In some ways this weekend was no different to any other at Pretty Gritty HQ. Maps were used, multiple Snickers were consumed, bikes and beer were involved, and gear was put to the test. But while the basic components of the weekend may have been the same, this particular weekend had a fundamental point of difference as it involved crossing Scotland off road on a bike - our first ever human powered coast to coast journey.
If the concept of travelling under your own steam from one side of a country to the other sounds like an epic too far, then just hold on a second because contrary to what Bear Grylls and multiple other ‘inspirational adventurers’ may have you believe, there are many impressive-sounding trips out there that are actually pretty accessible for the majority of people. In some cases they can actually even be, dare I say it, pretty civilized affairs.
So whilst our weekend did obviously involve a degree of effort, there was a distinct absence of drama, toenail loss, any need to drink our own pee or wrestle with wolves. Next time perhaps...
Ardgay to Ullapool – 36 miles, 580m of ascent, 6 hours 10 minutes (7 hours advised).
If you’re just getting into mountain biking, keen to get a taste of wilderness riding but partial to ending the day in a pub with a well earned pint in hand, then the coast to coast route that we took from Ardgay to Ullapool on Saturday will be a winner everytime. Just 36 miles from east to west, our adventure started in Ardgay on the east at 09.45 and ended just 6 hours and 582m+ later with a cup of tea and a slab of cake in a café overlooking the sea in the buzzing town of Ullapool on the west coast.
The route involved a mix of B roads and landrover tracks so technical challenges were few and far between with the odd river crossing, boggy section and deep puddle keeping things interesting/challenging/annoying (delete as appropriate depending on motivation/skill level/weather conditions/position on the hunger index). Regular deer sightings and views of the incredible hills in the west served as a welcome distraction from the relentless headwind that blew directly into our faces pretty much throughout and the Old Schoolhouse bothy in Duaig provided the perfect lunch spot and opportunity to break the trip halfway between east and west. A gem of a place, there’s a blackboard inside the Old Schoolhouse that tells the tale of a wee boy who used to come to school on the back of a pig who would return again at the end of the day to pick the kid up and take him back home.
And I thought fat bikes were a cool way to get around……
The Crew And The Bikes
Maryanne Jenkins – newbie MTB rider, mother of two, lover of gin and maker of flapjacks.
Steed of Choice - Trek Bikes Fuel EX 8
Sophie Nicholson – newbie fatbiker, mother of lots of pairs of skis, lover of Corona and consumer of flapjacks.
Steed of Choice - Cube Nutrail Fatbike
We each used a small backpack and a rear saddle pack from bikepacking specialists Apidura to carry all our kit for the ride and ensuing overnight in Ullapool. It was the first time either of us had used a rear saddle pack on our bikes and hardly noticed they were there. Once they were appropriately tensioned and Maz's rear suspension was locked out, there were no problems with them swinging around and neither of us really noticed the additional weight on the bike. The flipside to these kind of packs is that they obviously render dropper seat posts useless and they do make it tricky to get over the back of the saddle in steeper terrain but if you stick to the right kind of terrain that they're designed for then a rear saddle pack will be a truly awesome addition to your MTB gear locker.
Arc’teryx Backpack (for all riding gear, spare clothes, water and food etc)
Apidura Saddle Pack (for end of day pub clothes, shoes, toiletries etc)
Riding Clothes and Gear
DeFeet Aireator 8 Socks
Patagonia Long Sleeve Merino Wool Baselayer
Maloja lightweight wind gilet
Dakine Mode MTB Shorts with separate chamois liner shorts underneath
Troy Lee Designs MTB Helmet
Dragon Alliance EnduroX Sunglasses with Transition Lenses
Spare Riding Clothes
The North Face Summit Series synthetic insulated wind shirt
Warm Hat and Spare Gloves
Navigation, Safety and Accessories
Map, compass, and Garmin Montana 680 GPS
Spare Inner Tube, Bike Tool, Puncture Repair Kit, Pump
Small Personal First Aid Kit with compeed, bandages, plasters, emergency whistle, painkillers etc
Spare Food and Hydration Bladder
Suncream and Midge Net (an essential bit of kit when riding in Scotland!)
The Ardgay to Ullapool Coast To Coast route might not be the world's most exciting ride and the headwind definitely demands a degree of 'digging in' at times, but as long as you're with a good crew and everyone's packing the right attitude and gear then it's a pretty cool way to spend a day in the wilderness.
With a bit of careful research and planning, appropriate route selection, good kit, navigation and basic outdoor first aid skills, bang for your buck adventures are there to be had for everyone so get out there and give it a go.
Get in touch via the Comments box below for further information on this route, the kit we used or any other questions - we'd love to hear your feedback.
The Nitty Gritty
Do this route - if you’re looking for a straightforward off road adventure with a unique twist
If you do this route – you’re going to wish you lived in a time when kids rode to school on pigs
Don’t do this route – if you're prone to headwind-induced temper tantrums
Route: Ardgay to Ullapool Coast to Coast
Distance: 36 Miles
Duration: 6 Hours 10 Minutes
Accommodation: Riverside Guesthouse in Ullapool with excellent secure and heated bike shed
Afternoon Refuelling: Tea and cake in the excellent West Coast Deli in Ullapool
Evening Celebrating: The Ceilidh Place in Ullapool with super tasty langoustines and Sicilian white wine