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A solo cycle on the quiet roads of Strathnairn

By John Davidson

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Approaching Dunlichity with Creag a Chlachain on the horizon.
Approaching Dunlichity with Creag a Chlachain on the horizon.

I’d spent so much time at home over the winter lockdown, I’d almost forgotten what it was like to venture any further afield than the local woods.

So, with the snow gone and the door finally closed on the home office, I pumped up the bike tyres and headed off for a spin.

The weather was bright, with a cool breeze countered just a little by the warmth of the sun in early spring.

I was tired, so instead of heading up the Essich hill directly from the southern edge of Inverness, I decided to take a gentle spin down the Torbreck road and along the cycle path towards Scaniport.

The mast atop Tom Bailgeann looked distant across the fields and trees, but I knew my planned route would take me beyond there – the longest ride I’d done in some time.

After dropping downhill to Scaniport and over a little wooden bridge, I followed the cycle route onto the single-track road; a lovely level ride that gave me a chance to fully wake up before the climb to come.

On the road over the Ashie Moor, with Meall Fuar-mhonaidh visible in the distance.
On the road over the Ashie Moor, with Meall Fuar-mhonaidh visible in the distance.

A left turn at the junction took me up the locally known Macbain hill, as it zigzags past the Macbain Memorial Park, crossing a track junction on the South Loch Ness Trail and continuing up to the Loch Ashie crossroads.

I headed right, climbing still but easier now for a short distance before heading over the brow and enjoying the views ahead across the Ashie Moor. Meall Fuar-mhonaidh was prominent across Loch Ness, with patches of snow still clinging onto its slopes, while closer to hand the view looked over Lochan na Curra.

A few climbers were heading to a nearby crag as I reached the junction with the B862, veering left to join that road and descending to cross a cattle grid and following the winding road, avoiding the sheep wandering aimlessly about, past the farm at Achnabat.

Loch Duntelchaig looked pristine and, tempting as it was, I avoided the left turn towards Ruthven that crosses the head of the loch and instead continued on the B road. This took me below the rocky hill of Tom Bailgeann, the steep slopes hiding all sight of the mast on its summit from this angle.

The tarmac twists gently along the edge of another body of water, Loch Geo Glais, which is usually a popular spot in warmer seasons. Even today, somebody was gearing up to go paddleboarding at the scenic spot.

Today it was quiet along here, with only an occasional car to be spotted – just the way I like it! I followed the route round to Torness, rolling over another cattle grid, then following it up into a forested area.

Ignoring a left turn, a narrow strip of road with passing places follows the edge of a steep forest. Before long, the rather incongruous sight of a massive road sign comes into view. This marks the meeting of the B862 and the B851 – the road to Fort Augustus and the road to Inverarnie.

I opted for the latter, which offers a return route through Strathnairn – and today also offered some wind on my back after enduring a head wind up to this point.

A small climb begins this next segment but soon you are rolling down easily, through a tight right-hand bend, to cross the River Farigaig at Dunmaglass – more of which in Active Outdoors next week.

The road turns tightly left at the entrance to the wind farm here, passing the old school house in the woods and soon crossing the River Nairn, whose source lies up into the Monadhliath hills to the south.

A short way on, I couldn’t help but pause and just take in the surroundings. How nice to be out here on the edge of this magnificent range of hills, the gentle slopes leading up to more remote moors and high tops.

Looking north, a couple of ruins lay in view below the nearby rugged hill of Stac Gorm, which rises steeply above the nature reserve at Loch Ruthven. It makes a nice short stroll up from the RSPB car park to the trig point at its 430m summit.

I continued my ride, passing through Croachy and past the junction to Ruthven, squeezing between the impressive Brin Rock on the left and a smaller rise on the opposite side of the road, which has an old fort at its top.

Taking the next road to the left, I made my way on this wonderful back road past Brin Mains and through a narrow, winding section below Creag Bhuidhe and towards Dunlichity.

At the junction opposite the historic church at Dunlichity, the route back to Essich goes right then left to begin a sharp climb round the shoulder of Creag a Chlachain. The road is newly resurfaced here and is narrow and twisting, passing through delightful woodland as it rises to Bunachton.

From here it was an easy ride across the moor before a drop down to a T-junction at Essich, where I turned right for a speedy descent back to the edge of the city.

With spring here at last, what a pleasure to be able to explore that little bit further from home – and yet to be reminded what wonderful country is still so close to our doorstep.

Brin Rock.
Brin Rock.

Route details

Strathnairn road cycle

Distance 30 miles / 48km

Terrain B roads and minor roads

Start/finish Inverness – described from the Essich roundabout on the Southern Distributor road

Map OS Landranger 26

Taking to the open roads on a ride from the home office

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