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Scottish Highlands. Expert advice wanted.

swaysway Posts: 7
edited October 2012 in Tour & expedition
Live in Edinburgh, but have never seen the Highlands or the Islands, so I've been planning a solo tour for next Spring or summer. I need some expert advice from people who've cycled there.

Some of the things I want to do

Climb Ben Nevis
Cycle around Loch Ness
Cycle around Skye
Explore Cairngorms national park
And most of all, cycle around the remote parts of the Highlands, camping in the wilderness. I want to cycle for hours and not see a single person. I don't know much about the Highlands though.

A rough guess of my route covers about 1000 miles, cycling about 90 a day. This is too much for a first solo tour, so I think I could probably take care of Ben Nevis and Cairngorm on seperate outings, since they're just a hop on a train away.

Anyone ever done this?

Posts

  • HoopdriverHoopdriver Posts: 2,023
    Put Orkney on your list. A brilliant place to cycle. I've been back quite a few times niw. One of my very favourite places to tour.
  • Best piece of advice I could give is the following;
    Set off and camp your first night about 2 or 3 miles from your house. That way you can quickly zoom home and get all the essentials you forgot to pack.
    Don't expect solitude in Skye or Ben Nevis, you'll have to go off the beaten track for this. Last time we went up Ben Nevis there must have been around 50 other people sitting at the top having a picnic. On Skye, tourists are like flies buzzing round cows s**t you'll never escape them. Oh, and don't forget the insect repellent and a head net. If the midges attack they do so in their millions and it can drive you insane.
    There's warp speed - then there's Storck Speed
  • estampidaestampida Posts: 1,008
    you could spend at least 20 - 30 days going round cairngorm park alone

    could take the train to Perth and start the adventure from there bike to braemar, good camping spots on linn 'O' Dee

    and head over the top for a finish in Elgin coming down into the great glen (its not as easy as it sounds)

    err lochnagar is a nice bit but further east at ballater way..........

    orkney you have to fly / sail and with all that gear it could be a pain

    and the west coast...... well you could be lucky with weather.... could not (in which case it will be premo censored )

    other places of note - (tomintoul (bob dylan lives around there)) (strathdon (billy Connelly live around there))

    they are nice places, and not busy with tourists......
  • MichaelWMichaelW Posts: 2,226
    Going round Loch Ness sounds like one of the most boring rides ever, interrupted only by hordes of tourist coaches. Try Loch Shin for hours of loch-side solidute with prettier scenery.
  • swaysway Posts: 7
    After some thinking I suppose I could ride along Loch Ness, the Caledonian Canal, and climb Ben Nevis all in a couple of days, as a warmup to my full tour.

    I hadn't considered Loch Shin, but I definitely will now.

    243ngk7.jpg
  • HoopdriverHoopdriver Posts: 2,023
    It is not at all hard to get to Orkney, certainly not if you're already in Scotland. Put the bike on the train to Thurso, ride the couple of miles (literally just a couple of mikes) to Scrabster and get the ferry to Stromness. These islands are truly wonderful for cycling, and while they are 'busy' s th summer, by Orcadian standards, the roads here are far quieter than anywhere else I have experienced in Scotland. Hills are few and although ut can be breezy, the breeze keeps the midges from being a problem.

    Mainland, the largest island, is pleasingly large with lots of places to ride, and it s very easy to get ferries to the outer islands, doing ou and back day trips if you prefer staying on Mainand, where there us more and better accommodation.

    I love it up there, and although it us something of a haul for me to get up there, coming up from Sussex as I do, I have been back several times and will undoubtedly go again.
  • I suggest you don't try to cram everything into one trip. The highlands and islands are beautiful and should be savoured rather than rushed.
  • DrumlinDrumlin Posts: 120
    I suggest you don't try to cram everything into one trip. The highlands and islands are beautiful and should be savoured rather than rushed.

    Agreed. With my wife one of our best tours was to take the train to Inverness, ride across to Ullapool then spend the next 2 weeks wandering down through Lewis/Harris, Islay, Jura, Mull, Gigha and finally Bute. From where we took our 17th ferry crossing of the trip across to Wemyss Bay and a train (via Glasgow) back home.
    Would welcome company for Sat rides west/south of Edinburgh, up to 3 hrs, 16mph ish. Please PM me if interested/able to help.
  • A nice week long trip, would be the Outer Hebrides & Western Coast. Ferry from Oban to Bara (Castlebay) then ride most of the length of the Outer Hebrides with a ferry across to South Uist, then another from North Uist to Harris. Then ferry from Harris (Tarbert) to Skye (Uig), riding the length of Skye to take ferry back to the mainland from Armadale to Mallaig. Then follow the western coast southwards with ferry from Kilchoan to the Isle of Mull (Tobermory) and short ride along eastern coast of Mull to Craignure for a ferry to return to Oban.

    Much of the ride's on single lanes. Scenery is fanatastic.
    Opportunities for some walking on Harris, or only the Island munro outside of Skye on Mull.
  • NavrigNavrig Posts: 1,352
    I would not recommend cycling around Loch Ness. By all means cycle on the small roads on the south east of the loch but avoid the A82. You'll spend your time looking over your shoulder for the next SAGA Tours coach which will try to dump you in the ditch and you'll end up queuing with the blue rinse brigade at every coffee stop along the way.

    When planning your route look for the shortest, most direct road between start and end point, and generally speaking, ignore that road, then look for the route which uses the smaller A and B roads and in some cases unclassified roads. That's where you will find the most solitude. Avoid all of the A9 and most of the A82.

    Whilst there is not a lot of trainline you can get trains to Thurso, Kyle of Lochalsh, Oban and Mallaig (via Fort William). From all of these stops and those inbetween you can get straight on to quiet Highland roads. That's how I would do it. (I lived in Inverness for 12 years).

    Get used to getting up very early and go in May/June. The sun rises very early and the best views are often found before 0600 with the roads certainly quieter then. You will see more wildlife and more atmospheric views of the hills.

    Avon Skin So Soft is a good midge deterrent although none work perfectly. You can often get it in Tisos on Rose Street.

    Don't assume that every shop will open late and in some remote areas Sunday opening is limited although this is changing.

    Finally remember that our other 2 wheeled friends also value the roads in the highlands and often make full use of the lack of any PC Plod and the long sight lines. Motorbikes will come up behind you very quickly and not always screaming their presence. Dump the IPOD and enjoy the silence.

    Have fun. In the right weather Scotland has the best cycling and motorbiking in the world.
  • HoopdriverHoopdriver Posts: 2,023
    Great advice (above) on avoiding the A9 and A82

    I am a big fan of Orkney, as I've mentioned above, and have written a sort of introductory piece, with plenty of photos, to anyone who might be tempted to go up there. If you care to read it, here it is:

    http://my-bicycle-and-i.co.uk/2012/an-orcadian-idyll/
  • Nice stuff Mr HD, your writing and pics are very evocative, i have never been to orkney , but i 've a feeling that i will have to find a way......
  • HoopdriverHoopdriver Posts: 2,023
    Nice stuff Mr HD, your writing and pics are very evocative, i have never been to orkney , but i 've a feeling that i will have to find a way......
    I was just totally delighted the first time I went up there - and I have been back seven times now. I'd go again in a heartbeat.
  • dsoutardsoutar Posts: 1,746
    I was brought up in the Highlands and here's a few bits I'd recommend:
    The coast road north of Lochinver. Beautiful beaches and stuning mountain views
    The road to Ardnamurchan. Takes you though some ancient woodlands and great view at the end.
    Bealach na Ba and the Applecross loop. A great hillclimb, lovely coastal scenery and a great wee village at the end.
    Strathnaver / Strah Halladale. Very remote and isolated

    Let me know if you want more info on the above, places to stay etc

    By the way, +1 on the Outer Hebridean trip mentioned above
  • swaysway Posts: 7
    Thanks for all your great advice guys. It's really helpful, so keep it coming. One question though, since I haven't done a long wilderness tour before alone - what do you do for drinking water? River water and Iodine pills?
  • HoopdriverHoopdriver Posts: 2,023
    Just fill up at pubs and cafes while you're on your bike

    If you do use rivers for drinking water, while hiking or camping, then yes, use a filter. There are some very good ones on the market but they are not cheap. I used a Katadyn when I was cycling in Africa
  • nevmannevman Posts: 1,611
    Just done LEJOG and for us Scotland was the best part-we took the A82 to Fort William and it wasnt bad at all.From there we took the General Wade road from Fort Augustus the east of Loch Ness-thoroughly recommend this route if you can climb the first hill,amazing descent and quiet ride to Inverness.From there we fiddled over the Black Isle via the cycleroute but had to take part of the A9-agree it is best avoided at ALL times.Once off at Evanton its a great ride through Bonar Bridge,Lairgs,Bettyhills and onto Thurso for JoG.There the fun stops.Wouldnt ride down the A9.
    Whats the solution? Just pedal faster you baby.

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  • dsoutardsoutar Posts: 1,746
    nevman wrote:
    Just done LEJOG and for us Scotland was the best part-we took the A82 to Fort William and it wasnt bad at all.From there we took the General Wade road from Fort Augustus the east of Loch Ness-thoroughly recommend this route if you can climb the first hill,amazing descent and quiet ride to Inverness.From there we fiddled over the Black Isle via the cycleroute but had to take part of the A9-agree it is best avoided at ALL times.Once off at Evanton its a great ride through Bonar Bridge,Lairgs,Bettyhills and onto Thurso for JoG.There the fun stops.Wouldnt ride down the A9.

    Great views from the top of the Struie: http://www.northernsights.net/struie-fs.html
  • lastantlastant Posts: 526
    nevman wrote:
    Just done LEJOG and for us Scotland was the best part

    Sounds like we did a similar route up in the Highlands and have to agree that it was the best part of my LEJOG too.

    Definitely want to head up that way again soon for a bit of touring. There and the Orkneys.
    dsoutar wrote:
    Great views from the top of the Struie: http://www.northernsights.net/struie-fs.html

    Aha! Finally I have a name to put to the place where I had a picture taken en route by a lovely couple. Yes, great views!
    One Man and LEJOG : End-to-End on Two Wheels in Two Weeks (Buy the book; or Kindle it!)
  • DaveMossDaveMoss Posts: 236
    you could join us on an organised tour and not have to carry your luggage. see http://www.tearfundcycling.btck.co.uk But it sounds like solitude is part of the attraction for you, so perhaps not.

    Climbing Ben Nevis is one of those things we outdoor types have to do, but it's more a punishment than a pleasure. There are many many better hill climbs in the highlands.
    Loch ness is definatly not one of the highlands best bits (but would be in most other countries)
    Isle of Skye is spectacular, but so is everywhere else on the west coast. i think Mull is a better bike ride. The Outer Hebridies are just magical on a bike, partly because the bikes often outnumber the cars on the ferry over.
    Sportives and tours, 100% for charity, http://www.tearfundcycling.btck.co.uk
  • andrew_sandrew_s Posts: 2,511
    DaveMoss wrote:
    Climbing Ben Nevis is one of those things we outdoor types have to do, but it's more a punishment than a pleasure. There are many many better hill climbs in the highlands.
    Nevis is also good, provided you do it using the correct route via Carn Mor Dearg.
    It's just the standard route that's dull.
  • DaveMossDaveMoss Posts: 236
    To be honest, I overstated the negative for Ben Nevis. Even the standard tourist route is a good experience. Especially if you do it when there is a lot of daylight and set of in the afternoon, arriving at the top when most others have left.
    The Carn Mor Dearg route looks like it would be really good, it was shrouded in mist mist when I tried, so I stuck to the tourist highway; my navigation is rubbish. But I do think the likes of Beinn Eighe make for a better experience. I did that and the Bealach na ba sportive over the same weekend, twas fantastic.
    Sportives and tours, 100% for charity, http://www.tearfundcycling.btck.co.uk
  • Lots of good advice given. All I would add is to cut down the daily milage. To me you want to see the countryside not just pass through it. Remember everytime you stop for a break or to take photographs of which hopefully there will be plenty, your average speed drops. Unless I needed to do a certain distance to reach my nights stop, I personally would aim for 30-40 miles at most. You can always revisit another time.
    Best piece of advice I could give is the following;
    Set off and camp your first night about 2 or 3 miles from your house. That way you can quickly zoom home and get all the essentials you forgot to pack.
    Wonderful advice. After all these years I'd never thought of that...
    I'm not getting old... I'm just using lower gears......
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