Thursday, 15 Nov 2018

Loch Ness and Skye. Tips for Traveling by Bicycle

Loch Ness

Loch Ness and Skye – two wonderful places you will fall in love with! Riding a whole circuit of Loch Ness, with its dark waters and mysterious monster, is a thrill, but add a trip into the mountains surrounding it and you’ve got a classic route. It’s also a route of two halves: the first is undulating, the second much hillier.

The ride starts in Inverness, which in Gaelic means ‘at the mouth of the River Ness’, close to the Caledonian Canal. You’ll see the canal again in another 57 miles, at the other end of Loch Ness. It uses the Great Glen, a rift valley that cuts the Highlands in half, stringing together several lochs to provide a waterway right across Scotland.

Loch Ness and Skye. Tips for Traveling by Bicycle - photo 1

Loch Ness and Skye

Out of Inverness you are in The Aird, a lowland area of forest south of the Beauly Firth. It’s a gentle start but things get more serious with a climb up Strathglass, then away from it into Glen Urquhart, and the descent to Drumnadrochit and Loch Ness.

Although Loch Lomond has a larger surface area, Loch Ness is greater in volume, so it is the largest inland mass of water in Scotland. It is 22.6 miles long but only 1.7 miles wide at the most. Its volume comes from being incredibly deep: 122 metres on average and 227 metres at its deepest. Deep enough to hide a mystery, and the Loch Ness Monster is a mystery.

Loch Ness and Skye. Tips for Traveling by Bicycle - photo 2

Loch Ness and Skye

There have been several sightings of the monster, affectionately known as Nessie, over many years, although fewer recently. Some pictures, too, but none that provides credible evidence of a monster lurking in the deep, dark waters of the loch.

But still your mind is prey to all kinds of thoughts as you ride along the dark, tree-covered loch road. Gaze across the water and the surface can suddenly break, creating ripples for no apparent reason. Is it the monster? No, it’s a local weather effect caused by air blown off high mountains hitting icy water.

Loch Ness and Skye. Tips for Traveling by Bicycle - photo 3

Loch Ness and Skye

You turn at Fort Augustus on the south-west shore of the loch, cross the Caledonian Canal again and begin to climb away from the loch. This is General Wade’s Military Road and the first of three tough climbs in quick succession. There are military roads throughout Scotland, built by the English during their eighteenth-century occupation to connect their garrisons.

A short descent leads to a shelf along the northern edge of the Monadhliath mountains. This is a magnificent mountain treat, where you pass a series of rivers and high lochs, before leaving it to drop down to the low road by Loch Ness. After this exhilarating descent, with its incredible views, you have one more climb, Ashie Moor, before a final swoop down to Inverness.

Loch Ness and Skye. Tips for Traveling by Bicycle - photo 4

Loch Ness and Skye

Pick up the A826 going north-west from the city centre, cross the sea loch where the Caledonian Canal meets the Moray Firth and keep heading west, but take the B9164 through Kirkhill to connect with the A831.

Follow the A831 through Cannich, over the River Glass into Glen Urquhart and Drumnadrochit. Turn right onto the A82 beside Loch Ness to Fort Augustus, where you follow the B862 to begin a long, hard climb. Follow the B862 to Dores.

Turn right and ride along the loch bank, then take the third turning on the right. This is the start of the Ashie Moor climb. 

Loch Ness and Skye. Tips for Traveling by Bicycle - photo 5

Loch Ness and Skye

Continue past Loch Duntelchaig and continue to Balnafoich. There you turn left onto the B861 and, after an initial draggy climb, descend to Inverness.

Start + Finish: Inverness

Getting There: Inverness is on the A9, 96 miles north of Perth. It has a rail link with the rest of the UK through Edinburgh. You can fly to Edinburgh or Aberdeen and reach Inverness by road or rail.

Bike Shop: Bikes of Inverness

Cafe: Velocity, which combines a cafe with a bike workshop

Local Delicacy: Venison

Loch Ness and Skye. Tips for Traveling by Bicycle - photo 6

Loch Ness and Skye

Skye

Loch Ness and Skye – two wonderful places you will fall in love with! Riding around an island is something every cyclist should do. Any coastal ride is a delight, but this takes in three of Skye’s four peninsulas and is full of wonder. And Skye’s coastal scenery of cliffs and arches, stacks and small islands – wild to the west, calmer in the east – provides an extra dimension.

The ride starts in Skye’s largest town, Portree, and it begins with a climb. This takes you to Loch Fada, which sits in a trough between two groups of hills running parallel to the coast. They block any view of the sea until you reach the adjoining Loch Leathan, where the Sound of Raasay and Raasay island can be seen.

Loch Ness and Skye. Tips for Traveling by Bicycle - photo 7

Loch Ness and Skye

The view inland is no less impressive. The Storr towers 719 metres above you, a huge rocky peak with a cliff-like summit that was created by the UK’s largest landslip. The curious rocky pinnacles jutting out in front of the summit are evidence of further earth movement.

The road closes on the sea as you ride north along the Trotternish peninsula, passing an area of cliffs where the sea has blasted out large holes to form spectacular arches. It’s hard riding, but the route north has slightly easier stretches, especially past Staffin Bay, where huge fossilised dinosaur footprints have been found in the rocks.

Loch Ness and Skye. Tips for Traveling by Bicycle - photo 8

Loch Ness and Skye

From Staffin Bay the route goes a little further north, then crosses the top of the peninsula. The next section, south to Uig, is the easiest on the route. Take your time to appreciate the views across the Little Minch towards the wild, wet and wonderful island of North Uist.

Uig is quite wonderful, too. It’s where the North Uist ferry sails from a pier that juts out into Uig Bay. The coast is flatter here, marked by small shingle beaches, and the place names could have been lifted from Tolkien: Earlish, Hinnisdal Bridge and the wonderful Loch Snizort Beag, which separates the Trotternish and Vaternish peninsulas.

Loch Ness and Skye. Tips for Traveling by Bicycle - photo 9

Loch Ness and Skye

You cross the southern edge of Vaternish to Dunvegan, a village where the Giant MacAskill Museum is run by Peter MacAskill, father of death-defying street-trials cyclist Danny MacAskill. The museum is dedicated to the life of Angus Mor MacAskill, a real-life giant also known as Black Angus. He was born on South Harris and was two metres 36 centimetres tall (7ft 9in) and weighed 230 kg – that’s over 36 stones. He became famous as a circus strongman, and is reputed to have been able to lift up and carry a horse.

And you’ll feel like you’ve carried a horse after the next leg to Meanish Pier at Milovaig, out and back along the never-ending undulations of the Duirinish peninsula, before the last sea leg along Loch Bracadale to Bracadale village.

Loch Ness and Skye. Tips for Traveling by Bicycle - photo 10

Loch Ness and Skye

This is where the only inland leg of the ride starts, made up of a long climb, with the massive Cuillin Hills looming over the southern horizon, then a long descent into Portree at the end of what has been a magical day.

Follow the A855 north up and around the Trotternish Peninsula and south to Uig. There are some hard climbs early on, but the undulations are gentler towards Uig. The sea arches are just after Rig on the northern leg and there are some testing hills straight after Staffin Bay.

Loch Ness and Skye. Tips for Traveling by Bicycle - photo 11

Loch Ness and Skye

Join the A87 and follow it south to its junction with the A850. Follow that to Dunvegan and turn left onto the A863, then right at Lonmore onto the B884 and ride out to Milovaig and back. This is a difficult leg, always up and down, and the road surface is testing.

Once back in Lonmore turn right onto the A836 and head for Bracadale, where you turn left onto the B885 for the last leg to Portree. This section involves a long climb up a glen called Leachan Nighean an t’Sloslaich.

Loch Ness and Skye. Tips for Traveling by Bicycle - photo 12

Loch Ness and Skye

Start + Finish: Portree

Getting There: Portree is on the A87, 37 miles north-west of the Skye Bridge, which is Skye’s connection with the mainland across the Kyle of Lochalsh. Citybus has a service from Glasgow to Portree and there’s a rail line to Plockton on the mainland side of the bridge, from where there is a bus service.

Bike Shop: Island Cycles, The Green

Cafe: Cafe Arriba on the Brae Quay

Local Delicacy: Fresh langoustines

Loch Ness and Skye. Tips for Traveling by Bicycle - photo 13

Loch Ness and Skye

 

“Best 100-Mile Bike Routes”

Chris Sidwells

 

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