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A sublime ride on the Badger Divide

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

Returning to Inverness recently for the Strathpuffer (more on that another time!), I was struck with memories of the start of one of the best rides I've ever done: After reading about the Badger Divide in Steven Strathie's excellent article, I was intrigued to give the route a try. I had ridden and walked some sections before however I thought that to try to complete the 'whole Badger' over a long weekend would be a great challenge to set myself. The 300 km route starts in Inverness and meanders south to Glasgow, taking in some of the most epic and picturesque scenes in the central highlands of Scotland. It follows parts of the Great Glen Way, West Highland Way, General Wade's old military roads and numerous estate tracks with the terrain ranging from tarmac to pretty rough gravel.

Day 1 - Friday 5th May 2022 | Inverness to Fort Augustus

Steven and I were joined for the trip by fellow Scottish Adventurers Scott and James. With Stu Allen's mass start planned for the Saturday morning, we decided to give ourselves a bit of a head start by leaving on Friday afternoon. James took the train to Inverness and Scott, Steven and I were very kindly given a lift to Inverness by Steven's wife. Scott's car with four bike carriers would be waiting for us in the centre of Glasgow.

We all met up near Bellfield Park and after much faffing and kit checking we set off at a slightly late time of around 16:00. We joined onto the Great Glen Way as it first makes it way through a housing estate and then climbs up into the wooded hills where you leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind. With the weather looking fair and our legs feeling fresh we made good progress south as we passed the quirky Abriachan cafe/ campsite and made our way to the first stop on the route and the home of Nessie, Drumnadrochit.

Straight out of Drum' there is a hefty climb to get back up above the loch but the going was fast on tarmac until the trail is rejoined at the brilliant Loch Ness Clay Works Pottery and Cafe. From this point the trail becomes quite undulating and our progress slowed. Just as we reached the fork in the trail, with the low road on the left and the high road on the right, the heavens opened. Here we assessed the time, as we knew the chippy in Fort Augustus would be closing in not too long. We decided that we didn't want to risk missing our Chippy Tea so we took the low road and blasted down to the A82, getting soaked in the process. This would be the second time I've taken this decision on the Great Glen Way so I will definitely be back to take the high road option! Thankfully the shower passed quickly and the main road was relatively quiet, allowing us to eat up the miles in our peloton. Rolling into Fort Augustus we made a beeline for the chip shop and enjoyed our dinner by the canal.

We checked out the nearby woodland for a stealthy urban camp but there wasn't enough room between the trees and the carpet of flowering wild garlic - it may have been a pretty stinky sleep! We settled on the banks of Loch Ness and slithered into our bivvy bags to watch the stars rise.

Day 2 - Saturday 7th May | Fort Augustus to Bridge of Gaur

Lochside bivvy views

After a pleasant night, we enjoyed a leisurely start whilst waiting for the local Londis to open. The weather looked promising and it indeed turned out to be a bonny day with high level scattered clouds and mild temperatures.

As we were leaving camp, Steve was devastated to realise that something felt not quite right with his hip. In the time it took us to spin back into town, he made the difficult decision to scratch. With the hardest climb of the trip immediately following, he made the right decision. The Badger will always be there! After a hearty breakfast and with lunch purchased and stowed away, we said our farewells, with Steve heading down the Caledonian Canal to Fort William train station and us spinning then grinding, then swearing our way up the Corrieyairack Pass. It was great to get some views again as we snaked our way up into the hills. The last few kms were brutal but we finally made it to the summit and were satisfied to know we were at the highest point of the whole route. The way down was rocky, loose and slow as we negotiated the zig-zags of General Wade's infamous road. At the base of this section we freewheeled down to Speyside, came past Melgarve bothy and eased our way up the final hill before lunch. The descent down to Loch Laggan was super fun and quick and before you can say "petrol station sandwich" we were scoffing our faces on Loch Laggan beach.

The next section took us back into the wild as we followed the land drover tracks of the Ardverikie Estate. On this trail we past several stunning lochs and lochans as we climbed up and over the high ground south of the A86 before descending down on a fast gravel road to Loch Ossian. It was my second time visiting Loch Ossian but the place still felt as special as the first time.

Taking in the view between Ossian and Rannoch

Corrour Station House is technically a detour from the route but one that you absolutely must make. In all but the depths of winter, it is a refuge in the middle of nowhere that provides good food, refreshing drinks and even sofas to relax in whilst you wait for the rain or for the train. As we were approaching the turn off point at the end of Loch Ossian, I saw the hordes of day trippers making their way back to the Station House to catch the train back to civilisation and maybe a bite to eat. Not wanting to miss out on a table at the restaurant, I shifted to the big ring and gunned it up the hill, making short work of my bikeless competition. Securing a table outside, we settled into several pints and several toasted sandwiches...each! Whilst we were eating, a handful of fellow Badgerers arrived, who had begun their ride at the mass depart from Inverness... that morning! They definitely earned their pub grub.

We finally managed to tear ourselves from the table and the inviting prospect of spending the night at the restaurant. After missing the turn off for Rannoch (my fault!), we were climbing again, up and up across the lower slopes of the Munro Carn Dearg. Whilst the sun was setting behind high level mottled cloud, the views we gained out west across the expanse of Rannoch Moor were uplifting. The final descent of the day was fast and furious and we were glad to finally hit tarmac on the Loch Rannoch B road. My Google Street View skills had identified a small spot of grass on the turn off for the Bridge of Gaur hydroelectric power station for an overnight bivvy spot. We were more than happy to find though that when we got there, the power station had a large area of lawn outside of the perimeter fence. Pleased with our finding, we laid out our bivvy bags and thanked all the gods for the absence of the dreaded midge!

Day 3 - Sunday 8th May | Bridge of Gaur to Loch Venachar

The weather seemed to be holding and we were greeted by another day of mild temperatures and high cloud. We made our breakfasts on the driveway of the power station and set off at a leisurely time of 9am. From Loch Rannoch, the route goes offroad again as it takes a sinuous route, quite indirect but bonny nonetheless towards the Black Wood of Rannoch. From here it goes due south up and over the hills separating Loch Rannoch from Glen Lyon. At the apex, the trail gets quite rough and slow going, before thankfully smoothing out again in time for the extremely steep and fast descent down to Scotland's longest inland glen. Once in Glen Lyon, probably the longest continuous section of tarmac on the route starts, however don't let that fool you as the setting feels as 'out-there' as anywhere on the journey, and the views are some of the most beautiful too. Before that though, there was the task of enjoying second breakfast at the lovely Glen Lyon Post Office and Tearoom.

Refreshments at the Glen Lyon Post Office and Tea Room

After sausage rolls and other delights we head west, down into the depths of Glen Lyon, whose furthest reaches almost have a Lake District feel to them. Wherever it reminds you of though it's absolutely stunning and in my view one of the best stretches of tarmac to ride in, in the country. At the hamlet of Pubil, the route turns south once more as you ascend a steep and in places decimated tarmac road, which at times looks as though it has been target practice for mortar rounds. With the surface generally smooth though we made short work of it and before long were on another hair raising descent to Glen Lochy. My brakes needed seeing to after the battering they had just taken but it wasn't too long before we were off again, heading east this time and with the wind at our backs and a slight downhill, we were cruising in the big ring all the way to the first town since Fort Augustus, Killin.

If Carlsberg did Scottish road cycling... - upper Glen Lyon

Drrrrrrrroppin' in to GLen Lochay

Excellent gravel in Glen Ogil

This ended up being the wrong way!

We knew we had broken the back of the route now, with all but one of the major climbs done, so we relaxed at the cafe in Killin for more high calorie treats. We then nipped into the COOP for the final day's snacks and headed off into the sunny afternoon to regain the trail. Between Killin and our evening destination, we were treated to some glorious gravel riding on an old railway line which clings to the sides of the valleys of Glen Ogil and Strathyre. Going south really did feel like it was all downhill and we reached Loch Venachar in the Loch Lochmond and the Trossachs National Park before we knew it. Here we watched the sun set over the mirror-like (and still midgefree) loch. With some rain finally in the forecast, James set up a pro-level tarp and we hunkered down for the last night under the sky.

Day 4 - Monday 9th May | Loch Venachar to Glasgow

The morning dawned dry and we had hope in our hearts, yet the second we emerged from under our tarp the rain came on. Three days dry out of four certainly isn't bad I suppose! We immediately got stuck into the final big climb of the trip - up and over Duke's Pass, into Aberfoyle. We were too early for all the cafes and had to make do with snacks under a gazebo for our breakfast. From this highland boundary town, the route was all new to me. It started out through more forestry before heading into open farmland. At Dumgoyne, we picked up the West Highland Way and found a pub for lunch. It was still raining and we were joined by scores of soggy West Highland Wayyers with their heavy packs and Goretex outfits.

The route became much more social after this point with us passing lots of hikers, all (I assumed) making their pilgramage to Fort William. Past Milngavie we were gifted glorious displays of bluebells which seemed to be in peak bloom. Past this you could feel the big city calling as the environmentbe came more urban, although credit to the route choice and to Glasgow's cycling infrastructure, as other than for one stretch we didn't really have to share the route with cars and we were ushered into the city along the banks of the River Kelvin, until at last, we emerged in Kelvingrove. James had called ahead to his son, whose timing was impeccable as he met us just as we crossed the finish line, drenched but elated, standing under the arches of the impressive Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

That was that. 300 km from Inverness on a beautiful trail through a beautiful country. All that was left was to pray that Scott's car or its bike carriers hadn't been nicked, find a cafe and make a muddy mess of their toilet whilst getting changed (sorry!).

Disclaimer - we didn't actually complete the full Badger Divide route. As well as missing out a section of the Great Glen Way (as I said earlier), we also omitted part of the route through Glen Ample, instead opting for the much faster Strathyre cycle route. I enjoyed the rest of the route so much though that I'll happily return to Inverness one day, hopefully in the not too distant future, to finally, slay that badger.

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