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The route from Ballater to Tomintoul heads broadly northwest and is 24.5 miles in length. With climbing of 2,930 feet, this route has been given a difficulty rating of 10.
This is the Queen’s Stage of the RTN153 – the most climbing, over the hardest hill, and the only route with a rating of 10 (other than it’s reverse). It is extremely difficult and you have to be physically prepared and properly dressed. Both Gairnshiel and the Lecht 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.
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.
Starting in the centre of Ballater, you cycle along the main A93 road for the first 1.6 miles (please take care) before heading north through the lovely surroundings of Glen Gairn, gently heading uphill until you cross Gairnshiel Bridge, built in 1751. You are now at mile 6.6 and the first of the two major challenges starts here. You start with a severe spike of over 10% at mile 7.2, before hitting Gairnshiel proper and another tough section from mile 8.5 to 10.1. You then descend to mile 12.5, crossing the River Don and turning left on to the A939. The road rolls slightly uphill to mile 14.9 when you pass Corgarff Castle. Open to the public, this beautiful white clad, fortified castle was built in 1530.
You now tackle the Lecht. There is no way to sugar coat this – it’s a brutal climb! It lasts for 2.6 miles with an average gradient of 8% and ramps of 20%, with the very first section being the toughest. There is a pattern of false flats and steep ramps, which is hard for both the head and the legs. The high point is 2,116 feet at mile 17. Hopefully the day is fine and you get the chance to enjoy the amazing views. From mile 17.7 you descend, and what a descent it is! It lasts for 6.8 miles and you enter Tomintoul from the south east, finishing in the town centre.
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. There are café options in the town, but generally you’d be advised to carry extra provisions for this route.
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 email@example.com