Breaking out of London is a London Cyclist monthly series that inspires London’s cyclists to break out of their city and explore the many gorgeous destinations available in the UK. The series provides all the information you will need to make such a trip. This second instalment takes you all the way to the Scottish Highlands and Outer Hebrides. It is contributed by my friend Peter Newell (leading member of Big Foot MBC) who has been cycling for over 10 years and has done everything from XC racing to tandeming.
Cycling in Scottish Highlands and Outer Hebrides
After years of talking about it and months of reading articles it was finally to happen. I gathered 7 mates from my old University mountain bike club and travelled to the west coast of Scotland. This amazing destination was to provide much relief from the years of riding in the congested Surrey Hills and Welsh trail centres. We were after a week of epic wilderness cycling… and boy did we get it!
Our plan, and one that I can recommend, was to ride the Isle of Skye, then jump on a ferry over to the Isle of Harris for a few days, then we would come back and explore the west coast area of Torridon. This would then be topped off with a night’s stay in the remote Glen Affric Youth Hostel.
Getting there and getting wet
To get there involved a gruelling 11 and a half hour car journey from London. As you can imagine we needed a very good nights sleep after that and we got it at the Skyewalker Youth Hostel which I can highly recommend. In the morning we were woken up by heavy rain. This meant 3 hours of cycling into 40mph headwinds and driving rain. We finally saw sense and retreated back to the cars and the Sligachan hotel to dry out by the fire and sample some of the 200 whiskeys on offer – very highly recommended!
First day of serious cycling
The following day feeling satisfied from the whiskey tasting we took the cars and did the 90 minute ferry trip from Usk to Tarbert (Harris) where we had our first day of amazing cycling in the sun. What I will mention about Harris is that it is very rocky and windy. Upon exiting the Ferry you will feel like you have landed on Mars. Fear not, this area has some of the most beautiful, unspoilt beaches in the UK. My advice: don’t miss it!
After the ferry back to Skye we then had of couple of days of riding around Torridon on the west coast which offers some really good touring roads if you fancied a road cycling holiday, however we were dogged by changeable weather and decided to take a day out to Applecross (the location of Monty Hall’s recent BBC2 documentary).
Finally the weather came good for our wilderness ride out to Glen Affric hostel which is 10 miles from the nearest road and you have to bring all your own food, sleeping bags and clothes on the bike. This ride and the scenery will stay in my memory for a long time. I’ll stop talking now and let the following photos explain why:
This part of the UK is one of the most remote places left, and during the week we only saw a handful of other cyclists and walkers on the trails.
In summary, I would recommend going to the West Coast to anyone. This was mostly an off-road cycling trip however the area also makes a very good on-road touring holiday due to the complete lack of traffic and stunning scenery. An amazing getaway from city life.
I would consider myself relatively fit cycling several times a week and doing the odd XC race, and the routes we took were hard going at times, but that’s because we wanted a challenge. There are plenty of easier routes to choose from and the area would make an ideal road cycling destination.
Driving takes a long time (we drove just shy of 1900miles in the week) however there are flights from London to Inverness with Easyjet, or for a greener approach try the Caledonian Sleeper train from London Euston to Inverness (Bike storage is included in the price). You will however, need to hire a car from there.
We used Bikely for a few routes and a scotland cycling guidebook. Alternatively there are several holiday companies that offer guidance and accommodation such as HandiAdventures if you don’t want to organize it yourself. Finally I can highly recommend getting some Ordinance Survey maps of the area.
- Midge (small flies) repellent I found Avon Skin So Soft as a great alternative to the polyester melting market leaders. Your cycling clothes will thank you for it. Don’t worry about not looking macho apparently its the same thing the Royal Marines use
- Full Waterproofs – Unless you are exceptionally lucky it will rain at some point so make sure you bring a decent coat
- Handful of spares Bike shops are few and far between in this part of Scotland so bring brake pads, a spare rear mech hanger and lots of puncture repair patches. It would be rubbish going all that way and not being able to ride because you caught your rear mech on a rock
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.