I had been wanting to do this trip for a while and April 2023 was set. Logistics were to drive to Glasgow with experienced bikepacker Udo and catch the train to Inverness. Overnight at the Inverness Youth hostel and start the Badger early the following morning. The Badger Divide is a mainly off road route from Inverness to Glasgow. It links up various trails, including the Great Glen Way, West Highland Trail and the John Muir Way. I also wanted to ride in the Trossachs National Park where the gravel riding is the best in the UK, so I routed the Badger Divide Plus. 256 miles and 23000ft of climbing. We were to be blessed with superb weather, clear blue skies and frosty nights and so began an amazing adventure.
Day 1 Inverness to Blackburn Bothy. 47 miles. 5275ft ascent.
After a gentle role out of Inverness we got onto the Great Glen Way and the climbs started. A steep incline through woodland brought the first glimpses of Loch Ness. We followed trails high above the north shore before dropping to Drumnadrochit and a coffee. We climbed again to continue to Fort Augustus where we rested and refuelled on some superb fish and chips. We knew the end of the day would be a steep long climb half way up the Corrieyairack pass to the Blackburn Bothy. On arrival we had clear skies and decided to set up our tents rather then sleep in the bothy. The reward was an incredible night sky and the mesmerising sound of a stream.
Day 2 Blackburn bothy - Loch Ossian. 44 miles, 3773ft of ascent.
The morning was beautiful but we noticed the easterly winds had picked up. That meant the remaining ascent of the Corrieyairack was into a vicious head wind. Once at the top snow capped peaks and incredible views greeted us. The descent was long and technical in places but had me grinning from ear to ear. From snow to the beach on the shore of Loch Laggan and its Caribbean white sand. With no one around we relaxed in the sun just taking in the views and had a little snooze. There was the inevitable climbing but a welcome tail wind along the shore of Lochan Na Earba. A narrow causeway between the loch was made interesting due to the wind blowing water over the top. More climbing before a smooth flowing descent and the run into Loch Ossian, our stop for the night. There is what must be one of the most beautiful locations for a youth hostel, on the shore of the loch. Udo had booked accommodation but there was only room for one but Jan, the host said I could pitch my tent and use the facilities, including hot showers. A win, win as I had a sheltered flat pitch looking across the Loch towards Ben Nevis. The other attraction was the cafe at Corrour. I had started to fade towards the end of the day, realising I was under fuelled. Udo shared a mega freeze dried meal but still ravenous, Jan booked us for an evening meal and some well earned beers at the cafe. Highly recommended.
Day 3 Loch Ossian - Killin
60 miles, 4826ft of ascent.
As was the pattern we started the morning with a testing climb with views looking back fondly to the hostel and Corrour Stn in the distance. Climbing provided views of Rannoch Moor and the Loch. More climbing and descents through Tay Forest and a break at Bridge of Balgie. The Old Post Office provided some welcome sustenance. Up into another glen, along the undulating trail, which was slow in places But the views and clear skies kept our spirits up. This is just an amazing place to ride a bike.
The day ended near Killin. The pub by the Falls of Dochart was tempting in the late afternoon sun but we wanted to find a good camp spot, so pushed on. We lucked out, finding a perfect spot beside the Achmore Burn, with views across to Ben Lawers. We prepared dinner on the rocks in the centre of the Burn before chatting into the evening round a warming fire and a shot or 2 of scotch. I fell into a deep sleep to the sound of the waterfall.
Day 4 - Killin to Loch Ard
66 miles, 6001ft ascent.
This was the big day in terms of miles and yes, as was tradition began with a climb out of the forest. Down into Callender for brunch and onto Aberfoyle, also known as Gravelfoyle due to the endless miles of pristine gravel tracks into Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. We chatted to a local couple training for next weekend's Big Duke weekender, a 100 mile, 3000m gravel event. We followed some of the Dukes Weekender route into Queen Elizabeth Forest Park. Wide forest tracks with the smell of pine in the spring air. I could just imagine riding these tracks on an unloaded gravel bike. Sublime.
Out of the forest and along the side of a huge glen , climbing all the way with Ben Lomond in the distance. Eventually we peaked and were greeted with the most spectacular views down onto Loch Lomond. The descent was crazy. Fast in places, technical in others. I lost my tool canister on the descent and there was no way I was walking back up to find it. Udo lost traction on his front wheel and ended up on the ground. Fortunately no real damage done. With the adrenaline still flowing I took a dip into the loch and we chilled on the shore line still not believing how lucky we were with the weather.
Just a 3 miles ride along the West Highland Way on the East side of the loch, we felt good. However the narrow path soon became unridable and so came the longest hike a bike section of the tour. It was tough going, at times we struggled to haul our heavy bikes over the boulders and also worried about catching the rear mech on the rocks. What we thought would take about 15 minutes to ride took over an hour to negotiate. Still once we reached the Inversnaid Hotel we were able to get on tarmac. The remainder of the ride was a straightforward 10 mile stretch back into the Queen Elizabeth forest and our camp spot on the shore of Loch Ard. We had purchased a permit for the princely some of £4 to camp here. Another magical location to sleep.
We set up camp in relative silence, I think we were both pretty exhausted after a long day riding, reflecting on our trip and the realisation this would be our final night under the stars.
Day 5 Loch Ard - Glasgow
38 miles, 2371ft ascent.
We rose early and packed away in record time. We thought this would be a pretty easy last day and so planned to drive back the same day. Of course we started with a steep climb and eventually rejoined the official Badger route. We made good time and soon hit the West Highland Way. It was a sunny Saturday and there were a lot of walkers, all going the other way, which slowed our progress. Once passed Milngraive, the start/end of the West Highland Way it was much quieter and so began the final push into Glasgow. I really enjoyed this section. There's something about urban riding along greenways that really appeals. Maybe it was also the flat terrain. We probably found the best bit of single track along Alander Water. Kelvingrove Park was busy with people enjoying the fine April weather. Across the Clyde and back to the car.
So ended a truly epic 5 days of riding. Yes, we were blessed with incredible weather but this route has so much to enjoy. The endless miles of remote but largely smooth tracks, stunning vistas at nearly every turn and thanks to the right to roam in Scotland, some amazing wild camp spots. Thank you Scotland. I will back.
My set up:
Bike - Kona Unit X. This bike is built for bike packing. The Reynolds steel frame and P2 forks coped admirably with all the kit and terrain. So, so comfortable. The Hope wheelset, British engineering at its best.
Hope 29 wheelset.
Bags - Blackburn Outpost.
Approx weight 35kg
Udo's set up:
Trek Fuel EX 5 equipped with Jones Bar. A trail bike, it’s not the immediate weapon of choice due to its weight and limited mounting options. It proved to be a fabulous and robust downhill easy roller. Equipment has been carried using strap-on fork racks, Topeak Panier system and Restrap bar bag.
Approx weight, north of 38kg !