A mountain bike circuit through the Ardverikie Forest from Loch Laggan to the River Pattack
Get the Inverness Courier sent to your inbox every week and swipe through an exact replica of the day's newspaper
Sitting between Loch Laggan and Loch Ericht in the Central Highlands, the Ardverikie Forest is a huge tract of remote hill land that connects with the better-known Ben Alder Forest.
For the six Munros in the Ben Alder area, there are just three here – Geal Charn, Beinn a’ Chlachair and Creag Pitridh – and they don’t have quite the same appeal as their more dramatic near neighbours.
I haven’t climbed any of these nine Munros, despite some pre-Covid plans that haven’t yet resurfaced, but this time I wasn’t heading for the tops. From a bagger’s point of view, this mountain bike circuit goes agonisingly close to all three, however.
Crossing the 800m contour at its highest point, it’s a genuine mountain outing, so I was glad of a superb weather forecast, although it made those tantalising tops all the more tempting to add to the day’s tally.
Exploring a new area is always an exciting prospect, and I eased my way into the day with some easy riding on tracks on the Ardverikie Estate. An access track to the estate provides a few spaces for parking on the south side of the A86 about a mile east of Kinloch Laggan, where a bridge is marked on the OS map over the River Pattack.
That watercourse offers a stunning finale to this route but for now I followed the track over the bridge and went right on the far side. The route keeps right to follow the river downstream and climb briefly to pass through a sawmill. It was all quiet here on a Sunday afternoon, and as I descended on the loose surface I kept right at a fork to head steeply downhill.
At the bottom you merge left onto a surfaced road that leads smoothly alongside Loch Laggan for an easy ride. Make the most of it, though, as the going gets a lot tougher as the ride goes on!
Further along, you can’t miss Ardverikie House, a 19th century Scottish baronial house – the very one used in the BBC TV series Monarch of the Glen, for those of us of a certain vintage! The house is private, but take a left up a rocky track opposite the house to start the climb up to Lochan na h-Earba.
It was hot work grinding my way up here with the sun shining but soon enough I reached a gate where the nature of the route suddenly changes. Passing through it, I emerged from the cover of the trees onto the more open hillside. Ahead of me stretched miles of largely flat vehicle track which made the miles zip by as I gasped at the beauty of the shimmering water to my right. This was the life!
The lochan is almost divided in two, so keep going to reach the second stretch of water and continue to the end of it. A sign here warned that the bridge over the inflow was impassable as work continues to replace it. It didn’t matter, as my route was heading left here, away from the bridge and up into the mountains.
Follow the track a short distance more then go left onto a faint track that starts to lead up into Coire Pitridh. The real work starts now as you climb from about 350m above sea level to the 800m mark.
The track up alongside the rather beautiful burn is surprisingly rideable, though the effort needed to keep that momentum going is immense. I pedalled a while then paused for a late lunch, taking in a fine view as I sat and enjoyed just being in this glorious spot.
That rest couldn’t go on forever though, and I had to get back to the long climb. Very soon it became a hike-a-bike, walking large stretches and hopping back on to pedal when the gradient eased enough to allow it.
I could see the summits of Creag Pitridh and Geal Charn to my left as I approached the bealach between the latter hill and Beinn a’ Chlachair. A couple of walkers were already there but I couldn’t catch up with them.
Ignoring a path shooting off to the left, the route climbs a little further between some crags high above Loch a’ Bhealaich Leamhain, where another spectacular view opens up before you.
Coming up from the other side, I met a couple of mountain bikers who told me they had just got engaged on Liathach a few days earlier. What a week they had chosen to holiday in the Highlands, and for such a special occasion too.
After congratulating them – and taking a photo of them at the high point of this route – I walked the initial part of the descent, which has a daunting drop off the edge to the lochan below. A little further on, it was safe to hop on the saddle and try out some real downhill mountain biking.
There’s some serious concentration and some serious fun to be had on the way down this glorious bit of singletrack. The long dry spell of weather certainly made this a much more feasible route than it might have been and to be honest it would be best to avoid riding here in the wet – for your own sake as well as to reduce the impact on the path.
Eventually you drop down to cross the burn that flows out from the lochan above before continuing around the edge of the gorge as you drop down to reach the Allt Cam. This river crossing is more substantial but a series of stones meant I was able to cross dry-shod using the bike for support. However, this could be very different in wet conditions.
A nice little path on the other side is followed left to reach the end of a track leading to Loch Pattack. Just before the loch, another track leads off to the right that heads to the old Culra bothy below the Ben Alder hills. The bothy was closed long before Covid due to asbestos, though the area would still make a glorious wild camping spot for an approach to the six Munros.
Admiring the magnificent profile of those hills in the distance, I vowed to one day soon fulfil a long-planned weekend doing just that.
For now, I continued past the loch, passing the wild horses grazing near the water’s edge and crossing a wobbly suspension bridge that provided a particular challenge trying to squeeze a man and a mountain bike across side by side as I pushed the machine over.
A short climb on the far side leads up to a T-junction beside a plantation forest. A right turn here leads to Ben Alder Lodge and on to Dalwhinnie, but I headed left to follow the River Pattack all the way down.
Initially, I thought this would be easy riding to the end, but the track very soon deteriorated into a mess of grass and ruts that was difficult to ride in places, let alone gain any momentum. After what seemed like miles of this horrible terrain, the route suddenly improved and I was on the move again, enjoying bright sunshine and the satisfaction of approaching the end of a fine day in the mountains.
A new hydro scheme at one point means you should follow the newer track as it climbs up and away from the river and behind some trees, eventually dropping back down to continue on the established track.
Keep right at a fork further ahead to descend and enjoy a beautiful stretch where you cross the river twice above the Falls of Pattack, then pass a handful of buildings at Gallovie on the way to meet the track near the start, just west of the bridge.
Ardverikie mountain bike circuit
Distance 23 miles / 37km
Terrain Estate tracks, surfaced and unsurfaced; stalkers’ paths, very rough mountain paths; some steep gradients and exposed sections
Start/finish Ardverikie Estate, near Inverpattack Lodge, east of Kinloch Laggan (grid ref NN554898)
Map OS Landranger 42
A spectacular hike-and-bike through the remote Ardverikie Forest