Lonely Planet travel guides have named Scotland as number three in the top ten countries to visit in 2014. They say that the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, Year of Homecoming and numerous festivals are the main reasons to visit.
I would like to add another reason- cycling. Take a look at this road in the far north-west of the country. This is typical of the roads and scenery that await you if you choose to come to Scotland for a cycling trip.
You will find that many roads have little traffic, like this one on the Island of Jura:
You may have to negotiate your way through the local wildlife, like these Highland Cattle in Glen Lonan, near Oban:
Head to one of Scotland's islands where you will find some of the best bicycling roads in the country. This is the ferry that travels to the Island of Lismore:
Your bicycle will take you to some of Scotland's most famous places, like the Callanish Standing Stones:
You can even cycle up the driveway of a castle, such as Fyvie Castle in Aberdeenshire:
Or Cragievar Castle, also in Aberdeenshire:
You can take your bike on the train and get off at one of many remote railway stations where you will have the place to yourself. How about Kildonan Station in Sutherland?
Sometimes the weather will be terrible, but it makes the scenery even more dramatic. Be brave and cycle on! This photo was taken near Loch Ossian where a storm was brewing:
When the weather is good make the most of it. Glen Esk in Angus:
Find a road with trees on both sides. Scotland has many. This one is near Insch:
Take a bike ride as the sun sets, preferably near the sea with islands nearby. This is the view from Morar:
Yes, Scotland deserves to be in that top ten of countries to visit in 2014. If you are planning to come then please put aside some time to do a bit of exploring on a bicycle.
Where is the windiest place in the UK? According to the Guinness Book of Records it is the Butt of Lewis. Not exactly enticing for a sunset cycle, but I have fond memories of this place.
The Butt of Lewis is at the very top of the Isle of Lewis. There is a lighthouse and plenty of rocks for the sea to crash over. Cycling up here brought me a feeling of great achievement and I regarded coming here as an adventure. Not that the road here is difficult, it is more the remote location and the sense of having reached the end of the land that brought those feelings.
I stayed the night in the nearby Loch Beag Bed and Breakfast. I had reserved a table at Café Sonas in Port of Ness, which was one mile away. I considered walking, but then thought ‘why not use the bike?’ Cycling to go out for a meal is something that I would simply never consider in the city, but here it seemed like the perfect thing to do.
There was none of that wind promised by the Guinness Book of Records and I could hear birdsong, baaing sheep and the occasional dog barking. All the people were likely inside having their dinner, so I had chosen the perfect time to cycle. I had it all to myself. The fields looked golden because the sun was lighting them with that special glow that only comes just before sunset.
Over a meal of hake stuffed with shrimps in a parsley sauce I watched the sun set from the big picture windows that looked over the harbor and the beach.
After a walk on the beach I cycled back to the bed and breakfast. It was after 9pm, but still light. I imagined a utopian city of people jumping on their bikes to go out to dinner or to the theatre. There were no cars in this city, only bicycles. Everyone else at the restaurant had a vehicle in the car park and had travelled from other parts of the island to enjoy the very good food. I was the only one who had travelled by bicycle.
I could think of no better way to spend an evening. This was better than anything you could watch on television. Everything was so still and I felt so peaceful. Cycling at sunset in Scotland has to be one of the greatest travel experiences.
Read more about my cycle to the Butt of Lewis. Includes map, photos and route guide.
Read about my sunset cycle from Mallaig to Morar.
I love nothing more than a post-dinner cycle to view the sunset and enjoy that special golden light bathing the landscape.
In the height of summer there is plenty of daylight right up to 9 or 10pm. When I am staying overnight at my destination I always try to head out for a short cycle after my dinner. It is a magical feeling to be out on the bike at this time when everyone else is indoors and I have the roads to myself. There is peace and quiet and I almost feel like I have the entire country to myself. The landscape always looks its best at this time of day because of the performance the sun puts on. If the sun had a personality, it would be an evening person that suddenly comes to life during those final few hours before sunset.
Mallaig to Morar
One of my favourite sunset cycles is the three miles from Mallaig to Morar. Mallaig is on the west coast of Scotland and the final stop on the West Highland Railway. When I got off the train I headed to the harbour where there is a brilliant blue sea with views towards the Small Isles of Muck, Eigg and Rum. It is a stunning location. With fishing boats bobbing and gulls swooping and squawking I started to feel like fish and chips for dinner.
This town is certainly the place for a good fish supper. The Cabin is the top destination if you like your chips chunky, your batter crispy and your fish melt-in-the-mouth.
After dinner I took the cycle path alongside the A830 to Morar. Malliag is a small town, so there is no lengthy prelude of buildings or built up areas- the coastal scenery begins immediately. On the left is the single track of the West Highland Railway and on the right uninterrupted views of the sea which was devoid of even a single ripple. In the distance the Isle of Rum stands out the most because of its rugged and wavy mountain profile.
When the road turns inland it starts to climb, but not too steeply, and a sign warns of sheep for the next two miles. I never saw a single fury white creature and this section is quite barren with steep hills of grass, rock and heather sheltering the road.
The road curves and dips allowing for a fast, peddle-free, sit back descent to Morar. At the bottom I look the left turn into the village and past mostly modern semi-detached housing with the occasional stone cottage or Victorian manse house mixed in.
The Morar Hotel
It was all uphill, but at the top there was a treat awaiting. The Morar Hotel looks over the water towards the silhouette of the small islands. The outdoor terrace is the perfect place to sip your favourite drink and watch the sun make its final dip. It was not quite time for this yet, so I kept exploring and decided to save this for last.
Opposite the hotel is the tiny Morar train station where the tracks cross the road. Or the road crosses the tracks- I am not sure which came first. The trains and the motor traffic must be equally infrequent because there are no crossing gates, just warning lights.
A bit further on there is a left turn signposted for Loch Morar. This a real twister of a road with virtually no straight sections. It leads down to the shore of the loch where I took another left turn. The water was tranquil this evening and the only movement was wave upon wave of midges.
Morag the monster
Loch Morar is the deepest lake in Europe at 1000 feet. It is also very remote with this minor road giving access to only four miles of its 12 mile length. The vast bulk of the loch is deep within the wilds and can only be accessed by walking or boating. This wildness and loneliness perhaps makes the existence of a Loch Morar monster more believable.
Loch Ness has the world famous Nessie and Loch Morar has the lesser known Morag. Whenever she is sighted it is believed that there will soon be a death of a member of the local MacDonald clan.
I pottered along the shore road for a few miles more, savouring the peace and quiet and thinking how lucky I am to be able to visit places like this and have the time to enjoy them.
I returned to the Morar Hotel to make use of the terrace, ordered a whisky and watched everything turn golden. This is why I love sunset cycling.
The map shows the cycling route I took from Mallaig to the Morar Hotel and then along the Loch Morar shore road. The map clearly shows just how large Loch Morar is in comparison to the tiny distance that the shore road covers.
View Mallaig to Loch Morar cycle in a larger map
Cycling in Scotland allows you to cross a wide variety of bridges. They can range from tiny stone bridges to something altogether more spectacular.
The Bridge Of Dun is one of the most unique bridges that I have cycled across because of its shape and architectural flourishes. The bridge crosses the River South Esk in the village of Bridge of Dunn in Angus. The closest large towns are Brechin and Montrose.
The bridge was constructed between 1785 and 1787. The use of classical architecture makes the bridge more than just functional, but a thing of beauty. The most striking feature is the use of columns. They are holding up the semicircular pedestrian refuges. I have never before seen such elaborate design on a bridge in Scotland.
Cycling across it I had no idea the level of decoration on its sides. I was in a rush, so I almost did not stop and would have assumed it to be nothing more than an ordinary and sturdy stone bridge. It was only because I stopped to walk down to the river bank and take a closer look that I saw how elegant the bridge is.
The bridge also has these interesting shapes carved into the stonework:
I was so glad that I got off my bike to take a closer look at this remarkable bridge. If you ever find yourself in Bridge of Dun make sure to take a walk down to the riverbank.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.