YOU don’t have to travel far out of Inverness to be in beautiful countryside, and I’m lucky enough to live on the edge of a very rural area.
A few minutes from home and I’m at the Essich roundabout – a popular meeting place for cyclists.
I like getting up on to Ashie Moor high above the city and riding the lovely quiet roads that run through it.
This particular circuit takes you past the lochs on the moor then on to the B851 and up to Clava Cairns, returning past Culloden Battlefield and Westhill to the Inshes roundabout in Inverness, then back to the start point.
Leaving Essich roundabout I headed south on the old Wade road through Essich to begin the long climb to the moor.
It’s a relief to the legs when the road levels off and Loch Ashie appears. Another cyclist pulled alongside and as we chatted he announced he’d signed up for the fearsome Bealach Mor ride the following weekend so he was seeking out hills to practise.
He went on his way leaving me to battle a strong headwind, but at least the going was flat.
In just over 4km after the start of Loch Ashie the road reaches a junction, where I turned left towards Fort Augustus. There’s a sharp downhill stretch then a rise. Shortly after it a minor road branches left round the south end of Loch Duntelchaig, heading for Loch Ruthven.
This is a delightful ride with little to impede progress except the odd sheep crossing the road and a few climbs. You’re unlucky to see a car for the 4km it takes to get to the RSPB reserve at Loch Ruthven.
There are great views back up Loch Duntelchaig on the way round and a fast downhill to the reserve’s car park. With no cars approaching I let the bike fly, brakes off.
Loch Ruthven is home to the rare Slavonian grebe which breeds here and, in the spring, displays its striking red and gold plumage. There’s a handy bench near the east end of the loch where I usually stop for a break, but with rain threatening I decided to press on.
The minor road continues past some houses and over a bridge across the infant River Nairn to join the B851. I turned left here, heading towards the A9 through Farr and Inverarnie.
Although this is a busier road the traffic is never intimidating and the surface is fast for a road bike. The seven or so kilometres seem to be over in no time.
With the ever-busy A9 ahead I took the pass to the left, going underneath it and on to meet the B9154 linking the A9 with Moy. I turned right here to climb the hill through Craggie to a junction with a minor road on the left, signed to Dalroy on National Cycle Network route 7.
This is another road that’s an absolute delight to cycle on and virtually traffic-free. Ignoring the junction left at Castletown and continuing over a bridge across the railway, I turned left at the next junction.
The road passes through a high arch back under the railway line and winds around to Clava Cairns.
The sun was out by now and I decided to stop for a food break and soak up the atmosphere of the ancient burial ground, in the care of Historic Scotland.
Back on the road again I pedalled on past the cairns to the next junction. Culloden and Inverness are signed left on the NCN sign here and I took this route, over a bridge crossing the River Nairn again and up to the B9006.
A left here took me past Culloden Battlefield and through Westhill to the Inshes roundabout.
From there it’s a straightforward ride to the start point on the B8082, passing Inshes retail park.