Every lane is a bike lane
The first bit of good financial news I've had since 2005 means that I might just be able to make it to Scotland around the middle of this year. I'm looking to hear from others who have ridden there before. Specifically I'd like to know which areas you recommend (I'm looking for rugged scenery and to visit a few castles along the way), and information about the best times to go (and times I might consider avoiding due to tourist season peaks and so on). At this stage it looks like I'll have about three weeks riding time over there.
"I am never going to flirt with idleness again" - Roy Keane
"We invite everyone to question the entire culture we take for granted." - Manic Street Preachers.
My bike tours. Japan tour page under construction.
Stirling Castle was my favorite castle- very complete and you can look around everywhere in the castle and get a feel for how people lived back then, unlike Edinburgh Castle which is still a functioning military installation with large parts blocked off to tourists. Fort George outside Inverness in also worth a look.
I started to really enjoy Scotland after I got north and west of Pitlochry, and entered the Highlands. Much less crowded than further south, much more scenic, and yes, quite rugged. The west coast is really pretty, I really liked the stretch from Mallaig south through Tobermory and Oban, and then south of Oban. There's a few ferry boat rides in there as well, which break up the cycling very nicely.
I went in May of 2004, no midges and not too many tourists, although it was as cold as I would want to be on a bicycle tour. Airfares were cheaper (for me, anyway) as well. I flew into London Heathrow, cycled from Heathrow to Euston Station mostly using the Grand Union Canal towpath (which was a great way to start the trip) and took the Caledonian Sleeper train to Edinburgh. Much more pleasant than hanging out in the airport between flights, and I got a sleeper compartment on the train for a ridiculously low price (19 pounds) by booking well in advance and travelling midweek. PM me if you have more questions.
I was there in May 2003 and was blessed with good weather. It was at the end of a tour through England, so I was kind of wiped. I cycled up to Edinburgh. Took a train and cycled around Inverness and Loch Ness. No monsters, but stunningly beautiful.
This woman documented her trip, it's the route I'll be taking if I ever get back (so many places, so little vacation!)
For rugged scenery I'd recommend starting your trip from way up north (Inverness maybe) and then cycle up to Cape Wrath in the far north west corner of Scotland. From there you could meander down the coast and spend a few days on the Isle of Skye (there's a bridge to the island) and then meander down yet further south and catch the ferry onto the Isle of Mull. Its possible to cycle around Mull and then get a ferry from the other side onto the Kintyre peninsula. You can then cycle round the peninsula and get another ferry onto the Isle of Arran, then cycle round Arran and get another ferry back onto the mainland and end up not far south from Glasgow. From the ferry port (town called Adrossan) you could cycle across country through Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders region - not quite as rugged as the highlands, but still very hilly and very few tourists bother going there. The minor roads are usually deserted.
Some spectacular scenery here and many parts feels very remote depsite the fact that you're never actually that far from a town or village. I wouldn't recommend Loch Ness - its very, very ordinary compared to the rest of the highlands, only its somehow acquired this mythical status. Overrun by tourists all summer as well.
If you haven't found it already, I'd recommend you look at - http://www.sustrans.org.uk - they build and maintain cycle routes throughout the UK (some on minor roads, others purpose built tracks) and also make cycling-specific maps.
As for the time of year, June - August is peak season for the midges. They'll only be a problem if you intend to camp. If you plan to wild camp (possible pretty much anywhere in Scotland) then carefully selecting an exposed, windy campsite helps a bit.
There is a classic loop of the Applecross peninsular with the most spectacular climb in the UK. On a clear day there are fantastic views of Skye.
The A87 gets pretty crowded with fast moving traffic a you approach the bridge, taking one of the ferries to and from Skye would be more pleasant.
One thing to keep in mind, when I was in Scotland during the high season I think I talked to more Germans, who were there on holiday, then when I was in Germany (not necessarily a bad thing). Although, I was never put out for a night (it was close once), Scotland is a major vacation destination for Europeans and accommodations can be tricky. The hostiles were full and typically it was something like 28 Germans, me, and one or two Aussies. When I was there it was unusually warm and dry but I seem to remember two rainy days so I don't know if you want to completely count on camping either.
The above is sensible advice and would give you what you want in my opinion.
Originally Posted by amaferanga