Named after the numerous fire roads that criss-cross the Dee Valley, but also after the bike shop in Aboyne of the same name, the Firetrail is a challenging and rewarding bikepacking route close to Aberdeen in North-East Scotland.
The 104-mile (168 km) route is made up of a huge variety of terrain, from moorland tracks, forest roads, skinny singletrack and traffic-free routes. While this isn't a totally original route to anyone from the local area, I feel it's worth sharing this two to three day variation on a few routes I've tried around the area, with help from Firetrail (previously the Aberdeenshire Bicycle Works) in Aboyne.
The Firetrail starts in Aboyne, where you can find plenty of options for accommodation, food and drink and easy transport links. From here you ride along the Fungle Road, an ancient drovers' track crossing multiple valleys and through picturesque glens. Then you pass through Tarfside with its free to use community campsite before you tackle the long climb up to Mount Keen, the most easterly of the Munros.
From this high point of this route. There's a steep descent into Glen Tanar, with its majestic Scots pine forest and a real feeling of isolation even though civilisation is just down the road. A steep climb and following descent takes you back into the Dee Valley and onto the old railway line cycle route to Ballater.
You ride up through Glen Muick and into the royal Balmoral Estate next, with its fantastically smooth dirt roads and beautiful forests. Out of Balmoral you then cross the ancient Invercauld Bridge into the Invercauld Estate, before pacing the long climb to a high pass. There are more stands of magnificent Scots pines to ride by as you ride across to the eastern side of the Cairngorms, before a long descent beside the river through Glen Gairn.
Next on the menu is the climb up Geallaig Hill, which yields panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, valleys and perhaps even the distant North Sea on a clear day. You'll then descend down to the River Gairn again before climbing up Lary Road. This track takes you past the imposing bulk of Morven before a rough and ready descent back into the Dee Valley watershed again.
The final few miles are relatively easy through rolling farmland leading to Tarland and eventually back through the forest to complete the loop in Aboyne.
While there's a fair amount of smoother trails on this route that are suitable for a gravel bike, there's also plenty of rough, loose and rocky ones, so I would recommend at least mountain bike sized tyres on your chosen bike, and preferably suspension as well, just get to enjoy the descents more. And Mount Keen is definitely mountain bike terrain!
Starting in Aboyne where you can find plenty of accommodation options, food and drink outlets and easy transport links, you ride along the Fungle Road, an ancient drovers' track crossing …
From the high peak of this route at Mount Keen, it's a steep descent into Glen Tanar, with its majestic Scots pine forest and a real feeling of isolation even …
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Continuing from the previous section, there's plenty of good camping or bivvi options at the start of this route, although unfortunately the fantastic grass-roofed bothy is a locked hunting lodge …