It’s five years since the St Magnus Way first opened. The long-distance pilgrimage route has proved popular with both visiting walkers and locals keen to explore more of their surrounding area.
But, while many have tackled the multi-day challenge on foot since 2017, there’s now an alternative for those who prefer to travel on two wheels.
The St Magnus Way Cycle Route is primarily a road-based route with two very short, relatively smooth, offroad sections (though these can be easily bypassed for those who prefer to stick firmly to tarmacked surfaces). It mirrors the general flow of the original route, taking in the start and finish of each of the walking sections. As with the walking route, participants are encouraged to contemplate a different theme on each of these sections – ‘loss’, ‘growth’ and ‘forgiveness’ are just some of the subjects covered.
“That’s one of the real strengths of the route,” explains Pete Bentley, Secretary of the Orkney Cycling Club. “It gives a focus to your cycling. A lot of folk find that time in the saddle is a really good chance to clear the mind and you can get that bit extra clarity of thought. I think a lot of cyclists will be quite receptive to the themes that the route looks to explore. Though obviously that’s optional – some folk will just want to crank out the miles!”
The route is designed to cater for various levels of ability and fitness. At just over 60 miles, an experienced road cyclist would probably manage to tackle it in a day. But for those of us who prefer to pedal in a rather more sedate style it can be easily broken up into bitesize sections.
“We were keen to keep it as accessible as possible,” says Caroline Butterfield. She’s one of the trustees of Orkney Pilgrimage, the group behind the St Magnus Way. “When you look at the route on the map it’s essentially based around these two very distinct loops – a north loop and a south loop, together making a figure of eight. Either of these two loops should be doable in a day by a reasonably fit adult who’s used to doing a bit of cycling, although we’d always advise people to take into account the effect of the Orkney wind, which somehow manages to be in your face no matter what direction you’re travelling!”
Meanwhile for families it can be further broken up. “Within each of those two loops there is of course the option to break the route down further into its individual sections, if you can arrange transport to take you back to where you started,” explains Caroline. “Each section should be suitable for most children, as long as they have a reasonable level of cycling proficiency and are comfortable cycling on roads with vehicular traffic.”
The route was launched, appropriately enough, on St Magnus Day with a mass rideout led by members of Orkney Cycling Club, with their slightly less adventurous cyclists opting instead for one of two shorter and less challenging alternatives.
“It’s fantastic to now have this route launched," says Pete. “It’s something we’ve been looking to establish for a long time. There’s a lot of local cyclists that will make use of it. I can imagine there’ll be a bit of competition to set ever faster records for completing the route.
"It’s also great to have a route like this that we can promote to visiting cyclists. It takes in such a diverse range of Orkney’s landscape and also its human history. There’s loads of fantastic places to eat - and of course a brewery en-route. It’s just a great showcase for what we have to offer.”
Visit the St Magnus Way website to find out more about both the cycle and walking routes.