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Bikepacking train station to station: Rannoch to Dalwhinnie

Written by Fiona

May 10 2020

A two-day bike packing adventure through some of Scotland’s most beautiful but accessible wilderness, travelling from Rannoch Train Station, via Corrour, to Dalwhinnie Train Station. This article was published in The Scots Magazine.

Bikepacking through Corrour

The adventure begins several days before we set off, with my friend Paul and I exchanging messages about the weather, what to pack, how to pack and what we’ll share.

Competitively, we swap photographs by text message, revealing our quest to lessen the load of clothes, camping gear, food and water.

Yet, we are also mindful of the need to stay warm and safe as we cycle and camp a 50-mile route through one of the UK’s last great wilderness areas.

We are still busy debating our kit as we board a train one Monday morning on Scotland’s famous West Highland Line, a train line between Glasgow and Mallaig on the west coast.

Bikes on the train.
Rannoch Station on the West Highland Line.

We plan to alight at Rannoch Station, which is one of the UK’s highest and most remote railway stops.

“Did you pack spare socks and underwear?” I quiz Paul. “And what about your toothbrush? Did you cut off the handle?”

Meanwhile, he wonders: “I hope I have enough snacks.” And: “Did you remember the stove and gas?”

The balance of weight versus warmth and comfort over discomfort are serious issues when you will be journeying by mountain bike for two days.

Setting off after alighting the train at Rannoch.
Follow the sign from the tarmac to trail.

Riding station to station

As relative newcomers to off-road bikepacking, our aim is fairly conservative although thrillingly off-grid. 

Alighting at Rannoch, we will navigate a network of trails and paths through the estates of Corrour and Ben Alder to reach another train station at Dalwhinnie, on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park. 

It is a mountainous area, but we have plotted a route that is longer and flatter, rather than shorter and steeper – and we are surprised by how “rideable” it turns out to be. 

After a mile on tarmac from the pretty Rannoch Station platform, we turn on to what was once the main “Road to the Isles”. A well-travelled cattle drovers’ route in medieval times, it is now a rough track that undulates gently through rugged moorland as it heads northwards.

As if by magic, we find ourselves suddenly amid a landscape that feels wild and distant. Looking out across Rannoch Moor, the grass and ferns have  faded to an autumnal tapestry of ochres, russets and browns.

Beneath a big sky of slowly drifting clouds, we spot ragged-edged lochs of flat, cold-silver water and numerous distant peaks.

A night at Loch Ossian

Cycling side by side, Paul and I continue companionably and regularly check our route on an OS map app. We are aiming for Loch Ossian, some 10 miles away where we hope to wild camp for the night.

I am not a skilled mountain biker but the miles roll by with relative ease and it is only when we reach a few steeper inclines that I notice the weight of the specialist bikepacks. I’m grateful now that I didn’t add many extras.

Paul is impressed by how secure the packs feel having previously ridden with panniers attached to a rack. “There is very little wiggle, is there?” he states.

Finally, we reach a high point at 1800ft and we can see the loch, situated at the heart of Corrour Estate, for the first time. 

Woodland edges almost the entire shore of the narrow stretch of inland water and, in the distance, close to the southern end, is a Hostelling Scotland Youth Hostel. 

The hostel, acclaimed as one of the most remote in Scotland, was our back-up if the weather turned nasty and we couldn’t camp.

But the conditions are better than expected and after a fantastic descent we search the loch-side for the perfect camping spot. 

A wild camp. Credit: Paul Chappells.

Wild camping at Corrour

The Scottish Outdoor Access Code allows people to wild camp, so long as they do so responsibly. With such a vast wilderness to choose from, the toughest decision is  where to camp.

Indeed, I’m not going to reveal the exact location of our overnight because these spots should be kept secret. However, you’ll easily find your own.

Because I was keen to reduce the weight of the bikepacks, I’ve only a bivvy bag for shelter, a warm sleeping bag and an inflatable mat.

I also packed a small portable stove, a gas canister and basic food for an evening meal and breakfast. My luxury items are chocolate and a flask of whisky.

Morning coffee by the loch. Credit: Paul Chappells (great mountain biker and great photographer!)

Bikepacking: Night and day

After a fairly warm and cloudy previous day, the weather has changed to sunny but cold. Sadly, the tailwind has also switched.

Today’s ride is 40 miles and we have a train reservation at 15:51 to meet so we set off early. It is surprising how much slower trail riding is compared to road cycling.

Following another good quality Landrover track along the northern shore of Loch Ossian, we pass a variety of trees and plants, many of which were planted by a former owner of Corrour, Sir John Stirling Maxwell, in the late 1800s.   

The estate is now in the ownership of Lisbet Rausing, the Swedish Tetra Pak heiress, who rebuilt Corrour Lodge after a devastating fire in a striking modernist style.

We turn north next, cycling slowly upwards on a rough track through a wide and winding glen flanked with high mountains. My bike feels lighter and floatier having eaten most of the packed food the day before.

Again we enjoy a long descent and enter a peaceful coniferous plantation and then pass through a gate into the neighbouring estate of Ben Alder. It is owned by another wealthy business person, the Swiss financier Urs Schwarzenbach. 

We follow the shore of another loch, Laggan, and then head into wild countryside to reach another long stretch of water, Lochan Na h-Earba.

At the end of the lochan, we pass into another forest and pick our route carefully on many tracks. A path along River Pattack takes us south and towards picturesque Loch Pattack, which we edge to the east.

Brilliant tracks for mountain biking. Credit: Paul Chappells
A bit of a rest! Credit: Paul Chappells

We ride into a flatter – and boggier – plain and towards the western shore of the long ribbon of Loch Ericht. This is the hardest part of the route and I need to push my bike around some of the wetter sections. 

Stopping to look back, I enjoy the drama of a landscape of multiple mountain peaks spread out as far as I can see.

Paul and I reach Dalwhinnie for the train back to Glasgow.

The final six miles to Dalwhinnie looked straightforward on the map and although the track is fairly smooth it is also hillier than expected.  Or perhaps this is because of our tired legs.

Amazingly we reach the station with time to spare – and we enjoy a quick food stop at a local cafe. 

As we board the train to return home – and to civilisation – it feels as if we have been away for a lot longer than a couple of days.

I reflect that bikepacking allows adventurers to ride off into a wilder, remoter and quieter world without very much hassle at all.

Route info and GPX: OS Maps.

Bikepacking kit laid out.

Two-day bikepacking kit list

Bike: A mountain bike is best suited to this adventure.

Bikepacks: These are specialist bags that fit neatly to the frame of a bicycle, such as behind the saddle and on the handlebars, without need for traditional pannier racks. I use Alpkit packs.

Small rucksack: A small rucksack for water, snacks and items that you want to keep handy.

Camping gear: Bivvy bag or lightweight tent, sleeping bag and inflatable mat.

Cooking kit: All-in-one stove, gas and pot, or a small stove, separate gas canister and lightweight pot.

Food: Specialist dehydrated camping food or take products such as packet pasta meals. Eat from the pot. Cereal bars and coffee bags are good for breakfasts.

Water: Carry water in a bottle fitted to bike bottle carrier and fill up at fresh water supplies. A water filter will allow you to drink water if in doubt about the quality.

Clothing: It depends on the weather but a waterproof jacket is a good idea, as well as gloves, padded cycling shorts or tights, several base layers and a lightweight insulated jacket for the evenings.

Tech: A smartphone with a camera and a map app, such as OS Maps.

Bike kit: Helmet, puncture repair products, pump, bike lights and a lock.

Rannoch to Dalwhinnie bikepacking: Travel info

Scotrail operates the West Highland Line and the train line between Glasgow and Inverness.

This adventure took place between Rannoch Station and Dalwhinnie.

Make sure you call ahead to book a bike reservation on each train.


Bikepacking tips

Also read: Loch Ossian: A running adventure

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