Scotland Bikepacking

NEW POST, OLD TRIP: The past year hasn't been one for travel, thanks to COVID-19. But in reminiscing about going places, I've finally found the motivation to write about a trip I took two years ago.

I visited Scotland during the summer of 2019, taking a solo bikepacking trip along parts of NCN78 (“The Caledonia Way”). The trip began in Glasgow, where I rented a Whyte Friston gravel bike from Billy Bilsland Cycles before taking a train to Inverness. Travel by train was quiet, scenic, and relatively easy.

Strava route and elevation profile.
Figure: Route and elevation profile. Available as Strava Route or .GPX file.

Arrival — Train to Inverness

Leaving Glasgow early and reaching Inverness by mid-afternoon, I checked into an Airbnb and spent some time exploring town. The Women's World Cup (U.S. vs. Netherlands) was showing that day, so I found a pub, ordered food, and settled in to watch. That evening I visited another pub for live music.

An orange bike with two panniers and other supplies on the back rack, leaning against a fence.
My rental bike, fully loaded with a bivy and other camping supplies. Given the weather and easy access to hostels, a lighter setup might have been ideal.

Day 1 — Inverness to Fort William

Leaving early for the longest day of riding (66mi), I went south from Inverness, first along quiet side roads, then along Loch Ness and B852. Lunch in Fort Augustus, then continued to Fort William. Fort William would have been the place to stop and hike Ben Nevis, spending an extra day, but I hadn't made plans for this and the weather wasn't cooperative.

Day 2 — Fort William to Oban

The route from Fort William to Oban included ferries, and was much easier than the previous day's ride, at 41mi. This left plenty of time for exploring Oban, which is worthwhile. My original plan had included some camping along the route. However, rain was coming and hostels were plentiful, so I took the more comfortable option and the hot showers.

A secluded gravel path.
A more secluded section of the trail.

Day 3 — Oban / Benderloch Loop

While the official route continues south from Oban, there isn't an easy train back to Glagow further along. I only wanted to spend one more day on the trail, so instead of going south I did a 30mi loop out of Oban. This route featured more gravel than the other days, and more challenging navigation as it wasn't on a well-established cycling route.

A paved and foggy descent toward a lake.
A foggier section on the fourth day of the ride.

Return — Train to Glasgow

Train back to Glasgow, returned the rental bike, and continued on to Edinburgh for a couple days of free time. The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and live music at Sandy Bells were two highlights in Edinburgh.


Conclusion

The NCN78 is a well-planned route, quiet and unhurried. It was also my first try at solo bikepacking, so I was grateful for never being too far from a warm bed and hot meal along the way. A few practical notes:

Small, single-track dirt trail winding through a hilly landscape.
A walking trail just off the first day's ride.