Highlights: Tastes and Trails of Scotland

With Scotland being voted Best Biking Destination in the Outside Travel Awards 2014, we thought we’d put the spotlight on one of our newer Highland adventures, aimed at novice bikers, and share with you the highlights of our Tastes and Trails of Scotland experience.

This holiday is the perfect combination of effort and reward. Our expert local guides will share with you some of the most remote and beautiful corners of the west coast of Scotland, and your adventures aren’t just limited to the bike…

Days of Steam

Relax on the Jacobite (Hogwarts) Express steam train
Continually voted one of the most impressive train rides in the world the Jacobite Express steam train will take you from Fort William, along the coast, to the beautiful fishing village of Mallaig. You’ll be spellbound by the breathtaking scenery and the true scale of the Highlands and, if you’re a Harry Potter fan, the highlight of this trip on the ‘Hogwarts Express’ might well be the famous 21 arches of the Glenfinnan Viaduct.

In the shadow of a giant
Situated at the foot of Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain, Glen Nevis is another Scottish landmark steeped in a turbulent yet fascinating history. With some truly staggering views awaiting you at every corner, it’s easy to see why this is another favourite with movie makers, with the majority of Braveheart filmed in the Glen. It is also home to one of Scotland’s highest waterfalls, Steall Falls, offering you further spectacular photo opportunities.

Hand-dived scallops

Hand-dived scallops from the west coast of Scotland

Over the sea to Skye
Following the path of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s we’ll take the ferry from Mallaig to the Isle of Skye. You will have time to soak up the atmosphere, majesty and natural beauty of one of Scotland’s most famous islands. If you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of some of Skye’s more celebrated residents, including seals and otters.

After a scenic walk you’ll be amply rewarded with a Michelin-starred lunch and wonderful dining experience at Kinloch Lodge. And, of course, no culinary visit to the Isle of Skye would be complete without a distillery tour and there’s none better than the Talisker Distillery on the north west of the island, where you’ll enjoy sampling some of the finest malts.

Iconic castles
If the walls of Eilean Donan Castle could talk, they would have one heck of a story to tell!

Mountain biking Glenelg Scotland

Mountain biking Glenelg Scotland

Inhabited from as far back as the 6th century, and undergoing at least four different builds and rebuilds, the castle has played host to Irish Saints, various medieval clans, and was subject to a Jacobite uprising, the result of which left it in ruin. Thankfully, the castle was restored to its former glory in the early 20th century, and is now regarded as one of the most iconic and picturesque castles in Scotland. A history lesson not to be missed.

Carefully woven into this itinerary of fabulous Highland experiences, are some of the most enjoyable and picturesque biking trails in the country. Our guides will give you hints and tips along the way to help you become a better mountain biker and ensure you get the most of your Tastes and Trails of Scotland experience.

If all this has whet your appetite for adventure, join us on our Tastes and Trails of Scotland tour this summer!

Coast-to-coast Scotland: award-winning adventure!

Earlier this month (March) Outside Magazine in the United States voted Scotland as the Best Biking Destination 2014, and showcased our coast-to-coast Scotland mountain biking adventure in the award.

Amazing descent on day two of our coast-to-coast mountain bike holiday in Scotland

Amazing descent on day two of our coast-to-coast mountain bike holiday in Scotland

Obviously, we’re delighted about this and are very proud of the tour and our exceptional guides, and very thankful to the glaciers and continental shifts that shaped this beautiful country into what we see today as we cross the Highlands from east to west; from Bonar Bridge to Applecross.

But what makes our coast-to-coast mountain bike tour world-class and worthy of an award? Let’s delve a little deeper into some of the contributing elements of this celebrated Scottish adventure.

The tour

Mountain biking from coast-to-coast in Scotland is not a new idea, with the first route having been devised in the eighties. This ‘classic’ coast-to-coast route is good fun, but was created when mountain biking was fairly new, bikes were a lot less capable and people’s mountain biking skills were in their infancy.

With this in mind, we set about creating a coast-to-coast that would inject some 21st century energy into this classic route, complementing the bikes we now ride and challenging the skills we’ve gained over the past 30 years.

In order to do this we moved our focus a couple of hours further north from where the original coast-to-coast route crossed the country, to the northern Highlands. This area is more technically demanding, a lot more remote and has a greater percentage of singletrack than its old counterpart, allowing us to create a more challenging mountain bike adventure, where the whole team has to work together to make the most of the experience and achieve their goal of riding across the Scottish Highlands.

The guides

Alex is one of our most experienced guides and loves to call the coast-to-coast his own. He must have crossed the country from Bonar Bridge to Applecross 20 times over the years! He loves it.

Alex also ventured out to Nepal on our Himalayan adventure, which he takes great delight in telling all of our riders that join him on the coast-to-coast – be prepared to sit through his holiday snaps!

Kevin - our mountain bike guide/poet in Scotland!

Kevin – our mountain bike guide/poet in Scotland!

Kevin is just as experienced as Alex, and is becoming a regular on the coast-to-coast tour, as well as our Tastes and Trails, and Cairngorms Adventures. Kevin is our resident poet and artist, and is always willing to share his varied life experiences over a ‘wee dram’ in the evenings! Here’s a recent account that Kevin wrote of our coast-to-coast Scotland adventure.

The glaciers

Our mountain bike playground is the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Our coast-to-coast snakes through the far north of Scotland, to the north and west of the Highland Boundary Fault, which runs from Arran to Stonehaven. The Highlands and Islands are generally mountainous with the Great Glen slicing its way west to east, from Fort William to Inverness. Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the UK, standing tall at 1,344 metres (4,409 ft). Scotland’s coast line is also littered with more than 790 islands, ranging from the Shetland Isles in the far north, to the border with England.

Glaciers have played a vital roll in forming our rugged, diverse and dramatic Scottish landscapes, and we as mountain bikers have glaciers to thank for our adventures and indescribable photo opportunities right along our coast-to-coast.

The whole package

All of these unique attributes have collectively created a tour that has enthralled riders from all over the world for the past few years, and we are always out looking for new trails and experiences along the way…

We look forward to sharing with you our fantastic, award-winning coast-to-coast Scotland adventure soon!

Scotland voted Best Biking Destination in Outside Travel Awards!

Big news: Scotland has been voted Best Biking Destination in the Outside Travel Awards 2014! And our coast-to-coast Scotland mountain biking adventure is showcased in the award!

Outside Travel Awards Logo

Of course, we’ve been singing the virtues of mountain biking in Scotland for many years now, but it’s great to have Scotland recognised as a world-class biking destination by the top outdoors magazine in the US. Scotland is where it all started for H&I Adventures, and our local guides are still passionate about seeking out new trails and creating the best adventure experiences on two wheels. In fact, that’s what led us to take the classic idea of a ‘coast-to-coast’ ride across Scotland and create a whole new route, which would offer our riders a more challenging and rewarding experience, in some of the most remote and untouched scenery in Europe.

Mountain biking across the Scottish Highlands

Mountain biking across the Scottish Highlands

It’s not about packing in the most miles from the east coast of the Highlands to the west; it’s about riding the most exciting trails, staying in the most welcoming accommodation; enjoying the best local food and drink, and challenging yourself to improve your biking skills with on-the-trail training from our expert local guides.

You’ll have a couple of river crossings, a bit of hike-a-bike, tricky climbs and some technical descents, but every climb is rewarded with a breath-taking view, and the last descent of the day generally leads you into the open arms of a local pub. The second day of your adventure starts with a speed-boat (RIB) ride across Loch Broom to reach the next section of splendid singletrack on your journey westwards – far preferable to a long slog on the road!

The whole itinerary has been painstakingly crafted to ensure that you have the perfect balance between effort and reward, and that you really experience the best of the Highlands; its landscapes, larder, community and culture. As far as our past coast-to-coasters are concerned:

Day 6 - our day off?!

Day 6 – our day off?!

“This was hands down the best week of mountain biking I have ever experienced. Not only were the guides great people and knowledgeable of the trails and riding, but they knew lots about the towns and food we were experiencing as well. Made some great friends as well. The trip was perfect and I couldn’t have asked for more.” Aaron, USA.

“H&I Adventures run a seamless operation, top quality trip. I feel I have new blood in my veins; full of motivation and passion to explore the world on my bike. Probably why I booked my next trip before I had even left Scotland!” Leonie, Australia.

Scotland has something to offer everyone; whether you’re a seasoned mountain biker or just dipping your toes into two-wheeled travel. As well as our coast-to-coast we have the Tastes and Trails of Scotland adventure for novice riders, and our epic Torridon and Skye tour for those of you who eat, sleep, breathe mountain bike!

Don’t take our word for it, or our customers’, or even Outside Magazine’s – come and find out for yourself why everyone is raving about the incredible mountain biking experiences they’ve had in Scotland!

Training for your mountain bike holiday in Scotland

Training for your mountain bike holiday in Scotland will allow you to get the most from it and ensure that you really do have the trip-of-a-lifetime. But, if you’ve not been on a mountain biking holiday or ridden in a particular country before, you may not be sure exactly what’s required to get in shape for your adventure.

So, to give you some guidance on the type of training you should undertake to prepare yourself for your holiday, we asked Alex, one of our guides in Scotland and also an experienced and successful racer, to offer his advice. Over to you Alex!

Training for your mountain biking holiday with H&I Adventures

Our guide, Alex, mountain biking in Nepal

Our guide, Alex, mountain biking in the Himalayas of Nepal

If you’ve booked one of our intermediate or advanced mountain biking adventures, like the coast-to-coast or Torridon and Skye holidays, you might be riding for up to six or eight hours a day, for three or four days consecutively, on some pretty challenging terrain at times, before the (optional?!) rest day. This is a considerable workload over multiple days, and requires a good level of fitness. The fitness required can be achieved by anyone in reasonable physical condition over the course of a couple of months of regular cycling. Deciding a week or two before you go on holiday that you aren’t fit enough and putting in loads of effort, is too little too late; your body takes a few months at least to adapt and improve as a result of training. So start NOW!

Am I allowed to quote roadies here?! Forgive me…

Fausto Coppi, when asked to give advice about training, replied “Ride a bike. Ride a Bike. Ride a bike”. And Eddy Merckx, “Don’t buy upgrades; ride up grades”.

The gist of these quotes is pretty simple, really; getting fit for biking is achieved through riding a bike, as often as possible, and if you can ride hard, push yourself, tire yourself out, then all the better. RIDE YOUR BIKE!

There aren’t any excuses – if you are sitting in your lounge, it’s cold outside, that first effort to get off the sofa and get the bike shoes on, is the hardest effort – once you are pedalling you will be glad you did!

I have spent a few years training for cross country mountain bike racing. During this training, I generally averaged around 10 hours a week of bike riding (around five rides a week, usually between one and two hours duration but at least one three hour ride per week). It’s not a huge hourly total for a racer, but it was enough, and training improvement can be maximised by riding hard, at high intensity, and particularly undertaking ‘intervals’ during the ride – for example, attacking a two-minute hill flat-out, and repeating this six times with three minute gentle riding between efforts.

A feature of my annual training calendar was ‘periodisation,’ whereby I would sequentially increase training intensity (and duration to an extent) over three weeks, then have a recovery week, which had few hard efforts and a reduced overall duration, before beginning another 4 week cycle. This allows fuller and more effective recovery and physical adaption.

You’ll be happy to hear that this intense level of training is not really necessary for an H&I Adventures mountain biking vacation! Some interval training will reap benefits on the long days, allowing you to tackle that last little ‘undulation’ towards the end of the day, where otherwise you might have just decided to walk. And, if you are training relatively hard, some level of periodization might be beneficial to your recovery. Remember that during intense periods of training, your strength increases during recovery, not during effort.

A realistic training regime in preparation for an intermediate/ advanced H&I Adventures tour might be something like:

12 to 8 weeks to go
Two rides of one to one and a half hours during the week, and a ride of two hours at the weekend (around five hours total). Generally ride steadily, depending on your fitness, but try to make an effort on the hill climbs, or if you live somewhere without hills, make a few varied short periods of harder riding through the middle of the ride. If this amount of riding is a real step up from your normal, don’t be disheartened if it feels tough for the first week or two, and you don’t see immediate gains – it takes a while, stick with it. Week 8 – take things a bit more easy if you have been pushing it.

7 to 4 weeks to go
Two rides of one to two hours during the week, and a ride of two to three hours at the weekend (six hours total). If you can squeeze in an extra ride somewhere, all the better. Ride steadily, as explained above, but as your fitness improves, try to increase the pace, push a few more of the climbs, push them harder, you should find that your ability to recover your breathing on the move improves, and this is a great benefit. Week 4 – have a more steady recovery week again if you have been working hard.

3 to 2 weeks to go
Keep the same weekly duration total as above (or a bit more if you can fit it in), but more importantly, increase the intensity of effort during the ride generally, and the intensity of the intervals within the ride. (Always remember to include a 10-15 minute steady warm up at the start of the ride though.) You should be coming home really tired.

1 week to go
Ease up. Any fitness gained by riding hard this week will be overshadowed during your holiday next week by fatigue, so take it easy. Reduce duration as well as intensity. Give your bike a bit of love and pampering, replace the cables and brake pads, get a fork service, check everything works fine, give it an oil, and pack it away, ready for next week’s superb riding!

We hope this provides some inspiration and useful tips for getting in shape to make the most of your adventure with us, but if you have any questions about training for your mountain bike holiday, get in touch and we’ll be delighted to help. Happy training!

A taste of the Cairngorms

World-class food and drink in the Cairngorms National Park, Scotland, by H&I Adventures guide Chris Gibbs

My two great loves in life are riding a bike and enjoying great local food.

Whilst working towards becoming a mountain bike guide I had many jobs that allowed me to train, gain qualifications, and replace the numerous bike parts I broke in the process. These included everything from soundtrack writer, to outdoor instructor, to chef.

I’ve always been passionate about good food and have been lucky enough to travel through many different countries, tasting my way through local dishes and getting to know new cultures through their cuisine. A good meal often stays with you for a long time, and can make an adventure even more memorable!

Fresh Scottish smoked salmon on our Cairngorms Adventure mountain bike vacation

Fresh Scottish smoked salmon from the River Spey

I’m very lucky to now live in the Cairngorms National Park, in the beautiful Highlands of Scotland, which is home, not only to incredible mountain bike trails, but also to some of the best local produce in Britain.

The Cairngorms have a history of food and drink production dating back hundreds of years. Over 75 percent of the Cairngorms National Park is owned by private estates, each of them producing and supplying exceptional local ingredients to the surrounding area, and indeed, the whole of the UK.

One of the most distinctive and iconic flavours of the Highlands is venison. Rothiemurchus Estate, just outside Aviemore, has been supplying famous London restaurant Simpson’s in the Strand with venison since the 1930′s, a time when this fine meat was only accessible to the wealthiest households. It is now much more widely available and can often be found on menus across the country, which can be attributed in part to the fact that venison is lean, low-fat and full of flavour.

In the Cairngorms you are never far from a river and this provides an extremely fertile farming environment. The farming here is low intensity, which benefits the land and creates a habitat suitable for many types of plants and wildlife that would otherwise no longer exist here. For example, the vast moorlands of heather that bloom in the Cairngorms in July and August provide the perfect nectar for bees to produce sweet heather honey – delicious on a freshly baked scone!

Chocolate fudge cake and fresh Scottish raspberries - the perfect combination!

Chocolate fudge cake and fresh Scottish raspberries – the perfect combination!

Other delights for those with a sweet-tooth include sumptuous strawberries, brambles and raspberries grown on Alvie Estate, who supply their fruit to local shops and restaurants to create other sweet temptations to enjoy after a big day on the bike.

It would be remiss of me to talk about the produce of this part of Scotland without mentioning the world-famous Speyside whiskies, made from the clear, fresh waters the come from the mountains and rivers around the Cairngorms National Park. Speyside boasts the highest concentration of whisky distilleries in Scotland, producing well-known brands of our ‘liquid gold’ such as Glenlivet, The Macallan and Glenfiddich.

The whisky industry is closely linked with many other food industries, for example, salmon and trout caught in the River Spey, Scotland’s second longest and fastest flowing river, are often smoked in whisky barrels, giving them a fantastic, unique flavour.
 
Conversely, some locals might also argue that an even more iconic taste of the Cairngorms is that of the local beers brewed at the Cairngorm Brewery.

There’s nothing better than a nice cold craft beer after a big ride, and with an extensive range of permanent cask ales and seasonal brews, the Cairngorm Brewery has beers to suit all tastes. The best-selling Trade Winds has won numerous awards and it’s hard to find a decent bar in the area that doesn’t have it on tap. Black Gold is the big brother of the beers based on a traditional Scottish stout recipe and won the UK’s Supreme Champion of Beers award in 2013.

Local food and drink production is thriving in the Cairngorms National Park and the quality of the ingredients and dishes available here is world-class. The connection between mountain biking in the hills and forests of the Cairngorms, then enjoying a meal produced from this very environment is really special to me and I’m looking forward to sharing all this with you on our Cairngorms Adventure tour!


New flight booking service

We have been developing, creating and organising mountain biking holidays around the world for a number of years now, taking care of all the details of your trip for you from guides, to routes, accommodation, meals and transfers. We haven’t, however, been able to offer you the ‘complete package’ to include international flights and transport to/from your mountain biking adventure with us… until now.

Mountain biking on Skye, Scotland

Mountain biking on Skye, Scotland

We’re really happy to announce that we’ve forged a relationship with The Flight Centre and we now have a dedicated operative who is assigned to assist you with your flight requirements, wherever you are and wherever you’re going!

Mountain bikers come from all four corners of the globe to join our tours, making for really diverse, interesting and fun groups of riders for us to share incredible adventures with. At the same time, it also means that you have very diverse travel needs, and working with a specialist travel company is the last link in our chain, ensuring that you get the best service from start to finish. Flight Centre have a long-established history of planning and booking international air travel, and are up-to-speed with our particular type of travel, involving transporting bikes around the world.

Getting help with your flights couldn’t be easier: during the process to book your mountain biking holiday with us just select the tick box that asks us to ‘assist you with your flight arrangements,’ and we’ll inform Flight Centre of your itinerary and have them contact you directly to take care of the rest. If you have already booked your trip-of-a-lifetime with us, all you need to do is email us on info@mountainbikeworldwide.com to ask for assistance.

They can also organise rail travel within the UK and Europe, so if you’re travelling to Scotland, for example, they can get you connected and book train tickets for you.

So, with every detail of your mountain biking vacation taken care of, what are you waiting for?! No more excuses!

Work for H&I Adventures

Job vacancy: Operations Assistant

We’re currently on the look-out for a hard-working, enthusiastic, highly organised and motivated individual to join our small, ambitious team as Operations Assistant, based at our HQ in Inverness, Scotland.

You’ll play a pivotal role within our expanding team to help ensure the smooth operation, and maintain the exceptional quality of H&I Adventures mountain biking holidays in Scotland and around the world.

You must be extremely organised and conscientious, with exceptional written and verbal communication skills, a good sense of humour, and an interest in travel and the outdoors. You should be able to think for yourself and identify opportunities for improvement, both within your own area of responsibility and in the business as a whole.

As H&I Adventures grows so too will the opportunity for your role to grow within the business. For example, after six months to one year with us you can take on greater client-facing responsibilities to support our customer service and sales requirements.

This is an office-based role, with opportunities for travel around the Highlands and worldwide, but if you want to work outdoors or become a mountain bike guide, this isn’t the job for you.

If, however, you want to work in an exciting and dynamic office environment, and really feel like you’re making a difference in your workplace, we may have just what you’re looking for.

Overview

The role of Operations Assistant with H&I Adventures is:

  • Full-time (40 hours per week)
  • Permanent
  • Based at our main office just outside Inverness, Highlands of Scotland

Responsibilities

Working closely with the Customer Service Director, your role will be crucial to the smooth running of tour operations and logistics in Scotland, which will in turn contribute to the outstanding experience our customers have on our mountain bike holidays.

Key responsibilities include:

  • Making and managing accommodation, transportation, dinner and bike hire reservations for all our holidays in Scotland
  • Developing and maintaining efficient systems to manage relationships with suppliers and service providers
  • Providing administrative support for the whole team, including: managing guides’ sponsored kit, managing internal documentation, making staff travel bookings, updating the website, etc.
  • Answering customer enquiries and requests (by telephone and email) as required
  • Individual projects relating to your role and personal development
  • Any other duties as may be necessary when working in a small team

Remuneration and benefits

So, what do you get for all your efforts, in addition to job satisfaction and the chance to work for an industry-leading company?

  • £15,000 to £17,000 per year, dependent on experience
  • 28 days holiday (incl. bank and public holidays)
  • 1 week of personal development on an H&I Adventures tour anywhere in the world (land costs covered)
  • Flexible working
  • Wide range of discounts on bikes, clothing, bike gear, travel insurance, etc.

About you

  • You are extremely well-organised with tremendous attention-to-detail
  • You have fantastic written and verbal communication skills
  • You can make and maintain strong working relationships with people at all levels
  • You are a highly competent computer user, comfortable with a variety of packages used in the office, including email, calendars, spreadsheets, databases and word packages
  • You have some experience of working in an office environment, in a customer service or operational role
  • Ideally, you have an HNC (or equivalent) or higher qualification in a relevant subject, however this is not essential if you can demonstrate sufficient, pertinent work and life experience
  • You’re not afraid of questioning the norm and offering ways of making things better
  • You have a good sense of humour
  • You can manage multiple tasks or projects at once without compromising on quality
  • You take pride in your work and are committed to providing excellent service
  • You enjoy working as part of a small team
  • You enjoy the outdoors and travelling

How to apply

If this sounds like your cup of tea, send your CV to Catherine Shearer along with a covering letter (no more than two pages) that demonstrates why you would be perfect for this role and as part of the H&I Adventures team. To demonstrate your suitability you should include relevant examples of experiences you’ve had in previous employment and/or pertinent life experiences.

We like to think we’re a bit different from the norm, a bit extraordinary; tell us why you are.

Closing date for applications: Friday 31st January 2014 at 5pm

Interviews being held: mid-February (date TBC) at H&I Adventures HQ in Inverness, Scotland

Anticipated start date: 3rd March 2014

A day in the life…of a mountain bike guide in Scotland

Not the famous track from the iconic Beatles album ‘Sgt. Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band’, but an insight into a day in the life of our mountain bike guides in Scotland on our coast-to-coast mountain biking holiday across the Highlands.

The coast-to-coast is our most popular mountain biking holiday in Scotland thanks, in no small part, to careful organisation and great guiding. Our mountain bike guides – and support drivers – are well-versed on all the trails, landscapes, accommodation, cafés and schedule of this adventure, which makes everything much more relaxed and stress-free than the classic Beatles track (more on that later!).

A typical day in the life of our mountain bike guides on the coast-to-coast always starts with a great breakfast, briefing on the day’s ride and a bike check. Following these three staples, our small group of intrepid mountain bike adventurers sets off on their westerly journey on rugged Scottish singletrack, weaving its way between the ancient Torridon mountains on Scotland’s north-west coast.

On a mountain biking vacation such as this we keep the number of riders to a maximum of 10, for several reasons: to reduce the amount of faffing that goes on (Faff – Verb – To muck about, wasting time doing something not necessary); to minimise mechanical problems and impact on trails; to stay in small, typical B&B’s and family-run hotels; and to allow our guides to teach skills and give every rider the one-to-one attention they deserve.

A couple of hours after setting off we pull up at a beautiful vantage point, where we marvel at how this ancient landscape was created. During our snack stop our guides are assessing tiredness, weather conditions, the skill level of the group, and planning training spots. It is all part of the continuous decision-making process we go through to ensure group safety, maximum enjoyment, and that we arrive back in time for a beer and some fabulous local food!

The rest of the day goes well. We have one flowing 5km descent, a two-hour climb, bothy (mountain hut) lunch, hike-a-bike section, and finally an 8km singletrack that leaves every mountain biker smiling from ear to ear as they wrestle their Wild Horses down this rocky descent!

Before we really get into the Stones/Beatles debate (that’s one for the bar with a post-ride dram!), we’ll leave you with our alternative lyrics to Lennon and McCartney’s A Day in the Life… Enjoy!

A day in the life…of an H&I Adventures mountain bike guide in Scotland

Woke up, leapt out of bed
Ran the shower upon my head
Made my way downstairs and drank a cup
While cooking up, was another hearty plate
Found my helmet and grabbed my pack
Went outside to fix a flat
Put the pump away and had a bounce
So starts another day of living the dream

If you’re feeling creative you can add your own lyrics to your soundtrack for a day’s mountain biking in the comments below!