- - Bikepacking the Scottish Highlands

Bikepacking the Scottish Highlands

words and photos by Allen Boardman

Scotland’s Highlands are a truly special place with incredible views, breathtaking singletrack, and huge mountains. This adventure was based on the southern loop of the Highland Trail 550 (HT550) that takes in two bothies I wanted to stay at: the infamous Ben Alder Cottage and Blackburn of Corrieyairack. Riders on the HT550 usually ride past both bothies to get to Fort Augustus as quickly as possible for a critical re-supply. My next plan was to head much further north as I had five days spare to explore, but the snow higher than 2,000 feet made me replan to a four-day trip.

It’s rare that Scotland doesn’t have rain, but by chance, there was no rain forecast for the time off I booked from work to get up there. Seeing the snow-capped mountains in the golden sunlight was special; it felt like I had the entire Highlands to myself. After crossing rivers and riding spectacular estate paths, I finally came to my first boggy push. When Ben Alder Cottage came into sight, I could see it was already occupied by two lads from down south who made me feel more than welcome. We laughed and joked all night until it was time to sleep

The following day, it was time to push up and over Bealach Dubh, down into the valley, and eventually over Corrieyairack Pass to get to the next bothy. I wasn’t in any rush to get there and enjoyed more fantastic estate paths with more deer than I could count. After climbing over Corrieyairack Pass, I made it to the bothy after sailing past it by over two kilometers downhill. The inconvenience of missing the bothy shortly passed as it looked like I had the place to myself; this was a win at bothy bingo (learn more about that in the video).

I made plans to get to Fort Augustus the following day for a second breakfast, not that riding downhill almost 99% of the way earned me another feed—but I try not to pass up an open café! I jumped on their Wi-Fi and started planning to cycle along the Caledonian Canal towards Fort William for tea. I enjoyed this section as I had a bit of a tailwind, and it was flat! Towards the end of the canal, I was getting hungry, but I knew there were a few options closer to Fort William. I had dehydrated meals with me, but I fancied a treat. After Fort William, I headed off into the mountains on the West Highland Way with a view to camp before dark. Once I found camp, I made a coffee, put on a film, and relaxed until I fell asleep.

The final day of my trip took me from the West Highland Way into a headwind, desperate to find more food in Kinlockleven—I was craving a bacon butty! I ended up with a Ginsters pasty, a Bakewell tart, and some other little treats. I was heading up and over the Devil’s Staircase, which wasn’t too bad, even in the wind. The descent on the other side of Glencoe was out of this world. I wish I had a dropper post and rear suspension for it, though—rowdy is one way of putting it! It’s a shame I had to push some more technical stuff.

From Glencoe into Tyndrum, it was easy going along more estate paths that felt very remote. I started seeing more hikers the closer I got to Tyndrum; this gave me a feeling of closure to the trip. It almost felt like civilization, and nobody knows what you experienced in the last four days. The rain came in towards the last two hours of the ride, and I got soaking wet. I didn’t mind as I promised myself a feast at the Real Food Café in Tyndrum. It didn’t fail to impress me—one of the nicest burgers I’ve ever had. Maybe when I’m back in May, I’ll choose fish and chips!


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