Torridon Mountain Biking. A Tale of Two Routes.
So the Torridon area isn’t that big but it IS huge! The mountains aren’t like the ones we experience on the roadside further south in Scotland. They seem to rise from the ground, cover a certain area then abruptly disappear back down into the ground again.
The gaps in between them seem flatter and longer than the Rolling hills of the Cairngorms or the spiky mountains that jut from ground further south on the West Coast below the Great Glen.
The local roads are mostly troublesome, the accommodation sparse and unavailable in the summer. The food can be expensive and the weather unforgiving. But if you time it right, go to the right places, pick the right routes with the right people you can have an experience you’ll remember forever.
The one thing I can’t believe about Torridon and the famous lollipop loop is that it took so long for me to come and do it. We only went to do this because we saw a window of weather and we’d already booked the time off to go somewhere with a group of pals that ended up being unavailable.
So me and my friend Aidan jumped in the “big van” and just headed up on a few days notice. The intention was to do the lollipop as follows: The climb from Annat onto the famous Coire Laith descent into Strathcarron. Then take the hike-a-bike up to Stuc A Choir Ghrannda, then the famous Coire Lair descent into Strathcarron.
Then take the short ride west along the singletrack road to the small settlement of Coulags, Ascending back up the valley past Coire Fionnaraich bothy to then take the much deserved Legendary downhill trail back down into Annat.
This is commonly known as the Torridon Loop” or the Torridon Lolipop” Mountain Bike Loop.
We stayed both nights in the Kinlochewe hotel bunkhouse it was £20 for the night with shower, bathroom, cooking area and access to the lounge and bar and the neighbouring building. There is also a small service station with the excellent “Whistle Stop Cafe” attached about 100m down the road. It’s actually surprisingly cheap considering its location and exclusivity. It was damn tasty too!
Torridon is about a 20 minute drive from Kinlochewe. It’s a single track road, but it’s not too bad. There’s plenty of passing places and if people act sensibly it generally goes off quite politely. The road is on the NC 500 tourist route too.
A blessing and a curse for most people that live in the small villages and towns along its way. Certainly many cyclists we met in the bunkhouse (bikepacking and touring) had mixed adventures concerning both foreign and domestic drivers on their way around Wester Ross.
The climb up from Annat is a killer, straight from the road with no warm-up. It’s mostly likely 70% hike- a-bike or a push until you get to the Stepping stones At Loch an Eion. You can then ride most of the trail. It’s pretty well kept and isn’t much of a challenge for intermediate rider with no big bumps or mega-difficult obstacles here.
When we get to the first junction of the Trail looking down to Strathcarron, the Trail gets less easy and a little more challenging. It gets very narrow and quickly ends when the path becomes so degraded and steep that you really have to shoulder the bike.
Once the short couple of hundred metre hike-a-bike up Bealach Ban is over, you face huge views of Liathach an Beinn Eighe. With The bit of cloud and precipitous whether we had on our trip, they really do cut an amazing figure on the horizon. After that it’s a short ride, then a short but difficult hike-a-bike to the bealach at Stuc A Choir Ghrannda.
I really don’t have much to say about the Coir Lair descent apart from it’s awesome! It really does have a mixture of singletrack, rubble piles, huge rock slabs and pretty serious commits and it’s really not to be taken lightly.
If you hurt yourself out here you really are on your own. Although nothing creeps up on you, you still have to keep your wits about you. From memory it’s all pretty rollable and there is no real crazy drops or trail features that an intermediate rider could not handle.
It’s really too much fun to describe so I’m not going to attempt it. I just recommend that you go and try it. It’s a long way and there’s a lot of videos on YouTube, so make your mind up, plan well and go for it.
After the descent, the ride along to Coulags is relatively simple. Again though, both foreign and domestic drivers on the NC500 depend on each others politeness to make passage easy and safe.
This goes for you too, so please be vigilant! When we get to Coulags we turn off and head back up past the Coire Fionnaraich bothy.
Prepare yourself for this ascent because this is again a lot of pushing! You’re on and off the bike all the time. This can be quite frustrating as there is not really any opportunity for flow, but the surrounding scenery and some of the rideable bits are fantastic but it is a massive, massive Valley to climb back up.
You’ll soon however arrive back at familiar ground, the “stick” of the lollipop!
Once you’re on the stick of the lollipop heading north back into Annat, it’s off the brakes. It’s downhill all the way with only the slight complication of the stepping stones To negotiate. You can pretty much rely on another world-class, mostly natural descent.
This really is flat out stuff. It’s hard to tell if it was better than the Coire Lair descent. It was certainly less technical but definitely faster. I can’t quite remember not braking so much in my entire life in mountain biking.
The Torridon Hotel is also a couple of hundred metres away from our start / finish point. So a quick pint and a venison burger and its back off to the Kinlochewe hotel.
The Torridon Mountain Bike Loop is not a long route but it’s a huge commitment. There is really has nothing out there, so if you take a few safety precautions and make sure you are mentally switched on and it holds no danger from a well-prepared, fit and committed intermediate rider.
The next day we decided to do a route from Trailforks. My new motto? Never Trust Trailforks! We Decided on this short ride because we had to drive home the same day. We took the path straight from Kinlochewe up to the Fisherfield area via Gleann a Muice to loch fada.
Of everywhere I have ridden in Scotland I don’t think I remember a view that commands your attention quite so much. It’s absolutely stunning.
The work to get there is hard. A huge climb awaits but it’s very rewarding when you get onto that top plateau. Even more rewarding when a Euro-fighter Typhoon jet soars 150m above the loch, bears its belly to you then goes along its merry way. A few seconds later dragging the enormous earsplitting sound of its engines behind it. Yes, I’d put my camera away seconds before this!
The descent from Kinlochewe from this plateau was very disappointing. It’s not rideable. I’ve put a note on Trailforks to this end as I genuinely think it will help people stay away from it. It’s really barely a walkers path.
We had pedals clacking off rocks chain rings clacking off rocks, stubbed toes and all the small rocks were the size of basketballs! Also 3 to 5 foot drops with no run ins, no take-offs no flow and no chance to gather momentum. This was around 3.5 km of pushing your bike down a very steep. On Trailforks it just looks like a nice gradual descent. It wasn’t it was terrible.
We got back to Kinlochewe is just as the heavens opened. Massive raindrops, freezing massive raindrops! So bad were they that just 1 km from Kinlochewe we actually stopped to put on waterproofs and new base layers. Despite the fact we’d been warm all day. It really was a case of the maximum amount of whether The highlands has to offer in just 5 minutes!
That said it didn’t detract from the actual experience, it was more the trail itself that ruined some of the day. It really was very very disappointing despite the rewards at the top of the earlier climb.
If you want to see the view of Fisherfield and Loch Fada, I suggest you just take the trail up, enjoy it, then ride right back down again. It really is worth it just for that.
It was a slightly rushed few days with not much planning. But it does show that for not a lot of driving time and not a lot of money on accommodation you can actually find places that are properly wild. The area isn’t for everybody as there is a lot of uncertainty regarding routes. You have to have some navigational chops that’s for sure and you can’t really like rely on technology like phone signals and even GPS when you’re in these mountains.
I hope to go back to Torridon in the next couple of months. To do the loop again with a couple more people and also to discover some new routes. It’s a truly magical place I’ve been fascinated by my whole life. I know it’s took me this long to actually ride my bike there and on that score, I’m slightly disappointed. But also excited that it now feels endlessly accessible to me.
So thanks to my pal Aidan for coming with me and enduring some trails that I know were on the edge of his comfort zone. We both had a great time and I’m sure we’ll be back both in groups and as individuals.
Everything went right on this trip and I can’t think of anything that went wrong despite that slide downhill walk I talked about earlier. That’s because we prepared well and did everything right. We made sure everyone knew where we were, we made sure we were carrying the right gear. We split our equipment had plenty of food, made sure we were properly hydrated and made good decisions on the day.
All in all a brilliant trip arranged at the last minute. If you want more details about where we went, please drop us a line you can do this by emailing or just going straight to the contact page.