Eight Scottish long-distance bike rides

small_scottish ctc pic credit- Richard Peace

Scotland’s network of long-distance road cycling routes is growing, with two new ones announced recently. We pick eight of the best.

Scotland’s fantastic and diverse landscape has given rise to many highly acclaimed long-distance bike routes.

Thanks to Sustrans – the charity that works to create safe cycling routes in Britain – and also to community groups, these rides mostly go along quiet roads and traffic-free paths.

And as increasing numbers of people take up cycling, these routes are attracting ever more riders.

In the past year, two new routes have been created to add to a stable of dozens of rides of between one and seven days long.

The most recent creations are Scotland’s C2C, a coast-to-coast route from Annan in Dumfries & Galloway to the Firth of Forth, north of Edinburgh.

Another is an epic 516-mile ride on the circular North Coast 500, Scotland’s answer to America’s Route 66, starting from Inverness.

8 of the best Scottish cycle routes

Photograph: Richard PeaceScottish C2C

Start: Annan, Solway Firth

Finish: Forth Bridge, Firth of Forth

Distance: 125 miles

Created by the same cyclists that founded the popular English Sea to Sea (C2C) route across the Pennines, the Scottish C2C was officially opened last summer. This year sees the publication of a useful guidebook to the route, the Ultimate Scottish C2C Guide.

The road route journeys 125 miles from Annan, on the Solway Firth, in Dumfries & Galloway north to the Firth of Forth, near Edinburgh, and heads through three valleys, the Annan, Tweed and Esk, and via the rolling Southern Uplands and Moorfoot Hills.

The route has come about as a consequence of an initiative by the Upper Tweed Railway Path Group to negotiate to open an extensive length of former railway west of Peebles, in the Borders.

This coincided with the Scottish Borders Council opening the 11km Railway Greenway route from Peebles to Innerleithen in 2013 and Edinburgh City Council’s resolve to open a continuous coastal promenade route from Joppa to Cramond.

Richard Peace is author of the Ultimate Scottish C2C Guide. He says: “The route is the brainchild of the same people, Sustrans founder John Grimshaw CBE and David Gray, who 20 years ago created the C2C route across northern England.

“I really hope it will become just as popular and that it will put this scenic part of Scotland on the map for more cyclists.”

The route is divided into four sections, first 32.5 miles from Annan to Moffat, then 37 miles to Peebles. The next 31.5-mile stretch reaches Dalkeith in Midlothian, followed by another 24 miles to the Forth Bridge. Highlights include the dramatic landscape as you climb alongside the Devil’s Beef Tub and the descent to Broughton.

Buy the Ultimate Scottish C2C Guide for £11.50.


small_Nc 500. credit Steve Arkley-www.surf2turf.comNorth Coast 500

Start/finish: Inverness

Distance: 516 miles

Launched in June and recently cycled by Scottish adventurer Mark Beaumont in an epic no-stop journey, the NC 500 looks set to become one of next year’s must-do rides.

This is a long and tough route, however, and it’s highly likely that most riders will take far longer than Mark’s 37 hours and 58 minutes to cover the full 516-mile circular route.

Indeed, a week or more of riding would be the best way to complete the route that starts and finishes at Inverness Castle and visits the counties of Caithness, Sutherland and Ross-shire.

Following Mark’s ride on August 10 and 11, he said: “I’ve cycled all over the world but I still believe Scotland has some of the best cycling, and my favourite area, outside of my familiar Perthshire training ground, is Scotland’s north coast.”

“I wanted to ride the NC 500 as soon as I spotted it. However, I was surprised by how hilly it is. The Drumbeg road in Assynt – known as the Mad Wee Road of Sutherland – was particularly tough with lots of sharp ups and downs.

“There are plenty of long, slow climbs, too, and no-one should underestimate the extremes of this route. People talk about the Bealach Na Ba, with its Alpine zig-zags, at Applecross as being the toughest hill climb but there were plenty of other climbs that were hard and challenging on the NC 500.”

Travelling clockwise the NC 500 leaves Inverness to head west towards the coast. It then follows the shoreline via Applecross, Torridon, Gairloch, Ullapool and Lochinver to Durness in the far north-west mainland corner.

After this the route heads east along the northern coast of Scotland via Bettyhill and Thurso to reach John o’ Groats, before travelling south through Wick, Helmsdale, Golspie and Dingwall back to Inverness.

See NC 500


Ring of Breadalbane Road Cycle

Start/finish: Crieff, Perth & Kinross

Distance: 100 miles (160km)

Another fairly recent addition to Scotland’s growing stable of long-distance cycle routes is the Ring of Breadalbane Road Cycle. Amid the beautiful scenery and quiet country roads of the Breadalbane “High Ground” area of Perthshire, the 100-mile route could be completed in one long day or split into two, three or four days.

In the summer, an Explorer Bus enables cyclists to choose from several start and finish points including Crieff, Comrie, St Fillans, Lochearnhead, Killin, Aberfeldy, Kenmore, Amulree and Gilmerton. See www.breadalbane.org/ring-of-breadalbane-explorer

The route follows mostly quiet “C” roads and has only a few sections of “A” road. The terrain is a mix of undulating roads and some climbs, including Glen Ogle and the very challenging Glen Quaich.

You’ll also pass stunning lochs, the Falls of Dochart at Killin and travel through atmospheric moorlands.

See Breadalbane Ring Road


Castlebay, Barra

Castlebay, Barra

The Hebridean Way

Start: Castlebay, Isle of Barra

Finish: Butt of Lewis

Distance: 150 miles

A route that has been ridden for decades by many visitors to the Outer Hebridean island string has now been officially signposted and entitled The Hebridean Way.

The Hebridean Way bike route is now signposted the entire length of the archipelago, from Castlebay on Barra to the Butt of Lewis in the far north of the island of Lewis.

The route would take the average rider some three to four days. If you have the energy, and the prevailing south-westerly winds in your favour, two days is a possibility, too.

Starting on Barra, with quiet roads and great views, the route heads north to reach the small ferry to the tiny Isle of Eriskay. A causeway links Eriskay to the south end of the island of South Uist.

Ride from Ludag to Carnan on South Uist. Did you know that South Uist is the only place in Britain where prehistoric mummies have been found? Or that its west coast is almost one long sandy beach?

A causeway links South Uist to Benbecula, where you cycle from Hacklet to Uachdar. The Hebridean Way hugs the west coast of the island, with its gorgeous beaches and turquoise seas.

Small islands and causeways see you on your way to North Uist, where the Hebridean Way travels from Carinish to Port nan Long. The island has Europe’s largest breeding seal colony, with some 9,000 pups born each year.

Catch a ferry at Berneray, just north of North Uist and connected to it by a causeway, to reach Harris. From Leverburgh on Harris you ride north to the Butt of Lewis, past the port of Stornoway.

Cyclists can return to the mainland by CalMac ferry from Stornoway to Ullapool.

A full guide to the route has yet to be produced but you can follow the route in the Cicerone guidebook, Cycling in the Hebrides Also see the Sustrans map route.

The Five Ferries Cycle Route

Start and finish: CalMac ferry terminal at Ardrossan, North Ayrshire

Distance: 71 miles

Many riders aim to tackle this route in one day or it can be split it into several more leisurely days of riding. The sense of adventure of cycling to catch ferries between islands and the mainland makes this a very unusual long-distance ride.

The route takes in two islands and two peninsulas and makes use of the CalMac ferry network. A ferry from the mainland at Ardrossan takes you to Brodick on the Isle of Arran, where you cycle 15 miles to Lochranza and then take a ferry to Claonaig on the Kintyre Peninsula.

From Claonaig to Tarbet by bike is 10.5 miles before a ferry takes you to Portavadie on the Cowal peninsula. The ride to Colintraive is 19 miles and includes a long hill climb, but the views over the Kyles of Bute are stunning.

A ferry takes you to Rhubodach on the Isle of Bute and this is followed by another ride of eight miles to Rothesay. The final ferry heads to Wemyss Bay, from where it’s a ride of 18.5 miles back to Ardrossan.

More details of the route at Five Ferries Cycle


small_lochs and glens glen ogle viaductLochs & Glens North Cycle Route

Start: SECC, Glasgow

Finish: Ness Bridge, Inverness

Distance: 214 miles

This route, on a mixture of traffic-free path and roads, follows the NCN (National Cycle Network) Route 7 and is known as the Lochs & Glens North.

It travels through both of Scotland’s national parks, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and the Cairngorms, and passes six lochs and numerous castles as well as going over the Glen Ogle viaduct.

There are some long climbs, especially the ascent of the Drumochter Pass to the highest point of the route at 460m, and the ride takes most cyclists three to six days.

See Sustrans


small_coast and castles route Tantallon Castle.pic credit- Jenni Douglas on Flickr jpgCoast & Castles Bike Route

Start: Newcastle-upon-Tyne or Berwick-upon-Tweed

Finish: Edinburgh

Distance: A variety of routes add up to 69 miles, 99 miles, 170 miles and 200 miles.

Following NCN Route 1 and Route 76, as you might imagine this long-distance ride takes in plenty of coast and castles.

The start proper is in Newcastle and travels 100 miles north along the Northumberland coast to reach Berwick-upon-Tweed.

From here there’s a choice to ride further north along the East Lothian coastline and then west to Edinburgh or travel west first and via the Borders towns of Kelso, Melrose and Innerleithen before riding north to Edinburgh.

The ride could be broken into shorter sections to create a multi-day trip of two, three, four or five days.

See Coast & Castles Guide.


The ruins of Jedburgh Abbey

The ruins of Jedburgh Abbey

Four Abbeys Circular Cycle

Start/finish: Any of the towns on the route – Jedburgh, Kelso, Melrose and Newtown St Boswells

Distance: 55 miles

The Four Abbeys is a circular route linking the four main abbeys in the Scottish Borders at Melrose, Dryburgh, Kelso and Jedburgh.

The route follows mainly quiet roads, although short stretches on A roads are unavoidable. The scenery in this part of Scotland is beautiful rolling farmland and hills while there is the chance to stop off at the historical landmarks of the abbeys located in each of the towns.

See Cycle Scottish Borders

Tell us about your favourite long-distance cycle routes in Scotland.

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One comment on “Eight Scottish long-distance bike rides
  1. Terry McNutt Baker says:

    I am returning to the sport of bicycle touring. It is a dream to one day return to the home of my forefathers for a tour on cycle. A dream.


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