The Faultline Trail is the ultimate Scottish end-to-end challenge, from the most southerly tip at the Mull of Galloway to the most northerly at Dunnet Head, in anything but direct fashion.
This is a serious bikepacking challenge, covering over 730 miles (1,175 km) of Scotland’s most remote moorlands, spectacular loch networks, testing mountains and pine-fresh forests. Unconventional and indirect, do you have what it takes to cover the vast country by roads both rough and smooth?
A lovechild of Scotland-based cycling collective Albannach, which literally translates as ‘to belong to Scotland’, this route was formulated by Jim Cameron and tested together with Neil Henderson in May 2019.
The ‘Faultline Trail’ name was initially used to describe the fault that runs through Scotland between Campbeltown and Inverness, but as you’ll see they got a bit carried away with the cartophilia and ended up with an even longer route that spans the whole gaelic country from lighthouse to lighthouse!
The route is around 50:50 roads and off road, so the perfect bike for this kind of ride is likely to be a gravel bike with wide tyres, preferably 40mm plus. Of course, this will depend on personal preference and a rigid or hardtail mountain bike will also be fine. You’ll need to be able to carry equipment with you on your bike as several of the stages end in remote areas with no accommodation options other than wild camping.
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). If you’re choosing from the hotels, guesthouses and campsites along the route, make sure you do book ahead, especially in peak season during the summer months.
This is not a beginner’s trip; you will need to have bikepacking experience to tackle this challenge, not only due to its length and terrain difficulty, but also due to how remote the areas are that you’ll pass through. Regardless of experience level, make sure that you can carry the right equipment for the conditions as well as emergency kit (rations, first aid, extra layers and survival bags etc.) as well as be familiar with local emergency procedures.
The best time of year to tackle the Faultline Trail is undoubtedly late spring to early summer, once the ground has dried out a little, but before the onset of midge season. Alternatively the late summer months can also be good, including September and early October. It’s not recommended for the winter season due to boggy conditions under tyre, some potentially dangerous river crossings and severe weather.
Access to either end is a little more complex than some other bikepacking routes due to the extremities of the country that it spans. To get to the start at the Mull of Galloway, there are rail connections to Stranraer, which is a 21.7 mile (35 km) ride from the lighthouse at the start. Similarly at the other end, the nearest train station at Thurso is a 13.4 mile (21.5 km) ride from the finish at Dunnet Head. Check out more about these train journeys at scotrail.co.uk.
Check out more from the routemasters at albannach.cc/thefaultlinetrail
You’ll start your ambitious Scottish traverse from the Mull of Galloway, next to the gleaming white lighthouse. On this first stage, there’s no less than 58 miles (93.2 km) to cover, so don’t spend too long in the museum there before getting going!
Leave Scotland’s most southerly point behind as you head north along the peninsula along the quiet road on the east coast. Passing outside of Stranraer, a busy ferry port to Ireland, you’ll ride through the Lochinch Castle estate and past the loch, along lanes to Penwhirn Reservoir.
The second half of the stage is where the real climbing kicks in. Enjoy your first real taste of off road along Dungeon Glen, where the rough moorland has engulfed the once paved road. Next up is the forest from Glenkitten Fell, where you’ll follow forestry gravel roads for the rest of the stage, over the River Cree to a good place in the woodlands to set up camp for the night near the shores of Loch Moan.
Stage 2 involves a total of 44.3 miles (71.3 km) from water to water, the banks of Loch Moan to the Afton Reservoir, across Carrick Forest and Carsphairn Forest. Therefore, you’ll be riding a lot of wide, gravel forestry roads today, a good way to keep a modest pace.
After a short stint along National Cycle Route 7 (Sunderland to Inverness) you’ll head east through the forest, passing nearby Lochs Bradan and Riecawr before tracing the western shores of the much larger Loch Doon.
Cross the busy A713 with care, passing from Ayrshire into Dumfries and Galloway. The last section of the day takes you up through the Carsphairn Forest to summit at Windy Standard, before dropping down the paved road here to the edge of Afton Reservoir, back in Ayrshire. It’s a remote and beautiful place to camp for the night, with a choice of woodland or open grassland.
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The third stage of the Faultline Trail starts with a long descent, and is also the shortest of all the stages at 26.8 miles (43.1 km). You’ll finish in the small village of Glespin, but not before passing through the town of New Cumnock on the way.
The general direction of the stage is north east, firstly leaving the Afton Reservoir and joining the road alongside Afton Water. Before you reach Cumnock, you’ll pass the cairn that the members of the New Cumnock Robert Burns Club erected in the ‘70s.
Take your chance to restock on supplies in New Cumnock and make the most of the facilities here; the rest of the stage is pretty remote. When you’re ready, cross the train tracks and take Mansfield road heading east, climbing up and into the forestry land.
For the rest of the stage you’ll be up in this coniferous forest, contouring around the hill summits or rising and descending gently over them, fairly easy going on the wide and empty gravel roads.
Near Hartwood Hill the road is paved once more and you take the last stretch of the stage gently downhill toward the village of Glespin. If you need to resupply, take a detour along the main road to Douglas, just 3 miles (5 km) away.
From the little village of Glespin in South Lanarkshire to the bright lights of Glasgow city, this fourth stage will take you over 56.7 miles (91.2 km) of winding wind farm gravel access roads, country park trails and along the Forth and Clyde Canal. It might look like a very long stage, but the terrain is fairly easy to cover and there is a fair bit of descending into the city too!
Start by heading straight up Ararat Hill - if you were cold to start you won’t be for long. Cross over the hillside onto unpaved doubletrack roads, then onto quiet smooth-rolling lanes into Strathaven.
You’ll see the hundreds of wind turbines from far before you reach Whitelee Wind Farm, taking the endless wide gravel access tracks over the tops between the white giants stretching up into the sky. It’s a popular area for families and dog walkers too. Why not go and check out the visitor centre and cafe near the entrance before your descent into Glasgow?
Enjoy flying down into the city the green way; firstly on the main Ayr Road before passing Pilmuir Reservoir on the quiet road, past Balgray Reservoir and through Dams to Darnley Country Park.
After Pollok Country Park and passing alongside Queen’s Park, you’ll ride close to the centre of Glasgow before crossing the River Clyde and finishing on the Forth and Clyde Canal. If you’re staying the night in Glasgow, there are plenty of accommodation options across the city, but staying on this north west edge will ensure a quick and easy escape the following day.
Rather than carry on in a direct line to the most northern tip of Scotland, this stage actually takes you north west over 54.2 miles (87.2 km) to Lochgoilhead. The anything-but-direct Faultline Trail leads you toward the Isle of Jura before heading north again.
The contrast between the suburbs of Glasgow at the start of this stage and the growing remoteness as you pass through the day is quite something. Begin by following National Cycle Route 7 (Sunderland to Inverness) to Dumbarton and then along the River Leven to Balloch.
Here on the shore of Loch Lomond head due west, climbing sharply up Ben Bouie (there will be some hike-a-bike here) and then along the road climbing gently to Glen Fruin. If you haven’t already, make sure you stop to take in the staggering scale of this landscape and the peaks that surround you.
Take the main road now north to Arrochar at the head of Loch Long, then around the hill of Ben Donich on gravel tracks through the forest. Rejoin the road by the River Goil to head down to Lochgoilhead, the end of the stage. There’s a selection of hotels and guesthouses here if you fancy a night under a roof rather than canvas.
One of the most beautiful stages of them all, this sixth stage totals 50.1 miles (80.7 km) from Lochgoilhead to Tarbert, after the ferry across Loch Fyne from Portavadie. You leave the Cowal Peninsula behind to ride to the Kintyre Peninsula along coastal sea loch and the hilly Acharossan Forest.
The road down the west shore of Loch Goil is your easy introduction for the stage, before crumbling into doubletrack and then singletrack after Carrick Castle on the water’s edge. The forest trails will lead you by the sea loch to Stronvochlan and along paved roads once more from Ardentinny.
Follow the Shore Road around Strone Hill before joining National Cycle Route 75 (Edinburgh to Portavadie) to head east across the land to Loch Striven. Continue along this road cycle route until you cross the River Ruel, where you take a different path to Portavadie from the road.
Cut down the centre of the peninsula on gravel forestry tracks into the heart of the Acharossan Forest through Tighnabruaich. The first climb is long and at times steep, but you’ll be rewarded with a long descent past Powder Dam and down to the coastline at Portavadie for the ferry crossing. Check out times and costs at calmac.co.uk/tarbert-portavadie-ferry-winter-timetable. Your stage ends at the other side of Loch Fyne in Tarbert where you’ll find a few lovely cafes and some places to stay if you’d rather not wild camp for the night.
Stage 7 is a journey of two halves; firstly the hilly crossing from Tarbert to the Sound of Jura and then back to Loch Fyne, then a flat ride along the lochside and Crinin canal to the historical village of Kilmartin. In total it is a stage of 45.6 miles (73.4 km).
Start by leaving Tarbert behind to head west for the Sound of Jura. You’ll follow National Cycle Route 78 (Campbeltown to Inverness) to begin, before moving onto off-road tracks after Lochan Laith. The first climb is gradual to summit near Cruach Lagain, before you descend gently to Cretshengan Bay.
There’s no fanfare or great landmark when you reach the Sound of Jura here, just a beautiful view before you turn back north east to cross the hills again. The first climb summits near Loch Eun, then you descend before tackling the second, more steep gradient up to Cruach a'Phubuill peak.
After descending all the way off the peak down to Loch Fyne on doubletrack, follow the edge of the sea loch north to the village of Ardrishaig. Here you take the canal towpath to the mouth of the River Add, before taking lanes to finish the stage in Kilmartin, home of a huge bronze age and neolithic burial.
Leave the fascinating ancient history of Kilmartin village behind as you begin this long 57.7 mile (93 km) stage to the Bridge of Orchy. Thankfully there’s a great hotel at the end of this tough stage which you might need after completing it! If you’d rather camp nearby, of course there’s the option to have a great filling meal here too.
Head north-east out of the village to join National Cycle Route 78 (Campbeltown to Inverness) for a little while, that takes the quiet back road around the southern tip of Loch Awe.
Climb into Inverliever Forest from Inverliever Lodge on the waterside, a sharp rise up through Glen Liever. Follow these forestry tracks north-east over the hilltops before descending to pass Loch Avich and take Gleann Meisean up the other side into the woods again. Climb even higher this time to summit in the wind farm before the long off road descent to rejoin the National Cycle Route 78 past Loch Nant.
Follow this along the road to Taynuilt, before crossing the River Awe over the bouncy swing bridge. Here you’ll find Inverawe Smokehouse, a delightful lunch stop or shopping experience for anyone who loves seafood!
Take the country park gravel road through the forest to follow the eastern shores of Loch Etive, heading inland up Glen Kinglass. Follow the river as you steadily climb, the doubletrack turning into singletrack near the head on your last summit of the stage.
Alas, you won’t descend what you’ve climbed in this stage, but the final stretch is a slight downhill followed by more flat terrain, as you continue east past the wild and remote Loch Dochard and Loch Tulla to the Bridge of Orchy. Enjoy a meal or a night here, this oasis in the blissfully empty moorland of Argyll and Bute.
The ninth stage takes you from bridge to bridge, over the River Orchy to the River Gaur some 41.2 miles (66.3 km) later. There are two big climbs on the menu on this stage; the first more gentle and the second steeper.
Start by leaving the Bridge of Orchy and heading south-east taking the gravel road between the trainline and Allt Kinglass, turning east to start the gravel mountain pass climb. This first, more gradual climb shouldn’t be too strenuous up to Loch Lyon. Follow the shoreline to Pubil. From here you join the road again and descend gently along the River Lyon to the Bridge of Balgie.
Enjoy a pit stop at the Glenlyon Post Office & Tearooms here before starting the hardest climb of the day. This gravel road mountain pass takes you between Meall a' Mhuic and Beinn Dearg. It’s a fairly short, but sharp ascent, so you may find you need to push your laden bike up this one.
From the top, descend on forest roads through Rannoch Forest before skirting around Leagag summit and finally down to the Bridge of Gaur at the western edge of Loch Rannoch. There’s a guesthouse and hotel here if you’d like overnight accommodation or plenty of great wild camping spots.
This tenth stage takes you to the heart of the Scottish Highlands, to the lively town of Fort Augustus that’s a mecca for outdoorsy types and adventurers!
You’ll ride 60.6 miles (97.5 km) from the edge of Loch Rannoch north through the Corrour Estate past beautiful Loch Ossian and the most remote train station in the UK, by the lochs in the Ardverikie Estate — famous for its castle’s many TV appearances — then over the famous Corrieyairack Pass into Fort Augustus.
Head west on the road to start and peel off onto gravel doubletracks to the north as you gently climb along ‘The Road Of The Isles’. It levels off to ride to Loch Ossian, taking the lesser-ridden south shore past the hunting lodge at the head, then on northwards to pass Loch Ghuibinn.
The roads are wide and fairly flat as you ride to Glen Spean through the forest, then along Lochan na h-Earba on the same route as the Highland Trail 550. Here you ride through the centre of the Ardverikie Estate, known from the British TV series ‘Monarch of the Glen’.
Pass the eastern end of Loch Laggan and over the road to take the gravel Deer Park Road to join the River Spey, the water that yields some fantastic whiskeys! From the road here you start your attempt on the Corrieyairack Pass, which has somewhat legendary status in these parts. It climbs up to 2,526 feet (770 meters) and forms part of a network of military roads built in this area by General Wade in the 18th Century.
You’ll be relieved to descend over the other side of the pass into the relative luxury of Fort Augustus and it’s many facilities. Choose from a great range of accommodation options here and many places to eat and drink after a pretty tough stage.
Update: the Hydro Bothy has been demolished (June 2020). Find an alternative 5 km east at Tighachrochadair Bothy.
From the comfort of a lively town back to the wilderness, today’s eleventh stage takes you along part of the Highland Trail 550 route to end at the very basic ‘Hydro Bothy’. It’s a shorter stage at 40 miles (64.3 km) which will no doubt be a relief after the previous stage.
Start by riding the gravel tracks from Loch Ness up and over into the next valley, Glen Morriston. The following section is a wiggling gravel road link between Dundreggan and Tomich, starting with a tough two-step climb to Loch na Beinne Baine.
Enjoy the long and thrilling gravel road descent off the top here, through the Guisachan Forest, past the estate house and north-east to Tomich.
Enjoy this fast and flat river valley section on the road as you follow the River Glass north-east, crossing at Struy to start your last challenge of the stage; the climb to the Hydro Bothy. This road quickly turns into a rocky doubletrack ascent, a first ramp then a flat section past Lochan Fada. It then ramps up again to Loch Balloch before heading west on the tops to the less-than-spectacular Hydro Bothy.
The bothy was once a cement store for the pipeline work for Orrin Reservoir, and now provides an often much-needed shelter from the Scottish elements, particularly in these remote parts. It’s not exactly five-star, but at least it’s dry.
From the basic charm of the Hydro Bothy to the luxury of the Oykel Bridge Hotel, stage 12 is a 58 mile (93.5 km) stage zig-zagging in a general northerly direction via Contin and the remote Loch Vaich.
Start your day with the descent past Orrin Dam and down to Marybank where you rejoin the road. If you’ve had just some soggy rolls or crumbled flapjack for breakfast in the bothy you’ll be pleased to know that the well-stocked Contin Stores is just down the road here.
Take the track on the other side of Black Water from the road, along the side of Loch Garve and through the Strathgarve Forest. Cross the road and river by Inchbae Lodge Hotel, before following Strath Rannoch up to the spectacularly remote Loch Vaich.
The gravel doubletrack road here on the eastern shore leads you north past the peak of Meall a' Chaorainn on your left, and then the Deanich Lodge retreat. Ride along Gleann Mor gently descending now to the River Carron in the Amat Forest.
For the final stretch you’ll follow the Black Water along Strath Cuileannach, meeting Glen Enig to drop down to Oykel Bridge. The hotel here has both luxurious rooms or more basic ‘bothy rooms’, depending on how decadent you are feeling!
You’re really in the North Highlands on stage 13, navigating over 52 miles (83.8 km) to the hamlet of Altnaharra next to Loch Naver. The biggest climb on the route today is on asphalt, known as the ‘power station climb’, but otherwise it’s a relatively gentle day for the legs!
Head east along the road from Oykel Bridge to Rosehall to begin the stage, taking the more minor road by the Achness Hotel to head up the river to the north. The state of this road disintegrates as you gently climb up Glen Cassley, before the track that takes you past the power station and over Maovally Peak down to Loch Shin on the other side.
Take the road around the western shores of the water, passing Loch a' Ghriama to the east as you head north to pass Loch Merkland too along this smooth tarmac. At West Merkland you’ll take the doubletrack road heading between Meallan Liath Mor and Cnoc a'Choilich, climbing up alongside the running water to Loch an t-Seilg.
Here you ride along the tops, contouring around the imposing Beinn Direach summit before the brilliant wooded descent past Gobernuisgach Lodge to rejoin the road.
There’s a short climb now along the smooth, smooth tarmacked road to Loch Meadie, then further along this road to lead you to the end of the stage in Altnaharra. Choose between a wild camp by the shores of Loch Naver or the comfort of a hot shower and bed at Altnaharra Hotel - up to you!
You’re really getting close now as the penultimate stage takes you almost to the end of your incredible end-to-end journey across Scotland, from the southern to the northern tip via the gorgeous west.
A total of 48.7 miles (78.3 km) across this wild and unforgiving landscape awaits you, from the tiny little hamlet of Altnaharra to the nature reserve at Forsinard Flows, with a route that could be described as anything but direct.
Your initial bearing is east as you follow the shores of Loch Naver and through the Naver Forest heading north. You then turn south-east to take the gravel road past Loch Rosail, Rimsdale and into Badanloch Forest to rejoin the road at Kinbrace.
Take the road north from here as you gently climb alongside Bannockburn, once the site of a bloody battle, now serene and empty. Pass by Forsinard Flows railway station before taking a right hand turn into the nature reserve itself, winding along the twisty gravel road starting with a steady climb past Sletill Hill.
The road here is as sandy as it is gravelly, through both preserved woodland and moorland. The stage finishes here not far from Altnabreac Station. You can either choose to camp nearby or carry straight onto stage 15 to find more accommodation on the route.
The fifteenth and final stage of the Faultline Trail is the shortest at 36.1 miles (58.1 km), designed so that you can enjoy your finish at Dunnet Head lighthouse with plenty of the day left for celebrating, relaxing and planning your overnight stay or onward travel home.
Rather than taking the classic route to John O’Groats, the Faultline Trail actually ends just to the west of the famous point at the lesser-known Dunnet Head, officially the most northerly point of the British mainland.
Pass the most remote train station in the UK, Altnabreac Station, to start this last stage, no longer in the Forsinard Flows Nature Reserve but nevertheless surrounded by beautiful scenery from expansive moorland to the beaches alongside the loch network here.
Touch alongside Loch More and Loch Meadie as you head north on the lane here to rejoin a larger road, dead straight to Halkirk. Your way is paved now to the finish; heading north east on lanes to briefly join National Cycle Route 1 (Dover to Shetland) outside Castletown, past Loch Heilen.
Make your way to the lighthouse on the Easter Head peninsula, passing Windhaven cafe and camping, which could make a great overnight stop for you, before heading home. That’s it, you’ve crossed the length of Scotland powered by bike along Loch and over hill, along the anything but direct Faultline Trail.