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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Showing posts with label Speyside Way. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Speyside Way. Show all posts

Monday 23 September 2019

And the best bike for bikepacking is....

The one you already own…

It’s a bit of a meme, I know. Oft asserted by the old hands who have carefully built up their bike collections and have a bike for every possible niche.

For a bit of a change, I thought I’d go against the grain a bit and do away with that, choosing to take out my “Less than appropriate” Orbea Occam on a trip I’ve been thinking about since I moved to Aviemore 6 years ago. Simply enough, it’s 50km to the trail centre at Glenlivet, so ride there, bivvy, do the red descent, then ride home.

To help with the load bearing, I fitted a Gorilla Cage to the one set of bottle mounts on the frame. That gave me some storage space low down. My insulated jacket squeezed into a small drybag there. I also fitted an old Ortlieb 3L saddle bag that I bought years ago for commuting. That held a couple of inner tubes, tool, levers, some snacks and a few items of clothing I might want through the day. Having packed those, the rest of my overnight kit went in a 25L rucksack. It was by no means full and the weight wasn’t so great as to feel uncomfortable.

It’s a fairly well-kent route, heading up past Ryvoan Bothy, past Dorback Lodge and on to the Burn of Brown.

The trails were all very dry and I managed to make all the river crossings dryshod. However, at this point, disaster struck. A bottle of Smidge I’d been carrying in the side pocket of my rucksack had bounced out. This was potentially the end of my ride. Bivvying with just a tarp and no midge protection at this time of year was likely to be fatal. A quick check of the time and I reckoned I might just make it to the one shop in Tomintoul before it closed – though I had no idea what time that was. What had been a leisurely ride became a sweaty race and I pulled up to the Tomintoul Post Office at 18:05. Thankfully, they were still open and I managed to come away with a bottle of Jungle Formula.

I was now desperate for food and drink so popped into one of the hotels for a cold beer and some hot food. I made the mistake of taking my GPS with me and, when browsing through the maps, came up with another option for the night – to head to Faindouran with a view to the Fords of Avon and Loch Avon in the morning and a climb up Coire Raibert to get back home. This was only really an option due to my choice of bike and carrying most kit in my rucksack. The thought of lugging a laden bike up Coire Raibert would never have occurred to me.

In the end, I opted to stick with Plan A. There is something particularly refreshing about camping high. As I left Tomintoul, dusk was settling in and I took the Speyside Way to the top of Carn Daimh. Given previous experience with other sections of the Speyside Way, I should have known better…

I was suckered in at the beginning as there has obviously been some recent pathworks on this section. This flock of sheep were certainly making good use of it.

After that, it did the SSW trick of running around field margins over tussocks, before making a beeline up a hill. I was just able to keep enough momentum going, particularly thankful for the rear suspension. As I climbed, the sun was just beginning to dip below the nearby hills.

 By the time I made it to the summit, the sky had become a deep red.

Despite the quite fierce wind, I hung around sheltered by the viewpoint as the world around me went dark. It didn’t look like the wind was about to drop any time so I headed downhill into the lee and came across a great little spot for my tarp. As I was setting it up, the wind DID drop and I was suddenly engulfed by the flying hordes. I scrambled to put on a midge hood and leg warmers and considered decamping to the top of the hill. However, the lull was only brief and the wind picked up again, just as strong. Decision made, I was here for the night.

I had a pretty good nights sleep. One pee break at 2am, then an alarm call at 5:45 for the dawn. It was overcast and dull so nothing to write home about. Another nap ensued before I packed up and headed to the top of the red trail.

Not my fastest descent and the amount of seat drop I could manage was limited by the bag I’d fitted, but great fun and even better knowing I’d not have to take that dumb-assed route back to the trail head. Instead, I headed back to Tomintoul for breakfast.

After breakfast, the route back also gave me the opportunity to stop at the viewpoint I’d had to speed past the night before, en route to the shop and midge salvation.

I wasn’t the only busy soul around, especially now that the heather is in full bloom.

So, a great trip. Proof enough for me that you don’t need to spend a couple of thousand on Ti-framed, B-Plus bikes with expensive, niche bags (though feel free to do so). If I lost out on some road/gravel sections, I certainly made up for it on the fun singletrack and descents. There are also other routes (like my Loch Avon idea) that suddenly become a lot more do-able. My one piece of advice though would be to, instead, spend some of that money on lightweight overnight kit. Once you can cut the weight and bulk, opting for a rucksack is nowhere near as bad as it might be (and I’ve made that mistake in the past).

Of course, I’m probably now blacklisted by the Guild of Bikepackers for my heresy, but at least my Orbea is in British Bikepacking Orange 🙂

Friday 17 March 2017

Moray Way - No Way!

By now I really should know better. Sometimes my desire to explore needs to be tempered by what other folk have to say on the matter.......

Cycling on the Speyside Way

The Speyside Way between Fochabers and Ballindalloch and between Nethybridge and Aviemore is suitable for cycling. Between Boat of Garten and Aviemore, the route is shared with a section of the SUSTRANS millennium cycle way. The 'off road' sections between Ballindalloch and Tomintoul, and between Ballindalloch and Cromdale cannot sustain cycle traffic, and we ask you to avoid them. Between Ballindalloch (Delnapot) and Cromdale an alternative exists using the B9102. Cyclists are asked at all times to ensure that they use the route in a way which does not cause damage to the track surface, or cause inconvenience or danger to users on foot or horseback.

That seems pretty straightforward - "cannot sustain cycle traffic" is obviously a hangover from the days before the Land Reform Act and can safely be ignored. I mean, it's not like we're not roughty-toughty mountain bikers. 

That was the thinking as Neill and I discussed routes for a proposed bivvy. With his friend David back in the UK for a couple of weeks, we wanted something relatively straightforward and not a huge drive from Aberdeenshire/Montrose. I'd become aware of the Moray Way from a couple of recent rides in that area and it seemed to fit the bill fairly well. It's an amalgamation of the Speyside Way, the Moray Coast Trail and the Dava Way, coming in at around 100 miles/160 km. In fact, I'd cycled most of it before, though I'd always taken to the minor road along Speyside rather than stick to the signposted route. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to correct that and to scout out the remaining sections. 

We'd decided to split the route somewhere around Roseisle Forest. That would be over half way and, as we were going anti-clockwise, we'd eat a meal in Lossiemouth before doing the last few easy miles in the dark, along the beach when the tide was fairly low. Ah yes, the plans....

Ready for the off in Grantown
Meeting up in Grantown again had a familiar ring to it as we'd set off from here on a similar, shorter, trip in December. This time though we were straight on to the trail rather than having lunch first. The initial section of the SSW from here takes a few, easily missed, turns through Anagach Woodlands on its way to Cromdale. Here we passed a lane to the B9102, the possible road-based detour that would take us to Ballindalloch. Not for us though, we decided we'd stick to the marked SSW all the way to the coast. 

Onto the railway line for the first time at Cromdale Station

And it was at Cromdale we started to encounter the notorious Y walking gates. Now, they're a clever design, if they're only to be used by walkers, but with a fully-laded bike they are a complete nuisance. We soon developed 2 techniques; Option A involved trying to jam the gate open and then bumping the bike through on its rear wheel. This worked frequently. Where it failed we resorted to Option B. This needed two folk to hold the swinging sections of the gate open while the third rolled their bike through. By the time we'd done a dozen, we were getting pretty adept at it. 

Technique A in action

Crossing the A95 we were soon into the section I'd never ridden, through the forest on Tom an Uird. This turned out to be very straightforward forest track and we were wondering why there'd been any need to persuade cyclists to avoid it. A short fast descent took us to a minor road crossing. As were were doing our gate routine here, a friendly farmer suggested we should avoid the next section as "we'd end up walking it all". Of course, we thanked him for his advice but looking ahead, the track seemed completely fine. It was 11:12 and we were looking forward to lunch in Aberlour. When we next crossed the A95, it was 13:15, during which we'd travelled the grand sum of 8 km. Not shown on the OS maps is that the official SSW has now been diverted up another hill and round some boggy, bouldery field margins. We were reduced to walking almost all of it, watching our timetable slip and all the while dealing with more of those damn gates. Sticking to the A95 for 5.5 km would have saved us almost two hours of clarty bike-manhandling. 

David reaches the top of the final push

As it was, the pain was mostly over by the time we reached the old railway line down by the river (one particularly cow-trodden field notwithstanding) and we spun along to Aberlour as fast as we could reasonably manage.

Making progress at last

Sorry sir, you missed the last train.

Le late lunch

Lunch was, by this time, very much appreciated and when we left we were spinning along quite merrily for a while but the mornings toils had taken their toll on Neill and he was finding it hard to keep up on the Ben Aigan and subsequent climbs. As a result, it was dark by the time we reached Fochabers and any thoughts of a short break here were dispersed by our need to make progress towards our planned overnight stop. 

That'll be the lights on then?

We'd already scaled back the days riding a little, reckoning that any spot just past Lossiemouth would have to do. Personally, I was just worried about getting some food and in particular that we'd miss the chance if we delayed any further.

Neill was now beginning to cramp up a little and by the time we reached the SSW turn off onto NCN1 and the Moray Coast Trail he had already resorted to walking occasionally. We considered taking to the road to Lossiemouth rather than the beach trails but reckoned it would be slightly longer and, as we were already beginning to see the lights of Lossiemouth, made a bee-line along the beach as best we could. Poor David was struggling occasionally on his "unfashionable" 2.1" tyres and the patches of soft sand but we mostly managed to stick to the firmer stuff. With Lossiemouth still a little away, I persuaded Neill it might be a good idea to get some food in him. Not that he didn't have any, just he was saving it for "when he really needed it". Yeah, I reckoned that time had come. Desperate not to lead us on any unwanted diversions I took to scouting ahead a little at a time, making sure the track was passable etc. Being on the beach, in the dark, with the waves crashing on the shore was a pleasant diversion from the mild stress I'd developed considering the food options and worrying about Neill.

Lossiemouth - finally!

It was almost 22:15 when we reached Lossiemouth and we knew that any sit-in opportunities were well past. Fortunately we found takeaway Chinese and takeaway Pizza shops within a few feet of each other. A brief discussion of options and we were in, ordering pizzas. 

I'd not normally comment on such things but I really, really have to give a big shout out to the guys at Pino Pizzas in Lossiemouth. Not only did they give us great pizzas, but they let us sit on their inside window ledge, distribute our muddy gear around and basically take over the place. Quite what they made of us, I don't know but we were offered use of the staff toilets too. 

Did sir reserve a table?

All of that would have been OK but when Neill got his pizza, he sat with it on his lap, opened the box to let it cool and there was then a comedy moment as the whole lot slid off and onto the floor, of course turning upside down in the process. The look of desperation on his face was at the same time both amusing and frightening. Having struggled all afternoon and evening, here was his meal laid out on the floor of a takeaway. I did, at first, think he was going to eat it regardless but he came to his senses and went to order another. By now, the guy at the counter had realised what had happened and offered to make another. There was then a bit of a stand-off as Neill insisted he pay for it and the server insisted he wouldn't take any money. I, meanwhile, was already wolfing into mine - carefully!

It was 23:10 when we then set out to find a camp spot. All the previous delays had now conspired with the tides to put the broad, sweeping, easy to ride beach out of bounds to us and we had to take to the trail in the dunes. With a combination of gorse and tall maram grass, trail finding was exceedingly difficult and every time we looked down to the beach, it was either beyond a steep drop or still covered by the sea. The dunes themselves were no use for pitching on but I was aware that we'd eventually leave the coast a little and head uphill where the terrain would change, so this became the point I was focussed on.

Spooky moonlight

By the time we reached a likely spot it was 00:30. We scouted around for a while and, while nothing was perfect, we decided this would have to do. At 1 am we were finally stopped for the night, tents pitched. I lay down in the sleeping bag, watching the occasional break in the clouds and then awoke with rain on my face. I must have fallen asleep in a few seconds and had done so without fastening up the tent. I did so now, listened to the rain for a couple of minutes and then passed out again until the morning.

View from the pillow

Regardless of the fact that we had longer to cycle today than we had planned, I didn't get the impression that anyone was in much of a hurry in the morning. Having been along this way just a few months back, I knew that we'd be cycling almost all day today, only one short section of cliff-top stuff around Hopeman to get in the way. 

No beach riding today either
Pulling into Burghead, I made straight for the Bothy Bistro. It didn't disappoint. Pancakes with bacon and a couple of coffees soon made everything alright and we set off for home. 

Ben Wyvis

Last stop before lunch

The day was also getting warmer and by the time we reached Roseisle Forest we were all removing layers. I even ended up in shorts. Findhorn gave us another chance to top up on calories and caffeine before the drag up Dava Moor so it was into Macleans for Lasagne pie and toasted teabread. 

The Dava Way is, by now, so familiar to me that I can almost recount every twist, turn and hill. Neill was still struggling along so it was a case of cycle along, stop for a while, repeat, repeat. However, by the time we reached the Half Way hut, we both knew it was almost all downhill back to Grantown so we took an extended break while David caught up on the wonders of electric lighting before covering the last few miles back to the cars. 

And just look at those big, wide, cheesy grins!

At "only" 160km, this should have been a relatively easy trip. In fact, I'd been harbouring a desire to knock it off in one, long, summer day. However, even allowing for careful timing to allow for the tides, I reckon the signed Speyside Way section that we walked is going to eat into times too much. Using the B9102, as the Speyside Way folk suggest, would probably cut a good couple of hours off our timings anyway but then there's the feeling that you'd not really done the "proper" route. Now I've done it all, I'll certainly be advising anyone who asks to avoid that section. No point in everyone being as stubborn or obstinate as me!

For what it's worth, our total moving time ended up at just under 16 hours.