Photo Epic: A Scottish Highland Bikepacking Adventure

Oct 24, 2018
by Andy Cole  

We were booked on to the first ferry out of Mallaig at 8:30am. Having spent the night in the car park, the bike was ready and packed up for the short crossing to Inverie on the Knoydart peninsular. Sean rolled in at about 8:00am, parked up his truck and began to get ready for our over-nighter in one of Britain's remotest corners.

Time was getting on, so I headed to the harbour to find our ferry. Having pre-booked, the ferry man was shouting out my name as I rode up the jetty. By the time I'd loaded my bike on the boat, Sean was carrying his down the jetty stairs. After a quick telling off by the skipper and a stern warning not to be late for the return at 18:30pm the following day, we sailed out of the harbour walls.



After the short 30 minute crossing we found ourselves on the bikes and looking for a spot for breakfast.



It wasn't hard to find a spot with a view, everywhere we looked we were surrounded by an amazing landscape, mountains towered over the sea in every direction.


Sean enjoyed his Weetabix and was a wee bit giddy about the adventure ahead.


The weather forecast was for high wind and rain, and with the clouds starting to darken around us, we begrudgingly got in the saddle and headed on the good track out of Inverie, leaving civilization behind.
Climbing through the woods it started to rain.

Surrounded by cloud the views disappeared and with no distractions, we were soon at the Loch an Dubh-Lochain. We carried on pedalling, crossing rivers and streams in full spate with all the recent rain.


At the top of Mam Barrisdale the wind hit us, blowing our loaded bikes from under us.

The single-track trail down to Barisdale had now turned in to a river, drenching us even more as we descended, maybe a kayak would have been more suitable than our bikes.

We reluctantly held in our speed, as getting over the back end was difficult with saddle bags stuffed with sleeping bags. Even with the slow pace and rapids on our trail, we both got to the bottom with huge smiles on our faces.

We had carried bivvy gear and had planned on heading further into the corries of Ladhar Bheinn, but the warm, dry bothy at Barisdale was too appealing in the current conditions.

We decided to wait it out in the shelter of the bothy and cooked up some warm food while studying the map.


As the wind and rain rattled the roof and shook the door, it was an easy decision to stay put and spend the night in the £3 a night hut. We laid out our sleeping bags and hung up our clothes to dry.




The alarms were set for 5am and with nothing to do but eat and brew up, it was an early night for the both of us. It was still pretty wild outside, but we were keen to get out and amongst the hills.

Our Dirtlej Dirt Suits gave us some confidence as we ate breakfast and prepared for a big day on the mountain. Head torches on, we headed out in the dark. It was a challenge to find a crossing point at the first stream we encountered, getting wet feet at the start of the day.


Zigzagging up on an ancient trail to the small shielings in the corrie, it was hard to imagine this place once inhabited before the clearances. Riding over the shoulder of Creag Bheithe, the cliffs of Ladhar Bheinn poked out of the clouds, like turrets on a giant imposing castle. Two eagles soared only a few feet above us adding to the majesty of the place.


Dropping down to the valley bottom on a brief good trail, we hit the raging river. With no visible crossing, we trekked on up higher and higher towards the black cliff walls of the mountain, in search of a low point. We managed to find a few boulders keeping their head above the torrent to skip across.

Finally on the other side, it was time to leave the trail and pick our own way up the steep slopes to the ridge 500m above. In cloud once again we had no distractions and were soon on the ridge. Greeted by the wind, we scrambled up the rocky outcrops, picking our lines for the return ride. At a bealach, the wind hit us hard, ripping the bikes from our shoulders. Finding shelter behind the nearest big rock, we discussed possible options and both decided on leaving the final arête for another day. Even without the bikes, the wind made it too dangerous to climb the 125m to the summit. Dropping down we finally got out of the wind and the clouds started to break up and lift around us, offering us amazing views down to the sea loch.



Half riding and half sliding, we re-traced our track down the grassy slope and back to the river crossing. It appeared the river had dropped slightly, giving us more crossing options this time. Quickly on the other side we hit the trail leading us back up to the shoulder of Creag Bheithe.
Keeping our eyes in the skies for the eagles, we nearly missed the amazing view behind us.

The clouds lifted from the crags and the sun shone down, casting patches of light across the hill, stopping us dead in our track at the sight behind us. We quickly snapped a few photos before the clouds shrouded the buttresses once again.

Photo Credit: Sean Green


We soon found ourselves back at the bothy where we packed our bike-packing bags on to the bikes. Time was pushing on now, and with the skippers warning still ringing in our ears, we were heading up to Mam Barrisdale in no time.


With the high wind, showers were drifting in and disappearing as fast as we could zip up the jackets, leaving us with horizon to horizon rainbows in their wake.


We could see the sea from the top of the pass and knowing our boat was waiting for us, we descending down as fast as we could.



Finally we were down on the tarmac of Inverie and with only a couple of minutes spare, sprinted the kilometre to the jetty as fast as our tired legs could carry us.

With a minute to spare we pulled on to the jetty, only to find the ferry pulling away. Deep down, I was a little bit disappointed when I saw him returning for us, another night bivvying on the beach wouldn't have been a bad thing. Once on the boat, the ferry man who loaded our bikes, said, 'You guys look like you need a beer?' and two minutes later we were laughing and smiling with one in our hand, already reminiscing about the amazing adventure we'd just had.


Photo Credit: Sean Green



25 Comments

  • 37 2
 face tatts are interesting
  • 13 0
 Hipster beards 'n' tats but drinking shitey Export?

I didn't realise that was even possible. I mean, I don't think it's even dry hopped with organic single estate hops!
  • 15 0
 When it's offered to you from the guy on a ferry, it's taken no matter what it is.
  • 6 0
 They didn't have chilled buckfast
  • 6 3
 As Billy Connolly taught us, We need tattooed people to determine how beige we are...
  • 7 1
 Awesome looking trip, having "bike packed" in the fall of 1993 in Scotland I can surely say such a small bit of land packs a ton of options. My approach was to carry as much on my back as possible and leave the bike as free as possible. Riding a Specialized Rockhopper. all rigid as hell. I chose to set up in the bothies where I could find them, tent and hostels and bag a couple of peaks, most notable was somewhere between Aviemore and Braemer, another high above Loch Ness with a bothie in the middle of a little island, Ben Nevis (terrible climb sketchy descent) on the worst day of the whole trip accompanied by a munro bagger, and a trippy one day purge of whiskey and moroccan goo from Ullapool to Durness in the hope of riding out to Cape Wrath. A month wasn't enough but I lucked out with the weather but having just spent a year in Canada was more than prepped.
  • 1 0
 Wow, sounds like a great trip.
  • 8 0
 Haha! Awesome adventure, guys! Nice of the ferry man to go back for you!
  • 6 0
 Incredible pictures. Thanks for sharing!
  • 5 0
 great adventure!!
  • 3 0
 Cool trip tho, on the list.
  • 4 0
 Top job lads!!
  • 3 0
 Awesome mate!
  • 1 0
 Cheers bud.
  • 2 0
 Banger shots. True test of rain gear.
  • 2 0
 Sick adventure boys, good on ya
  • 3 3
 I need sex. I see cleavages everywhere. Like on a pic nr 6
  • 1 1
 This why I remain in So Cal. I can't do a wet and cold climate.
  • 2 5
 Face tats and not drinking scotch whilst in the highlands?

*disgruntled Scottish noise* Och, des generations right dooomed.
  • 1 0
 Beggars can't be choosers and all that.
  • 6 0
 and bikepacking without a Surly... surely that's illegal.
  • 2 0
 Don't call me Shirley!
  • 1 1
 Hmm, my comment duplicated.
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