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Destiny calling on spring ride over moors

By John Davidson

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On the descent to Loch Duntelchaig.
On the descent to Loch Duntelchaig.

Children might be hard work, but they can also make you smile when you need it most. With my daughter Jennifer moping about the house, and me needing to get a spin on the bike, I decided to take her with me.

This would probably be the longest ride she had ever done in one go, and it would involve the biggest hill she’d ever tackled, too. But she didn’t need to know that yet! Children are also capable of more than they realise sometimes.

The spring weather has seen road bikes – including mine – come out of sheds and garages at long last. So we headed off down the Torbreck road on the national cycle route that heads to Dores.

Jennifer was already feeling better for being out in the fresh air and her mood improved further when a pony was being walked down the road – she loves horses and ponies! We had a little lesson in overtaking horses slow and wide so as not to startle them, then we carried on to the bottom of the road and went left to join the cycle path.

This is a bit narrow for riding side by side but we tootled our way down, enjoying the downhill at Cullaird before crossing a narrow wooden bridge and reaching the road at Scaniport. We turned left here onto this back road, where traffic is very light and we were able to just enjoy the cycling on a beautifully clear day.

Jennifer heads round one of the hairpin bends on the long Macbain climb.
Jennifer heads round one of the hairpin bends on the long Macbain climb.

I still hadn’t mentioned the Macbain hill, which we were getting closer to, but we had a little stop and a snack a little way before. Then, at the end of the road, I told Jennifer to turn left rather than follow the more familiar route to Dores.

Just over an old bridge, the climb starts. A couple of horses among the trees to the right distracted her initially but then that long straight uphill was unavoidable.

Now, as regular cyclists around here know, the visible part of this hill is barely even the start – it just goes on and on. I just told Jennifer to keep going and that she could do it. She may have been working hard but she still had a gear or two in reserve, so I knew she had it in her.

We kept powering up all the way through the S-bends to where the South Loch Ness Trail crosses the road. We pulled in here for a drink and another quick snack – there’s still a good bit of climbing to go but we had broken the back of it now.

Refreshed, she pedalled ahead, sweeping through the forest then up the tight hairpin bends nearer the top. When we reached the crossroads at the top of the climb, I told her what she had just done – then offered her the choice of the direct descent left through Essich or the original plan, which was to go straight over and pass Loch Duntelchaig before returning via Bunachton.

Celebrating reaching the top of the Macbain hill.
Celebrating reaching the top of the Macbain hill.

The latter would be longer and involve one more significant – if much shorter – hill. I was delighted when she said: “That sounds okay.” Green light for the longer route!

She enjoyed the downhill to the edge of Loch Ashie before the roads swings up and round to reach Loch Duntelchaig. There was a bit of a breeze up here, so we decided to look for a slightly more sheltered spot in the trees to take a rest.

The view was good but the breeze was chilly when you stopped, so we hopped back on the bikes and carried on to Loch a’ Chlachain, where the road hugs the shore briefly, then dropped down to Dunlichity.

We stopped at the old church here and I showed Jennifer the marks in the wall of the oldest part of the building, where Jacobite soldiers apparently sharpened their swords before the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

Jennifer with the bikes at Loch Duntelchaig.
Jennifer with the bikes at Loch Duntelchaig.

Then I warned her about the next hill. We turned left a short way after the church, signed to Bunachton, then dropped through the gears to climb the hill through the trees. With a short bit of walking, Jennifer soon made it to the top and we knew it was flat and downhill back home from here.

At the main house, we saw more ponies in the field and we cycled side by side, chatting along this peaceful road. I told Jennifer how nice it was to share some of these places that I’ve been cycling for years with her now she is old enough to come with me.

“It was my destiny,” she said, with a beaming smile on her face!

She might have meant she didn’t really have a choice – but I like to think she is happy to be experiencing the joy of the open road with the wind in her hair, even if the hills are sometimes a bit tough.

It's a thumbs up from Jennifer as we pause for a look over Loch Bunachton.
It's a thumbs up from Jennifer as we pause for a look over Loch Bunachton.

Route details

Macbain and Loch Duntelchaig

Distance 17 miles / 27km

Terrain Minor roads and surfaced cycle paths

Start/finish Inverness – Essich roundabout

Map OS Landranger 26

Pushing limits on a glorious cycle up to the moors above Inverness

The pair of horses near the bottom of the hill.
The pair of horses near the bottom of the hill.

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