Cycling The Great North Trail – Southern Half

As winter starts coming to a close and summer is on the horizon I often start day dreaming of flying the coop and getting outdoors for an extended cycling trip. Generally this is around April, but I quickly realise that while the south of England may be warming up, it’s still generally a bit cool and wet up north, so I’ve become accustomed to planning trips to Northern England and Scotland in May or June. It’s been a long year sitting inside our flat in London due to covid so I’ve been extra excited for the warmer weather and promise of outdoor trips.

Last year I had the chance to forget about covid for a couple weeks and do the Northern section of the Great North Trail aka the An Turas Mor. This year I felt like seeing the north of England and Scottish borders would be a good mountain bike tour of some of the iconic mountain bike trails and views outside of the Scottish Highlands. I was a bit torn as I usually like to head directly into the highlands and islands of Scotland for my trips, but I needed to see what northern England and the Scottish borders had to offer as I’ve been trying to get up to that part of the country on my bike for few years now.

Day 114 miles 2400ft of gain

I began my ride from Chapel en le Frith in the Peak District. I decided to cut out a bit of the lower part of the Peaks as I had ridden that section a couple years earlier – but in January and not June. Quite a different experience! I also wanted to give myself a bit of a buffer in case anything happened along the way so I could still finish before my train ticket back from Edinburgh on the following Tuesday.

While on the train from London to the Peak District I contacted Rich Seipp to see if he was up for a quick drink as I passed through the town he lived. Rich is the writer of 20,000 miles, a book about he and his son’s cycling adventures in different parts of the world. I’ve followed Rich’s adventures for quite some time on instagram as it reminded me of the trips I’ve done with my Dad which were a big part of my interest in endurance and adventure cycling. Rich was gracious enough to meet up and I had the chance to meet his wife and son and well. It was a great and very social start to my trip.

It was late evening when I departed the pub to head back into the hills for a couple more hours cycling before I bedded down for the night. Not many miles done this day as it was a travel day, but was a good intro for what was to come.

Day 243 miles 6600ft of gain

As with any camping trip, you quickly get adjusted to sleeping when the sun goes down and waking when the sun comes up. During the summer months in the UK, the further north you go, the less darkness you’ll actually have, so it wasn’t dark long before the sun came up for a beautiful sunrise. I snapped a picture from my tent with a view over Manchester. This is the first trip I brought a proper camera with a big lens (14-140). I found the last time I wrote a blog on a bike trip that the pictures didn’t really hold up very well when viewed on a large monitor, so over the past year have been enjoying the quality of a real camera and lens. More weight, but worth it in my opinion.

Starting the day at around 4:30am I made my oatmeal breakfast, packed up, and hit the road with a big downhill to leave the national park and rejoin the Peninne Bridleway.

Something special about the early hours before anyone else is awake. All the animals, birds, sheep, cows etc are up and making noise much before people are. The route out of the park was fast and winding down bridleways and then country roads.

After a couple hours of riding, I was hungry again and knew it was time to find a nice bakery or cafe for second breakfast. The constant eating is something I look forward to most on these trips. Having battled against my weight my whole life, I find these bike trips to be a bit of a vacation from having to be conscious of what I eat. Cakes, pies, chocolates, sandwiches, burgers are all in great supply. There generally tends to be a turning point after a couple days when I just don’t want to eat anymore junk food, but the first couple days are definitely the sweet spot.

I stopped into a small village and grabbed a couple bits at the farm shop and bakery, It was my first time trying northern hot pot (the pie with the spoon in it). Not totally sure how I feel about it, but glad to have tried it. The other pastry and pie were very good though, so I packed those up and took them on the way for a snack later.

I found the going on the second day to be particularly hard. I come from a road cycling background, so mountain biking and off road terrain doesn’t come easily to me. I’m very cautious, especially as I can be in remote places without any cell phone signal, so I tend to push and pull my bike rather than risk falling off on difficult trails. This made for slow moving on the first day as the Pennine Bridleway was very rocky and steep in many sections. Required lots of pushing and walking. Can only imagine how difficult it would be in wet and cold weather! I’d see a trail off in the distance and think to myself – That’s a piece of cake! – only to realise it was a crazy gradient or had large rocks scattered about.

It’s difficult for me to explain to my family back in California how hot these first few days felt (It was about 22 degrees) since they’ve been getting regular weather of 35-40 degrees over the past few weeks. Think I’m becoming a bit soft to hot weather after living in England for so long!

Finally ate the last pie from earlier and then moved on through the rest of the day to find another camping spot. Amy bought me some non contaminating camp wash for Christmas a couple years ago and I found it completely invaluable on the trip as it gave the opporunity to wash off in streams and rivers along the way before I went to bed at night. Wild camping can just as nice as a B and B when you go to sleep clean for the next morning!

Day 3 – 47 miles 6400ft of gain

I awoke very early this morning with the call of nature around 3:30am or so. When I opened my tent the sun hadn’t risen yet, but the sky was dark with this bright orange color spilling out over the horizon. It was a very beautiful moment and one I don’t think I’ll forget. Luckily, I had my tent positioned towards the rising sun to catch this, but after watching the sky for a few more moments I went back to sleep until around 6 or 7. Made myself a quick breakfast and then was off into Yorkshire and the Dales later on that day.

It was another beautiful but difficult day on the bike heading onwards north towards the Yorkshire Dales. The farm gates on this route (and there were countless!) it always seemed to mention keeping your dog on a lead so it doesn’t disturb ground nesting birds. I happened to find one flying around on a telephone pole sunning itself in the early morning. Quite a long beak!

Not long after setting off I crossed paths with a couple women on electric mountain bikes out for their morning ride. It dawned on me how nice it would be to be able to take a ride like this every morning before work. Long and car free bridleways with just the sound of nature around you. Hopefully our move to Cornwall in a few weeks will scratch that itch.

The two women mentioned a breakfast spot about 9 miles further which I was keen to find, but never did, but alas it spurred me on with the promise of food! Along the way I tested out my new mini tripod which I brought on my trip. It was a nice addition as long as I had a high spot to place it on. Get those action shots!

Today was marked by long winding climbs up green hills as I slowly left Greater Manchester and made my way into Yorkshire. A local mountain biker let me know that as you travel north you’ll see subtle differences in the landscape including the types of stones used for their walls. Even in a country that’s relatively small, just a few miles in any direction can yield differences in how the landscape, houses, and buildings look.

After a solid few hours climbing and descening on ridable tracks it was time to find a lunch spot. Just as I left a wooded area this tiny village with a ruined castle popped up on my left. I hadn’t a clue whether they would have a cafe, but saw a fellow touring cyclist in the village, so thought I’d try out my luck. Turns out the other rider, Tom, was looking to complete the Great North Trail and head all the way up to John O’Groats or Cape Wrath. It’s an epic ride, and I can only imagine how difficult, yet rewarding it would be to do it in one go. I tried my best to convince him that Cape Wrath was well worth the visit. Hands down one of the most special places I’ve ever been, mostly because of how difficult it is to get to and how untouched by tourism it seemed to feel. Good luck Tom!

After a nice lunch at the cafe stop and a raspberry lemonade I was as ready as I could ever be to continue the journey. I was feeling tired and a bit exhausted from all the time in the sun but lathered myself up with sun cream and made sure my water bottles were filled before I started off again. I had brought my purifier and Cnoc water bladder for the trip which I used everyday, but filling at a tap was 100x easier.

This entire route was either up or down. There were only a couple times where it felt like I was on flat ground and even then it wasn’t for very long. The tradeoff was that the views were incredible along the way, especially as visibility was so good.

From the top of these hills I could see Pendle Hill which reminded me of some of the audaxes I’d done in the past. This area was also the home to the Pendle witch trials which are playfully talked about today, but obviously must’ve been similar in some regards to the Salem witch trials that we had in the states back in the day. Even some of the walking sign posts celebrated this old history.

As the day drew to a close I began to enter into the Yorkshire Dales. Chasing me was a large and dark cloud which I was trying to outrun before I setup camp at the end of the day. Luckily, I made it to another camping spot before any weather set in and was able to eat, clean off and setup for bed.

Day 455 miles 6400ft of gain

The next morning I awoke and broke down camp. Unfortunately, this was my first encounter with midgies on the trip. Thankfully not many at all, but was a bit of a warning as to what may be waiting for me as I get closer to the border of Scotland. A reminder that camping near water at this time of year can come with consequences!

This next day was probably my favorite day of the trip. The Yorkshire Dales are absolutely stunning to cycle through. They feel large and remote and all the villages and man made structures are so old and charming. The climbs and trail quality were fantastic as were the views and weather. It did get a bit windy as the day went on but never really rained much.

Not long after starting my day I found a small cafe in the heart of the Dales that had just opened for breakfast. Finally! My first full english breakfast of the trip. A great way to fuel yourself for many hours of the day. I sometimes wonder how people could be hungry for lunch and dinner after eating this for breakfast, but I wasn’t complaining!

From there on it was beautiful climbs and views for the rest of the day. One of my favorite sections of the day was this large rocky basin with these stone walls seeming to stretch for miles in every direction. Around the park were also several groups of students preparing for their Duke of Edinburgh tests. Great to get kids outside to appreciate the outdoors.

Many lonely roads later I came across a couple hikers from Newcastle that were down in the Dales for their yearly walk together. They must’ve been in their 70s but had a great spirit and were just happy to be outside after such a long year dealing with covid. Asking them if they were wild camping as well, they said ‘NO! We’re too old for that now.’ Fair enough! It definitely is much more difficult than a hostel or B and B.

I loved the viaducts throughout the Dales. Felt like Harry Potter all around – even though this wasn’t the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct from the movie, these were still very special to see, even if from a distance.

Up, up and up the trail kept going. Through farm gates and across roads then up again. Luckily, it was only windy, but this wouldn’t be a very unpleasant place to be if the weather turned. Sheep and great views every way I turned.

At the top of the climb I noticed my brakes playing up so I took my wheels off to find that both sets of my resin pads had worn away. I couldn’t believe it! I just replaced them before the ride, but found out later at a shop in Kirkby Stephen that resin pads aren’t really that durable for mountain biking. He replaced the pads with a brand called nuke proof which were ‘sintered’ and I had no more issues for the rest of the ride. He also changed out my gear cable as my bikepacking bags had bounced on it and frayed the ends of it so the gear changes weren’t working super well. On top of that re-indexed my derailleur as my chain kept slipping into the space between my cassette and wheel. Not fun, but well worth the visit to Coast to Coast cycles in Kirkby Stephen. What a relief to have the bike fixed after that. It’s surprising how quickly a bike can lose its shape after a few hard days.

I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to camp or stay in Kirkby Stephen for the night but realised all the accommodation was either too expensive or booked so I continued on up the road towards Appleby. After cycling through the Dales this next stretch felt like mostly road, which made for a quick going. It also made it a bit more difficult to set up camp, so I ended up riding longer into the evening than I normally do and set up camp a few miles outside of Appleby-in-Westmorland. I was hoping to visit Appleby during the day as I’ve heard a bit about it since it’s the location of the annual gypsy gatherings. Probably some great breakfast spots, but I will never know!

I finally set up camp a few miles south of the biggest climb in England – Great Dun Fell – which I would tackle the next morning. The evening was incredibly windy which meant the tent shook most of the night making it hard to get a long stretch of sleep.

Day 549 miles 5000ft of gain

I don’t really plan much on my rides or do tons of research before I go unless it’s very remote, so I didn’t really know I was doing this huge climb until I saw the elevation profile of the ride. I then realised it was going to be a tough start to the day! Something about a really big or popular climb that can be a bit intimidating. It’s almost like a boss battle in a video game and the only way to defeat it is to keep pedaling.

It was a very foggy day so I didn’t get many pictures of the actual climb, but did manage to get one of me riding up towards the top. Luckily, when you’re climbing for that long it keeps you warm so you don’t get a chill going through the howling wind and fog.

It was a long a steep climb, but thankfully it was all on a private access road so no cars except for those that work at the top of the hill. There’s a big tennis ball sized radar tower at the top but I didn’t get to see it as the GNT trail veers off a couple hundred yards from the tip top, but it certainly felt like enough at that point!

There’s a path somewhere!

The fun didn’t end there as the next few miles consisted of following a barely visible track in boggy moorland with the occasional river crossing and bike carry. Not the most enjoyable section of the trip, but these are the times you earn the nice stuff by going through the difficult stuff.

A few endless miles later a nice bridleway path appeared and it was fairly smooth sailing for the next few hours. The elevation profile on my Wahoo showed that I would be losing elevation over the next 30 miles or so, but it still felt very hilly to my brunch stop at Alston. I unfortunately didn’t get a photo of the breakfast, but it was the first time I was offered haggis on the route, so I knew I wasn’t far from Scotland! It was also a delicious breakfast shared with a fellow cyclist who was from Plymouth but lived in Newcastle. We chatted about our rides future and past and enjoyed each others company while I was charging all my electronics until we both parted ways. The highlights of these trips are usually the good people you meet along the way.

Today was a tale of two rides. The day began with probably the toughest climb and descent of the whole ride but then after brunch it was a steady downhill along the Tyne railway path for 20 or so miles. It was SO nice just cruising for a bit without any massive hills in the way. The sun was out and I managed to stop for a bit to take my wet shoes off (from walking around the boggy river earlier) and dried off my socks and shoes and layed in the field for a bit looking up at the clouds. A moment I usually attempt several times on these types of trips. Just enjoying the quiet and relaxing sounds of nature.

The old railroad trail would eventually end in the town of Haltwhistle which has the claim to fame of being in the middle of Britain and also very near Hadrian’s Wall. I’ve been interested in visiting Hadrian’s Wall since I moved to the UK but always found it hard to visit while visiting other places, so I was very excited to finally get a chance to see it in person. It certainly did not disappoint! The amount of history in this country is amazing and going back even further you’ll find history relating to the Roman’s that once ruled this land.

The route takes you right up to the wall and to a small wall marker where a tower once stood where the Roman’s would stand guard. These towers were spread out every Roman mile or 1.6km. As you can see from the pictures the wall’s base was quite substantial and the height of the wall was about 15 feet. Incredible for the time!

Moving on past the wall felt a bit eerie as it was considered ‘barbarian’ territory many centuries ago. The opening battle scene in Gladiator kept playing over and over in my mind. Beyond the wall was definitely more empty and open feeling. From several miles away you could still glimpse the shape of the wall snaking across the hill line. What a sight that must’ve been so many centuries ago.

Beyond the wall I could feel I was getting closer to Scotland. Still a fair amount of distance between the wall and the Scottish border though so it would have to wait until the following day.

That night I camped just within the limits of Kielder Forest – the largest man made forest in Europe. It truly was huge! But with a man made forest comes man made gravel tracks, so the going was smooth albeit hilly!

Gravel heaven

That night I camped next to a stream and was greeted by a fellow outdoorsman later in the evening. An older man named David drove into the forest for a night to visit the remains of a couple friends that were buried nearby. He was a real character from Newcastle. Had lots of interesting historical stories to tell about the Roman’s and the Scottish battles that happened in the area. Was a fun chat before bed. Unfortunately, the chat was cut short as the midgies came out on force for the evening. Sad to say they were still there in the morning, so I put on all my clothes including midge net, making sure to cover all skin, before I began to breakdown the tent. Nothing like the past August in the highlands, but still a faint reminder of what happens when you travel north during the summer months.

Day 656 miles 5500ft of gain

Scotland was in my sights today. I didn’t really realise how much further from Hadrian’s wall it was as it took most of the morning to cycle through Kielder Forest and then around Kielder Reservoir. It was now the weekend so the roads and paths were a bit more busy than they were the previous few days with cyclists, motorbikes and cars.

Eventually I ended up on a cross border trail called NCN 10. I found it funny that at the beginning of this trail there was a warning plaque about how difficult and remote the trail was and to be careful, but it was one of the more rideable trails of the entire ride! Certainly makes you think about what a plaque would say on some of the other trails I rode earlier in the trip!

After several days I had finally arrived to Scotland! It was a good moment as I’ve been wanting to explore the borders of Scotland for quite some time now, but the travel links to get there have always been hard to pull off on a short weekend getaway. The borders of Scotland are where some of the fiercest clashes with their southern neighbors were had. You can just imagine English and Scottish soldiers walking along these paths for hundreds of years and meeting for battle. And in many cases these paths were the same that were used to cross the borders by large armies. Pretty interesting!

Once across the border on the Bloody Bush trail it was a climb up to the top of this hill with a large telephone mast, then a massively long gravel descent on perfectly maintained forestry roads. Really cruising now!

The remainder of the day was spent climbing hills on and off road through old forestry tracks and rails to trails lines before I managed to get into the town of Hawick (pronounced Hoyk) where I stealth camped at the top of a field overlooking the town. I generally prefer wild camping in open and empty places, but the borders, while sparsely populated, were mostly farmland and therefore fenced and gated off so it was frustratingly difficult to find a place to sleep.

Day 736 miles 5800ft of gain

From Hawick I decided to take a bit of a detour to Selkirk for breakfast. The issue with camping is you generally wake up much earlier than the shops, so I fit in a couple hours of riding before I got to Selkirk. By this time in the ride I generally find I’m pretty slow on the bike for the first hour or two of the day until I get something to eat. Probably normal with the long days and amount of climbing.

Selkirk was a very old and picturesque town. It had the courthouse that Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott worked in and also a large sculpture of him in the town center. A plaque commemorating a poem by Robert Burns was penned in Selkirk as well. The breakfast wasn’t as filling as I had hoped due to the kitchen not opening until later that day, but it was enough to keep me going for a bit longer until I could find a more substantial meal.

The last two large climbs of the trip would take place on this day. One called Minch Moor where Edward I ‘Long Shanks’ would lead his troops through to battle William Wallace and another location where William Wallace set his battle standard and called on Scottish men for help in their battles with the English. Don’t always think of these types of things when you’re pushing your bike up a steep hill, but you can’t really spit without hitting something historical in this country.

The climb up Minch Moor was long but steady. Lots of other mountain bikers were at the top on their local day rides around the hills. The descent was the same as the ascent and I had the chance to enjoy a long and fairly untechnical downhill back to the valley floor before the last climb of the day.

It’s pretty common practice for me that I take pictures when I’m having fun but don’t when I’m not. Unfortunately, the last hill of the day wasn’t a fun experience. It was very windy and misty with a thick fog over the top of the hill. Things were going just as fine as they could be, but just before I hit the summit of the hill overlooking Peebles, my crank arm jiggled loose and fell off my bike. Not an ideal place to lose the ability to pedal, so I dropped the bike and went on a search for the missing pieces. Unable to find the piece I went back to my bike and put my jacket on as the windy and mist were cooling me down a bit. I carefully began to descend the hill and not far from the town of Peebles I got off my bike to check in with my Dad about Surly parts that I’d need to replace to fix this and realised I forgot to button up my rear saddle pack and my waterproof trousers had fallen out at some point on the descent. As I was frustrated about the mechanical already I had little motivation to go back up the hill a few miles to find trousers that may have already been blown off the side of it.

Licking my wounds I got into Peebles and began trying to use my tools to tighten the crank back on. Not much luck, but a man and woman saw me trying to fix my bike and it turns out the guy was a frame builder and had the proper tools to tighten it down until I could get to a bike shop the next day. Very lucky!

I stopped in town for my second fish and chips dinner. Peebles was a beautiful little town with an alpine feel to it. A place I wouldn’t mind visiting again someday.

Day 856 miles 5000 feet of gain

I camped above Peebles that night and needed to get to an Innerleithen bike shop the following morning where I could grab another crank cap. The town wasn’t more than 8 miles away, but was in the opposite direction so it added an extra 16 miles to the final day. Peebles has a bike shop but was unfortunately closed on Monday. I awoke the next morning and packed up my wet tent as it rained very hard over night. Thankfully it stopped when I was ready to get up. It was a quick ride to Innerleithen along a cycle path where I stopped by Tweed Valley Bikes to get some help. Unfortunately, the cap on these Surly cranks needs a specific Surly cap, so they didn’t have it, but at least I had the chance to stop at one of the cafes in town for a full scottish breakfast and to recharge my powerbank before I set off for Edinburgh later in the day. I overheard a shop in town sells haggis scones. Not sure how I feel about that, but wish I had tried one at least!

The last big day of riding was marked by many sheep, cows, and long empty off road tracks. It was a fitting end to a journey that began in a rural albeit densely populated part of England to an ever more remote feeling Scotland.

I could have finished that night in Edinburgh, but was my rail journey wasn’t until the following day, so I camped in the Pentland Hills overlooking Edinburgh and dropped down the next morning to get a picture in front of the Edinburgh Castle before I stopped by a cake shop and then the train station.

I’m really happy I chose to do this route. As I mentioned at the beginning, I struggled with choosing to not cut directly to the highlands which is what I normally do on my big yearly bike trip. The highlands are more epic and beautiful to me, but cycling through the different counties of England and the Scottish borders gave me a better understanding of the culture and geography in the north of England and south of Scotland. I couldn’t have been more lucky with the weather as this ride would’ve been much more difficult if it was raining. Happy to finally say after two years that I’ve completed the Great North Trail, and have many great memories to take home with me.

View over Edinburgh on the final day

Cycling the An Turas Mor – Scotland’s 350 mile Mountain Bike Route – Great North Trail (Northern Section)

Anyone who knows me knows how special Scotland is to me. It’s one of the last places in the UK where you can get some of those big unobstructed views. Coming from California, this has always been a big part of my life. There’s something in a large landscape devoid of people and buildings that offers me peace. This is why I like to head up to the highlands once a year to take it in for a brief moment. I wasn’t entirely sure if I could get up to Scotland before the weather turned since traveling restrictions seemed to last for so long in the UK due to COVID. But thankfully, that was not the case.

Cycling UK released the Great North Trail mtb route this summer. A route that travels from the bottom of the Peak District to the top of Scotland with either a Cape Wrath or John O’Groats finish. After some chat on the Bikepacking Scotland forum I was pointed towards the Scottish section of the GNT (Great North Trail) which was created by the Obscuro Mondo Cycle Club in Scotland dubbed the An Turas Mor or ‘Long Journey’ in Gaelic. The ATM guidebook recommended the Cape Wrath finish over JOG, which I easily chose as it seemed like a fitting spot to end a long and remote journey, away from the crowds at John O’Groats.

The last two weeks of August were now earmarked as my time off, and I began planning the days up there using the ATM and GNT guide book. I had bought a fresh new pair of wheels and tires while we were in Cornwall over lockdown at Unit Cycles in Threemilestone. They did a great job getting everything together and servicing my bike before I left. All the gear was packed and I was ready to set off.

Kit List

Scotland is always hard to judge, especially when you’ll be going remote so I decided to play it safe and bring my tent for the midgies, my 4 season sleeping bag and my thermarest neo air xtherm. I’m glad I brought what I did even though it was heavier and bulkier than a standard summer setup for other parts of the world. It gave me comfort at the end of the day and I didn’t have to wear all my clothes to bed like I had the previous year on the Hebridean way.

I also knew I needed a way to cook food as I had limited space, so brought a 900ml titanium cook pot, SBP alchohol stove and about 500ml of alchohol which I used almost all of it by the time I finished my 12 day trip. I bought my meals from Tent Meals which I would highly recommend. A UK based company I found on the Bikepacking Scotland FB group. Great whole food meals that are easy to boil and come in 800 calorie pouches which cost around 5 each.

I luckily had no issues besides a spongey hydraulic brake, but I was able to reset the pistons every couple days and that seemed to help before I could get home and give it a proper bleed.

As always, the sawyer mini was perfect, however their cheap plastic bags leave more to be desired, and it began to break about half way through the trip. I’ll be buying a stronger bladder for next time.

My merino wool buff, water proof gloves, water proof trousers and jacket from Showerspass were golden. Also brought x2 pairs of Woolie Boolie socks which were a huge help. When the hygeine starts slipping, the anti stink properties of wool are wonderful, I’d also wrap my buff around one of my dry bags filled with stuff and use it as a pillow to sleep on.

Day 1 Glasgow to Rob Roy Way (30 miles 2000 ft elev)

I arrived into Glasgow Central around 4pm on a Saturday. I knew this wouldn’t give me loads of time to get very far for the day, but was hoping I could at least find a quiet place to set up camp for the evening far enough away from the city. Thankfully Scottish cities seem to be easy to get out of, and I was well on my way. The first bit out of Glasgow hugs the River Clyde, which was probably one of least enjoyable parts of the trip as the path wasn’t in great condition with overgrown nettle bushes, pits of mud, and generally slow progress for a few miles. Thankfully this was not a sign of what was to come!

Before I knew it, I was on the famous West Highland Way. As it was past dinner time there were very few people on the trail which is great because it’s the most popular walking path in Scotland – traveling from Milngavie to Fort William. I really enjoyed the 11 or so miles on the WHW and wouldn’t mind cycling the whole thing one day, but as it’s so well used by walkers, I’m sure it wouldn’t be preferable for either me or them.

Continuing on I passed markers for the John Muir Way. I didn’t realize John Muir was Scottish until awhile after I moved to the UK. In California there’s the famous John Muir Way and to top it off loads of conservation history on what Muir accomplished back in California. Felt a bit like I was back home when I saw these signs, or at least closer to.

It was quick progress through these sections of trail and tarmac. The first day of around 30 miles or so was very enjoyable. More of this section was on roads then I expected, but naturally you have to link up off road sections to create a monster trail, and they were incredibly quiet throughout the route.

For the evening I set up camp after entering onto the Rob Roy way. Allegedly a path that Rob Roy traveled on during his lifetime and the during Jacobite Uprising. My first mistake and continued mistake on this trip was camping near water sources – which is incredibly relaxing to sleep next to but also prime midge territory during late summer. My mantra eventually became ‘never again in August’ for a trip to Scotland as the midges were incredibly bad this year.

Day 2 Rob Roy Way to Loch Rannoch (76 miles 6000ft elev)

When camping your clock seems to get back into the sleep at night and awake at first light pattern. I particularly enjoy getting into this routine, but anyone that knows me knows I’m not a morning person – and camping in Scotland doesn’t really change that. Luckily, I was on my own and didn’t have anyone to be grumpy with. I awoke most of the trip around 6:30am and had my head down by 9pm or 10pm every night.

This morning I was heading towards Aberfoyle and Callendar before venturing into the proper highlands. I arrived into Aberfoyle early in the morning and as everything was still closed save the local Coop I stopped in and bought a couple Danish pastries before heading off. About 17 years prior I was in Aberfoyle on a trip through Scotland with my mom. I nearly continued on through Aberfoyle to head towards Inchmahome to see the island priory and history we saw together almost two decades ago. Can’t believe how quickly time flies nor did I think when I was that age I’d be coming through this town again but almost a British citizen!

From Aberfoyle was the biggest climb of the trip thus far. Very well maintained forest track through some zip lining areas. Towards the top of the climb were some of the beautiful big views I was looking for on this trip.

As I arrived into Callendar for a breakfast stop I thought it was also best for me to exchange my mosquito net for a midge one as I realised at the worst possible time the night before that midgies are much smaller than mosquitoes. Thankfully there was an outdoor shop that sold one – best 4 pounds I spent on the whole trip. Below is a look at the two nets side by side to show how small those little buggers are. The midge net is green.

Enjoying a nice (huge) Scottish breakfast at a small greasy spoon cafe, I had the chance to catch up with friends and family back home for a bit before I was into the hills and out of reception again.

From Callendar I was off and onto some beautiful quiet cycle paths. Lots of families were out enjoying the weather and traffic free trails. Down below in the valley you could hear the whirring of traffic but it was nice to feel far away from it all and safe. Along this cycle route was a placard that had information on Rob Roy and even the location of his grave. Knowing I may never be back on this exact route I decided to take the few mile detour to visit the grave and church where he is buried.

As this was the biggest day of cycling I did on the tour there were more interesting spots to be found. The riding on this section was superb. All quiet NCN routes or well maintained off road tracks. Before I knew it, I had arrived in Killin. Apparently, my mom tells me we visited this place before but I have no recollection of it. It was an interesting town though steeped in Clan warfare and a beautiful bridge with fast flowing river. It was also fairly busy and a reminder that this is the summer of COVID where the beauty spots are jam packed with people. Thankfully this route was remote enough to only get glimpses of these masses of people at certain sections.

From Killin it was off into the hills again. For a longer section of quiet country road past some massive Scottish aqueduct structures. Like many times on this route the road after a few miles would peter out and turn into a gravel track. At the beginning of this gravel track I was feeling a bit tired having not eaten a proper lunch so pulled out my cook set to boil some water for a tea and a couple cookie/cream sandwiches I bought the previous day at a garden center on the way out of Glasgow. Another reminder why I love cycling is the amount of crap I get to ingest and not worry about it tacking onto my gut. This was actually much needed as the climb after this break would be difficult.

After 5 months of lockdown in Cornwall I figured I’d be in great shape for Scottish mountains as Cornwall is absolute pain whichever way you turn as it’s loads of short steep (up and down) hills. I was right, but I forgot how long off road long climbs could take. Also the fact that off road climbs are generally more pitchy than their paved counterparts.

Thankfully this climb I did not have to push, but it was a real lung buster getting to the top, but boy was it worth it. Really started to feel like you were alone out there at the top of this one. A big hill top valley lay ahead of me as I pedaled along past countless sheep.

On the descent I would head into Glen Lyon. One of my favorite evening activities was reading the An Turas Mor guidebook on the route which filled you in on historical tidbits of the area. I love learning about this wonderful country I live in and the sheer scale of it’s history.
Sir Walter Scott said of Glen Lyon that it is the ‘Longest, loneliest, and loveliest of the Glens.’ You were certainly out on your own in this Glen. Sure there were a few houses here and there but it was mostly empty. It was so empty that even an Amazon delivery driver was asking me for directions through the Glen as he hadn’t had phone service for miles.

A few miles later of gentle downhill through Glen Lyon was time for another climb. It was starting to get late by this point. Somewhere around dinner time 5/6pm when I began this next section. Before the climb though was a quaint little gatehouse which apparently is open for tea at some points, but wasn’t as I went past.

This climb wasn’t easy, but if you keep chipping away at it you’ll eventually get to the top. Once at the top the views open up to a large marshy section as far as you can see. This was one of the sections I started to feel like I was alone. It was very quiet with some boggy bits to push and carry your bike over, but thankfully once you past this mile or two long section it’s a sweet downhill on a well maintained forest track to Loch Rannoch where I set up my tent for night two.

This was the first time I ate one of my packed meals I bought from Tent Meals. Each pack contained 800 calories of real food that you just had to hydrate. Very much enjoyed these considering the other option to this would’ve been my own food concoctions that I would’ve prepared. Edible probably but not as nice.

Day 3 – Loch Rannoch to Corrieyairack Pass Summit (62 miles 5000ft elev)

Like the previous day I was up early, and thank god the midgies weren’t out in force this morning. I packed up the tent and camp as quickly as I could as there were still some but a manageable amount at least. From Loch Rannoch my next destination point was for breakfast at Rannoch station tea room. As I cycled towards Rannoch station it was cloud after cloud of midgies. I eventually put my net back on but they would get stuck in my arm, leg and beard hair and before I knew it I would be covered in bites for the rest of the trip.

Rannoch tea room is a special place. It feels like you’re out in the middle of nowhere, yet there’s a cute little tea room. Better yet it was eat out to help out day so the menu was 50% off thanks to the government. Unfortunately, this station was absolutely plagued by midgies. Even eating inside there were some that were having me for breakfast while I was eating mine.

After a leisurely breakfast at the station it was time to head off. I really enjoyed the riding on this day, especially the climb out from Rannoch. Was a beautiful drove/military road with views of Glencoe and Scotland’s tallest peak Ben Nevis. As I’ve been to these two places on previous trips with family it reminded me of the good times we’ve had in these spots and almost felt like if I went over to either spot they would be there waiting for me.

It was a beautiful day and what was even more beautiful was that I was heading towards another great food spot at Corrour station. As I moved closer towards the station I past Loch Ossian youth hostel. It’s one of the few YHA’s in the UK that you can only access by walking or cycling to. Unfortunately, it was closed due to COVID, but I hope to return sometime. When you’re accompanied by folk who have had to work to get to a place, I often find the reward is you’re with a select few that you’ll share a lot in common with.

It hadn’t been long since breakfast, but I knew I had a long day ahead, so I ordered a delicious mozzarella, basil and pesto sandwich with homemade tomato soup from Corrour station. It was delicious. The people that work there also live there for months on end. It must be a nice to live in such natural beauty, around the quiet of the mountains and so many amazing outdoor opportunities during the warmer months of the year.

The section after this station after you cycle around the mountain was one of the best of the ride for me. It was smooth gravel tracks with a slight downward gradient. What more could you ask for? The sun was shining and the miles were easily ticking by.

Had another stretch after this along a never ending loch. It was easy miles but flat as a pancake for a good while. Then out of nowhere a massive castle appeared on the trail. Apparently this castle has been used in film and tv shows. As I continued on past the castle I was passed by expensive SUVs going the other direction towards the castle and couldn’t help but think what life would be like having that as your home. I’ll keep dreaming!

A bit further on after the estate you head out onto an A road for a mile or two before heading back into the hills and woods. Wasn’t too much of a climb but the views back towards the castle and straight ahead were beautiful. At this point in the day it was around 3 or 4pm. I still had Corrieyairack Pass at the back of my mind and trying to figure out if I could do it today or wait until tomorrow. This pass is unofficially the tallest road in the UK – which thankfully I didn’t know until AFTER I did it. I had done the Bealach na Ba climb a couple years earlier on paved roads and thought it was a big one.

First step was seeing if I could even see the pass from the road. As I cycled on and closer towards the pass I couldn’t see it, but my Wahoo was showing me that I was close to the start of the climb. I filtered some water at one of the many streams to make sure I had enough before I took on this climb. Spoiler alert, I didn’t need to as Scotland has a stream every 10 feet it seems. Still, coming from the hot and dry of California I’ve been conditioned to always make sure I have a full bottle before attempting something arduous.

The landscape was getting lonelier and lonelier as I moved towards the pass. Even in the distance you could make out small bothies, and one closer to the road right before the start of the climb. All bothies are currently closed due to concerns over COVID which is a real shame as they add so much to an experience in the highlands.

The climb begins up a gravel path at a fairly low gradient. The only pain was the slabs of stone every 50-100 feet which I’m guessing are to help so the trail doesn’t completely erode. Of course this meant me having to get off every 50-100 feet to carry my bike over them. I’m sure the more skilled could cycle over them, but as I was on my own and don’t really care about style points (see Helmet mirror) I just played it safe.

The climb wasn’t terrible, and actually the day was very nice. Granted it was about 7pm or so as I was doing the climb, so I was deliberating whether to camp or not on the climb, but ended up deciding against it and carrying on. The pass itself isn’t too bad until you hit the switchbacks. The switchbacks are difficult as I found them completely unridable and you’re just pushing your bike up the hill and at points trying not to slide down the hill as you push up. Mentally I was prepared for a very hard climb, so I imagined I would probably have to push at some point. The goal was to get to the top of the mountain before the dark set in as I did have lights but forgot my head torch so knew it would be extra hard to set camp without one.

I made it to the top with daylight to spare thankfully. It was a difficult last section to the summit. Thankfully the quality of the track on the way down was much better and I could cycle down the whole of it.

Next up was trying to find a good spot to camp. Not learning my lessons from the previous two nights I found another stream and thought I could camp by it as well. I began unpacking and changed into my night clothes only to be completely swarmed by midgies. It was terrible. There were so many it felt like rain was hitting my net and the sound of a swarm of them is another kind of hell. So reluctantly I hung my dry bags full of stuff on my handlebars and pedaled off in my evening clothes hoping to find a better spot soon after. Thankfully just around the corner was a wide open glen with enough wind to keep them away. This was one of the few nights there wasn’t a full moon or cloud cover and I could clearly see the milky way outside of my tent at night. One of the many bonuses of camping.

Day 4 – Corrieyairack Pass Summit to Tomich (26 miles 3000ft elev)

This day was the turning point of my trip. I was cruising along from the previous days, but it would all start to catch up with me today and I never really seemed to get my juice back after it.

I awoke early, midge free, and packed up camp to head into Fort Augustus and visit Nessie. There was a cafe I stopped at in town and bought a double breakfast sandwich, hot chocolate and some extra supplies for the road. Another 50% off meal which was welcome.

At this point I had planned to keep up my 50-60 miles a day as I was fine doing so before, but I didn’t realize the two climbs that would be waiting for me today. The first one out of Fort Augustus was more of walking path then an off road ride. Lots of overgrown plants so I decided to walk most of it until I hit the forest path. Once on the forest path it was a gentle climb to the first river ford of the journey. It was raining and I wasn’t particularly looking forward to getting my feet wet even though I had brought croc sandals just for the occasion. Thankfully the river was low and I could use the stepping stones to cross. The guidebook says the next section is lovely single track riding. Yes, that is correct, however there are these grass mounds all over the track which bounce you around if you’re not careful to avoid them or go over slowly. As I had no suspension and still a fairly high psi in my tires it wasn’t the most enjoyable ride but was beautiful nonetheless.

The single track soon became an old military road and I was cruising down the mountain and feeling pretty good. That would soon all change before the next behemoth of a climb.

The next climb I felt was the hardest of the trip. I know it wasn’t as tall as the previous days climb, but it was brutal and seemed to go on and on with difficult gradients, high wind, and that wonderful sideways Scottish rain. It was an epic climb, and those types of climbs make for good stories down the road so I’m glad I did it but it was difficult.

It all started off the main road and you quickly head into a nicely maintained forest gravel track. Clearly lots of work is being done in this area for a hydro/electric/forestry scheme as it looks heavily used. However I didn’t see anyone on this climb. I think I ate 3 heavy bars all at once on the bottom of it. I just couldn’t seem to eat enough, or perhaps I was just eating my stress as I was going up this thing. I was able to cycle a good portion of it, but sometimes the gradient would kick up and I’d worry about toppling over so I just got off and pushed.

The climb was long and arduous with switchbacks at the top. The wind made it difficult to go in a straight line as you had to dodge large rocks and washed away track. Once finally at the top, it wasn’t actually the top but a false summit that carries on for some time more. At this false summit you’re more exposed to the wind and rain. There was definitely cursing involved at this point, a bit akin to Truman yelling at the storm in Truman show. Eventually I would hit the top and begin a cold and wet descent into a forest where I would hide under a tree for a bit to change into my warmest clothes and have a quick snack. I wish I took a picture of this forest as it was very beautiful, but I was just too miserable to get my camera out!

Shortly after the forest section it opened up to a small paved b road. This b road would take me to my unplanned overnight stop – the Tomich Hotel. You feel like you’re out in the middle of nowhere in Tomich. However, Tomich is the birthplace of the Goldien Retriever breed. I had no idea! The staff at the hotel were very kind and welcoming as I decided to stop in for a late lunch and to dry off. There was another group there warming up by the fire and we got to chatting. Before I knew it a couple hours had passed and I was quite comfortable where I was and decided to have a proper wash, clean my clothes and stay the night. It was a good choice as this was one of the wettest days of my trip.

Day 5 – Tomich to Loch Vaich (48 miles 4000 ft elev)

Today was difficult, but thankfully no climbs as hard as the the previous day. Heading on quiet paved roads for a few miles before taking the turn off on the gravel track towards Orrin Dam. This track has been described as the road of 1000 puddles. It’s correct! There were lots of puddles and muddy holes to carry the bike over or ride through. The riding wasn’t terrible but it wasn’t consistent riding and at times required pushes up the steeper sections. Unfortunately the main road that goes past Orrin Dam is shut during the week because of work that’s being had on the Dam, so the detour was a 5 mile single track through a boggy, overgrown and midge infested section. The organizers did a tremendous job on this route, but this detour past the work site was awful. Luckily, I was a fast walker and was determined, but it wasn’t fun carrying your bike through brush and mud. I wish I had skipped it, but I’ve lived to tell the tale and that’s all that matters! After a slow 20 mile start to the day it was all downhill towards Contin which would be my last shop before Durness – meaning 2 days of self sufficiency. Exciting! Glad I came prepared with a cook set and dried food.

I really enjoyed the Contin store. There were cakes and sweets in there that I had never seen before including these absolute sugar bricks from Nevis bakery which were 3 layers consisting of a chocolate shortbread crust, mint fudge in the middle and chocolate top. Each one of these must’ve been 500 calories easily, but they were damn good when you know you’re burning it off!

From Contin the miles were much easier. Heading into another forest track for a few miles, past a beautiful old military bridge and into another forest before heading onto a main road for a few miles. This road is quite busy during the day, but as the night was approaching it was very quiet thankfully.

It was approaching 7 or 8pm so I knew I needed to camp for the evening soon if I was to do so in the light. Everything was fairly calm, and there was a nice river ahead and could be a good spot to camp by. This was of course another midgie night and the worst one of the trip. They waited for me to get all my stuff out and almost set up then went after me. At this point in the trip I was getting dressed in my long rain trousers, long gloves and socks with midge net etc, while also tucking my socks and gloves into my trousers and jacket to keep them out. I had a good routine, but it still was awful when they swarmed you. My technique was to run away from my tent, then run back towards my tent and open it and jump in before they got me. This didn’t totally work, but I don’t really want to go back in August to hone this skill either.

Day 6 – Loch Vaich to Loch Shin (60 miles 4000 ft elev)

The next morning I got re-dressed inside my tent, packed everything up inside and then went outside to brave the hordes of midgies again. I got the hell out of there as fast as I could and cycled for a few miles until I was out on a windy perch to make porridge for breakfast. I really enjoy porridge, especially when you have some nice things to put in it. Filled up my bottles at the stream and then was off again.

This next section was very beautiful and remote feeling. Bothies, mountains, lochs and good off road riding. This is why I came to Scotland to do this route. It was a perfect day.

En route I ran into some walkers from the Alladale Reserve. Apparently I spoke to the owner of the reserve who was a man that lived in Notting Hill his whole life, but decided he had enough of the city and moved to the heart of the highlands for work and peace. They are trying to reintroduce wolves into the area to help with the deer population. The deer are a big part of Scotland but as I know from living near Richmond Park, they can get out of hand when not culled as they have no natural predators. After a bit of a chinwag with these locals I was off towards Croick Church.

Croick Church was one of the most memorable places of the whole trip. It painted a sad picture of the crofters that were forced to leave their home from the Clearance of Glencalvie in 1845. During this clearance the crofters sought refuge in the church graveyard by creating a common shelter of makeshift tents. During this occupation of the church yard, these refugees scratched their names and dates on the east window. Reading history books is one thing but seeing the visible history of these etchings was very moving. To imagine people living in this church yard for a short time after being removed from their houses over 170 years ago is a strong reminder of the cruelty of men to their fellow man for profit. Something which sadly continues in abundance today still.

In the church yard I met a Scottish man from Inverness on a short holiday with his black lab. Gave the black lab a pet and chatted for a bit with him about the history of the area.

Before long I would saddle back up and head out onto a quiet gravel track through the Glen for 20 or so miles.

The next stretch was a very contemplative one. With everything I saw and learnt back at the church I couldn’t help but imagine the Glen full of life at one time with many families. Now the Glen is dotted with piles of stone and rubble that used to be old crofter shelters. A couple modern farming facilities are situated in the Glen as well as herds of sheep and wild red deer roaming the area.

It was smooth moving through the next few miles, and even ran into another person that was doing the An Turas Mor/ Great North Trail but from North to South. When you’re solo out in the middle of a remote spot it welcomes a chat. Living in London for so long you’re conditioned to leave people alone and let them be, but people are social creatures and it is a welcomed change to be in a place where you can meet other people that share your interests in nature and the outdoors.

After a long downhill through another forest access road the trail wound up again and spit me out on a main road for a few miles before I hit Rosehall, the final point I could resupply for a day or two. Unfortunately, the hotel was closing for food at 3:30pm. Seemed a bit odd, but after living in Cornwall for the past 5 months during lockdown I realize locals sometimes just want the afternoon off. No worries as I had enough food for a couple days and stopped river side to cook one of my meals.

From Rosehall it was a long road ride on a quiet b road that seemed to go on and on to the middle of nowhere. It was another quiet glen where I wouldn’t see anyone for hours.

At the end of the glen the road disappeared and it was back to off road tracks again. The climb didn’t look incredibly difficult, and the first part wasn’t, but later down the road after hugging the river for a bit the road kicked up at the dam. How happy I was to see that this road was tarmac though. It was towards the end of the day, and I was tired, but had enough in the tank to get me up this hill. It was steep for a great deal of it, and and I could see the low lying cloud/mist/rain that awaited me at the top. Luckily, if you keep pedaling you can stay warm and get through most bad weather without issue. It was eerie at the top as the visibility was very poor due to the fog, but I knew there was a big downhill coming up which would drop me down towards Loch Shin where I’d wild camp for the night in some boggy section near the loch.

That night setting up the tent wasn’t an issue as it was raining and windy, but the following morning it was calm and warm, which usually is perfect, but in Scotland during August that means only one thing. MORE MIDGIES! Thankfully they hadn’t worked out how to get under the rain fly so I was safe for a bit as I had to cook breakfast still. I knew I couldn’t cook in my tent so I prepped it all then quickly opened the tent and put the stove and pot outside to light it. Once lit I waited for the water to boil for a few mins. Once boiling I checked the pot again to find it had loads of burned midges on the top of the lid. It was gross and suffice to say I did end up having some midgies for breakfast in my oatmeal as I couldn’t get them all off the top of the lid.

Day 7 – Loch Shin to Durness (41 miles 3000 ft elev)

After that I was off to Durness for my final day before Cape Wrath. I cycled the remainder of the way past Loch Shin and Loch Merkland towards one of the more beautiful off road sections of the ride. However, it was very wet for about half of it, so was difficult to fully enjoy, but thankfully the weather broke and sun came out for part of it.

As the scenery and clouds opened up I could see Ben Hope in the distance with some beautiful sunshine on it before I dropped down into a valley with a posh hunting lodge. From that lodge I took a short forest track up to a minor road that hugged the mountain side for a bit before I went back off road towards the Cashel Dhu river ford.

As someone that’s followed the Highland Trail 550 I have a healthy fear of river fords in Scotland. Seeing pictures of people carrying their bikes through waist deep fast flowing rivers seems insane to me as at the end of the day safety is more of a concern than putting yourself in a possibly life threatening situation. However, the water level was low at the ford and I had my swanky croc sandals to see me over the ford which was no higher than 1.5 feet at the deepest spot. Once on the other side I cooked myself lunch using one of the tent meal packets and savored the moment as I knew I had one more climb before heading onto the busy NC500 route.

I felt at this point like I was on my victory lap. The last off road section before the busy NC500 was very enjoyable. I almost wish I could’ve reached Durness by the alternate ‘race route’ instead of riding on the road for the last 15 miles or so.

A few years ago I road a large portion of the NC500 and it was calm and quiet, but this year, most likely due to COVID and it being high travel season, it was completely rammed with motor homes, motorcycles and cars. Thankfully people were friendly, but as the road is mostly single track with passing places, it took a lot longer than I thought it would to reach Durness. I was a bit grumpy about this section after having miles and miles of empty dirt track to myself for so many days. I think ending at John O’Groats would’ve been a busy spot as well which wouldn’t have really fit with the theme of the ride, so I’m glad I opted to head towards Cape Wrath for my ride end.

Once into Durness I needed to find out how to contact the ferryman to take me to Cape Wrath tomorrow morning. Luckily the Great North Trail forum was very helpful and provided the phone number of the ferryman who agreed to meet me at the pick up point the following morning at 10am.

I liked Durness and the shopkeepers I spoke with. The pub I visited required you to call their kitchen to order, then wait for it to be ready to pick up. One of the best/biggest meals I had on the trip and only 9 pounds! For the amount of people serving at this restaurant I surely thought they could raise their prices.

After my meal I was off towards the ferry pick up point to see where I could camp for the evening and await my final day to Cape Wrath.

Day 8 – Durness to Cape Wrath Lighthouse (15 miles 2000 ft elev)

The next day I awoke to head towards the ferry where I was greeted by the ferryman and a few other people on their way to the lighthouse. Two walkers and another cyclist. It was a short ferry over to the other side and we agreed that we’d all stay over night on Cape Wrath and be picked up the following day. Apparently, he can see you from his house if you’re awaiting on the other side, but gave us his number just in case.

Once we arrived on Cape Wrath I began cycling with another person for the first time in over a week. It was nice to share the company and stories of the trip. As we were making our way over the barren landscape of CW we could start to make out artillery shelters and training areas for the military. It thankfully was not in action during August, otherwise that would’ve been a pretty deflating ending to a trip.

We took some photos around the ranges and continued on towards the lighthouse. As we cycled on we saw a walker making his way through the middle of a bog towards the road. It turned out he was just finishing the Cape Wrath Trail, which is dubbed as the most difficult walking trail in the UK. It spans from Fort William to Cape Wrath and goes through some of the most remote and wild places in Scotland. Suffice to say my achievement of almost reaching the lighthouse at this point by bike from Glasgow paled in comparison, but we ended up enjoying each others company later on in the day when he reached the lighthouse on foot.

As we turned the final corner we could see the lighthouse in the distance. It was a semi emotional moment for me as I had a pretty life altering injury last summer when trying to finish the North Cape 4000 in Europe. My back went out completely for a few weeks and was unable to get on a bike for a couple months after, so seeing the end of this ride meant a lot to me and gave me the courage and self belief that I could do the rides I love again – albeit a bit more carefully than I would previously do.

As we reached the lighthouse we took our respective photos and then hopped into the Ozone Cafe – the only cafe on Cape Wrath for a much needed lunch of homemade soup and sandwiches.

From the cafe it was a short ride to check out the famous Kearvaig bothy before setting up camp for the rest of the day. As we walked out of the cafe, the sky was blue, sunny, and it actually felt very warm for the first time in a couple days. So lucky to experience this. From the lighthouse you could make out the hebrides in the distance and some other smaller islands. Apparently the Vikings used Cape Wrath as a point to turn their ships. It was obviously still a popular point to this day as you could see loads of cargo ships off in the distance.

Then it was a short ride to the closed (due to COVID) bothy where we would dry out our wet gear and set up camp for the night nearby.

The evening felt electric as this was a very special place which luckily had wonderful weather for the one night I had there. You could see far out into the ocean, breath in the fresh air, and enjoy the warmth of sun on your face. This was a great final moment of the An Turas Mor route and really did make the entire route feel special. Cape Wrath can be a very inhospitable place from what I’ve read, so having a day like this could be once in a lifetime for me.

Day 9 – 12 – Cape Wrath to Cairngorms National Park (170 miles 10000ft elev)

As I had a few more days of holiday left, I decided to cycle over to Inverness then take the train to Aviemore. I was going back and forth where in Scotland I wanted to go or if I should road cycle back to Glasgow from Cape Wrath, but was recommended to check out the Cairngorms as I neared Inverness by a couple cycle tourers. I was not let down.

The Cairngorms reminded me of California with the strong smell of pine wherever you went. I very much enjoyed it, but accidentally ended up doing some massive hike a bike section on the inner loop of the Cairngorms bikepacking route as I hadn’t researched the route before cutting out a piece of it for my few days out. I’m not entirely sure why someone would want to carry their bike over a mountain range for miles and miles considering the outer loop of the Cairngorms is very rideable, but hey, that’s what happens sometimes. Feeling tired and in need of some rest I caught the train from Kingussie to Glasgow on my last day then onto London.

It was a wonderful trip with loads of great memories. The An Turas Mor route was a perfect route for someone like me that doesn’t feel comfortable on very technical sections, but enjoys long days of riding. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for taking the time to read my story.

The Hebridean Way – A 200 mile Scottish Island Hopper

The Hebrides isn’t really a place you hear about much growing up in the states. However, after living here for a few years I began to hear whispers of a beautiful string of islands off the west coast of Scotland that offered white sand beaches, crystal clear waters, and beautiful ocean views. Also home to the Lewis Chessmen which I’d seen at the British Museum many times before in London.

I began doing research on the best way to tackle the route, and of course there was a wonderfully created route that leads you through all of the islands beginning south to north. This is an important note – I almost did this route from north to south, but after going through several websites I started to see people said going north to south would mean for a possible headwind the entire way. I don’t mind a bit of suffering, but this was holiday, so it was an easy choice to reverse my original plan and go south to north with the wind at my back.

Also worth noting that the Hebrides are more religious the mainland of Scotland, which means a good portion of stores aren’t open on Sunday. This is changing as time passes, but best to be aware to plan supplies.

Day 1 Tyndrum to Oban to Barra (56 miles 2500ft elev)

The previous night I had taken the sleeper from Euston after work. The sleeper train always feels like an adventure train for me as I only use it on holidays to the highlands. I don’t ever sleep particularly well as I usually just book a seat and not a bed, but on this trip there were so few people that one of the staff allowed me to sleep on a bed. Now this is the way to do it.

Feeling fairly well rested I awoke to my early stop at Tyndrum which would be a short ride to Oban to catch my ferry to the Hebrides.

A couple hours later I had arrived in Oban. I always like visiting Oban. It’s a gateway to many beautiful islands and local outdoor spots. The town itself has lots of delicious food options and is fun to have a wander.

Once I got into Oban the first thing I did was head to the ferry building to buy my tickets. The tickets to the islands are all heavily subsidized by the government, so transport between all of them was around 30 pounds total. Found that to be very reasonable if you’re not traveling with a car.

As I had a couple hours to kill before the ferry left to Castlebay I naturally had to have a massive Scottish breakfast at the local Whetherspoons just besides the ferry terminal. I generally make it a point to have haggis as much as I possibly can on any Scottish tour. I love the taste and find it especially delicious stuffed in chicken or the haggis flavored crisps they sell around the country.

Haggis tucked under that toast…or was it black pudding?

After a couple cups of tea the time had come to head onto the ferry, so I gathered all my belongins, careful to not forget anything and went out to load up my bike. What I began to realise from this point on is how popular the Hebrides are for cycle touring. I met loads of other cyclists on this trip and this ferry ride over would be only the beginning.

It was a very comfortable journey over to Barra. I spent the majority of it at the front of the boat chatting with a couple from northern England who were motor homing on the isles for a month. I certainly wish I could’ve spent longer. Many folks were heading out to bird watch, drive the quiet roads, or just enjoy and relax. One thing I did notice is that it is very easy to have a luxurious holiday on the Hebrides. I wild camped most of the time, but when I did look for accommodation before I arrived, I was surprised to see how much of it was fairly expensive. They were nice places to stay and eat, but being on a budget I opted for more modest accommodation later in the trip.

The few hour boat ride seemed to pass quickly, and in the distance you could just begin to make out the isles. It almost felt like the intro to Jurassic Park where you could start to make out a green island off in the distance. Very mysterious and beautiful. I was so excited to get off the boat and start exploring them.

Everyone began loading up their bikes and gearing up to head outside once the boat landed at Castlebay.

While I could’ve easily cycled north and had a leisurely evening without much cycling, I decided to cycle as far south as I could, which was to Vatersay. This island was a quiet island. Beautiful, well paved quiet roads flowed around the hills and down towards the beaches. Cycling back through town after visiting the southern tip I passed a house with a piper practicing for the evening.

Continuing on north, I knew I had to visit the famous Barra airport which used the beach as a runway. It was later in the evening so there weren’t any planes landing at this time, but must’ve been quite a site when it did happen.

Barra Airport

Beginning to get late for the evening I headed towards the ferry terminal that I would need to catch the following morning to Eriskay and the Uist isles.

Having done this trip as a training ride for the upcoming North Cape 4000 ride, I brought my summer camping gear and bivvy to test it all out. The isles never get freezing cold in summer from what I could see, however it did drop below 10 at night fairly regularly and I did end up having to wear all my clothes to bed most nights that I bivvied out. Thankfully I did have a nice hooped bivvy in the Terra Nova Jupiter. Bit more comfort and a bit more weight for a bivvy, but I consider it well worth it. I don’t have much interest in sleeping in a standard bivvy with British weather.

Day 2 Barra to Golden Road Isle of Harris (100 miles 3500ft elev)

Early the next morning the first boat left around 7am. It was a bit chilly out so I wore all my clothes to the ferry. It was interesting getting on the ferry at this time as all the school children were getting on as well. Makes sense that these ferries are so heavily subsidized as the islanders can use them daily for getting around.

It was a shorter ferry journey to Eriskay, and once on the other side it was time to look for breakfast. A few miles after the ferry was the Kilbride Cafe which served up a tasty breakfast and great views. Was also a good spot to reconnect with friends and family to let them know I arrived safely and was well.