Double Divide: Gravelling from Inverness to Manchester
Words by Brandley Shenton // Photos by James Craven
The Double Divide, a multi-terrain (mainly off-road) route that joins the Badger Divide & Second City Divide routes, travels from Inverness to Manchester. Why did we choose this route? Well, we couldn't get to Spain for multiple reasons, so we needed something to do.
- You could win over £550 of winter kit from Attaquer
- Video: How to wild camp responsibly
- When was the last time you rode bare-bar?
James and I started this year by racing each other around King Alfred's Way. He's an endurance athlete, and I'm a road racer that has transitioned over to the mud, so we work as a good pair to push each other on adventures.
Our buddy Luke, over at Outdoor Provisions, created the Second City Divide route. However, 580km wasn't enough for James, so he suggested adding the Badger Divide and taking on the two routes over 6 days, averaging 150km a day. This was a holiday, and not a race, after all.
You can see Brad and James' full Double Divide tour with photos and ride highlights over on Komoot here.
Bike and kit preparations
For this sort of trip, and most of our off-road riding, we'd opt for our hardtail mountain bikes, but we decided to jump on the 'gravel' craze and see how far we could push our gravel bikes. Additionally, we loved the thought of camping. With Scotland's wild camping options and multiple bothies en-route, how could we not go full 'explorer' mode and rough it for a week?
September in Scotland and the north of England is tricky to pack for. You really don't know what you're going to get, nor does the weatherman, apparently (the weather forecast was never right).
Bike: Cannondale Topstone AL
Wheels: Stayer All-Road with DT350 hubs
Tyres: Specialized Pathfinder Pro 42
Clothing: Attaquer - All day range
On a trip like this, cargo shorts are essential. The Attaquer all-day cargo shorts only have a pocket on one side, but it's massive, and you can cram a lot into that one pocket. Trust us, we stuffed everything in there, every day.
Bags: Miss Grape: Cluster 13, Internode, Tendril 10.7 & Node Adventure. Plus, a WizardWorks Snackbag.
Camping: Alpkit Elane Bivvy, Cloud Base camping mat, Pipedream 400 sleeping bag & Drift Pillow. For cooking, Alpkit Kraku, MytiMug and TiMigos.
Additional essentials included an Aeropress (coffee fuel!), Smidge spray, chamois cream, baby wipes and an Alpkit Quark head torch.
Special mention for the Miss Grape Fix straps, you need straps in your life if you're going on the trip. They're so versatile, and you pretty much strap anything to your bags or bike, including a french baguette.
Bike: Orro Terra C
Wheels: Pacenti custom front dynamo wheel with son dynamo hub. Rear Pacenti Forza-carbon gravel wheel
Tyres: Maxxis Rambler 700x45c
Clothing: Attaquer all-day range
Bags: Alpkit big papa saddlebag, Ortlieb frame back, and Altura handlebar bag
Camping: Alpkit Elan Bivvy, Thermorest Neoair Uberlite, Agismax 3 season sleeping bag, and for cooking, Alpkit Kraku, MytiPot 900.
Additional essentials included:
- Supernova dynamo lights & Exposure Joystick head torch.
- Igaro D1 USB dynamo charger.
- A Fujifilm XT-1 camera with a 27mm lens.
I wanted to briefly mention our travel day, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, travelling by train is a pain in the arse with a bike. Yeah, it's better than flying, but it's just as awkward. 10 hours after setting off from London, we arrived in Inverness, in the dark, and set off to find a spot to sleep just out of the city.
Secondly, it's actually really quick to get out of Inverness and into the wild, so much so that we saw a Badger within 3km of leaving the centre. Fitting, seeing as we were on the Badger Divide for the next two days.
Day 1: Badger Divide - Inverness to Corrour
(140km / 2,965m of climbing)
It was a damp start to the first day of our trip, which wasn't ideal as we'd bivvy'd out in a pretty exposed spot. However, that did not dampen our spirits, and we couldn't wait to get cracking.
Straight away, we were blessed with some pretty amazing riding, taking on the West side of Loch Ness with a real mix of terrains, including some fast rolling trails through the forest, on the Great Glen Way. It does include a fair whack of climbing to Fort Augustus; after 60km of the route, we've already done 1,200m of climbing, so when we hit Fort Augustus, we were pretty pleased.
Make sure to stock up in Fort Augustus on food, but there's also a great hardware shop just off the route that seems to have pretty much everything you need, including bike spares. For us, it was a piece of rope to hack a camera strap together.
With a stomach full of overpriced pizza, we headed out of Fort Augustus and pretty much straight away were hit with The Corrieyairack Pass. It's tough, but with some effort, we managed it with no hike-a-bike; the weather was now more favourable, making life easier.
Once over the pass, we were cooking, warmed up and ready to crack on. We're not the type to stop much. Pretty much every day, we tried to limit our stops to just one, so if you're here for cafe stop recommendations, you won't have much luck.
Just over 100km, we hit some tarmac, much-welcomed tarmac, and it was fast, winding and thoroughly enjoyable. That joy continues onto the track to the infamous Corrour Station House.
We arrived close-by the station house around 6pm, so the light was dwindling, but we'd planned to stay in a bothy just off the route. What we didn't realise, until that very moment at 6pm, was that the bothy wasn't that close at all and would've added at least another 15km to our trip.
We weren't fazed; the Corrour Station House was a mere 1km away, we had our bivvies, and we'd surely find some shelter near the pub that we could pitch up at. That was only the beginning of how good that evening got.
We turn up to the pub with a sign at the front: CLOSED on Sundays, due to train strike. Damn, we can see the beer pump, but we can't access the beer pump. We pop our bike on the fence, take a deep breath and see that at least the train station has a small hut that looks vacant (it turns out a lot of adventurers use this hut to pitch up at night).
While staring wishfully into the pub, we see that people are actually inside and eating. I chance it, the door is open, I walk in, and a welcome face approaches. I start with 'I know you're closed, but…', which seemed to work. We were given a menu, two pints and couldn't wish for a better ending to the first day. BUT WAIT, it gets so much better.
Once we'd lined our stomachs with a few more beers, we were rolling our mats out in the hut when a voice from the house shouted, "Chaps! Fancy staying in the house? We've got a spare living room you could stay in". Roll mat dropped, we took up that offer instantly and headed over, leaving all our kit in the hut overnight. People are great, and the people behind the Corrour Station House are even better. Thank you.
Day 2: Badger Divide: Corrour to Glasgow
(192km / 3,063m of climbing)
With a 4:30am alarm, we had a big day ahead of us. That didn't stop me from whipping out the Aeropress to start the day with an essential for any big day, coffee.
I can't tell you much about the first part of the second day as I was still waking up, and it was dark. Still, I can imagine in the light, riding around the Corrour Estate would be amazing. I mean, it was amazing in the dark, just a little difficult to navigate.
After about 55km of the second day, there's a picturesque post office and shop when we hit the tarmac. Unfortunately for us, it was too early to be open, but we knew we had some faster tarmac ahead of us, and Killin would be our place to re-supply.
Onwards from Killin with pockets and bags full of food and snacks, we hit some rolling gravel for a short while before some tough terrain, Glen Ample. It's beautiful, but it's slow, and you need to be prepared for a bit of hike-a-bike. I think it's at this point I wish I had my MTB, not to say the gravel bike wasn't capable, it 100% was, especially when you have the right wheel/tyre set up (thanks, Stayer!).
Once we finally finished this slow section, we were blessed with finely packed gravel through Aberfoyle and then the final section with some cycle paths into Glasgow. It takes a bit of getting used to seeing the cars and traffic lights once you get into the city, but it was a welcome sight after a long day in the saddle.
Final Thoughts on the Badger Divide
That concluded the Badger Divide for us. For me, it was one of the best routes I have done. 90% off-road and so remote, I'm pretty sure we only saw 6 people along the route during our whole trip.
If I could do it again, I would probably jump on the mountain bike, just for comfort. A gravel bike running anything above a 38 tyre is capable, though.
James: The badger divide rewarded us with abundant wildlife, vast lochs and great peaks lining the paths as we rode through glens. The terrain was largely smooth-ish gravel tracks with some fun/easy going single track and the occasional quiet road.
For me, it was some of the UK's best accessible cycling, and there was hardly anyone out there to share it with. It was a proper remote cycling adventure.
Day 3: The Second City Divide: Glasgow to Hopehouse
(158km / 2628m of climbing)
We were fortunate enough to stay with a buddy in Glasgow (cheers, Jack!), which meant we'd had a good night's sleep, washed our clothes, and started off dry. Bonus.
This was now the second part of our trip, taking on The Second City Divide, a relatively new route plotted by the crew over at Outdoor Provisions.
It takes about 20km to get out to the good riding, but once you're out, it's worth it. The first section of the Second City Divide is a mix of recently made gravel access roads (I loved them, James wasn't a fan, the traditionalist that he is), B-roads and a few bridleways thrown in for good measure.
I'm a fan of climbing, it has to be said, and there was a climb out of Tibbie Shiels that was stunning, and once at the top, you have the most amazing views. We did think about pitching up at the top, but it was a little early, and we could easily add on another 30km before the end of the day. It was tough to say no to such a beautiful spot for camp, but we knew we needed to make more of the light and cracked on.
We found a stream and flat spot just outside Hopehouse to set up camp for the night in our bivvies. We quickly rustled up some quick-cook pasta in a bag before the light went completely, then jumped in the sleeping bags to call it a night.
Day 4: The Second City Divide: Hopehouse to Greg's Hut (168km / 3,220m of climbing)
Our 4th day would see us roll over the border and back home into England. I think we were pretty sad to leave Scotland, the trip up to this point had been amazing, and the scenery is some of the best in the world.
Just before we set off, we thought we would do a double check of what food we had on us; 1 squares bar, 1 packet of wine gums, 5 club bars, 1 packet of instant oats and 2 energy bars. We had roughly 120km of riding before the next shop (so we thought) if we didn't want to go off route. It's safe to say, we got pretty hangry shortly after setting off. Ok, I got pretty hangry.
It was hard to be too downbeat about being hungry; Craik Woods is such great place to ride. There was a little cut-thru hike-a-bike section that was a little confusing, but it made sense because it does link to a fast-rolling gravel section that is a lot of fun to ride.
Rolling into Kielder, you know you're near the border, and we honestly thought every building could be some sort of cafe because the hunger really started to kick in at this point. Then, all our dreams and wishes came true. Welcome, The Hide Cafe. It was poor planning on our part, and I'm sure you could plan it much better, but The Hide Cafe took care of us, serving up a fry-up and coffee. There's also a little shop to re-supply.
The next section was exposed, and we had a serious headwind all along the Pennine Way - headwind central. The tough going didn't stop there. We were running out of daylight and had Cross Fell to tackle. Cross Fell is deceiving, you start with some decent gravel, but it's a long climb. It was about 5:15pm at the point we started, and we genuinely thought we'd be in Greg's Hut before 6pm and have a spectacular view while eating dinner.
That was not the case. About ¾ up, everything changes. And so did the weather. Fog fading in, and the track turns to serious rock. No chance of riding that last section up to the hut. But when you do arrive at Greg's Hut, you're greeted with a bothie that's split into two sections, with a sleeping platform that's spacious enough for about 6 bodies. We only had one walker join us, meaning we had ample space for our kit and bikes.
Day 5: The Second City Divide: Greg's Hut to Ingleton (108km / 2,123m of climbing)
Starting off, Ingleton was not our intended stop point, but I knew how day 5 would go just after setting off from Greg's Hut. It's seriously boggy. And of course, after having the luxury of a dry night, within 5 minutes, I drench both feet into the bog ending the dream of another dry day.
It's another tough start on the other side of Greg's Hut, but once you do hit the grassy descent, you can hit some speed and get sweerly. Again, I reckon Cross Fell would be a lot more fun on an MTB, but we made the most of it.
We had a bit of everything on this day, and we stopped a lot, but that kind of threw of rhythm off track. A live firing training drill at the army camp, the roads around the Yorkshire Dales, the climbs, the descents, it had everything to make it one hell of a day. But, our bodies were saying otherwise.
We arrived in Ingleton around 4:30pm, knowing we should ride for another 2 hours, which would leave us a kind 110km for the last day. But, the weather was turning, and we knew there was an open YHA in Ingleton. After about 30 mins of debate, we finally decided it would be best to stop in Ingleton, sleep dry, and get up early to hit the last day.
Be wary; the YHA are operating a little differently now; you don't book a bed, you have to book a room - so we had to book a 4 dorm just for the two of us. We asked if we could just pitch up our bivvies in the TV room before finally paying for the full dorm room.
Notable mention for Opo Bar in Ingleton, comedic staff and good beer. I was feeling pretty good at this point about our decision to stop. Maybe it was the beer.
Day 6: The Second City Divide: Ingleton to Manchester (152km / 3,533m of climbing)
5am alarm for the last day, but we weren't fussed. It was a wet day, though, a really, really wet day. We started pretty smugly, knowing we'd made the right decision about staying inside for the night.
We were positive for about 20km, then the wheels started to come off, specifically my gears. Indexing all over the place, raining flying sideways, we took shelter in a public toilet for several reasons. 1. To try and warm up under a drier (I'm not great in the cold), and 2. For James to attempt to fix my dodgy gears while I warm up.
Neither worked, so we just cracked on.
Once we got on the Lancashire Way, nothing changed. The rain was flying in sideways, we couldn't see much at all, and we had pretty much every layer on we were carrying. I did, anyway.
Dropping off the Lancashire Way, we rode through Colne and stumbled across the best greasy spoon cafe. I always love these sorts of trips, turning up looking very grubby and then ordering far too much for one person to consume. I live in London, so coffee and a bun are usually around £6+. At this cafe in Colne, I ordered an egg bap the size of my head, a full breakfast, a piece of cake and a mug of coffee for just under £8. I will be back. Fed and slightly drier, we tackled the rain once again for the last little push into Manchester, or so we thought.
We carried on along the Pennine Bridleway, which is brilliant, especially the cobbled sections. We stopped one more time in Waterfoot at the Old Library Cafe Bar before the final stretch.
The last section of the Second City Divide still makes me laugh. You arrive atop somewhere, I forget the name, but the most important thing, you can see Manchester. But looking at the route, you still have 40km to go. Impossible, I can see the city!
Be prepared; the last 40km is tough. The last part adds about another 2,000m of climbing; I know I said I like climbing, but I was pretty done with it at this point! We were tired, wet and wanted some proper grub.
Second City Divide - Final Thoughts
It's a very well thought out route over a good distance. There is such a mix of riding, but I would 100% recommend a gravel bike, riding anything over 35 tyres. You get to ride pretty much every terrain, escape busy roads and towns and see some of the best parts of the country.
September is a funny time to take on a trip like this because you have to be prepared for everything. Fortunately, we have Attaquer to thank for kitting us out in the right kit; their All-Day range had us covered for pretty much everything.
There were slightly more roads, but very few were busy. The terrain was varied with lots of fast-rolling gravel access roads but some tougher going bridleways. Although we only stayed at one bothy, there are lots of options on route. One of my favourite bits was the ride up to Greggs hut on Cross Fell. With the weather turning when we were up there, it felt so remote and wild and was great to make it to the bothy just before darkness.
After riding the Badger beforehand, this route was a challenge for sure but so rewarding. As we rode the last miles over the hills into Manchester, we could see the sun shining down on the city. We knew good beer and pizza would be waiting for us!
I cannot recommend both the Second City Divide and Badger Divide for someone looking for a bikepacking adventure in the UK!