The Dunoon Dirt Dash is the perfect weekend bikepacking adventure on Scotland’s amazing West Coast, easily accesible by public transport from Glasgow. This is the route used for the annual Dunoon Dirt Dash in September.
In a nutshell:
Length: 132 km
Total climb: 2,752 m
Total descent: 2,752 m
Altitude range: 343 m
The route starts opposite Castle Gardens at the Victorian Dunoon Pier, a famous local landmark, recently renovated to bring it back to its former glory. CalMac Ferries run the passenger ferry service to Gourock, connecting by train link to Glasgow from here. Following Victoria Parade for a short section, the route soon passes Bishop’s Glen Reservoir, another well-known landmark. From here the Dunoon Dirt Dash follows well-graded gravel roads to Innellan, where the route joins the A815 for a while.
Cruising past Toward Castle and along Loch Striven the route leaves the coast again at Inverchaolain and climbs steeply on an old Coffin Road towards the Bealach na Sreineon the northern side of Inverchaolian Burn. After a steep downhill the route crosses the burn and continues climbing on the southern side. This is the start of the most technical section of the route and requires either pushing or carrying the bike for a prolonged period. It is not advisable to ride this part of the route in challenging weather conditions, as there is no visible path to follow on the top. Good fitness and bike handling/carrying skills are essential for this part of the route. More information about the Heritage Path can be found here.
After pushing through tussock the route reaches the top, with an equally strenuous downhill towards Glen Kin. The views from the top are amazing on a clear day, which makes the hike a bike worthwhile. Shortly after the path is suited for cycling again, it joins a smooth gravel road. The route follows through Glen Kin and crosses the B836, before following more quiet roads and gravel paths towards Benmore Botanical Garden. Benmore, with its magnificent mountainside setting, boasts a world-famous collection of flowering trees and shrubs including over 300 species of rhododendron and over one third of the world’s hardy conifer species.
The route passes the A815 south of the gardens and the cafe, which are just a small detour away. It climbs steeply into the forest towards the Arboretum. World-famous Puck’s Glen is a great opportunity to leave the bike for a short while and enjoy a walk, following a magical trail that winds along a Victorian walkway up the dramatic rocky gorge that is said to be home to mischievous spirits. The route drops towards Kilmun Parish Church and Argyll Mausoleum, where the Dukes of Argyll are buried. It then follows a quiet road along the coast to Kilmun, Strone and Blairmore, where pubs and a cafe invite for a rest stop. After crossing the Stronchullin Burn you leave the road again, first climbing on small road towards Quadmania, where it turns into a well maintained gravel track. Following the track you will soon descend through another magnificent forest towards Laird’s Grave and Ardentinny. Here you can picnic beside Cowal’s longest sandy beach and explore the varied network of woodland trails, before following the old cattle drovers’ road to Carrick Castle on Loch Goil. This section of the route is also part of the Wild About Argyll Trail.
Carrick Farm, exactly half-way through the route, is a good place to stop with B&B accommodation. and the Boat Shed Café, a few miles up the road, offers great coffee and light snacks for breakfast the next day. After a section of tarmac the route climbs steeply up the glen from Lettermay, crossing the Lettermay Burn. Some pushing and lifting the bike over a fence is required here, before joining the Loch Lomond and Cowal Way on a loch at the top. From here the route descends towards Strachur, which has a well-stocked shop to fill up on food. Crossing the A815 the route follows the gravel track on the western side of Loch Eck back towards Benmore Gardens. It passes the famous Golden Gates, which were made in Berlin in 1870 for Greenock born sugar refiner, philanthropist and art collector James Duncan, before heading westbound into Glen Massan. The tarmac roads turns into a well-maintained gravel track, climbing towards Loch Tarsan and passing it on its eastern shore. Shortly afterwards the route joins Sustrans Route 75 on the B836 for a while. After crossing the Little Echaig river the route follows gravel roads back into Dunoon, and finishes at Dunoon Pier.
Please note: An extensive programme of felling and woodland site closures are planned across Corlarach Forest near Dunoon from September 2019 as a result of an outbreak of a tree disease affecting Larch trees. Sections of the route will be temporarily closed. Please respect those closures and use the road as an alternative. The section of the route that runs through Stronchullin Farm is used by Quadmania for clay shooting. If closed, the staff can advise of an alternative from the farm house.
Download the route as KML below in the Google Map. We have also marked main attractions, places to eat and to stay there.
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How to get there
We highly encourage you to take the train or cycle to Dunoon.
By bike: You can take the passenger ferry from Gourock to Dunoon Pier, which has spaces for bikes. Please check the Calmac website for timetables and fares. There’s another regular ferry service from Hunter’s Quay to McInroy’s Point. Please check Western Ferries for timetables and fares. Best buy your ferry ticket at one of the ticket agents in advance.
By train: Dunoon has no train station, but you can take the train to Gourock to connect with the ferry to Dunoon. For timetables and fares check the Scotrail website and Calmac website for ferry times.
By car: Dunoon is situated on the Cowal Peninsula. If you are coming from the South or East, there’s a regular ferry service for cars from Hunter’s Quay to McInroy’s Point. Please check Western Ferries for timetables and fares. Best buy your ferry ticket at one of the ticket agents in advance. From the North and West best use the A815 which takes you to Dunoon. Alternatively you can leave your car in Gourock and take the passenger ferry from there to the Dunoon Pier. Please check the Calmac website for timetables and fares.
Parking: Free parking is available in Dunoon – Information about parking can be found here.