Pete Creech moved to Argyll 15 years ago. Last year, along with his wife Sue, he started the Crown House B&B in Ford. He is the coordinator at Blarbuie Woodlands, a mental health charity/social enterprise in Lochgilphead, and also finds time for some maintenance at Kilmartin Museum, the occasional roofing job and to volunteer for the Scottish Beaver Trial. A keen cyclist, walker, coastal rower, photographer and wildlife enthusiast he can usually be found attached to a bicycle.
Inverliever Forest is the oldest public forest in Scotland and was acquired by HM Officer for Woods in 1907. The village of Dalavich, where this ride starts, was built in the 1950s to house forestry workers. There is a shop and café in the village, which still retains something of a frontier feel, and the café is worth a visit, but check the opening times! Access to Dalavich is via single track road from Ford, 10 miles to the south, or Kilchrenan, 15 miles to the north.
The forest covers over 12,000 hectares and when we explored the trails we saw no-one all day. We parked at Barnaline, just north of the village and the site of some fine remnant oak woodland. From here we followed a series of tracks and trails to form a 15-mile route through the forest. This is not a waymarked route and the whole idea of the ride was to create our own circuit.
Inverliever is a maze of forestry roads, tracks, quad trails and paths. It is very easy to get lost. A map is a must to complement any form of satellite technology you might use, even if only to give you a wider perspective. That said, if you enjoy exploring on your own terms the forest offers limitless opportunities.
We climbed away from the car park on a forestry trail that ascended steadily and then ascended some more. The hard work is definitely at the start of this ride and you might be grateful for the bun you’ve just eaten at the village café! On the way we passed a Forestry Commission sign indicating we were at a spot where a mobile phone signal could be received. This serves to emphasise that elsewhere there is no signal, so best not to rely entirely on technology.
The track eventually levelled off and we turned onto a much narrower path that led towards Loch Avich. This is where a few technical skills are called for, as there are short, steep and muddy sections that demand concentration, as does the ford if you don’t fancy wet feet. The plus side is finding yourself cycling alongside Loch Avich through some stunning native woodland.
At this time of year fungi of many varieties can be seen growing on the trees and alongside the trail. They are just one aspect of the life that abounds in these woodlands. Keep an eye, or an ear, out for red deer, as this is the time of the annual rut and the stags are loud! Red squirrels and pine marten live here and you may even be lucky enough to see an otter along the lochside.
The loch narrowed as we descended and the path continued alongside the River Avich that rushes towards its outfall into Loch Awe. We took a turn here for a few kilometres along one of the Forestry Commission’s timber trails. These help take some of the heavier traffic off our single track roads. Easy riding on a good surface, but keep a sharp lookout for some very large lorries.
Our return took us alongside Loch Awe and another set of gorgeous views before returning on a short stretch of road to our start point.
Autumn is a great time to tackle forest routes, the colours are fantastic and as I write this the sun has been shining for a week and the midge season is over. What more of a reason to get out there do you need?
From a practical point of view a map is an essential (OS Explorer 358), as is letting someone know when to expect you back, especially if you are cycling on your own away from waymarked trails. A basic first aid kit is not a bad idea either