Power from the glens on Monadhliath Trail mountain bike route through Stronelairg wind farm and into Glen Doe
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Power is at the heart of this circuit through the Monadhliath mountains to the south of Loch Ness.
Not only did I need a fair bit of it to battle the steep slog up from what remains of Stronelairg Lodge, but these hills are now sculpted by our demand for energy.
SSE Renewables describes the wind farm, high up in the hills, as one of its windiest sites. The 66-turbine farm is huge, with a series of tracks crisscrossing the plateau to each mammoth generator, and then there’s the Glendoe hydro scheme to its west.
This scheme was opened in 2009 by the Queen, with the late Prince Phillip by her side, and a rather grand cairn overlooking the reservoir marks the occasion today. It is somewhat incongruously situated on the edge of a smooth helipad beside the access track to the wind farm. I imagine the royals had a slightly easier ride than mine to get here that day.
More fitting with the landscape, a nearby statue was built to thank workers on the dam below. The Glendoe Eagle was sculpted by Tom Mackie and seems to soar from its perch high above the water.
There’s a short, boggy walk from the main track to reach the artwork, which I’d been wanting to see for years but hadn’t found the opportunity until now. It is a stunning sculpture and offers a magnificent viewpoint too.
It wasn’t the only bird of prey I saw on this ride, either. A red kite, a couple of buzzards and what I’m pretty certain was a hen harrier were spotted as I made my way through the wind farm. I wasn’t expecting to see all this life up here, along with mountain hares and more.
I’d started out at Whitebridge, following a shortcut path from just south of the inn to link up with the Garrogie road, which can be reached off the B862 old military road.
The road climbs above the River Fechlin through patches of pleasant woodland, and I heard a cuckoo across the glen as I made my way slowly up to Loch Killin. After a brief descent to the bridge at the loch’s outflow, the way is barred to motor vehicles.
It means the stretch of old road alongside the water, despite its deteriorating condition, is bliss, with people enjoying the area on foot and bike, as well as a group camping by the lochside.
After passing a bridge that leads to Killin Lodge, the old road ends and the way ahead is on a rougher track that leads for a couple of kilometres to Stronelairg. The sun had come out now, but I knew the next section involved a steep climb up a rough track to reach the wind farm.
What I hadn’t realised was just how steep! After crossing the burn and passing a couple of gates, I paused at the bottom of the ascent to admire a little waterfall on the Glenmarkie Burn before dropping into bottom gear to see if it was possible to actually pedal up here.
Well, it was for a short while, at least, but I soon realised that this wasn’t the most efficient way to get to the top, so I hopped off and pushed – which wasn’t an easy task in itself.
The climb goes on and on, gaining height suddenly until the gradient finally eases as you skirt the edge of Coire an Eich.
Reaching a junction beside a curious blue hut, I turned right as the track dropped then climbed again as the turbines got closer. Keeping right at the next junction, I was now right in the wind farm, with the turbines all around me.
At a bridge ahead, I turned right to cross the Crom Allt and follow the ‘motorway’ route through the wind farm. It’s a further seven kilometres or so before the turbines are left behind and, despite the vast network of tracks, it’s straightforward to follow the main route, following the ‘exit’ signs for work vehicles.
One of the turbines is situated directly beside the track and it is slightly unnerving as the massive blades sweep down towards you as you pass, the whooshing sound seemingly directly above your head.
It was crossing the Allt Creag Chomaich midway along the track that I saw what I believe was a hen harrier flying overhead.
Eventually I passed the last turbine before dropping down to the edge of the reservoir and following the continuing track along the shore. The track then skirts away from the water and climbs up to the cairn.
As you turn the corner, a faint path with a short stretch of boardwalk near the start can be seen beside one of the black and white poles that line the route. This marks the start of the boggy walk to the Glendoe Eagle.
After visiting the artwork, I got back on the bike and soon found myself on an invigorating descent into Coire Doe and Glen Doe. The steep track twists its way down on wide hairpin bends that make for a fun ride that requires some concentration – as well as a few little jumps over the drainage channels.
So much height is lost but a fair chunk has to be regained after you reach a gate and cattle grid, where you meet the South Loch Ness Trail, marked by light blue posts. The stretch of trail between Fort Augustus and Loch Tarff was funded by SSE’s community fund, and I turned right immediately after the cattle grid to join it.
The off-road route offers some great riding but after reaching Loch Tarff I decided to get back on the road for the last bit of the climb to the Suidhe viewpoint, which is followed by a speedy descent to Whitebridge.
Distance 30 miles / 48 km
Terrain Quiet minor roads, Land Rover tracks, wind farm tracks, other paths
Map OS Landranger 34 & 35; South Loch Ness access map
A mountain bike circuit – through a wind farm and past a hydro station – that requires plenty of energy