We thought we’d try something a little different for this issue’s Route Guide (hey, it’s our magazine, we can do what we want, right?). Instead of basing our routes around one location, we based them around a theme: Scottish stations.
As railways start to relearn that cyclists make good customers, so mountain bikers are discovering that there are some railway stations in some peachy locations – especially in Scotland. I teamed up with Edinburgh local, Chris Marquis to guide me round some of the rides you can reach by train from Edinburgh, Glasgow and even London. Did you realise that you get a 9pm sleeper train from Euston and be having breakfast in Aviemore the following morning? After a day of big mountain riding, you can be back on the train that evening and in London again the morning after. Now that, my friends, is impressive, and almost a reason to live in London…
Our first trip involved a town centre start from Edinburgh’s Haymarket station, out to North Queensferry and then a gentle meander back into town along the Firth of Forth. The best bit about the journey has to be going over the Forth rail bridge and then heading back into town over the Forth road bridge, staring at the giant, red, humpy rail bridge as you spin over the water once again. Take a moment to stop amid the road bridge and scare yourself with how much it moves. Once back on dry land, we wove our way under the rail bridge and back along the shore of the Forth. Considering we were a scant few miles out of town, the ride is green, pleasant and remote feeling.
With one success in the bag (and a sushi dinner in town to celebrate our adventurousness) we decided to head further afield and do some ‘proper’ mountain biking. The train towards Inverness (and indeed the Sleeper from London) stops at many classic Scottish mountain bike destinations, including places like Kingussie, Newtonmore and the location of our big route, the charming wee town of Pitlochry. We could have picked any one of the stops on the Inverness line, but Pitlochry is always worth a visit.
Home to a great whisky shop, the smallest distillery in the UK (Edradour) and one of the best bike shop coffees in the land (at Escape Route), it’s certainly a great place to spend some time in. It was the starting point for last year’s –10° Glen Tilt, frozen-river escapade (covered in issue 40) and today would be the start of an equally big, but thankfully warmer trip.
Chris and I set off from the town centre train station and were soon on our way, via a twee suspension bridge, up a long fire road and singletrack drag out of town. We stopped at a convenient trail-side stone circle and, while both still chatting, managed a surreptitious lap of them each for a bit of ‘what harm could it do?’ good luck for the ride.
Gorse is to Scotland what cacti are to the American deserts: they both look great and always seem to position themselves on important trail corners. A close brush with either will have you cursing, yet they always guard the best bits of trail. And so, cutting things as fine as we dare, Chris and I whooped down the Rob Roy way down to Strath
Tay. It’s a fun descent and one that had me reaching for the camera, usually just as Chris disappeared around the next bend. All thoughts of us being wilderness adventurers evaporated as we plummeted down a great gully trail to emerge in the middle of a golf course. So much for being miles from anywhere.
Our next climb soon put us back among the adventurers as we climbed, and climbed, and climbed some more. We were headed, as usually happens on these rides, for the tallest bit of the horizon. The grade was steady, if loose, and there was more blue in the sky than cloud – quite the reverse of the rest of the country, which was experiencing summer deluges.
As we climbed, we had a better and better view of previously invisible Loch Derculich and, eventually, of the descent that lay ahead down to Loch Tummel. Chris led the way and we were soon ranting down the descent, trying to keep our cool on the heathery Land Rover track. A couple of regroups to count people, limbs and brake pads and we were down to the pleasant drive alongside the Loch. It wasn’t all over yet though. We left the loch and rode alongside the River Garry where we were presented with a choice: ford the river, or ride upstream to a bridge and then back downstream. Fortunately for us, deciding to keep our feet dry meant that we got to savour even more of the great riverside singletrack that Garry has got going for it. Having startled a couple of day-riders with the enthusiasm of our approach, we were soon zipping towards Pitlochry past Loch Faskally, where I forced Chris to stop and enjoy an ice cream in the (we realise now…) rare warmth of an early summer afternoon. We watched ducks and stick-chasing dogs for a while and then span back into town, where we just had time to thank Kevin Dangerous for his route tips before heading up to our next goal – Aviemore. Steaming – and that’s not just the riders
Everyone should know by now that Aviemore is a great place. It’s a small, friendly town next to some amazing riding of all levels. If you want a Cairngorm epic, then this is your place. And if you live in London, you’ll be heartened to hear that you can catch an overnight sleeper after dinner one evening and be in Aviemore for breakfast, repeating it again the following day if you feel like it. How great is that? Seeing as everyone knows the epic-ness of the area (we came here for our Bothy feature in issue 28), we wanted to highlight the softer side and show it’s not all rugged mountain men with beards who’d appreciate the place. And keeping with the train theme, we hopped across Aviemore Station platform to the Strathspey Steam Railway. They offer daily choo-choo steam train rides up towards Boat of Garten and Broomhill (Monarch of the Glen country…) and they’re quite happy (delighted even) to carry your bike for a quid extra.
In a puff of steam, we alighted at the other end and elected to ride our way back to Aviemore, starting with the Strathspey Way, but turning it into a larger, but still ‘all the family’ mellow enough route that took in Glenmore Lodge, Loch Morlich and the some of the wonderful Rothiemurchas Estate woods.
As we reappeared back into town the fun wasn’t over yet. A quick turn past Bothy Bikes onto the B970 and we headed towards Inshriach and Feshie Bridge. Those weren’t our goals though, as we had a date to keep with one of the best cake shops in Scotland in the unlikely setting of Inshriach Nursery (www.drakesalpines.com) where we had mountains of cream-laden cake and mugs of tea like the true faux-adventurers we were.
Our return journey took in the optional off-road loop round Loch an Eilein and back into Rothiemurchas before swinging us back into town for more food… How good is mountain biking for justifying great food, eh?
Hopefully this should inspire you to make your own venture with your bike on a train. Engineering-works replacement bus services aside, there is a lot to be said for letting the train get you to some fantastic riding. See you on the platform!
Click the links to download our route guide maps in PDF format.
Pitlochry ‘Cake Ride’ Route – pdf – (Quite easy peasy, calorie positive and with some quiet roads and the potential for needing some navigation skills)
- Distance: 36km
- Altitude Gain: 1214m
- Time: 3.30 hrs
Pitlochry Easy Route – pdf – (Quick city-based spin with some great views) Fife Circle trains (inner and outer) stop at North Queensferry about four times an hour. No need to book but can be jammed at commuter peak times and if there are big sporting or cultural events on in Edinburgh.
- Distance: 21.5km
- Altitude Gain: 333m
- Time: 1.30hrs
Pitlochry Medium Route – pdf – (A much tougher proposition in poor or wintery conditions) Mainline Inverness to all points south (including London etc. via Caledonian Sleeper) www.seat61.com/CaledonianSleepers.htm Before starting on this it would be wise to check with the Edradynate Estate (01887 840215) that no estate activities (shooting etc) will impact on your route.
- Distance: 48km
- Altitude Gain: 594m
- Time: 3.30 hrs
Bikes on trains: Welcome to a world of uncertainty. Where you can, you should/must book your bike on otherwise you may not be granted carriage. Check with each train operator for each portion of your journey and take a good book. Some services can be replaced by bus services when there is engineering work happening. This is usually known about in
advance – check your train operator’s website. Often bikes will not be granted carriage on the bus, again, check with the train operator. www.atob.org.uk/Bike_Rail.html
Bike stuff: Visit Escape Route – www.escape-route.biz in Pitlochry for just about everything you could possibly need (including cups of coffee…)
Trains: www.strathspeyrailway.co.uk for timetable, fares and more details. Bikes tickets cost a pound or so, and the railway request that you let them know if you are going to turn up in a big group.
Cakes: Inshriach Nursery www.drakesalpines.com Closed on Wednesdays…