There are some fabulous places to cycle in Scotland given its great scenery and culture.  Some well-known routes include the North Coast 500, the Five Ferries route and the UK’s highest hill climb over the Bealach na Bà, near Applecross.

Having done some cycle touring around the west coast as well as Land’s End to John O’Groats I thought I’d share some hints and tips on planning a cycle tour including: finding a route, places to stay, bikes on trains and online resources.  This is a slightly longer version of the guide to cycle touring in Scotland that I recently posted on the I know Scotland online tourism community, and is aimed at those new to either cycle touring or to visiting Scotland.

 

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Cycle friendly routes

Sustrans is the UK’s national cycling charity and supports an increasing number of routes in the National Cycling Network (NCN).  You can search for recognised routes on the Sustrans website – everything from long distance rides to easier, family-friendly rides – and search for them on an online map.

Of course, you don’t need to be restricted to recognised routes.  Since population densities are much lower in Scotland than the rest of the UK and most other European countries most rural roads are relatively quiet.  While there are sections of car-free cycle paths in the NCN, and lots of minor roads, even main roads (‘A roads’) away from larger towns are relatively cycle friendly.

 

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Cycle friendly accommodation

Depending on your budget (and in order of decreasing cost), the main options are hotels, B&Bs, hostels, campsites, wild camping and free local hospitality. The VisitScotland website is a good place to start, particularly for hotels and B&Bs.   There’s a good network of around 70 youth hostels and also an increasing number of independent hostels.

Campsites can vary in quality but generally offer washrooms, toilets and showers. Some have heated, ‘en suite’ washing facilities and sheltered cooking areas but the most basic (sometimes the best!) may just have a small wash room and an honesty box for payment.  The best websites to find campsites include ScottishCamping.com, www.campsites.co.uk and www.pitchup.com.

Scottish land access legislation is among the most progressive in the world and wild camping is a convenient option for cycle touring across most of Scotland.  However, this ‘right’ comes with ‘responsibilities’ – set out in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code – and so if you want to camp wild it’s important you adopt the ‘leave no trace’ principles, have read the Code and be aware of any local byelaws and the advice on lighting fires.

Finally, another free option is the Warm Showers international network, where local hosts offer to put up travellers either by giving them a bed, couch or place to camp.

 

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Taking a bike on a train

Train operators all have slightly different arrangements regarding carrying bikes but all trains will have a small number of racks or spaces for bikes in one carriage or more (look for the bike sign on the carriage door).  Most trains in Scotland are operated by Scotrail (currently Abellio has the franchise) and information on making reservations for bikes is available on their website.  It’s worth remembering that most trains will only have 2 or 3 spaces for bikes so it’s advisable to make reservations as soon as you can to avoid disappointment.  Further tips on taking your bike on the train can be found here.

 

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Maps

Ordnance Survey maps cover the whole of the UK and give the best detailed mapping available at a range of scales.  Some good free online mapping resources to plan routes include PlotaRoute and Cycle Streets as well as Google Maps of course.  My personal favourite is ViewRanger, whose app allows maps to be downloaded to your smartphone and used offline.

 

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Further resources

Finally, there are many, many other sources of information on cycle touring in Scotland out there.  Cycling UK’s discussion forum is the best place to get advice from other cyclists while both Lonely Planet and Cicerone publish good cycling guides.

Elsewhere on my blog you can also read more about my Land’s End to John O’ Groats and Mull/Ardnamurchan cycling trips.

 

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Have you got any good tips for cycle touring in Scotland ?  What I have missed ?

 

 

2 Comments on “Planning a cycle tour in Scotland

  1. Cycling in forest areas is fine if you are not disabled but I’d like to be able to take my disability scooter on the train in Scotland, particularly Scot Rail and explore forest areas and the same tracks as for example, the West Highland Way, recharging the battery from a mains power supply, overnight, whilst camping. I have complications from diabetes and cannot walk more than a few yards. I have trained as a skipper on a 49 tonne inter-island ferry out of Oban and actively support inshore lifeboats of the RNLI. Also ex-RAF (Kinloss) on Search & Rescue but now I’m basically stranded in and around Birmingham.

    If I cannot get access to trains then I’d be happy to travel in a transit van with a hydraulic lift, if I can get a lift from Birmingham, starting my exploration at somewhere like Crianlarich, contributing towards fuel, heading initially to Oban, thence on to the Great Glen where I have sponsored an acre of trees on the Western shores of Loch Ness.

    I’ve worked for 7 years as a volunteer on the restoration of rolling stock, mostly of 1930s carriages on the Severn Valley Railway on the GWR route, which CAN take disability scooters without any problems, via a gentle ramp into a 50 ft. Guards van. Yet modern Virgin trains and as far as I can gather Scot Rail trains on the West Highland lines, are unable to accept disability scooters out of Glasgow. I can add longer range batteries with greater AH rating to extend my options to around 40 miles per day.

    Almost 72 now but apart from my limited mobility I like to do what I can to contribute to the well-being of society. If the need arises I can buy a new off-road scooter for delivery to Crianlarich, leaving it securely at the Guest House I regularly use but I would prefer to travel by road or rail to the Highlands, continuing my adventure using my existing scooter. It needs a 25 inch gap (or ramp width) so it is not unduly large.

    Please e-mail me if anyone in my area can help. Bless you and many thanks

    • Hi Ian,

      Great to hear you have such a strong thirst for continuing your adventures around Scotland ! I’m hoping that readers of this blog will have some ideas and suggestions for you.

      I’m not familiar with accessibility issues on trains and am surprised that modern trains didn’t allow disability scooters. A quick search suggests the West Highland line can take scooters of up to 56cm wide (22 inches) so perhaps that’s the issue for you. Have you contacted Scotrail or a disability access group eg Disability Information Scotland ?

      There’s an increasing network of cycle paths around Scotland with smoother surfaces than you’d typically find on many long distance footpaths/trails. It might be worth speaking to Sustrans to get their advice on which are most accessible for scooters.

      I hope you find some suitable solutions !

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