Bikepacking Scotland’s Central Belter
654 km. 11 days on the saddle. Countless long lunches. Even more beers. Amazing people. Spectacular view. Nice trails. Great gravel roads. Thousands of suicidal bunnies. Millions of midges. Weirdly warm, dry and sunny weather. That what bikepacking Scotland’s Central Belter was for me, my Pine Mountain and my friend July 2018.
The Central Belter, is a 1200 km loop around Scotland, beginning and ending in its capital city, Edinburgh. The first two days the trail follows the coast up north from Edinburgh. We rode along beautiful coastal broad walks, gravel roads, forest paths and cyclopaths, stopping in small villages along the way. The second night we camped near the Seaton Cliffs Nature Reserve. The roaring sea and the pod of Dolphins that greeted us the next morning made this the most epic campsite.
After a huge morning on the cliffs we spent the third day riding inland in some rainy weather and long lunches. We set up camp quite early in a camping area that had a field full of loud sheep. The next morning we found a teahouse beside the road, The Glensk Trust Retreat. They served an excellent Scottish breakfast made from local produce, our hostess had herself been biketouring so we had a nice chat about bikes and travelling. A great place to stop on this route. Our stop for the night was Ballater, but before reaching it we had to push-a-bike 900 meters over a little hill, then descend a pretty technical long downhill. This was followed maybe the most blissful gravel road ever. Riding 10 km of slight downhill on a well rolling gravel road was amazing.
After Ballater the route follows on the banks of River Dee until you reach the trailhead of Cairngorm National Park. We rode some nice gravel roads, moorland paths, forest tracks, pushed our loaded bikes over a few kilometers, ran away from midges but also stopped to admire the beautiful nature around. We camped for the night on a side of the creek with an amazing view, not realising that we would become an all you can eat buffet for the midges! As we rode forward in the wilderness we met with an Irish bikepacker, Dave, just before our first river crossing. We talked for an hour about camping, traveling and bikepacking. Around lunch time we reached our first bothy, Ruigh Aiteachain. Bothies are old farmhouses converted to Wilderness huts, that offer shelter from the elements and a dry place to spend the night. While having our lunch we ran into local mountain bikers and bikepackers. As we continued forward the route became more remote and the trails more technical. After a hard, but an amazing day on the saddle, we left Cairngorms behind.
That moment when you wake up in your tent to the sound of a bagpipe playing “Flower of Scotland” is pretty epic. After conquering some high hills, stopping for some cake and tea and beers on a rainy day we finally reached a camping site next to the route. The next morning started with some really flowy climbs on gravel roads and even some trails followed by some long shreddable downhill before turning into smaller roads before we reached Glasgow. In Glasgow we had a rest day, that we spent checking out the local craft beer scene, monuments, restaurants and bike shops. For a great selection of craft beers check out Drygate and InnDeep.
After leaving Glasgow we climbed up to an Ancient Roman fort and an Iron Age hillfort site. This was followed by a nice downhill to a small town with an Indian restaurant. While we were eating, it started pouring with rain. A local then came to talk with us about his travels and the hospitality he had encountered. He offered his house for us to stay the night as it was raining. We would have accepted his offer, but we had already booked a cabin from Spoke’n’Boot farm for the night. We rode in heavy rain 20 km on the side of the canal. The small cabins were great with top notch facilities, and the host was amazing. The next morning we rode on smaller roads and some weird paths, making our way back to the sea. We noticed the local farmland gates weren’t bicycle friendly so we always had to push them over the gates. We passed more villages and a ruined church, and also Castle Blackness – it wasn’t that black but quite cool to see. As we were quite close to Edinburgh we waited for the dusk to set in and camped on the beach. The next morning we played for a while with our bikes on the beach and then started our 20 km ride to Portobello Beach to finish The Central Belter.
As I write this it has been almost two months since the trip and it gives me some perspective on our trip. The full route, 1200 km, can be ridden in 14 days, if you just ride and don’t stop for long lunches, to talk to people or to look at great things. My philosophy on bikepacking and travelling with a bike in general, is that when I am somewhere for the first time I want to see and feel as much of the local vibe on the trail and not just rush from A to B. We would have missed some great encounters on the Central Belter if we’d pushed harder. The Pine Mountain is a bike that perfectly suits my philosophy of bikepacking. It’s not the lightest or the fastest, but it’s comfortable and fun to ride, can carry all your gear and can take you almost everywhere.
My favorite moment of The Central Belter was after the blissful gravel road before Ballater on an old stone bridge. Under it was a rapidly flowing river and next to it was large red maple tree surrounded by pine and oak trees. I was just standing with my bike in the middle of the bridge in pouring rain with a big smile on my face. It was just amazing. It didn’t bother that I was getting soaking wet because for that moment everything was simple. Only you, nature and the rain. Those kind of moments, naturegasm, are what make the trip worth it. That moment was the moment that made Scotland amazing.
For more specific information, .gpx-route and videos of the route can be found on www.bikepackingscotland.com. They have also other great routes in Scotland to explore.