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Cairngorm crackers — mountain biking deep in the Highlands

volker40sw

Cairngorm crackers — mountain biking deep in the Highlands

Mountain Biking Collection by Barney

7

Tours

30:53 h

176 mi

21,125 ft

If you want true solitude, true wilderness and true mountain experiences in the UK, and you're coming (as most will be) from the south, your safest bet is to head north, and then north and finally north some more. Then head a little east, and eventually you'll find yourself in the Cairngorms mountain range.

For mountain biking, in sheer scale and scope, there's nowhere to rival the Cairngorm range in the UK. Indeed, for potential height gain, potential distance and potential weather experiences the region is unique, but the rewards are similarly colossal. Originally much higher and more forbidding, ice ages and weather have eroded the mountains to relative stumps in comparison to their previous glory - but they're still pretty forbidding. And of course, the somewhat more rolling shape affords many more exquisite possibilities for mountain biking.

There are no roads through the range; it's approached by skirting it from the south, or from the north; likely as not you'll find yourself on one of the settlements on the River Spey. The prime location is probably Aviemore. It's the most developed, and the town with the most facilities for tourists - although this can mean it gets busy, even in the summer. There's a train station, lots of accommodation options and plenty of outdoor shops and bike hire places. But although it's busy, as soon as you head more than a mile or two into the hills things become markedly more quiet.

Other alternative places stay include Kingussie (which also has a train station) to the south and Grantown to the north. They're both a little smaller, but they all offer suitable amenities to bikers - and of course, they all have excellent mountain biking opportunities on their doorsteps.

And what opportunities they are! From the quiet loch side pottering around Loch Gynack just north of Kingussie to the preposterously epic Lairig Ghru or the summits of Two to Five (which denotes the second, third, fourth and fifth highest peaks in Scotland) there's something here for everyone, but especially for those with a mind for real, honest to goodness isolated mountain riding.

Especially on those longer rides, there will inevitably be occasions when you'll need to carry your bike; make no mistake, these Tours aren't for the faint of heart, and it's essential that you follow proper mountain safety procedures. Take extra clothing, appropriate equipment, download offline maps (but make sure to take paper ones as backups), take a first aid kit and emergency rations and know where you are at all times. The weather can be extremely changeable, especially on the tops, so leave information about your route with someone - even if it's someone at a local bike shop or cafe, it's better to be safe than sorry. And the bothy shelters which can be found in the area - originally shelters for rangers and gamekeepers - have saved many lives in the past.

The weather is a key issue in the Cairngorms - they have experienced the highest winds ever in Britain (176mph, 283kph) in the winter of 1993 and temperatures as cold as -27℃ have been recorded. A lot of riding happens higher up on the plateau - but this should be avoided if the weather is poor; there are many more fantastic opportunities further down the valleys which don't offer nearly as much exposure.

But for all this doom-mongering, the Cairngorms can offer a variety of unique and glorious experiences you'll be hard pressed to find anywhere else in the world, let alone the UK. Make adequate preparations, plan properly and you'll be rewarded with two-wheeled adventures that you'll never forget!

On The Map

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Tours & Highlights

  • Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors

    Rothiemurchus and Meall a' Bhuachaille — biking the Cairngorms

    Difficult
    04:27
    28.2 mi
    6.3 mph
    3,475 ft
    3,475 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This is a big old day in the saddle and no mistake, but all that effort is rewarded with some of the finest riding in the area. It's forested to start with, but soon gets more exposed - so prepare accordingly!

    

    The route starts at Inverdruie, which is just south of Aviemore, and wends its way southwards

    by Barney

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  • Intermediate
    03:40
    24.6 mi
    6.7 mph
    2,325 ft
    2,325 ft
    Intermediate mountain bike ride. Good fitness required. Suitable for all skill levels.

    By all accounts, General Wade was an unusual chap. Served in all sorts of wars, and then got a bee in his bonnet about subjugating the rowdy Scots by building all manner of barracks, bridges, and road all over the highlands of Scotland. This proved lucky for us bikers though, as his roads provide an

    by Barney

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  • Difficult
    07:14
    33.1 mi
    4.6 mph
    3,850 ft
    3,850 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    This is an enormous day out, with some substantial mileage. It's certainly an all-dayer! But for all that mileage, there's not a colossal amount of climbing.

    

    Sure, 1,260 metres (4,232 ft) of climbing is not to be sniffed at, but it's mostly contained within one long haul at the start, and another half

    by Barney

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  • Intermediate
    03:52
    29.3 mi
    7.6 mph
    1,900 ft
    1,900 ft
    Intermediate mountain bike ride. Good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    This is a loop to be savoured. Slightly to the north of Aviemore, Grantown-on-Spey is smaller, and not quite as festooned with tourists and outdoor enthusiasts, and so has plenty of appeal if you enjoy things being slightly more quiet.

    

    The route initially heads out up to Beachen Woods. The route provides

    by Barney

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  • Difficult
    07:54
    33.7 mi
    4.3 mph
    7,150 ft
    7,175 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    This Tour is a monster. A long, long ride, with 2,134 metres (7,000 ft) of climbing. That's a whole lot, by anyone's standards. The rewards, though, are totally phenomenal. Technical climbs. Technical descents. Staggering views. Scotland's second, third, fourth and fifth-highest summits. And true, true

    by Barney

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  • Intermediate
    00:50
    6.79 mi
    8.1 mph
    450 ft
    475 ft
    Intermediate mountain bike ride. Great for any fitness level. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    A good, straightforward ride with not much climbing; excellent for a quick poor weather blast, or a picnic with the kids, with a taste of good wilderness riding thrown in.

    

    From Kingussie, the route heads north past the golf course, and up to Loch Gynack, which is ridiculously picturesque, nestled as it

    by Barney

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  • Intermediate
    02:56
    20.3 mi
    6.9 mph
    1,975 ft
    1,975 ft
    Intermediate mountain bike ride. Good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    This is a terrific route which packs in plenty of singletrack, plenty of views and a whole lot of fun.

    

    From Kingussie, the route drops south before heading east past Drumguish and into the woods to reach the top of Creag Dhubh.

    

    From here, there's a brilliant trail down the eastern flank to the road, which

    by Barney

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    7
  • Distance
    176 mi
  • Duration
    30:53 h
  • Elevation
    21,125 ft

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