Drovers, gravel and loads of smiles

Drovers, gravel and loads of smiles

Words, Pictures and Videos by Markus Stitz

It is always daunting committing to designing a new bikepacking route. While Scotland has plenty of great ancient trails to start with, there is always a great uncertainty involved as well. Since designing the Capital Trail, my first bikepacking route, and releasing it just before my round the world trip in June 2015, I have made my passion for cycling my job and founded Bikepacking Scotland, which has grown significantly since then. I worked with a number of organisations to gradually build a network of dedicated bikepacking routes in Scotland, published on a website, promoted bikepacking as an activity through social media channels and a Facebook community.


The idea for the Highland Perthshire gravel trails project started in February 2018, when Highland Perthshire Cycling Trustee Mike Stead approached me after he had watched Wild About Argyll, which had just been released. My initial response was to block off a day in my diary, take a train to Dunblane (the closest I could get to the area without a bike reservation), and cycle from there across parts of General Wade’s military roads from Crieff to Dunkeld on a cold Friday. Highland Perthshire wasn’t a region I was too familiar with, and before committing I wanted to get a feel for the area. While this was in the middle of winter, with snow covering the ground at most times, and mud at other times, that short trip served its purpose. I not only got a good idea of the area, but really excited about the prospect of discovering the area, as it was steeped in history.


But as with many things in life, having an idea is great, but it doesn’t pay the bills. Mike’s vision was not only to develop a new bikepacking route suitable for gravel bikes, but a whole network of gravel day trips, which could get more local people out on their bikes, but would also encourage visitors to stay for a while, instead of just passing through.


Jointly we worked on exploring sources for funding, and the breakthrough finally came in March 2019, when I crossed the SSE Griffin Wind Farm on my return from a short weekend trip from Dunkeld to a bothy. Together with Al Humphreys I was the keynote speaker at the Wild Scotland conference in Dunkeld. Instead of just talking about adventures, I usually try to combine those speaking engagements with bike trips. After battling a snow storm all day on my return from a bothy, I passed the wind farm and found out about their community fund, which supports local projects.


Fast forward another few months. With a £9,835 grant from Rural Perth & Kinross LEADER Programme 2014-2020, match funded with £15,000 from the SSE Griffin and Calliachar Community Fund, we are ready to go. We are launching the project on a cold and crisp November’s day near Dunkeld’s Loch Ordie, which will later become part of the route network.


After running a survey and four community consultations I have enough information and ideas. Developing the routes with a mixture of route planning apps like Komoot, satellite images, old and new maps, all from the warmth of the office, is fun. Test riding them in the middle of winter in Scotland is ambitious, but the timing is just right. A few days before the country goes into lockdown for a few months I have accomplished my mission, at times riding in very challenging conditions.


Lockdown gives me more time to research an idea for a new film to showcase the Drovers Trail, the centrepiece of the Perthshire Gravel Trails. The ancient drove roads are an important part of Scottish history, and the 331 km long bikepacking trail retraces the footsteps of the cattle drovers on their journey from the Cairngorms through the Tay Valley to Crieff, which became Scotland's most important cattle market at the end of the 17th century. After reading Haldane’s ‘The Drove Roads of Scotland’ in the first weeks of April I draw parallels between the adventurous spirit of the Highlanders and bikepacking nowadays, and develop ideas for my new film, Drovers. Starring in the film is the Kinesis G2, which proved the perfect gravel bike for riding the route and parts of the other trails.

The new gravel bikepacking route is part of eleven different gravel itineraries, which are now available to download for free at The lengths of the individual routes range from 12 km to 120 km, starting in the Highland Perthshire towns and villages of Dunkeld, Pitlochry, Blair Atholl, Aberfeldy, and Comrie, as well as the remote Rannoch Station. Eight of the eleven routes are easily accessible by Scotrail and Caledonian Sleeper train services. The different routes are designed as day journeys for different ages and abilities, but can also be combined or shortened by using quiet roads or cycle paths. They are graded as easy, straightforward, challenging or expert. The different criteria for the grading and detailed route descriptions with pictures are available on the website.

While the routes are perfect for the G2, mountain bikers and touring cyclists will have a lot of fun too. Most of the day trips are great for e-bikes too. To challenge my riding abilities, I tried one of the loops on a 23mm tyre singlespeed bike, but would not recommend that.


I hope the new film and the route network will encourage more people to explore the area and support the local economy. They will also give locals new ideas to experience their immediate surroundings and reconnect with nature.

Markus Stitz

A collection of gravel trails, carefully curated by Markus, can also be found on Komoot.

Markus Stitz has cycled around the world on a singlespeed bike in 2015/2016, and has since written, photographed and filmed cycling in many shapes. He is the founder of Bikepacking Scotland, runs Dirt Dash events and enjoys adventures around the globe.

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