Scotland is famed for its awe-inspiring landscapes – and no region of Scotland captures the imagination like the Scottish Highlands. Find yourself daydreaming of cycling the Highlands and you’ll no doubt be conjuring up images of heather moorland, craggy peaks and glittering expanses of water.
But get any further than just daydreaming and you’ll start to wonder about the practicalities. Where to base yourself for your Scottish Highland cycling adventure? What are the best Highland cycle routes? What are the cycling climbs you definitely shouldn’t miss?!
In this article, Epic Road Rides reader Adam Wurf tells us about his recent cycling holiday in the Scottish Highlands. We hope it helps you plan yours!
1. Whereabouts in the Highlands did you stay? Would you recommend it?
We based ourselves in Inverness and then in a beautiful seaside village on the west coast called Plockton.
Plockton was beautiful and the cycle routes from there were great. We stayed at the Haven Guest House. It was the only place with two beds that we could find anywhere near Skye and the Balach on a couple of weeks’ notice. Fortunately it was excellent and the breakfast and coffees were great.
We only ended up in Inverness because it was so hard to find accommodation at short notice on the west coast of Scotland. However Inverness was not a disaster as there were some great restaurants there and it gave us the chance to cycle into the Cairngorms.
Based on our experience, I would suggest you book your accommodation quite a time in advance during Scotland’s peak tourist season (which is September to November).
In both areas we stayed in, the scenery was spectacular, with mountains, lochs and the sea. Even the Alps can’t offer this combination and the colours of the mountains were unparalleled.
We also loved the excellent food available in the cafes and restaurants, the (mostly) good road surfaces for cycling and the courteous drivers.
2. Tell us about the Highlands cycle routes you rode?
All of the routes you suggest in your “best cycle routes of Scotland” article are brilliant and are the ones that locals rave about.
Check out our Scottish Highlands cycling route suggestions here.
We also made up our own routes and, in our experience, found there were no bad roads.
If you feel really brave and don’t mind a drive, the Lecht Hill in the Cairngorms is tougher than the Bealach! More on that below.
Dufftown, Lecht Hill and the Cairngorms
On our first ride day in Inverness, we drove from Inverness to Dufftown (home of Glenfiddich).
It’s an amazing route as you stick to mainly deserted roads with a nice mix of gradients and it also incorporates the edge of the Cairngorms.
Be warned that the route includes the monster that is Lecht Hill. Honestly, this was much tougher than the Bealach na Ba. The Bealach is just stunning but Lecht is just brutal. It is just like a wall – you come around a right hand bend and the road just seems to go up in to the clouds.
Fortunately, there is a great cafe in Dufftown and whisky tasting shops!
My friend damaged his knee on the Lecht Hill, so we devised a great route for the west coast: here it is on Strava.
This is generally a much flatter route than the others we did, as it follows the valleys, but there are some lovely views, e.g., the deserted castle on Loch a’ Chroisg.
Bealach na Ba (and surrounds)
In terms of famous cycling climbs, the Bealach na Ba is particularly famous. It is stunning and a really proper workout as there is virtually no flat. We had a particularly memorable moment here with a huge stag close to the road.
To the east of Balach there is a brilliant route that runs alongside a loch with a deserted castle. Check out the multiple 15% hills on the south of Loch Carron.
Our route was the one you describe here (route 15).
Isle of Skye
I’ll also never forget the amazing carrot cake in Dunvegan on Skye and seeing a pod of dolphins just off the coast.
3. What are your best tips for people cycling in the Highlands for the first time?
Obsess about the weather. Be prepared to shift your plans depending on the rain, mist and particularly the wind. Conditions can vary dramatically, so plan carefully. Pay real attention to wind speed and direction – valleys can become wind tunnels and make routes really miserable.
Layer up. Temperatures can vary dramatically during a ride and the wind will really impact your perception of the temperature. A windproof jacket is a great addition and gilets are particularly useful – some of the descents last for many miles and you can chill quickly having worked hard on the climbs.
Only go straight ahead on cattle grids!
As mentioned above, book your accommodation early if you want to cycle the west coast of Scotland (of course this is difficult with Covid as you also need to balance this with your ability to get a refund if you can’t travel!).
4. Did you find any good cycling cafés on your Highlands cycling trip?
There are tonnes of great ones. However, I’d suggest you eat often and early as you can’t rely on them to be open every day or all day.
Ones for special mention:
5. Is there anything that visitors shouldn’t miss?
The views and nature. This is not a place to just bury your head and focus on how fast you’re cycling.
The views are breathtaking. You will be so close to nature – take the time to enjoy and take photos.
6. What can non-cycling partners do in the Highlands?
Just driving around the area is very enjoyable due to the landscapes.
I’d also suggest visiting the distilleries and amazing cafes and restaurants.
There are stunning walks and beaches (might be a bit chilly to sunbathe!).
There are tonnes of things to keep everyone amused.
7. When’s the best time to visit?
Due to the midges and weather, September and October are great months to visit Scotland.
The weather makes the months from Autumn to Spring a challenge and the midges can majorly ruin your Summer.
A big thank you to Adam for sharing his experiences. Have you cycled the Scottish Highlands? Let us know your experiences in the comments below.
Want to know more about cycling in Scotland?
We’ve also got lots of useful content on cycling in other parts of the UK here.
And plenty of inspiration for other amazing cycling destinations too on our destinations homepage.
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