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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Monday, 10 April 2017

Back round Ben Alder

There's a vast area of "wild" country south of the A9 and north of the road to Kinloch Rannoch that nevertheless has a large number of cross-country tracks through it. For years, as I've driven up and down the A9, I've looked down along Loch Garry and fantasized about exploring it. When I was doing lots of hillwalking I was looking at routes north from Rannoch-side but they all involved quite lengthy logistical issues. It always seemed simpler as a cycle but I just never got around to it. Planning a bivvy weekend for April, it looked like I'd finally come up with a good plan.

Neills steed

A fence. And a gate.

What the mature gentleman is pedalling this year

We left Dalwhinnie after a good lunch at the cafe and headed along NCN7, up and over Drumochter summit against a fairly stiff headwind before reaching the turn off for Loch Garry. 

That's not a smile, it's the headwind stretching my face back

Thankfully, it was a lovely sunny day. Imaging having dreamed of this and it being dreich!

As close as I've been

Once I got to the loch I was actually feeling quite elated. I'd experienced a similar feeling a few years back in Fisherfield as I stood on a little causeway after having seen it on maps for years. I had a few minutes to take it in before we headed along the very good track on the north side of the loch. 

Almost there

Looking back at the A9

This did, however, come to an abrupt end and we were then into a couple of km of hike-a-bike over some very soft ground until we reached a recently built hydro track.

That'll be the end of the track then?

This took us past Duinish bothy so I had a wee peek in. It looked pretty comfy inside - middling as these things go. 

Duinish. The North Wing needs some work....

In a fine setting though
Goodbye to Loch Garry, back on a hydro track

After a bit more hydro track we crossed the brow of the hill and saw the long descent ahead of us. I stopped for a wee nibble before heading down and off we went. Almost at the bottom, I had a look at the little food bag on my bars only to discover I'd left it open and my bag of chocolate nuts and raisins had bounced out. I was desolate, but not so much that I wanted to go back up to find them!

Early evening sun on Loch Rannoch

A brief stop at Loch Rannoch and we were soon on the turn-off for the "Road to the Isles". 

Off the tarmac again and onto the newly surfaced track

This track has been significantly improved since I was last here and is now a wide, smooth motor track. I'm a bit ambivalent about these developments. On the one hand, tracks like this are needed to aid hydro and wind schemes - a good idea as it's green energy and creates an income that isn't just tourism. On the other, they can scar the hillsides and remove some of the challenge of cycling in them. This particular one is to aid in another hydro scheme and the track will eventually be narrower again. There are already signs of erosion too so maybe we just need to give them a little time. 

Shaun on the track, just about to reach the lodge

Tucked into the side of the lodge

Neill with his supper

I'd had a look at our potential bivvy site on satellite imagery and it didn't disappoint. High above the moors, we had a stunning view out to the hills around Glencoe and over to Ben Nevis. 

My bivvy set up

A goods train looking a little incongruous in the landscape

It was here that Shaun announced he might have to head back the way we'd come in the morning as his GPS had ejected itself from his handlebars at some point. We discussed where and when we might last have seen it, even going through photographs we'd taken, but couldn't come to a definitive conclusion. Suspicion centred on the same track that my nuts had taken leave.

Dinner on a slate. How hipster.

Bivvys made, food cooked and we were in time to catch a cracking sunset.

The mountains of the West beyond the Blackwater Reservoir

Sunset behind Ben Nevis

The moon was also ridiculously bright. In fact, I was glad I'd brought me tarp as it was helping to reduce the glare when in my bag. 

Not quite a full moon but the thin cloud wasn't dulling it much

The winds of the day before had dropped off overnight and we awoke in a bit of low cloud, so much so that the tarp was dripping in condensation. Shaun decided that the GPS hunt might not be too productive and decided he'd complete the route. I'd planned for breakfast at Corrour Station so packed up relatively quickly, not bothering to eat. It was a damp, atmospheric, descent down to Loch Ossian and the warmth of the cafe was much appreciated. 

Loch Ossian appearing out of the morning mist.

Loch Ossian

A few teething troubles were apparent - no coffee grinder, no card payment - but I had the most awesome Venison Lorne Sausage. I mean, this was superb. I'm trying to track down the supplier so I can buy some for cooking at home!!

Corrour may be remote but it feels well connected!

After breakfast I took Shaun and Neill out to the wee bridge made famous in Trainspotting.

One of these is an effette arsehole. One of these is a wanker.

A relatively speedy transit along the south shore of the loch took us to yet another new hydro track. Again, this made for relatively fast cycling, until it too abruptly ended. I knew what was in store here though, a 6km hike-a-bike section up to the Bealach Dubh. I'd hoped we might manage it in 90 minutes or so but it turned out to be 2 hours of pushing and shoving, crossing peat hags and wee burns. We'd opted to take a steep climb out near the end to get onto a better track and that wee bit was lovely. In fact, I need to come back and explore it another time. 

Loch Ossian disappearing into the mist way below.

Quite a few folk had commented on the descent from the Bealach Dubh and we met some walkers as we were approaching it who also reckoned it would be great cycling down.

Neill about to start the descent from the Bealach Dubh

Thankfully, it didn't disappoint. There are loads of water bars though. Some I was happy to just crack on over, some made me wince a little and a few had me off and pushing over. It's all a nice, swoopy descent though and the three of us thoroughly enjoyed it. I suspect a repeat visit with an unladen bike (and in my case some suspension) is in order.

The Long Leachas of Ben Alder

Ben Alder and the Lancet Edge creating a fine backdrop

From there, it was a fairly straightforward ride over to Loch Ericht and then a tailwind-assisted sprint back to Dalwhinnie. Not long after we arrived, it started raining. Ah yes - it's all in the timing!

Shaun and Neill patiently await my arrival at Loch Pattack

Last look back along Loch Ericht as the weather starts to close in

A good loop then. Of 103km, only 8km or so was actually having to push the bike and, as a percentage, that seems pretty fair. Strangely enough, I didn't mind that as much as I did when encountering similar obstacles on the Speyside Way just a few weeks earlier. Maybe my expectations were just more correctly set.

103km and 1,435m of ascent