Winter cycling in Argyll with Marcus Nicolson

A bright and cold day at the start of November was the perfect opportunity for a day spent pedaling on the Wild About Argyll trail, writes Marcus Nicolson.

It had been a rainy start to the month of November and I had been frantically checking weather forecast reports to find a good opportunity for a day out cycling on gravel roads, my favoured terrain.

After a consideration of the options I settled on Argyll as my chosen destination for a day-long adventure. I’ve ridden various parts of the route Markus Stitz developed as the Wild About Argyll trail over the last few years and it has always provided the challenge I was looking for.

The route contains a great mix of off-road cycling mixed with quiet roads and plenty of climbing sections along the way.

Getting started

Transport options to join the route are very easy from Glasgow, where I’m based. An early train to catch the ferry over from Gourock to Dunoon had me riding through forest trails before 9am. I’d packed a few snacks and some winter layers to keep me warm if my ride took me into the night. Some good bike lights are also an important consideration for anyone planning some winter riding in Scotland. I’d adapted a version of the Wild About Argyll trail that would see me ride approximately 115km of trails and quiet roads from Dunoon to Helensburgh using the Komoot route planning application.

Cycling from Dunoon

After a smooth sailing over to Dunoon there is a short climb out of the town to join some spectacular forest trails. The lush green surroundings of the forest were a welcome change from the busy city I’d left behind earlier in the morning. I carefully made my way around some Highland Cows who were resting on the trail before reaching Loch Eck which is home to the Benmore botanic gardens. These botanics are well worth an exploration, the Fernery building in particular, and can form the basis of a day-trip in their own right. There is also a cafe here, but be wary of winter opening hours.

Upon leaving Loch Eck there is a short climb over to Ardentinny, where there is a great camping spot by the beach in warm weather conditions. More forest trails lead into some slightly more technical singletrack, mountain bike trail sections leading along to Lochgoilhead. The local shop is a good place to find some provisions for the rest of your ride. I packed an extra sandwich in my bag and continued along my way out of the village and back into the quiet surroundings of the hills.

Stepping it up from Lochgoilhead

The off-road climb on the Duke’s Path out of Lochgoilhead was the hardest bit of riding I encountered on my adventure. It requires quite a lot of pushing with the bike to reach the summit and the large gravel paths on the other side of the peninsula. You may wish to consider taking the road option over to Arrochar, which is a faster option. The views at the top of the Dukes path are stunning and it feels like you are really off the grid winding between loch and hill. A fast descent down the otherside of the hill leads past Mark Cottage, an Mountain Bothy Association, bothy on Loch Long, where I’ve made a stop in the past. 

Upon reaching Arrochar there are several train options back to Glasgow which you may wish to consider depending on your schedule.

Reaching for Helensburgh

I was determined to get to Helensburgh without riding too much in darkness and so pushed on, following the road climb up to Glen Douglas. Quiet gravel roads lead through the glen and past military weapons storage units. Thankfully I didn’t encounter any traffic on my journey and with a nice tailwind was making fast progress towards my finishing point.

Don’t forget to take a left-turn through a forest cut-through, which requires a small river crossing and another small single-track section. This is one of my favourite parts of the route which truly feels off-grid despite being only a few miles from the main road. In the surroundings of heather and hillside I pushed on to join the last hill climb over to Helensburgh. Daylight was fading fast as I made my way over the hill and it was quite satisfying to look across the Clyde Estuary to see the bright lights of Gourock where I had begun my ride that morning.

Why cycle around Argyll?

Argyll has plenty to offer the adventure cyclist, regardless of your level of experience. With plenty of transport options it is possible to adapt a route to meet your own expectations. Whether it is for one big day out, a weekend adventure or just for a few hours, the well-travelled Wild About Argyll route is a great starting point to start your planning! Feel free to follow the Komoot link provided above or adapt it again to a length and challenge that suits you. I’ll be back out pedaling in Argyll very soon indeed and look forward to sharing more of my adventures here!

Route summary

  • Distance: 116km
  • Ride Time: 8hrs 30mins
  • Elevation: 2100m

Marcus Nicolson is a regular contributor to the cycling journal and posts about his riding on his IG account.