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.

Tuesday 14 May 2013

A different slant

My last blog entry, on my winter kit list, certainly seems to have been popular. I guess that's the gear geeks showing themselves. I also hinted that I was looking to change a few items as we hit the better weather and I have been keen to try the whole bivvy and tarp option that many lightweight backpackers and bikepackers are now using. To this end, I bought myself a Rab Ascent bivvy bag and a Siltarp tarp. 

The Ascent met my number 1 criterion - it has a midge net. Now maybe I'm just unlucky, or I was born with the wrong gene, but I'm an absolute midge magnet. Having tried a few products over the years I've found only two that work. Deet, at a high concentration, seems to keep the blighters at bay but it smells & tastes horrid and can damage certain materials and plastics. I found Smidge a couple of years ago and that seems to work just as well but with none of the side effects. However, I'm still not confident enough to want to fall asleep out in the open in a Scottish summer. The midge net on the Ascent bivvy bag can be removed if not required but neatly zips across the opening ensuring loads of fresh air without being eaten alive. 

The tarp I bought has enough loops on it that it can be used in number of configurations so I practiced in the garden, learning and re-learning a few knots that would be handy out in the wilds. 

Tarp in "Flying V" configuration
Another option - requiring a couple of poles or handily placed trees.
Keen to use the new equipment, I asked a few friends if they were also up for a night out at a spot I had spotted a couple of weeks previously near Blair Atholl. Before long we had a small posse together and Saturday afternoon saw us heading north up the A9, past all the Etape Caledonia entrants doing their registration stuff in Pitlochry. A couple of beers in the Bothy Bar at the Atholl Arms (and a plate of Haggis Nachos for a very hungry me) and we were then heading up around the Glen Banvie loop. This is a straightforward section of estate road with a couple of wee climbs to gain some altitude and makes a pleasant 9 mile cycle in the country. However, I had decided to see if we could get to the top of the little summit of Fair Bhuidhe reckoning that the views would be more open. That meant a good bit more climbing, including a  bit of pushing as the terrain got wetter and my Marathon Mondial tyres started to lose traction. 

Almost at the top, we made a detour to a the remains of a very old watch tower overlooking Blair Castle. I have to say that I was very surprised. I'd expected an old Forestry Commission wooden tower but this was clearly much older and had been much more substantial.

Who's the king of the castle?
Beside this tower there was also a little ruined building that would have been an ideal spot to set out a bivvy bag. However, as the the other three were in tents and this little ridge was a bit blowy and exposed we opted to head to a clearing right at the very summit. This necessitated a push through some draggy heather that was particularly bad for Jimmy as he'd opted to tow a trailer. However, he struggled on bravely and we were soon inspecting potential pitches. 

This was where I had to start thinking a bit differently. I hummed and hawed for a bit before finally selecting a little hollow between some heathery bumps and under the spreading branches of a tree. While the other guys were cracking on apace with their tents, I had to search  around a bit for a decent stick I could use as a prop for the tarp, then guy it all out. Even a simple chore like getting the sleeping mat organised turned into a potential issue. The other guys had already started cooking before I was settled and I was lucky it wasn't raining as I got everything sorted out. 

When I eventually started on my dinner, Andrew was collecting firewood from the substantial amount of windfall and, after a couple of attempts, eventually had a fire going. 

Primitive humans gathering around the fire for safety
It's strange this one. I very rarely bother with such a thing. By the time I've ridden or walked all day then cooked a meal I'm usually happy to sit and contemplate nature/the sky for a while then head into my sleeping bag. However, get four guys together in the wilds and some elemental change seems to occur. It was certainly a lot more sociable and it was as well I'd brought some wine as well as whisky as it was well after midnight before we were all ensconced in our various sleeping systems.

And how was I feeling about this? Well, pretty cosy actually. In the pitch black it was impossible to tell I wasn't just in a tent. Only the amount of fresh air really gave the game away and I was soon fast asleep.

I awoke around 5am, just as the sky was getting lighter, to discover that (a) my sleeping mat had gone flat and (b) the inside of the bivvy bag was very wet. I think these two things might have been related. With the mat flat, the bivvy bag had got twisted in the night and I'd managed to pull the much less breathable bottom part round to the top. That meant my body vapour was condensing on it. The part of the bag that was made of the Event fabric still felt OK. As for the mat, the best I could do was blow it up again, hoping it would retain some air until it was time to get up.

Room with a view

I don't know that I slept much after that. I was content to poke my head out of the bag and watch the sky gradually getting lighter. Eventually though, approaching 8am, I decided it was time for breakfast and set about doing this from the comfort of my sleeping bag. Much as when in the tent, organisation of your gear is vital so that everything is handy and easily found. In fact, it's probably even more essential under just a tarp as it's easy for things to get lost in the heather.

When packing everything away, I was again grateful it wasn't raining. Simple tasks like getting a sleeping bag packed away into a dry bag are just going to take much more care when not having the comparative luxury of a tent to do it in. 

The route I'd chosen back to the car park involved another heathery fire-break to a mapped estate road. However, this road was frequently blocked by trees and very wet in places. Again, I was cursing my tyre choice as my steering was often non-existent. Upon reaching the main Glen Banvie track again, I somehow persuaded everyone that it would be better to do the slightly longer route back. This also gave us the opportunity to check out what had been my fallback camp spot had the weather been too wild the previous evening. A wee detour to the Falls of Bruar and we were soon enough back at the car park for a slap-up chippy!!

Safe from predators at last

So - what are my impressions of bivvying?

On the down side;
  • I was surprised how much time it took for me to get it all set up. On the right terrain, a tent would be quicker.
  • Organisation is pretty essential. I was forever losing stuff in the grass and heather.
  • There's not a massive amount of weight saved once a tarp and pegs (and potentially a warmer sleeping bag) are factored in.
  • My sleeping bag was definitely more damp than it would have been in a tent, though this was due to the bivvy bag twisting.
  • There is definitely a wider selection of places to bivvy than to camp. I'd have been happy in the wee ruins we'd passed.
  • If it hadn't been for the other guys having tents I'd have pitched up further into the woods where the ground was flatter and less heathery.
  • There's certainly a pleasant vibe from waking up in the open. I really enjoyed that aspect of it and on a summer evening I can imagine enjoying it even more.
In short, I obviously need to do more. I reckon some of the disadvantages will reduce or disappear with experience and, even if it's only for single-night trips, I'm sold on the concept. 

Packed and ready to roll

Edit: the leaky mat was due to a known manufacturing fault which is supposed to have been resolved. I've been asked to return my mat to the UK distributors for inspection and replacement. I'll provide another update if/when it arrives. 

Wednesday 8 May 2013

Bikepacking Kit List

A few folk have been asking me questions about the gear I've been taking with me on my Bikepacking trips this winter so I thought I'd spend a little time going over it all. This is nothing like an in-depth review, just some comments on my experiences and some reasoning for why it is in my bags. Technology in lightweight camping gear (in the form of materials and design) seems to be in a high state of change at the moment with many old favourites now regarded as a bit old-hat. It's fair to say that I haven't moved on so quickly and there are many developments I've not yet explored for one reason or another. Anyone who wants to track down some of these could do a lot worse than investigate the Bear Bones Bikepacking website and forum.

First of all, here's everything laid out.


The sleeping bag is a Mountain Hardware Lamina 0. It's synthetic, which has been a big change for me as I've always used down bags in the past. It's heavier (1,681g) and more bulky for its warmth rating but I'm less worried about getting it damp or dirty so it's been a fair compromise. 

On the bag is my sleeping mat, a Hyalite Peak Elite AC. This is a full length, inflatable mat with raised chambers running the full length to help prevent rolling off in the middle of the night. It's surprisingly compact, lightweight (367g) and has done the job despite minus 10C nights.

Also on the bag is my tent. This is a Tarptent Scarp 1 that I bought secondhand. It weighs 1,488g with poles, pegs etc and has a very flexible pitching system that makes finding a spot easier. Great ventilation and two porches make it possible to store wet gear under one whilst cooking under the other and having the option to use the most sheltered porch for cooking or simply for the best view.


The three drybags are from Exped and are used to keep some clothing dry and for keeping some bits and pieces together (and therefore easier to locate).

For cooking, I'm still using gas. It's clean, quick and feels safest when under cover.


The stove is an Optimus Crux. It folds so that it can be stored in the concave underside of a 250g  gas cartridge. It seems to be very efficient but suffers from not having a great simmer. If set low it will often go out altogether. 

For lighting the stove I have a Light My Fire Swedish Firesteel. This works in all conditions so I'm less worried about trying to keep matches dry or having a lighter simply fail on me.

I have a windshield that clamps onto the gas cartridge. It's made by Primus and I reckon it pays for itself in fuel saved in windy conditions. 

The Titanium Spork is handy as a single eating implement and, being foldable, stores in the pans. However, the wire handle collects bits of food and eating off titanium isn't the most pleasant sensation (or maybe that's just me).

The wee sponge scourer is handy for getting the remnants of last nights meal off before breakfast and also for mopping up any spills and leaks.

The pans are the Optimus Terra Weekend HE cook-set (271g). I find some of the smaller "solo" options a bit small for decent portions sometimes. The Terra Weekend is large enough to take all the items I've mentioned above.

The pot cosy is home-made from silver "bubble wrap" and duct tape. It's an efficient way of cooking whilst using less gas as it keeps everything hot. Even cook in the bag meals work better as they remain warm while rehydrating.

The Lifeventure Titanium 450 mug is great for just having a brew or a soup when awaiting the main course. It gets a bit hot on the stove and can burn your lips so I've put a "charity wristband" around the lip. 

You can never travel without a knife and a wee Swiss Army knife is simple enough.

The hipflask is a true morale booster as there's nothing like a wee dram when you're sitting watching the sun go down.

The clothing choice is fairly simple - it's mostly whatever I'm wearing to cycle. However, it's important to have something dry to put on in your bag if you get soaked - even if only for morale.


The Montane Prism jacket is just one of the best things ever. It's usually the first thing I reach for when I stop. It folds into its own pocket and provides an amazing amount of warmth.

The Rab Aeon Tee-shirt is "silk-weight". It's enough to give a bit of comfort and warmth but is also a great baselayer under cycle clothing in warmer weather.

Ronhill Tracksters might be very old-school but they are light enough to take anywhere and who cares about fashion when you are miles from anywhere?

I had a couple of trips with cold hands. The winter bike gloves can be a bit bulky around the campsite, especially when fiddling about with the stove. These Decathlon silk liner gloves provide just enough of an insulation layer to keep the worst of the chills off.

A spare pair of lightweight socks are great in the sleeping bag and a buff acts as a scarf, hat or even a towel when necessary.

If you've never read the book "How to Shit in the Woods", then you can skip to the next section....


Toileting is taken care of with a small gardening trowel, a bit of toilet tissue and some nappy sacks (if "packing out" becomes necessary). 

Yes - I've cut my toothbrush down. This isn't to save weight you understand, just so it will fit in a wee bag. A travel-sized tube of toothpaste is enough for a few nights and it makes such a difference having a fresh mouth. Anti-bacterial hand gel is a clean and effective way of ensuring a level of hygiene.

I'm not a massive gadget fan when bikepacking. The coming of the Smartphone seems to have given us most of our needs in one device but mine usually stays in Airplane mode or switched off. That way the battery is still going to work in an emergency.


The green Petzl headtorch is used around the campsite. It has a couple of power settings and also a red  LED that sounds great in theory as you can read a map at night without ruining your night vision. But have you tried looking at contours on an OS map when under a red light?

The Panasonic TZ7 camera has given me some great shots and is usually carried on the bike so it's always at hand. 

The little black box contains a set of JVC earbuds in the event I want some music at night. they are rarely used as I prefer to listen to what's going on around me.

The Powermonkey Explorer is a charger and a solar panel. The latter is pretty much useless in Scotland in winter but you never know....  If I've used the phone at all, I'll usually top it up overnight.

A headlamp and tail-light are really for emergency use only. Unless conditions change for the (much) worse or I have some other mis-calculated event I prefer to pitch before nightfall, even on the short winter days.

The Garmin Dakota GPS is a bit of an upgrade from the old Geko 301 I was using previously. It has the OS 1:50K maps built in and a set of AA batteries will last for around 10 hours. However, I still print off a map of my route as I like to have a backup.

Finally, here's where it all goes.


The bag on the right is a Revelate Sweet Roll. It holds the tent, mat, cookset (and contents), mug, spare clothing, gadgets and any food I need overnight.The Pocket on the front is handy for some ready-to-grab bits like hand gel, wallet, maps.

The other large bag is a Revelate Viscacha saddle bag. For winter, I can just fit the big sleeping bag and a couple of other small items in here. 

The little bag is a Revelate Jerry Can. It fits on the top tube of the bike, just in front of the saddle, and holds the bike toolkit. 

You can now buy the Revelate bags in the UK from Backcountrybiking in Aviemore.

Bottles, pump and GPS all fit directly onto the bike.

Well, that's about it. I weighed all the gear above (but not the bags) and got a weight of 8Kg. Onto that, there's any food I'm carrying, water and the bike clothing I'm wearing plus a waterproof jacket. I'm hoping to get that down a wee bit now that "summer" has arrived and a future blog post will show how I'm doing that.

In the mean time, here's a photo of the bike fully loaded on the Rob Roy Way above Strathtay.


Sunday 5 May 2013

Taking to the water again

If you've been following my blog since last summer you might remember that I went off to do some Bikerafting in Aviemore with the guys from Backcountrybiking. I had a great time, learnt loads and came away convinced of how useful a Packraft could be in Scotland. I took advantage of a little pre-Xmas sale to buy a raft, paddles and inflator and have since added some rigging to the raft and an inflatable gilet. However, my opportunities to use the equipment have been somewhat hampered by the weather. If it's not snow, it's gales and neither are that conducive to setting out in a lightweight raft.

Paddling round the Pentlands reservoirs is nice, but today I finally made it onto some moving water in the shape of the Tweed. The weather forecast was looking decent and we'd had some recent rain so I was hoping that the water level would be sufficient. The Tweed is handy too - there's a big car park in Peebles right by the river and various paths, tracks and roads for returning on the bike. Of course, the day I decide to go down to Peebles, it turns out to be the Gala day. Not only is the car park rammed but the riverside paths were being used for the kids races!

So, rather than have a quite play around during setup, I had to get on with it in front of an audience. I'm sure a few were wondering what I was up to when first I got the raft out, then started inflating it, then strapped the bike on. 

This was the first time I'd carried a bike on my own raft and I was pretty nervous about it. I first strapped on my (now almost empty) rucksack, with the bike on top. I reasoned this would protect the raft from any sharp bits. Having got that sussed out, I blew up my inflatable gilet, slid the boat down to the river and slipped inside. The water was flowing pretty fast at this point so it didn't take me long to get away from the park and settle into some paddling. 

Most of the trip was quite straightforward. I'd look ahead, try to spot any unsettled patches in the water, steer around them and carry on. Occasionally, it would get a little wilder as the river burbled over some rocks but it all seemed to be going exceedingly well until I reached a little island near Cardrona. The right channel was fast and deep, but a number of trees seemed to be across it so I steered towards the island and pulled the raft ashore in order to have a better look. I'd been correct - that channel would have been a really, really bad option. That left me with a wider, shallower left channel that started OK but eventually got so shallow that I grounded and had to exit the raft mid-stream. Of course, that meant my shoes and socks were now full of water! 

Once under way again, I managed to avoid any more scrapes and just enjoyed the rather different views I was getting of quite a familiar stretch of land, although rounding one bend I hit such a headwind that I was actually getting blown back upstream!

My original plan had been to go all the way down to Innerleithen but I'd had a late start and made slower than expected progress so I found a decent bit of bank to scramble ashore and set about removing the bike, putting it back together, deflating the raft and packing everything for the short spin back to Peebles.

Lessons learnt today?
  1. Some sort of more aquatic footwear required, probably teamed with Sealskinz socks and flat pedals.
  2. Get  a protective sheet for the raft so I can put the rucksack on top of the bike. It was rubbish having no access to snacks!
  3. Set off earlier, especially when there's not a huge current to sweep you along.

Still, it's all a learning process and I feel this is setting me up for a couple of longer trips I have in mind for the next couple of months.

Saturday 6 April 2013

Making Connections

I hadn't been able to fathom out quite what was wrong. The newest addition to my collection of bikes - a Salsa El Mariachi - looked nice, I'd made sure the size was correct and I'd built it with a good choice of components. However, I just wasn't feeling "the love" for it. Maybe it was all due to lack of ride time. The ongoing wintery conditions meant I was still using the Fatbike for all my off-roading and hence for the bikepacking trips I'd been so keen to make more of this year. Then two things happened; 

The first was that I managed to obtain a second hand set of carbon rigid forks to replace the suspension forks I'd originally built it with. I've used rigid forks on my old Titanium hardtail and I've always like the feel of them and it had always been my intention to go down a similar road with this bike. It's an easy job to swap them over - I'd even bought a headset and two crown races to make the job simpler. After fitting them, the bike immediately felt better balanced and a quick spin up and down the street suggested the steering wasn't impaired.

The second was an opportunity to get an early bid in for Aprils bivvy-per-month. I'd been watching the weather forecast and there was a suggestion that the settled cold weather was coming to an end, to be replaced with milder, but wetter, conditions. Having survived out at -10C a couple of weeks previously I reckoned a quick overnight trip would go down just fine. 

The only dampener on all of this was that I'd just managed to contract some sort of virus and was feeling pretty ropey. However, I decided to press on regardless.

The usual map-studying routine began. I really didn't have anywhere in mind but I knew I didn't want it to be too far away. A wee while later I came up with the idea of following the Rob Roy Way. This is normally walked from Drymen to Pitlochry but with a prevailing Easterly and the logistical issues of a train to and from the start and end, it worked out better that I head West, ending at Drymen and then picking up the West Highland Way to Milngavie. A look at route maps suggested that a fair chunk of the route was on good tracks and with the ground still likely to be hard, I reckoned that a thinner, faster rolling tyre was the best option so I fitted the Schwalbe Marathon Mondials. Everything I needed for the trip - including the 4 season sleeping bag - fitted into the Revelate Viscacha saddle bag and Sweet Roll handlebar bag so I seemed to be all set.

Off we go again
I do love setting off from home without a car or van. There's a certain sense of freedom that comes with it and I was still in that state of contentment when I rolled in to Haymarket station for the train to Pitlochry. Despite it still being the school holidays, the train wasn't very busy and even Pitlochry seemed quite quiet. After a few minutes orientation I headed off towards the Right of Way to Strathtay, across the A9 and then up the long climb to Dunfallandy. I'd been up this way a couple of years back but this time I was forced to take the singletrack ascent as there were some forestry operations making the easier, more gradually ascending forest track out of bounds.  The lingering snow and ice, the climb, the lack of traction from my tyres and the weight of the bike meant that it wasn't long before I was forced to push and I was only able to get back on and ride when the slope levelled off before the end of the forest and the lovely view over to Aberfeldy.

Looking across to Aberfeldy and the route onward
From here, it is a fun descent all the way to Strathtay and, being south-facing at this point - the snow had largely disappeared too. As long as I was careful, the tyres were providing just the right amount of grip and I wasn't really missing the suspension forks either. Down at the road, I crossed over the Tay to Grandtully and then picked up the old railway line for a while. Patches of snow and ice remained in the more sheltered spots but I was enjoying getting some decent miles in and made it to Aberfeldy for lunch.

From here, the Rob Roy Way climbs up past the Birks of Aberfeldy. I recalled that there were some steps up this wee gorge but reckoned It wouldn't be too bad, even with the loaded bike. I was wrong. It proved to be a very tiring and time-consuming mistake and by the time I reached the top bridge I was completely puggled. Some of this might have been due to my health and I'm sure the route would work better in reverse when some of the steps would be rideable too. 

A quick chat with Rabbie

Thone's jist braw but dinnae be an erse an' bring a bike here
Still, it confirmed my thoughts on the next part of the route. Some foolhardy person had decided to scope out an optional 13-mile detour to the Rob Roy Way, all the way to Amulree and back. I'd already almost discounted this as a good deal of it was on public roads, I'd walked some of the off-road sections previously and it was taking me a long way from civilization. Seeing the ground conditions so far, I could now add the likelihood of snow and ice, inappropriate tyres and my general ill-health to the list of reasons to avoid it. So, I made my way gingerly along toward Kenmore on more snow- and ice-covered tracks. At least the weather was nice.

I eventually made it to Tombuie Cottage where a quick glance up the still snow-covered road confirmed that my decision to avoid Amulree had been the correct one. 
The road to Amulree - still blocked by snow just past this bend
From here, one of the most enjoyable sections of the day - The Queens Drive - to Acharn was a real pleasure. However, by the time I'd hit the south Loch Tay road I'd already made up my mind to bypass the next high-level section of the RRW, the section from Ardeonaig to Lochan Breachlaich. That meant a well-timed arrival at Killin for dinner and a relaxing pint of cider before a last stint of riding took me to the top of Glen Ogle and a lovely sheltered spot to pitch the tent.

Tucked away
My routine is quite well-practiced now so it wasn't long before I was in the sleeping bag and the stove was on for some hot chocolate. While it was a wee bit chilly, it was nowhere near as cold as I'd already slept through this winter and, if anything, I was feeling a bit too warm at times. With the feeling of a long, hard day under my belt I was soon fast asleep and didn't really awaken until the sun was popping up.

On paper, day 2 looked to be much easier but having woken up with a bout of hard coughing and full of green phlegm I wasn't taking anything for granted. It was therefore with some pleasure that the first section of todays ride was all downhill through Glen Ogle. At Balquhidder Station I found that, due to more forestry work,s the RRW had been diverted along another section of old railway. This was in some way ironic as I'd seen this path the last time I'd come along this way and had been interested then to see where it went. As it was, it provided a fairly direct and flat, if bumpy and muddy, way in to Strathyre, avoiding the tedious ups and downs on the road section of NCN7. 

As it was still quite early, I had second breakfast at the shop in Strathyre. I seem to have developed a craving for chocolate milk recently so bought some extra and filled a water bottle with it. From here to Callander is another track I'm familiar with and it went by in no time at all, leaving me to turn off onto the RRW again on the Brig of Turk Road then over the bridge into Invertrossachs. A few miles along this cul-de-sac I found the turn off for the Mentieth Hills. I knew that this would be the first decent climb of the day but just grabbed a low gear and ground it out in the morning sunshine. 
Loch Achray and Ben Venue
The track was really chopped up in places as yet more extraction is taking place but it was still cold enough to be hard rather than muddy. As I climbed, I could just make out a low col through the trees and I was relieved when the forest section eventually ended and I was on to more open ground. 

This path was one of the very first I ever cycled on, back in 2005. I'd been going in the other direction that time and I reckon it would be better heading north. However, the little sections of boulder-strewn singletrack were still great fun after doing so much road and track work. The descent into Aberfoyle is very fast and long and I arrived easily 30 minutes ahead of the schedule I'd created in my head. Lunch was pancakes, maple syrup and bacon - and very nice it was too!

More forest tracks lay ahead now and with the help of map and GPS I was able to make up for the inconsistent waymarking through Achray Forest, passing the occasional walker or cyclist. Soon enough I met the old Drymen Road and with a sustained bit of effort topped out to see the Campsies looking very majestic on my left and then made the fast road descent down to Drymen.

Campsie Fells
From here, I picked up the West Highland Way to Gartness where a little honesty box at the roadside provided me with a choc-ice. 

Well - it would be rude not to!!
Picking up another old railway track made progress south fast enough - and it would have been even faster if it hadn't been for the numerous gates. The final climb of the trip was up to the road at Carbeth. The track was smooth to begin with but got very rough near the top. However, determination and the knowledge that I was almost finished was enough to see me up it, past the huts at Carbeth and then in to Mugdock Country Park for a pleasant wee ending to the trip in Milngavie before catching the train home.

And home.....dirtier, but feeling more like "my" bike and not "a" bike
Overall, I'd covered just over 100 miles in the two days. I seemed to spend more time pushing than riding on day 1, due to all the points already raised. Had I been fitter and the tracks less icy I'd have made better progress but I was happy enough with what I'd managed. 

As a cycle route, the Rob Roy Way works in places (like the Queens Drive) and fails in others (Birks of Aberfeldy). Much of the waymarking assumes you are travelling north though and it was only through careful use of the GPS that I avoided some mis-turns.

The bike, however, turned out to be a revelation. Despite all my previous concerns, after two days in the saddle I can now feel I've made a good choice. It carried the load easily, was well balanced, stable when it needed to be and just flickable enough in tighter spots. The 29" wheels behave just as I expected, making the lack of suspension a non-issue. Suddenly, I feel an emotional attachment to it that I'd previously been lacking and I'm already looking at some more road/off-road trips in Argyll and further West that I've had my eye on for some time. 

Day 1

Day 2

Saturday 9 March 2013

Oops!...I (almost) did it again

You'd think it would be fairly simple. With loads of time available and 4 whole weeks to get organised, why have I once again left it until the penultimate day of the month to get in my planned bivi-per-month? To be fair, I did have one attempt earlier this month with a trip up to Aviemore. I was doing a couple of route surveys for Scotways and had opted for an overnight camp at the top of a wee hill. When I arrived there (in the dark) I found the spot I wanted under lots of fresh snow and a strong wind starting up. I instead opted to sleep in the van in a much more sheltered spot and was glad I'd made that decision as the van was still rocking all night and more snow arrived. 

This time, the weather looked more settled and I decided to do a "classic" Scottish MTB route - Bridge of Orchy to Loch Etive via Glen Kinglass. By way of an warm-up I headed off up the West Highland Way from Tyndrum. I was aware that the evening was going to be cold and had dressed accordingly but the lovely warm sunshine was already making me pay for it as the track first heads uphill. I was also on the Fatbike and finding the big knobby tyres at only 12psi pretty hard work.

Once off the old road, the big tyres did make light work of the rocky section though it was very slippy going under the cattle creep and then I had to lift the whole bike and gear over the fence.

Back on the old road, I was soon down at Bridge of Orchy and then facing the climb up to Mam Carraigh. I can't help but feel that the gaelic speaker who named this high pass had a sense for a good pun as my legs gave in and I was reduced to pushing for a short while. Soon enough though, I broke out of the forest and could really appreciate the height gained for the wonderful views it provided. 
Time for a wee breather
The descent down to the Inveroran proved to be a real delight - all rocky and slabby. Briefly on the road I was soon at the start of the track to Glen Kinglass and again made good time to the edge of the forest, passing a small area of burning grass on the way. I'd seen a larger area from the top of Mam Carraigh and that turned out to be right at the edge of the track I was on so I took a deep breath and blitzed past it as fast as I could. Once through the farm buildings at Clashgour I had a bit of a choice to make. The footpath led to a nice bridge but would involve a climb over a high stile with the bike. Instead, I opted to see what the ford was like. I was delighted to see a set of high stepping stones, mostly well clear of the water level, so hopped across these, pushing the bike through the river as I went. 

The stepping stones were a lovely surprise
From there, the track carries on alongside the river for a while before it changes character rising up through the terminal moraine of a long-gone glacier. This was a lot more up and down now and I had a sense that the daylight was ending just as I approached the watershed and started my descent into Glen Kinglass.

This turned out to be an absolutely fantastic piece of trail, with large slabby sections like a natural McMoab. Well worth all the effort to get here. 

The route ahead goes thataway....
A couple more river crossings were required, with one old footbridge looking very much the worse for wear and better bypassed. 
Needing some work I think
However, I now had three pressures on me; I needed to concentrate on the trail both for safety and enjoyment, I wanted to look around to enjoy the scenery and take photos, and I still needed to make good time before the sun set. More than once I'd look up at some lovely mountain view, look back at the trail and realise I was about to come a cropper. However, I somehow held it all together and reached Glen Kinglass Lodge in one piece. 

I just happened to have the camera in my hand when this young deer ran out in front of me

From here, the trail improved yet again and  I decided to press on to reach the side of Loch Etive before camping. 

Getting dark now

It was a bit of a relief to catch my first glimpse of the loch and I decided to head uphill a little before pitching the tent. I reckoned that with such a still night, the cold air would slip down to the valley floor and I wanted to avoid the worst of this. I found an old section of dyke with enough flat ground beside it to fit in my small tent and soon had it pitched. I took the precaution of clearing away all the old, dry grass from the front of the tent and found a flat rock to set my stove on. I know how easy it is to start a grass fire and the two I'd already seen were warning enough. One miscalculation I had made was in not having enough water with me. I'd drunk more than I had realised and at this height there was no running water at all - all had frozen solid. Still, the malt whisky would be fine without....
Would you like ice with that whisky?
Orion over Cruachan

By the time I'd eaten and settled in for the night I was quite cosy and slept well until around 2:30 when I was awoken by the sound of barking. It was far too close to be any sort of estate dog so I can only assume it was a fox giving something a hard time. I popped my head out of the tent, hoping for a nice moon but it had clouded over.

Morning at Loch Etive
Just after 7am I was awake again and settled for a cup of coffee and porridge bar for breakfast before packing everything up  and heading along Loch Etive. This track proved to be much hillier than I'd expected and I was glad to finally see the outskirts of Taynuilt. I had a wee walk around Bonawe Furnace before heading for the village teashop, which turned out to be closed.

Bonawe Furnace - worth a visit
With few other options available I grabbed some food and drink from the grocery and headed down to the station platform where I knew there were a couple of shelters. I had the notion I might even get my stove out to make an impromptu brew but the warm sun and a bench were good enough and I simply relaxed awaiting the train back to Tyndrum.

Another fabulous run and a route I'd repeat as a one-day option some time. 

Now then - maybe I should plan the March bivi night soon?

Kinglass Route