Saturday, 28 Nov 2020

The Grampian Mountains. Travelling by bike

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The Grampian Mountains
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The Grampian Mountains. Trip Which Can Change Your Life

This ride involves climbing the highest main road in Britain, the Lecht, and a lot more besides. It’s a ride of contrasts, exploring the Cairngorm mountains of Braemar and the low-lying lushness of the Cromar, places that lie at either end of Royal Deeside. It’s also a great place for cycling because local businesses are making special efforts to attract cyclists there.

The Grampian Mountains. Travelling by bike - photo 1

The Grampian Mountains

The Grampian Mountains. Balmoral. Lochnagar


Deeside is ‘Royal’ because of Balmoral, and you ride past the Queen’s castle after the first leg of the ride, which goes from Ballater up to the Spittal of Glenmuick and back. The mountain on your right is Lochnagar. It’s a formidable sight, with its steep sides rising out of Loch Muick and its 1155-metre peak. However, it looks even more impressive when you ride west and see the huge corrie, or hollow, formed by a glacier, scooped out of its north side with a 300-metre rock wall behind it.

The Grampian Mountains. Travelling by bike - photo 2

The Grampian Mountains


The Grampian Mountains. Craigendaroch

You turn left short of Ballater but get a great view of the perfect conical mountain just behind the town, called Craigendaroch. Loch Muick and all of the next section lie within the Balmoral Estate, and you get a fine view of the castle on this B-road where it bends sharp right to follow the River Dee. King Robert II of Scotland had a hunting lodge here back in the 14th century, but Queen Victoria and Prince Albert bought the Balmoral Estate for the British royal family in 1851 and then built the current castle there.

The Grampian Mountains. Travelling by bike - photo 3

The Grampian Mountains


The Grampian Mountains. Valley to Braemar

Ride past the castle’s front gates and up the Dee valley to Braemar, where the annual Gathering is one of the highlights of the Highland Games circuit. Cycle races, run off on grass tracks on a handicap basis, where the slower riders start with a lead, are a big part of the modern Highland Games. Braemar is another turning point on this ride, because you retrace to Balmoral, turn left and start climbing.

Most of the uphill in this ride is packed into the next 18 miles. First you climb the Old Military Road over The Strone. It starts in a tranquil, tree-lined setting but soon tracks up a fence less path through wild moorland, where the sheep look like stones and the stones look like sheep, and the only thing to distinguish between them is movement.

The Grampian Mountains. Travelling by bike - photo 4

The Grampian Mountains


Cock Bridge. The Lecht. The Cromar

The climb of Tom Dubh is hard and straight and leads to the Don valley, where there’s an interlude of woodland and gentler terrain until Cock Bridge, and the start of the Lecht. The first kilometre is the hardest as it rises 144 metres in that distance, so has a 14.4 per cent gradient. The road then goes downhill for 500 metres before rearing up ahead for the next dead-straight mile at a near 8 per cent average, and with two steeper kicks within that just to make it extra hard. Catch a headwind on this bit – and you often do – and it’s purgatory. The last section is a short ride down, then up to the ski station, which is the official summit.

The view from the top is fairly barren. The Lecht is a hill to ride simply because it’s the highest. Now turn around and descend to the Don again and follow it to Heugh-head, where you begin a circuit of the Cromar.

The Grampian Mountains. Travelling by bike - photo 5

The Grampian Mountains


There are still mountains here, but they are smaller in scale and more isolated. The Cromar, in between them, is green and pleasant, and stone circles and traces of hut circles near Tarland are evidence of human life going back 4000 years. Look out for red squirrels as you ride through the forests, and for the cycle-route signs after Lochs Davan and Kinord, because it makes a nice alternative to the main road route to Ballater.

Go south over the River Dee, turn right on the B976 and shortly afterwards go straight on where the B976 goes right at Bridge of Muick. Continue to the Spittal of Glenmuick and retrace to go left at Brochdhu, then right after the bridge. Turn left on the B976 and then left on the A93 at Balmoral Castle.

The Grampian Mountains. Travelling by bike - photo 6

The Grampian Mountains



Continue to Braemar and retrace to Balmoral, where you turn left on the B976, crossing the A93. Turn left on the A939 to climb Tom Dubh and follow the A939 to climb The Lecht. Retrace from the summit and go left on the A944 to the A97 junction, where you turn right on the A97 then first left. Keep right to Elphhillock.

Take the first right after Elphhillock and go south through Milton of Cushnie to Tillylodge, where you turn right on the  B9119. Follow this road over the A97 past Loch Davan and Loch Kinord to turn right on the A93 back to Ballater.

The Grampian Mountains. Travelling by bike - photo 7

The Grampian Mountains

The Grampian Mountains. Start + Finish: Ballater

The Grampian Mountains. Getting There: Ballater is 42 miles west of Aberdeen on the A93. Stonehaven and Aberdeen are the nearest rail stations.

The Grampian Mountains. Bike Shops: Cycle Highlands on Victoria Road and The Bike Station on Station Square

The Grampian Mountains. Cafe: Brown Sugar Cafe on Bridge Street

The Grampian Mountains. Local Delicacy: The Rowie (a flat, salty croissant made from lard)

The Grampian Mountains. Travelling by bike - photo 8

The Grampian Mountains


“Best 100-Mile Bike Routes”

Chris Sidwells



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