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Cyclist Best of British: No. 8 Cairngorms

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29 Jul 2020
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Words: Pete Muir Photography: George Marshall

Here’s something to try when you’re bored at home. Open Google Maps on your laptop and zoom out until the whole of Britain fills the screen. Then click on the little yellow man in the bottom corner to turn on Street View.

All of England, Wales, Ireland and southern Scotland will turn blue as the roads light up, but look up at the northeast of Scotland and you’ll see a patch of green that remains virtually untouched. This is the Cairngorms.

‘Remote’ is a good word to describe the Cairngorms. A mountainous region tucked between Dundee and Inverness, it is a wild and rugged place with miles of barren emptiness, which changes mood depending on the weather.

Come here on a sunny day and its soft, rolling hills and patches of heather are altogether welcoming. Come on a rainy day and it can be the most bleak, foreboding place on Earth. Either way, it makes for an atmospheric venue to ride a bike.

As Google Maps will attest, there are relatively few roads in what is Britain’s biggest national park (twice the size of the Lake District). As such, the choice of road riding routes is not vast, and to create a loop can mean a big day in the saddle, but the effort will be worth it.

Whichever direction you head in, you’re certain to come across some serious climbs. The Cairngorms is home to Britain’s highest pass, the Cairnwell Pass (670m), which offers an 8km climb with a max gradient of 12%.

It ends at Glenshee, one of three ski resorts in the area, all of which come with their own testing climbs. The climb to Lecht ski resort is 4.2km with a max gradient of 20%, and the climb to Cairngorm Mountain ski resort is 5.4km with a max gradient of 12%.

It’s not all leg-shredding climbs and views across wind-swept moors, however. For history buffs, the Cairngorms is dotted with castles and grand houses, including Braemar Castle, Glamis Castle, Blair Castle and, of course, the Queen’s own Highland hideaway, Balmoral.

For nature lovers, there’s always the chance of catching a glimpse of red squirrels or golden eagles, and wherever you go, you’ll never be too far from a decent wedge of cake and a cuppa.

According to local rider and komoot pioneer Neil Henderson, ‘The Mountain Cafe in Aviemore is a fantastic stop. It’s so good they’ve even launched their own cookbook. The cakes are big, the lunches are amazing and it’s usual to have to wait a little while for a table. If you’re passing through on the bike it’s well worth a stop.’

There are few places in the UK that can still genuinely be called wild. The Cairngorms is one of them. It’s a big, beautiful, challenging place to ride a road bike, and if you’re up for a real adventure, then you might want to consider bringing your gravel bike as well.

Top tip

‘You can’t come to Scotland without visiting The Whisky Castle in Tomintoul,’ says Henderson. ‘They have more than 600 different single malts and you may get to sample a few if you’re nice. Just make sure you’ve got some space in a bike bag to take a bottle away with you.’

• If you are new to komoot, it is offering a free regional bundle (worth £8.99). Simply follow this link to komoot and create your free account today. Alternatively, head to komoot and enter the voucher code BESTOFBRITISH. Valid until 31.12.2020

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