Despite the restrictions to travel between the US and the UK being enough to make ones head explode: a negative test to fly, a personal locator form complete with evidence of tests booked (at great expense) to be taken on days 2, 5 and 8, a cell phone number for tracking purposes and quarantine for 10 days with an option to test to release on the fifth day, I was committed to a bikepacking trip to the UK. In combination with a visit to my family who I had not seen for some time, I deemed it a worthy journey to make in these pandemic times.
I picked a classic, the Badger Divide, a 210 mile ride through the Scottish Highlands from Inverness to Glasgow. Less than 12 hours after receiving my negative test on the 6th day of quarantine, my brother Richard and I were driving north to Glasgow where we would leave his van and take a train to Inverness. We arrived shortly after 11 p.m., but being the Land of the Almost Midnight Sun, the late hour barely mattered and we rode away from the train station into the twilight to the start of the Great Glen Way. Climbing the steep hill out of town, getting lost in a new housing development and finally into the ancient forest, we found a flat spot around 1 a.m. and pitched camp.
After a few hours sleep and a quick cup of coffee, we escaped the company of midges and headed out on the trail. High above Loch ness the Great Glen Way winds its way in and out of pretty native woodlands of oak and birch carpeted with bluebells, along moorland tracks flanked with gorse and through conifer forests dripping with moss whose enchanted hallways seemed to hold a mysterious magic that set the tone for our journey through the wilds of Scotland.
On the morning of our second day we departed Fort Augustus under sunny skies, our bellies full of a proper Scottish breakfast of haggis and bacon, mushrooms and tomatoes, eggs and tatie scones. Our goal was to reach the Corrour Station House, the most remote pub in the U.K. for dinner that night. In between was 50 miles of riding through the most magnificent scenery imaginable, but also lots of climbing, including the largest one of the trip, up and over Corrieyarick Pass. Much of the route was on General Wade’s Military Roads, rough doubletracks with steep grades, built in the 1800’s as part of an attempt by the British Government to bring order to a part of the county which had risen up in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715.
At times I questioned the wiseness of carrying a full bottle of whisky in my frame bag, but once we made it over the Pass we settled into cruise mode on smooth tracks, passed by lochs with white sand beaches and fairytale castles, watched stags swimming across a river and soaked in the most majestic mountain scenery. Arriving at the Station House just before they closed, we feasted on venison casserole before falling into a deep sleep after a second day of hard riding.
We left the Station House in real Scottish weather, the first of the trip. Up and over Rannoch Mor in swirling mists and cottongrass specking the heather like snow. Down and across the River Gaur, then following the Red Coates Clan Trail up above treeline where the heavens really opened up. It was bucketing down on our descent and we got a proper soaking before arriving at a perfectly placed tearoom where we ate our weight in sausage rolls and hot soup before heading up Glen Lyon, the “loveliest, loneliest and longest’ glen in Scotland.
On our last evening, which happened to be on the longest day of the year, we rode into the wooded hills of the Trossachs and set camp on the edge of Loch Venechar. A steady breeze kept the midges at bay as we celebrated our ride, now almost over, with dinner and wine in front of a fire. As the sun slowly sank below the horizon and the nautical twilight settled over the earth for a few hours, the sound of bagpipes floated across from the far shore. Scotland sure did know how to make this trip worth it.
About Big Agnes Ambassador Ann Driggers: A Jill of all trades and a master at none, Ann is a weekend warrior and backcountry bon vivant who lives to hike, run, ride, ski, paddle and climb in the great outdoors. She is most often found roaming through the red-rock canyons and mountains of western Colorado with her Jack Russell Terrier, Scooter. Ann lives in Carbondale, Colorado and enjoys a career as the Finance Director for Pitkin County in Aspen. Outside of work she aims to explore as much of the wild and beautiful places of her local geography as possible, on foot, ski or bike, preferably including a sunrise, sunset or both.