So, you’ve decided on a cycling ‘staycation’ and you’re thinking that Argyll looks like a good choice – lots of quiet roads, great scenery and close to the islands if you want to explore new shores.
There’s plenty of options for the adventurous but also for those who want a more relaxed cycling experience. Argyll is a deceptively large area, but the location of our hostel will help to ensure that you can tackle the rough and the smooth routes without compromising on stunning landscapes and interesting historical sites in the Heart of Argyll.
To help you get the most from your trip we’ve put together some Q&As which you might find useful for planning your next trip.
What’s so wild about cycling in this part of Argyll?
It’s a given that your main aim is to cycle some great trails but what else can you expect? Well, the glossy brochures will paint a picture of rugged coastlines, sea lochs and nearby islands not forgetting all those hills! But we’ve got more than enough gentle towpaths and forest tracks to swap for the steep climbs for those who prefer a less strenuous workout.
There’s no doubt that Argyll has an unbeatable mix of wilderness, wildlife and invigorating terrain so why not make enjoy our spectacular sunsets and fresh seafood while you’re surrounded by the area’s rich culture and historical sites.
By using the hostel as your base you can explore the Kintyre and Cowal peninsulas, hop over to the islands of Islay, Jura, Gigha and Arran or travel through Kilmartin Glen towards Loch Awe – there’s so much on offer you might need to extend your trip?
Adventure cycling or cycling for leisure & pleasure?
Fire Tower Trails
Quite a few of our hostel guests have stayed with us purely because they wanted to try out their MTB skills on the Fire Tower Trails close by in Lochgilphead. These trails offer adrenalin charged riding with a challenging combination of steep climbs to reach fabulous views from the summit and descents that might rattle your bones!
Depending on your stamina levels and preferred starting point you can decide to stick with a 7km or ramp up to the 19km routes. Highlights include the ‘Twisted Fire Starter’, busting a lung on ‘Murder Hill’ and cooling off in the ‘Water Splash’, before trying to ‘Rock and Roll’ before the finish line. The leaflet link above gives more details on the trails and the technical skill needed to get down safely!
Kilberry Loop If MTB isn’t your favourite way to cycle then maybe the Kilberry Loop might tempt you onto the road? Part of Sustrans NCN78, this route which takes you through thirty miles of scenic single track road though hugging the coast on the Kintyre peninsula between Tarbert and Lochgilphead is not for the faint hearted. The energetic cyclist will be rewarded though - with deserted beaches, hidden coves and almost always, an assortment of curious seals sunbathing on the rocks offshore. We consider this to be a ‘must do’ for our cycling guests but don’t be tempted to use it a speed trial – you’ll probably miss out on the views.
Argyll's Secret Coast
Got the legs for a longer trip? Another firm favourite with guests is the route from the hostel over to Argyll’s ‘Secret Coast’. From the Hostel you’ll follow the main coast road south to the picturesque village of Tarbert. From there you hop onto the CalMac Portavadie ferry, but not before topping up with a breakfast roll or your coffee + cake fix at the Ca'Dora Cafe or Red Door cafe in the village. Disembarking from the ferry, head for Millhouse then onto Melldalloch. Just before reaching Kilfinan you’ll be directly opposite the hostel, don’t forget to give us a wave! Stop off at the Oyster Catcher in Otter Ferry for a small refreshment before continuing via Strachur and the famous Creggans Inn, looping back through Cairdow, Inveraray, Lochgilphead and finally you’re back at the hostel. You’ll be ‘gob smacked’ by the scenery on this loop.
This route makes the best of off road and road cycling. Starting from the Hostel, you start climbing the Kilberry Road but branch off towards Ellary Estate when you reach the small village of Achahoish. Once you pass through the gate onto the private road you might need to dismount for at least one of the two rough track hills but the views from the top are sublime. Crossing the open landscape on the unsealed road, it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll meet anyone else until you rejoin the single track road. Don’t miss the fabulous beach at Kilmory, a great place for a picnic while appreciating great views over to the Isle of Jura. The road continues to Castle Sween (thought to be the oldest castle in Scotland?) and the forestry village of Achnamara before joining up with the Crinan Canal at Bellanoch.
Starting off from the Hostel you can tackle the rough, ‘off road’ section of Sustrans NCN78 into Ardrishaig. Okay, so this way takes longer than the trunk road and maybe it’s got a few hilly sections but the views make it a worthwhile choice. You’ll join the Crinan Canal towpath and follow it to Bellanoch and then the signposts to Tayvallich. This is a lovely little yachting bay with the added attractions of a popular hotel and an even more popular cafe, both with great views. Take the road to Carsaig Bay, less than a mile from the village, to find a more rugged beach but still with its own stunning views across the Sound of Jura. There is also a 6 mile off road track to Crinan but this might prove to be a bit challenging for some.
If a more sedate pace suits you better, why not explore the countryside and spot some amazing wildlife around Moine Mhor (the Great Moss) and the Crinan Canal. This route along the towpath is a real favourite for family groups and is regularly described as ‘the most beautiful shortcut in the world. This level, 9 mile route links the nearby village of Ardrishaig (3 km from the hostel) to the picturesque sea loch at Crinan. The route also lends itself to tackling short sections, e.g. Ardrishaig to Cairnbaan or Dunardry to Bellanoch, to suit the age range and stamina levels of our younger cyclists.
What about a family ride, that includes both forest and seashore?
Although the Faery Isles route isn’t a designated cycle path, it’s only 10km long and there’s a good chance you’ll spot otters, ospreys, red squirrels, beavers, pine martens or herons. Starting at Loch Coille Bharr car park, you’ll cycle past a 16th century deserted village then on past a 14th century mill. When you eventually arrive at Starfish Bay you can hop off the saddle and relax on the picnic bench with views along Loch Sween.
Instead of reversing the outward route you might find time to explore some of the many other paths but having an OS map to hand is strongly recommended (e.g. OS Explorer 358).
Just north of the hostel there are several options for cycling around this resevoir, starting from Lochgilphead or Lochgair depending on the level of difficulty you prefer. The trail consists of a circuit round Loch Glashan with an approach from the west from Kilmichael Glen, which makes for a fairly gentle ride but there are two steeper approaches from the A83 further east.
This is a peaceful forest trail but the tracks can be rough depending on your route – so a bit of padding in the right places is recommended!
Other Forrest Cycle Trails
There really are trails to suit everyone at all fitness levels whether you’re on an MTB or a road bike, there are hundreds of miles to explore. Check out a range of information leaflets Forestry and Land Scotland here .
Have You Tried an E-bike?
I admit, I was a reluctant convert! Surely cycling should be all about getting fit and feeling the burn? Well the truth is, with my e-bike I can cycle further, climb bigger hills and not come home completely exhausted, so for me it’s a great choice. Just a short distance from the hostel the Ardrishaig Bothy is a great initiative by Cycling UK. Just get in touch with the centre leader and you should be able to have a try out or even a loan depending on other bookings. You might even decide that you can tackle the Kilberry Loop after all?
Is Argyll Backpackers Cycle Friendly?
We think so, but we love getting suggestions from our cycling guests about other things we could add.
So far our cycle friendly kit includes -
Sheltered bike storage (purpose built by Roger our 'lock-down' cyclist)
Bike repair stand
Bike wash using rainwater butt
Selection of bike tools
Borrow a bike lock
Bike pick up / drop off for up to 6 bikes using Hostel minibus
We’re always keen to help plan your itinerary, highlight the best routes and of course, recommend great places to refuel en-route. We’ve even planned an alternative route for Lands End to John O’ Groats (LEJOG or JOLEG) which includes the west coast and Argyll, and staying in hostels along the route – watch this space for another Blog…….
It's really easy...
Just get in touch to book your room
Get on your bike (or load it in / on the car / bus / train)
Arrive at Argyll Backpackers ready for some great cycling
PS: don’t forget to pack waterproofs, sun cream & midge repellent, we can’t guarantee what kind of weather you’ll have!