Ardgartan by Bike

With an ever increasing number of  DofE expeditions on the go, I’ve been keen to get out and explore some alternative locations for our Bronze expeditions in particular, as the well known areas tend to get pretty busy once the season gets into full swing. With that in mind, I decided to take a little tour round Ardgartan and Lochgoilhead, to explore some promising looking tracks and trails over there. The main issue with DofE routes is usually finding a viable campsite for up to half a dozen tents, that’s far enough off the beaten track to not be a meeting place for the local outdoor boozers of an evening.

I parked up at Ardgartan visitor centre, and set off past the ubiquitous Lochs and Glens hotel towards the little bothy at Mark cottage. The journey in was fairly straightforward, along a series of fire roads, the surface of which gradually deteriorate the further out you get. The final descent to Mark would fall into the category of ‘interesting’ with bike trailers! The setting of the bothy itself is a bit surreal; it’s in the butt end of nowhere, but faces onto the Royal Navy’s fuel dump at Garelochhead. In addition to the usual Mountain Bothy Association signeage, there’s a reassuring notice from the MOD giving instructions about what to do in the event of an explosion, which amounts to “assume the position and prepare to meet your maker”. If nothing else, considering how to risk assess an overnight stay gave me something to reflect on as I had a quick sandwich before heading off. There’s a fair bit of rubbish in and around the bothy at present; the usual collection of food leftovers and so on that people still persist in leaving despite multiple indications that it’s not a appreciated.

From Mark, I headed off towards Corran Lochan in search of alternative camping which might offer the prospect of a night’s sleep free from the threat of incineration. There’s a little bit of space around, but it would be a tight squeeze with more than one group.  So far, the entire journey had been on forestry road, but from here onwards things began to get a little more interesting; the trail narrows, the surface gets a little more loose and there are some steep little climbs and descents. It’s a while since I’ve done much technical biking, and it was reassuring to find that I still had the ability to spin up the climbs, playing the game of constantly shifting bodyweight to keep the front wheel down and the back wheel finding traction over the rocks and ruts.

Eventually a change from forestry to natural woodland signals the start of the descent towards Lochgoilhead. There’s nothing about the trail that would trouble a competent mountain biker, although it’s probably on the limit for a DofE group travelling by bike towing trailers. After a final eroded little S-bend the trail merges with another forestry road for the final descent towards Lochgoilhead. There is the option to carry on along fireroads up towards the Rest and Be Thankful, but my plan was to explore the high level route back over to Coilessan, so it was back uphill, on a rideable trail along the side of the Eas Garbh. Higher up the trail, I came across the only ‘hike-a-bike’ section of the day,; the final 250m of height gain up onto the shoulder of Cnoc Coinnich is a vague wet trail up a firebreak and would be soul destroying with a heavily laden bike. Once on the shoulder itself, there’s a flat section which is boggy but rideable with care, before another loose stony path drops you down through the trees and back onto the crumbling remains of  a forestry road which has been badly eroded by water run off and could easily end in tears for the overly relaxed! After a kilometre or so, you rejoin the metalled road at Coilessan for the final pedal back to Ardgartan.

Total distance for the day was 32.5km, and just under 1,400m of climbing.