The Badger Divide

How an averagely fit 45 year old managed to ride The Badger Divide, and how you can too!

The allure of The Badger Divide is hard to describe – since first reading about it a few years ago, it had come to occupy a lot of my day-dreaming time, thinking about bikes and bikepacking. Could I ride it? Would I be capable of completing it? Would the climbs be too much for me? What kit should I take? Food? Water?!


How long and what bike did I take?

Whenever I talk to another rider who has completed the Badger, the first question is always – how long did you take?! In many ways, this is a loaded question, as it invariably leads to comparison between that person and oneself. As we know, comparison is the thief of joy – but – I always feel sheer admiration for the riders who complete the route in 3 days or under, the sheer physical effort required to achieve that kind of time is huge. However, in the same moment, I can’t help but feel that going slower allows you to look around, take in the views, experience the wild places this route takes you and also stop for the occasional nap under a tree, or for a coffee in a remote tearoom.

I rode this route with a friend. We rode it in two goes. Our first attempt was scuppered by horrendous, awful, wet, cold and windy weather closing in when we arrived at Corrour Station. Rather than tough it out, we scratched there and came home. We returned to Corrour a few weeks later, to the spot where we scratched, and continued the ride exactly from where we left off. This time, in a heatwave. You couldn’t make it up really.

All told, we took 4 days riding to complete this route. This was actually split up over 4 and a half days, as we started late one day and finished early another.

Which bike was I riding? My Trek 1120. It is a great and largely underappreciated bike. I think it gets overlooked by the general bikepacking public because it’s just functional and understated – but not sexy or sparkly. I love the rack system – it just works – and I also adore the utilitarian look the whole rig has. Also, let me be clear, this bike took an absolute beating on this ride, and it performed admirably.

A bike beside a railway sign

So, four days riding on my Trek 1120. For the record, I’m an averagely fit 45 year old bloke from Edinburgh. I run 5km a couple of times per week. I cycle at least 40km off-road (sometimes more) per week, and I try to get 1000m in the pool each week too. I also walk a lot due to Spaniel ownership. All that said, like most of us nowadays, I’m a busy parent, who works too, and who also likes to maintain a semblance of a social life. Hopefully, that picture of me and my activity levels might give you a point of reference when you’re considering how long this ride might take you.


A quick note on travel

Taking bikes on a train isn’t nearly as painful an experience as it used to be. However, the UK still has a long way to go to catch up to some of our European neighbours, where travelling by bicycle intercity is smooth and easy. Take the time, if you can, to make a reservation for your bike as travelling without one could be difficult. There is nothing to stop you rocking up on the day of departure and seeing if you can fit your bike on to the train, but, reserving a space for the bike with Scotrail doesn’t cost anything and it guarantees you priority over other cyclists without bookings.


Badger Divide Day 1 – Inverness to Blackburn of Corrieyairack Bothy

The official start point of the route is Inverness Castle. We were hoping for a nice photo opportunity, but the castle appeared to be closed for renovations! Still, we started and followed the route out of the town, and onto the Great Glen Way. You’ll note from the elevation profile on the Strava link above that the climbing starts early on, giving you a taste of how the next few days will go.

We pushed on, down the Great Glen Way, stopping as often as we needed to, either for photos or for a quick breather. We also stopped for coffee and a roll in Drumnadrochit, but were back on the trail quickly. The route mainly follows the Great Glen Way all the way to Fort Augustus, with the exception of a handful of short sections on the road where no off-road alternative is available.

The terrain on this section is as you’d expect, a mix of singletrack and wider paths, loose and rocky in places, and other sections which are wider and are more akin to what folks now refer to as ‘gravel’.

Food and drink in Fort Augustus was well earned. Sugary CocaCola coupled with pub burger and chips, then a visit to the shop for some sweeties before we had a bit of a break. Next was the start of the Corrieyairack Pass, and we were aware that there is not much in the way of shops or resupply points between Fort Augustus and Glen Lyon. My advice to you would be – at this point – make sure you have everything you need, including provision for emergency, as there is a good chance you won’t see another shop for a long time.

Refuelled, we left Fort Augustus to begin the climb to the start of the Pass. I seem to recall it’s about 8km or so until you turn off – I could be wrong about that. The Pass, as I had it described to me, is The Pass. It’s not going anywhere, you can’t avoid it, you just have to accept it and get on with it.

About a third of the way up is Blackburn of Corrieyairack bothy, where we planned to spend the night. It’s safe to say that we were both utterly exhausted, so tents were erected quickly, water boiled, more food consumed and after a quick chat with the folk already in the bothy, we turned in for a sleep that came quickly.


Badger Divide Day 2 – Corrieyairack Bothy to Corrour Station

There is no avoiding the Corrieyairack Pass. When we awoke on the morning of Day 2, we knew that the rest of the Pass was there, waiting for us. We ate a quick dry breakfast, determined to get the rest of the climbing done before stopping for something more substantial.

Sometimes when you climb a hill on a bike, you can fold your self into a little box inside your head. Time slows and stops to be a normal thing. All that exists is you, the bike and the task. The hill. At least, this is how it is for me.

The rest of the climb was uneventful. I had to get off and push at points. I was riding a 1 x 11, with 11-46 on the back. When I was off and pushing, I made a mental note to investigate a new cassette with a better Granny option on my return home. And so the first few hours of the day went on, climbing, pushing and noticing the rain which was starting, and the wind. More on that later.

Eventually, we both made it to the top of the Pass. This is the highest point on the whole route, and it did feel like a huge achievement. The descent is a belter. Make sure your bags are strapped on tight, and enjoy it. I think we descended for something close to half an hour straight. The terrain is a mix of rock, rubble and drainage ditches, so you do need to exercise caution at some points.

We stopped at Melgarve Bothy for food and refilled our water bottles from the stream under the nearby bridge.

Unfortunately, the rest of this day started to be defined by the worsening weather. Mainly the wind, which at times was utterly incredible in it’s power.

Passing through this landscape was memorable though. The feeling of smallness that being in wild places like this gives you is inspiring. Cycling along, with views of Loch Laggan, then along the banks of Lochan na-h Earba, then on to Loch Ghuilbinn with Munroes towering around you. If you’re after an epic ride, then this is it.

Loch Ossian came into view and we knew we weren’t far from the Youth Hostel and our stop for night two. If you are also stopping here, it’s best to book in advance. Jan, the warden, is lovely and will always try to accommodate you, but if they are full, they’re full. It’s worth noting that the hostel now has hot showers! A welcome reward after a day of cycling. Finally, a short walk from the Youth Hostel is Corrour Station and the fantastic, incredible, Corrour Station House. It’s almost unbelievable that, here, in this remotest of locations you will find a warm welcome, good food, wine, beer, coffee, tea, bacon rolls – whatever takes your fancy. That said, this is indeed a remote place. Do not take it foregranted that they will even be open – please check in advance and don’t rely on this as a resupply point.

We stopped overnight in the hostel, and on awakening, we saw that the weather had turned for the worse. 30mph headwind, driving rain and plummeting temperatures. At this point, it was agreed to quit and come back another day. We sat in the Station House drinking tea until the train came to take us to Glasgow. (Which took ages! The weather was so bad, speed restrictions had been put in place on the railway, meaning the journey home took a long time.) As the rain and wind beat down on the carriage windows, we stared out at the landscape we should have been cycling through. Instead, we let the rhythm of the train take over and silently, vowed to come back.


Badger Divide Day 3 – Corrour Station to Killin

Roll forward a few months and we are back. This time, the weather, rather than cold and wind has shown up in the form of a blistering heatwave. So, out with the waterproofs and on with the sun cream. The Badger Divide adventure continues…

Today would prove to be a day of detours and bum-steers in terms of directions. More on that later.

Exiting Corrour Station we head up the trail and remember – ah yes, this is what The Badger feels like, this is how things will be for the next couple of days! It takes our legs a while to get going and to ‘get our eye in’ for this type of riding. Traversing terrain like this takes concentration. Sometimes, you have to constantly adjust your steering due to rocks and boulders, there is little opportunity to get momentum going and sometimes, just ticking off a couple of km’s can feel like it’s taking an eternity.

Today, to begin with at least, was different. The trail out of Loch Ossian is landrover track, so wide enough. We met a couple of other riders on this section too. The heat was building, and there was no shade whatsoever during this part of the ride. We pushed on, the first 5km being a bit of a climb, but we were then rewarded with some fantastic descent into Bridge of Gaur. Then, climbing again into the Black Wood of Rannoch, we decided to lop off the section which goes up to the shoreline of Loch Rannoch. The heat. The hot, hot, heat was starting to take it’s toll and this quick wee shortcut would save us about 10km of riding. Little did we know, we’d pay the piper later on for this – the cycling gods must be placated and the balance restored…

After hiding in the trees for as long as possible to escape the sun, we took a fantastic, long descent towards Bridge of Balgie and the Glen Lyon estate. Thankfully, we managed to make it to Glen Lyon Post Office (and tearoom) before they closed – they close at around 5pm for your reference. On offer here you’ll find an array of options including soup, sandwiches, coffee, tea and so on. Again, don’t rely on this being a resupply point – as they might be off catering for a wedding or something! They are very cycle friendly however, and we were offered a warm welcome, despite arriving close to closing time.

Fed and watered, we decided to push on to Killin. The official Badger Divide route takes a gravel/logging road towards Loch Lyon, then down to Killin. The chap (he was trying to help!) at the cafe suggested we take the recently resurfaced road which is more direct. So, we deviated. And the cycling gods had their penance for our earlier transgression. I should have known when he called it the ‘up and over’ road. What we were going up and over, it emerged, was Ben Lawers. Cue a long period of silence between my riding partner and I. Long silences are not unusual on multi-day rides like this, but this one was as full as it was silent. Full of unsaid words, about how we shouldn’t have listened to Cafe Guy and how we should have stuck to the plan. Anyway. Up and over we went. In a heatwave. If you decide to take this route, the road is actually very smooth, recently resurfaced apparently! It is a bit of a grind though.

We rolled into Killin and rehydrated in typical fashion. A pint of beer at the Killin Hotel. There are plenty of campsite options on the way into Killin, but none in town that allow tents. We ended up looking for a wildcamp spot, which we found by cycling out of town for 10 minutes. As long as you are away from the road, not on private property and remember to leave no trace, you’ll be fine camping anywhere around here.

Some more food, then into the tents and bed.


Badger Divide Day 4 – Killin to Aberfoyle

Just awake, and the temperature is already rising. And, the midges are out, in force, millions of them, attacking all at once. Break camp, pack, leave as soon as possible. We head back to Killin, to the Coop for a breakfast coffee and baked goods session, fill up our water bladders and bottles and head off to the Trossachs. Today, although we didn’t know it at the time, would prove to be the hardest days riding. I’m not sure whether it was the sunshine, the temperature but, I found this day the hardest of the whole route.

The climb out of Killin starts with a push through an overgrown hedge. Be careful or you might miss it! In our case, the weather conditions meant that everything was overgrown, which made the start of this section very easy to miss. This climb, whilst short, I found to be difficult in the extreme. In fact, I can’t actually imagine a scenario where I would ever be able to complete this climb without having to get off and push. Super steep. Super gnarly terrain. Super difficult. Kudos to you if you’re reading this having ridden the whole section. I was knackered by the time I got to the right hand turn at the top!

Next, we had a mercifully flat section which then actually started to descend. We were heading for Loch Lubnaig. This section – again – I found very difficult. Maybe it was the heat? Maybe it was the undulating terrain? Maybe it was the looming Ben Vorlich in the background? This part of the route was a bit of a grind. The terrain is grassy at one point, which then turns sandy, which then turns rocky. It is undulating and we found that building any kind of momentum was difficult.

The heat forced us to take a break here. We found a large pine tree, behind a wall, providing some blessed shade. Did I mention it had been hot? Under this pine tree, we boiled some water, and rehydrated some food. While we waited for our food, I lay down and fell asleep. Wonderful.

Food eaten, salt and electrolyte tablets consumed, fresh suncream applied, and remarkably, nap taken, we pushed on – back into the sun, and back towards Aberfoyle.

To get there, we had to traverse the Trossachs National Park. This is one area in Scotland where you are not allowed to wild camp – you must have a permit and only camp in certain zones. While we were passing through, we saw several enforcement officers checking people had permits, making sure they were parked correctly and so on. It’s not outwith the realms of possibility that you could stealth-camp here, but keep in mind, it’s a £500 fine if you get caught.

We pushed on towards Aberfoyle.

The last climb of the day was a beast. The Duke’s Pass, or Three Lochs Forest Drive. I rode the whole thing, but it was slow going in the heat. By the time I got to the top I had my phone out looking for campsite options with showers in Aberfoyle! Cobeland Campsite came to the rescue, allowing us to pitch up for the night, despite being very busy. And, on the off chance that one of them reads this – thanks to Mark and his wife, who were pitched next to us, who handed us two cold cans of beer the moment we rolled up on the bikes! A kindness that will not be forgotten.

Food in Aberfoyle by the way of the chip shop, one more beer, then bed. Slept like a log – it had been a long day.


Badger Divide Day 4.5 – Aberfoyle to Glasgow

Today would be our last day on the Badger Divide. I found it remarkable how quickly we went from ‘wilderness’ back to ‘city’. Negotiating traffic and things like roundabouts takes a moment when you’ve been alone on the route for days.

The route today took in more road that the rest put together, with a good mix of fireroad still thrown in to keeps things changing. Undoubtedly, the toughest section was the climb on the West Highland Way at around 30km on my Strava link above. Rocky, steep, then rockier and steeper. And, with lots of pedestrian tourist traffic in the mix too. There was one bit of this climb where I almost threw the bike down on the ground in frustration!

Before we knew it we were in Milngavie. Then it was a quick hop over to Glasgow and the obligatory photo at Kelvingrove.

Badger. Complete.


Thoughts and Badger Divide musings

If you are thinking of doing this ride – book your train now and just do it. You will not be disappointed. The Badger provides incredible bang for buck value – it’s amazing that you can get on a train with your bike, cycle for a few hours and feel so secluded and alone in the wilderness, then come back to ‘real life’ a few short days later. The route really has it all, urban start/finish, long wilderness sections, tough climbs, rewarding descents, challenging technical sections, wonderful scenery and incredible memories waiting to be made.

Things to keep in mind – the section between Fort Augustus and Killin does not contain many (none really) shops. You’ll be on your own. There are a couple of tearooms, at Corrour and at Glen Lyon, but they might not be open. Make sure you have enough food and water (or a filter) to last you. I know it sounds like I’m being over cautious, and I’m not your Dad, but – don’t get caught out.

Just incase you’re really interested, here is a link to the ‘official’ gpx, via Stu Allan’s (the creator of this magical route) RideWithGPS :

https://ridewithgps.com/routes/23232135?lang=en

Also – you’ll find more photos from this trip, and many more on my homepage here.


Badger Divide – Kit List

Here is a list of the kit I took to ride the Badger Divide. Don’t laugh! I pack heavy man!

  • Alpkit Soloist tent
  • Thermarest Neo Air mat
  • Pipedream 400 sleeping bag
  • Synthetic lightweight jacket
  • Merino shortsleeved top
  • Spare cycling shorts
  • Pump
  • First aid kit
  • Spare socks
  • Selection of Firepot meals (I took too many)
  • Titanium foon
  • Titanium mug
  • Alpkit Kraku stove and gas
  • Hygiene kit – wet wipes, toothbrush, toothpaste, SUNCREAM!
  • Charging kit – power bank and cables
  • Garmin Edge 830
  • Snacks and sweeties (I took too much)
  • Bike kit – multi tool, spare mech hanger, zip ties, tyre levers, tube, quick links
  • Midge net and spray
  • Water bladder
  • Spare ’town’ type clothes, including running shorts
  • Lightweight waterproof jacket – we did half of this ride during a heatwave
  • The mighty Bedrock Cairn Pro 2 Adventure Sandals

Thanks for reading! Feel free to ask any Badger Divide related questions in the comments – I’ll be more than happy to answer them if I can!

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2 Comments

  1. Hey, great read, I’m looking at riding this in the summer and was just wondering how you found the midges when you rode? We are looking at mid August, wondering how bad they are likely to be….

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