Migratory birds fly above a loch and its surrounding green hills, wooden boats bob merrily in their historic harbour as they have for hundreds of years; the North Sea laps at the shingle beach of a peaceful bay with the smell of smoked fish mingling with the salty sea air; regal castles that tell of times gone overlook wide fields and dramatic cliffs. The Coast and Castles North cycle route takes you through centuries of history and varied coastal landscapes as you ride from Edinburgh to Aberdeen.
This adventure is a continuation of the popular Coast & Castles South route from Newcastle to Edinburgh. I’ve split the 184-mile (297 km) journey into 7 stages, allowing you plenty of time to stop off at the sights along the way. However, you can also combine the stages to complete your trip in fewer days. The official route is 172 miles (277 km) but there are a few small worthy detours included which are noted in the individual stage descriptions.
Your journey takes you from the cobbled streets and spires of the Scottish capital and across the historic region of the Kingdom of Fife to finish in Aberdeen. Along the way, you discover iconic towns, cities, and landmarks. The UNESCO World Heritage Forth Bridge, the world-famous golf courses of St Andrews, the V&A Museum in Dundee, and of course, countless castles lie en route.
A variety of scenery awaits too, from evergreen forests to golden beaches and patchwork farmland to rugged coastline. You explore nature reserves both inland and along the coast where wildlife and plant life thrive. Look out for ospreys and migratory birds as you cycle around Loch Leven, one of Europe’s most important bird habitats and Scotland’s largest lowland loch. Along the coast, you may spot dolphins and seals too.
Thanks to the relatively forgiving gradients, this route is suitable for all levels of cyclists. However, whilst the route follows quiet lanes and traffic-free paths for the most part, there are some unavoidable sections along busier B and A roads which may not be suitable for nervous cyclists or children.
You can consider riding any bike, but bear in mind that thicker tread is helpful on some of the unpaved trails. Although taking your road bike is possible, you could end up pushing through the mud at times, especially after rain. The majority of the route is paved, but some of the lanes are a bit bumpy – watch out for potholes.
To keep your cyclists’ hunger at bay, a pitstop in a cafe, restaurant, or pub is never far away. Some of the small fishing villages are renowned for their smoked haddock and ‘Sea Pie’ (it’s actually steak). It never hurts to keep your panniers well stocked with snacks though.
Each stage ends in a village or town where you can find accommodation. However, it is recommended to book in advance, especially in the small fishing villages where beds are limited.
This route is easy to reach by train from across the UK as both Edinburgh and Aberdeen have two of the biggest stations in Scotland (just don’t forget to reserve a space for your bike too). You are never far from a train connection on this route, making it easy to only complete individual stages or to shorten your journey.
If you are interested in the Coast and Castles South route, you can find more information, here: komoot.com/collection/888044/coast-and-castles-cycle-in-the-footsteps-of-legends-and-kings
From the winding cobbled streets of the Scottish capital, your first day takes you 32.5 miles (52.4 km) to Kinross on the banks of the spectacular Loch Leven. Iconic bridges, great coffee stops, and plenty of wide open countryside are the order of the day.
Known for its annual arts festival and steeped in the legends of King Arthur, Edinburgh’s rich history and culture is worth exploring before setting off. From the city centre, you wind through the West End, which houses many of the city’s art venues, before a short stretch on a main road through Haymarket.
Shortly after crossing over the railway tracks, you join Roseburn Path, a traffic-free trail that leads through greenery and over the Water of Leith before merging with the Blackhall Path. These wonderful paths allow you to escape busy roads on your way to the city’s outskirts.
When you reach the River Almond, you bid farewell to Edinburgh. From here, follow a cycle path along the A90 and join the B924. This section of the route is fairly busy, so take care on the roads.
Soon you reach the magnificent Forth Bridge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is considered a symbol of Scotland. The ride over the bridge via the cycleway is exhilarating, but often windy! Bear in mind that it closes to cyclists and pedestrians if wind speeds exceed 50mph (80 kph).
On the other side of the Firth of Forth, you pedal through suburban Inverkeithing, cross over the M90 and wiggle through the edges of Dunfermline town on quiet roads and cycleways. It’s a good idea to stock up on supplies here, it’s your last opportunity today.
From Townhill Country Park, join a lane that gradually climbs through open fields and sleepy hamlets. Next, the B915 is a pleasant stretch through rolling countryside with only minimal traffic. A narrow lane brings you deeper into wild landscapes as it carves between evergreen trees, rocky outcrops, and open moorland with barely a car in sight.
As you continue to climb, the view opens up revealing the Loch Leven National Nature Reserve in the distance. From the highest point of the Tour at 918 feet (280 m) you descend down through farmland to Loch Leven where the small town of Kinross awaits you with a warm bed, plenty of places to dine, and excellent coffee.
On stage 2, you awake in the sleepy village of Kinross on the banks of Scotland’s largest lowland loch, Loch Leven. You can take your time exploring the wonderful nature and history here as today is mostly downhill.
The first stretch takes you to the water’s edge where you join a singletrack around the loch. Be prepared to push your bike in places, especially if it has recently rained and if you’re riding on narrow tyres.
As you pedal around this magnificent body of water, look out for Lochleven Castle perched atop an island. The skies and water teem with various birdlife all year-round. From late summer until spring, thousands of wildfowl winter at the loch. Keep your eyes peeled for ospreys hunting for their supper above the water and otters playing amongst the reeds. There are various hides dotted along the trail where you can look out for many birds who call the loch home. After just under 5 miles (8 km), you leave the water behind and ride towards the Lomond Hills Regional Park.
After a quick pit stop at Loch Leven’s Larder, take a small road through Wester Balgedie hamlet. The lane winds through rugged farmland with the moody Lomond Hills as its backdrop. Shortly before Strathmiglo, a historic village with links to the Picts, you take a sharp right onto a NCN 1 cycle path.
Surrounded by fragrant pines, you pedal through the thick trees before following Maspie Burn which leads into Falkland. Nestled between two hills, this picturesque town has a long royal history. You’ll find plenty of cafes, pubs and shops to refuel, as well as the impressive Falkland Palace: home to one of only two 16th-century tennis courts in Britain.
The stage concludes just up the road in Freuchie. Accommodation is limited so it’s worth researching your options in the surrounding area as well. There’s a pub if you’re peckish too. Alternatively, if you still have time and energy, you could combine stage 2 and 3 to finish in St Andrews.
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Stage 3 is a rural adventure from Freuchie to St Andrews. Patchwork farmland, yellow gorse bushes, and wide views frame your ride to the coast.
Take the main road out of the town centre and cross over the railway tracks. One of the most challenging climbs of the day greets you on the outskirts of the town as you climb Cadger’s Brae. Luckily, it’s only 328 feet (100 m) of ascent, enough to warm up your legs but leave you with enough energy to admire the views.
Up and over the hill, you turn onto a country lane, flanked by trees and open farmland. Fields of grazing sheep and cattle whizz by as you enjoy the gentle descent. There aren’t any towns or villages along this section, but there are a few farms en route where you can ask to fill up your water bottles.
Next, a short climb brings you to the top of Cults Hill, the highest point of Stage 3. From the top, you can enjoy fantastic views over the Howe of Fife. Don’t forget to keep your eye on the road though, as there are a few rough sections.
You follow lanes through lovely Scottish countryside passing the occasional grey stone cottage and admiring wide views over emerald fields and distant hills. The B939 continues your journey through these rural scenes and brings you into Ceres.
Situated in a small glen, Ceres is a pretty village steeped in history. Explore the 17th-century buildings and visit the Fife Folk Museum to learn more about the area’s rich past. Of course, there are plenty of places for a meal too.
Just up the road in Piscottie, you join a lane which runs adjacent to Ceres Burn as it flows through enchanting woodland. Shortly after the 12th-century Dairsie Castle, the road turns away from the River Eden and climbs through green parklands. Next, a wonderful whooshing descent takes you through Strathkinness and into St Andrews.
Known around the world for its golf and historic university, St Andrews is a coastal city with a fascinating past. It’s easy to lose yourself in the Medieval streets lined with traditional buildings. You can find plenty of accommodation ranging from hostels to luxury hotels, as well as places to eat out and shops for a resupply.
From quiet forests to colourful heaths, sandy beaches, and bustling city seafronts, this 24.8-mile (40 km) journey takes you through a variety of coastal landscapes between St Andrews and Dundee.
You begin along the NCN 1, joining a cycle path to avoid the busy A91, which leads past some of St Andrews’ world-famous golf courses. You have to ride with the traffic on the A91 for around a mile, so take care on this section.
You cycle across a bridge over the glistening Eden estuary and join a cycle path that leads through industrial areas before pedaling along quiet streets into Leuchars. The village has resupply and snack break options as well as a beautiful 12th-century church.
Passing Leuchars Castle on your left, you enjoy a quiet stretch into Tentsmuir Forest. The landscape here is constantly changing as the sands shift, the tides turn and the heathland blooms. If you are riding a mountain bike or feeling particularly adventurous, you could venture off onto the trails through the forest. There’s plenty of exploring to be done here.
Take a gravel path through the forest, catching glimpses of the sea between the trees. It’s worth veering off the path to relax on the beach, especially on warm days. Eventually, the treeline gives way to Tayport Heath, a beautiful heath blanketed in wild grasses and purple heather.
Next, you arrive in Tayport, a coastal town with three distinctive lighthouses and an offering of shops, cafes, and pubs. On the outskirts of town, a cycle path with great views over Dundee brings you to Tay Road Bridge. At 1.4 miles (2.25 km) long, it is one of the longest road bridges in Europe! The walkway is shared by pedestrians and cyclists so take extra care, especially as the bridge can be very noisy and pedestrians may not hear you coming.
Across the bridge, you arrive in Dundee, a UNESCO City of Design and Scottland's fourth-largest. You can continue your journey along the city’s seafront before retiring to your accommodation for the night. From museums to swanky bars and galleries, this dynamic city has a lot to offer.
With magical bays, crashing waves, diverse wildlife, and quaint coastal villages, Stage 5 is once again defined by the ever-changing Scottish coastline. Today you ride 32.4 miles (52.3 km) from Dundee to Montrose, continuing northwards.
To leave Dundee, cycle along the traffic-free Esplanade along the seafront. You ride through Broughty Ferry Local Nature Reserve and past Barnhill Rock Garden as you leave the city.
Next, a traffic-free path along a railway line brings you into Carnoustie town and back to the beach. You can really enjoy the nature here as you watch the waves lap at the shore, following a gravel path along the seafront.
A protruding white signal tower marks your arrival in Arbroath, a picturesque harbour town with long beaches and sandstone cliffs. If you’re hungry, you could try Arbroath Smokie, the town’s most famous product. There are traditional smokehouses serving this smoked haddock delicacy tucked away around the harbour.
From the town, you join quiet roads that wiggle through the farmland slightly inland from the coast. I’ve included a small detour from the original route to visit Castlesea Bay and Auchmithie village, both wonderfully peaceful places on the coast.
Back on the official route, you ride up and over the undulating landscape through sprawling farms. The road is completely straight, giving you views for miles over the patchwork countryside. The impressive remains of Red Castle stand on a bluff on the mouth of Lunan Bay, a great place to stop for a picnic.
The final stretch descends into Ferryden and across the water to Montrose. Here, you can look out for migratory birds at the Montrose Basin Nature Reserve before hunkering down for the night. Montrose has a few hotels, pubs, and a large Tesco supermarket.
Your penultimate stage along the Coast & Castles North route is once again defined by dramatic coastlines and historic castles, true to its name. With 1,476 feet (450 m) of ascent spread across 31.4 miles (50.6 km), this is one of the more challenging legs of your adventure.
A cycle path leads you out of the town centre and across the River North Esk where you then follow a road through farmland to St Cyrus National Nature Reserve. This wild and windswept landscape is one of the most important botanical sites in Scotland.
Next, a steep climb brings you to St Cyrus, a small village with a few places to stock up on supplies and grab a hot drink or an ice cream. Afterwards, there is an unavoidable stretch along the A92. Traffic is usually relatively low as the road connects small villages along the coast.
One of those villages is Johnshaven, where you leave the mainroad and arrive once more in coastal idyl. The village has a charming historic harbour which hosts an annual fish festival. It was here that the ‘Sea Pie’, steak beef, potato and onion, was born too. Yum!
From the village, you join a flat track along the seafront. If you prefer smooth tarmac then you can also continue along the road to Gourdon village, another quaint fishing village with its own dialect. Both route options meet again in Inverbervie, a small town which was once a royal hangout.
After a short stretch back on the A92, you join a lane towards the coast, taking a small optional detour to visit Todhead Point, a stunning place to look out over the choppy sea.
The next village en route is Cetterline. This unique place has a shingle bay where fishing boats have operated for more than a thousand years. It’s also said to be where St Ninian landed in 400 AD to convert the Picts to Christianity.
You climb from the village and cross the A92, returning inland to rural countryside. From Dunnottar Castle, you drop down into Stonehaven. Known for its Hogmanay fireballs ceremony, the town has plenty of accommodation and places to eat and drink.
Your final day is a 27-mile (43.6 km) ride from Stonehaven to Aberdeen, where your journey concludes.
You begin with a pleasant section along a quiet B road that climbs through coniferous woodland and luscious fields. You should expect some traffic here though, so you may want to avoid setting off at rush hour.
After 2.7 miles (4.5 km), you join a beautiful lane which leads through wilder countryside. Yellow gorse bushes and purple heather line your way as you pedal up the solitary road. Although there are few cars to look out for, take care to avoid any potholes: the road is poorly paved in places.
Ride by countless fields of grazing farm animals and crops, before heading back towards the coast. Portlethen town offers your first opportunity for a proper pit stop since setting off.
From the town, take a small road to Findon, a small fishing village known for the Finnan haddie smoked haddock.
Continuing along backroads, your surroundings gradually become more urban as you hug the coast and reach the outskirts of Aberdeen. This city is full of contrasts – you can spot dolphins playing just offshore one moment and enjoy a bustling high street the next. Aside from the warming ‘Doric’ dialect spoken by locals here, you will find everything you need to relax after your adventure, from restaurants to spas.
When you’re ready to return home, you can catch a train to many cities across the UK, including London. Just don’t forget to reserve a space for your bike in advance.