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 10 June 2019

Leisurely Lismore Loop

Don't you just love it when a plan comes together and you can combine all sorts of things you wanted to do into a ride? The Isle of Lismore had come to my attention through working at Ticket to Ride, when one of the holidays we supported took that route to Oban rather than riding through Benderloch and Connel. Always keen to include a ferry (or two) in a ride, that looked rather appealing. I've also log had a hankering to cycle down the main road into Glencoe, with those wonderful mountains on each side. A bit of map work and I managed to come up with a 150km loop that would also give me a June bivvy opportunity.

An early morning start from home was required to get me to my start point at Bridge of Orchy so everything was prepped and packed the night before. The weather had been pretty foul for the past week or more so I was doing a lot of last-minute kit replacement as the forecast developed. Leaving he van though, I was finally committed and set off on the Amazon towards Forest Lodge and the West Highland Way. 

Ready for the off
I've walked this section of the WHW a couple of times but couldn't remember how rough it was likely to be. The initial "cobbled" bit was tedious and bumpy with no suspension, but it got much rougher as the highest point of the route was reached and I started the descent to the White Corries. I cajoled the Amazon down the track, trying to avoid the biggest boulders and soon made it to the ski area where I felt a second breakfast was in order.  

West Highland Way
The sun was putting in the best show it had for a while as I started along the A82 towards Glencoe. This was just how I'd dreamed/imagine it would be - a bit of a tailwind, bright blue skies, warm air and friendly traffic as I swooped further between the mountains. I was on a real high by the time I turned off the A82 past the Clachaig Inn and along the old road to Glencoe Village.

No caption necessary?


From here, I was able to avoid the main road almost completely. The cycle track took me to Ballachullish where I picked up NCN78 (The Caledonian Way) southwards. This takes a great route along the seafront at times, giving great views across to Ardgour and Morvern. 


My plan had been to catch the 16:00 ferry from Port Appin, but checking the time I saw that I was well ahead of that schedule and wold easily make the 15:00. However, I was enjoying myself so much, and the pedalling was so easy, that I decided to put in a little bit more effort and try for the 14:00. That would get me onto Lismore in time for the cafe and shop.  As it was, I was a wee bit early so had time to chill before boarding the quaint wee craft that serves as the Port Appin Ferry. 


Waiting to board

My first impressions of Lismore were that it is very, very green. It's also very relaxed and friendly and on my short ride to the Heritage Centre and Cafe I encountered loads of folk out walking and cycling on the one road that runs through the spine of the island.

It was clouding over a bit as I reached the cafe but it was still more than warm enough to be sitting outside and relaxing over my food. I'd got here early and now basically had little to do other than find a spot to camp and chill for the evening.

Finding a camp spot actually proved to be rather more difficult than I'd anticipated. Lismore basically has one road, lined with fields of sheep and the occasional nice wee house and every track leading off the road goes to a farm or other house. Neither was there much in the way of tree cover to hide behind. I found a spot almost at the South end of the island where I had no fence to cross, there was only one farm past me and I could be a little way off the road. Furthermore, it had an excellent view North, East and South. I had a couple of other areas I'd thought about trying, and it was still fairly early (especially given it doesn't get dark until 23:00) but I was happy with where I was and to just chill out rather than searching around.



When I first arrived, the few sheep in the area wandered off. By the time I had the tent up and was lying in it having a wee rest, they were getting a bit more brave again. A little later, they would just ignore me as if I had been there forever. 

With only the sound of a few birds and the munching of the sheep to distract me, I settled down with some food and the hipflask and just watched as the evening slowly descended across the mainland. There was a big cruise ship (later found out it was the Queen Victoria) anchored just off Oban with a PA system that was threatening to spoil my solitude but it sailed off into the sunset.

A substantial difference in their accommodation and mine!

Sleep was interrupted by the sound of rain on the tent and a feeling that I was lying on the ground. Actually the ground, not my mat. It turned out that the mat had deflated slightly. This can appear to happen when the ground is very cold but in this instance I was concerned that there might be a small leak. In any case, a few breaths and it was back to being firm again, though it had softened again by the time I got up in the morning. 

Thankfully, the overnight rain had stopped by the time I got up and, other than having to pack a wet tent, didn't cause me any problems. The sun was already getting warm as I made my way to the other ferry terminal for the "big" ferry to Oban. Again, I was a wee bit early, giving me time to have a mooch around. 


MV Loch Striven

There are few finer sights than a bike on a ferry/

Coming off the ferry at 10:00 I was already feeling peckish so made for one of Obans many outdoor cafes. In my brief time there I had one foreign gentleman asking me all about my Bearbones riding jersey, asking what shop he could buy one from, another cyclist heading to Barra amazed that I had all my tent, sleeping and cooking gear in the few bags strapped on the bike, and an older motorcyclist impressed with the fact I was pedalling the whole 160km route. 

When I'd ridden all of NCN78 in a day, I'd skipped the little spur into Oban as I headed North. Today made me realise just how good an idea that had been as it's a fair old pech heading into the hinterland from sea level. Lovely roads though, with little traffic. This time, when I hit Taynuilt, it was on to the main road towards Dalmally. That meant I was now having to deal with some faster traffic but, other than one dodgy overtake at Loch Awe, it was all fairly relaxing stuff. 

Just before pulling into Glen Orchy, the heavens opened. I had seen the black cloud approaching for some time but I could also see the end of it and realised that it wasn't worth even stopping to put waterproofs on. Glen Orchy again put me onto quieter roads. I'd driven this road before and can't say it made much of an impression on me, but cycling it, with the decent weather, it turns out it's really, really, nice. The river is full of interesting pools and falls and there's even the most southerly remnant of the old Caledonian Pine Forest. In fact, I was enjoying it so much that I was finding any excuse just to stop and delay getting back to the van to finish what had been a really good ride. 



Summary: I went for a ride. Not much happened. It wasn't an "Epic". It was great!


Wednesday 15 May 2019

May Summit Bivvy

Well, the weather has certainly been somewhat variable. Late snow falls and then a mini-heatwave gave me the idea of doing a high bivvy I had promised myself over the winter but had somehow never fitted in. 

I left around 17:30 in scorching heat and headed up towards Glenmore when I bumped into Neil out for a wee spin and he accompanied me for a bit of a chat (and was on hand to take a photo of/for me). 

Once at Glenmore, the hard work begins so it was a grind up the ski road to the Sugar Bowl car park then up the old zig-zags and thence to the car park.  

I made an effort to cycle up the main access track as much as I could but it's incredibly dry and dusty so traction was almost impossible to find. Luckily, I didn't have to cross any snow until past the Ptarmigan. What little there was created a bit of extra drag on account of it being so soft. With time in hand, I made it to the summit and worked out where the best shelter would be. 

I found a wee spot in amongst the rocks and laid out my bivvy bag, mat and sleeping bag before getting some water on for some soup. It was very relaxed, with only the occasional whirr of the Automated Weather Station for company every 30 minutes. I hoped it wouldn't be so loud as to stop me from sleeping. 

I watched the sky gradually change colour then, just after 10, I flashed Mim with my torch a couple of times and she confirmed she could see me from our bedroom window. That was quite a weird feeling; on the one hand quite remote, but with this very strong connection to home. 

I awoke just after midnight; (1) the moon turned out to be very bright, despite the overhead haze, (2) the wind had shifted and I could now feel it buffeting my bivvy bag and trying to get in the top and (3) my bladder was crying out for relief. The latter made up my mind. I quickly exited the bag, did the necessary, then picked up the bag and moved it round a bit to a big rock shelf I knew from a previous bivvy. However, I was now even more under the glare of the moon. Luckily, my hat was big enough to roll it down and cover my eyes. Though I could still hear the wind, I was now well out of it and settled back to sleep.

By 3:30 or so, the wind had turned again, strengthening too, and I was getting more buffeting which was also cooling me down quite a lot. I now faced the bivvy-dwellers dilemma - get more sleep or stare transfixed at the developing colours in the sky. 

After a while, I cooried down, knowing it wasn't too long before sunrise. At 4:30 I had the water on again for coffee. I've been experimenting with meths stoves recently, in preference to wasting partly-filled gas canisters and not had a lot of success. As it turns out, my meths was just getting too cold. This time, I had the bottle in a bag and the bag inside my sleeping bag being warmed up by my body. This worked a treat and it lit first time. 

After watching the whole of the north-east sky turn a flaming red, the sun eventually burst through and I could immediately feel some warmth from it. 

Packing away my gear, I took the mat out of the bivvy bag and found that the bottom of it was absolutely drenched through condensation. I guess an indication of (a) how cold the rock had been and (b) how well the mat worked given I had been warm enough on it all night. 

The return trip through Glenmore highlighted just how cold it had been, with frost on some of the parked cars. Back in the sunshine, however, it was again very pleasant.

Oh - and no midgies or ticks! This summit camping has much to recommend it.

Saturday 7 July 2018

BAM 2017 Round up

Time passes...

It's a while since I provided any updates to this blog so I thought I'd start by doing a bit of a re-cap and summary of what I've been up to.

The bivvy-a-month (BAM) concept has proven to be an absolute winner. When I've been disinterested, poorly or just downright lazy it has provided enough of an incentive to get out for a bit of de-stressing under the stars. Most recent exploits have been fairly local to me. On the one hand, this has reduced the amount of exploring I've been doing. On the other, it has made me even more grateful for living where I do. Many of the spots I've chosen would be great if they came in the middle of some long-distance route, so some readers may find inspiration.

August - Whiteness/Ardersier

In addition to BAM, I've also been chasing another geeky statistic - VeloViewer. Within VV there is a concept of "exploring" grid squares, trying to get to as many as possible and linking them up into Squares or Clusters. Browsing the map I notices a few unvisited squares on the Moray Coast and then one of my colleagues had mentioned Whiteness beach. I was keen to put the two together and scraped in my August BAM until the last night of the month. 

Leaving the van in Nairn, it was an easy trundle across the golf course and then along the ever-narrowing beach until I reached the end of the spit of land. In fact, my course shows me having been into the sea on the maps. I had been prepared for a beach/dune bivvy spot but then I came across this lovely area of grass just outside an old house that has been beautifully restored.

I pitched the tarp using the two bike wheels, looking out to sea. With a bit of a breeze, I was pretty well sheltered and enjoyed a wee bit of supper before nodding off. Unfortunately, the wind direction changed by about 180 degrees overnight, meaning it was blowing into the open side of the tarp. Too unwilling to do anything about it, I just rolled over in my bivvy bag and got back to sleep. 

It didn't take me long to pack up in the morning and head back to the van, an early start seeing me home for breakfast.

September - Cross-Scotland twice with Neill 

Neill had set off on an Outer Hebrides bikepacking trip and we'd discussed what route he might take back, favouring reversing the HT550 route from Ullapool towards Croick then to Garve. His trip was lass than favourable with a mix of poor weather and some physical discomfort. As a result, I acted as ambulance driver, picking him up in Ullapool and driving him home. However, the seeds had been sown so, as soon as he was able, we decided to ride that route in both directions.

I've done the Ardgay-Ullapool poop previously but I hadn't expected quite so much time and effort to get to the Croick junction.  

We also took the more southerly option past Corriemulzie Lodge. Again, I hadn't expected it to be quite as slow along the Allt nan Caorach section so was glad when we were finally in Glen Achall with a chance to scout around for bivvy spots. With a likely spot in mind we hot-tailed it down to the delights of Ullapool for food, accompanied by the dulcet tones of Johnny Cash...

Replenished, we headed back up past the quarry in the dark and set up tarp and tent. Before long we were visited by the local farmer, worried that we were poachers. A long, pleasant and rambling conversation followed before they headed off home and we got some kip. 

We awoke to a dampish morning, the dew having been heavy overnight. A quick breakfast and it was "only" a matter of heading back East again. 

We took the more direct route to Croick and turned South. At this point, Neill was struggling a bit so I gained a gap and took the very unusual (for me) opportunity to brew up a coffee out of the headwind. 

We also detoured on the way back to the A835, approaching via Strath Vaich rather than Strath Rannoch. I'd passed the end of Strath Vaich so many time that I was determined to find out what lay in its upper reaches (mainly some estate houses).  A further short-cut back along the road brought us back to the vehicles and we both felt we'd had a good ride out. 


October - Tullochgrue with Ross and Ally

Chat with the local mates had indicated that I might convince a couple of them out for a bivvy before the weather turned too cold and a mild night proved to be just the job. My aspirations were, in any case, constrained due to a heavy fall off my bike, almost ending in a potentially fatal fall into the Spey. With banged up ribs, I wasn't exactly in the mood for a long trip. I'd had an idea of camping at Tullochgrue, above Rothiemurchus. It has one of the best views of the Northern Corries and is also a great spot of the Northern Lights are putting on a display. However, the flatter spots are right next to the road and I knew we'd need a reasonable area for three of us. I took the opportunity to scout the area out and found a great, more sheltered, spot just down the hill. 

We'd met up with Alex for a pre-bivvy drink... that became two, then three, then four. Fair to say it was quite late by the time we left the Woodshed for the short cycle. With loads of space though, we soon got comfy and we was quite amused by the fact that we could just make out the lights of Aviemore through a gap in the bushes.

It's a great spot and one I'm sure to revisit.  

November - Loch Pityoulish

There's a picture-postcard idea of what it's like when the snow has fallen. Folk imagine that a fatbike will be great, regardless of the snow conditions. In truth, there are long spells when the snow on the paths and tracks has been compressed into a bumpy, icy, assault course. So it was when I was trying to fit in a November bivvy. Road or track, both were affected by ice so I knew I wasn't going to be going far. Fortunately I remembered that I'd been meaning to try a pitch beside Loch Pityoulish. The one, almost permanent, downside of the spot I had in mind is that it is subject to the prevailing wind coming off the Cairngorms and whistling across the loch. However, the wind patterns offered an opportunity, the wins having swung round to the North West. 

I managed a whole 4 km or so from the house before it clicked that I'd forgotten my sleeping mat. I returned briefly to pick it up then almost through the bike down the road crossing a patch of ice. The track through Rothiemurchus deer farm proved to be one long sheet of ice that I had to navigate via its narrow verges. The spot I'd sought out turned out to be ideal, well sheltered and with a view of the open skies and snow-covered hills. It was noisy though. The sound of the A9 traffic was drifting from the West, no doubt helped by that breeze. It proved to be quite a cold night too, though I was more than warm enough in my winter-weight bag.

As I was packing up in the morning I spotted a bit of stone wall on the wee hillside above me. I discovered it was a tiny graveyard with a tremendous view. 

December - Carn Sleamhuinn

This was another VeloViewer chase (see August). I'd spotted a couple of squares that I'd somehow managed to bypass on other rides and walks so concocted a short route to link them up, coupled with a choice of bivvy spots.

My route initially took me past Carrbridge then across the A9 into an area of forest just south of Slochd. The map showed two sections of forest track approaching with a couple of 100 metres of each other and I hoped there would be a way to link them. As it turns out, the map is out of date and there's a very good forest road leading down towards Sluggan Bridge. This was my first likely camp spot. However, the cold, still air had settled down in the glen here beside the river and I hit a very cold area - around -6C - with hard frost on all the grass visible in the mooonlight. At that point I decided that my second option - high up the hill - was likely to be better. 

The tracks leading up Carn Sleamhuinn are rough and bouldery and would be familiar to those who had walked or ridden the Burma Road before it was somewhat tamed. I had to make a detour of 500m or so to make sure I visited one of my wanted VV squares. As I climbed, I was on the look out for a likely bivvy spot but once I was with 500m or so of the summit cairn I knew that's were I would end up. The ground is broken peat on a sandy base but I managed to find one lump big enough for the tarp. Amazingly, given the altitude and exposure, there was little breeze. I could just make out a bit of a glow from the lights of Aviemore, steeply beneath me. 

It was a good nights sleep, though the wind suddenly made its presence felt around 8 am, gusting over the tent. I just turned over and tuned it out for a while but, eventually, my bladder declared the moments respite over so it was a matter of quickly bundling everything together, strapping it on the bike and heading home via another VV detour. 

So - that's me managed 12 out of 12 for 2017 (with some additional bivvies not documented here in addition to that). As a "reward" Stu for BearBones commissioned a badge for those completing the collection. I must say it looks mighty fine.