ONE of my favourite occupations is looking at OS maps to find new cycling routes. Some people might, with a degree of justification, call it nerdy. But I don’t care, because once the groundwork is done I can put my map reading into practice and enjoy the ride.
Black Isle roads are generally quiet away from arterial routes such as the A9 and the A835 – and even then there’s a cycle path, a perfect way to work for me at the Ross-shire Journal in Dingwall.
I’d already found an enjoyable route west of the A835 which took me on a circuit from home in Inverness.
So I had a notion to venture east, towards Cromarty, and link the network of little unclassified roads that would give me another circuit, starting from the Monadh Mor forest car park. The idea was to stay off A and even B roads as much as possible.
Map work done, I set off on the easy downhill stretch to Tore, following the cycle path.
At the Tore roundabout it dinks left for a very short distance on the A832, then right onto the old road running parallel to the A9.
At Redfield I took a left turn for Munlochy on Sustrans route 1. The junction is well signed and to make it easier there’s a Black Isle Brewery sign as well.
Downhill again, then flat, and I made a stop to greet a friendly horse with its head over the fence looking to get my attention. It succeeded!
The minor road joins the B9161 where I turned left up the hill through Munlochy and crossed the A832 to take the minor road signed for Culbokie.
I stopped briefly to admire the attractive sign at the entrance to Munlochy, looking out over the bay.
A rather faded Transition Black Isle banner, partly hidden under foliage, promotes cycling routes and gives the web address: www.transitionblackisle.org
I rode on up the hill with lovely countryside views all around, and I was back on a minor road again. At a crossroads, with Belmaduthy to the left and Killen to the right, I took the Killen road, still following the designated cycle route. Another really nice, quiet road and almost entirely flat too.
At Upper Raddery I turned left on the B9160 heading downhill towards Udale Bay. Dominating the view across the Cromarty Firth at Invergordon was one of the many giant cruise ships scheduled to dock there this year, carrying around 100,000 passengers and crew in total and boosting the Highland economy.
I crossed the little bridge over the Newhall Burn and instead of following the B road signed for Conon Bridge I stuck to my unclassified roads plan and turned sharp left.
This took me above the B road and at Newmills I turned left for a steep climb, then on through Easter and Wester Brae with the forestry of Mount Eagle above to my left and views across to Ben Wyvis and Dingwall to my right.
The road eventually arrives at a T-junction with another minor road leading down to Culbokie.
The B9169 through the village, with its colourful welcoming sign, was the busiest I’d been on all day and a fierce headwind made the riding some of the hardest.
The road does a dogleg when it reaches the A9, and there’s a need to be vigilant crossing here with traffic hurtling up and down. Patience is definitely a virtue to get a clear space.
Once across, the road goes through Easter Kinkell past the attractive little primary school to join the cycle path alongside the A835.
The smooth surface of the cycle path makes the final climb up to Monadh Mor a lot easier, and at last the wind was not hitting me head on.
Black Isle circuit
Distance 26 miles / 42km
Terrain Mostly minor roads and some B roads
Start/finish Monadh Mor forest car park, off the A835
Map OS Explorer 432 – Black Isle, Fortrose, Cromarty and Dingwall
A network of minor roads on the Black Isle makes for an enjoyable road circuit