On Yer Bike!
In a land where adventure sports reign supreme, the talk of the town this May is about one thing only: the Mountain Bike World Cup is back in Fort William!
As legions of fans make the pilgrimage north, hot on the heels (or should that be wheels?) of the mountain biking elite, now is as good a time as any to profile the routes that lie in store for the adrenaline junkies amongst you.
Of the many outdoor activities to enjoy here, it’s mountain biking that’s put Fort William on the map as the adventure capital of Britain and the reasons will be clear once you arrive. Whether you’ve endured many a lesson at the school of hard knocks or your journey is just beginning, you won’t find the Highlands lacking in off-road opportunities.
So without further ado, get on your bike and check out some of our favourite trails…
The Nevis Range
When you can count the number of World Cup venues with your fingers you know that those on the list must be something special. The Nevis Range is undoubtedly that, considered the closest thing to a biking nirvana on these bonnie shores!
The leading mountain bike centre in Britain is blessed with unrivalled support and facilities for off-road cycling, similar to an alpine ski resort with its colour-coded trails, gondola lift, and general ease of access. The on-site hire shop is an extra plus point for those seeking a day challenge, free from the logistical complications of vehicle transport and bike racks.
Once you’re in the saddle your options are plenty. Five blue trails, including the 5km downhill that is Blue Doon, give newbies a low-risk introduction to gentle singletracks, berms, and rollers. Seasoned veterans, meanwhile, have an additional half a dozen red and black lines to choose from, though the World Cup Downhill is recommended for professionals only!
The slopes and forests around the visitor centre and car park are well worth exploring for bikers seeking a wee more independence. A favourite of locals, the Great Glen Helter Skelter heads off in the opposite direction to the gondola for an intermediate ride of a couple of hours through the picturesque valley landscape.
It’s rare for us to defer to venues elsewhere when we have such fantastic options on our doorstep, which gives you an idea of just how highly we rate the Nevis Range! But we’re not lying when we say your biking adventure can begin as soon as you rise from our cosy beds.
Glenloy boasts some gnarly trails of its own, especially if you’re up for a bit of a challenge. While intermediate routes do exist, the majority here tend towards the difficult end of the scale – the popular Meadows and Brodie’s singletracks are high-octane black runs where bikers hurtle down hundreds of metres in mere seconds, while Stolen Bear represents a more technical ride with its steep, twisty corners.
Given the dedication that the biking fraternity puts into navigating every inch of the Highlands, you’re never guaranteed to be the only cyclist out there. But with several dozen trails dotted around a glen far more remote than the well-signposted Nevis Range, it’s worth keeping in mind that Glenloy promises a genuine escape from the crowds.
Keeping it Local
Just down the road from the Nevis Range, Glencoe’s breath-taking scenery has never given it much chance of escaping attention for too long, though it’s camera crews filming the latest box office hit that you’re as likely to come across as other cyclists. In fact, with just a comfortable hour-long ride past pleasant streams and waterfalls you can find Drochaid an Eas Bhuidhe, the setting for a Highlands village in Braveheart.
To properly admire the natural beauty beneath the peaks of Buachaille Etive Mor and Bidean nam Bian, those with a good level of fitness can make a full loop round Loch Leven in a couple of hours. Alternatively, the route from either Bridge of Orchy or Kinlochbeg up the Devil’s Staircase offers stunning views across Rannoch Moor as a reward for the courageous, but be warned: this one’s not for the faint-hearted!
The fearsome name was given by workers on the Blackwater Dam, many of whom didn’t survive to see the project’s completion and rest for eternity at the remote mountain graveyard. Other historical points of interest are within reach of experienced bikers, from the 14th-century Castle Stalker, 15 miles down the coast from Ballachulish, to the Corran Lighthouse, where the required ferry crossing to the tranquil Ardgour peninsula doubles up as a handy excuse for some rest and refreshments.
If you’re planning a longer road trip, you needn’t worry that your biking options are restricted to this corner of the Highlands. Adventures are there to be found in almost every valley, but another excellent base nearby is Aviemore.
There the purpose-built Laggan Wolftrax opened in 2015 with more than 20 miles of dedicated singletrack trails for all levels of experience, open year-round, in addition to the jumps and rollers of the bike park. Follow the marked routes or head off on a not-too-difficult loop to check out the Wolf’s Lair viewpoint.
Additional options are easy to enjoy from other Cairngorms visitor centres, both at Rothiemurchus, where the Sluggan Bridge loop is a popular challenge for advanced cyclists, and Glenmore Forest Park, where you can follow the Lairig Ghru route through the wooded forests and find the scenic waters of An Lochan Uaine not far from the Ryvoan Bothy.
Meanwhile, the Loch Ness 360 is split into six parts of roughly equal lengths that encourage you to explore on two wheels the beautiful landscape that surrounds the Highlands’ best-known water feature.