We’ve had a really wet and windy start to 2020 so when our favourite local weatherman Windy Wilson (@WindyWilson88) said “HIGH pressure now beginning to build” plans were put in place for a trip out on the bikes. We’ve not been for a cycle together for a wee while and we were keen to have a play with our new navigation app RideWithGPS. There are lots of navigation apps for cycling and they all have their pros and cons but RideWithGPS is definitely the best for those of us that want to provide really good information about cycling routes in the Highlands of Scotland.
I’d clearly not paid sufficient attention to the “afternoon” caveat in Windy’s forecast and as we drove through icy showers with slush building up in the wheel arches I realised why my colleagues had been keen to go on Sunday instead. Luckily the sleet had stopped by the time we parked in Spean Bridge and commenced the pre-ride faffing.
The main purpose of the trip was to see if the surface of the Great Glen Way between Clunes and Laggan Locks is suitable for hybrid or gravel bikes. I also wanted to check out the path from Spean Bridge to the Commando Memorial via “High Bridge”. I’d ridden this path before but I was feeling rotten that day and my memory was foggy. The main A82 road is really busy and not pleasant to cycle on. There is a roadside pavement all the way from Spean Bridge but the “High Bridge” route is by far the more attractive option. There are a couple of drawbacks though, namely the tiny gates at either end of the track that mean you have to lift your bike over the fence. This is not a very back-friendly manoeuvre in any conditions and would be really off-putting if you had luggage on your bike. In Scotland we have a right to access most land and these restrictive gates do not appear to be in line with The Scottish Outdoor Access Code so I’ll be taking the matter up with the Local Access Forum.
Highbridge across the River Spean was built by General Wade to link the government garrisons at Fort William and Fort Augustus. After Bonnie Prince Charlie arrived in Scotland to make his claim for the crown, reinforcements were sent from Fort Augustus to Fort William. The government troops were ambushed as they crossed the bridge and it isn’t too hard to imagine the Jacobites using the terrain to their advantage as they darted around to disorient and discourage their enemy. Their tactics worked as 85 soldiers of the Royal Scots were ultimately defeated by just 11 Jacobite men… and a piper. The bridge is in ruins but it’s amazing to think of the enormity of the events that started here that day.
The path is well drained and the surface is good but it narrows as it passes out of the woods and across a bit of open moor to the Commando Memorial. The memorial was erected in honour of the men who trained in this area in World War II. With it’s panoramic views of Ben Nevis and Aonach Mòr it is surely one of the most photographed places in Scotland.
On with the cycling though and it’s a fast descent down the singletrack road to the Caledonian Canal at Gairlochy. At the canal we meet the Great Glen Way which follows the towpath here from Fort William. In a lot of places the Caledonia Way, National Cycle Network Route 78 (NCN78) follows the same path as The Great Glen Way. Most cyclists will want to follow the NCN78 signs as the few places between Gairlochy and Clunes where the Great Glen Way heads off-road are steep and twisty and short and the NCN78 route sticks to the tarmac which is just as scenic and offers quicker progress.
The signposting on the NCN78 / Great Glen Way is really good and at Clunes we follow the signpost off the tarmac and into the forest. Windy’s forecast proves spot-on as blue skies now stretched far beyond the snow-capped mountains all around. The forest road is in really great condition especially after all the rain we’ve just had. There are a couple of stoney bits and a couple of soft puddly bits but they are not too severe and they are short. 28mm tyres should survive without too much care and 30mm plus should be absolutely fine.
Cyclists on this section are often doing the Great Glen Way in its entirety (for which we’d recommend a mountain bike) or all or part of the Caledonia Way NCN78 or even a Lands End to John O’Groats ride. With those last two routes being mainly tarmac and the only alternative tarmac being the busy A82 it makes a lot of sense to come this way instead.
The Great Glen can also be completed on water and as part of the development of The Great Glen Canoe Trail a number of Trailblazer Rest Sites were established. These can be used by walkers and cyclists too and if you pay for a key in advance you’ll get access to the composting toilets. The shoreside site at Loch Lochy is lovely spot. It is not far from here to the north end of the loch but there’s a wee hill to get over before passing through the crofts at Kilfinnan and back down to the canal and across the lock gates at Laggan.
The original plan was to retrace our tracks to Spean Bridge but we’d dawdled along stopping to take photos along the way and the legs were cold so the option of a lift back to the van was gratefully accepted. There aren’t many days this good in January and even the best of them are short so sometime between April and October would be the best time to plan a Great Glen Way cycle trip.January 21, 2020 8:47 pm
Tags: Great Glen Way, NCN78, RideWithGPS
Categorised in: Rides