Remote route makes for an exciting ride

Bikepacking from Inverness to Ullapool, John Davidson concludes his coast-to-coast mountain bike trip, taking up the tale after an overnight stop at the remote Glen Beag bothy

Heading up Strath Mulzie towards Seanna Bhraigh.

After a night of whisky drinking and story-telling at the bothy, Jim and I headed back to the track junction above Deanich Lodge – meeting a party coming the other way in their 4×4.

The estate gamekeeper laughed at the fact we had pushed our bikes to the bothy rather than leaving them at the weir overnight, but we explained that all our gear was attached to our bikes, so it was easier than trying to carry it all by hand!

After Deanich Lodge the bridge and the track down Gleann Mor are wonderful. Eventually we dropped down to cross the Alladale River and took a short break to read about the rewilding work the estate is doing, including reforestation and restoring carbon-holding peatlands, as well as reintroducing red squirrels and taking part in a wildcat breeding programme.

From the junction our day-two route went right, following the estate road to Glencalvie Lodge at the end of the public road. We continued ahead here, turning left at the road junction towards Croick, home to the church whose yard is famous for sheltering evicted tenants from land in the area during the Clearances. You can still see names and messages etched into the glass window on the east wall; a direct connection to the past that makes this a fascinating place to visit.

That couple of miles of public road would be the last we’d see until Ullapool on the west coast. After refuelling near the church, we ventured through the gate marked with the sign: “Through road to Ullapool (30 miles) no vehicle access”.

A gentle headwind made for slow but steady going up Strath Cuileanach. The track eventually strays away from the river to climb up to a rickety bridge and through patches of forest, offering us views ahead to the Assynt mountains.

At the end of the road at Croick before the final 30 miles to Ullapool.

After a gate the track descends delightfully into Glen Einig, and we forked left onto an older track to cut off a corner. It was a relief to rejoin the better surfaced track and go left towards Duag Bridge, beside the tidy Schoolhouse bothy.

Crossing the river, we were entering Strath Mulzie – not that far as the crow flies from where we had spent the night. This is a stunning place, with the view ahead dominated by the angular ridges of Seanna Bhraigh, one of the most remote Munros.

Halfway up the strath you pass through the grounds of Corriemulzie Lodge and go through a gate to continue into this far-flung corner of the Highlands.

My legs were tired but I was full of excitement and anticipation as we turned right to climb – extremely steeply in places – up to the high point where a red metal arrow points off the main route. If you look carefully you can see it has the word “Ullapool” written up the side of it in small letters.

John at the metal Ullapool marker in front of Seanna Bhraigh.

We followed the patchy path round the edge of the hill, finding ourselves riding on the brink of a high gorge carrying the Allt nan Caorach – an exciting bit of mountain biking but not a place you want to risk taking a tumble.

The path deteriorates as it descends to the head of Loch an Daimh, and there was no avoiding wet feet as we crossed the bog and beach to reach a track that would lead us up and west on a loose surface to East Rhidorroch Lodge.

I knew the real challenge of the route was over now and it was a relatively easy, flat ride alongside the Rhidorroch River and past Loch Achall to Ullapool. We crossed the bridge over the Ullapool River, adrenaline keeping us going over the last few miles of what was a memorable and inspiring weekend.

As we descended past the quarry and over the main road to Ullapool Point, we saw the Stornoway ferry coming into Loch Broom. It was a glorious afternoon on the west coast and we soaked up the memories of our adventure while heading to the chippy for our well-earned reward.

Route details

Inverness to Ullapool
Distance 90 miles / 145km (Day one – 47 miles / Day two – 43 miles)
Terrain Everything from roads to boggy, remote mountain tracks and paths
Start/finish Inverness/Ullapool
Maps OS Landranger 26, 20 & the final mile or so on 19
A coast-to-coast mountain bike adventure through the Highlands with an overnight stop at a remote bothy

John used the Wildcat Gear “Lion, Lioness and Tiger” bundle to carry his kit on the route.

Bike kit was a roaring success

Wildcat gear review: Lion, Lioness & Tiger bundle
Reduced from £208 to £190
Available from http://www.wildcatgear.co.uk

Heading into the wilds on a bikepacking adventure requires some thinking about how to carry your kit. I like to be well prepared but didn’t want to be dragging too much weight with me, either on my bike or on my person.

This bundle kit from Wildcat Gear, a British company which has recently relocated from Wales to Pitlochry, gives you more or less everything you need to get started, bar a couple of dry bags which I have in my kit anyway.

The Lion is a harness to keep your main dry bag secure on your handlebars without interfering with steering or suspension. I carried the maximum 13-litre dry bag with it and it worked a treat, especially when I compared it to Jim’s set-up, which he was continuously adjusting during our ride.

The system allows you to access things in your dry bag, or take it off completely, without having to remove the Lion harness from the bike. This makes it really flexible on a trip like this where you’re likely to be adding or removing layers for stops and changes in weather.

Over the top of the Lion I attached the Lioness, a small storage pack which gives you around two litres of extra space and is really handy for things you want access to during the day, such as snacks or your camera. It fits around the harness snugly and has an easy-to-use zip with a large tab to make getting in and out easy.

The Tiger Drover is the bit at the back – a dry bag holder that attaches to the seat post and offers up to 10 litres of storage space.
I used this for my sleeping bag and overnight kit so I wouldn’t need to be getting in and out of it during the ride.

The attachment worked really well, and I didn’t feel any wobble or movement in the bag all weekend.

Some of the instructions for fitting the bags look quite complicated initially but, once you have the bike and bag ready to fit, they are easy to follow and work perfectly.

The materials are strong and feel like they will put up with repeated use, though it is worth following the advice to protect your bike frame with tape or similar where the straps inevitably rub on the paintwork.

This bundle was a great investment for future adventures and the perfect “starter kit” if you want to give bikepacking a go.

* Article first published in Active Outdoors | September 29, 2017

John Davidson, author and journalist, shares his love of the great outdoors from Inverness in the Highlands of Scotland

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