At this time of year I always like to get the wheels in motion for another year of cycling adventures by tackling this route before or after work.
For me, it’s a sign that spring is here and a way of making sure I’m fit enough after the winter to tackle some of the longer routes I’ve got planned for the coming months.
This year, however, I chose the wrong day to celebrate the arrival of spring.
If ever there was a case of four seasons in one bike ride, this was it. I enjoyed and endured everything, from wind and rain through a glimpse of sunshine to horrendous hail.
The classic signs of spring were there – the gorse was turning yellow with flowers, lambs were leaping in the fields, daffodils lined the roadside here and there and the April showers were certainly in abundance!
The route itself is a fairly straightforward one, though I like to steer clear of some of the main Beauly to Inverness road for as long as possible, so is not necessarily the obvious circuit of the Beauly Firth.
Starting from the Ness Bridge in Inverness, head down Bank Street following the river as it heads out to sea. Follow the blue National Cycle Network signs towards the Kessock Bridge, under the Friar’s Bridge and up Portland Place to turn left onto Shore Street.
Stay left at a mini-roundabout near the harbour and continue under the Kessock Bridge (following the diversion while the ongoing roadworks are in place) to pass the Inverness Caley Thistle stadium and go up the cycle path on the far side of the 31-year-old bridge.
The diversion takes you right on the north side of the bridge, turning right again at a give way junction to drop steeply past the lifeboat station into North Kessock.
Through the village, turn left opposite a children’s play park where a local cycle sign points to Muir of Ord. The road now goes through Charlestown, a pretty little village on the shore, before turning single-track and offering a wonderfully peaceful route along the edge of the firth. In many ways, this is the highlight of the whole circuit – flat, quiet and with delightful views to the west.
But that’s when the first shower hit, and it wasn’t going easy on me today. I was soon soaked through with more than 20 miles left until I got home.
In a few miles it had eased off and the sun even threatened to break through momentarily. Passing through Redcastle I stopped, as I almost always do here – it’s such a lovely spot, with picnic tables set up at a layby and flowers decorating the grass verges.
The road goes up to the right here. Take the first left just after the houses and continue until you meet the main road.
A cycle sign opposite the junction points left to Muir of Ord (3 miles) and Beauly (5 miles). Follow it to join the A832 and go up through the S-bends at Tarradale before dropping downhill. Go left at a junction signed to Beauly to pass the Lily Loch and the Black Isle showground.
After less than a mile, turn left onto the A862 to go down into Beauly. The normally easy descent was made more challenging by the conditions, with swirling winds and battering rain making it difficult to ride properly.
As I headed through the village, hailstones started to batter down and small floods formed at the edge of the road around the overworked storm drains. My feet were now well and truly soaked and I knew it was going to be a cold ride back to the Highland capital.
I kept to the main road past the railway station then headed left to the Lovat Bridge, which had been improved to allow cyclists to bypass the traffic lights on a dedicated lane on either side of the road. However, the lanes are now so piled up with dirt and debris and the paint is coming off the road surface to such an extent that it is becoming worthless.
A feasibility study was carried out a few years ago into a cycle route from Inverness to Beauly but, other than those slight improvements at the Lovat Bridge, little appears to have happened since.
A well-made cycle route could be a real draw to tourists who would marvel at the opportunity to follow the stunning shoreline of the Beauly Firth and I’d love to see some priority being given to active travel in this area. Inverness has a real opportunity to show some forward thinking on this issue if the mindset of cars, cars, cars can be shifted at the top level within government and the local authority.
Immediately after the Kiltarlity turn-off on the right, carefully take the next right on a left-hand bend towards Cabrich. This stretch is glorious and, in my mind at least, seems almost Alpine with its winding country lanes, intermittent houses and tall fir trees – and the still snow-capped Ben Wyvis being the equivalent of the high peaks.
Follow the road 90 degrees left where the Reelig Glen walks are signed off to the right, then turn carefully right where the road rises 100 yards ahead to cross a weak bridge that’s closed to motorised traffic.
Keep to the road ahead then, where it bends left to meet the main road again, you can continue on a traffic-free tarmac path (not quite as smooth as the road itself, admittedly) all the way to the gallery at Inchmore. From here it’s seven miles back to Inverness on the main road.
You can see the Kessock Bridge getting closer now as you pass Lentran then go through Bunchrew before the last stretch into the city, where you cross the railway into Clachnaharry. To return to the Ness Bridge, go straight on at the traffic lights over the canal at Muirtown, keep ahead at the next two roundabouts to join Kenneth Street then, at the traffic lights at the far end of the road, turn left.
It hadn’t been the best of times for doing the ride around the firth but the route is a classic from the Highland capital, so if you choose a better day than me you’ll hopefully stay a little drier and a little warmer!