Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Bikepacking with a difference.

I'd been planning to do a ride from Rannoch Station for a while and back at the end of September 2017 I had two days off and a decent weather forecast. I'd reckoned that my proposed route would take me a couple of days as I wasn't super fit so I intended to carry overnight kit with me on the bike so that I could stop and wild camp somewhere on the route.
I left home early in the morning to drive to Bridge of Orchy station where I parked the car, unloaded my bike and gear and then sat and waited on the platform for the train to arrive.

 I'd pre-booked myself and my bike on the train and when it arrived I loaded the bike and luggage into the Guard's van and settled down for the short journey to Rannoch Station.
Rannoch Station has a cafe so before setting off on my ride I treated myself to breakfast. The first section of my route took me from Rannoch down the road to Bridge of Gaur where I crossed the River Gaur and rode along the singletrack road that follows the southern shore of Loch Rannoch.
I followed the road for a few miles until eventually I reached the turn off for the Old Kirk Road which leads from Loch Rannoch over the Lairig Ghallabhaich to Glen Lyon.

This initially took the form of a narrow path that climbs through the woods and forestry, it was hard work on a loaded bike but good fun and quite picturesque.

After a while I emerged at a reservoir in the forest and stopped for a breather before pushing on up the forest track climb that forms this section of the Kirk Road.
Eventually the trees thinned and the track emerged onto the open hillside above Loch Rannoch (which was hidden by the low cloud).
A deer fence and gate marked the start of the Lairig Ghallabhaich proper and the track began to undulate rather than just being a relentless climb.

 After a while the track started to descend towards Glen Lyon and the village of Innerwick.
Initially the descent was gentle but it turned into a steep, fast ride down the final section of the Old Kirk Road until it emerged at the tarmac road at Innerwick.

A short ride along the road took me to Glen Lyon Tearoom and as it was lunch time I stopped for some food. If you ever happen to be passing the tearoom I'd recommend stopping to sample the food, it's very good.
After a hearty lunch of soup, sandwiches and cake washed down with a pot of tea I hit the road again. Initially my legs felt tired but soon the energy from my lunch kicked in and I felt much better as I tackled the short sharp tarmac climbs of the Glen Lyon road. Although this section was a road it was very quiet and scenic so was an enjoyable ride.
Eventually the road reached the Stronuaich reservoir.
By this time it was mid afternoon and I'd progressed much further along my route than I'd expected, my thoughts started to turn towards where I'd stop for the night. I reckoned that I'd push on to Loch Lyon and reassess my progress there. Just before the tarmac road ended at Pubil I stopped to have a look at a memorial to Robert Campbell a founder of the Hudson's Bay Company who originated in Glen Lyon.
At Pubil I left the road and climbed steeply up a track that would eventually emerge high above the dam at the eastern end of Loch Lyon. There is a choice of routes here, you can either follow the northern or southern shores of Loch Lyon until the two tracks converge at the western end of the loch. I chose the northern track.
The view back east along Glen Lyon (the way I'd come).
 The dam.
The way ahead, west above Loch Lyon. 
The track alongside Loch Lyon was a rough rollercoaster of a ride. There was nothing technical on it but there were some fast bumpy descents punctuated with water erosion damage that meant concentration had to be maintained to pick the right line. I was also very grateful for the suspension forks on my bike which added a little much needed comfort on these teeth rattling descents. After a couple of miles I crossed the Allt Meurain stream, this was a ford that could be a potential problem if this route was ridden after a wet spell of weather. 
 The view back east along the loch was spectacular, highlighted by the dramatic clouds hanging over the mountains.
At this point my thoughts turned again to an overnight stop. It was late afternoon and I'd made far better progress than I'd expected. My plan had been to stop for the night near the watershed at the head of Strath Tarabhan but it was now dawning on me that I could easily complete the ride in a single day. I was a little bit torn as I love wild camping and this was a spectacular setting to spend a night but I now felt the lure of the challenge of getting round in a day. 
As I rode over the watershed the lure of the challenge won and I decided to push on down towards Gleann Achadh-innis Chailein. 

The descent down towards Auch Glen was really fast and fun with multiple crossings of the Allt Kinglass river by way of fords. Soon the familiar viaduct that carries the West Highland railway line across Auch Glen came into view (except this time I was viewing it from the opposite direction from the usual vantage point of the A82 road). 
After passing under the viaduct I joined the West Highland Way for the last few miles back to Bridge of Orchy. It was strange seeing all the walkers on the path as I'd hardly seen a soul for the last few hours. 
Nearly there!
Made it!
The final push back to the car was soon done with and it was time to reflect on a trip that hadn't panned out as expected. I'd ridden further than I'd imagined I could have managed and obviously had more in reserve than I'd realised. I'd missed out on my night out but the sense of satisfaction from completing the route in a day made that worthwhile. Next time I'd definitely do it without the extra 8 kilos of luggage on the bike though! 


  1. Cracking idea for a wild bike ride. Looks just about within my meagre mountain biking skills as well. Not sure I could manage 72km in day though :)

  2. There's no really technical riding on the route but there are a few sections of rough track where choosing a good line is required. I didn't think I'd manage it in a day either but the road sections allow good progress to be made and the cafe at Rannoch Station and Glen Lyon Tea Room are perfectly placed to allow you to stay fully fueled during the ride (just make sure to check the Tea Room opening times outwith high season).