Photo Story: Loch Morar - Riding Through Wildfire in Scotland

May 23, 2019
by Ramsay MacFarlane  

Scotland has a well-established reputation as being one the best places to ride in the world, and rightly so, but the usual suspects often dominate the headlines - the infamous Tweed Valley, Nevis Range and even the Torridon area getting many regular plaudits from stoked riders around the world. When the season gets going in Spring, this fame manifests into hordes of riders flooding these regions, often resulting in prematurely worn out trails. That's why during the peak seasons, we often seek out the peace and tranquillity of trails less ventured. Coming from Glasgow, Dunoon springs to mind - a once-fabulous seaside town, now with a fresh outlook embracing outdoor activities - it hosts one of the most thrilling enduro races on the calendar with a town-centre prologue stage to get the crowd cheering.

As a couple looking for some relaxed riding and adventure, there is one spot that stands out just a few short hours north - Loch Morar. This 19km wide loch sits between Arisaig and Mallaig, the main towns in the area, and provides a beautifully peaceful spot to inhabit for a few days R&R on Scotland's rugged west coast.

Ride out VS Ride Back

After a frosty winter, and an exceptionally dry start to spring, we were welcomed by the faint smell of burning all around us - the hilltops were ablaze! The dead and dry vegetation from the previous season provides a perfect fuel which only requires a spark to start a fire that will spread in the wind like, well, wildfire. The plumes of smoke billowed out above the hills, with a few veins of fire reaching down to the shoreline. The hilltop glow was rather Mordor-like after the sun had set and the full moon took its rightful place amongst the smokey haze.

Ramsay's Nicolai Geometron stays nice and quiet over the rocky terrain, thanks to the Pinion gearbox and Gates Carbondrive belt.

Thankfully the wildfire's breath wasn't thick enough to have any effect on our arrival, and after a peaceful night's sleep, we set out on our adventure along the banks of Loch Morar. We were heading towards a tiny little village called Tarbet that is only accessible by foot/bicycle and boat - some cloud cover emerged just as we set off which was a nice break from the relentless heat of the sun.

Having ridden the route before, we knew to expect some very technical and rocky sections, but with the return journey being under 18km and 300m ascent, we could take our time and enjoy the scenery along the way. Having said that, the route makes you work hard for those numbers don't let it fool you into thinking it's an easy day!

Around every turn is another incredibly peaceful view.

The route undulates, with short, fun descents, matched with equally punchy technical climbs. It's tricky to make consistent progress when your jaw keeps hitting the floor, taking in the views after every turn! There are also several unrideable sections, where unless you're a certain Danny McAskill, it proved more efficient to dismount and push through, up and over these naturally occurring obstacles.

Quite a few sections require either Danny Mac trials skills or for mere mortals, a quick hike-a-bike.

There are a few ruins along the route - some dating back hundreds of years, some only very recently abandoned. It's hard to comprehend in our modern world how families could operate successfully on the land without having vehicle access directly to the front door... the supermarkets certainly aren't going to deliver your groceries out here!

Business as usual
Business as usual. Rare spots of connectivity had to be capitalised on.

Another noteworthy point is the lack of mobile phone connectivity - there is virtually none around Loch Morar! Freedom from the shrill ring of notifications is a bonus for us, and being forcibly disconnected is a rare pleasure, one we factored into our choice of getaway destinations.

Troy Lee kit with custom Kross Moon.
Meeting the locals in Tarbet
Locked, loaded and ready to make new friends.

After reaching the summit of the journey on the pass over to Tarbet, we descended into a charming village where we acquainted ourselves with the locals. There are a few small dwellings in the village and plenty boats, but there is a stand-out former church building that has recently been renovated into a rather splendid bothy facility, managed by Nevis Estate (permission only). The only other way into the village is by boat - you can get the small passenger ferry from Mallaig here (with bikes) if you want to extend the adventure and make it into a loop.

Loch Morar
Loving the return trip - just as much fun in either direction!

Setting off from Tarbet, climbing back over the pass from Loch Nevis down to the shore of Loch Morar, we retraced our tyre marks back along the same path. The dynamic route made it feel like we were riding somewhere new, even though you are merely going back on yourself.

The sun came out again by the time we arrived back at camp, so we refreshed ourselves in the fresh water of the loch and made a start on dinner to refuel, ready for the next adventure.

Until next time, keep on riding and say hello if you see us on the trails!

Ramsay & Jessica

Check out Jessica's website for women in cycling Velo Me or her instagram.
Check out Ramsay's coaching and guiding business TrailCoach or his instagram.


  • 2 0
 Stunning pictures and awesome writing. Sounds like a must visit but i would carry a satellite phone in case of emergency, although a lack of mobile phone Connection is nice sometimes. Keep coming those articles, Jess and Ramsay. Greets, Rob
  • 2 1
 wayhay The nipple tweaker'er on the front page
  • 1 0
 You know when you've made it when you're on PinkBike

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