The Badger Divide
WRITTEN BY:Luke Douglas
Outdoor Provisions co-founder
The Badger Divide winds and undulates its way from Inverness to Glasgow. It is UK all-road bikepacking at it's finest. By all-road I mean all types of road - finely packed gravel, lumpy bridleway, singletrack, farm track, tarmac and everything in between. Not gnarly enough for a mountain bike, too rough for a road bike. The debate around what bike to bring will never end, but something inbetween those ends of the spectrum will give you a good chance.
It's a hard ride, no matter how many days you try to do it in. I say 'try' as completing first time is not a given. You'll need the right combination of timing, weather, legs and luck. This was, in fact, our second attempt after the Badger got the better of us three years ago.
Along with the Torino Nice Rally, it was the Badger Divide that gave us the idea behind our own city to city all-road bikepacking route, the Second City Divide. It's no coincidence that one starts where the other finishes or that they both share the same style of riding and rough stuff/leave no trace/don't be a dick ethos. If you've followed Outdoor Provisions for a bit you'll know we're huge advocates of staying in the UK to get your adventure fix.
As both routes have matured and bedded in, the idea of riding both back to back had loitered, waiting for the right time to come. With a fixed finish for the Second City Divide in Manchester on Sunday 13th Sept, it felt like the right time and one way tickets to Inverness were booked.
900 all road kilometres from Inverness to Glasgow to Manchester and the first running of the Double Divide(TM).
Keep and eye out for Part Two and the Second City Divide report later this month.
Day One - Inverness to Loch Laggan
104km | 2589m+
The first day of the Badger should not be underestimated. A combination of punchy terrain and time-sapping scenery, if you like taking photos, means what starts out as 'we'll be in Fort Augustus for a mid morning coffee', sees you rolling in for late lunch and wrestling the tourists for the last portions of chips at the butty van.
COVID had messed up the trains and after narrowly avoiding a bus replacement service shocker we eventually made it to Inverness just after midnight, taking a cheap hotel room instead of the original plan to roll out and and bivvi somewhere just out of town. It was pub kicking out time as we made our way through town and we were wondering which option was actually the more adventurous.
A good pre set off kit faff is a bikepacking ritual and we paid a solid 45min minute tribute to it in the hotel lobby, hitting the trail out of town by 8am. Get your start picture by the Flora MacDonald statue at Inverness Castle if you're a purist.
The way out of Inverness is lovely and you're off-road and climbing up towards the Great Glen Way in no time.
The ride out confirms that there are some lovely sheltered options in the trees here for a stealthy wild camp (around 10km out fyi) if you had planned to arrive in town and head out a short distance. Thank you progressive Scottish Right to Roam laws.
It's hard to imagine this section not looking lovely. The Great Glen way stretches from Inverness right the way to Fort Bill and you'll follow it most of the way to Fort Augustus.
Part way along there's a high and low route option. The high route will almost definitely require a bit of pushing but if you want to say you've done the whole Badger, it's a must.
Soon you'll catch sight of Loch Ness and you could stop at Nessie Land in Drumnadrochit if you're on a really chill schedule. Tempting.
We made it to Fort Augustus in about 4 hours where there's good resupply options before the big climbing really starts.
The Corrieyairack pass greets you pretty much straight out of Fort Augustus, connecting the Great Glen to Strath Sprey in the south.
The poster pass of the Badger Divide tops out at 770m metres; part of network of military roads build by General Wade in the 17th century. The way you ride it on the Badger means that with some good form and the right gearing you can ride the whole thing. You'd be hard pressed coming from the switchbacks on the south side, like the GBDuro riders do. With your legs heavy from the morning's efforts you might consider the bothy at Melgarve on the way down.
We've got to know the route planner Stu Allan; he builds bikes for Shand Cycles and was planning to ride out from Glasgow to meet us on the last day. Whilst we fretted about gearing, he does most of his off-road riding on a fixed gear. Madness.
"The first version of the Badger was a bit of a click and hope effort on RideWithGPS. I'd actually planned to ride it as a bit of a giggle with the Edinburgh fixed gear crew." He told us.
"I first ride the whole route with a mate in 2017. Then not long after, Mostyn from The Racing Collective came up and we did it again."
The Racing collective now use the route for their ScotDURO event.
Anyway, back to our own attempt. It was actually scorching over the Corrieyairack and the days efforts were sinking into our legs.
We'd picked up another Manchester based rider, Paul, who we knew has left just ahead of us and were now a three. Once we'd emerged into the Strath Spey, we were looking for a place to camp with the forecast for BIG rain overnight.
The shores of Loch Laggan looked too good not to pitch on, with the bonus of a little face and armpit wash in the icy waters. The midges duly swarmed as the sun went down but once we had a little fire going and had had a few nips of whisky acquired in Fort Augustus, they'd mostly chipped off.
Day 2 - Laggan to Lochearnhead
130km | 2025m+
It had chucked it down overnight but eased up enough to make coffee, eat porridge and pack the tents away. A breeze kept any morning midge clouds at bay but judging by the dark ones rolling towards us, more rain was coming.
Once off the sheltered shoreline, said 'breeze' whipped up into a block headwind, bringing the next wave of rain towards us at top speed. We knew the sanctuary of the Corrour Station Cafe was 30km and we needed to get there to resupply and reassess.
I'd actually ridden this section through the Corrour Estate earlier in the year and it was glorious. Not this time though.
There's a remote YHA at Loch Ossian, just before the Station. It's closed at the moment (COVID) but in normal times would be a great accommodation option for the Badger, just make sure you book.
Famous for being Britain's highest station and an appearance in Trainspotting the cafe at the station is a vital part of the route for warm food, good coffee and shelter. It sits in the middle of nowhere, just under halfway through the divide.
The staff are super friendly too. We weren't the only Badger Divide riders there and a few made alternative plans and got on the next train. After this, you're fairly committed to riding to Glasgow.
Paul and I dragged ourselves away from the cafe with the rain due to subside and a new plan. Well, not much of a plan other than to carry on with the original plan of making it to Loch Earn tonight, despite the morning's weather putting us a couple of hours behind where we thought we'd be. Stu was meeting us there with keys to a little cycle touring hut we could kip in. Fortune favours the brave and all that.
The ride out of Corrour is stunning, whatever the weather. The trail was empty except for a completely nude hiker. Actually he was wearing a cap. 'I didn't want to be completely naked', he explained. Unsure where to look we wished him well and pushed on.
We picked our way through the Black Wood of Rannoch (off route for tiny bit), which leads to Glen Lyon and down into Bridge of Balgie. Small remote shop/cafe here fyi. Grateful for the gorgeous tarmac road climb up and over Ben Lawyers Pass before descending into Killin where there's good resupply. Stopping near here would make sense on a three day trip but we had a man to meet another 20km down the road.
In the fading light we rolled along the shores of Loch Earn looking for this little green Fife and Kinross CTC hut. This isn't an option for the public unfortunately but a perk of knowing the route planner!
An hour or so after we found it, Stu rolled up on his fixed gear and lit the gas lamp we'd been too scared to go near. Four bunks, standing room and a stash of Rough Stuff Fellowship mags to read, ideal.
Day 3 - Lochearnhead to Glasgow
The day started bright but clouded over quickly and, back to a three, we picked our way over Glen Ample. The profile makes it look 'easier' in the final third but it's still slow going here. Slow going, but lovely.
Chatted to Stu about the best bike for this kind of riding. Having ridden it 4 times himself he also knows a thing or two about bikes as a framebuilder.
"A drop bar 29er I reckon. Tyres around 2.1" and gearing for 'proper' off-roading, not just gravel..." was his final answer. You heard it here first...
It's also worth remembering that while there may be a 'best' bike or set up for the job, getting out there with the one you have will be just as fun.
You do eventually break out into some quicker rolling sections on finely packed gravel through the Trossachs and Aberfoyle. There's a bit of road and a section of the West Highland Way to keep things interesting as you head towards civilisation.
The rain was pretty set in by now and thoughts had turned to food and beer in the city. After two days in the proper wilderness, the first thing you notice as you head back into an urban area is the traffic lights. Where have they come from?!
That, and how bad you smell.
We finished for a beer along the river at Inn Deep. No beer tastes as good as the first one at the end of a bikepacking trip.
The official end of the route is at Kelvingrove Art Gallery if you want a photo to go with your one from Inverness Castle.
Stu and Paul encouraged me to try a local delicacy, a 'munchie box', and I was offered a bed for the night. Just what was needed before getting stuck into the 600km to back to Manchester the next day.
See the official ride with GPS version below that we stuck too, mostly. Let us know if you're planning to go and ride it. There are a few key resupply points you need to hit, but a stash of all natural energy bars in your bags is highly recommended too 🙌
These last shots from the Iphone explain a few of the references in this piece, including our nude hiking friend!