bicycle touring scotland

Bicycle Touring Scotland

We needed to remain outside the Schengen Zone for at least 3 months to reset our visa, so we had plenty of time to take a meandering route around Scotland. We rode sections of several different cycling routes in eastern Scotland and spent some time hiking in Loch Lomond and Cairngorms National Parks. After cycling the Outer Hebrides, we rode part of the North Coast 500 route before heading south to England and Hadrian’s Wall. While the weather made bicycle touring Scotland pretty challenging, the scenery of the highlands and the Scottish Isles was well worth the effort.


bicycle touring scotland map
Overview of our Scotland bicycle touring route. Outer Hebrides description and GPX is in this post.

Download the GPX track for our route from Ullapool to England. NOTE: This is not a polished route and is intended for research and planning purposes only.

Southwestern Scotland and Loch Lomond National Park

We arrived in Scotland by way of the Larne-Cairnryan ferry. Immediately upon leaving the highway we rode some nice gravel roads where the rhododendrons were in full bloom. Neither of us had seen rhododendrons this huge so we stopped for long time to admire them.

We had been looking forward to the “right to roam” and relaxed attitude toward wild camping in Scotland. It puts your mind much more at ease knowing that what you’re doing is legal, and we didn’t need to be as worried about people discovering our campsite.

bicycle touring scotland
Rhododendrons in bloom on our first day in Scotland.
wild camping scotland
Campsite down a gravel road. Lots of logging going on in this area but it was easy to avoid the work zones.
bicycle touring scotland
Mountainous scenery in Scotland.

One of the first things that struck us about Scotland was how narrow the roads were. The byways in Ireland had also been narrow, but there was usually enough room for a car to safely pass a bicycle. In Scotland, however, the roads were often only wide enough for one car, so we constantly had to pull over at passing places to let cars go around us. It got pretty annoying, especially when we were going up a steep hill with cars waiting behind us and we didn’t have anywhere to pull over.

bicycle touring scotland
Roads were narrow but had pretty frequent passing places, such as the one in the foreground. Still stressful when there was a lot of traffic.

Isle of Arran

We rode most of the way around the Isle of Arran, which is often called “Scotland in miniature,” since you can find a little bit of everything that Scotland is famous for on the island. Mountains, scenic beaches, distilleries, and locally made ice cream to name just a few of the attractions. We fittingly experienced the full gamut of weather over our two days on the island, from sunshine to mist to heavy rain and wind.

bicycle touring scotland
Beach on the Isle of Arran.
wild camping scotland
Editing some video at our wild camp.

Loch Lomond

Andrew’s mom was going to meet up with us in Glasgow, and we decided to take a day off and go hiking in Loch Lomond since we had some extra time. We set up a base camp down a dirt road, hid our bikes in the woods, and hiked up Ben Donich. It was a 10% chance of rain that day but it wound up pouring on us, which turned the approach into more of a bog than usual.

The wind whipped up to high speed, and any exposed skin (especially our hands) turned bright red and freezing cold. The other groups we passed on the way up turned around before reaching the summit, which was probably smart. We did get a brief window with a nice view from the summit, and it felt like we were getting the full Scottish hill walking experience.

bicycle touring scotland
Cool mountains somewhere on the way to Loch Lomond.
wild camping scotland
Always nice to stay in the same place for a couple days!
hiking ben donich
Short scrambling section on the way up to Ben Donich.
hiking ben donich
Views on the approach during a short break in the rain.
hiking ben donich
Near the summit, just before the next storm hit.
Stopped for Scottish breakfast before heading into Glasgow. Tried haggis for the first time, it was really tasty! Andrew went for the black pudding.

Glasgow and Cairngorms National Park

We met up with Andrew’s mom in Glasgow, and the weather turned sunny and beautiful for the whole time she was in Scotland! After exploring Glasgow for a day, we took a train to Aviemore to hike in the Cairngorms. We didn’t have train reservations for our bikes, but we were able to board without a problem.

Walking around Glasgow’s pedestrian street.
Nervously waiting for the train, hoping that bike spaces were available.

The bus system in Aviemore was great for getting around the park, and it was awesome to do a whole mini-vacation without relying on a car. A car-less vacation to a national park in the US would be near impossible, with a few exceptions, so having that option made the trip a lot more relaxed. We did a couple different hikes in the Cairngorm Mountain area and also took a nice day trip to Inverness before returning to Glasgow.

hiking in cairngorms national park
First hike in the Cairngorms.
Ryvoan Pass Bothy
Ryvoan Pass Bothy in the Cairngorms.
hiking in the cairngorms
Another hike at higher elevation.
Day trip to Inverness, not a cloud in the sky!

Glasgow to Oban

After leaving Glasgow, we connected to Scottish cycling route 78 to make our way to Oban, where we would take a ferry to the Outer Hebrides. The 78 was a really nice section of riding, featuring quiet coastal roads that were frequented by road cyclists as well.

wild camping scotland
Wonderful beach campsite. Andrew’s mom bought us foam camp seats (the red square next to Jenny), which have been a huge improvement over sitting on plastic bags.
seal in scotland
Thought this seal was a rock when we saw it from a distance. Every once in awhile it would turn its head and look at us.
bicycle touring scotland
Temple Wood Stone Circle, roughly 3000BC.
highland cattle
Highland cattle sighting.
bicycle touring scotland
Scenery on the way to Oban.
wild camping scotland
This campsite featured unbelievable clouds of midges. They would gather outside of our tent door and flood inside when we opened it.

The Outer Hebrides

We took a 5 hour ferry from Oban to the Outer Hebrides, a beautiful string of remote islands and a popular cycling destination. Read about our experience on the Hebridean Way here.

The North Coast

After riding the Hebrides, we took a ferry to Ullapool and connected to the North Coast 500 route. While this area was very beautiful, it is also extremely popular with camper vans and RVs. The roads are narrow, as always, so especially in peak season it can be a bit of a headache to cycle.

While we complain about sharing the road with camper vans a lot, we met an extremely nice guy that was traveling in a converted ambulance, and he invited us into his van for tea on a rainy day. He told us that he had a long standing policy of offering hospitality to cyclists who were braving the weather, and his kindness really made our day. We also learned that he had ridden the length of Africa on a motorcycle with his son, so he was a very interesting guy to chat with for awhile.

ullapool scotland
Waterfront in the town of Ullapool, where we arrived after taking the ferry from the Hebrides.
bicycle touring scotland
Riding in early evening with less traffic.
bicycle touring scotland
Lots of cool geology around the northwest coast.
bicycle touring scotland
This area was one of our favorite parts of Scotland.
bicycle touring scotland
Happy that it’s not currently raining! You know it’s been windy if Andrew can’t wear his helmet brim.
deer and sheep in scotland
One of these things is not like the other.

Who Lives in Scotland?

When we stopped for groceries in the small town of Scourie, it just so happened that the BBC was filming a documentary called “Who Lives in Scotland?” and was doing a segment on the owners of the grocery store.

The crew asked Andrew if he was OK being on camera before he went in, and he had a conversation with the owner about Coronation Chicken when he was checking out. For those who aren’t familiar, Coronation Chicken is a chicken salad recipe that was prepared for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953. It’s now available in a lot of grocery stores and we loved it in wraps or on croissants for an easy dinner. The documentary hasn’t come out yet but we’re hoping that Andrew’s appearance makes the cut!

bicycle touring scotland
Coast, rocks, sheep, passing place. A very Scottish scene.
bicycle touring scotland
Impressive road with a big retaining wall.
bicycle touring scotland
Majestic buck was willing to pose for us.
bicycle touring scotland
This section of road was so steep that we had to walk it going uphill, and there was a line of cars waiting for us at the top which made it was more stressful.
bicycle touring scotland
Public restroom stop. These were in many of the small towns and were great for doing laundry and filling up water.

Tongue and The Road South

Tongue was the northernmost point of our route, and from there we headed south toward Edinburgh. The road between Tongue and Tain was very scenic, but we were battling a strong headwind most of the way. The weather made it some of the most challenging riding we faced the whole trip, with strong side winds pushing us off the road and headwinds dramatically slowing our uphill progress. We eventually made it to Edinburgh and spent a half day walking around the city and its many historic buildings.

bicycle touring scotland
Nice mountain textures.
wild camping scotland
This was a beautiful campsite but the wind was really ripping through it.
bicycle touring scotland
Bridge on the way into Edinburgh. It had a huge separated bike lane.
bicycle touring scotland
Edinburgh city view.
edinburgh scotland
Pedestrian street in Edinburgh.
bicycle touring scotland
On the way out of Edinburgh, there was a guy standing alone in a field and playing the bagpipes.


Scotland has a reputation for challenging weather, and it’s not without reason. We thought that people were being slightly dramatic when complaining about Scottish weather, but we had without a doubt the worst weather of the whole trip during our tour here. 

It seems that we were particularly unlucky in this department – we were told by some locals that we were getting the remnants of a tropical storm, so the weather was even worse that usual. It rained nearly every day for almost three weeks, and honestly we were nearing the limit of what we could mentally handle. Needless to say, we could not wait to head south and find some sunshine.

bicycle touring scotland
Weather calmed down near the end of our time in Scotland, though the clouds were always vaguely threatening.

Wild Camping in Scotland

Scotland is one of the few places in Europe where wild camping is legal, though there are some rules to keep in mind in addition to following Leave No Trace principles. The Scottish Access Code outlines what is allowed and some best practices to follow. In general, it’s best to avoid enclosed fields and take extra care if you’re traveling in an area with high visitation that could be subject to overuse. Certain areas, such as Loch Lomond National Park, have additional regulations on where wild camping is allowed. We try to be out of sight of houses and away from popular trails and day use areas when possible.

wild camping scotland
Peaceful wild camp in the woods, though the midges made it quite a bit less peaceful.

Get Updates on New Posts

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *