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.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Northern Cairngorms loop - revisited

I'm easily led. In trying to come up with an idea for Junes "bivvy a month", we were always likely to be constrained by me not currently having a van so when Neill suggested doing the Northern Cairngorms loop it was an easy decision, despite the fact I'd been round just last Autumn. On the other hand, it also gave Neill a chance to navigate using his newly-acquired Garmin Oregon with me overseeing it on a route with which I was familiar.

Always looking to experiment and/or improve things I opted to fit the suspension forks onto the Pact for a change. This was also partly due to a shoulder injury, figuring that a bit of bounce would relieve any stress. I also fitted the Revelate Sweetroll rather than the Harness/Saltyroll combo I'd been favouring. The Sweetroll has additional strapping points to fit it better to the Jones Loop bars and I wanted to see if this was worth it before, potentially, selling it.

Ready for the off

The weather forecast was mild, a light breeze. With the potential for midge, I also opted for a tent rather than bivvy bag.

With a planned chippy at Braemar we were in no particular need for an early start and we left the Old Bridge Inn just after 10. The "puddle of doom" was encountered on the way to Nethy Bridge, Neill opting to ride straight through it with David and I attempting, unsuccessfully, to maintain drier feet by skirting round it.

A favourite singletrack section in Abernethy Forest

The Faeshallach and Dorback burns were quite low on account of a rather dry spell so it was no real surprise to find the Brown low too. Three dry-shod crossings of the meanders took us to the path on the south side of the glen and we managed to bushwhack through from there. 
Climbing away from Dorback

With the wee steep push up to the forestry track, the fast descent out and the final spin into Tomintoul we declared the first part of the ride a success and adjourned to the Fire Station cafe. We made it just before a coach party arrived which, given the speed of service, was a bit of a blessing. 

Tomintoul represents one of the significant turning points of the route and from here we turned south. Although I was familiar with the route I was holding back at any junctions in order to give Neill full practice with his Oregon.


A corner turned

The ride up the glen past Inchrory seemed longer than I remembered but we were soon enough on the Loch Builg track. Based on my previous experience I'd warned Neill and David that this section would involve quite a bit of pushing. As it turned out, I was completely wrong. Whether it was the bars, the forks, the drier conditions or (unlikely) my improved bike handling, this bit turned out to be a real treasure. 

    Passing Inchrory 

Lovely Loch Builg singletrack


Skinny dipping was considered....

New hut (closed to the peasantry)

The same couldn't be said for the slog to the new lunch hut above the River Gairn. The wind had been strengthening all day and  owner we were fully into it. After a few minutes at the hut it was then the climb over Culardoch. Despite the headwind, I decided to dig in and ride the full climb. A couple of sideswipes had me almost off the wide track but I made it with no dabs. That meant a 15 minute wait at the top of the climb until Neill and David appeared. 

DRAMATIC!!!!

Neill ecstatic as he reaches the top of the climb

Given how blowy it still was I was keen to get down again and we made a fast descent into the pretty woodlands near Invercauld. I stopped at a junction here, determined not to be taking the lead and, while faffing around with my camera, looked up to see Neill charging down the wrong descent. Despite pedalling - and shouting - as hard as I could it was almost 1.5km before Neill heard me. That meant another climb before we got back on track. 

Time lost meant we were now concerned about the chippy opening hours and we were very glad to see that it was still serving when we arrived.

We didn't plan to go too far after dinner, so set out to get past Linn of Dee and see what turned up. After a couple of miles we saw a reasonably sheltered spot but decided to press on to White Bridge. The flat grassy area here looked great but was quite exposed to the wind. A search further up the glen didn't prove fruitful  (the one sheltered spot was already fully occupied) so we were left in a bit of a quandary. With dark clouds coming over the mountains and the time of evening I wasn't really in the mood to keep looking.  I've been caught before with these dilemmas and experience says "take what's on offer" so I backtracked to White Bridge just as David and Neill took another look somewhere else.

As it turned out, this was a master stroke. I found a tent-sized spot behind the bridge and was soon pitched with hip-flask in hand.

Cold and cold running water

It was a tight squeeze

It was an uncomfortable night. I just couldn't get my temperature right. It was too warm to be fully in my sleeping bag - I woke up a couple of times with sweat running down my neck - yet too draughty to lie outside it. I've so far avoided buying a lighter weight "summer" bag but this had me reconsidering. Despite that, I awoke bright and early, checked Neill and David's tents were still pitched and set about breakfast. Still there - a second coffee then. 

As I was prepping to go I spotted their tents were down too so set off in pursuit. They'd stopped at the confluence of the Geldie and the Bynack to brew up in the shelter of the old red-roofed house as their camp spot had been just too windy. 

The Geldie-Feshie watershed was next and I recalled I'd struggled along here in the gathering gloom looking for somewhere to bivvy. In daylight it looked much more appealing, with several spots looking likely candidates. 

Another easy crossing

The drier conditions were obviously helping make it more rideable too but we were still reduced to a lengthy hike-a-bike to the Eidart. I actually took a little detour here, opting to follow the path shown on the OS map and part of the official Cairngorms Loops route. Suffice to say that both can safely be ignored in favour of the more direct route now plainly visible due to its popularity. The same can also be said of the short section immediately after the Eidart bridge.

The old route does give a better view of the falls.

The track all becomes rideable again as Glen Feshie develops - though the wee landslips and the crossing of the Allt Coire Gharbhlach still require some manhandling. 


Tricky with a loaded bike

We opted for lunch at Loch Insh Watersports centre before taking the Speyside Way from Kincraig to Aviemore. 


It was certainly worth repeating the route.  The two sections I struggled with last time were both more bikeable than I remembered/encountered and timings for their passage are useful to have in planning other routes in the area.

I'm torn on the Sweetroll/Harness decision. I prefer being able to pack the Saltyroll off the bike and just clipping it into the harness but the Sweetroll does sit "better" on the Loop bars with less rubbing of the headtube. Some further experimentation may be in order.