A challenging route with views of the mountains and lochs, which some may recognise from the Harry Potter films- Includes an off-road section.
The Glenfinnan Monument, set in wonderful Highland scenery at the head of Loch Shiel, was erected in 1815 by Alexander Macdonald of Glenaladale in tribute to the clansmen who fought and died in the cause of Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie). Glenfinnan lies at the head of Loch Shiel. The loch runs south west for twenty miles where it is just two miles short of the sea. Glenfinnan is notable for four things: the Jacobites, the Road to the Isles the railway (including the Jacobite Steam Railway) and one of the settings for the Harry Potter films.
It was here that Bonnie Prince Charlie first raised his standard on 19 August 1745; the last attempt to reinstate the exiled Stuarts on the throne of Great Britain and Ireland. Despite its inspired beginnings and subsequent successes, the Prince's campaign came to its grim conclusion in 1746 with his defeat on the battlefield at Culloden near Inverness. The Commissioners for Highland Roads and Bridges asked Thomas Telford to build what was originally called the Loch na Gaul road from Fort William to Arisaig. This was completed in 1812. The road is now known as the Road to the Isles and ends at Mallaig.
Around 1901, Sir Robert McAlpine took up the challenge of extending the West Highland Railway from Fort William to Mallaig. Particularly notable is the Glenfinnan Viaduct. This has 21 arches, the tallest being 100ft high. The viaduct is curved, leading the track round the head of the River Finnan valley. Glenfinnan Station is west of the viaduct; this is now converted into a railway museum, although it is still a working station. Strontian has an important position in the history of science. It gives its name to the element strontium which was discovered in 1790 by Adair Crawford, a Scots-Irish chemist. The element itself was isolated from the rock strontianite by Sir Humphrey Davy - the inventor of the miner's lamp. The minor road from Strontian to Loch Doilet was originally constructed to give access to the Strontian mines which have been worked from the beginning of the 18th century. More recently, in the 1980's they have supplied barite for the North Sea oil drilling industry. During the 18th century it was said there were problems with Highlanders stealing cattle, throwing sheep over precipices and setting fire to buildings.
This is a circular route of 59 miles, 13 miles of it is on dirt road; this is occasionally fairly rough - unsuitable for narrow tyred bicycles. The forest road is not particularly hilly but the public road that leads to it is very steep. On the positive side this is one of the most scenic routes in Scotland with views of lochs and mountains all around. It's also likely to be quite quiet.
To get round in a day you need to be fairly fit and not dally too long over breakfast! If you want to go more slowly take two days over it. You will find overnight accommodation in Glenfinnan, Corran, and Strontian. The scenery certainly justifies lingering. The description assumes starting at Glenfinnan. Glenfinnan is the place where Bonnie Prince Charlie first rallied the clans in the final attempt to install the Stuart dynasty to the British throne. The site is marked by the Glenfinnan monument. This and its associated visitor centre is owned by the National Trust for Scotland.
The cycle route starts just over a mile east of this at a bridge carrying a dirt road over the River Callop. A bridge carrying the railway line over the A830 is 500 metres further east along this road. Continue east under the railway bridge then turn right to the south side of loch Eill along the A861. This is a narrow road with passing places. Most of the road by Loch Eill and Loch Linnhe is virtually flat. The scenery is beautiful, becoming ever more dramatic as you turn the corner and see the enormous cliffs of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain (1344m). The best view of the mountain is from here. People in Fort William, or those who climb it using the tourist track can't see it properly, as they are too near. A foot passenger ferry runs across Loch Linnhe from Camusnagaul to Fort William (not Sundays). This takes bikes and could be an alternate place to start the route if you are staying in Fort William.
The road runs through mixed woodland giving regular views of Loch Linnhe and the mountains on the other side. It should be quite quiet as virtually all traffic is carried on the A82 on the other side of the loch. There's a little hill just before the River Cona then a flat section again leading to the Corran ferry. There is a hotel here serving food all day. South of Corran the road ceases to be single track. Cars crossing over on the ferry are generally going to Mull or Ardnamurchan via Strontian. They will pass you in groups of perhaps eight cars at maybe twenty minute intervals. The road should be fairly empty apart from this.
When you leave the sea you are starting the climb over Glen Tarbert. This is steady rather than steep. Following this there is a descent towards Strontian followed by a couple of miles of flat to get into the village. A little shop sells ice cream etc as you enter, there's a larger supermarket in the village centre. There's a good choice of hotels, B&Bs etc. A rest and something to eat would be a good idea before you tackle the extremely steep hill leading over to Loch Shiel. Strontian gives its name to the element Strontium which was discovered here. To continue to Loch Shiel continue through Strontian Village until you cross Strontian River then turn right. After this keep straight on, avoiding all turn offs.
The first mile is gentle enough then it becomes steeper, eventually becoming so steep that you wonder why anyone struggled to build a road up here. The answer is that the road was built to extract the mineral Strontianite, you will see the old mine workings but mining operations have ceased. If you find it too hard going, simply walk up and admire the scenery. The descent to Loch Doilet is equally steep so if you decide to zoom down make sure your brakes are working properly. This is a descent into lovely scenery and if you have time it would be worth doing a little extra exploring here.
The road runs along the south side of Loch Doilet then there's a short drop. Turn left to cross over the river then left again after the bridge. Soon you are at the end of the public road. Keep going on the dirt road, there's a little climb then a descent to the shore of Loch Shiel. The road winds along keeping close to the shore much of the time. There are a few ups and downs but when the road eventually leaves the forest it becomes a bit steeper and rougher. Take your time and enjoy the views over the loch towards the mountains of Moidart.