• Paul Swannell

Bike-Hike Adventures in Glen Garry

Exploring the forest trails & accessing the mountains, on foot and by bike

Inchlaggan is situated on the north shore at the western end of Loch Garry. We are blessed with amazing views to the south; across the loch, the forest, and the mountains that rise beyond. The mountains separate Glen Garry from Glen Arkaig and Loch Lochy to the south and east, and there are 8 or 9 peaks in the view from the house and cabin.

Most of them are Corbetts (between 2,500ft and 3,000ft), and several of them narrowly miss Munro status - such as the prominent Ben Tee (2,966ft) which can be seen from miles around.

I’ve been looking at these mountains most days for the last 2 years. The earliest snow turns them grey in late October; they are white for most of the winter; and snow lingers on the north-facing flanks through to May. The early evening light never fails to amaze us, turning the mountains orange and gold as the sun sets.

The forestry area can be seen between the loch and the line of mountains beyond

The mountains look tantalisingly close as they fill the horizon with their bulk but, in reality, they are all several miles away as the crow flies - and Loch Garry itself is between us and them. Reaching these peaks takes some effort! Last winter I climbed Ben Tee, which is probably the most accessible and involves driving east to the forestry car park at White Bridge, with a 9-mile round-trip hike to the top. The year before I also climbed Ben Tee’s neighbour Meall a’ Choire Ghlais by first driving 6miles through the forest tracks to get closer - which is when I discovered that motor vehicles are not permitted in the forest, and I had to promise a Forestry Commission ranger that I wouldn’t repeat the crime.

This Spring I have found a solution which means I can now get much nearer to most of the peaks, quickly and legally, leaving the last few miles (and most of the ascent) to complete on foot. I bought an e-MTB (electric mountain bike), which has opened up a new world of adventure. There is a significant network of forestry tracks throughout Glen Garry, to the north and south, and these are open to the public to use on foot or by bike. They are all made of stone and gravel, and most are in exceptional condition. They are also entirely empty, so this is the ultimate in traffic-free cycling terrain. I haven’t measured the network of tracks, but in Glen Garry alone there are at least 60miles of trails and it wouldn't surprise me if there were more than 100miles. Plus, in recent years, various hydro-electric projects have added many more miles of new gravel tracks, winding their way further into the hills to give access to intake weirs.

Loch Garry, though 7 miles long, can be crossed using the bridge at its narrowest point at Tornacarry, and another bridge crosses the River Garry at Poulary: both crossings lead directly into the network of tracks south of the loch. Using the e-MTB and the network of trails, I’m now able to get much closer to the mountains that dominate our view to the south.

Sgurr Choinnich - ‘The Mossy Peak’

Usually approached on foot from Glen Arkaig, Sgurr Choinnich’s steep northern face marks the western end of our view. Although ‘only’ 2,457ft high, its relative isolation makes it prominent in the skyline. From a satellite image I spotted a new hydro track that reaches to within a mile or so of the summit, so in late March I headed out on my bike. Taking the Poulary bridge over to the forestry trails, I found my way to the start of the hydro track - at this point Sgurr Choinnich loomed large ahead of me, still holding a decent amount of snow on its northern cliffs.

Sgurr Choinnich
The hydro track can be seen, beyond the shed, heading towards Sgurr Choinnich

The hydro track took me to the foot of the corrie, and in total I had cycled 9miles from home and gained a useful 800ft of elevation. This left me with about 1.5miles to walk to the summit but, with 1,300ft of further ascent, it was steep and the pathless climb was tough going.

Towards the top of the eastern ridge I picked up a line of steel posts that used to support a fence running across the very top of Sgurr Choinnich - I’m told it used to keep Glen Arkaig sheep away from the deer forests of Glen Garry. Though the fence is long gone, the fence posts remain and would provide useful guidance in poor visibility. But on this day the weather was clear, albeit with a bitterly cold wind blowing from the north.

Summit cairn on Sgurr Choinnich
Summit cairn on Sgurr Choinnich

My summit photo shows the rime ice clinging to the cairn, behind which I sheltered from the wind for 20minutes before heading back down. From the top I could clearly see Inchlaggan down in the glen - which was no surprise given we can clearly see Sgurr Choinnich from home!

The view north from Sgurr Choinnich
The view north from Sgurr Choinnich

Back at the bike, though the majority of the miles home lay ahead of me, I knew the journey would be quick, easy, and comfortable; a far more appealing prospect than having to walk 9miles back to the house. 42minutes later I was sitting on the deck looking back at the mountain, and it was only lunchtime. On this trip the only other person I saw was a man walking two dogs near the Poulary bridge.

Meall Coire nan Saobhaidh - ‘Rounded Peak of the Fox Den Corrie’

Meall Coire nan Saobhaidh (‘MCnS’) sits pretty much in the middle of our view and, befitting a ‘Meall’, presents a rounded ridge outline against the sky. It stands 2,709ft above sea level.

Meall Coire nan Saobhaidh
Meall Coire nan Saobhaidh - as seen from home at Inchlaggan

Another new hydro track reaches to within a few miles of MCnS, but I judged that an older forest track would be the better bet as, though it reaches no nearer, it ends where a stalker’s path begins: this path promising to take me to within 1km of the peak. In mid-April I set off, crossing the Tornacarry bridge across the loch. After passing the impressive ‘Halcyon Manor’ mansion currently under construction, a wide gravel track heads straight over to Greenfield and the forestry tracks beyond. A total of 8miles brought me to the end of the chosen track, and the beginning of a fairly old and faint ‘ATV’ track heading up into the hills. There is active logging going on in this area currently, so I saw a handful of forestry workers and stopped to admire the ruthless efficiency of their tree harvesting machines. These were the only people I saw that day, and I had the whole of the surrounding moors and mountains to myself.

Once again, I had gained 800ft since leaving home, leaving me another 2,200ft of ascent given the up and down nature of the route up to MCnS. The walk was 3.5miles in each direction, crossing two minor peaks en route to the top. The ATV track petered out after a mile, and the stalker’s path beyond was extremely sporadic thereafter. For most of the walk I ended up looking out for a number of landmarks I knew the path was supposed to pass, until I got to the final steep and pathless ascent of MCnS itself.

Meall Coire nan Saobhaidh
Meall Coire nan Saobhaidh - the approach on foot

A small cairn marks the summit of MCnS, which is a broad and grassy plateau with scattered rocks. The fine weather and gentle breeze meant I spent 30mins at the top taking in the view. Incidentally, although the mobile signal in the glen is fairly sketchy, all of the peaks around here receive a decent 4G signal - so I am always able to update Bianca with my progress, and send photos via WhatsApp.

I headed back the way I came, finding a few more of the missing sections of path in reverse, with the total walk-time being 4hrs. Back on the bike, the forest tracks home included some excellent long descents which, combined with several sections of extremely smooth surface, meant my journey home was completed in no time at all.

Nearly home - Loch Garry can be seen beyond the trees

In 2020 I completed a similar bike-hike trip to a minor peak (Glas Bheinn - ‘The Grey Hill’), primarily because it is fairly close to the end of another of the new hydro tracks. Back then, however, I used my 20yr-old Marin hybrid bike which has no suspension, fairly skinny wheels, and no electric assistance. Besides the fact that it was very hard work on the ascent, the wheels and lack of suspension meant my speeds downhill were limited by the fear of shaking the bike to pieces.

 Typical Glen Garry forest track, with Ben Tee beyond
Typical Glen Garry forest track, with Ben Tee beyond

My new Cube Stereo e-MTB makes light work of the same terrain and its big wheels and full suspension allow me to glide over the rough surfaces. I still worry that an e-bike is cheating, but I remind myself that the bike amplifies my effort rather than totally replacing it. I also know that it means that I can go further, faster, and more often than I would otherwise do purely under my own steam.

We are very lucky to have such an extensive network of trails in Glen Garry, and there are many, many more miles of tracks in the glens to our immediate west and in the neighbouring Great Glen. If you are interested in staying at Wildwood Cabin, and want to explore the traffic-free trails by bike, I’ll be more than happy to offer advice and suggestions, or to join you for a ride. We have secure bike storage if you want to bring your own bikes, or you can hire bikes from Girvans in Fort Augustus.

The view from one of the trails nearest to Inchlaggan, on the north side of Loch Garry
The view from one of the trails nearest to Inchlaggan, on the north side of Loch Garry

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