It seems my new carbon fibre MTB is so light it floats, this was useful on my last ride as I had to cross loch na Sealga to get home.
Despite this slight route choosing error, this ride past Loch Fionn over the unique causeway and up and over two passes on epic singletrack was probably the best Scottish MTB loop I have ridden in as long as I can remember. It felt wild and undiscovered being even further north on the map than the increasingly popular Torridon riding.
I parked up in a random driveway at Gruinard off the A832 about 20 miles south of Ullapool on one of the hottest days the far north of Scotland has experienced, the thermometer said 27.5c as I spun away from the car. The ride started with a long road blast heading south towards Poolewe on a very scenic quite stretch of tarmac.
Past an oil depot and just after the famous Inverewe gardens a sign post indicates a path heading away from the beach to Loch Kernsary. There are two options to start but this is the first option and was all singletrack however it was bouldery rock in places and not all was rideable so a bit stop start. It hugs the loch shore and was scenic nonetheless. As I left the loch the dark skies ahead rolled with thunder and the mountains were vanishing into a cloak of cloud as dark as night. I thought about turning back, but the road ride back was into a headwind so I persevered. I contemplated that people who have been struck by lightning must have had this same debate and arrived at my same decision but what are the odds….
From the end of the loch I joined a track through the forest, a muddy and wet trail and the dullest bit of the ride. Eventually the path veered off to the right (SW) and the singletrack started again and just carried on for the next 4 hours!
Perfect swoopy smooth gravel based singletrack guided my into a wide valley flanked by Beinn Airgh Charr on the right and Fionn Loch on the left.
The path dipped down to a causeway separating Loch Fionn and Dubh Loch, a crazy feature set in front of a natural amphitheatre of mountains. One of the most remote feeling and spectacular views in Scotland.
It was fun to ride across the causeway which was bizarrely flanked by spikes of metal in the water??? No idea why but added to the drama of the place.
From the other side I passed a camping barn/bothy before a hefty 350m steep singletrack climb that I walked most of. In the other direction it would be fantastic to descend if a little too rough and fast. If you look closely you can see the mouth watering descent stretchy off diagonally into the distance in the picture:
At the top the single track ribbon twisted out in front and was all uphill but rideable again.
The path then snakes past various lochans before the views of the huge rocky An Teallach slopes hit you. It really was amazing to be this wild and remote among such towering mountains, it goes without saying I didn’t see another soul all day (after I left the road!)
A steep descent towards loch na Sealga was not great riding on a hard-tail but it would be a short push up if you were doing this loop in the opposite direction, an idea that had firmly been decided was the better option in my head despite having such a great day.
With towering Munros in all directions it was time to make a decision the short uphill to a track back to Dundonnell or follow the path along the south bank of loch na Sealga. I decided on the latter as a fun track was heading that way past two nice but firmly locked bothies. about 500m in the path was hardly rideable and I should have turned back but I didn’t. It was walking time not longer after. Then where the path ended on the map crags rose up out of the local making a nigh on impassable route with a bike. I rode along the shores for a while before the depth was to deep and I was resigned to wading across the loch under the rocky cliffs on the south bank. Thankfully the water never rose higher than mid thigh and my bike floated when required to! Given I am 6ft4″ this is waist deep for most and in higher water conditions a swim! It was a fun adventure for a while but 3kms later I was less impressed.
The track out was fun with great views as the sun started dropping, a Golden Eagle swooped not far away from me and all was happy again. I remembered the beautiful singletrack that had gone on and on and vowed to come back and ride from Dundonnell to Pooolewe and avoid any swimming. However now I had to get home as my phone battery was flat and Marion was probably panicking that I had been away for so much longer than I anticipated!