In our second ‘Adventure with Esther’, Esther takes us on a ride from Clatteringshaws to Glentrool, and back, stopping at the White Laggan bothy for some freshly brewed coffee. The “right to roam” already makes Scotland bikepacking heaven, but Scottish bothies make adventures in the wild that much more convenient (and unique).
Please note that it is not safe to use bothies at present due to the risk of infection. Do not visit until further notice. Always check the Mountain Bothies Association website for COVID-19 guidance.
The narrow valley that links Clatteringshaws with Glentrool is a classic highland landscape. Flanked by Merrick – the highest peak in southern Scotland – with a loch at either end, it deserves to be better known. If that was not enough, it has the obligatory long-distance walking route, and is certainly as remote as most places in Scotland. It has several tracks that you can link together on a bike, but the classic route is the cafe at Clatteringshaws to the cafe at Glentrool and back. A slight detour to White Laggan Bothy for coffee making is part of today’s plan.
It’s a remote corner of an already remote and tucked away bit of Scotland, less populated now than perhaps it has ever been. It is the sort of landscape John Buchan had in mind when his hero of The Thirty-Nine Steps looks for somewhere to hide, and flees to Galloway (by train, which sadly is something you can not do anymore). In early 1307, Robert the Bruce used this narrow glen to his advantage fighting in what we would now call a ‘guerrilla war’ as part of the first war of Scottish Independence. At the Glentrool end, where the glen is overlooked by steep ground, he set about dislodging as many boulders as his men could loosen. As the English troops approached, they were forced to form a single file under what is now named ‘the Steps of Trool’, and down came the granite boulders with arrows to follow.
We had an easier journey, despite some weather surprises. A hail storm chased us across the glen, as the temperatures dropped from a chilly 9°C to an icy 5°C. We set off from the car park at Clatteringshaws and rode down to the junction crossing the Raiders’ Road, heading right to pick up National Cycle Route 7. After a month or more of rain, the tracks were never going to be clean, but the surface is kept in good condition by the Forestry Commision. I would always say that you need a gravel bike or mountain bike, though a friend once braved it on a thin-tyred road bike and made it despite the horizontal rain and high winds. I never trust his judgement on the suitability of a route.
Every down becomes an up on this route which evens it out; except for one hill which is a pig to climb and has no down, but that’s for later and the White Laggan is just over 9 miles away. You’ll know you’re close to the bothy once you start seeing the first views of Loch Dee. The road up to White Laggan is almost never dry, regardless of season, and, with flapjacks and coffee stuffing our bikepacking bags, it was easiest to push and carry the bike up the track. The extra bit of height above the track gives the places spectacular views: a star-filled night here in the UNESCO Dark Sky Park would be magical.
Now, I have an admission to make. I – or indeed, we – have never spent a night in a bothy (unless you count the ‘hut’ at the top of Ben Nevis). Today, the bothy is just what we needed to make a perfect cup of coffee. I have been working my way through every possible way of making coffee while bikepacking and, at the moment, my muses are stick stoves. Today, I’m boiling water in a T pan, and then brewing the coffee in an insulated metal French press. The touch of class is hot milk in a small thermos.
A barista would be happy to serve the coffee I brewed up. Life could not possibly have been any better as we sipped coffee and munched on the finest homemade flapjacks. Even the sun came out in time for our walk and push back to the track. Loch Dee is perhaps the highlight of the route, or the view back along the glen at the end of Loch Trool. Either way,
you have 4 miles of the finest gravel anywhere in the world ahead of you.
We headed into the trees again as we began to descend towards the Glentrool cafe. Beech tree copses and waterfalls, and then something close to tarmac for the final mile or so. The flapjacks had been so filling that we both only managed a tea and a Tunnocks Tea Cake – a national treasure, but just 106 calories. Goes to show how good the flapjacks were.
Returning by the same route means that all those descents where the fat tyres flew as they kicked up small stones are now challenging climbs. Around the end of Loch Trool, the climbs link together to form about 2 or 3 miles of rather nasty climbing with slippy rocks and the need to pick your line. Nothing of concern for anyone with handling skills, but we have very little, sadly.
At the top of the climb, the weather closes in and hard-hitting hail starts coming down. I often stop taking photos when the weather turns, but it is spectacular enough to stop and shoot off a few photos. I hope for sunshine to end the day, and my wish seems to be granted as we pick up the pace to make closing time at the cafe. Like all the best of rides, it is not the distance that makes it special: it is the sum of the parts. The whole ride today was world-class, and adding a bit of ‘coffee outdoors’ action really made the whole thing memorable. Bikes and coffee go so well together – a bit of cake raises your game.
Esther only cycled to commute to work until her husband, Warren, forged her signature on a 200K Audax entry. She quickly fell in love with cycling adventures and explorations, and soon her bike collection grew to include “house bikes – too posh to be put in the shed”. Coming 14th out of 6,000 women in the Cyclassics in Hamburg in one of her sporting highlights, though the real pièce de résistance are her 4 years spent riding around the world. Overall, she has probably ridden more than 200,000 miles, but she doesn’t like to keep count because what she prefers to remember is the kindness of the people she’s met in every country she has cycled through.
More White Laggan Bothy
David Arthur (Just Ride Bikes) went on a bikepacking adventure to the White Laggan bothy before joining us at the Raiders Gravel press and media launch in late June – and he filmed it all! Watch his video to check out the fantastic views and world-class gravel routes, as well as see the inside of the bothy in more detail!
Bikepacking means exploring the world by bike, and Scotland is an ideal place to start. With the country’s ‘right to roam’ legislation, you have more freedom to explore than anywhere else in the UK. We have put together some resources to help you plan your bikepacking adventures in the South of Scotland – check them out!