Lismore & Loch Etive Gravel Loop
The route essentials you need to know
Total Distance: 76.2 km, including 12.8 km by ferry
Total Ascent: 800 m
Terrain: A mixture of singletrack, quiet roads, well-graded gravel paths, cycle paths and a short hike-a-bike section
Route Category: Expert
Riding Time: 6 - 7 hrs
Start/Finish: Oban Railway Station
OS Grid Ref: NM 85813 29882
Nearest Parking: Pay & display only, beside the CalMac terminal
Key Facilities on Route: Oban (all facilities), Lismore (shop, cafe, accommodation), Port Appin (shop, food), Loch Creran (food), Connel (shop, accommodation, railway station, food)
OS Landranger Map: 49
The route starts at Oban Railway Station and follows the waterfront to the ferry terminal. From here a ferry leaves twice daily to the Isle of Lismore. Best described as damp and wild, but utterly beautiful, Lismore offers an amazing playground for gravel cycling. Arriving at the ferry terminal in Achnacroish a short wait will give way to all cars on the ferry, and make the climb up the road more enjoyable. The route climbs steeply on a small tarmac road to the ‘main road’, but leaves the B8045 again soon, heading towards Sailean.
In the 19th century lime was quarried on Lismore, and the route soon crosses the site of a quarry with an old lime kiln and an abandoned village, with fantastic views towards the Morvern peninsula on a clear day. After a short climb on a gravel track the route rejoins the B8045, before a well-graded track climbs on the right away from the road and towards open grassland. After passing a house the route continues on a minor road to meet the B8045 at the Lismore Gaelic Heritage Centre, where a museum explores the gaelic heritage of the island and a cafe offers a welcome stop to eat. From here the ferry terminal on the northern end of the island is reached by tarmac.
The passenger ferry to the mainland takes bikes, and runs every hour during most days. Arriving at the Pierhouse in Port Appin the route passes the small village before joining a gravel track along the coast to Clach Thoull, a raised natural rock arch developed along a dipping fault plane in the headland. The Gaelic name means 'hole in the rock'. From here a walking track leads back to the road, before a cycle and walking track on the left heads over the Jubilee Bridge towards the Caledonia Way. Castle Stalker, famous for its appearance in the Monty Python movies, can be seen from the bridge. The route continues on the cycle route past the village of Appin and over Loch Creran towards Barcaldine. A cafe shortly after the bridge is another good rest stop.
Shortly before the village the route follows a forestry track east, circumnavigating a loch and then heading west, before turning south and rejoining the tarmac road from Barcaldine to Bonawe. The next section of the route requires good stamina, riding skills and an adventurous spirit, but continuing on the road south cuts out this section. The route follows the road north before climbing on a gravel track back towards Beinn Lora.
Care is needed to find a small path on the left after ca. 5.5 km, which can be very boggy and unrideable. The track improves gradually, and becomes much better after crossing a river. This is an old coffin road towards Ardchattan on the shores of Loch Etive. Crossing through a farm the route joins the Bonawe road again along the shores of Loch Etive, with Ardchattan close by. Here the ruins of the priory church, now in the care of Historic Scotland, can be seen by accessing them through the garden.
A considerable collection of early stones are on display as well as those still in situ within the ruins. Things get much easier now as the route follows the flat road into North Connel, and then crosses the Falls of Lora on a bridge. The Falls of Lora are a tidal race popular with white water kayakers and divers as well as tourists and photographers. Connel offers an alternative end point, as trains run from here back to the start in Oban or towards Glasgow and Fort William, but the route continues for a short while on the A85, before continuing parallel to the West Highland Line on a gravel track and small road into Oban.
Shortly after Glencruitten the route climbs on small roads and tracks to Battery Hill, where the view from McCaig's Tower, also known as McCaig's Folly, overlooks the town and bay. From here it’s all downhill back to the station.
Travelling through a wide variety of landscapes ranging from the remote wilderness of Lismore to ancient woodlands, this route is a challenging day out on a gravel bike. Markus Stitz