Day 1: Ardrossan to Tarbert
redspokes Scotland 500 cycling tour begins at Lauriston Hotel, Ardrossan. We suggest you take a train/taxi from Glasgow or Prestwich airport to Ardrossan. We will meet at Lauriston Hotel at 09.00am. From here we depart for the 11.05am ferry to Arran. The voyage lasts about 1 hour 45 minutes. We disembark at Brodick and begin cycling, crossing Arran over a distance of 22 miles to reach Lochranza port on the west side of the island. We will have a good view of Lochranza Castle which is positioned on a scenic peninsula. This 13th Century hall house was converted into a tower house in the 1500s.
From here we take another ferry to reach Claonaig on the Kintyre peninsula. Disembarking, we ride from Claonaig to Skipness Castle. Said to be haunted by The Green Lady, Skipton is another 13th Century fort, like Lochranza Castle, also built by the MacSween Clan. Its main entrance was from the sea. Originally a modest house and chapel it fell to the Macdonalds who developed it into an imposing stronghold. The castle then passed to the Campbells in 1502 who completed the fortifications with a tower house. Once we’ve explored the castle we’ll cycle back to Claonaig and ride across the peninsula to Kennacraig and up to Tarbert over 14.6 miles. Tarbert is an idyllic Scottish village.
Cycle Distance 60km (37.2 miles)
Cycling Ascent: 671m (2,201ft)
Cycling Descent: 668m (2,019ft)
Accommodation: B&B (S,L)
Day 2: Tarbert to Kirnan House
We set off this morning cycling along West Loch Tarbert and then past Loch Stornoway to reach Kilberry. We continue our cycling tour along a coastal route with wonderful views across the water to Jura. Seals can often be seen in this area. We then head inland riding on quiet road through beautiful wooded countryside to reach Ardrishaig and Lochgilphead enjoying views of Loch Fyne and Loch Gilp. We turn inland here cycling along the Crinan Canal from Lochgilphead to Cairnbaan. The route is quite level, and we ride through verdant countryside. We turn off the canal path and continue northward. Nearby is Kilmartin Glen which contains hundreds of cup and ring marked stones, chambered cairns and stone circles dating from Neolithic/Bronze Age times. Our accommodation for this evening is in charming restored cottages in the grounds of the luxury Kirnan House estate. There is even a hot tub where you can relax and revive tired cyclists' legs. Kirnan is a haven for fishermen, ramblers and nature lovers.
Cycling Distance 65.6km (41miles)
Cycling Ascent: 1,039m (3,408ft)
Cycling Descent: 995m (3,264ft)
Accommodation: B&B (B,S,L)
Day 3: Kirnan House to Oban
We continue northward today on undulating road. From the small village of Ford our cycling route follows Loch Awe for 18 miles. There are some steep stretches, but we are rewarded with stunning countryside views. We turn west at Kilchrenan to cycle cross country over Glen Nant to Taynuilt and then ride downhill and on through the beautiful Glen Lonan to Oban. According to folklore, this is the ‘Road of the Kings’, part of the route taken by the funeral processions of Scotland’s monarchs on their final journey to rest on the island of Iona. We pass ancient monoliths and the odd farmhouse on our route
Cycle Distance: 70.6km (44miles)
Cycling Ascent: 1,246m (4,087ft)
Cycling Descent: 1,272m (4,173ft)
Accommodation: B&B ((B,S,L)
Day 4: Oban to Ardtornish
From Oban we begin the day taking a ferry across to Craignure on the Isle of Mull. Mull is the second largest of the Hebrides and an island of peninsulas which give it a long and varied coastline. We will transfer to Tobermory where our cycling begins on quiet roads on the west side of Mull. We follow coastline and cut across country again, dropping down to hug the coast line enjoying a scenery of clear blue loch waters and deep green fields on flatter road as we ride to Salen. We’ll catch a water taxi across the Sound of Mull to Drimnin Pier. From here we cycle alongside the water turning inland to ride around Loch Aline to Ardtornish where we stay for 2 nights.
Cycle Distance: 74.6km (46miles)
Cycling Ascent: 1,244m (4,081ft)
Cycling Descent: 1,244m (4,081ft)
Accommodation: Lodge (B,S,L,D)
Day 5: Rest day on the Ardtornish Estate
A day to relax and enjoy your beautiful surroundings. There are options to walk, fish, kayak and dive. If you are keen for some more biking there are local paths, roads and forestry tracks. Rahoy Hills Nature Reserve run by the Scottish Wildlife Trust extends onto the estate; there are opportunities to see golden eagles, white tailed sea eagles, otters and pine martins.
Accommodation: Lodge (B,D)
Day 6: Achranich to Gairlochy
Our Scotland 500 cycling tour continues today. We set off today with an uphill ride through the countryside and then cycle downhill to beautiful Loch Linne. We follow single track road on the west side of the loch all the way to Fort William with a short ferry crossing to reach our destination. The dramatic waterside scenery is open until the last stretch through thicker enclosed woodland; a hunting ground for birds of prey. Several hectares of roadside woodland are managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust as a reserve.
From here our Scottish cycle ride follows the major natural fault line known as the Great Glen which divides Scotland from coast to coast. Riding from west to east, most of the route keeps to lower levels along a series of glens filled by lochs linked by the Caledonian Canal, harmonising human engineering and nature. Leaving Fort William, we pass the ruins of 12th Cenntury Inverlochy Castle, then cross the River Lochy to join the Caledonian Canal at Corpach. Following the canal towpath, at the start of our route we encounter Neptune's Staircase, a flight of eight canal locks built by Thomas Telford and the longest staircase lock in Britain. If we are lucky enough to be here on a sunny day you will enjoy spectacular views of Ben Nevis (the UK’s highest mountain) across the water. We cycle away from the canal for the last few miles to reach our accommodation for the night.
Cycle Distance: 81km (50.6miles)
Cycling Ascent: 487m (1,600ft)
Cycling Descent: 480m (1,575ft)
Accommodation: B&B (B,S,L)
Day 7: Gairlochy to Inverness
Cycling on today, we ride through a deeply wooded area of valley, flanked by walls and trees and carpeted in thick moss. before we rejoin our waterside route along Loch Lochy. This is a relatively challenging stretch due to the variable surface and some gradient. Passing Laggan Locks we continue along Loch Oich on a fine gravel path on the east side. We re-join the canal towpath for our final stretch to Fort Augustus. This is a small busy town at the southern end of Loch Ness, built around the locks that lower the canal to the level of the loch. The village was named thus on the building of Fort Augustus, following the defeat of the 1715 Jacobite uprising, after the younger son of King George II, who was to become the notorious Butcher of Cumberland.
Leaving Fort Augustus, we begin cycling with some challenging uphill riding for around 5 miles to reach the Suidhe Viewpoint at 1200ft. From here there are amazing views of our spectacular natural surroundings. This is the more peaceful, less discovered side of Loch Ness with quiet minor roads and small communities. We enjoy a long downhill stretch through beautiful landscapes to Whitebridge. As we continue northwards we pass the smaller Loch Mhor and ride through the Lyne of Gorthleck. Legend has it that Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed at Gorthleck House after the Battle of Culloden and had to flee after seeing loyalists outside, from an upstairs window. We continue to cycle quiet forested back roads all the way to Inverness, the cultural capital of the highlands and our destination!
Cycle Distance: 92km (56.6miles)
Cycling Ascent: 807m (2,650ft)
Cycling Descent: 830m (2,725ft)
Accommodation: B&B (B,S,L)
Day 8: Inverness to Invershin
After an early breakfast our cycling continues. From Inverness, we depart over Kessock Bridge crossing the Beauly Firth to follow quiet roads across the Black Isle peninsula to Dingwall. From here we follow the north side of the Cromarty of Firth for 9 miles before turning inland. We pass the 11th C Contullich Castle a few miles north-west of the town of Alness riding on minor roads and cycle track. We are in the old crofting county of Sutherland, in beautiful natural surroundings. Reaching the Dornoch Firth we follow the coast again to Ardgay and continue on the west side of the Kyle of Sutherland to reach Invershin.
Cycling Distance: 98.1km (61miles)
Cycling Ascent: 878m (2,880ft)
Cycling Descent: 975m (3,198ft)
Accommodation: Hotel (B,S,L)
Day 9: Invershin to Ullapool
This morning our Scotland 500 tour continues as we ride along back roads through lovely wooded scenery crossing the river Oykel. The Oykel flows down the slopes of Ben More and through ice-gouged valley. This is a particularly rugged area of the Western Highlands and includes several nature reserves that foster a responsible connection between visitors, communities and natural environments. After approximately 25 miles we cycle alongside Loch Borralan before turning southwest towards Elphin where an uphill cycle towards the Knockan Crag nature reserve begins. Some of the world’s most ancient rocks can be seen at the reserve. We have a final steep push to reach our high point of the day. Over the peak we enjoy a 9-mile descent in our beautiful mountain surrounds to reach Ardmair a scenic coastal hamlet. Cutting across country we ride on to Ullapool uphill again enjoying views of views of Ben Mor Coigac ending the day with a final descent into Ullapool.
Cycling Distance: 72km (45miles)
Cycling Ascent: 822m (2,696ft)
Cycling Descent: 810m (2,657ft)
Accommodation: B&B (B,S,L)
Day 10: Ullapool - Rest Day
Located on the eastern shores of Loch Broom. Ullapool is a distinctive white fishing village designed and built in 1788 by Thomas Telford and the British Fisheries Society. The town is also the terminus for the ferry to Stornaway.
Although a small community of 1500, Ullapool is the largest settlement in the area and an important port and tourist destination. If the weather is good there are many walking routes in the area from coastal routes to inland footpaths. If you it is not so good the town has a beautiful museum based in a Grade A listed building where you can find out more about crofting, fishing, the “klondykers and other local history. There are also many inviting pubs in the town you can retreat to.
Accommodation: B&B (B,)
Day 11: Ullapool - Lochinver
We start our day cycling through Inverpolly National Nature Reserve. At nearly 11,000 hectares it is the second largest reserve in Britain after the Cairngorms. It comprises acres of bog, moorland and woodland but is dominated by the magnificently isolated red Torridonian Sandstone peaks of Cul Mor (849m), Cul Beag (769m) and Stac Polly (613m). A single track road takes us to Lochinver, the largest community in West Sutherland and a bustling fishing port where Scottish & European Boats unload their catch ready for the evening market. We'll arrive in early so there is time to look around the town and local area.
Lochinver is the largest settlement on the west coast of Scotland north of Ullapool. The town offers striking views across to Suilven one of the most distinctive mountains in Scotland. Experienced climbers can even attempt to scale the 2,389ft sandstone peak. Other tourist attractions include the Highland stoneware pottery where you can observe potters at work as well as buy their ceramics. Half a mile away is Achmelvich Beach a popular spot for water skiers, windsurfers and kayakers, and fishermen. You can also follow a path from the beach which leads to a ruined old mill and hidden cove. There is also the option to hunt for a hidden hermit's castle. Inland, near Elphin is the Highland and Rare Breeds Farm.
Cycling Distance: 74km (46miles)
Cycling Ascent: 831m (2,727ft)
Cycling Descent: 828m (2,717ft)
Accommodation: B&B (B,S,L)
Day 12: Lochinver to Scourie
From Lochinver we cycle arguably the most scenic route in Scotland, around the coast to Kylesku Bridge. The road twists and turns, undulating along the southern shore of Eddrachillis Bay, through the villages of Stoer and Drumbeg. Resident wild cats, wild deer, eagles and other birdlife have been enjoying this spectacular environment for centuries. We end our day in Scourie.
Day 13: Scourie to Durness
We are now deep in Sutherland one of the last remaining wildernesses in Europe. We pass the white sands of Scourie bay as we cycle through a lunar landscape of lochs and mountains. There are spectacular views of coastline, ocean and a vast moorland wilderness, with no land mass as far as the Arctic. To the north east is Orkney and to the south west are the Western Isles.
In the remotest part of the UK, towards the end of our ride as we cycle a route overlooking the Kyle of Durness, you will marvel at the sheer magnificence of the scenery, heather clad moorland alive with wildlife, picturesque lochs and rivers teeming with fish, and the rugged grandeur of mountains rising up from glens gouged during the last ice-age.
We continue cycling on to the picturesque costal village Durness where we stay tonight. Nearby is Smoo Cave, with a history dating all the way back to the 8th Century, and the beautiful Balnakiel beach.
Cycling Distance: 43km (27miles)
Cycling Ascent: 450m (1,476ft)
Cycling Descent: 435m (1,427ft)
Accommodation: B&B (B,S,L)
Day 14: Durness to Inverness
redspokes Scotland 500 cycle tour ends today. At 9am we board the bus to Inverness arriving at around 11.30 with plenty of time to catch an afternoon train or flight to London/Glasgow. (B)