Winter in the Highlands with Scotty Laughland and Greg Williamson

Jan 25, 2018
by H+I Adventures  

In the north of Scotland in winter, the winter weather is poor (at best) and the nights are long. It takes a special sort of motivation to get out and keep the legs turning over these long months.

Even for the hardiest it sometimes requires a little extra inspiration to brave the elements. The promise of some new trails and an ace ride crew is normally enough to seal the deal so with some wild lines in mind and Scotty Laughland and Greg Williamson in tow we headed for the hills...

Discussing what lies ahead

Keeping it Short and Sweet in Kinlochewe
With an urgent pace around the perimeter of the van, sending bags, bikes, and other personal belongings flying, Greg’s face drops as he gazes down upon his favourite pair of Adidas kicks in disbelief: “Please tell me you guys have hidden my riding shoes and I didn’t leave them lying on the driveway…”

By now we are parked up in Kinlochewe, a few hours from home, a pair of Five Tens down, and staring rather reluctantly at the bands of sleety snow hammering the mountains. Scotty, Euan, and myself, of course, offer little-to-no sympathy to Greg who by now had somehow been summoned into an elderly local’s residence to ‘help lift a washing machine’… He seemed a lot happier about life when he resurfaced 10 minutes later. We asked no questions.

Our original plan was swiftly scrapped and it was a bit optimistic from the start given the weather warning for wind and rain. It is December in the west of Scotland after all. Instead of a fresh hike-a-bike and heather bash across a boggy moorland to Beinn Eighe we went for a more ‘vanilla’ in and out, less adventurous but crucially grippier for those of us repping Adidas skate shoes, and a little less exposure to the elements for all involved.

Don t look round
The silhouette of focus or sleep

Pro bike check
The epic road descent towards Loch Maree. Beautiful even in the worst of weather.

Riding and steadily rising into the wild

Prime Scottish winter riding footwear
The smiles that come with any sort of winter riding

Unridable ascents only make for epic trails on the way down

Plan B. Ride, push, hike as far as we dared, or until the cold and wet got the better of us. Any initial tentative optimism of avoiding the worst of it was quickly swatted as we left the valley floor and crested the first rise. The wind wasn’t gusting, rather more of an unrelenting howl that cannoned the passing rain showers directly into our faces. Our leisurely climbing pace involved more chatting than it did crank turning, for which we got instant payback in the form of the crippling cold that took hold whenever we’d stop for a blether.

Progress became swifter and swifter with a certain urgency to get up to get down. The path plateaued slightly meaning we could begin spinning the wheels again and make progress towards Beinn Eighe which joined our presence intermittently through the grey. Reaching a fork in the trail, another battering of rain and wind made it an easy unanimous decision to take neither left nor right… It was almost a relief when we could point our wheels down the hill, that was until we made it a grand total of 10 metres with the hiss of air making a break for freedom from Greg’s tyre.

An F1-esque pitstop kept us on the move and blasting the brake-teasing, washboard, drag-strip top section which lured you unsuspectingly into a steep chute filled with baby head rocks, the closest feeling I’ve had to skiing on a bike… Bottoming out the forks and riding on the front end for what felt like an eternity (to the amusement of the crew watching from behind) I eventually regained composure and continued on my way, unwilling to stop and give the hyenas their satisfaction.

Stunning backdrops - something Scotland has in spades
Despite the gloomy day the landscape is a constant wonder

Crossing snow-melt burns with steep sides is a time for keeping feet on the ground
Are you enjoying yourself Scotty

Starting to get an idea of the steepness of the terrain

Mountains disappear into cloud as the winter weather takes hold

Loose paths break into sections of slab and rock

Whats up Greg
Where s the mechanic

Descents like this always make the way up worthwhile
Racing through the glens

Pushing hard and not letting up on the speed

Clinging to the height above a fast flowing burn seasoned in pine trees we carve through the brown muted landscape under battleship grey skies with the rain hunting us down. This is the dictionary definition of Scottish mountain biking in winter. Greg and Scotty are in their element popping off nothing and feet up drifting loose turns, leaving me and Euan to pick up the pieces as they scampered off into the distance.

After a final flurry of flowing and undulating singletrack, we roll back onto the flat glacial valley floor feeling slightly less aggrieved than we had trudging into the rain on the way up. Even when Mother Nature tries her damn hardest, it’s almost impossible to leave the Torridon valley without trail-induced satisfaction. Although we were all in agreement that we’d prefer the rain 10 degrees warmer like it is in the “summer”, and a certain individual was left questioning skate shoes and their clipless compatibility.

Scotty follow greg down another rapid and loose section
Inappropriate footwear being put to the test

The train drops down the hillside with inferences of winter beyond

Descending wiht the Torridon hills in the background
Sending it over Torridonian sandstone slabs

Roosting the gravel on a loose left-hander
Scotty Laughland railing the loose turns

Bar turns onto the slabs

To follow in Greg and Scotty's tracks in Torridon visit

MENTIONS: @HI-Adventures / @rossbellphoto

Author Info:
HI-Adventures avatar

Member since Feb 4, 2016
16 articles

  • 82 1
 I can't watch Scotty riding in a video anymore without picturing Blake Sampson standing off to the side yelling "pedalling!!!"
  • 35 0
 Looks like summer
  • 6 0
 Exactly what it looked like when we went riding near Gairloch in June 2000.
  • 3 0
 Traveled around the highlands for a bit (not nearly long enough) this past April... would have loved to have weather like this! Such a cool area.
  • 14 1
 You've got to really really really love biking to ride in Scotland. We about got hypothermia and that was in July...thanks FT William ;-)
  • 4 0
 Looking at your home town, to us in the UK you live as far south as Portugal...a summer holiday destination. Ft William is more Northerly than ALL of the great lakes..... You need to TTFU Wink I usually manage World cup week in shorts Big Grin
  • 7 0
 @deathchr: :-) the cold i could manage but the intermittent complete balls out rain-down-pours and the 45mph winds were what got us
  • 5 1
 @preach: 17 degrees is shirts off weather in Yorkshire. I would guess in Scotland it could be 13!
  • 3 0
 @jaame: 13 degrees FAHRENHEIT Wink
  • 1 0
  • 7 0
 Photographic proof that I would not be cut out for living in Scotland.
  • 2 0
 I honestly believe we have the worst weather in the world. Other than maybe syberia or somewhere like that. It literally feels like the last two years have just been constant rain and cold wind. Summer, winter it doesn't matter the rain just gets a bit warmer in summer.
  • 2 0
 @HankBizzle: They are hard, hard bastards
  • 3 0
 I was there a couple of years ago and rode Torridon, the weather was good, the people were friendly and the riding was fantastic. I need to get back there!!

And Beinn Eighe/Loch Maree has truly stunning scenery.
  • 1 0
 @HankBizzle: I feel you pain. Need good levels of self motivation to get your backside out in all kinds of shite. Top of Ben lomond couldn't see past my hand, half way up Ben Macdui had to turn back from horizontal sleet and 50 mph wind, top of Ben lawers my bike was off the ground with what must have been 70mph wind. But - the satisfaction of accomplishing something in those conditions probably can't be beaten.
  • 2 0
 @DC1988: Torridon absolutely epic day on a bike ( if you get reasonable weather). Some of the best riding in Scotland.
  • 2 0
I was lucky and had very good weather, there were dark clouds hanging over Liathach all day but they never moved. My brother ripped his rear mech off but luckily it was at the top of the path round Maol Chean-dearg so he could freewheel all the way back to Annat.
  • 1 0
 @DC1988: we got a good day up there as well. Two descents annat and achnashellach. Achnasellach was outstanding. Like your mate I stuck my mech into the rear wheel very near the end which was lucky.
  • 2 0
 @Furious-Styles: yes the Achnashellach descent is amazing, best thing I've ever ridden. Down into Annat is good too but is more brutal, it felt like an endless rock garden!
  • 1 0
 I rode some of that same trail with H+I last summer. Weather was just a wee bit warmer perhaps, but the smiles look similar. It is not nice to say, but I'm happy to see I'm not the only one that flatted there. I'll be back, and I'll be bringing my CushCore's with me!
  • 4 0
  • 2 0
 See, pros are just like the rest of us. And by that I mean, they forget their shoes in the driveway before rides too!!
  • 2 0
 At least the flipping midges won't have been eating you alive whilst it's raining
  • 2 0
 Best riding in the world backed up by some of the worst weather, I compromised and ended up here.
  • 3 0
 nice man-wheelie Scott!
  • 2 0
 the photographer must love vignetting
  • 2 0
 Nur den Harten kommen im Garten....
  • 2 1
 they are riding in short´s, can´t be that cold then . . .
  • 1 0
  • 3 6
 I lived in DC for a year, and that looks warmer (and less muddy) than the DC winters!
  • 2 0
 That's because it's over west on a walkers path. You can't ride off the path. It's several feet deep in places of peat. Torridon is epic and fast. Only 1hr from Gregs door. Much other riding closer to home though
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