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.

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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. 





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