Lochs loop, Scottish Highlands by Dave Barter
Cycling UK member, contributor to Cycle magazine and author of 'Great British Bike Rides', Dave Barter shows us round a stunning loop of the Lochs in the western Scottish Highlands.
You know how with your children you’re not supposed to have favourites? I kind of feel that it’s the same with bike rides. Each and every one is great in its own special way and they can vary so much with the weather, your fitness, your bike or the company. However, I can’t help but place this ride at the top of any list that I write. Which is particularly annoying for me as it’s the furthest away from my doorstep.
However, absence simply makes the heart grow fonder. I sit on a rainy day looking out of the window and yearn for the wild scenery that surrounds the northwest coast of Scotland. I remember the isolated seaside lanes and blue water lapping invitingly upon empty beaches littered only with kelp and stones. I long for the sting in my legs injected by Scotland’s hilliest section of road and wish I could be transported to the sliver of road at the coast of Inverkirkaig, where my ride notes simply said 'exquisite'.
If I was allowed only one bike ride, this would be it. It has everything that the road cyclist needs. Extended climbs, fast descents, quiet roads, lochs, coast, mountains, rivers and unpronounceable gaelic names. In fact the riding is so good in the area that I committed the terrible route planners crime of including a road that is travelled twice, but without it you’d not get to see the Brae of Achnahaird, worth a circuit in its own right.
The sense of remoteness pervades throughout the whole route. The vast majority of the riding is away from trunk roads and there are some sections where I’d be surprised if you saw more than two cars. The road up to Inverkirkaig particularly so, miles of tarmac singletrack devoid of civilisation and as wild as you can get within the British mainland.
It’s a route crammed full of scenery as well. Stac Pollaidh a particularly profound example with its twin stacks staring down at you menacingly from above. What better place to eat a sandwich and stare sanctimoniously at the tourists who drive around Loch Lurgainn without earning their miles as you have? Clashnessie Bay is another highlight. North Atlantic sea views shared with practically nobody else, you’ll wonder why Weston-super-Mare is so busy on a summer’s day yet these pristine Scottish beaches lie empty. Personally, I’d happily keep it that way.
But let’s not skip over the fact that this is a demanding day on the bike. This is north Scotland, there are no long flat sections and plenty of hills. It’s remote and you’ll need to be prepared for the worst, as in many places you’ll have no phone signal and it could be a while before help arrives. Treat the route with respect and you’ll earn your reward, the 'Greatest British Bike Ride' there is — well in my view anyway!
A stop in Lochinver for the pie shop an absolute must.