HIGHLAND TRAIL 550 DAY 1

It was time. We got up, ate and faffed around making sure that everything was packed. Stu had lent me an extra gas tank last minute which was fitted and filled with extra snacks. The weather was a little dull and there was a morning chill although this soon left us as we pedalled out of Tyndrum.

Very quickly you are separated from the rest of the world and cruising nice gravel tracks by lochs and quiet country roads. Glen Lyon Tea Room gave us a nice opportunity for a morning stop and to enjoy some coffee in the sun. After all we were on holiday. It was here we met with another rider tackling the route. We chatted of each others plans, he was aiming to camp at campsites or trailside if required. We had chosen to make use of the number of bothy’s along the route and avoid the need to carry tents and the faff of erecting said shelters. We waved goodbye with the expectation that we would see him again soon and set off towards Loch Rannoch were we planned to stop for some lunch.

More dream quality gravel eased us away from the comfort of the tea room and the temptation toast and drink coffee until they started serving food. Instead we were soon treated to a ripping gravel descent and a picnic bench stop at the Bridge of Gaur on the end of Loch Rannoch.

Here we had lunch… well if you can call it that. Stu tucked into a hearty meal of tinned fish and a block of cheese and I sampled a selection of cereal bars as my actual lunch had not survived the packing cull the previous night. Refuelled it was time to head for Ben Alder and our first section of hike-a-bike.

Once we crested the climb from Rannoch Lodge our eyes were treated to magnificent views of Loch Ericht, sandwiched between the hills the water stretches out in front of us. We followed the track along the lochs west side. The well worn dirt access road became less and less established until it almost completely disappeared. We dropped to the sand as it was the lessor of two evils as the beach avoided the bog.

The beach was short lived and the bog now unavoidable. With Scotland having been blessed with a generous quantity of sun over the last few weeks bog levels were minimal. We imagined that our journey to Ben Alder Cottage had been much easier than many others had experienced in the past.

Bikes were heaved and squeezed over a bridge that had clearly not been designed for loaded bikepackers running 800mm bars. A cursory look around the bothy I realised that I had visited this bothy many years ago on a cold and wet November DoE expedition. On that trip we had climbed over the saddle from our camp spot by Culra and much to our leaders dismay accepted an invitation for tea from some hikers sheltering in the bothy from a storm. Luckily the weather was much nicer today as there was no time for tea breaks.

The path was good and we mixed between walking and pushing depending on the drainage gaps and steps. I had heard good things about the riding in this area and have been wanting to explore these trails for a while. The temperature was high by the time we reached the top and I was looking forward to the excitement and cool breeze of the next descent.

This would be the first proper singletrack descent on the HT550. Although entirely man made and with little design consideration for bicycles it is still a lot of fun. The corners flow well allowing me to link up turns with minimal braking and most of the gullys caused  little trouble for the wagon wheels. I had to keep my wits about me however in case of the odd walker or massive drainage step.

We made it to the bottom and rejoined the landrover track. After passing the now closed Culra bothy the surface became frustratingly bumpy for a while which was hard work on the hands and shoulders. This didn’t last long and we were soon spat onto the road.

Our goal had been to make the cafe at Laggan Wolftrax’s for a coffee and snack but this was not going to be possible. This meant that we were very pleased to stumble across a cake/jam/eggs honesty box at the side of the road. With our fingers crossed I peaked inside in the hope of treats . It was our lucky day. We both grabbed one of each, stuffed them in our pockets and paid our money. We still stopped at Laggan Wolftrax in the hope that there would be a free to use track pump however there was not. I sat enjoying my cakes while Stu sweated over his tiny pump.

Tyres were now on familiar ground, the Corrieyairack Pass had featured on Stu’s Badger Divide route which we rode a few weeks before, all be it in reverse. The climb is a big one, leaving Fort Augustus at 200ft you have to keep your head down until 2500ft. The Highland Trail scales it in reverse making the climb a lot easier as when Malgarve Bothy appears and the road finishes your already at 1250ft. This place is full of deer, huge herds of deer are frequently spotted running around and bellowing at each other.

The bothy marked the start of the serious climbing and the home stretch before our dinner time. The climb ramps up quickly and I am punching through my gears, Stuart looked as if he wasn’t having much fun on his singlespeed. Reaching some rough switchbacks and knew that I was close to the end, on this rocky surface walking sections was an easier option. The temperature was dropping so we didn’t hang around, waved to the brave man with his tarp pitched against the building at the top and dropped down the other side.

This descent was fast and although the track was smooth there was always something approaching that forced me to check my speed. A close call after popping off a drainage ditch into a left hand corner had my front wheel scrabbling for grip on the loose surface. Instinctual reactions kicked in and a change of body position pulled me back into shape. I held on to the brakes a little more, I didn’t want to biff myself on the first day of the trip.

Blackburn of Corrieyarrack was our bothy spot for the night and we pulled up around 8pm. Two people were setting up their tent outside which gave us the fear that there was no space inside. However that was not the case although we felt bad that we woke an american who was already sleeping in the corner. We ate dinner, chatted and I had a little look for the legendary lost beer stash that was mentioned in the bothy book. Our search was unsuccessful.

Strava activity here.







































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