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There are some fabulous places to cycle in Scotland and I thought I’d share some hints and tips on planning a cycle tour.
Cycle friendly routes
You can search for recognised routes on the Sustrans website - everything from long distance rides to easier, family-friendly rides – plus its online map. But you don’t need to be restricted to recognised routes. Given low population densities most rural roads are relatively quiet. As well as car-free cycle paths minor roads and even main roads (‘A roads’) away from larger towns are relatively cycle friendly.
Cycle friendly accommodation
The main options are hotels, B&Bs, hostels, campsites, wild camping and free local hospitality. The VisitScotland website is a good place to start, particularly for hotels and B&Bs. There’s a good network of around 70 youth hostels and also many independent hostels.
Campsites can vary in quality with the most basic (sometimes the best!) sometimes offering just a small wash room and an honesty box for payment. Good websites include ScottishCamping.com, www.campsites-uk.co.uk and www.pitchup.com.
Scottish land access legislation allows wild camping. However, this ‘right’ comes with ‘responsibilities’ – see the Scottish Outdoor Access Code – and so if you want to camp wild it’s important you adopt the ‘leave no trace’ principles and follow advice on lighting fires. Another free option is the Warm Showers network, where local hosts give travellers either a bed, couch or place to camp.
Taking a bike on a train
All trains have a small number of racks for bikes (look for the bike sign on carriage doors). Information on making reservations is available on the Scotrail website. Since most trains only have 2 or 3 bike spaces it’s advisable to make reservations as soon as you can. Further tips here.
OS maps cover the UK at various scales. Good online resources include PlotaRoute and Cycle Streets, plus Google Maps. My personal favourite is ViewRanger, whose app allows maps to be downloaded to your smartphone and used offline.
Cycling UK’s discussion forum is the best place for advice from other cyclists while both Lonely Planet and Cicerone publish good cycling guides. On my blog you can also read more about my Land’s End to John O’ Groats and Mull/Ardnamurchan cycling trips.
Rush hour in the north of Scotland !