What’s the best way to see Scotland’s incredible scenery? From the saddle of a gravel bike of course! It’s faster than walking, so you’ll see more, but slow enough to give you time to enjoy the landscape you’re passing through.
Over the last few years, cycling has increased in popularity, with interest in ‘gravel biking’, in particular, surging. But what is gravel biking? What’s involved? And where are the best places in Scotland to go gravel biking? Read on for answers to these questions and more!
What is Gravel Biking?
What is a gravel bike? We hear you ask. Not just a ruse by manufacturers keen to sell more bikes, a gravel bike – with drop handlebars, disc brakes, chunky tyres and a robust frame – bridges the gap between smooth tarmac road cycling and all but the gnarliest mountain biking trails.
Gravel biking is a fantastic way to discover parts of Scotland you might not otherwise visit, reconnect with nature, and keep your body and mind in tip-top condition.
A route might typically start from a railway station or directly from your holiday lodgings and take you along quiet country roads, before heading off-road for hinterland adventures.
How to get started
As you’re likely to be heading along routes less travelled and into wilder territory, gravel biking is more suited to experienced and self-dependent bikers.
If you’re just starting out or don’t feel confident going it alone though, don’t worry! There are companies such as Trailbrakes, Wilderness Scotland, Galloway Cycling Holidays, Bikepacking Scotland, Backcountry.Scot and Trossachs Biking & Bushcraft, who will happily take you on safe guided trips. Guides usually offer riding tips and tales from the trails as you go along too.
Or head out with in-the-know friends and enjoy gravel biking in a safe and fun setting. If you’re new to this type of riding, start off by exploring local trails you’re familiar with first, to help build confidence.
We always welcome responsible riders, so make sure you Know The Code, Before You Go and read Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland’s ‘Do The Ride Thing’ guide before heading out. Please #RespectProtectEnjoy
What to expect and what to take with you
You’ll be travelling through wilder scenery, so have a decent level of fitness and good bike handling skills. Travelling light increases the fun levels!
If you’re normally a lycra-clad roadie, you might not go as fast or as far on a gravel trail, but you’ll absorb a lot more. If you’re a ‘gravity junkie’, the route might be less rocky than you’re used to, but you’ll still have lots of fun!
As with any back-country riding, it’s important to plan ahead. Take waterproofs and a warm layer. Gloves are a must, whether it’s cold or not – they help with grip and protect hands if you take a tumble.
Take plenty of food and drink, and plan food stops at local eateries along your route. Take a GPS, multi-tool, spare inner tyre tubes, pump, puncture repair kit, lights and a fully charged phone.
Gravel Bike Routes in Scotland
Gravelfoyle – gravel biking in Aberfoyle
Route lengths: options of 6 miles/10km, 12.5 miles/20km, 19 miles/30km
Aberfoyle, in The Trossachs, is arguably Scotland’s premier gravel biking destination, and with over 200km of tracks and trails within 12km of the village, it’s easy to see why.
Three new gravel biking trails – one of 10km (ideal for families and beginners), one of 20km and one of 30km – should open in spring 2022. Tune into Gravelfoyle for the latest updates. If you can’t wait until then, head for the trails at Loch Ard, which are ideal for families.
Effortlessly combining fun biking with a great social programme, Aberfoyle also hosts one of the UK’s best gravel riding events – the Dukes Weekender, which takes place each September.
Eating out: There are great places to eat out in and around Aberfoyle.
See along the way: The kids will love the brilliant sculptures along the Loch Ard Sculpture Trail.
Highland Perthshire Gravel – Griffin Forest Two Lochs Loop
Route length: 8 miles/13km
Start/finish: Griffin Forest car park
Highland Perthshire is within easy reach of Scotland’s central belt and is a gravel bikers’ paradise. There are family-friendly and beginner options here if you’re just getting started, including this great route just south of Aberfeldy. The route heads through pine forest and takes in lovely lochs Kennard and Scoly – ideal spots for a wee picnic. Extend the route, if you’re looking for a longer outing, by adding the nearby Calliachar Forest trail.
The Isle of Rum, Highlands
Route lengths: Kinloch – Kilmory Bay – 10 miles/16km, Kinloch – Harris – 16 miles/26km
Accessed via CalMac ferry from Mallaig, Rum, the biggest of the Small Isles, is ideal for get-away-from-it-all adventures. There are only Land Rover tracks on the island and exploring by gravel bike is a great way to get around.
Kilmory Bay, in the north, is accessed by a good track from the island’s main settlement, Kinloch. The lovely beach here offers amazing views over to the Cuillin mountains on Skye and is a wonderful place to unwind.
A longer ride from Kinloch, with the Rum Cuillin towering above, leads to Harris in the south-west, where you’ll find the fascinating Bullough Mausoleum.
Eating out/staying over: There is a small selection of places to stay in Kinloch. Kim’s Kitchen, in the Village Hall, offers meals using as much local produce as possible. We strongly advise you to book accommodation and meals in advance.
See along the way: Don’t miss Kinloch Castle and the Museum & Heritage Centre. Near Kilmory Bay there’s the remains of a small settlement and an old burial ground. The ride to Harris provides outstanding views up Atlantic Corrie. And look out for red deer, Rum ponies, feral goats, and if you’re lucky, golden, and white-tailed sea eagles.
Wild About Argyll Trail/Caledonia Way
Route length: 32 miles/51km
Start/finish: Oban (Oban-Port Appin-Point-Achnachroish-Oban)
At over 400 miles long, the Wild About Argyll Trail is a biggie, but you don’t have to do it all at once!
For this shorter section, book your bike onto the ScotRail Highland Explorer and take the train from Glasgow to Oban. Follow the Caledonia Way for 23 miles/37km from Oban to Appin, then divert off the Way and head for the Port Appin passenger ferry and the Isle of Lismore.
Eating out: There are many options in Oban and great restaurants along this section of the Caledonia Way. The Pierhouse and Airds Hotel in Port Appin serve fabulous food. On Lismore, don’t miss the Dutch Bakery for a wee treat and the Isle of Lismore Café.
See along the way: Dunstaffnage Castle by Dunbeg is well worth a visit. You’ll see iconic Castle Stalker on Loch Laich near Port Appin. If you have time before the ferry, or are staying overnight on Lismore, detour to the ominously-named Castle Coeffin and the Iron Age broch of Tirefour Castle.
Clatteringshaws to Glentrool Loop, Dumfries & Galloway
Route length: 39 miles/63km
Start/finish: Clatteringshaws Visitor Centre
Named by Red Bull as one of the Top 10 Gravel Routes in the UK, this route takes riders into the deepest parts of Galloway Forest Park – the UK’s biggest forest park and the UK’s first International Dark Skies Park.
See along the way: You’ll come across Bruce’s Stone on the north shore of Loch Trool. This massive memorial boulder commemorates Robert the Bruce’s first victory in 1307 during the Scottish Wars of Independence.
The Deeside Way, Aberdeenshire
Route length: 41 miles/66km (one way)
Start/finish: Duthie Park Aberdeen – Ballater
Winding its way through Aberdeen, its westerly suburbs and on through majestic Royal Deeside countryside, the Deeside Way runs along the former Deeside railway line.
As a result, it’s mainly flat with just a few climbs, making it ideal for families with smaller kids. Ride all 41 miles at once or take a more leisurely approach and choose one of four shorter sections.
See along the way: There are lots of places to visit near the Deeside Way including Drum Castle, Crathes Castle, the Royal Deeside Railway, Glen Tanar National Nature Reserve and Cambus O’May to name just a few.
Bikepacking Scotland offers a great selection of gravel biking and bike-packing routes if you’re looking for more two-wheeled Scottish gravel biking adventures.
If you’re looking for an epic gravel biking challenge, then don’t miss the 354-mile long An Turas Mor®, which passes through some of Scotland’s finest scenery between Glasgow and Cape Wrath on the north coast. This route is only suitable for the fittest bikers, as it’s a stern test of endurance, but rewards with experiences to last a lifetime.
You might also be interested in:
- Cycling in Scotland
- Cycling routes in Scotland
- Mountain biking in Scotland
- 7 epic train-accessible bike-packing routes in Scotland
- 11 of the best cycle routes in Scotland
- 6 family-friendly cycle routes in Scotland