Top Scottish road descents on a bike
Cyclists always talk about the ups. And there are some big and epic road climbs in Scotland. But how about the bit that comes afterwards? The descents are your reward for making the effort to pedal uphill (although, of course, you could simply drive with your bike to the top of the hill and experience the descents from there if you want to cheat.) Scotland has many fantastic road descents – and as the Tour de France gets going my Sunday Mail column revealed as many as I could squeeze in.
(Many thanks to my friend Alan Anderson, who organises many sports events, for his thoughts on the top road descents in Scotland.)
7 of Scotland’s best cycling descents
It’s Tour de France season. But instead of trying to cycle hills like the pros, why not focus on the best descents instead?
Every summer the Tour de France inspires more people to get out on their bikes. From hilly stages to time trials, the pro riders show us mere mortals how to push harder and climb faster.
But there are also the amazing descents, when cornering skills and nerve even out the playing field among Tour cyclists and their teams.
In Scotland, we are fortunate to have plenty of hills for cycling up – and we also have a superb collection of descents for riding down.
Here are seven of the best Scottish roads to descend – carefully and with skill – this summer.
Before you zip off over the brow, do take care of hazards including other traffic, pot-holes, grit, oil and wet road surfaces.
1 Errochty Dam road
Where: Near Pitlochry, Perthshire
Heading south from the old A9, between Calvine and Dalwhinnie, is an old military road.
In recent years it has been upgraded and the smooth tarmac offers a superb free-ride towards the hamlet of Trinafour above Errochty Dam.
The descent features sweeping Alpine-esque bends, narrower switchbacks and many sections where you can enjoy the beautiful scenery whizzing by.
2 Cairnwell to Braemar
Where: Glenshee, Angus
Starting at Glenshee ski centre, at a height of about 650m, and close to a mountain called the Cairnwell, this fantastic descent drops 300m over 14km.
There is a little up and down for the next few kilometres then even more down for 10km over a gentler slope.
You will be wowed by a glen that rises on all sides to high, rounded mountain summits.
3 Cairngorm Ski Road
Where: Near Aviemore, Highlands
This descent starts from another ski centre, CairnGorm Mountain. Leave the Coire Cas Car Park and enjoy around 30km of free-wheeling for only a little pedalling.
The first section drops 300m over 10km to Glenmore on picturesque Loch Morlich.
Then there is a gentler descent for a further 20km and another 120m drop. There are a few ups and downs but overall it’s downhill all the way.
The views on a clear day across the Cairngorms National Park are breath-taking.
4 The Ross Road
Where: Isle of Arran
The Ross Road, which takes its name from The Ross Hill, cuts across the island in a roughly north-easterly direction.
The descent starts at the car park at a height of about 285m and drops down
through glorious Monamore Glen to Lamlash Bay on the coast with views of the Holy Isle.
It’s a lovely descent with sweeping bends and a steep section. With care you’ll swoop easily down the short but sweet road.
5 Otter Ferry top to Clachan of Glendaruel
Where: Cowal Peninsula
A popular road bike circuit on the Cowal Peninsula in west Scotland takes in the settlements of Otter Ferry, Tighnabruaich and Colintraive.
A section of 3.5km road from the hill top after Otter Ferry offers sublime descending to the A886, just south of Clachan of Glendaruel.
To reach the top of the descent head east from Otter Ferry off the B800. The road is unnamed.
You’ll climb up to the highest point at about 1000ft / 305m from where you can enjoy the sweeping and rolling descent.
The road twists and turns downhill through a lovely landscape of woodland, hills, rivers and lochs to come to a fairly flat finish at the main A886.
See Sustrans Bute of a Route at www.sustrans.org.uk/ncn/map/route/a-bute-of-a-route
Enjoy the descent as part of the Cowal Peninsula Sportive later this month. See www.nofussevents.co.uk
6 Nic o’ the Balloch
The Nic o’ the Balloch is a singletrack road hill pass of around 3.5km. It was once used as a smuggler’s road over the hills from Ayrshire to Galloway.
Still a formidable moorland crossing, it’s also a famous climb in Scotland of some 250m.
However, if you ride it in reverse, you’ll love it rather than loathe it.
A good place to find out more information about the Nic is at www.ayrshirealps.org/climbs/
7 Mennock Pass
Where: Lowther Hills, Dumfries & Galloway
A tough climb but a fabulous descent of seven miles on the B797 from above Wanlockhead, the highest village in Scotland, to Mennock.
It starts steep, flattens a little and then descends at a gentler gradient to offer a total drop of almost 350m.
If it’s safe to do so, take a look at the surrounding hills and countryside and enjoy the easier pedalling all the way down.