills.
Then a sharp right took us up into a private estate with high gates and a very steep road with lots of hairpins. The road had been surfaced at one time but was now broken tarmac or gravel. We walked up most of it.
Behind us we could see the rain moving in but it never caught us. Wonderful views on the way up and some of the higher hills still had bits of snow.
Some time later and still walking!
A steep decent brought us down to the River Lyon. We had hoped it would be an easy downhill roll from here the to the Bridge of Balgie, but there was a strong headwind and quite a few uphill sections. We eventually arrived at the Tearooms at the Bridge of Balgie at 4. They are open from 10 am to 5 pm everyday although on Google they showed as permanently closed, so we were a bit concerned about food. We had soup and a roll for supper there and asked about camping.
We watched the Salmon coming up the river while we had supper
The cafe sent us a mile further on to the walkers carpark where there are toilets. We found a nice flat spot there and set up camp for the night. Nice and quiet. A couple of guys arrived later with a broken bike, think they will be here for a while, although they caught us up a few days later.
It was just starting to rain when we got up and the wind, which was to be the main feature of the day, was already strong. We packed the tent away quickly and after a fast breakfast were away by 8 45. There was no warm up, just through a gate onto a rough stone road then up and up.
There were some views through the fast moving low clouds and it was really cold as we were soon soaked.
It flattened out along the top onto rutted, rocky single and occasionally double track. Bernie loved it and shot off but I found it quite challenging in the wet with the strong side wind affecting the steering.
I was struggling to cycle in a straight line, let alone stay on the bike in the powerful gale force wind.
We cycled about half of it then pushed the rest.
We dropped down on wider forestry tracks before arriving at a very long flat boggy section that stretched across the wide valley floor. As we wound our way through this section we had to struggle against a headwind for a while.
After a brief road section we turned off at the Bridge of Gour on to a rocky track called The Road to the Isles. This is an old drove road used to drive cattle from Skye. Here we were met with a locked gate and a small v shaped pedestrian access too small for bikes. We could see others had pushed up the steep bank and gone through a hole in the wall, so did the same.
There was a lot of water about. We had a quick lunch sheltering behind some rocks, but we were really cold now. The next section went up with about 30 false summits. It seemed endless and the wind had got seriously strong as we climbed. At one point I nearly got blown off the road and had a slow-mo fall off.
We dropped down eventually to a Loch and an easier surface took us to Corrour Station House where we are camping and eating in their restaurant tonight.
Behind Corrour Station
Pitching our tent in the leigh of Corrour Station, out of the wind.
Inside the Corrour Station Restaurant. They are also giving us breakfast and a packed lunch for tomorrow. We collapsed into their warm restaurant and ate a late lunch. Felt much better. You can only get here by train, on foot or by bike. Our supper was the best food we had eaten for weeks.
The wind dropped a lot overnight and by the time we unzipped our tent and peered out it looked like a normal overcast day. We waited around for the Corrour Station Restaurant to open at 8.30 to refuel with porridge and eggs and to pick up our packed lunch. As well as the usual rolls we had asked for 4 of their homemade flapjacks. When she put them down on the table the legs almost buckled. I think they are heavier than our tent, but delicious.
It was a really easy morning with a tail wind and generally downhill slightly for miles. And the scenery was amazing all day. To start we cycled along Loch Ossian and then Loch Laggan,
Passing the castle that was in Monarch of the Glen
We were cycling along when I heard someone say “That looks like the Wragge-Morleys.” It was Paul Frost and Pam from Chagford, not far from where we live in Devon. They had been reading my blog and cycling in the opposite direction to us, so have had days of headwinds.
Butterwort, I had been seeing these strange plants for days in boggy areas.
A little later we discovered why Pam and Paul had been so tired as we went got to the bottom of the Corrieyairack Pass. I have been hearing about this for days. You can just about see the switchbacks heading up towards the pylons.
The approach to the pass got steadily steeper with loose rocks and frequent raised stone drains across the path. There were also quite a few small streams to cross.
I found that the most wearing part was permanently getting on and off the bike and only cycling short sections before the next obstacle.
Nearly at the top! The famous switchbacks weren’t too bad and not nearly as long as I expected. We just pushed up. At the top we were level with the patches of snow on the other hills.
The descent was fast and furious for 20 km to Fort Augustus and Loch Ness. Too fast sometimes leaving us soaked as we shot through small streams. There were a few steep up sections to keep the muscles awake and views to die for.
Loch Ness in the distance. It was amazing up here, unlike Fort Augustus, which was a bit too much after being out in the wilderness for a few days. Very touristy, lots of cars and motorbikes and gift shops. We went straight into a restaurant and ate our way through three courses while trying to find somewhere to stay.
At the end of the day we had climbed 1063 m. So doing a shorter day tomorrow, although actually that turned out not to be any easier.
Waiting for the swing Bridge in Fort Augustus to let a boat down the canal into Loch Ness. We thought we could have a relaxed morning as we only had 50 km to do today. Big mistake! We set off at 10 and by 1.30 we had only gone 17 km and we were both on our last legs. It was definitely one of those “I can’t go any further” mornings. It didn’t help that we were still tired from yesterday’s big climb, and it turned out that the climb today was nearly the same at 960 m, but unlike yesterday most of it was unrideable, at least for us. So we walked about 12 km pushing the bikes up two very steep hills.
Heading up the Major Caulfield’s Military Road from Fort Augustus.
It got a lot boggier further up and the heavy rain started again
At the top of the first hill the heavy rain started with a strong wind that seemed to be coming from every direction. It was at this point that we turned onto a Military Road that was very narrow single track with high cushion mounds dropping on to slippery mud with another mound every foot. It was downhill but I couldn’t ride it. After about half a kilometer we crossed a small stream then came across the river. It had been raining heavily all night, as it was now, and it looked deep with a lot of the stepping stones under fast flowing water. It was also cold and we didn’t fancy getting that wet so we pushed back up to the forestry road and cycled around on that to the valley.
Almost immediately we were heading up another forestry loose stone road, and again it was very steep. It just seemed to go on for ever and we were both exhausted
The weather had improved now with some blue skies and the views of the mountains all around us, some of them still with snowy summits was amazing. We eventually dragged ourselves and our bikes to the top.
It was such a relief to get back on the bikes. The track undulated along the top for quite a distance. It was bleak and noisy from the wind and all the streams crashing down the hillside on stony beds.
Then as we dropped into the valley it was like entering another world. Everything was bright green with the new leaves and grass, the wind had dropped and it was warm. We were on a hard packed mud road that followed the River Glass down the wide valley, through old woodland carpeted with bluebells. We zipped along easily, it was like a lovely dream after such a hard day.
A short way along the valley we joined a small lane and came to the old hamlet of Tomich which happened to have an open cafe. So cake and coffee it was. From there it was an easy cycle on down the valley to Struy and our hotel for the night, the Cnoc Hotel. A very friendly place, with nice food and almost empty.
After a really comfortable and quiet night at the lovely Cnoc Hotel we felt ready for anything this morning. The sun was shining and it felt warm in the lovely green valley. We went round the corner and turned onto a wide rough stone track that immediately headed up the hill. Despite no warm up we were able to cycle up most of it today as the gradient was reasonable. As we climbed we got back into the wind, which for the first part of the climb was a tail wind.
As yesterday the views were amazing, just nothing but high hills and lochs in all directions and we didn’t see a soul until the end of the day when we dropped down again.
Once the initial climb was over the track undulated fairly steeply along the ridge for miles.
This would have been a fun and quite fast cycle if it were not for the regular deep, wide, boggy bottomed black puddles every 20 to 30 meters along the track.
They were too deep to cycle through so we were jumping on and off the bikes then walking around the edge on the boggy mossy edges. As the group of 16 cyclists we had met at Corrour Station had come through here yesterday the banks around the puddles were badly cut up.
Not a loch, a puddle! In one of the shallower puddles I saw hundreds of tadpoles and some slightly older newts.
All this made forward progress very slow but eventually we reached a fork in the track
This was the start of the hydro-electric pipeline running beside the track down to Loch Orrin. The track here was better maintained with no puddles so although we now had a strong headwind we made much better progress.
The track eventually swung round and the wind pushed us down to the dam and hydro-electric station at Loch Orrin which was only half full and not generating. Cycling across the dam.
From here we were on a single track tarmac road so we made full speed to the bottom of the hill and cycled along next to a very full river stopping for a picnic lunch sitting on its bank. There was a short section on a main road after this but it wasn’t busy and we went 3 km off route to Strathpeffer were we had booked a room in the Highland Hotel, a large Victorian monstrosity. As we were early we went into the village to pick up supplies as it will be the last shop before JoG and we will be camping the last 2 nights on the way across. A nice short day to give our legs a rest before the final push to the end.
Loch Garve. We were glad to leave the hotel from hell this morning. It was full of coach party groups and we stood out as almost the only people under 90. Supper last night would not have been out of place in an old people’s home and had small portions so I was still starving afterwards. Breakfast wasn’t much better so a grumpy Gruffalo cycled down the road being overtaken by deafening motorcycle groups and coaches.
Then bliss, we turned onto a woodland track and the grumps left, although the tracks were close to the road for quite a while so we could still hear the dreaded motorbikes. It was easy going with gentle gradients. Major Caulfeild’s bridge that was built in 1770.
After a stint on the main road we turned off at Black Bridge and cycled up a really beautiful valley on good stone tracks. It was stunning. and the start of possibly the best bit of An Turas Mor.
Heading through the Alladale Wilderness Reserve and a great place to cycle
Spot the Bernie!
The red dot of Bernie’s jacket is disappearing in the distance in this one too.
The fact that you can see the white sand around the Loch shows how low the water is at the moment
We saw lots of deer, Highland cattle and sheep. We heard deer barking, cookoos calling, streams babbling, and birds piping.
Dark black clouds came overhead but we didn’t get wet luckily. There were high hills on either side of the long valley with waterfalls plummeting down. It looked like we were going to have to climb out but the valley went round a corner so we stayed down.
Trying to keep my feet dry
The track got very rough and tricky for about 3 km with boggy large puddles to walk around.
But we were soon back on good tracks and racing downhill to Oykel Bridge Hotel, a welcome place in the middle of nowhere and full of elderly fishermen and their tales. This also meant supper was not served until 8 pm as this is an old fishing tradition. I was starving. But after eating the most amazing dinner and was so full I could hardly move!
We had a delicious and very large breakfast and were handed a huge packed lunch which took some stowing on the bikes. It had rained overnight but this morning was sunny and warm.
We did a fair bit of cycling on single track tarmac roads then headed up a long wide valley next to the river Cassley which had a lot of fishing beats marked. The valley was funnelling the wind so we unexpectedly had a strong headwind which made it hard work. There were also frequent showers which meant we were in and out of our waterproofs.
There were two long uphill sections of rough rock tracks but luckily the biggest climb of the day was on tarmac.
Pumping and filtering water for the campsite from a nearby stream
Our camp for the night, sheltering from the strong wind and rain behind a roofless old clearance house. Wonderful views when the clouds lifted.
View from the tent first thing
Rain clouds gathering
The next day should have been easy except for the wind and then the rain.
Cooking breakfast in the rain inside the old house. It started OK. It had rained on and off all night, so as soon as it stopped in the morning we were up and cooking breakfast inside the ruined house which was as sheltered as it could be without a door, windows or roof! A good breakfast of tea, porridge with honey and sultanas, and we mixed up some Soda Bread which we cooked and ate with honey; it was delicious.
Suitably full we packed up and were on the road by 8 am which is unheard of for us late starters. We had been on this road a few years ago and I had thought we were nearer the top than it turned out.
Rain moving up the next valley in the wind
Altnaharra. We had a head wind until we reached Altnaharra
Loch Naver. And a side wind as we headed alongside Loch Naver and then along the river.
Rainbow, rain is on its way. With our early start and the fact that we were on tarmac we were making good progress as we headed up and over the remote bog moorland. So we thought that we should make the RSPB visitors centre tea rooms at Forsinard by lunch time as it was about 68 km.
Miles of bog and water. I think we were both dreaming of a nice coffee and sitting inside as it had started to rain. We had checked online and it said they were open 7 days a week between April and October. Well, they lied, they were shut. We should have known better, we have been fooled by open signs quite a few times on this trip.
Heading back off-road. So we sat beside the river in the rain and ate cheese wraps. Shortly after that we turned onto the last bit of off-road on this trip. It was a nice sandy/gravel track that headed up into the forest and the RSPB Reserve.
Wading across the bog in search of drinking water. We started looking for somewhere to camp and some water. All the time in Scotland we have never had to worry about getting water, there is always a river or a stream. Here it was pouring out of the sky but nothing in the streams.
We eventually found Loch Leir that had a good flat area for the tent and padded through the bog to the Loch to filter some water.
Camping next to Loch Leir in the RSPB Reserve just before the heavens opened. It then started raining heavily all night so we dived inside the tent as fast as possible. As the rain just got harder we did not cook, just ate a tuna wrap. As I emptied out my sodden Restrap front back (turned out not to be waterproof!) I found two little slightly dissolved soggily wrapped chocolates from a hotel we had stayed in about a week ago. They seemed a real treat now! Being an RSPB Reserve we could hear all the birds outside the tent. There was a very vocal Peewit and something making quiet booming noises.
Having dived into our tent as soon as it was up yesterday afternoon in torrential rain it continued to bucket down all night. Our wonderful, lightweight, 1.1kg , Durston tent performed admirably again and let no water in. It was still raining in the morning as we cycled out over Strathmore on easy to cycle sand/grit tracks
Part of the rejuvenated peat boglands. They have removed the forestry trees and made deep scrapes so the water can flow around the bog area.
As it was still raining in the morning, although not as hard, we decided to eat our last wrap and the last of our cheese for breakfast. How I hate wraps, like eating rubber, but they are filling, light and keep well. This left us without any lunch on a 70 km day. Although we did have one snickers left, half each then!
We passed a lot of woodpiles like this, luckily not a lot of lorries. We had 18 km on the rough track through forest and past the rejuvenated peat boglands that the RSPB are working on. We were still in their reserve and we could see many pockets of water across the peat bog. We could hear lots of very loud ground nesting birds, but not see them, except for a few skylarks spiralling up singing at the top of their voices. There were also a lot of Lapwings with their funny top knots and their crazy twisting flight as they dropped down onto their nests. They set up a deafening racket when a raptor flew overhead.
Not the sea but a low Loch. Most of the Lochs have sandy edges as the whole area was once below the sea.
The fortified Strathmore Lodge on the edge of the peat bog. After that we were on small single track tarmac roads. It was noticeable that as soon as we were back were there are cars we immediately saw a polystyrene fast food box and a plastic fork on the side of the road. We hadn’t seen any litter for the last three days.
An old mill we passed. It now got dull and tedious. Long straight small roads through gently rising dull landscape with only the fact that we had to let the occasional car past to break the monotony.
Our first view of the sea and the Island of Stroma just visible in the misty rain. Luckily after 40 km we got to Watten were there is a convenience store. After the disappointment of discovering their coffee machine no longer worked we sat in the rain outside and ate our way through apples, bananas, kit-kats and orange juice.
Finally, after 3000 kilometres and nearly 60 days! Eventually, we dropped down a bit and came across a village entrance sign that said John o Groats. We soggily took a picture and stopped at the first hotel, which happened to be where we were booked for the night, The Sea View Hotel. After wolfing down a 3 course lunch and slowly drying out we felt better but decided to leave the final 3 km of our route, to the most Westerly Point, at Duncansby Head until tomorrow, as there is almost no visibility today. It was bliss to have a shower!
The proper JoG photo! Amazing, we woke up to sunshine and views the next morning. We quickly rolled down the hill to JoG Harbour for the obligatory photo next to the JoG sign before anyone else got there.
Then we headed off for the final 4 km of the An Turas Mor route which ends at Duncansby Head. This is Duncansby Head light house
Today the views there were amazing, I am so glad we didn’t bother to come yesterday in the mist and rain. As well as the square light house, one of two square ones in the Scotland, there were cliffs full of nesting and squabbling gulls and great views of the stacks.
We can actually see the Orkney Islands which look really close. It would have been nice to go over on the ferry but it can be quite rough and Bernie is not a good sailor.
Gulls nesting on the cliffs at Duncansby Head
Storm clouds gathering at Duncansby Head
Then back through JoG, the number of motorbikes and mobile homes on the road was building rapidly. So we went back on the small road we had arrived on yesterday. Once we got to Castletown it got more interesting. We were now on NCN1 and went through a heritage area where Flagstones were quarried. They are used here instead of fences. This is the Heritage area near Castlehill
A Kingcup with a visiting flower fly (family Syrphidae)
Sweet Cicley, Murrhis odorata, smells of licorice, hosting one of the swarms of blackflies with long dangling legs that we have been cycling through
Another long-legged black fly
A wild raspberry
Then our route took us up the hill away from the main road with good views of the high cliffs of Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of the UK. We dropped down into Thurso where we are staying tonight ready for an early train tomorrow to Inverness.
This is a video of short sections of An Turas Mor, it gets wilder and the track rougher as it progresses!
After 3000 km and 58 days on rough tracks we had no mechanical faults and no punctures cycling to John o’Groats from Devon. For the map of the full route from Devon to Scotland click on the link below:
To read the start of this trip off-road through Devon, Somerset and Avon click below:-
To read the second part of the trip off-road through Wales click below:-
To read the third part of this trip round Ireland and Northern Ireland click below:-