Crossing the Coulin Pass by bike

There are places in the Highlands which today seem to have no raison d’etre – places like Achnasheen and Achnashellach for instance. Achnasheen has a tourist shop and just about enough houses to qualify as a village. Achnashellach is little more than a mark on the map. Both are stops on the railway line to Kyle of Lochalsh which a long time ago gave them an economic relevance. Modern walkers and cyclists however are grateful for their continued existence as it gives them access to the hills in the area.

The Ledgowan Lodge is a traditional country house hotel which caters for lovers of the great outdoors. Its campsite and bunkhouse provide inexpensive accommodation for anyone planning to tackle the Fannichs or the Torridon mountains.

For those with a mountain bike and a sense of adventure, there’s an attractive circular route that takes you right out into the wilderness; but it helps to do it the right way round. On leaving the hotel, turn left on to the road towards Achnasheen about a mile away. The roads around here, even the main ones, are relatively quiet though some motor cyclists are known to use them to find out just how powerful their machines actually are!

At the junction, follow the signs for Kinlochewe, turning left on to the A832. This route takes you along beside Loch a’Chroisg. This stretch is quite boring; the loch isn’t especially attractive. But once you get beyond it, you find you find yourself freewheeling for what seems like ages down through Glen Docherty, the open gorge that leads to Loch Maree. It’s the main reason for tackling the circuit in this direction.

Kinlochewe itself lies beside the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve. Exploration of this is another adventure, especially the short, steep woodland trail that rises up through the pine woods, opening out to offer fine views Loch Maree, Slioch and other mountains of the area, some of the most dramatic scenery in the British Isles. Instead, we’re going to turn at the junction opposite the Free Kirk and head up the road that leads towards Glen Torridon.

About three miles down this road, there’s the charming Loch Clair. A track leads off to the left skirting the edge of the loch, crossing a bridge over the river. At this point, the track is of good quality since it’s the road in to Coulin Lodge and the estate. But once you get beyond that and ride up to Loch Coulin, it starts to become rougher.

From that point, it’s a steady uphill pull with the path becoming rutted, a stalkers’ road carved for Land Rovers. However, it’s worth making regular stops because the views all round are magnificent. You look back towards Beinn Eighe itself and at the top of the Coulin Pass you can see Fuar Tholl, Sgorr Ruadh and Beinn Liath Mhor.

The route down to Achnashellach is a well-maintained forest road. There has been a lot of clearance of the woods in the past year or so which means you get good open vistas down Strath Carron and across to Loch Dughaill. It’s an easy ride down to Achnashellach Station; there aren’t many trains so crossing the line isn’t a risky business.

From there, it’s again downhill to the main road back towards Achnasheen. At the end of a day’s cycling, this is an easy last stretch. Contrast that with what would have happened going in the opposite direction. The final leg would have been a long hard slog up several miles of the glen which feels in your legs as though they will never end.

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David Calder has been a broadcast journalist for over 30 years. Before moving to the Caledonian Mercury, he worked for the BBC (national and regional) as well as parts of ITV and the World Service. He worked for prestigious programmes such as The Money Programme, You & Yours, Today and The World at One. He spent two years making mini-documentaries for Radio 5 Live and was a regular correspondent for CBC (Radio Canada). He was a regular reporter on various news and current affairs programmes on BBC Scotland as well as producing or presenting (sometimes both) science, legal affairs and arts programmes. As well as his contributions to the Caledonian Mercury, he is also a freelance producer in Scotland for the satellite channel, Al Jazeera.