With lockdown restrictions easing and the worst of the April freeze over, a spontaneous plan saw us set off to hit the gravel roads of Argyll for an overnight adventure.
Photography by Chris Martin
It was late on Saturday night when I got a message from my friend Chris with the initial idea to hit some of the Argyll coastal trails. A hastily put-together route was formed, taking in parts of Markus Stitz’ Wild About Argyll trail This would involve two ferry journeys, an overnight bivvy and a hell of a lot of climbing!
The ride would serve as a shakedown for myself, ahead of taking part in the Dales Divide 2021 on the first weekend of May, and give Chris plenty of opportunity to test out his camera equipment and homemade bikepacking bags.
We started the route by taking the ferry over from Gourock to Dunoon. This is a great start point for any cycling trip, either on or off-road. The route follows a steep climb out of the town and onto some fast flowing fire roads down to Loch Eck and past the Benmore Botanic Gardens. This was sadly closed, so we had to hop a fence to reach the gravel track that follows the western shore of the Loch. It was a bit of a gloomy morning with light rain and the Loch was looking incredibly atmospheric.
There is a lot of elevation in the first part of the route over to Portavadie. The long climbs were tough going and by the time we reached Portavadie we were suitably burst. The passenger waiting lounge offered some well-needed respite, with heating and re-charging included.
Over in Tarbert we munched down some fish and chips while taking in a lovely view of the harbour town. There are grocery stores here and a Co-Op where you can stock up on supplies before a night of wild camping. From Tarbert it is also possible to ride a loop to the south of the Kintyre Peninsula or finish a ride at Campbeltown – should you be in search of whisky!
North from Tarbert there is a short road section leading on the highest climb of the route leading to Allt Dearg wind farm. This is about as tough a gravel climb as you can find in Scotland, ascending about 450 metres, and we needed to summon all the energy from the aforementioned fish suppers to get to the top. We were rewarded with a fantastic descent down the other side and on to one of the best sections of the route – following the coast to the north. We had to be wary of high speed deer crossing and took care of some casualty berries which had exploded in Chris’ camera bag!
We followed a quiet coastal road leading us through Achnamara on the shores of Loch Sween. More gravel – and some final climbing for the day – took us through Knapdale forest. It was getting dark by this point but if you are heading through in daylight hours be sure to keep an eye out for beavers! This is where they were first reintroduced to the wild in Scotland in 2016.
Our planned bivvy point for the night was at Crinan, near the start of the canal which joins the sear with the Clyde Estuary to the east. We were incredibly lucky with the mild weather and I managed to get a great night’s sleep overlooking the sea and stunning coastline. Perhaps all that climbing helped to really knacker us out!
The plan for the second day was to ride up to head up the west coast of Loch Awe and explore some new (to us) gravel leading us up to Taynuilt, where we could catch the train home to Glasgow. After a quick breakfast, we had packed up our sleeping kit and were on our way again. The canal section was looking spectacular in the morning light and I was very pleased with our decision to camp so close to the water. There are some public toilets at Kilmartin, useful information for any bikepacker!
There was a fairly long road section up to Loch Awe which included some undulating hills when we hit the loch. Thankfully, the route descends down to some much needed gravel by the loch and leads again off-road at the village of Dalavich.
This was a brilliant section of double track which leads through some thick forest. At this point we were getting wary of our remaining time to catch the train back to Glasgow and had to up the pace a bit! In the village there is a café, camping site and bike shop should you be in need of any essential repairs!
A final 20 kilometre gravel section connects Dalavich back to the road near Taynuilt, where we would catch our train home to Glasgow. We were uncertain of how easy it would be to tackle this section in the two hours we had to make the train. The riding on this section was truly amazing, long and steady climbs led us up and over to views of Ben Cruachan in the distance. A friendly new-born lamb came to say hello at a gate stopping shortly after. From then on it was a fast road descent on to our train.
Argyll offers great gravel riding and bikepacking opportunities to those based in Scotland or further afield. Perhaps you can follow sections of this route in your next adventure, and make sure to check out Markus Stitz’ full Wild About Argyll route for further inspiration. Get out and explore, leave no trace and be respectful to the people and animals you meet along the way!
What’s up next for me? The Dales Divide in early May: you can follow along here on Dotwatcher and on my Instagram.
Thanks to Chris Martin for the photography.
Last modified: 21st April 2021