Our friend Andy Toop was the one that introduced Annie and I to the idea of bikepacking, with soft bags as opposed to racks and panniers, a few years ago – we have a lot to thank him for! Somewhere along the way, he also opened our eyes to packrafts, assuring us that they were nothing like those cheap inflatable dinghies that you see in the supermarket, although it took him a while to convince me that this was the case.
It was Scotland’s watery geography that convinced me in the end. A map of the north west corner of our country shows as much water as it does land. Faultlines and glacially eroded glens splay out in every direction, sometimes filled with water to a depth of hundreds of metres and presenting impassable barriers to land travel. The Scottish Highlands are home to some great trails, but the many inland and sea lochs dictate which routes link to others and which don’t, and if only you could cross the water to access the other side…
Boat travel was the primary way of getting about here until the recent arrival of modern roads – one village on the Outer Hebrides was only linked by tarmac in 1990! Bikerafting, to me, is the modern equivalent of human-powered travel that opens up new possibilities at the same time as putting you in a better position to understand and connect with the landscape through which you are travelling. It combines the excitement and novelty of modern equipment with some of the oldest methods of travel.
As the snows melted and the boggy landscape of the northwest began to stir back to life in May, Annie and I took a quick two-day break to use boats and bikes to connect what would otherwise be an impossible loop, riding trails that were new to us and which definitely don’t see many tyres. It was a short overnighter in preparation for a longer bikerafting trip later in the summer, but the conditions were perfect, and when Scotland puts on a good show there is nowhere better to be.