A Scottish MTB right of passage - Torridon
"Of all the small nations on earth, perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to man kind". - Winston Churchill
For a small nation, Scotland, so often the butt of many a nationalistic joke, has presented the world with many great things. The first colour photographs were invented by James Clerk Maxwell. Flushing toilets and even the Bank of England was the brain child of a Scotsmen. Yet there was one invention from Kirkpatrick Macmillan, that in our minds, trumps them all: The Bicycle.
Scotland, lying at 56.4907° N, 4.2026° W, has also been blessed by nature. It is this very nature that we see personified in so many of the great Scotsmen and Women - tough, unforgiving and often stern of mood - yet when they smile it can be a thing of marvel.
The Highlands, so often immortalised in romance through poetry are a playground for those that seek adventure. It is true that to find real, open space in Britain you must venture North.
With a sparse population and limited (but what exists is adaptable and vibrant) economic opportunity, the Highlands have retained their character and charm for centuries, and the relative remoteness of Torridon ensures that it will remain this way for many year.
The sea lochs of Torridon & Shieldaig and inland to Kinlochewe form the topography that Torridon is based around. For the time-served Munro-bagger through to the weekend hill walker, the Torridon peaks offer some of the most glorious mountaineering experiences in Scotland.
There are three great mountain ranges to the north of Glen Torridon: Beinn Alligin, Liathach and Beinn Eighe. Each contains two Munros (peaks over 3000 feet) giving six in total to the north of the glen. To the south lie three further Munros, deep within the Coulin forest. This is the terrain that walkers have sought for generations, but with Scotland's fantastic access laws, the chance to ride a mountain bike in this area is one to be jumped at. It is not a new, undiscovered location, nor is it the most extreme - but it is some of the best you'll find in Europe.
When photographer and rider Keith Bremner, an Inverness local, told us that he'd love to submit an article based around Torridon , well, we couldn't say no. He teamed up with Descent-World sponsored rider Kenta Gallagher to explore terrain that many have enjoyed, yet that many haven't discovered yet.
The highlands are full of Bothies. These bothies are the mountain bikers ultimate friend - warmth, shelter and a place to share tales. Coire Fionnaraich is one of the finest Bothys in the country....Kenta stops to enjoy a tranquil view, a million miles away from the intensity of World Cup DH.
Locharns, flowing terrain, loose rocks. This is place for the senses to come alive. The ride takes you through some of the best terrain the Scotland can offer - and it's only 90 minutes past Fort William. To reach Torridon is easy enough : Take the A832 to Kinlochewe - Once there, turn left towards Shieldaig on the A896. Follow this road for approximately 6 miles, and look for the car park off the single track road on your right hand side. It gets busy-ish during summer (when taking in account of it's remoteness) but one your'e clear of the car park and into the terrain as shown, then Torridon is your Oyster.
The total elevation of the loop we did was around 850 metres - not huge, but not small by any means and this again helps you earn your "right of passage". Kenta, raised in Inverness had never been to Torridon before. He might be a world cup DH rider these days, but his days as a XC whippet held him in good stead on some of the more technical and prolonged climbs.
Natural features did indeed keep Kenta busy and full of his usual mischief.....The rutting deer must have thought Kenta's whooping was an approaching stag!
While most of the riding in Torridon is pretty flowing, there is still reason to be on your guard. With just under 30 miles of riding on the "classic circuit", you can sharp get yourself into a spot of bother. The terrain is not really the type of train you'd enter "attack" mode in, but when you bring a racer to trails....they're still a racer.
Rock slabs - one of the many reasons that Torridon picked up its cult appeal amongst the early pioneers who rode here. In summer, don't be shocked to see fellow riders on trail. You'll be able to hear many tales being recited in the various pubs in the area - from the Torridon Inn to the famed Apple Cross Inn, for which the drive over Bealach na ba is well worth while.
Many are put off from coming to Torridon by the remoteness of the location, and the relative distance from the rest of the UK. It can be argued that for your average mountain bike rider, an Easy Jet flight to Geneva, followed by a week of Alpine riding is more accessible. This is what makes Torridon unique and a true Scottish right of passage; you must be prepared to put in the hard yards. The rewards are not only fantastic riding, but a changed perspective on what Scotland can offer.
A huge shoutout to our friends at the Swannay Brewery - purveyors of some pretty damn nice beer and making articles like this happen. Head over to their website to learn a little more about what makes them tick. Swannay Brewery website.