Mostly, this is random stories from my various trips as I collect them, but I've a wee backlog to get through too and those will pop up occasionally.

Feel free to leave comments.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Summertime.... and the living is easy

Summer. Long days, warmer weather, drier ground. Little wonder thoughts turn to epic days out. Those long ridges, the summits, the sound of tyres skipping over dry, rocky trails. The unfashionable warm spell has got me to thinking a wee bit about how I've been spending my time out of doors and I've decided to slow it down a little. Warmer weather also means it's nicer to relax, to watch nature in full flow, to dip your feet in the river and just enjoy what's all around you without needing to be in a rush to go anywhere. Sort of reminds me of an old TV ad....




With that in mind, I've spent some time on easier walks or simply mooching around some fantastic spots in Scotland. Mim and I had a few days in Blair Atholl, including a walk up Glen Tilt. With summer flowers around and a lovely river to cool down in it was just about perfect.

So - not so many words this time, a few more pictures.....


First view up Glen Tilt
Looking further up Glen Tilt
Cooling off in and by the river
Summer is also about cream teas!

The second week of our holiday was spent in the Western Isles. Though I've been through the Outer Hebrides before, Mim never has so we spent some time on North Uist doing some sightseeing, a couple of walks and some paddling in the new kayak.


Horgabost beach. Does it get any better than this?
Lovely quiet campsite at Balranald
Machair
More Machair
Two Oyster Catchers - I love their call
Great sunset right beside the campsite
In the new kayak, exploring the coastline

I'd also long had a hankering to do a specific little walk, following the route set out in a Runrig song - Flower of the West.


I look over Orinsay
To the Trumisgarry shore
To Aloter
And the road to Ahmore

Past Loch Scadavagh and Loch Fada
And the Flatland to the East
Where the dark blue mass of Eval
Meets the rising rock of Lee
Between the Crogary and Maari
I started to descend
Loch Aongais on my left hand side
I look across to Clett
Collies barking on the outrun
Dunlin dancing on the sand
Breakers show round Corran Vallaquie
And empty the Atlantic on the strand


We headed up Crogary Mor on a mostly clear night and took in the sun setting over Corran Vallique before heading down with "Loch Aongais on our left". 




I even got to do my July bivvy-a month,, "escaping" from the campsite one night and heading for a long spit of land on North Uist. My initial plan had been to bivvy down at the trig point on the wee headland but it was thick with flies and I had to find a spot surrounded by sand to finally get away from them. It was a lovely location, with views out over the sea to Harris, but I was strafed by two large owls for 30 minutes or so. I don't know if it was me they were interested in or if there were lots of flying insects in my vicinity but it was fascinating and a bit uncomfortable to have them swooping so close to me.  After a good nights sleep, I was rewarded by a fantastic sunrise.
About as dark as it gets
Sunrise over Harris
Yes, we even have "C" roads here
On my previous visit to North Uist, Paul and I had almost sprinted through on our way to catch the ferry to Harris. This time, in an almost perfect summer week, I'd finally taken the time to explore and experience it. 

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Twa Lairigs

Sometimes you just get that urge to do something that everyone says you shouldn't. I guess it's a wee lost remnant of the naughty boy who won't do as he's told. In my case I'd been looking at maps of the local area of the Cairngorms and I kept spotting this obvious way through the hills. To make things worse, I look at this obvious route every time I look out my bedroom window. Regardless of the season, the Lairig Ghru shows as as a deep defile through the plateau, inviting me to explore it. So it was that I decided to incorporate it on a wee route into some unfamiliar spots and to tick off my June bivvy-a-month at the same time. 
Ready to set off - the target behind me
The weather wasn't looking too promising as I headed off towards Glenmore from home. It was warm enough, but a wee bit damp. However, in an effort to stay lightweight, I'd opted for bivvy bag instead of tent and to minimise the amount of extra clothing I'd be taking along. 

The road less travelled (by me, anyway)
After passing An Lochan Uaine (the green lochan) I took the right-hand path signposted for Braemar, pedalled up and down a nice bit of track, then came an immediate cropper. As my front wheel embedded itself in some hub-deep mud, I tried to unclip, got cramp in my thigh, and promptly fell over into a shallow puddle. I was stuck while the cramp released itself, unable to move from my position or get the bike off me. Luckily, my blushes were spared as it was only after righting myself that a hiker came strolling past.

I got going again okay, but my calf was now feeling incredibly tight and that was the last thing I needed for the push up onto the shoulder of Bynack Mor. Leaving the Munro-baggers path I was now on tracks I'd never explored before. There is a fair mix of walking and riding depending upon the terrain but I managed to make fairly decent time towards the Fords of Avon and the nearby refuge. 


Looking over to Ben Avon

Fords of Avon refuge
 It's a terrific wee place. Barely tall enough for me to stand up in and just about large enough to accommodate half a dozen prone sleepers, I can see that it would be a great haven in the event of the sort of adverse weather that could be expected along here.


The river crossing itself was OK. I opted to remove shoes and socks and cross barefoot in an effort to keep dry shoes as long as possible and the water never got above knee deep, though it was flowing fairly fast. 
The river crossing. 
The next section had much more walking than I'd suffered so far but I was glad to get to the col of the Lairig an Laoigh and start the fun descent into Glen Derry. This is surely one of the Cairngorms most beautiful spots, the wide flat valley interspersed with patches of woodland and the river carving a way through it. 

Dropping in to Glen Derry

Lovely singletrack along here
I knew I was approaching Derry Lodge when I started to encounter groups of tents, mostly with folk preparing or eating food. It served as a wee reminder that I hadn't been eating much and I wolfed down a couple of chicken wraps as I pondered on where I might stop for the evening.
Should I stay or should I go?
The flats here were certainly a possibility, though it was a bit more crowded than I prefer. However as it was still "only" 8pm, I decided to crack on a bit further and see if I could get anywhere near the Pools of Dee and the summit of the Lairig Ghru before dark. I'm finding that's one of the differences between camping and bivvying. With the former, I'm likely to stop when I see a decent pitch, settle in, cook up some food and relax for the rest of the evening. Bivvying is more about the short stop, finding a wee bit of shelter somewhere and making do in order to get going again quickly. 
Looking back along Glen Luibeg
Passing along the watershed of the Luibeg, I was again alternately riding and walking, though the track improved quite a bit as I was passing Corrour Bothy. I briefly considered detouring towards it but again decided to crack on a bit. 

Corrour Bothy
As the night grew darker, so the path became less and less rideable. I paused at the stones of Clach nan Taillear, tempted to tuck in behind them to get out of the headwind that was now coming down the pass but again decided to crack on. Within 15 minutes or so, the wind started to blow in some rain and as it got heavier, I stopped, unpacked the bivvy bag and sat with it drawn over my head hoping for the rain to pass. This is quite an effective strategy. You stay dry, out of the wind and relatively warm. However, as the rain didn't seem to be abating and a look up the pass showed no sign of it clearing, I reckoned I'd had enough for the night and cast around for a suitable rock to shelter behind. It was, in any case, about 11pm.

What I found wasn't huge, but judicious use of the tarp and a couple of guys gave me a little roof over the mouth of the bivvy bag and somewhere to keep my stuff dry as I unpacked it. One thing I hadn't banked on was trying to get out of my bibtights inside a bivvy bag. Suffice to say that I'm still quite flexible for an oldie! Once in and comfy I found a couple more snacks and just hunkered down hoping to get a few hours sleep until the rain passed and it was a bit lighter.

As it was, the rain and wind stayed on all night and I only really caught a few moments nap between more lucid moments. By the time 4am came, the new day was making its presence felt and the rain had abated. I took the opportunity to pack everything away (managing to reverse the bibtights trick) and head off north.
Pools of Dee - early morning

Summit up
More constant pushing took me to the summit boulder field. Here, it was a case of lifting the bike over and round the various large, scattered rocks. Sometime the way ahead was obvious though not always the best for someone manipulating a bicycle. Other times the path seemed to fade into the rocks themselves and I had to try to spot a decent line. This carried on past the wee lochans that are the Pools of Dee and over the 835m summit  (it's actually quite amazing to think that this obvious low point on the Cairngorms is still higher than most of the hills in Scotland). Neither did it get much better on the downhill, though I would occasionally jump on the bike and pedal or freewheel a few metres as a sort of justification for having brought it.

I can see my house from here!!!
As the path descended, the opportunities for riding gradually increased and so it was that I eventually reached the end of the little track up from Rothiemurchus Lodge and emerged onto a section of the Lairig Ghru path I'd ridden before. 

Reaching familiar territory
From here it's a fun descent all the way back to Coylumbridge. The top part has some rocky and rooty drop-offs and the path just gets faster as it progresses through the forest. By the time I reached the Aviemore road it was 8.30 and I only had a brief spin (buying breakfast en route) to get back home.

All in all, a fairly tough route, with a lot more walking, lifting and carrying than is enjoyable. It was intriguing to be able to look back down at where my house is from the pass but the next (and any future) visit will be on foot only. 




Saturday, 31 May 2014

Torridon at last

There's no escaping the plaudits that Scotland gets for the quality of its Mountain Biking - both the organised trail centres and the "natural" routes that are available through Scotlands relaxed land access laws. Time and again they are internationally awarded and feature in many "must do" travel guides. High amongst the recommendations are the trails in and around Torridon. However I'm rather ashamed to admit that, despite walking many of them during my Munro bagging exploits,  I'd never ridden these trails. With a wee bit of determination to put this right I loaded the Blur into the van and headed off towards Torridon hoping for some great weather.

Well, I was a wee bit disappointed when I got there to find low cloud and a fine drizzle blocking the view of the summits but, leaving the van behind at the visitor centre, I set off into the headwind, uphill towards the start of the Coulin Pass. I knew this was the least hilly of the options but, having passed the Right of Way sign on many occasions, I was determined that this would be part of the outing. 
It's pronounced "cow-linn" (apparently)
The ride started well enough with a spin along an easy estate road and past the two lochs. The climb out at the end of the glen went in easily enough too and I was, by now, beginning to get used to the feel of the smaller wheels on the Blur, plus the rather unfamiliar feel of the frame bending in the middle. Over the col and there was a sign relating to forestry work and pointing out a diversion. I reckoned that there would be nothing going on, it being Sunday afternoon, and whizzed down the wide, fast forestry road to Achnashellach station and the most complex set of bicycle lanes to be witnessed in the highlands. 
Looking along Strathcarron
 Another scoot along some tarmac (aided by the wind this time) and I was at the start of the "big" bit.

Definitely "coo-lags"
I'd looked at my GPS before starting this bit and noticed that sunset was due in six hours (it's shown on the "home" screen). I recall thinking "great - no hurry" and then comparing this to the rather rushed and panic-stricken mode I'd been riding in for the last few months. Here was a chance to savour some great Scottish scenery without worrying about how fast or slow I was covering the ground. 

The track again starts easily enough but there are a few steep bits before the bothy and more than enough water bars to interrupt the flow. I can be quite happy tackling these on the bike but it very much depends on where I am and who I'm with. Alone in Torridon aren't the best circumstances to suffer a major wheel problem or a stupid fall. 
The weather did pick up for me too.

Coulags bothy
After the bothy the track deteriorates into a boggy mess for a while but picks up again before the climb up to Loch Coire Fionnaraich - and the view to the path out of the corrie. 
The last of the riding for a while

That'll be the path to the col then
Across the top of the Bealach na Lice and the main fun is delayed for a while circumnavigating the edge of Loch an Eoin. Then, with a view north to tempt you, it's all downhill as fast as you dare. I thought I was doing fine, the full suspension of the Blur working hard, until I had one brief moment of indecision. With a large rock ahead, I had to opt to go left or right of it, chose neither, and hit it head on resulting in a comedy over-the-bars moment. That was enough to sober me up for a wee while but it's so much fun finding away down the various little drop offs and across the massive rock slabs that I was soon back up to full speed and having a real hoot.
Some of this stuff
Lots of this stuff
I can see the van from here!
Passing Carn Dhonnachadh I could see the settlement of Torridon far below me and I was expecting a really steep descent but the path contours further round to annat so the fun is extended quite a bit.

Finally, with a bit of a bump, I was deposited and Annat for a relaxing warm-down along the road to the van.



I also managed to fit in my May bivvy night after this ride. A drive out the long cul de sac from Gairloch to Red Point and then a short walk past the lovely beach to a little rocky headland had me in as lonely a spot as you're likely to find, with a view over the water to Rona and Skye and the Outer Hebrides just disappearing into the twilight, backlit by the setting sun. With nothing much to do but watch the birds and the waves, trying to work out if the tide was coming in or going out, it wasn't long before I had trouble keeping my eyes open and dropped off to one of the most relaxed sleeps I've ever had outdoors.


On the short walk in
Outer Hebrides
The tide was out....
Fellow campers
Rona and the Staffin peninsula from the bivvy spot

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Back in the saddle

I guess that I should have expected some sort of psychological backlash after pulling out of the Highland Tail Race. The hours and miles I'd put in all suddenly seemed a bit worthless and, after a day out round Loch Katrine, the bikes had been hanging up in the garage, unused. Somehow, I just didn't have any enthusiasm to ride them for a day or two, a week, a fortnight...

Thankfully Ian, one of my occasional riding buddies, had been rounding folk up for a day round part of Perthshire and this had caught my eye for a couple of reasons; if there's such a thing as a "bucket list" of Scottish mountain-biking then the Atholl passes of the Minigaig and the Gaick are surely found in it. These old routes had caught my eye as a hillwalker and yet I've somehow never managed to cross them. I guess that the logistics of the long day between Blair Atholl and Kingussie, and then getting back to the start, never quite worked out for me. However, with a bicycle available, it suddenly looked feasible to do them both on the same day. 

The second reason is that I'd seen bit of both routes from the north end last year and I was keen to see how they both arrived in Glen Tromie. That would give me some possible long distance routes from home.

On the day, the weather wasn't that great looking - in fact, it was lashing it down as I passed Drumochter. However, it was at least holding off as Andrew, Ian and I geared up for the ride in Calvine. 

It's a bit of a sharp start after crossing the A9, but once some height is gained there's a fairly easy spin along Glen Bruar. The track is certainly a lot less rough than when I'd previously cycled here - all of 20 years ago on my way to climb Beinn Dearg. The other thing that had changed was that the river was almost dry - a result of a new hydro scheme perhaps. Certainly, the approach to Glen Bruar from Glen Banvie is now a lot easier. After passing the lodge, the track starts to get a little steeper and then it's the end of the glen with a steep rise up ahead. 

IMG_20140518_105227743_HDR
Where the walking starts
We'd already worked out that this was the time to get off and push and, though it rose steeply, it was reasonably easy going. As the plateau was reached, and the ground started to flatten out, it was off/on the bikes for a while until we eventually reached the summit and started the fun bit! 


IMG_20140518_112732494_HDR
On or off the bike - you choose
IMG_20140518_122257213_HDR
Finally, some downhill
Bruar Big Ride
Still plenty of snow up here too.
Sadly, that was to end all too soon as the track deteriorated into a muddy, squelchy quad track and then through wet bog and heather. Having made the mistake of choosing neither waterproof boots nor waterproof socks, my feet were now sodden. Still, it made fording the numerous rivers and streams easier as I just ploughed through rather than delicately selecting stepping stones. 

Once in Glen Tromie, I recognised part of the track I'd done last year from Glen Feshie. I knew that the percentage rideability was increasing, which was a wee boost. Descending down to the weir, I'd taken a slightly different line from Andrew and Ian and almost ran over an adder sunning him(her)self. Leaving the bike as a marker I called out to the guys to take a look but it was a bit shy and they only managed to catch a glimpse of its tail as it slunk into a wee hole under some heather. 

Another river crossing saw us onto a decent track for a while and then it was up along the Gaick. This is a much lower, faster, easier route than the Minigaig (it was once considered as an option for the main road north rather than Drumochter) so we made pretty good time despite the headwind. 
Bruar Big Ride
Looking back through the Gaick
Another river forded and we were at Loch an Duin. Here, again, there was some on/off bike action, especially given legs were beginning to tire. Still, it was all downhill from here (Andrew would disagree) and the weather was as good as we'd had all day, so it made for a pleasant end to a grand day out in the hills.

I was really pleased to be able to tick off two routes I'd long want to do and it was great to get a bit of a leg-stretch again after my withdrawal from the HTR. A massive thanks has to go to Ian for arranging it and giving me sufficient incentive. 



(and thanks to both Ian and Andrew for the use of their photos)