If you’re looking to travel a little differently, then how about cycling the West Highland Way instead? Take in the luscious landscapes, rolling hills and even the magnificent Munros with each pedal stroke.
The traditional walking route goes from Milngavie, up the banks of Loch Lomond, over the Rannoch Moor and up through Glen Nevis to reach Fort William at the end. This is 96 miles, which is a relatively tough walk over 5-10 days, but an even tougher cycle. Hey, if you are massively fit, you might not feel it, but here, we are going to be treating the route with caution, to make sure that you don’t break yourself in the attempt. There is a variation on the route, because one part of it is particularly tough to cycle, unless you are the hardiest of mountain bikers.
Remember, when looking at the distances below, take into account that you are going over rugged terrain, that will slow you down and sap a lot more of your energy than the roads will. You might look at 25 miles a day and think ‘no problem’ but comparing this to the roads, you would probably be looking at a tough 50-mile day.
Traditionally the cycle would be split into four sections.
Milngavie – Rowardennan 26.5 miles
This section of the route is a blend of everything. You will be on the road a little, on compact wide paths, and a few wee technical parts where you need to keep your wits about you. Conic Hill is not really an option unless your legs are feeling particularly fresh as the climb is ferrocius, never mind the downhill section which feels almost 90degrees.
Rowardennan – Tyndrum 26 miles
This is the tough one. Seriously, unless you are a technical mountain biker, we wouldn’t recommend hitting this section at all. It can be a pain, even for those who have the skills and there is a lot of pushing and complaining involved before the riding gets really good. But it does get really good, so if you have the skills, push through the grumbling!
So, for those who do not fancy this, there is a seasonal ferry from Rowardennan across the loch to Tarbet. From here you can ride up the A82 to rejoin the West Highland Way at Beinglas Farm, just after the Drover’s Inn. However, this road is sketchy even in a car, so make sure you are well hi-vizzed up and be prepared for a few car horns and near misses on this tight, winding road.
Tyndrum – Kingshouse 18.7 miles
This is the most straightforward ride of the four and will be a good recovery day after yesterday’s slog. Wide doubletrack and some singletrack today means easy riding and you can often give walkers a wide berth without shouting them down or rattling the bell. The only thing to note is that the Rannoch Moor, while entirely beautiful, is really exposed, so if the weather is bad, it can be harder going.
Kingshouse – Fort William 24.4 miles
There are a couple of climbs on today’s ride that makes it a tough one. You kick off almost immediately with the Devil’s Staircase, whose name is justified, particularly on a bike. From there, there is a long descent into Kinlochleven, before it is climbing time again, with a fairly sharp climb out of town. Then it is undulating, but solid paths all the way through glorious Glen Nevis, to reach Fort William at the end.
What Kit Will You Need?
In addition to your kit and carry essentials, cyclists should pack a few extra items for their bike in case a mechanical failure should occur. When cycling the West Highland Way, cyclists should consider carrying a puncture repair kit, spare inner tubes, a pump, a multi-tool, brake pads, cable ties, rear mech hanger, tyre levers, electrical tape and spare gloves – as a minimum. There are bike shops located near the start of the West Highland Way, in Mugdock Park; there is Mugdock Country Cycles, and in Fort William, there is Nevis Cycles and Off Beat Bikes. However, it is important to note that there is not a great deal of bicycle support while travelling along the West Highland Way so be sure to stock up on supplies and carry out any bicycle maintenance before setting off. Many cyclists take advantage of the baggage transfer service to send kit bags with spares ahead to the next point.
The uneven terrain of the West Highland Way demands a bike that is built for off-road cycling, whether that’s a gravel bike or a mountain bike. We would suggest that hybrids and road bikes need not apply! If you are carrying luggage on your bikes, invest in quality frame bags or panniers, ensuring these are waterproof and durable that will withstand the Scottish weather and rugged nature of the route. If you’re planning to ascend and descend any of the Munro’s, it’s advised that you have a suitable mountain bike with a reasonable level of bike fitness and ability. Otherwise, you may find yourself walking a great deal. However, just like with walkers, we can arrange for you to have your luggage transferred, so you can cycle with just a daypack and you can have your luggage, and tents if you are camping, delivered to specific campsites or accommodations along the route.
Cycle the West Highland Way your way, whether you choose to complete the route in three, five or seven days. Allow yourself time to travel and time to explore, taking in your surroundings and maybe even a scenic detour along the way.
The first half of the West Highland Way is flatter than the second half with some of the climbs and undulations requiring both riding and pushing power. However, once at the summit of each climb, your legs won’t remember the ascent as you are rewarded with breath-taking views throughout the route. Descents along the route vary in technical grades, with some drainage ways to navigate over and loose terrain.
Your West Highland Way
As the West Highland Way is a shared path, please be mindful of other users. There are a few gates, passing points and footpaths that we ask for you to dismount at and walk through.
Please also be considerate with your litter, ensuring that no trace is left behind. There are recycling points along the route, so please retain any rubbish until you reach a designated area for disposal.