The Dores Loop: A Loch Ness circular ideal for beginners

Stopping for a bite next to Loch Ness
Stopping for a bite next to Loch Ness
Suffering from post-traumatic arthritis, Brendan Dougan needed to find a more forgiving route for his daily exercise when he could no longer access physiotherapy during the coronavirus crisis. Usually only interested in difficult and technical off-road routes, he writes about finding the joy in a gentler ride.

I have enjoyed a love of cycling in various different forms throughout my life. From the childish pleasure of my rural upbringing leading to a love of downhill and dirt jumping in my undergraduate days, to weekly riding of Scotland’s most technical mountain biking routes in my late twenties.

Though I also commuted by bike as an adult - covering tens of thousands of miles on battered single speed bikes around Glasgow - the prospect of any aesthetic experience on my doorstep on a bike eluded me. 

Now, the best part of a decade on, I find that I am not the seemingly invincible and time-rich mountain bike fanatic I once was. In fact, old ailments have started to haunt me through post-traumatic arthritis -slow-healing soft tissue injuries, and joints that refuse to function as they should following many high-impact years, both in and out of the saddle. Embracing change is universally difficult, and until recently I had been managing these issues with physiotherapy, swimming, and exercise classes. So, what do I do now I can no longer access these due to the current restrictions?

Adapting to lockdown

I have certainly found the effects of this time to be challenging, as I am sure most have. However, it's also given rise for opportunities to utilise and appreciate what is available to me locally, within social distancing guidelines.

Initially, I was embarking on circuits of local cycling routes and newly quietened roads. Though the latter was a refreshing novelty for a spell, quite quickly the lack of stimulus, the largely flat terrain, and difficulties with social distancing on narrower shared paths led me to seek something different. I consulted with a friend about a loop I had seen him complete on Strava. After some brief advice about wayfinding and route features, I was ready to roll.

The Dores Loop

  • The Dores Loop starts just two miles from my front door, with this short warm up leading along a local shared cycle route to Torbreck woods, where the South Loch Ness Way begins.
  • The route winds briefly through the woodland before a lengthy and consistent climb on the treeline below Essich Hill.
  • From here you divert from this route and follow a local path above the village of Dores before a short, steep, and mildly technical descent to the back of the settlement itself.
  • Here one is afforded scenic respite on the iconic banks of Loch Ness, before delving into the woods along its banks until it meets the River Ness.
  • The latter part of the route takes in varied terrain along the riverside before a return to the start point via Ness Castle. Much of this route is off-road, with only a few hundred metres on roads where you would ever meet a motor vehicle in motion.

From extreme to serene

My former self would likely have scoffed at the idea of completing such a route as recreation, opting instead for more extreme offerings. However, in the context of current developments – both personal and global – it suffices to meet several needs in a single experience.

First and foremost, it falls well within the current guidelines for responsible mountain biking, but it offers much more than just a trail ride. 

Less than a quarter of an hour after leaving my home, I find myself surrounded by woodland on this route, giving a sense of escape from urban confines.

The lengthy climb challenges my legs, heart, and lungs, while also leaving me wondering whether all those lockdown snacks were entirely necessary!

A varied, flourishing landscape, complete with fresh air allows my senses to tune into my surrounds on a meditative level.

Just the right amount of technicality is offered by the terrain to make it enjoyable, whilst being safe enough to ride solo. One of the most splendorous locations in the Highlands is taken in halfway on the shores of Loch Ness, and the return leg offers many a beautiful sight across a varied setting. Crowned off with refreshments in my own house.

All within a single experience, taken in over less than two hours!

Finding hope

With the extensive restriction to many facets of our lives currently at play, most of us are finding it challenging to achieve escape, adventure, cardiovascular exercise, physical challenges, and perhaps most pivotally - a sense of calm.

However, this simple route - so easily accessible - suffices for all of these in one excursion! In addition, it complies with social distancing and responsible exercise guidelines whilst avoiding high speed roads for the most part.

We are granted a new opportunity to be resourceful and mindful to make our experiences valuable within our current confines.

This means that this route can remain a source for all these components of my wellbeing, throughout the lifting of restrictions and through the transition back to normality, and though I live in hope that the volume of cars on the roads will be reduced for a good while yet, it is comforting to know that this route will remain viable regardless.

Though change, and the restrictions of lockdown are challenging to all, I feel an unexpected sense of hopefulness at this strange juncture we find ourselves in. We are granted a new opportunity to be resourceful and mindful to make our experiences valuable within our current confines. It takes pragmatism, patience, persistence, and perseverance to make it work; but I would argue that these are a sound use of our personal time and resources while the pace of modern life is slowed in many ways by the crisis we face.

About the ride

Length: 20 miles

Level: This bike is suitable for beginner, to intermediate level mountain bikers. However, the initial ascent is long and gradual, so riders should be confident they have the fitness to complete it.

Also, the single major descent has roots and rocks on a steep section of woodland. This section can be walked in a few minutes, but may be a little more than a beginner is comfortable with.

Type: A mountain bike is recommended for this route. Most of it could be completed comfortably on a gravel or adventure bike. However, a mountain bike would prove much more comfortable and compliant with the terrain.