Long before tyres were invented, Romans, Highland Drovers and Border Reivers made their journeys across Scotland and created a unique network of gravel paths to aid their efforts. Paired with the great outdoor access and the hospitality that Scotland offers, and it’s easy to understand why gravel riding is becoming so popular north of the border.
In fact, the Highland Perthshire Gravel Trails Project recently launched a unique network of day rides specifically plotted for gravel bikes, and there are similar projects in development in Aberfoyle, Argyll, and Eastern Perthshire.
From easy and enjoyable gravel highways to more technically challenging singletrack, urban areas to remote islands, and Lowland coastlines to Highland mountains, there is a real variety when it comes to all-road terrain. The Scottish gravel routes below offer something for everyone, and can easily be extended or shortened, or be combined to multi-day Scottish bikepacking adventures.
1. Dunkeld Hermitage Loop
Short and sweet, and most possibly the best introduction to gravel riding in Scotland, the Dunkeld Hermitage Loop is the shortest and easiest route of the Perthshire Gravel Trails. It starts and finishes in the picturesque town of Dunkeld, which also has an abundance of mountain bike trails tucked away in the forests.
The loop takes you through the Hermitage, under giant Douglas firs, amongst the tallest trees in the UK. With a bit of luck, you can see the salmon leaping in the Black Linn falls before the Inchewan Path takes you into Birnam, with a visit to one of Scotland’s oldest trees, the Birnam Oak.
2. Lismore Gravel Loop
There’s something very magical about this small island, tucked in between Scotland’s 'seafood capital' Oban and Port Appin – which is home to one of the finest seafood restaurants you can find in Scotland. In between lies a route that gives you a good idea why the Scottish islands are such a popular place to ride gravel bikes.
In the 19th century, lime was quarried on Lismore, and after the ferry ride from Oban, the route 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. There is also a superb cafe on the island, part of the Lismore Gaelic Heritage Centre, where a museum explores the Gaelic heritage of the island.
To make this a proper day out, a passenger ferry takes you to Port Appin and back, to the Pierhouse Hotel, a must for seafood lovers. Bikes travel for free on both ferries, but make sure to check the timetable for the Calmac ferries from Oban to the island, as the service only runs twice a day.
3. Fearnoch Loop
Scotland’s West Highland Line, which stops in the village of Taynuilt, will soon offer space for up to 20 bikes with a special bike carriage, and this loop is a great opportunity to make the most of that. Including the stunning Glen Lonan and mystic Fearnoch Forest, which offers a great network of good cycling routes to explore even further, this gravel extravaganza is also a great detour on the Caledonia Way and Wild About Argyll Trail, two popular bikepacking routes.
Although Scotland’s west can be rather wet at times, this route is enjoyable even on the dreichest of days, with the resident herd of hairy coos posing for the perfect Scottish picture while you are out in the wild.
4. Tour of Gravelfoyle
There’s a small town north of Scotland’s biggest city Glasgow that annually hosts the Dukes Weekender: the first gravel enduro in the UK. Aberfoyle is nicknamed ‘Gravelfoyle’ for a very good reason: there’s an abundance of routes around here in the beautiful surroundings of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.
The Tour of Gravelfoyle is less exposed than the Dukes Weekender route and provides fun even on wet days. Both routes can be ridden in a long day, or each by themselves, whatever you fancy. The Aberfoyle Bike Hire is a great place to hang out with a coffee in between, and has maps of the wider region too. If you do take on the Dukes Weekender Loop, not only can you expect fantastic views across the area, but also one of Scotland’s most iconic road climbs, the Dukes Pass.
5. Aberlady Gravel Tour
Aberlady lies very close to the Scottish capital Edinburgh. Famed as Scotland’s Golf Coast – what with it home to more golf courses than anywhere else – East Lothian also offers some of the best cycling and cafes you can find in the country.
This loop is an ideal idea for everyone who wants to make the transition from road to gravel. There are no killer climbs and tricky technical sections in this route, but amazing views across the sea to Bass Rock with a big seabird colony and a ‘gravel highway’, which takes you from Haddington towards Longniddry. The wind can be fierce here at times, but frequent train stations along the route let you shorten your ride if needed.
6. Borders Three Abbeys Loop
The massive Waterloo Monument on the grassy hill of Peniel Heugh and three iconic abbeys are the highlights of the Borders Three Abbeys Loop. Watch out for the kilted pig playing the bagpipes while you pass Melrose Abbey, and the stunning bridges that take you over the Tweed at Dryburgh Abbey and Monteviot House.
The route follows in the footsteps of the Romans on Dere Street and the infamous Border Reivers that raided the Anglo-Scottish border from the late 13th-century to the beginning of the 17th century. Jedburgh, with its well-preserved abbey, is a great halfway point and offers places to eat. Or you can explore Queen Mary's House, a listed 16th-century building in which Mary, Queen of Scots, stayed for a few weeks in 1566. Just beware: although you’ll never climb high, some of the climbs will chew your legs. But as it's another gravel extravaganza that's easy to reach by train, you'll be able to call it a day if the hills get the better of you.
7. Sma' Glen Drovers Loop
If you don’t have time to cycle the entire Highland Perthshire Drovers Trail, this shorter loop will take you along one of the busiest drove roads in Scotland. Starting and finishing in Kenmore on the shores of Loch Tay, the loop begins with one of Scotland’s toughest road climbs – fortunately the splendid views over the heather-clad hills of Highland Perthshire will help sap away some of the leg-burning pain.
The old road around Loch Freuchie to Amulree will provide you with a taste of Perthshire gravel, but the best is still to come. After a section on the road to Newton Bridge and one of General Wade’s best-preserved bridges, a long but very gradual climb on smooth gravel takes you deep into Glen Almond, where things get a bit bumpier. The scenery makes up for the odd boggy section before a long descent towards Loch Tay. If you have the stamina, a detour to the majestic Acharn Falls rounds off a tough but rewarding day in the Southern Highlands.
8. Three Glens Loop
Scotland’s largest lake marks the border between the Highlands and Lowlands and offers fantastic gravel riding. While the West Highland Way on the eastern shores of the loch is famed for its hike-a-bike sections, this route takes you high above the lake without the need to push your bike, with stunning mountain views and three glens to cross: Glen Loin, Glen Kinglass, and Glen Croe.
And if you want to turn this into a bikepacking adventure, Abbysinia Bothy, situated in the middle of Glen Kinglass is ideal for an overnight stay.
9. Grand Tour of Morvern
The Morvern Peninsula in the Western Highlands forms a stunning backdrop for this loop. While it’s a long day in the saddle, there is a good amount of tarmac in here, and the route can be shortened by taking the train from Glenfinnan to Fort William. The climb from Strontian to Polloch will make your legs scream, but the long gravel section along Loch Shiel will make you smile over and over.
Make sure you stop at Glenfinnan for a coffee, to shelter from the midges in summer, take a picture of one of Scotland’s most photographed monuments, or – with the right timing – a steam train passing Glenfinnan Viaduct, of Harry Potter fame. After a glimpse of touristy Scotland, you’ll be back on super quiet roads with great views along Loch Eil and Loch Linnhe, with a very good chance to spot Ben Nevis before you reach the pub and ferry in Ardgour.
10. Grand Tour of Comrie
This one isn’t your average gravel ride. Bring an adventurous spirit and be rewarded with outstanding natural beauty and the chance to visit Scotland’s oldest distillery in Glenturret.
This is a great summer loop, as midges are not as fierce around here as they are in other parts of Scotland, but don’t take our word for it. Called the ‘Shaky Toun’, Comrie owes its name to the position on the Highland Boundary Fault, which means it is subjected to more earthquakes than anywhere else in Scotland.
Starting at Comrie Croft, this loop explores the eastern edge of a national scenic area around the River Earn, and then takes you into the remote Highlands, passing Loch Turret. While the loch has been dammed since Robert Burns last visited here about 300 years ago, you’ll still get a sense of the remoteness that attracted one of Scotland’s most famous writers.