A Golspie getaway – cycling through Strath Brora and Dunrobin Glen
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Follow the line of the A9 north from Inverness and there are a number of loops that follow quiet roads away from the noisy trunk road.
Sometimes you might have to pedal for a mile or two on the busy bits to link up a ride, but at other times you can create a pleasant route that feels a million miles away.
This route is one of the latter – but only if you’re willing to include a bit of off-road riding in the mix. You can head out from Brora straight onto the back road or, as we did, park up in Golspie – or take the train – and head for the strath using a mix of minor roads and off-road tracks through the forest.
I did this ride earlier in the year with my eldest daughter, and we enjoyed fabulous weather for this circuit of Strath Brora and Dunrobin Glen.
Rather than park in the centre of Golspie and climb the big hill up to Backies, we headed for a small car park on the north side of the burn which gives access to the waterfall walk. This gave us a head start with the uphill as we began with a gentle climb to a junction where we turned right past a few houses – including one with pigs in the garden – to the edge of the forest.
Passing a gate, we were on forest tracks now, keeping left at a fork to go up and follow the Queen’s Drive, which offers fantastic views over the Moray Firth. We could see past the Tarbat Ness Lighthouse and beyond to the Moray coast, as well as look down on the golden sands of the nearby beaches below us.
A five-way crossroad of tracks ahead looks potentially confusing, but a walkers’ sign pointing straight over leads the right way, with the track bending right soon after the junction to head towards the few houses at Uppat.
Going left at the houses, we went through another gate onto a rougher track with grass down the middle. At the bottom of a field, it turns sharply left along an avenue of trees then, after another gate, right to follow the edge of a field.
This is the bumpiest part of the whole ride, but it doesn’t last long as it soon merges onto a track along the edge of a forest plantation and the surface improves as it approaches a road at Kilmain, north-west of Doll.
A left turn here led us the short way down to the ford at the River Brora, which one or two cars were attempting. It looked a bit slippery for the bikes, so we took the sensible option of pushing them over the high suspension bridge.
We followed a track straight up to meet the road, where we turned left to head through the trees and soon emerged to a fabulous sight of Loch Brora stretching for miles ahead.
The flat, smooth road made for a great ride as we soaked in the sun and the sights, knowing that the rest of the way was a more straightforward road ride in the spectacular Sutherland scenery.
The road through Strath Brora was quiet, with only the occasional car passing us, and the loch was sparkling in the sunshine.
We passed through Gordonbush and over the bridge at Balnacoil before there was anything that could be described as a hill. The road does climb from here, though, on a narrow stretch through trees and farmland – we had to watch out for sheep on the road – as it approaches Scibberscross.
The old black and white crash barrier at the side of the road clashes somewhat with this quiet rural location, but the descent was fun as Clara led the way, crossing another bridge, over the River Brora - as the route now leaves the strath behind.
Unfortunately, that means there’s another hill as it climbs up towards the crofting communities at Rogart. It can be quite exposed on the moors up here, so we were glad to reach what remains of the old red phone box at a junction below a hill topped with a communications mast. That meant we were nearly at the crossroads where a left turn would lead us into Dunrobin Glen.
We passed the track into the Kilbraur wind farm and still there was a little bit more climbing to Loch Farlary. Shortly after this, we stopped to look at the peats drying at the side of the road close to a lonely cottage high in the glen.
Beyond the cottage, after a sharp right-hand bend, there’s a long descent back to Golspie on a recently resurfaced single-track road. The glen is full of plantation forests, but the view is still impressive, with the statue of the first Duke of Sutherland looking down upon the village from his high vantage point on Ben Bhraggie.
If you want to stay on the tarmac, go left at Backies to reach the junction above the car park. Otherwise, as we did, you can continue straight ahead until you reach a bridge over the Golspie Burn. Immediately before the bridge, a path climbs up to the left and leads on a great, flowing mountain bike trail that ends, conveniently enough, right in the car park where we had started.
Distance 25 miles / 40km
Terrain Mostly on quiet minor roads, with some forest tracks and one rough track through a field
Start/finish Golspie, Big Burn car park on Backies road, grid reference NC837013
Map OS Landranger 17 & 16
Looking back on a glorious summer bike ride in Sutherland