Jul 25

scotland coast-to-coast biking trip

Before Todd headed out on his archaeological dig this month, I traveled with him to spend a week mountain biking across Scotland starting on the west coast and ending on the east coast. It was the first time we did a self-guided mountain biking trip like this. I’ve been meaning to post our pics from the trip for a while – enjoy!

our coast-to-coast bike trip across scotland starts at fort williams. we have about six days and 200 miles of dirt trails in front of us. fort williams should be an easy day. we start around 4pm and just need to bike fifteen miles to our first bed and breakfast in speanbridge.


within half an hour of starting, we were lost, wet, bug-bitten, trespassing through a dynamite zone, only to find ourselves accidentally biking down the course of a world-champion dirt bike derby. at the end of the day, this is what remained of our day one map. this was definitely not a tom-tom, “in one quarter mile, turn left. you are approaching your final destination” style biking trip. todd studied the day two map like crazy.



day two was a lot better. it started off raining but cleared up quickly. we circled around two lakes and enjoyed some beautiful trails.

we hardly ran into anyone the entire week except for perhaps a few hikers in the first mile or two of our trail.

unlike day one, we finished day two a bit early and walked around the small town of lagan.

a pond in laggan

so green, so many sheep

on day three, we head deep into the country.

about 10-12 miles in, there is a stream that is generally not traversible except in the dry season. after an easy day two, i begged todd to give this trail a try. thankfully, it was dry and passable. otherwise we would have had to retrace our previous 10 miles.

though we were past the streams, we faced a new challenge… absolutely no trail across miles of wet marshy bog.

it’s hard to tell from this photo how hard it was to bike this part of the trail. sometimes you would put your foot down onto the seemingly solid reedy grasses to hear the water streaming under your foot. we had no choice but to walk and push a few times. we saw a few deep ruts from stuck mountain bikers from previous days which was reassuring to know that we were at least veering in the right direction.

an old castle on the way to aviemore

just a pretty pasture at the end of day three.

a castle surrounded by a lake just before aviemore

another stream. it started lightly raining on us. at one point, todd realized there were tadpoles in our biking trail.

todd’s trying to find the trail beyond the stream and into the forest

we had some technical single-track in the later part of the day. in this picture, the track was just overgrown with summer brush. in other parts, we had some exposed track with lots of big rocks that were bouncy and fun.

the group who planned our route for us didn’t recommend bringing paneers because they tend to shake loose over the trails. we had a daily luggage transfer service that took our day clothes between our bed and breakfast stays. this trail is probaby where you are most likely to lose water bottles and gear if you haven’t strapped them down properly.

just a beautiful landscape… todd way down the trail

my perspective before heading down, more single track

we crossed this stream about a dozen times that day. you’ll notice that my bike is already across the bank. i had waterproof biking sandals while todd had biking shoes that were dried really slowly. todd managed to keep his feet dry throughout the day and seeing this stream, i offered just to walk his bike across so he could try to rock-hop across the stream and stay dry. on future days, he started bringing extra pairs of dry socks.

these little yellow flowers were so pretty

for an hour or two, it threatened but never quite rained. the wind was good for keeping the bugs away.

we stumbled across this old hunting lodge

lots of sheep grazing in the hills

todd’s assessing the map. before day four, todd managed to upgrade his iphone to 4.0, download and cache all of the scotland trail maps, and get a few navigation apps on just a single bar of sporadic bed and breakfast wifi. if we do anything similar to this again, we’re bringing our own up-to-date gps and preloading the trails in advance.

this day is only 28 miles long but because it’s more technical, it felt like the longest day of the trip. todd had his fall about 500 feet away from here just over the crest of the upcoming hill. that shook us up a bit (thank goodness for the helmet).

this was the only trail sign we ever saw. we were following a single-trail dirt path and at some point, you need to break from the trail and head around a hill to pick up another trail. however, with the stream breaking things up every 50-100 feet, this is hard to do. someone with kind mountain biker goodwill must have posted this. thank you!

some remaining cottage stones on a hill at the start of day five.

day five was longer with some headwind and rain, but the trail was a lot easier. these little guys were just waiting to greet us on the bridge.

another stream. it started lightly raining on us. at one point, todd realized there were tadpoles in our biking trail.

the biggest stream we had to cross.

better to cross the stream than to try this bridge

some sheep keeping an eye on us. todd swears he saw a sheep that was really mad at him one day, “he had horns and a look.” however, most sheep scattered as soon as they saw us.

it was still raining so we took a lunch break under this bridge. we didn’t mind the rain so much at this point. the trail (you can see it on the right), was amazing.

we had been following the river for a few hours and here we start heading up into the hills.

just before reaching town, we saw this orange rusted barn roof matched by the orange-red poppies below. ah!

washing down our bikes and getting ready for day six where we head over mount keen. this is our longest and highest climbing day. fortunately, the weather cleared up and despite the forecast, looks like it was going to hold. just in case, i’ve got lots and lots of extra dry clothes and food in my pack

a little lamb scampers away from todd

after a few easy miles, we start the climb up to mount keen.

the trail gets more and more difficult until you finally can’t bike anymore. you are expected to walk your bike the last hour until you come around the summit.

after reaching the top of the mountain, we’re starting our descent. we’re tired (more from pushing than biking) but getting on the saddle again with these trails and this view is worth it.

a view of the descent from the summit

after the descent, there are about a dozen sporadically-placed stone storm drains in the trail. apparently a lot of bikers try jumping them and damage their tires or rims. todd and i are pretty casual mountain bikers. todd even caught me walking my mountain bike over a curb in town and had to laugh. even though there was probably little risk of us jumping these storms drains anyway, after those warnings, we were scared of risking anything even resembling a jump on these guys. if you damage something here, it’s a 20-mile walk down.

todd’s heading down the descent. eventually we’ll meet the stream and follow it into town.

after a steep descent, the trails gently slope down and we enjoyed two hours of beautiful gently sloping paved roads. near the end of day six, i stopped here to buy some scottish blossom honey.

on day seven, we have just fifteen miles of easy paved road to reach the coast in the morning.

the end of our coast-to-coast journey at montrose. the taxi picked us up at 10:30am and we enjoyed the rest of the day in edinburgh. from here, i fly back to california and todd heads to a month-long archaeological dig along hadrian’s wall.