An Turas Mor Mountain Bike Trail
The concept of a long distance, back country mountain bike trail from the centre of Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, making its way 348 miles north on a non technical, totally ride-able, connected network of backcountry trails was born out of frustration. The frustration stemmed from the lack of many long distance trails in Scotland that allowed the rider to actually ride the trails in their entirety. It is easy to find long distance trails in Scotland, such as the Scotland’s longest ‘The Highland 550’ but often these trails are connected by long busy road sections, require difficult portages of your bike, use popular walkers trails generating the potential for conflict or include highly technical descents which are particularly bad if you are packing a loaded bike.
The frustration came to a head in the winter of 2016 when I read about a film being made about a new long distance mountain bike trail ‘The Cape Wrath Trail’
The Cape Wrath Trail has been described as ‘Scotland wildest long distance trail’ it stretches from Fort William in the South to Cape Wrath some 250 miles to the north at the very north-west tip of Scotland. The trail or trails, as there is no definitive route, is seen as the preserve of long distance walkers and living in Fort William at the start of the Trail you often see overloaded walkers starting what is an incredible journey through fantastic scenery, that for some can take up to three weeks.
I’ve walked the route a couple of times and know how difficult and how wild the terrain is and was therefore fascinated when I heard
that the professional mountain biker Hannah Barnes was to ride a version of the trail and make a film of her experiences. The resulting film ‘Northwest’ by Cut Media really shows the beauty of the West Highland landscape, but also showed the route chosen was not really ‘ride-able’ unless that is you like to carry your bike for big distances, have the lungs and skill of a world class mountain biker and have a nice team of helpers and vehicles to support you on your journey to the Cape. This for me was not the kind of long distance mountain bike trail I was looking for and was sure others like me were also looking for.
Well in those dark nights of winter when the mind does seem to wander towards an examination of what is attainable in the coming season, the question was: ‘Is it possible to find a continuous mountain bike trail journey from Fort William to the Cape Wrath Lighthouse, that us ‘normal’ folk could ride, no portage, avoiding roads and totally unsupported carrying our own kit but passing through excellent wild landscape on sustainable trails - stalkers paths, mountain tracks, forest roads, hydro roads and minor back-country roads?
The concept of such a ride took some research and local knowledge. I felt that key change that would make the journey possible was the new hydro roads that have ‘appeared’ across the Highlands as landowners cash in on generous subsidies to build micro ‘Hydro Schemes’. Personally I prefer hydro schemes in the Highlands as once built they can have a positive contribution to landscape quality unlike windmills and indeed satisfy our growing need for electricity. As a mountain biker they also have the additional spin off of making the back-country more accessible to cross country bikers and in our case joined up some major gaps in this potential trail that were just not there a few years ago. The connection between Glen Morrison and Glen Affric for example is now a complete trail where before portage was necessary. Our conclusion was that a continuous ride was possible because of these new connections.
All we needed to do now was ride the route to see if our research was indeed in reality.
In the first week of May 2016, the weather in the West Highland can be at its absolute best. Early spells of cold wind, bright sun and flying cloud, invigorating days, running into weeks without rain. Myself and my riding buddy Victoria, set off to find out if a Cape Wrath Mountain Bike Trail based on our criteria was indeed possible. What we discovered was an excellent, physically challenging but not highly technical, six day, continuous, with no portage or dangerous river crossings, mountain bike ride from Fort William to Cape Wrath 250 miles in length with 15000 feet of ascent and 14500 feet of descent on a trail that is over 90% off road. The trail which passes through the very wild heart of Highland Scotland does exist and in our opinion at that time, was perhaps the finest long distance route of its grade and landscape quality in Scotland if not Europe and exactly what we were looking for.
Esher Boserup the great economist and philosopher is credited with coining the phrase ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ and of course the great Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong had written ‘Adversity is the mother of invention’ With such influences rattling around in my head it didn’t take long to ponder another question: Was it possible to apply the principles that we had used to find a ride-able mountain bike trail to Cape Wrath from Fort William to finding a similarly
ride-able, non technical, route from the centre of Glasgow that connected to the Cape Wrath route, therefore creating what would be a long continuously ride-able, non technical, off-road mountain bike trail using existing sustainable tracks away from cars.
Mao Zedong was correct adversity does result in creative solutions. I’d read about a new off road trail ‘The Badger Divide’ which ran from Inverness to Glasgow and took part in the inaugural race ride in the summer 2017. What was clear in riding this route was that further research was needed as this trail had technical sections and long stretches of portage on un-tracked hillside and therefore did not meet the criterion that a route should be totally ride-able and that creating new upland trail should be avoided. It was also obvious that the route was unclear on the best way to enter the city of Glasgow on an off-road trail. What the Badger Divide did do however was cement the idea that such a trail from Glasgow connecting to the Cape Wrath Mountain Bike Trail at Fort Augustus was indeed possible. All that was needed was research based on our route criteria and a fair bit or riding.
By the end of the summer 2017 all the pieces of this jigsaw puzzle of trails had been joined together and the An Turas Mor Mountain Bike Trail was born. The Trail is long and strenuous, requiring endurance and fitness to cope with over 87573 feet of ascent and descent. There are no technical riding challenges or river fording on the route, but navigation, bike maintenance, bike repair and good mountain skills are absolutely are essential for a safe enjoyable ride. For have no doubt undertaking the trail is a serious undertaking and should not be taken lightly
An Turas Mor is Scottish Gaelic and translates into English as ‘The Long Journey’ The name ideally describes this trail as it works its way 348 miles north on a ride-able, non technical, continuous trail that in total has 66.13% of its route on off-road track and 31.36% on back-country, quiet single track roads, with only 2.13% on actual dual track road. An Turas Mor joins together existing back-country tracks and uses National cycle routes, Forest and Hill tracks, old Drovers trails, Hunting Estate tracks, Hydro scheme tracks, 18th Century Military roads, back-country single track roads and a small sections of the West Highland Way and Rob Roy Trails.
Proud to have put together a new route in my home country. If you want more information look up the anturasmor website or seek out our club Obscura Mondo Cycle Club on facebook. Happy safe riding folks