Bryn Davies rides an incredible two-day tour as he heads to the West Highlands for the second instalment of our around Scotland ride
In the last issue of Adventure Bike Rider magazine, we began our circumnavigation of Scotland with a pleasant two-day ride around the Southern Uplands, starting and finishing in Gretna Green and taking in the best of Dumfries and Galloway. For this issue, we head just past Glasgow to ride, what I would consider to be, a two-day tour through the West Highlands that rivals any other on our fair island.
Our route starts in Dumbarton, just on the outskirts of Glasgow, which is a great base to locate yourself in if you’re travelling up from the south on a Friday night. Here you’re just a 10 minute ride to the shores of Loch Lomond, the largest inland body of water in Great Britain, at which point the tone for the next two days is set. As you ride north on the A82 the mountains start to get larger and larger until you pass under Ben Lomond, the southernmost munro (Scottish mountain over 3,000ft in height), and you take a left to follow the A38 away from the loch.
Before long you get your first taste of riding one of Scotland’s spectacular mountain roads and you are taken to the shores of Loch Fyne. Here the road twists and turns as it caresses the banks of the loch, and while I was riding it I counted the number of cars I passed on one hand. At Lochgilphead we head north to Oban, riding the rollercoaster-esque A816. Again, this road was almost deserted, though I imagine it’s a bit busier in the summer months. This is a stretch of tarmac that you can really enjoy as you take in the stunning coastal views and exciting riding.
Oban offers our first chance to discover one of Scotland’s most famous exports, whisky, by taking a tour of the Oban distillery. It’s also a fantastic place to stop for lunch, the fish and chips on the front being particularly nice. If you thought the going was good so far, the second half of day one will blow you away. It’s just epic roads and world-class scenery here on in as we head east along the A85 to Tyndrum, home to the quirky Green Welly Stop.
Here you’ll head north towards Glencoe, and what I would consider to be one of Britain’s, if not the world’s, most incredible views. Nothing will quite prepare you for the sheer beauty of Glencoe, and as you approach it from the east it’s hard to focus on the riding, such is the visual allure of the dramatic mountain valley.
Take some time to soak in the glory of Glencoe, it’s worth it, before taking a scenic 14-mile loop around Loch Leven. From here it’s a short ride to Fort William, the outdoor capital of the UK, where you’ll find ample accommodation and restaurants in which to unwind after a great day of riding.
While day one ends with a bang by riding through Glencoe, it’s just a warm-up for a day of riding that you’ll never forget. Start day two by heading west of Fort William, to Mallaig, a lonely port town on the shores of Loch Nevis. Here I’d fully recommend you getting the ferry to Inverie, and exploring the UK’s most remote village, which is only accessible by ferry or a 17-mile hike. Why not also grab a drink at the UK’s most remote pub as well? After returning to Mallaig, hop on the short ferry to Armadale in Skye.
The route from Armadale to Uig is simply amazing. Wide, open coastal roads cut a solitary line through the bleak and wild landscape of the Isle of Skye. All the while the magnificent Cuillin Ridge towers above you on the horizon. Once you reach Uig you’ll head east and ride a road that’s so dramatic in its setting that you’ll want to stop and savour it for a few minutes, the Quiraing Road which will take you to the incredibly fun A855. Passing under the beautiful rock formation of the Old Man of Storr, you’ll continue to Portree for a quick bite to eat, and then on to Kyle of Lochalsh.
After crossing the bridge to get off the Isle of Skye, the road back to Fort William is a joy to behold as it twists and turns through lonely valleys and along the shores of wild, untamed lochs. Pass the Commando Memorial and head back into Fort William where you can finish your trip with one final pass through Glencoe on the way back home.
The natural basecamp for an assault on the West Highlands is somewhere close to Glasgow and the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. With this in mind, Dumbarton is perfect as it’s on the right side of Glasgow, but is also well connected enough to mean you can get there easily enough after work on a Friday. We stayed in the Dumbuck House Hotel, which offers double rooms with breakfast for about £55 per night. Spot on.
2. Fort William
Our first day draws to an end after an incredible ride through Glencoe and along Loch Levan in Fort William, the outdoors capital of the UK. Located at the base of the UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, Fort William has a beautiful backdrop, and there’s a nice buzz on the town’s high-street in the evening, which makes that cold beer after a long ride all the better. We spent the night at the Alexandra Hotel, a plush hotel with beds big enough to get lost in. Costs will be approximately £105 per double room, with breakfast.
Now, as we did this route in the winter, we were short of sunlight and by the time we docked at Mallaig from Skye, it was getting dark. This, and the fact that the Explorer was showing 20 miles of fuel in the tank, and the closest open petrol station was 40 miles away in Fort William, meant that we were forced to find a lodging in Mallaig.
Fortunately for us, Mallaig proved to be an exceptional delight. We camped up in the West Highland Hotel, a wonderfully presented building with great service and a fantastic breakfast. Our superior room was £130 for the night, though cheaper rooms are available.
1. Glen Coe
I’ve given this some thought, and I’m yet to come across anywhere else in the UK that has the same visual impact as Glen Coe when you approach it from the east up the A82. As you round a bend you pass a sign that welcomes you to the Highlands, and then the wild scenery opens up and the beauty of Glen Coe smacks you square in the chops.
When done in winter, the dramatic slopes of the mountains take on a mystical air, and as you proceed deeper into the valley the experience gets more and more belittling. It’s worth reading up on the history of the area, and the barbaric massacre that took place in the valley before you ride it. The road here is fantastic to ride, but it’s the views that steal the show.
2. The Old Man of Storr
As we ride south on the A855, after descending the magnificent Quiraing, it’s not long before we pass by the majestic Old Man of Storr. On first appearance, this bizarrely placed rock formation protrudes from a ridgeline like a rhino’s horn, but as you get closer and closer, to the point where you’re riding underneath it, it transforms into the marvellous natural wonder that it is.
The rock formation was created as a result of ancient landslides that created the entire dramatic landscape along the northeastern coast of Skye. It’s a shame that our route will have you riding away from its best side, though it’s nice to look in your rearview mirrors and see something so beautiful staring back for a change.
No visit to Scotland would be complete without a stop off at one of the many distilleries that are dotted around the area. This particular route takes you straight through Oban, a small town on the coast of the Firth of Lorne, which is home to the Oban distillery.
Interestingly, the distillery was here before the town was built, coming into existence in 1794, and it’s possible to take a tour around the place to learn more about the fascinating history. Of course, we would never suggest drinking before getting on the bike, but would highly recommend grabbing a bottle for some relaxation in Fort William later on!
Located on the peninsula of Knoydart, Inverie holds the title of the UK’s most remote village. The only way to get to Inverie is via the ferry from Mallaig (£20 return) or by hiking 17 miles through rugged terrain, and while there are roads on the peninsula, they are not connected to the rest of the national road network.
I’d highly recommend taking the time to visit the village and explore the few miles of single-track road that essentially lead to nowhere! While you’re there, grab a drink in The Old Forge and you’ll be able to say that you’ve drank in Britain’s most remote pub.
1. Quiraing Road and the A855
The entirety of the Isle of Skye is a joy to ride, there’s no denying that. The views of the Cuillins are enough to get anyone dreaming, and the fantastic, sweeping roads, which were devoid of traffic, made for a brilliant ride. But the section that won my heart, without a doubt, was the Quiraing Road from Uig to Brograig, and the subsequent A855 down the east coast to Portree.
As you ride out of the small port of Uig, the scenery opens up and there’s the sense that something epic is awaiting. And that something epic hits you like a sledgehammer as you unexpectedly crest the dramatic pass to see the eastern coast of Skye sprawled out below you.
2. B863 – Glencoe – Kinlochleven – Ballachulish
After passing through Glen Coe you arrive in Glencoe village, at which point you’re presented with two ways of getting to Fort William. Option one is a short ride over Ballachulish Bridge that allows you to cross Loch Leven. The other is a fantastic 14-mile loop around the coast of the loch, passing through the isolated village of Kinlochleven.
Of course, our route will have you following the latter, and for good reason. This loop offers a fine mix of fantastic views, great tarmac and exciting twisties, and is a great way to finish the first day on your two-day tour of the West Highlands.