Sign up for our newsletter

Etape Caledonia: cycling and adventure in the Scottish Highlands

26 Jan 2018

Caledonia is the name the Romans gave the land north of Hadrian’s Wall, much of which is today known as Scotland. It's a land blessed with some of the British Isles’ most striking scenery, and the Etape Caledonia manages to showcase much of it in a single bike ride, passing between lochs and climbing mountains – or Munros as they’re known in Scotland – over an 81-mile route that starts and finishes in the town of Pitlochry.

Now heading into its 12th year, the Etape Caledonia has established itself as the UK’s premier closed-road cycling event, providing a convenient way to take on some testing and picturesque terrain.

Over 35,000 riders have already completed its demanding route, and on Sunday 20th May 2018 another 5,000 will undertake the challenge over a revamped course.

Winding its way through rolling hills on forest-lined roads, the Etape Caledonia departs Pitlochry early and pitches straight into a couple of short but incisive climbs. Riders soon find themselves skirting the shores of first the picturesque Loch Tummel, then the larger Loch Rannoch.

At the far end of the latter the route rebounds to follow its opposite shore before heading onto the climb of Schiehallion, the day's major test.

Topping out at an altitude of 1,083m, the climb comes in two parts: an extended first section, then a final sting to the summit once you've negotiated a lumpy descent, A timely rest and restocking station is waiting when you get there, with the summit also an ideal spot to take in the views before you plunge back down to tackle the last third of the ride on your way to the finish line back in Pitlochry.

Culture trip and prologue time-trial

Sitting astride the Tummel River in Perthshire, Pitlochry also provides a home to the Event Village. Anyone turning up for the Etape Caledonia on Friday will be able to make a weekend of it, with several events and talks to keep you busy before the Etape itself on Sunday morning.

This year, around-the-world record holder Mark Beaumont will be on hand having recently circumnavigated the globe on two wheels in just 78 days and 14 days, averaging 240 miles a day to easily beat the fictional protagonist of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days

His exploits may make the Etape Caledonia look sedate by comparison, but much of Beaumont's preparation for his record attempt was done in the area, so he's ideally positioned to provide some last-minute pointers. 

'I’m delighted to be returning home to Perthshire to support the Etape Caledonia,' explained Beaumont. 'These are the roads that I first cycled at the age of 12 and this was my training ground for taking on the World in 80 Days. I’m proud to see thousands of riders from all over the world descending on Pitlochry to take on this stunning route.'

Aside from the talks and events, this year also sees the introduction of a 20km time-trial in nearby Aberfeldy on the Saturday before the main event.

A low-intensity challenge ideal for first timers, the time-trial is also a great opportunity for friends and families to take on their own weekend challenge together, not to mention a great prologue for Etape Caledonia riders looking to give their legs a short, sharp workout ahead of the main event on Sunday. 

There’s also the town of Aberfeldy itself to explore – a scenic gem beloved of Queen Victoria, with plenty of pubs, music, and Highland culture to enjoy. 

As a new addition for 2018, more time-pressured riders have the option of receiving their race packs via post. All riders will receive an exclusive cap and those opting for the Premium package will also receive a specially designed jersey.

Roll up prepared

If this your first big cycling event, the months leading up to the Etape Caledonia will be crucial. You'll want to steadily increase your training distances so that you're comfortably with the prospect of riding 81 miles as the event approaches. 

Riders from flatter areas will also benefit from learning to pace themselves up prolonged climbs to handle the hilly terrain on the Etape Caledonia's route. 

Anyone heading to the area itself for some more localised training will be in for a treat. Spring days in the Highlands can be without equal, yet the rugged landscape also breeds weather that can change several times in a single afternoon. 

As a result, even when riding conditions are at their best, local riders will make sure to have arm and leg warmers and a packable jacket tucked away in a jersey pocket to provide vital insurance against changeable conditions. 

If you think you’re prepared for the challenge of the Etape Caledonia, and can round up some friends or teammates, there are discounted group rates for squads of five or more riders.

Just to remind you – the event takes place on Sunday 20th May 2018, and entries are open now. For more information, or to book your place, go to