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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Saturday, 6 August 2016

A Northern Cairngorms Loop

Between walking and cycling I've managed to find most ways of crossing the main body of the Cairngorms but a couple of options had somehow eluded me. In an attempt to correct this oversight and as way of familiarisation of a possible future ride I chose to combine them for a short overnight bivvy. 

The first part of the ride was definitely familiar to me. The route from Aviemore to Tomintoul passes through lots of interesting spots. Safe to say this was by far the wettest I'd ever ridden it though. Lots of puddles and muddy spots didn't promise well for the later river crossings.


A wet warning of what was to come - bottom bracket depth.
The sign has to be a joke - there's no way round this.

Some of my favourite singletrack after Forest Lodge
Looking across to Strath Nethy

The Faeshallach was flowing but I made it across through careful use of boulders as stepping stones. I doubted the next crossing would be as straightforward.


The Faeshallach - I made it across here with dry feet.

Approaching the Big Egg (gaelic Eag Mhor - the big notch)

It's a cracking place for a ride

Some care required. Having an accident here would be no yolk.

Purple poo - a sure sign it's Blaeberry season

On reaching the Dorback Burn my suspicions were confirmed. Not only has the burn changed its profile through the gravel banks, it was flowing fast and deep. Knowing that the Burn of Brown was still to come, I didn't bother faffing and just waded straight across. That was the boots properly wet now, and no chance of drying out. 



The Dorback Burn. A change of direction and deeper than I've seen it.

Looking back at the Big Egg. I was going for another pun but I reckoned an oeuf is an oeuf.

The Burn of Brown was crossed three times before I made it to the path on the south bank. This wanders in and out of the trees a lot and, having wet feet already, I'm not sure it was worth the effort compared with just making more crossings. 


I wonder how many folk this has put on the right path?

The first of three crossings of the Burn of Brown
 On reaching Tomintoul, I popped into the Post Office for some food and drink, kicked back, took off my boots, wrung out my socks and let my feet air in the sun for a while. Of course, I'd no sooner done this when a big cloud came over and killed the warm sunlight.

Going my way?
Leaving Tomintoul I was finally on some unfamiliar territory. I have to say, the middle reaches of the River Avon are really very pleasant and there was a definite feeling of heading upwards and into more remote territory as I went. The road and track certainly made for good progress, though when this ended to become rocky singletrack it was even better fun. 


Just below Queen Victorias viewpoint.I bet she didn't cycle here!

Disguising itself as a fallen tree, the carnivorous Highland Bearcow awaits an unsuspecting salmon.
Reaching Loch Builg, the track became a bit more boggy and less well defined, necessitating a little walking but with already wet feet I wasn't making much effort to avoid puddles. 


Unexpected beach on Loch Builg
The climb up Culardoch went a little quicker than I'd expected. Perhaps it was the threat of the impending rainclouds approaching from Ben Avon. They finally broke as I was at the summit so I stopped being so stoical and donned a jacket for the first time of the day. 

The descent was on loose and steep estate road. I was always tempted to go faster but I kept repeating my two wilderness riding questions; where are you? and who are you with?  The answers kept coming back the arse end of the Cairngorms and I only have my Spot tracker for company. 


The descent off Culardoch just as the rains came.

Reaching the woods near Invercauld was a welcome change of scenery. There's a definite "Braemar-ish" feel around here that somehow differentiates it from the Rothiemurchus side of the massif.


Quite a welcome sight after the bleaker high terrain

Looking towards Braemar and Glen Dee (and a bed for the night)

Been there, done that.
Braemar was an opportunity to grab some food (from the chippy) and take stock. I'd not been watching the clock, occasionally trying to judge time of day by the amount of daylight. I was happy with it being not quite 7 o'clock and headed out towards Linn of Dee to ponder a bivvy spot. 


Getting nearer

Still too early - crack on

Demanding and potentially dangerous - just like being at home then!

Nice spot - but not for me

Linn of Dee came and went - far too early. White Bridge then? Too early and some campers already there. 


The Geldie would have to do. I got there just as the rain started and even looked at the old building as a potential stopping point but the midge were numerous and good ground hard to come by. I decided to head upstream. I knew that wet ground was sure to follow and hoped it wouldn't slow my progress too much but it became a bit of a boggy trudge, interspersed with the occasional bit of pedalling. I was now in that spiral where it was getting dark and I was getting increasingly slow, leading to it being even more dark as I headed towards the watershed. What's more, the whole area was sodden meaning I could see no decent bivvy spot. As it got darker, I opted to continue on to the waterfall of the Eidart, hoping that the change of terrain would give me more options. It turned out not to be so and I (carefully) crossed the bridge with the water roaring beneath me. By now, all I could make out of the track was the line of tyre-marked puddles. Another look at the map confirmed that I'd now be heading down to the riverside and closer inspection showed a building. I expected this to be a ruin but I figured that no one would build something the middle of a bog so this was likely to be my best hope for dry ground. 

I was, thankfully, correct. An old stable, walls mostly gone and with holes in the roof it did, however present my best bet for stopover point. I had, briefly, considered pressing on to Ruigh-aitchechan bothy in Glen Feshie but I knew this was likely to take quite a while, would involve crossing the landslips in the dark and might not make me too popular with anyone else already asleep there. My tarp made a useful temporary wall patch, cutting off the breeze coming from the west and though the ground was a bit rocky, the air mattress took it in its stride. A quick change out of wet gear and I was in the sleeping bag in double quick time. I had a stove with me but that seemed like too much faff and, having managed to forget a hipflask, I made do with some water and nuts for supper.


Not exactly 5 Star
It wasn't a bad night, the midge netting on the bivvy bag kept the menace at bay and I fell asleep very quickly. The 5:30 alarm call wasn't necessary though. I'd woken a couple of times and watched as the night broke into reluctant daylight. By 4:45 I adjudged it to be bright enough to consider making a move. A quick breakfast and hasty packing session before donning my wet clothes (brrr!) and I was on the move. Thankfully, I was able to pedal most of the way out, though I doubt I'd have made as good progress in the dark. 

A faint glow of sunrise

The upper reaches of the Feshie in this area have a definite non-Cairngorms feel about them. In fact, it reminded me of my trip into Kintail earlier this year. I was also coming back onto familiar ground and soon reached the area where two significant landslips make manhandling a bike a bit precarious.


A bit tricky this one - not to be attempted in the dark!


The purples of late summer developing nicely

Some astonishing light in the morning sun.
 I'd also somehow miscalculated how far these were past Ruigh-aitchechan and kept expecting it to appear well before it eventually did.  

The last bit of bike-pushing came when crossing the Allt Garblach. This minor river crossing was transformed into a deep canyon last year when we experienced lots of flooding. What was a nice stepped descent, small bridge and stepped climb out now necessitates a lot of manhandling on steep, loose ground. 

Allt Garbhlach devastation - check out the steps on the far side

A big drop from this side too

Easy to miss this in the dark - and suffer a serious fall



Back onto tarmac for the final stretch home

After that, it was a quick spin to the road (watching out for a further landslip area) and back towards Aviemore. Not yet 8:00, I arranged a suitable postscript in the form of breakfast at the Mountain Cafe with my wife. With my own breakfast gone, I was forced to finish hers - and a couple of rounds of toast. Safe to say, I did so guilt-free!! 


Fear not - there's bacon in there too!
136km, 2,061m of ascent
GPX File here (Right Click, Save As...)

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