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The route from Ballater to Tomintoul heads broadly southeast and is 24.5 miles in length. With climbing of 2,438 feet, this route has been given a difficulty rating of 10.
This is the second hardest stage in the RTN153. It has two severe climbs and whilst it is slightly easier than the reverse route, it deserves a rating of 10. It is very tough and you have to be physically prepared and properly dressed. Both the Lecht and Gairnshiel are high and exposed, the weather unpredictable and it can be very cold and windy. But it is also magnificent and majestic – set entirely in the Cairngorms National Park, some of the views are breathtaking, especially west towards the Munros. This is Scotland at its best.
Tomintoul, meaning Hillock of the Barn, sits at 1,132 feet above sea level. It is in Moray and the Cairngorms National Park, as well as being on the Malt Whisky Trail. It has a fine distillery which is worth a visit, and is home to the Whisky Castle, one of the best whisky shops in Scotland. Alongside tourism and whisky, the other major industry is farming.
You head southeast out of Tomintoul and straight into the climb to the ski station on the Lecht. The ascent lasts 7 miles so it is longer and less steep that the reverse route, but there are still some severe ramps. You reach the high point of 2,116 feet at mile 7.5. Hopefully the day is fine and you get the chance to enjoy the amazing views. The 2.1 mile descent is very steep (with some gradients of 20%) and technical so please take care. You pass Corgarff Castle at mile 9.6 – open to the public, this beautiful white clad, fortified castle was built in 1530.
You then head east on a rolling downhill, crossing the River Don at mile 12, and start the Gairnshiel climb. This ascent lasts 2.4 miles and peaks at a mere 1,798 feet! You then go downhill to Gairnshiel Bridge at mile 17.7, which was built in 1751. There is a false flat in the middle of this downhill, and some very steep sections. You then cycle on a rolling downhill road through beautiful Glen Shiel, joining the A93 at mile 22.8, before entering Ballater from the northwest and finishing in the centre of town.
Ballater is a small town in Royal Deeside and the Cairngorm National Park. In the 14th century the land was owned by the estate of the Knights of St John, but a settlement wasn’t properly established until 1770, first as a spa town and then as a tourist destination. It is now a mecca for outdoor sports, and also for enthusiasts of the Royal Family – Balmoral is just 7 miles west. It is worth visiting Glenmuick Parish Church and the restored railway station, which was the terminus of the Aberdeen to Ballater line which closed in 1966. There are plenty of options for food and drink in town.
By clicking on the ‘play’ symbol on the graphic below you can see route map. The elevation profile of the ride can be seen via the Hills tab with files for use with a GPS device also available for download. If you take any photos of the route that you’d like to share, please submit to firstname.lastname@example.org