The concept of a long distance, back country mountain bike trail from the centre of Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, making its way 368 miles north on a non technical, totally ride-able, connected network of backcountry trails was born out of frustration.
The frustration stemmed from the lack of long distance trails in Scotland that allowed the rider to actually ride the trails in their entirety. It is easy to find long distance trails in Scotland, such as the Scotland’s longest ‘The Highland 500’ but often these trails are connected by long busy road sections, require difficult portages of your bike, use popular walkers trails generating the potential for conflict or include highly technical descents which are particularly bad if you are packing a loaded bike.
An Tura Mor is Scottish gaelic and translates into English as ‘The Long Journey’ The name ideally describes this trail as it works its way 368 miles more or less directly north from Glasgow on a rideable, non technical, continuous backcountry trail that in total has 66.13% of its route on off-road track and 31.36% on back-country, quiet single track roads, with only 2.13% on actual dual track road shared with motor vehicles.
An Turas Mor joins together existing backcountry tracks and uses national cycle routes, forest and hill tracks, old drovers trails, hunting estate tracks, hydro scheme tracks, 18th Century Military roads, back-country single track roads and a small sections of the West Highland Way and Rob Roy Trails. The route is long and strenuous, requiring endurance and fitness to cope with over 87573 feet of ascent and descent. There are no technical riding challenges or river fordings on the route*, but navigation, bike maintainance, bike repair and good mountain skills are absolutely are essential for a safe enjoyable ride. For have no doubt undertaking the trail is a serious undertaking and should not be taken lightly.
The An Turas Mor Trail for some serious hard core mountain bikers on learning that the trail is composed mainly of gravel tracks will ask the question: ‘where is the challenge in that?’ For those seeking the technical thrill of fast downhill single track this route is not for you. What off-road single track there is and there is some, infact 10.54% of the trail is made up of off-road often muddy and rocky single track, is really non technical single track. The main riding challenge is: there are some steep, long off road climbs that only the very fittest will be able to ride – The Corrieyarrick Pass being particularly hard to ride up from the south.
The joy of this route is its ride-ability and the distance you can therefore cover through remote landscape mostly away from motor vehicles. In my opinion this trail is what the cross country mountain bike was exactly designed for. Simply you can cruise the An Turas Mor Trail on these tracks and not worry too much about motor traffic. The question you will be asking as you ride is why some of these tracks were built in the first place? and then perhaps give thanks to whoever it was and for whatever reason it was that they were built in the first place. Their existence allows a tremendous opportunity to travel through amazingly beautiful landscape on a bicycle, in a sustainable, self-contained way, to get close to nature and experience wild Scotland like never before.
In my mind it’s not just the beauty of the remote wild landscape you ride through on this long ride, or the quality of the riding it was also about what else you see and the people you meet on the way – how people have lived here in theses remote places for thousands of years and that their stories are often etched into the landscape. For me this new long distance continuous mountain bike journey is the finest long distance trail of its kind in the country and deserves to be ridden.
Th e trail has been researched and is promoted by the Obscura Mondo Cycle Club. The club members are riders who live, work and play in the Scottish Highlands and wish to promote better informed access to sustainable trails in the mountains
The club have published a guidebook and GPX route files found via the trail website on www.anturasmor.co.uk
*small fording of stream above Fort Augustus and crossing of Cashel Dhu ford in Sutherland (which can be bypassed by bridge if river in spate)