West Highland Way bikepacking adventure!
Day 1 - Milngavie to Crianlarich (20th August 2021)
Day one of our West Highland Way adventure by mountain bike took us from the official start at Milngavie on the outskirts of Glasgow to Crianlarich. Covering 70km with 1400m of ascent, we ended the day halfway through the WHW, albeit finishing a bit later than planned. Tough day, particularly the last 10km of hike a bike along the shores of Loch Lomond, but the pizza and pint that evening tasted all the better for it 😜
Route description below for anyone thinking of cycling it 👍
Milngavie to Drymen (20km) was pretty fast going, quickly leaving the suburbs and getting into open countryside. Mix of easy flowing trails, including a nice section of single track descent early on, with a couple of sections of road, the riding is good. After a quick coffee in Drymen, we started to climb up towards Conic Hill; the main climb of the day. Bit of a slog up Conic, on single track, but not quite as long or hard as we had expected, with fantastic views over Loch Lomond from the top and a fun, technical descent down to Balmaha for lunch. Parts of the Conic climb and descent are unrideable, and you need to watch out for walkers coming down, but you're not off the bike for long.
Balmaha to Rowardennan (11km) is a bit up and down but all rideable, with one 2km fire road climb being the main effort along this stretch. It's after Rowardennan that the loch-side path becomes increasingly challenging with a bike. You can ride short sections before having to dismount for unrideable obstacles, namely rocks and steps, but there's no flow to this section (11km) as you're constantly on and off the bike. Reaching the Inversnaid Hotel we naively thought the worst was behind us... how wrong we were 🤣 You now have another 10km of proper hike a bike. This is rough trail, hiking the bike up and over huge rocks. You might only average 2 or 3km per hour, so be prepared for this to take a good few hours or more - especially wearing SPD cycling shoes! It's relentless and hard on the upper body, so practice shoulder pressing your bike beforehand and you should be alright 😉 Joking aside, this section took us a lot longer than anticipated, and isn't much fun, so make sure you factor in plenty of time (and Haribo)...
Eventually you come to the end of Loch Lomond, as we did at around 7.30pm in the evening (much later than planned), and while the landscape opens up the trail climbs, with some sections of pushing. After the descent to the campsite at Inverarnan we made the sensible decision at 8.30pm, with light fading, to cross the river and hit the main road to get to Crianlarich before nightfall - and before everywhere stopped doing food! Both the road and the trail follow the river to Crianlarich for about 11km, which we rolled into at 9.15pm, just before the rain started. We had cut it fine, but all's well that ends well!
We stayed at the Best Western Hotel in Crianlarich, who were very accommodating - keeping the kitchen open to cook us pizza while we put the bikes away in their secure bike storage and got into some clean clothes. Pizza and a pint never tasted so good 🍕🍺
Day 2 - Crianlarich to Fort William
Day 2 of the West Highland Way by mountain bike saw us leave Crianlarich around 9am, following the main road for a couple of kilometers before joining the WHW at Kirkton Farm. Passing the campsite here, and remains of 13th century St Fillans priory and burial grounds, the short ride to Tyndrum is largely landrover track with sections of single track - all of which is rideable.
Having reached Tyndrum, and stocked up on chocolate and Haribo for the day ahead, we began the gentle climb out of the village towards Bridge of Orchy. This leg of the journey is lovely. You're now in the highlands, surrounded by munros, and having finished the initial climb you enjoy a long descent, covering the ground quickly along easy tracks that follow the railway line.
You cross back over the road at Bridge of Orchy, leaving the tarmac again shortly after to take the 2km single track climb through forest up to the high point of Mam Carraigh, which gives beautiful views back to Beinn Dorain. The rocky 1km descent down to the Inveroran Hotel from here is great fun, so enjoy!
We had intended to grab a bite to eat at the Inveroran Hotel, but arrived at 11.30am to find it didn't open until noon. Rather than hang around, we scoffed a Snickers, refilled the water bottles from the tap outside the hotel and jumped back on the bikes towards Rannoch Moor.
Leaving Inveroran, you follow the road for about 1 km before turning off at Forest Lodge and beginning the long gradual climb up the old drovers road that skirts Rannoch Moor. While the gradient is forgiving, the track is rough so we were fortunate enough to have a slight southerly on this section. Having climbed for the best part of 10km to just over 400m, you are rewarded with 2km of awesome downhill to the ski centre at Glencoe, with epic views of the famous munros that make this area so iconic.
Crossing the A82 at the ski centre, it's just over 2km of easy track to the Kingshouse Hotel where we stopped for a leisurely lunch, enjoying the view of Buchaille Etiv Mor, and sheltering from the drizzle.
From the Kingshouse Hotel we followed the Old Military Road for a few kilometers, tracking the A82, before the real climbing up to the Devil's Staircase begins. At 475m, this marks the highest point on the WHW, with beautiful panoramic views of the rugged Glencoe mountains and north to the hills around Kinlochleven. The climb itself involves pushing the bike, but it's only for a couple of kilometers tops and the views take your mind off the slog.
Once at the top you can look forward to an 8km descent into Kinlochleven. The first 5km or so are lovely single track, with the main hazards being the numerous drainage ruts that dissect the trail. 99% of them can be bunny hopped with ease though, so you can keep the flow all the way down into Kinlochleven. This was our first time in the hills around Kinlochleven and we were taken aback by the amount of trees and greenery - quite different from a lot of the highlands. In fact, with the low cloud and humidity we could have been in a completely different country.
We didn't hang around for long in Kinlochleven, as time was ticking. Good job too, as you're straight into a long, rough ascent, pushing the bikes for a good 1.5km or so through the woods before joining the Old Military Road. After the steep climb, we were glad to take a breather, down some water and smash some Haribo at this point. The landscape opens up now, with the track climbing gradually for about 5km through the valley before descending 5km down to the road at Blar a Chaorainn. This section is pretty wild and exposed, giving the riding a real wilderness feel.
It was now around 7pm in the evening, but from Blar a Chaorainn you're only about 12km from Fort William, so we knew the end was in sight. The climbing isn't quite done though, as you cycle up through Nevis Forest on single track for 4km to the meet the fire road that zig zags down into Glen Nevis. Although the drizzle had cleared and the sun was now shining, Ben Nevis was obscured by cloud, but we didn't mind. Reaching the top of the fire road and looking down into Glen Nevis, we felt a real buzz of excitement - buoyed by the prospect of a 5km descent down to the road! The descent was joyous - fast and long, with fantastic views across to the Nevis range. Once at the bottom, it's just a couple of kilometers along the road into Fort William and you're done! Rolling into town at 8pm, we quickly checked into our Airbnb before heading out for much needed calories and some cold refreshments.