Kirkhill to Kintail by Lee Craigie

Kirkhill to Kintail by Lee Craigie

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. 

Including this route is cheating because it’s actually just my favourite road ride combined with my favourite mountain bike ride. It also happens to begin from my front door. This route is actually largely that of the infamous off-road duathlon - The Highland Cross, but my description of it is backwards and on a mountain bike.

From Kirkhill which sits 8 miles due west of Inverness at the end of the Beauly Firth, an easy 30km spin along the valley floor towards Cannich limbers up the riding muscles before the road kicks steeply up and by the time it levels out again, you find yourself in one of Scotland’s most beautiful glens; Glen Affric.

You won’t notice the next 20km because you’ll be so mesmerised by the antique Scots Pine, shimmering loch and occasional waterfall until eventually you reach the end of the metaled road and the route continues on fast double track for a further 12km until it deteriorates just past one of Scotland’s most remote youth hostels.

While the rolling double track remains rideable, it gets harder and harder to pedal and then turns to walkers path. As you continue due west into the head of the Glen Fionn you keep waiting for the inevitable unridable terrain to begin. It never does. It’s almost possible to ride from my front door all the way to Kintail without putting a foot on the ground (other than to negotiate a river crossing perhaps). After climbing to the highest point on the route at 400m the trail disappears steeply into a dramatic bowl carved out by a huge waterfall. On the right bike, the route remains rideable (but difficult) for the next kilometre as you negotiate tight rocky turns and drops that deliver you onto landrover track in Glen Lichd.

Having survived the tricky descent it’s now simply a question of spinning out to the A87 and continuing round the coast for 25 km past iconic Eilein Donan Castle to catch the Kyle train back to Inverness.

I love this route because of the sense of journey you inevitably feel when you traverse from one side of the country to the other. From the salty shores of the Beauly Firth on the east coast to the Sound of Sleat and views over Skye on the west, it feels very satisfying to complete this route and all the more so because so much of the route is an actual pleasure to ride. 

(There are options to ride on both sides of Glen Cannich and Glen Affric the whole way along this route depending on your preferences for mile munching versus wiggling. There is also the comfortable Camban bothy a little over half way turning this massive day ride into a very pleasant weekend adventure). 

Tips: 

Take a mountain bike with tyres pumped hard for the road section or gravel bike and resignation to carry the techy bits.
Bring sleeping gear if planning to stay at bothy or youth hostel.


Lee Craigie's bike on route from Kirkhill to Kintail

 

Length 
64.90
Level of ride 
Experienced
Type of bike 
Mountain bike