Take to the trails

At the start of the Easter holidays, John Davidson suggests some great traffic-free bike rides to get you and your family back on two wheels after a long winter


With the clocks going forward at the weekend and the lighter nights ahead, what better time to start planning some great biking adventures?

I’ve been looking at some routes that are entirely or largely traffic-free, meaning they are perfect for family cycle trips or those who just prefer to keep off the roads.

The first port of call is the Caledonian Canal, and this 19th-century engineering feat provides ample opportunity to enjoy getting out and about.

Do a loop of the towpaths around Inverness or take a trip to Bridge of Oich from Fort Augustus.

The great thing about the towpaths is they are flat and take you through some beautiful scenery.

In Inverness, you can start at Tomnahurich bridge and follow the path to Dochgarroch and back – a total of seven miles with a picnic spot halfway – or head out to the sea lock on the Beauly Firth, with views over the water to the hills beyond.

The route from Fort Augustus follows the Great Glen Way and cycle route 78, passing Kytra Lock before reaching Bridge of Oich, which was built in 1854 and carried the road through the glen until 1932.

You can continue along the cycle route past Loch Oich via the old railway line to Laggan Locks, where there’s a floating café, and return by the same route. The out-and-back trip from Fort Augustus is around 20 miles, or 10 miles if you return from Bridge of Oich.

On the Moray coast, a lovely stretch of cycle route 1 follows part of the old Elgin-Banffshire railway line between Cullen and Buckie. It’s about seven miles between the two places but there’s no public transport to link them, so a return trip of 14 miles may be necessary.

Start by joining the railway route on the viaduct that passes through Cullen and continue along the line to Portknockie, where a detour to see Bow Fiddle Rock is definitely in order. The route continues past the harbour on some quiet roads and onto a path to reach Findochty, where it passes through a residential area before crossing the main road to rejoin the old railway.

There are fabulous views over the Moray Firth on these wonderful little trails, and it’s lovely just to take your time and enjoy the sea air.
Forest adventures are another way to explore, and the 2.5-mile circuit of Ord Hill on the Black Isle is good fun for wee ones, though there are a few hills if you’ve only got little legs!

To maintain the interest, though, you do pass a Christmas tree farm, as well as enjoying fine views down to the village of Kilmuir and over the firth.

There’s also plenty to see on the huge number of tracks and trails at Rothiemurchus, where a ride around Loch Morlich or Loch an Eilein makes a good outing. You can also link up these loops on the waymarked trails through the forest, or even enjoy a straightforward trip on the Old Logging Way that links Aviemore with Glenmore.

We really are spoiled for choice with options in this area, and there’s always some other route to explore even if you’ve been here before.
The route around Loch an Eilein starts at the car park (seasonal charge) and uses forest tracks and other paths along the four-mile route. At points you get close to the shore so there’s plenty of options for stopping for a rest – or a run about on the beach.

The ruined 13th-century castle on the island that gives the loch its name is a focal point for visitors, not least photographers.

Further north at Golspie it’s possible to avoid the serious mountain bike trails that visit the Mannie, the statue to the first Duke of Sutherland on top of Ben Bhraggie, and take a gentle route into the woods.

Use the family/blue trails car park on the Backies road north-east of the village, and follow the green link route, which involves a little climbing, onto forest tracks and Queen’s Drive. There are other tracks to explore here and if you’ve got the energy you can even get through to Brora using the off-road trails, but take a map as these routes aren’t signposted.

Blue intermediate routes also lead off from the car park heading west, and you can link these to a track that takes you round the back of the hill to the summit of Ben Bhraggie without needing to be a serious mountain biker. Do it on a good day and you’ll have views for miles from this excellent vantage point.

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