Exploring Scotland, a 320-mile cycling

by | Jun 8, 2017 | International

Hui Li, an international student from China and current School of Business student takes us on his 320-mile cycling around part of Scotland, starting and finishing in Dundee.

Scotland is a very beautiful place, not as noisy as London, not as romantic and passionate as Paris! But Scotland will give you a strong feeling of history and expose you to beautiful scenery, landscapes and nature. Late last year, I took on the adventure of cycling around the North East of Scotland, starting and finishing in Dundee.

I suggest before you start a trip like this, that you would better to have some experience. When in China, I used to ride from Chongqing to Tibet (1600 miles, 2500 km) with a friend in China, riding at 3500-4000 meters above sea level for most of the time, with the highest elevation being close to 5000 meters. So I have quite a lot of experience. This time I also chose to ride alone.

My top tip to prepare for cycling around Scotland is to ride to Dundee Law Hill once or twice per day, for three months. If you can get from the bottom to the top in 15 minutes then I think you can begin this long trip!

Before I started my adventure, I wanted to make sure that I was fully prepared and I had all the necessary equipment.

  1. A mountain bike – I recommend using a mountain bike with wider tyres rather than a road bike. Cycling round Scotland takes you on a huge variety of road surfaces, including many dirt roads where a normal road bike is not up to the task.
  2. A bright light – Because I started in December, at that time of year in Scotland you only get 6 or 7 hours of good daylight. I was often riding in the dark so a good light was essential. It will be directly related to your safety, so, go to buy a bright and durable light and some bright reflective clothing.
  3. Bike repair tools – I would recommend carrying some basic tools and puncture repair kits, including a pry bar, an inner tube, tyre repair tools, screwdriver, etc.
  4. All other supplies – cycle computer, kettle, camel bag, helmet, sport-wear, energy food, etc. The role of cycle computer is to see your current speed and how far you have been riding. It will help increase your self-confidence. The frame of my bike was small so I was limited to what I could carry. It is worth mentioning that waterproof and breathable clothes in Scotland will bring unexpected benefits.

At 08:00 on December 26, 2016, I departed from Dundee. I had been informed that Scotland doesn’t go to work on Christmas day so I may not find a place to eat and stay, so I chose to leave after Christmas.

My first location was Arbroath and you can get all the way there from Dundee on bike tracks. The scenery is so beautiful that you can watch the sunrise out across the sea. On the way, I also passed Claypotts Castle, which you can viewif you’re interested in castles.

Arbroath has a harbour/port. There may be a lot of boats coming and going in the busier summer season. In winter, especially over the Christmas period when I went, all the boats were sitting in the harbour. Based in the center of Arbroath is Arbroath Abbey, which is worth visiting because it allows visitors to enter the cemetery and stand with the great men of history. It provides an opportunity to experience the major history of this country.

After lunch, I had to speed up the trip from Arbroath to Aberdeen. In fact, it was 19 miles (31 km) from Dundee to Arbroath, but there was still 59 miles (95 kilometres) from Arbroath to Aberdeen, and in the afternoon I had to cross some small hills.

Therefore, if you feel the time is not abundant, please stay in Arbroath for a shorter time. When I arrived in Aberdeen, it was about half-past five in the evening. In winter, it gets dark from 16:00 and the temperature drop very quickly. I would recommend riding as little as you can in the dark. That night I stayed in a Scottish Youth Hostel (SYHA), in Aberdeen. The price was £40 per night. The good thing about living here was meeting some interesting people. We all stayed in a room and chatted, talking about some funny things. Unfortunately, the heating was really not good and still felt a bit cold at night. In the Youth Hostels, everyone shares a room. Some people snored, some people talked in their sleep, some people grind their teeth, and I didn’t sleep well. So I did not choose youth hostels for the next few days.

After breakfast in the morning on 27th, I started off to Elgin. Following the Google maps ride route, riding in the bike lane, you can arrive Elgin. It was a total of 95 miles (153km) and this day included some snow and ice on the road, so I had to be extra careful.

Elgin is a small town (although technically a city) situated in the very North East, with a north latitude of 57.7 degrees. The architecture in Elgin is different from that of the other cities in Scotland such as Dundee or Aberdeen. As darkness falls, with the snow, the dim lights of the whole place will make you feel like you’re in a fairytale. In this case, my dinner was chosen at an Indian restaurant with a fairy tale Name: “Blue Moon” whose Curry was really unique. I stayed in the Elgin Hotel and they provided a traditional Scottish breakfast. I did not eat blood sausage (black pudding) which smelled too heavy for me.

I was now about halfway through my journey. I had traveled from the Dundee which is in the south to the Elgin which is in the north. Because it was winter, the climate was very bad in the north of Scotland. For safety’s sake, I didn’t go deeper into the Northwest. If you choose to ride in the summer, maybe you can have a try. On the 28th Dec, early morning, I began to ride from Elgin to my next stop in Newtonmore, as planned. Unfortunately, the roads were in bad condition. When I crossed the central forest, the snow from the previous days had turned into water, the muddy road with water was very difficult to ride.

And because this road was not a highway, but the internal path of forests, there was no one around. When you come here, please bring plenty of food and water and keep your cell phone working properly. The road would pass by a small snow mountain, it added a little different scenery for the journey. The bad road made me arrive at Aviemore at 16:30. By this time it was beginning to get very dark. Aviemore was holding a festival like Oktoberfest, where many people were drinking, chatting and singing in makeshift tents, and the whole town was filled with a sense of joy. However, I decided to move on to Newtonmore. If I didn’t reach Newtonmore that night, I wouldn’t be able to get back to Dundee the next day.

I soon learned that this was a very bad decision. In the past two days, I could ride with the moonlight, but this road to Newtonmore lay in a forest, surrounded by tall trees which blocked the moonlight. If there were no lights, it was really out of reach. It was so quiet around there that I could only hear the sound of my bike.

The feeling of fear made my adrenaline rush out. I had no choice but to go forward. My average speed was about 35km per hour on that road. When I arrived Newtonmore, it was almost 19:00. I was exhausted. Once again, please, consider traveling around Scotland in the summer unless you really want to see the snow covered landscapes because summer is longer during the day and you get daylight until 22:00 and even 23:00 in the peak of summer.

The Newtonmore locals were very hospitable. When they saw me riding here, they took out the map and told me the difficulties I might face the next day. The local people recommended a restaurant to me, but I didn’t know the way, so a friendly local person rode me there. By the way, half of the guests in the restaurant were Chinese. Probably because of a large number of Chinese people, the chef’s cooking added some Chinese elements which the start courses and main courses were all to my taste. But I’m sorry, I can’t remember the name of that restaurant, but if you want to try, when you get to Newtonmore, you can ask the locals for the most delicious restaurant, and they’ll take you there.

On the morning of the 29th Dec, I got up late. I was too tired from the day before. The alarm clock didn’t wake me up. It was a lazy departure from Newtonmore at 10:00. It was on the edge of the west highland, with a continuous snow mountain on the road, and the wind was so strong that I could not open the eyes!

Similarly, sparsely populated, but at the same time very beautiful. At 14:00 in the afternoon, I arrived at Pitlochry (42 miles, 68km). I believe that most people have been to Pitlochry where the architecture style is very close to Dundee. You can go to the local stores to buy some souvenirs for friends, not expensive, but exquisite. You can visit the salmon steps, and Ben-Vracky walks. Last time I went to Pitlochry, I got there with classmates by bus and visited the “soldier’s leap” at nearby Killiecrankie. If you are interested in it, you can find the story about it in Google.

At that time I calculated, if I wanted to return to Dundee, it would be about 19:00 or 20:00. As a result of the day before, I didn’t want to ride in the night anymore, so I stayed in town for the whole afternoon and enjoyed my time there.

On the morning of 30th, slowly, I returned to Dundee. The last day was only 44 miles (71km). I found it to be very relaxing.

I had done about 320 miles (510km) in total. On the whole, it was a very happy experience to meet some new friends, see some of the sights and the beautiful scenery.

I believe that life is wonderful because we cannot predict exactly what will happen tomorrow.

The world is so big, I want to see it all!