It's a while since I provided any updates to this blog so I thought I'd start by doing a bit of a re-cap and summary of what I've been up to.
The bivvy-a-month (BAM) concept has proven to be an absolute winner. When I've been disinterested, poorly or just downright lazy it has provided enough of an incentive to get out for a bit of de-stressing under the stars. Most recent exploits have been fairly local to me. On the one hand, this has reduced the amount of exploring I've been doing. On the other, it has made me even more grateful for living where I do. Many of the spots I've chosen would be great if they came in the middle of some long-distance route, so some readers may find inspiration.
August - Whiteness/Ardersier
In addition to BAM, I've also been chasing another geeky statistic - VeloViewer. Within VV there is a concept of "exploring" grid squares, trying to get to as many as possible and linking them up into Squares or Clusters. Browsing the map I notices a few unvisited squares on the Moray Coast and then one of my colleagues had mentioned Whiteness beach. I was keen to put the two together and scraped in my August BAM until the last night of the month.
Leaving the van in Nairn, it was an easy trundle across the golf course and then along the ever-narrowing beach until I reached the end of the spit of land. In fact, my course shows me having been into the sea on the maps. I had been prepared for a beach/dune bivvy spot but then I came across this lovely area of grass just outside an old house that has been beautifully restored.
I pitched the tarp using the two bike wheels, looking out to sea. With a bit of a breeze, I was pretty well sheltered and enjoyed a wee bit of supper before nodding off. Unfortunately, the wind direction changed by about 180 degrees overnight, meaning it was blowing into the open side of the tarp. Too unwilling to do anything about it, I just rolled over in my bivvy bag and got back to sleep.
It didn't take me long to pack up in the morning and head back to the van, an early start seeing me home for breakfast.
September - Cross-Scotland twice with Neill
Neill had set off on an Outer Hebrides bikepacking trip and we'd discussed what route he might take back, favouring reversing the HT550 route from Ullapool towards Croick then to Garve. His trip was lass than favourable with a mix of poor weather and some physical discomfort. As a result, I acted as ambulance driver, picking him up in Ullapool and driving him home. However, the seeds had been sown so, as soon as he was able, we decided to ride that route in both directions.
I've done the Ardgay-Ullapool poop previously but I hadn't expected quite so much time and effort to get to the Croick junction.
We also took the more southerly option past Corriemulzie Lodge. Again, I hadn't expected it to be quite as slow along the Allt nan Caorach section so was glad when we were finally in Glen Achall with a chance to scout around for bivvy spots. With a likely spot in mind we hot-tailed it down to the delights of Ullapool for food, accompanied by the dulcet tones of Johnny Cash...
Replenished, we headed back up past the quarry in the dark and set up tarp and tent. Before long we were visited by the local farmer, worried that we were poachers. A long, pleasant and rambling conversation followed before they headed off home and we got some kip.
We took the more direct route to Croick and turned South. At this point, Neill was struggling a bit so I gained a gap and took the very unusual (for me) opportunity to brew up a coffee out of the headwind.
We also detoured on the way back to the A835, approaching via Strath Vaich rather than Strath Rannoch. I'd passed the end of Strath Vaich so many time that I was determined to find out what lay in its upper reaches (mainly some estate houses). A further short-cut back along the road brought us back to the vehicles and we both felt we'd had a good ride out.
October - Tullochgrue with Ross and Ally
Chat with the local mates had indicated that I might convince a couple of them out for a bivvy before the weather turned too cold and a mild night proved to be just the job. My aspirations were, in any case, constrained due to a heavy fall off my bike, almost ending in a potentially fatal fall into the Spey. With banged up ribs, I wasn't exactly in the mood for a long trip. I'd had an idea of camping at Tullochgrue, above Rothiemurchus. It has one of the best views of the Northern Corries and is also a great spot of the Northern Lights are putting on a display. However, the flatter spots are right next to the road and I knew we'd need a reasonable area for three of us. I took the opportunity to scout the area out and found a great, more sheltered, spot just down the hill.
We'd met up with Alex for a pre-bivvy drink... that became two, then three, then four. Fair to say it was quite late by the time we left the Woodshed for the short cycle. With loads of space though, we soon got comfy and we was quite amused by the fact that we could just make out the lights of Aviemore through a gap in the bushes.
It's a great spot and one I'm sure to revisit.
November - Loch Pityoulish
There's a picture-postcard idea of what it's like when the snow has fallen. Folk imagine that a fatbike will be great, regardless of the snow conditions. In truth, there are long spells when the snow on the paths and tracks has been compressed into a bumpy, icy, assault course. So it was when I was trying to fit in a November bivvy. Road or track, both were affected by ice so I knew I wasn't going to be going far. Fortunately I remembered that I'd been meaning to try a pitch beside Loch Pityoulish. The one, almost permanent, downside of the spot I had in mind is that it is subject to the prevailing wind coming off the Cairngorms and whistling across the loch. However, the wind patterns offered an opportunity, the wins having swung round to the North West.
I managed a whole 4 km or so from the house before it clicked that I'd forgotten my sleeping mat. I returned briefly to pick it up then almost through the bike down the road crossing a patch of ice. The track through Rothiemurchus deer farm proved to be one long sheet of ice that I had to navigate via its narrow verges. The spot I'd sought out turned out to be ideal, well sheltered and with a view of the open skies and snow-covered hills. It was noisy though. The sound of the A9 traffic was drifting from the West, no doubt helped by that breeze. It proved to be quite a cold night too, though I was more than warm enough in my winter-weight bag.
December - Carn Sleamhuinn
This was another VeloViewer chase (see August). I'd spotted a couple of squares that I'd somehow managed to bypass on other rides and walks so concocted a short route to link them up, coupled with a choice of bivvy spots.
My route initially took me past Carrbridge then across the A9 into an area of forest just south of Slochd. The map showed two sections of forest track approaching with a couple of 100 metres of each other and I hoped there would be a way to link them. As it turns out, the map is out of date and there's a very good forest road leading down towards Sluggan Bridge. This was my first likely camp spot. However, the cold, still air had settled down in the glen here beside the river and I hit a very cold area - around -6C - with hard frost on all the grass visible in the mooonlight. At that point I decided that my second option - high up the hill - was likely to be better.
The tracks leading up Carn Sleamhuinn are rough and bouldery and would be familiar to those who had walked or ridden the Burma Road before it was somewhat tamed. I had to make a detour of 500m or so to make sure I visited one of my wanted VV squares. As I climbed, I was on the look out for a likely bivvy spot but once I was with 500m or so of the summit cairn I knew that's were I would end up. The ground is broken peat on a sandy base but I managed to find one lump big enough for the tarp. Amazingly, given the altitude and exposure, there was little breeze. I could just make out a bit of a glow from the lights of Aviemore, steeply beneath me.
It was a good nights sleep, though the wind suddenly made its presence felt around 8 am, gusting over the tent. I just turned over and tuned it out for a while but, eventually, my bladder declared the moments respite over so it was a matter of quickly bundling everything together, strapping it on the bike and heading home via another VV detour.
So - that's me managed 12 out of 12 for 2017 (with some additional bivvies not documented here in addition to that). As a "reward" Stu for BearBones commissioned a badge for those completing the collection. I must say it looks mighty fine.