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From the Pennine Hills to the tip of Scotland — Great North Trail

For The Hell Of It.cc

From the Pennine Hills to the tip of Scotland — Great North Trail

Mountain Biking Collection by Katherine Moore

15-33

days

3-6 h

/ day

780 mi

59,050 ft

59,225 ft

The Great North Trail is the recent brainchild of national cycling charity CyclingUK, announced in 2019. Starting with the already well established Pennine Bridleway, it then heads North to either Cape Wrath or John O’Groats via the heart of the North, including Kielder Forest, the Scottish Borders and the Capital Trail, the Grampian Mountains and part of the Highland Trail550. Complete the whole route up and you can even enter the Cape Wrath Fellowship!

The route has been devised with touring mountain bikers in mind, and spanning a total of 825 miles (1328km) it’s certainly not for the faint-hearted! Having said that, there’s nothing stopping you doing a few days at a time over smaller tours rather than spending several weeks on the route to complete it in a single sitting. Here the route is set as 16 days which gives a reasonable target but you will certainly need a good level of fitness to complete the route in this time as there are some tough climbs.

There’s a whole variety of terrain types and landscapes as you pass through the North of the UK, from the Roman roads of the Pennines to the canal towpaths linking Edinburgh and Glasgow, the quiet lanes of Northumberland and the wild mountain gravel roads in the Scottish Highlands. Be prepared for a real adventure on two wheels!

The ideal bike set up for this ride is certainly a mountain bike, as there are some technical sections which would be too hard on a gravel, adventure or touring bike. In parts you will find you need to push too, where the terrain is very tricky or steep. Bear in mind the impact this will have on your daily timings. It is imperative that you pack emergency rations, first aid and other equipment such as a survival bag. You will be heading to very remote areas, particularly in the Highlands so make sure that you are familiar with emergency procedures.

In terms of accommodation along the route, there are usually many options for overnight stays in rural towns and villages, from hotels to hostels, guest houses and camping grounds. In Scotland you can wild camp legally thanks to the Right To Roam act (see more at scotways.com/faq/law-on-statutory-access-rights), and you might find that it’s best to do this in a few places where it gets more remote in the Highlands. Make sure you do book ahead, especially in peak season during the summer months.

The Great North trail is easily accessible from the South from nearby train station in Wirksworth, and there are many stations along the route which make dividing the entire length into smaller chunks relatively easy too. When it comes to the other end, travel options are less easy so you’ll probably need to factor in some extra time in your trip. From Cape Wrath, the nearest train stations are Lairg and Thurso. Lairg is a 60 mile (96km) ride South back near the Oykel Bridge Hotel, and Thurso is on the North coast near John O’Groats, a 73 mile (117km) ride away. If you wish to fly, the nearest international airports are Inverness (North) and Manchester or Birmingham (South).

As with a lot of the UK, weather can be unpredictable and you’re certainly likely to experience all kinds of weather over a 16 day tour. Make sure you pack appropriate clothing for all conditions including good quality waterproofs. Spare sets of brake pads along with all the normal tools and spares are a good idea! The best times of year to take on this challenge are late spring and autumn - therefore missing peak tourist and midge seasons whilst still enjoying some better weather - we hope...

For more information on the route from CyclingUK, visit cyclinguk.org/route/great-north-trail-full-route-cape-wrath
Visit here for the latest trail updates: facebook.com/groups/greatnorthtrail
Check the Cape Wrath Ferry timetable here capewrathferry.wordpress.com/rates-and-services

On The Map

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Great North Trail (Cape Wrath)

753 mi

57,850 ft

58,500 ft

Last updated: November 10, 2021

Plan your own version of this adventure in the multi-day planner based on the stages suggested in this Collection.

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Tours & Highlights

  • Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors

    Day 1: Wirksworth to Hadfield - Great North Trail

    Difficult
    05:55
    47.8 mi
    8.1 mph
    3,950 ft
    3,925 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    Start the Great North Trail from the train station in Winksworth, Derbyshire to head North. This way you’ll gradually get used to your set up and self-sufficiency before it gets too remote in the remote Scottish Highlands! It’s a simple first day following the well sign marked Pennine Bridleway, covering

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Difficult
    05:58
    36.1 mi
    6.1 mph
    5,375 ft
    4,925 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    After your first overnighter in Hadfield, the second day spans a shorter 36 miles (58km) up to Hebden Bridge in the Upper Calder Valley, Yorkshire. Again on the Pennine Bridleway route, you’ll experience some of the very best riding that this area has to offer, today with a lot of climbing and descending

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Difficult
    07:31
    53.9 mi
    7.2 mph
    5,350 ft
    5,800 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    The third day of the Great North Trail takes you into the Yorkshire Dales National Park, after the 54 mile (87km) route passing through Lancashire. It’s a big day, so make sure you start early and are equipped with plenty of provisions!

    

    Some of the best sections of the Pennine Bridleway feature today

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Difficult
    05:16
    35.9 mi
    6.8 mph
    3,350 ft
    3,300 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    The Pennine Bridleway is finished by the time you complete today’s 36 mile (58km) route, heading North through the heart of the spectacular Yorkshire Dales National Park along ancient Roman roads and rocky singletrack. You’ll pass through the iconic landscape home to the famous Three Peaks Cyclo-cross

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Difficult
    06:46
    57.3 mi
    8.5 mph
    3,750 ft
    3,925 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    Leave the Pennine Bridleway behind you now as you continue North, now with less help on navigation from the signposts! On this fifth day of 16 you’ll pass through the county of Cumbria, climbing the mighty Great Dun Fell up onto the Northern tip of the Pennine Hills and onwards North to the lovely town

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Intermediate
    04:42
    38.6 mi
    8.2 mph
    2,425 ft
    2,150 ft
    Intermediate mountain bike ride. Good fitness required. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The last day before the border crossing, day six takes you into the centre of Northumberland’s gravel paradise; Kielder Forest Park. Climbing out of Haltwhistle, you soon pass by the old relics of Hadrian’s wall, once constructed to defend the Northern territory of the Roman Empire. It’s not far from

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Difficult
    07:53
    54.2 mi
    6.9 mph
    4,850 ft
    5,000 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    Today’s the big day - the border crossing to Bonnie Scotland! You’ll tackle no less than 54 miles (87km) as you firstly head West, climbing out of Kielder Forest Park and across into the Scottish Borders. Don’t expect a fanfare, bagpipes and haggis just yet, the crossing is a very minimal affair.

    

    The

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Difficult
    06:21
    44.0 mi
    6.9 mph
    4,550 ft
    4,700 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    Head back up the hill to Traquair to rejoin the Great North Trail on the Capital Trail after your night in Innerleithen, to start today’s stage at 44 miles (71 km). Cut off part of the Capital Trail on the drovers road over near the top of Birkscairn Hill before enjoying the descent of Gypsy Glen down

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Difficult
    05:28
    59.0 mi
    10.8 mph
    1,275 ft
    1,450 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Day nine is certainly a unique one on the Great North Trail, linking the two largest cities in Scotland via flat, traffic-free tow paths; the Union Canal and the Forth and Clyde Canal over 59 miles (95km). It might not be the most exciting day in terms of terrain and views, but it’s a good easy day on

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Difficult
    06:35
    50.4 mi
    7.7 mph
    2,975 ft
    2,900 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    Wave goodbye to civilisation as you leave the city of Glasgow behind today to start the more remote segment of the Great North Trail into the mountains of Scotland. Today you’ll head up into the Grampian Mountains so make sure you have plenty of food and emergency rations too, not to mention wet weather

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Difficult
    07:26
    60.6 mi
    8.2 mph
    4,275 ft
    3,800 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    Another long day on the cards today, with no less than 61 miles (98km) to tackle heading up through the central Grampian Hills. Start by following National Cycle Route 7 along the Western shore of Loch Lubnaig, a very gentle and easy off road cycle path. Head on North through Lochearnhead, up Ogle Burn

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Difficult
    08:25
    61.5 mi
    7.3 mph
    4,550 ft
    5,175 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    Another mega day on the cards here heading to Fort Augustus over 62 miles (99km) of riding with the mighty Corrieyairack Pass. Hope you’re ready for it!

    

    Start the day by climbing firstly on paved, and then unpaved road up past the summit of Carn Dearg, dropping down a little to Loch Ossian. It’s well

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Difficult
    05:58
    41.0 mi
    6.9 mph
    4,400 ft
    3,500 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    Update: the Hydro Bothy has been demolished (June 2020).

    

    Today you’re heading into the Western Highlands, and with a shorter 41 miles (66km) to cover over some more testing and remote terrain. Tonight you’re heading for the Hydro Bothy, a staple in the Highland Trail 550 rider’s journey, which is anything

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Difficult
    07:11
    56.9 mi
    7.9 mph
    2,825 ft
    3,650 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    Update: the Hydro Bothy has been demolished (June 2020).

    

    Leave the remote beauty and minimalism of the Hydro Bothy behind you as you head on North today, passing into the Northern Highlands and covering a total of 57 miles (92km).

    

    For a change, today starts with a descent rather than a climb, heading down

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Intermediate
    03:20
    32.9 mi
    9.9 mph
    1,700 ft
    1,475 ft
    Intermediate mountain bike ride. Good fitness required. Suitable for all skill levels.

    You’ll be glad of the respite today with a shorter ride of 33 miles (53km) after a few mammoth days in the Scottish Highlands. Leave the comfort of the Oykel Bridge Hotel behind today, and look forward to the very gentle ride, bar the one climb and descent of Maovally, or the Power Station climb.

    

    Start

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Difficult
    05:42
    50.0 mi
    8.8 mph
    3,500 ft
    3,575 ft
    Ferry
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Suitable for all skill levels. The Tour includes a crossing by ferry.

    Brace yourself - it’s the last day! You might be sad or relieved to have reached this point, but no matter how you’re feeling, you will certainly be in for a treat today as you head to Cape Wrath. It’s the most North-Westerly point of the United Kingdom mainland but you’ll be glad to hear at the end

    by Katherine Moore

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Questions and Comments

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    16
  • Distance
    780 mi
  • Duration
    100:24 h
  • Elevation
    59,050 ft59,225 ft

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