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What does ‘off the beaten track mean to you’? Depending on how adventurous you are, the phrase can mean different things to different people. It can be scary to choose the path less travelled by, but the benefits from getting off the beaten track in Scotland are exhilarating.

Skye Munros - Scotland

Topping out on the Innaccessable Pinnacle in glorious sunshine weather, Skye May 2016

But, this certainly doesn’t mean you need to skip all the top sites like Loch Ness. For some, getting out of cities is rural enough and therefore Loch Ness is a great choice. But for those feeling adventurous and wanting to get a little more remote, we can help you there.

So, how to find a place where few people go?

Wanting to find a little peace and quiet is the most natural thing in the world whether you’re most at home surrounded by nature, a city dweller or somewhere in between. And arguably, there is no better place than the Highlands of Scotland. Known for its epic beauty, contrasting scenery and out of this world views, you’ll soon find yourself where the air and water are fresher and the most prominent noises keeping you company is nature at its finest.

The Cairngorm National Park is the ideal base for you to experience and explore the remoteness the Highlands can offer. Depending how far off the beaten track you want to get you’ll find an array of options suited for all fitness levels and ages. Offering options to be guided, or self exploration if you prefer, Scot Mountain Holidays has it all.

Mountain peaks

We understand that only you know what getting off the beaten track means. But, Scot Mountain Holiday trips, by definition are all off the beaten track. It’s unlikely you’ll see crowds of people during any typical day with us. Choosing one of our trips is a great way to decide if the more unusual spots and a more active vacation is the way forward for you.

Whether you’re after hiking, mountain biking, walking or countryside relaxation, you’ll find it here.   We can help organise a tailor-made trip for you, friends and family. Or, you can join one of our scheduled trips where you’ll meet like-minded people and gain friends for life. The choice is yours.

mountain biking in autumnHow to avoid cold hands and feet on your bike

We did our first big ride of the autumn as a family last weekend – 28 miles on the mountain bikes. Unfortunately this also coincided with the first really cold day of the autumn. As we were riding with our 9 year old, there were occasions when we just couldn’t go as fast as we would have done on our own. I particularly suffered from cold hands and feet and the others weren’t best prepared. We decided it was time to get advice from our friends in the bike business.

We asked Backcountry Bikes, Mikes Bikes, Go Where and our own local ladies mountain biking club, PetalPower for their help:

Backcountry.scot

“Mmmm. It’s a tricky thing and many people have a bunch of ideas around it. It’s useful to look at why it happens. 1. your touching/gripping great big lumps of metal, that’s effectively a heat sink 2. as you move through the air the air whips away heat add moisture to that (sweat or rain) it happens 20 times quicker. 3. what the state of the rest of your body temperature? if you core’s chilling your body will react and protect the core by drawing blood away from your extremities.

Things you can do…

1. insulate from the heat sinks, silicone grips on the bars silicone covers on brake levers, bigger shoes (windproof is ideal if not block mesh up with gaffer tape/or loosely wrapping your forefoot in tin foil) with nice wool socks and plenty of space to wiggle in…

2. pogies on the bars ( check out what pogies are on my site or look at hotpog on the internet) manage moisture, by not working to hard that you sweat or having a number of liner gloves to change as they start to get wet.

3. your hands and feet are relatively static while riding, so stop get off the bike and do something to get blood moving, have a pre ride routine to encourage the whole body warm up, think about fueling the body so it has plenty to go around, ‘warm head warm hands'”

Andy from Backcountry.scot – Backcountry.scot specialise in bikepacking and packrafting. They run trips and sell the essential gear you’d need to head off on your own.

mountain biking in Scotland

Enjoy the wild parts of the UK out on your bike

Go Where

“We swear by Sealskinz waterproof socks (along with a thin pair of Point 6 merino socks when it’s v.cold) and their gloves are ace too: https://www.sealskinz.com/m/by-activity/mountain-biking” Go Where Scotland

The Sealskinz socks are also highly recommended by Cycling weekly We’ll definitely be looking to invest in a pair.

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Go Where Scotland – Guided, self-guided and bespoke mountain bike tours – we’re proud to be the ‘Scotland only’ mountain bike travel specialist since 2008. That means we know exactly what makes for a great mountain biking holiday in Scotland.

Bike at sunrise cold hands and feet

Biking across the Boat of Garten river at sunrise.

Petal Power – our local ladies only mountain biking club

If you belong to a cycling club, don’t be shy about asking for advice. Any enthusiast, no matter the activity, is always keen to offer advice. All you need to do is to filter down to the advice which suits you for your problem and your budget. Cold hands and feet are a common problem here in the Highlands when you reach a certain time of year. If you don’t want to pack the bike up for nearly half the year, invest in a wee bit more gear.

” I use a size bigger shoes for winter so there’s room for thick socks. And goretex boot liners if wet. Also neoprene overshoes help.”

For those of you not fussy about branding “Check Aldi, they had neoprene gloves, waterproof socks and merino socks.”

“I have waterproof socks with merino lining – not sure of the make- I’d have got them from Mikes Bikes I think? And I wear Seal Skinz winter gloves and add a cheap silk liner pair from Mountain Warehouse if v cold. I agree with Dot – looser shoes to get more layers under.”

“Always have cold feet even with thick socks and over shoes but once warmed up have cold hands but will wear ski gloves if I have to. Just never care what you look like just get out and ride!!”

mountain biking in the Cairngorms

Petal Power members out riding coast to coast in Scotland to raise funds for Macmillan Cancer

Also … a word or two from the Telegraph who interviewed Gary “Flash” Blesson

Very timely – obviously I’m not the only one thinking about this as an issue. I’m pleased to see that The Telegraph is also getting on the bandwagon with their recent article about the Best Cycling Gear for Winter

If it’s gear you’re after you might want to check out these:

30 Seven Rechargeable heated gloves

Scotland is such a mecca for off-road cycling now that if you’ve any interest at all in cycling you really ought to add Scotland to your bucket list. There’s plenty of information out on the web about various different areas and there are options for everyone and all abilities, especially with the increase in the popularity of electric bikes.

The advantage of cycling here in the Cairngorms is that there is such a variety of routes that you can literally take anyone out and about for any length of time.

As with all sports the routes and reports you hear about the most are made by true afficionados. You might never hear about the wee pootles you can do with the kids, or the gentle paths winding through the forests; or the sights you can include on your ride. The sheer choice of off-road track here means that you can cycle for miles without seeing a car or if you want, there are miles of quiet lanes to explore on the road bike.

Cycling in the Cairngorms

  1. Family cycling – natural trails: options include – Rothiemurchus Estate, Glenmore Forest, Speyside Way (perhaps linked with the Strathspey Steam Railway). If you’re on Strava or MTBtrails, you can probably find routes other people have ridden with some advice and details.
  2. Family cycling – the trail centres: options include: Glenlivet, Laggan Wolftrax, Learnie Red Rocks, Moray Monster Trails. The closest centre to us at the moment is Glenlivet. They have a long blue run and an even longer red run. The main disadvantage at the moment to riding at Glenlivet is that the cafe/shop is not currently operating. It was fine for us on our last visit as we didn’t have any major incidents but it was a whole lot quieter than it used to be.

Family cycling in Glenmore Forest

Half-day rides and adventures

There are so many options here from the front door and slightly further away, that our main recommendation would be to make sure you allow plenty of time to try out different choices. Maybe start with one of the trail centres to get your eye in, test your skill level, book a guide perhaps to increase your confidence.

From Boat you can try a big ride like the Burma Road, or cycle through to Nethybridge and get the steam train back (or the other way round). You can continue on to Grantown.

Don’t be afraid to explore and make sure you have a map! We have trail maps at Fraoch Lodge and there’s an excellent hire stop in the village: Ride

If you only get to Nethy, stop in at Nethy House to refuel.

If you get to Grantown, try the High Street Merchant (they’re licensed if you fancy a beer and right next door to Two Thirsty Men micro brewery).

Tying in the riding with more adventure

For the more adventurous – bikepacking adventures in the Cairngorms

This is what I see the most publicity and vibe about here in the Cairngorms at the moment, but that could just be my media bubble filtering through only articles it thinks will interest me. Bikepacking is not new. People have been doing it for years – touring with their bikes. It now has a sexy new name and new gear making better use of the bike frame for carrying equipment to make it easier for you and more streamlined.

The sheer size of the Cairngorms lend themselves to multi-day adventures – on foot or by bike, or even on horseback. Check out some of these adventures recorded on YouTube.

 

 

Recommended resources for mountain biking in the Cairngorms

Trail maps – excellent detailed maps for different routes around the Cairngorms including identified hazards and recommended directions for riding the route

Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland – they have developed a guide to all the trail centres in Scotland where you can virtually ride the tracks. There’s also a lot of advice about different trails.

The best mountain bike trails in Scotland (as recommended in Singletrack)

 

Glenlivet Mountain Bike Centre

A visit to Glenlivet Mountain Bike Centre will take at least half a day, especially if you treat yourself to a bite to eat at the Coffee Still. Let the kids loose on the practice track while you wait for your food as then you can relax and they’ll be happy whizzing round and round.

Distance from Fraoch Lodge: 30 minutes drive

Routes: Red (22km) and Blue (9km)

Cafe: Yes

Toilets: Yes

Showers: No

Bike Wash: Free

Bike hire available: yes

MTB Glenlivet

 

MTB Glenlivet

Blue route is ideal for families and even has the unusual feature of starting on a downhill section, followed by a zig-zag climb which is not too difficult to manage before more free flowing downhill track which seems to go on forever. There is one wee steep climbing section in the middle, but you know you’ll be rewarded with even more great cross country downhill track afterwards.

MTB Glenlivet

Photo caption: Blue trail, Glenlivet: free flowing downhill on very well made tracks area  delight for younger riders. Very few roots to negotiate and few if any areas prone to sticky mud.

P1020066.JPG

 Photo caption: The uphill section on the zig zag section of the blue route which offers spectacular views over the wider Glenlivet area.

 

MTB Glenlivet

Photo caption: the Coffee Still is a purpose built cafe and wee store supplying a small selection of emergency biking products. You can purchase coffee, cake and a small selection of very good hot food snacks and light meals from chicken fillet buns to pizzas. The menu is not hugely extensive but what is on offer is extremely well-done and very high quality, using as much local produce as possible.

Practice track

A trail map is available to download or you can purchase an A3 foldable version from the cafe when you are on site.

Afterwards:

Treat yourself to a stop in Tomintoul which is a stone’s throw from the bridge where you turn to head over to the bike tracks.

In Tomintoul you can:

 

Review: Mountain biking centre – Laggan Wolftrax

As with all forestry commission mountain biking centre, you may need to be careful with your timing. If there is logging taking place, some of the trails may be out of bounds. Also, if you visit out of season (i.e. during the winter – as I did) the café may not be open. However, not to worry. There is a café close by at Laggan Pottery which comes very highly recommended.

mountain biking centre

Riding on a red trail at Laggan Wolftrax

Mountain biking centre: Trails:

When I visited there was logging taking place so the green and orange trails were out of bounds. Unfortunately this means that this instantly made the centre unfriendly to family biking as only red and black trails were accessible.

The climb up to the red trails requires some fitness, out of season as there is no uplift available then. There used to be uplift available but there’s no mention of it on their website now so you’d need to check with them directly if it is available.

Trailmap:

Find the trail map here

Facilities

There is no bike hire available on site any more. A new bike hire shop is due to open in Laggan soon.

If you are staying at Fraoch Lodge, and you are wanting to hire bikes, you can’t go wrong with the hire bikes at Ride Cairngorms in Boat of Garten. The bikes Nash has available for hire are suitable for all the trails at Laggan, though you may want to bring your own bike is you are keen on riding black runs. Few if any of the bike shops in the area offer full-sus bike hire due to the cost of maintaining &/or replacing the bikes.

Family friendly or not?

At the time I visited, the mountain biking centre at Laggan was not as friendly as we would have hoped. They have discontinued the uplift for the red runs and at that point both the cafe and the easier green/orange runs we closed. If the lower tracks are open, there would at least be some trails for the younger kids to ride, but they are quite short. It wouldn’t give a huge amount for the kids to do and in the summer you’d need to be on the lookout for midges. Glenlivet mountain biking centre was much more child friendly when we went there.

Events

Watch out for events taking place at Laggan as the centre may not be open to the general public while the event is on or alternatively you may want to take part in the event. Don’t forget it’s not far to Fort William from Laggan and you can ride on the World Cup Downhill course there. The World cup in Fort William usually takes place in June.

Laggan hosts the following events:

Full details here

How to find Laggan Wolftrax mountain biking centre

Distance from Fraoch Lodge: 31 miles (44 minutes driving time)

From Fraoch Lodge, turn left out of the drive and head out of Boat of Garten to the A95.

Follow the A95 towards Aviemore but turn right on to the A9 heading south.

Continue on the A9 until the turn off for Kingussie.

Turn right and go through Kingussie and into Newtonmore.

Drive through Newtonmore until you see Newtonmore hostel on the right. Turn right here onto the A86.

Follow the A86 past Ardverikie castle and along Loch Laggan until you see signs for Laggan Wolftrax on your left.

Alternatives

Natural trails in the area

Glenlivet Trail Centre

10 excellent natural mountain biking routes to explore in the Cairngorms

Mountain biking in the Cairngorms is one of the fastest growing sports in the area. Nowadays it is rare to go out anywhere and not see any cyclists. Perhaps we should try for a mountain bike/cycling friendly national park designation? What do you think? It is now possible to be a cyclist friendly cafe or cycle friendly accommodation or even a cycle friendly village. Why not a cycle friendly park? What would be the criteria?

Politics and campaigning aside – the Cairngorms are an amazing resource for mountain bikers of the widest kind. If you just like to get away from traffic and have an adventure, we’ve got routes for you. If you want an adrenaline downhill single track, there are also options. Should you want to take the family for a pootle round the forest – crack on there’s plenty for you here.

We’ve hand picked some routes for you below. There are no hard core mountain routes as we would not be comfortable suggesting that you head off into the high Cairngorms without knowing that you are very experienced mountain bikers with excellent navigation skills and preferably some familiarity with the area.

If you are interested in exploring mountain routes (eg to Ben Macdui) we are happy to offer you the details of recommended mountain bike leaders in the area.

1. Glenfeshie –

Length: 16km: total ascent: 330m Time: 1.5 – 2.5h

Start point: Auchlean car park

This route is in “Scotland Mountain Biking: The Wild Trails by Phil McKane but please be aware that the bridge on the map (p113) at point no: 4 was washed away in 2009. You will need to ford the river or retreat back along the same route.

The ride can also be extended further along the valley to a bothy or if you are confident with your navigation (and fitness) you could ascend to Mullach Clach a Blair.

Also available as an extension to our Classic MTB routes in the Cairngorms (self-guided). This route is not included with the core routes as it requires a transfer to access the mountain biking in Glenfeshie. Please enquire directly for details.

mountain biking

Classic MTB trail

2. Loch an Eilean

Time: 1hr – 2hr Distance: 7km

A superb family ride which could be started in Insriach/Coylumbridge (there is no parking charge there) or it is perfectly feasible to start the ride in Boat of Garten. The ride can be extending into ride no: 5 if you are looking for a longer day out on the bikes. Really only a short ride suitable for families even with young kids. Excellent cafe at the Rothiemurchus centre to refuel. Combine with a visit to the Highland Cattle, feed the reindeer or Treezone.

loch an eilein

Classic short walk or cycle in the Cairngorms visits Loch an Eilean.

3. Ryvoan Pass

(see details in this blog – 11/04/18)

4. Burma Road

see details in this blog

Burma Road

5. Loch Morlich and Loch an Eilean

Time: 3.30h Distance: 32km

Starting from Aviemore

Described in Bike Scotland (Book Two) by Fergal MacErlean

This has to be one of the most popular bike rides in the area. Rothiemurchus estate is a fantastic area to ride the trails. You do have to watch out for tree roots in places and occasionally the odd muddy patch. There are quite a few optional extensions (or accidental extensions). There’s the possibility of extending on up to see into the Lairig Ghru (advanced riders only).

mountain biking in autumn

Loch Morlich

6. Reindeer centre to Inshriach

see details in this blog

Mountain Biking in the Cairngorms

Biking for all ages in Britain’s largest national park

7. Grantown viewpoint & Dava Way to Castle Grant circuit

Grantown has some great trails through Anagach woods and a wee skills section you can use to warm up before you start the route. You will need to be able to map read to link up the trails we are suggesting.

There are plenty of cafes to explore in Grantown including the High Street Merchants. The disadvantage is that they are all close by about 5pm.

8. Speyside Way

Transfers available as far as Craigellachie along the Speyside Way. Call us to include Speyside Way transfers in your package unless you are considering shorter sections which also combine with the Strathspey Steam Railway and are part of our Under Your Own Steam package

9. Glenlivet circuit

This is an off-road/road circuit including a transfer from Fraoch Lodge and a visit to Glenlivet distillery for the tour. It is not focused on the trail centre at Glenlivet

10. Badenoch Way

Distance: 17.5km, starting from Alvie/Dalraddy

This is a linear route from Newtonmore to Boat of Garten so is the Badenoch Way with the first section of the Speyside Way and the linking section from Kincraig to Aviemore – total route is probably twice the length of the route described above.

Don’t forget the area is blessed with a huge number of cycle friendly cafes most of which are included on these routes.

Close to the area

Abriachan to Inverness (part of the Great Glen Way)

South Loch Ness Way

Trail centres in the area:

Glenlivet review

Laggan Wolftrax review

Learnie Red Rocks review – coming soon

Moray Monster trails review – coming soon

 

Best place to stayFraoch Lodge – though we are of course biased

Best place to hire bikesRide Cairngorms

 

Recommended reading

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If you would prefer to investigate our hiking options both guided and self-guided, there are plenty of options across the highlands.

Narrowing down the destination for your yearly holiday can be difficult. Trying to decide between relaxation and adventure often leaves you straddling the fence. And factoring in whether you’re approach should be take it as it comes or plan ahead so you have a full day of activities can often be exhausting. So that leaves the question, what is a winning holiday formula?

Liathach, Torridon

The Pinnacles on Liathach, Torridon. A classic view of one of the premier ridge walks in Scotland

Here at Scot Mountain Holidays we think adding a little of everything creates the perfect recipe. The best of both worlds, if you will. Our perfect formula incorporates relaxation time and adventure. Amazing food, but cooked in the homely style that makes you feel like you’re home away from home. And finally, the kind of holiday where you have plenty to do, but don’t have to plan or think about any of it.

And the solution? Simply book a holiday with Scot Mountain Holidays.

Our fully catered walking, hiking or cycling holidays means there is no stress on you. Not only does it allow you to experience parts of Scotland not often seen and get really under the skin both culturally and historically. But you’ll also have the perfect balance of adventurous activity and down time. Based from the Cairngorms National Park, Fraoch Lodge, run by Scot Mountain Holidays, is the perfect base for your holiday. The national park will give you opportunity for serene country strolls, stunning views and quiet afternoons by the fire. And the guided tours will satisfy all your adventure needs with the added bonus of activity (hiking and/or mountain biking for the most part, though other options are available) and breathtaking scenery. Incorporate restaurant quality food served in a homely style we all love and you’ve got yourself the perfect holiday.

Relax by the fire (whisky optional)

Relax by the fire (whisky optional)

So take away the stress of planning and booking your holiday. Scotland no matter what the season is an incredible destination. And if you book with Scot Mountain Holidays, you really will have a winning holiday formula.

 

Mountain biking for families

Reindeer Centre to Jack Drake’s (Inshriach Nursery)

NB: 2018 update: The Potting Shed cafe at Jack Drake’s (Inshriach Nursery) has closed it’s doors for good.

Walking, whisky and wildlife

A close encounter with the wild Reindeer roaming the Cairngorms National Park

 

This route can be done in either direction or turned into a circuit for older riders.

 

If you have younger or less fit riders with you who only want to do the route in one direction, this route would be a good one to do with Scot Mountain Holidays who can offer the support/pick up for each end of the route.

 

We cycled this route on the Sunday of the Harley Davidson rally in Aviemore so we were treated to the splendid sight of the Harleys on their ride out to Cairngorm Mountain as we set out from the reindeer centre in Glenmore.

reindeer.jpg

 

We parked along the side of the road opposite the reindeer centre then followed the path (with the treasure hunt signs) towards Loch Morlich. We kept to the mountain side of Loch Morlich heading away from the road but in the direction of Loch an Eilean. (If this is part of a mountain biking weekend with Scot Mountain Holidays we will provide the relevant map.)

The path from the reindeer centre to the main path around Loch Morlich is relatively flat and pretty good under the bike. Very little mud. It’s a well-maintained path with very few ruts or tree roots to negotiate. There is one wee uphill section just before you join the wide path which runs along the side of the Loch. This section may mean that one or two members of the party will get off their bikes for 10m or 20m, unless they can master their gears in time. Once on the main wide bridlepath going is extremely easy and virtually flat, or slightly downhill most of the way until the next junction. The views are great over Loch Morlich and back towards the beach.

You’ll pass the path junction locally known as Picadilly and also the path heading into the Lairig Ghru on the way to Loch an Eilean.

mountain biking for families

Even the youngest of riders can attempt this route. There are plenty of adaptations.

P1020070.JPG

 

Once you reach Loch an Eilean, you’ll turn left through the gate and follow the path skirting the edge of the Loch. (If anyone needs the loo at this point you can make a detour to the right and head up to the loos by the information centre on Loch an Eilean where you can also pick up a coffee if you’re gasping.)

When you reach the end of the Loch, you’ll find a wee path heading to the left past Loch Gamna. You’ll need to take this path to go in the direction of Jack Drake’s but at this point the path deteriorates for a while and there are a lot of roots to cross. When the path gets too muddy, you’ll have to walk the bikes for a short section at the bottom of Loch G until you start to head up over the hill. It’s only for a wee while though and pushing the bikes here is not too much of a chore. You’ll soon pick up a forestry track which is easy to follow before a long downhill section leading almost directly to the cake shop where you’ll have a great stop. Jack Drake’s potting shed do an amazing array of cream cakes, teas and coffee. If you can bag a seat at the counter by the big glass window looking out over the bird/squirrel feeders time will fly past.

Phone for your pick up or nominate a designated cyclist to pick up your vehicle at the reindeer centre.

Vacations organised by Scot Mountain Holidays

Guided hiking vacations

Multi-activity adventures

Self-guided Mountain Biking breaks

 

Useful links for planning your trip to Scotland

Email us if you think we can help plan your vacation in Scotland – we can hit all the Highland hotspots and include some off the beaten track surprises you might not know about.

For inspiration check out our Pinterest board and our Flickr account.

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