Achnashellach Loop by Lee Craigie
Lee Craigie is part of The Adventure Syndicate, a Cycling UK affiliated group. It is a collective of female endurance cyclists whose aim is to increase levels of self-belief and confidence in others (especially in women and girls) by telling inspiring stories, creating an encouraging community and delivering enabling workshops and training. Here's one of her favourite off-road loops in the Highlands.
Every winter around 4pm I wonder to myself why I live in the Highlands of Scotland. When it’s dark and cold being outside is something I have to dig deep to force myself to do but fast forward six months and there is nowhere I’d rather be. It stays light until midnight and when the sun eventually sinks over the western highlands, the evening air can remain warm long into the wee hours.
At this time of year, my Inverness mountain bike buddies keep a close eye on the weather from behind their various desks during the day and when 5pm hits, we scarper to Torridon. We can be at the start of the classic Achnashellach Loop an hour after our computers have been switched off and an evening spent riding this route makes us feel like we’ve cheated normal life when we arrive at our desks the following morning.
Starting at Achnashellach station (a request stop on the Kyle of Lochalsh line) a steady double track climb delivers you to the top of the Coulin Pass. A fast descent north off the other side towards Loch Clair in Glen Torridon is the last bit of easy riding on this route which then swings west and meanders on steadily ascending technical singletrack that is just about entirely rideable all the way back up into the wild, jaw-dropping Coire Lair. Arriving at this classic, remote bowl at 400m in the late evening light feels very special. It’s not a place that humans should be able to access so easily let alone on a school night and on bikes. Make no mistake, reach this point and you are in some serious mountain terrain - a point worth noting as you then whoop and holler your way down the high bermed granite slabs, rocky drops and tight switch backs on well built technical singletrack all the way back down to Glen Carron and the parked vehicles below.
By midnight, we are all back home and wondering if the whole thing was an elaborate daydream.