Bikepacking the Northern Isles; It’s Not All About the Bike
In a guest piece from Apidura rider Craig Cameron, we discover that when exploring the Northern Isles in Scotland, it’s the time spent off the bike that’s as important as that spent on it.
Words and photography Craig Cameron
Touring in the Northern Isles isn’t really about covering large distances on a bike. It’s about exploring, island-hopping, and combining cycling with hiking to get off the beaten track.
I love to explore remote places, and while a bike capable of going off road will allow you to do this to some extent, it becomes trickier if you want to visit a trackless, uninhabited island, a mountain summit, a cliff top, or anywhere that requires some hike-a-bike. My bikepacking trips – in the Scottish Isles and beyond – give me access to some amazing locations, but in order to make the most of them, I’m only too happy to combine riding with hiking, scrambling, and even mountaineering.
Bikepacking in the Northern Isles, an archipelago off the north coast of Scotland comprised of dozens of islands, many of them uninhabited, is perfect for this approach. Adventures here are about riding gravel paths to forgotten beaches, hiking to remote summits, and acquainting yourself with the slow pace of island life. It’s about discovering a place that is closer to the Arctic Circle than it is to London – a place that until the 15th century was a part of Norway. It’s about exploring some of the remotest parts in the UK; watching migratory birds fill the sky, and witnessing the Northern Lights transform the horizon.
Having spent all of my life wandering the wild places of Scotland, I’ve found it’s the Scottish islands which are the country’s biggest draw – and as well as the stunning geography, it’s the people that make that the case. Island life is very community spirited, and people are regularly willing to go out of their way to help others. It’s a place where cyclists will receive a friendly wave from a passing car, where everyone says ‘Hello’, and nobody is ever in too much of a rush. That said, with population densities on some of the smaller islands less than 10 people per square mile, the further you get away from a road, the more likely it will be that the only residents you see will be an eagle, an otter, or a seal.
It’s not the landscape, the people, the nature, or the history, that make the Northern Isles the ideal bikepacking location – it’s all of these things combined. But to truly make the most of it, don’t hesitate to leave the bike behind on occasion, and head to the places that not even two wheels can take you. It may just offer you a perspective that you’ve never seen before.
Follow more of Craig’s adventures @highrustler