The Great North Trail is a long-distance cycling route from the Peak District in England to Cape Wrath or John o’Groats in the north of Scotland. A group of five former and serving Army personnel recently cycled the trail in aid of the Gurkha Welfare Trust. They adapted the route to suit their overnight stops.
What is the Great North Trail?
The Great North Trail starts in Wirksworth, south of Matlock, and finishes at Cape Wrath, the most north-westerly point of mainland Scotland, or John o’ Groats, which is the most northerly point.
It is a long-distance off-road trail and travels through beautiful landscapes of northern England and Scotland. Riders will enjoy a range of scenery, from rolling hills and dales to remote moorland and coastline. The trail includes tracks, paths, canal towpaths, singletrack and old Roman roads.
The route is designed to be a mountain biking adventure and it is mainly on unsurfaced trails. However, it’s often possible to adjust the route to use roads as well.
Cycling the Great North Trail for Gurkha Welfare Trust
This month, a group of riders, David, Nat, James, Tim and Russ, which comprised three Army veterans and two serving military people, cycled the Great North Trail. The group included van support and a dog.
They aimed to complete the 1195km (742 miles) over 8.5 days, cycling on average 140km each day. The total elevation was almost 21,000m.
The ride was to raise funds for The Gurkha Welfare Trust, which ensures that Gurkha veterans, their widows and wider communities are able to live with dignity in Nepal, through the provision of financial, medical and community aid.
You can donate at Just Giving.
Major Natalie Taylor, who was part of the group and the only female, said: “The route looked like a great one to challenge us and in aid of an important charity.
“It was a tough trail and challenging because we were riding quite a long way each day. But it was a brilliant experience with a great group.”
Day by day: Great North Trail
Day 1: Wirksworth to Hebden Bridge: 126km
The route follows the Pennine Bridleway. The first secition was on a n easy-going disused railway before the group arrived at the many hills of the Peak District.
Nat said: “We enjoy good weather and some lovely riding., Trails included some technical stuff so it was a bonus that we were all on mountain bikes.”
Day 2: Hebden Bridge to Kirkby Stephen: 143km
The route continued on the Pennine Bridleway but after the first day of cycling some of the team were a bit sore so the riders diverted on to a section of road for easier cycling.
Nat said: “An advantage of the Great Northern Trail is you can adapt it to include trail and road.”
Day 3: Kirkby Stephen to Kielder: 143km
Nat had been looking for to reaching Kielder Forest and it didn’t disappoint.
She said: “I was really looking forward to cycling in this area of northern England and after a long day in the saddle and stopping in cafes and at our van along the way, we were greeted with a great view over Kielder Lake.
“The views were lovely all day and especially the final 10km over the lake.”
The group camped overnight but were surprised with by the number of midges. Nat said: “We had to deploy head nets because the midges were savage.”
Day 4: Kielder to Livingston: 143km
The cyclists enjoyed more beautiful trails as they headed from England to Scotland, cycling through the Scottish Borders and to the town of Livingston in Central Scotland.
Day 5: Livingston to Strathyre: 151km
Today’s ride joined the John Muir Way – a coast to coast route across Scotland – and offered some easier miles on canal towpaths as the group cycle west towards the northern suburbs of Glasgow.
Nat said: “The group really appreciated some flatter miles and we visited an iconic attraction, the Falkirk Wheel, which is a boat lift between two canals.
“North of Glasgow we rode through Milngavie and then joined the West Highland Way and the Rob Roy Way. Both routes have some lovely trails for cyclists.”
Strathyre is on the shores of Loch Lubnaig and in Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park.
Day 6: Strathyre to Garva Double Bridge: 150km
The route continues northwards and into the Scottish Highlands. The landscape is wilder and more remote feeling but still with great trails to follow.
Garva Double Bridg is a two-span bridge constructed by General Wade to carry a military road from Dalwhinnie to Fort Augustus across the River Spey.
At Garva Double Bridge, the group had their first wild camp. Nat said: “We had used official campsites until this point but took advantage of Scotland’s Outdoor Access Cod to enjoy a wild camp and next to the lovely River Spey. We were able to have a dip in the river and there was an amazing sunset.
“All in all this was a fantastic day of cycling.”
Day 7: Garva Double Bridge to Loch Vaich: 143km
The route took the riders over the Corrieyairack Pass, an old military road built by General Wade between Laggan to Fort Augustus.
The track climbs to a height of over 770m via the Monadhliath mountains and through some rough terrain. The pass also now forms part of the Scottish National Trail.
Nat says: “This is a great part of the trail and we enjoyed some lovely views. It’s a challenging ride going over the pass but really worth it.”
The group was grateful for the shelter of a bunkhouse as rain came in that evening.
Day 8: Loch Vaich to Durness 153km
The cyclists joined a route known as An Turus Mor, which took them north to Durness.
Nat said: “It was another great day with more amazing views. Scotland is very beautiful. We camped in sunshine at Durness and enjoyed looking out to sea as the sun set.”
Day 9: Durness to Cape Wrath 39km
Scotland’s weather can be very changeable and, on the final day, conditions proved too wild for a boat trip to reach Cape Wrath from near Durness.
The riders were disappointed they would not be able to reach the lighthouse at the far north-westerly point of the peninsula but they consoled themselves with a trip to Scottish Chocolatiers and cafe Cocoa Mountain.
Nat said: “it was a shame the weather stopped us reaching Cape Wrath but the hot chocolate at Cocoa Mountain was amazing.
“We all enjoyed the Great North Trail challenge and raising funds for an important charity. I would recommend this route for mountain bikers and bike packers.”