Upper right: Edinburgh Castle
Lower right: Scottish Parliament Building; Lower left: Saint Mary’s Cathedral.
We traveled the UK for six weeks in 2018, and then returned to the UK and Ireland for two months in 2022 to document the hardest and most epic bike climbs there. Before our trip in 2022, legendary UK hill climbing and cycling author, Simon Warren, provided us his picks for Top Most Difficult and the Top 10 Most Epic hill climbs for England, Wales, Scotland and the UK as a whole. Below is Simon’s Top 10 Most Epic Hill Climbs of Scotland.
Also see our our general United Kingdom Climbs page, UK Most Epic Bike Climbs (per Simon Warren), and our Simon Warren 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs, Britain pages.
SCOTLAND’S MOST EPIC HILL CLIMBS
#10 - LOWTHER HILL
Lowther Hill is a climb up through Scottish history. The halfway point of the climb passes through the former, and aptly named, town of Leadhill. From our climbing route, former mining sites are visible in the distance near the old town of Leadhill. Additionally you’ll pass the oldest subscription library in Britain, which was started by the town's miners in the 1700s. Past Leadhill and up a few tough pitches, you’ll cross the town line of Wanlockhead, which holds the title of being the Highest Village in Scotland. From Wanlockhead, you turn left onto a private access road to reach the radar stations at the summit of our climb. Although the road is marked as private, I think this is really just to keep cars out and is not applicable to cyclists and hikers. If you're lucky enough to have clear skies, the summit views are staggering. But, the sun rarely shines out this way, so be prepared for a wet day.
Gate at kilometer 12 - seemed alright to ride up.
#9 - QUIRAING
Quiraing is just about the last stop you can reach on the Isle of Skye. Far past the last major town of Portree, our climb begins at the high cliffs overlooking the sea. There are some farms on the lower slopes, but this is a very remote country, and the few farms around are the only real development in the area. This is a very popular tourist destination and I recommend riding the climb early. I started the climb around 7:30 AM and beat the brunt of the RV, motorcycle, car, and bus traffic that began blocking up the road around 10:00 AM. While the climb itself is not very difficult, the landscape is genuinely jaw-dropping. A final switchback takes you to the summit point where there are a number of trails that you can walk to reach the cliffs overlooking the road and bay beyond. This is a bucket list climb by any measure.
#8 - BEN LAWERS
The Ben Lawers climb could easily be the crown jewel climb of any typical region, but Scotland has such stiff competition. So, Ben Lawers is “just” another epic climb in Scotland. A very narrow farming road takes you to the start coordinates which are at a very notable old stone bridge. There is one small cafe just before the start point of our climb, but other than that the area looks to be solely made up of small farms. Fairly easy gradients and an ever-winding road takes you up the mountain pass alongside a river. The road is freshly paved, very freshly paved - one of the smoothest roads I have ridden in all of Scotland. This area is popular for hikers who mainly seemed to congregate at the lake near the summit of our climb. In good weather, there are few climbs better than Ben Lawers.
Bridge of Balgie over the River Lyon is where this climb begins.
#7 - NICK OF THE BALLOCH
Nick of the Balloch is situated deep in the backcountry of Scotland. The road to the base of the climb is an amazing, one-lane, twisting road through pine trees and tall mountains. I parked just up from the start point of the climb on a large dirt section by the side of the road. Once on the climb proper, the road rises up out of the thick foliage and into the misty mountaintop air. Although the climb only rises about 700 feet, it has a high mountain feel as the top portion of the road is etched precariously into the mountainside with a guardrail protecting you from a steep dropoff. This scenery is truly jaw-dropping and screams “Scotland” around every turn. While the grade and distance of the climb is moderate, the scenery of this area makes the trip well-worth it.
#6 - THE STRING
The String begins just outside of the largest city on the Isle of Arran, Brodick. Our route is one of only two passes that cross over the mountainous island. From the start point, with the jagged mountains peering over, you’ll ride up mellow gradients past sheep herds and farming land. Once halfway up, the port below will be in view and on a clear day you’ll most certainly see shipping vessels as well as ferries pulling into port. The road is mostly straight and well-paved throughout the climb. This seems to be the main route across the island, so expect some traffic - although the island is so small and remote that “some traffic” only equates to a dozen cars an hour. The summit point is marked only by a turn warning sign.
#5 - MULL OF KINTYRE (#3 Scotland most difficult)
Cycling Mull of Kintyre
Ride 1.3 miles gaining 1,024’ at 13.5% average grade.
Mull of Kintyre is the southernmost tip of Kintyre Peninsula in a very, very remote part of Scotland - it’s a chore to get to, but well worth the trip. Mull of Kintyre was made wildly famous by Paul McCartney and Wings song by the same name which was the band's biggest hit in Britain. Paul McCartney has owned High Park Farm, 20 miles north of our start, since 1966.
The Mull of Kintyre climb is one of the most remarkable climbs that I have ever done, unquestionably. Situated on the southernmost point of a remote peninsula, the Mull was once used as an access point to Scotland by early humans. Now, a lighthouse stands on the rocky outcrop overlooking the coastline. The road itself is marked as “Not for public use,” but I don’t think you’ll have any issues riding the road on a bicycle. It is a steep “road” which more resembles a walking path. The pavement quality matches the surrounding landscape - rough and rugged. On a clear day, these views are unmatched and simply astounding.
We understand why Paul McCartney wrote longingly about Mull of Kintyre.
Mull of Kintyre
Oh, mist rolling in from the sea
My desire is always to be here
Oh, Mull of Kintyre
Far have I traveled and much have I seen
Dark distant mountains with valleys of green
Past painted deserts the sunset's on fire
As he carries me home to the Mull of Kintyre
Mull of Kintyre
Oh, mist rolling in from the sea
My desire is always to be here
Oh, Mull of Kintyre
Sweep through the heather like deer in the glen
Carry me back to the days I knew then
Nights when we sang like a heavenly choir
Of the life and the time of the Mull of Kintyre (Wings, 1977; the bands #1 all-time hit in Britain)
#4 - THE LECHT (#2 Scotland most difficult)
Poem on a stone at 800m.
This 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs climb easily gets a 10/10 for difficulty. Simon Warren writes of this climb, “a true monster of a climb through the heart of the Cairngorms, the road up to Lecht Ski Centre is a simply stunning ride,” (Simon Warren, 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs, A Road Cyclists Guide to Britain’s Hills, p. 117).
Lecht Ski Resort boasts the highest roadside bar in Scotland.
#3 - THE WALL OF TALLA
Cycling The Wall of Talla, Scotland
Ride 1.8 kilometers gaining 153 meters at 8.7% average grade.
The Wall of Talla is tucked away in the remote hills of southern Scotland near a number of small lakes. The scenery here is spectacular and would in many countries be considered a National Park. But this is Scotland and lakes are a dime a dozen, and you’ll likely have the views to enjoy all alone. The climb rises above the lake for the first half, then you’ll cross a bridge that takes you behind the hill and to the summit for the climb. Double digit grades make the climb tough, but the scenery is so breathtaking that you’ll likely not even notice the tough grades. This was our first Scottish climb of our 2022 trip in the UK and really got us excited to explore the rest of the country.
This is a quiet, peaceful, and very scenic bike climb.
#2 - MAOVALLY
Cycling Maovally, Scotland
Ride 3.2 miles gaining 1,058’ at 6.3% average grade.
In his X-List Simon Warren writes of this wonderful and remote bike climb:
“There are no words to describe the magnificence of this road, no adequate superlatives nor flowery prose could every come close to doing it justice. . . A service road for two small power stations, well surfaced, closed to traffic but open to the public and situated in some of the most pristine scenery in all of Scotland, it is all but PERFECT.”
Maovally is in the far north of Scotland and accessed by traveling down some very remote and narrow backroads. I was not able to drive to the precise start point of the climb, as it was gated off by a power company. I parked about four miles away on a pull off on the A838 highway and rode into the start point. There is a gate for pedestrians, so you won’t need to hop any fences or break any rules to ride the climb, it seems the gate is just to keep motor traffic out. Our route starts at a nondescript section of road adjacent to the lake. You’ll enjoy having the narrow road and stunning views all to yourself here. A few turns and tough gradients wrap around the mountain and take you to the summit point which is unmarked. Unlike many of the Scottish climbs that are well-known cycling and hiking destinations, Maovally is remote and seemingly unknown.
#1 MOST EPIC HILL CLIMB OF SCOTLAND
BEALACH NA BA, TRADITIONAL ROUTE
Cycling Bealach na Bà
Ride 5.1 miles gaining 2,019’ at 7.5% average grade.
Bealach na Ba is one of the most scenic, challenging and exceptional climbing experiences in the UK. This road is one the farthest outliers of all the hardest and most epic of Britain’s hill climbs, situated in the far northwestern Highland Council Area of Scotland. Perhaps the greatest testament to Bealach na Ba is that it is the only climb in the United Kingdom listed in Daniel Friebe’s exceptional climbing books, Mountain High and Mountain Higher (pages 28-31 of Mountain Higher). This is a bucket-list climb, a chore to get to, but well worth the effort.
This bike climb is just pure epic and an absolute must for any UK bucket list.
Not only is this the hardest bike climb in Scotland and #4 UK, it is also ranked by Simon Warren (Top UK Cycling Climbing Books) as the most epic bike climb in all of the United Kingdom (see our UK Top 10 Most Epic Hill Climbs page for more information).
4/10ths mile of serpentine road and hairpins leading to the finish.
“This is it: The Holy Grail, the toughest and wildest climb in Britain. Anything you have read or been told about this amazing road is likely to be true. For once, you can believe the hype,” Simon Warren (100 Greatest Cycling Climbs, A Road Cyclist’s Guide to Britain’s Hills, p. 121).
That’s a wrap!