Stately spruce woods dominate Achray Forest, part of the larger Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, but at this time of year it’s the golden glow of larch and venerable broadleaf trees that make these woods really special.
Coppiced oak, alder, hazel, willow and rowan are among the native tree species in Archray, providing a home for red squirrels, pine martens and other woodland creatures.
Part of Scotland’s Atlantic oakwoods, the trees here were used to produce charcoal, which was essential for smelting iron before the era of steam power. The hard timber was cut for tool shafts, fencing and building materials, while the bark was used to tan leather. Little has changed in this glorious loch-filled landscape, as you will appreciate while pedalling this 13.5-mile cycle route by serene Loch Venachar.
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1. River to woods
The mountain bike ride begins from a bridge over the infant River Forth in Aberfoyle. Follow the A821, almost instantly setting you on a hard climb. Round a corner, then turn right off the road at the National Cycle Network (NCN) route 7 sign into Achray Forest, part of Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. An excellent forest visitor centre lies just off the route.
2. Waterfall to loch
The trail leads through a section of birch to the Little Fawn Waterfall. With a 17-metre drop, this is a very impressive sight in spate when the muddy brown water plummets in a thick curtain. Continue on to a wide forestry track then climb uphill in a series of hairpins. A brief respite follows before a further climb leads out to open ground by Lochan Reòidhte.
3. Down to Drunkie
Follow the NCN signs at a bend to drop down to Loch Drunkie’s oak-covered banks, with perfectly placed picnic tables. Next comes a fast, straight descent. Turn right at the NCN sign, leading you to the western end of Loch Venachar with views of Ben A’an.
4. Along the shore
From here a stunning section – ideal for families – weaves through woods and by the loch shore before reaching the quiet road to Invertrossachs. You can access this section from Brig O’Turk (path via The Byre Inn) or from Callander (albeit with an on-road section).
5. Glacial stone
Samson’s Stone – a boulder that looks oddly out of place among the bracken – can be seen from a junction if you cross the humpbacked bridge a mile after the loch ends. It is a fine example of an erratic stone, transported by a glacier and left atop a hill as the ice melted. According to legend, however, the huge stone was used by giants in a shot-putting competition, won by Samson. To access the stone, follow the path from the junction – you’ll need to walk up.
The final on-road leg crosses the River Leny to enter Callander, a popular tourist spot below shapely Ben Ledi. There are a number of places to eat in the bustling town; rest and refresh before returning to Aberfoyle along the bike trail.