MTB circuit of Macdui/Cairngorm mountains

September 27-28th 2018

A long held target for me was the circuit of the Macdui/Cairngorm/Bynack Mor block and I’ve finally got it done.  The forecast was not great but supposedly improving for the afternoon. 

Day one then in the wet&windy stuff.  From Inverey past the Linn and up the Glen Dee estate track, then climbing on the walkers path past the Corrour bothy (found a guy “drying” his socks over a gas stove in there).  Onwards and upwards in the rain to the Pools of Dee and then finally the boulder field that is the Lairig Ghru (835m ASL).  Ben Macdui had been on my right but I couldn’t see anywhere near the summits due to the steepness of the valley walls at this stage.  

Somewhere in this section I tore open a knobble on the back tyre so it took a while to get sorted with a tube going into a tubeless tyre!  Said hello to eight Gold DofE kids heading the other way with the wind on their backs.  Started on down-ish then the Chalamain Gap path joins from the right as the path properly headed down toward tree level.  Once properly on the Glenmore side of the hills of course there’s a very sweet downhill section of single track that added a few kms but was a bit of fun.  Wildlife during the day was simply a small deer hind plus young one wandering past me, and possibly an eagle struggling with the gusty wind.  40 kms travelled.

Stayed at Glenmore Lodge where they do great meals for a weary wet cyclist travelling light.  And a small Balvenie was had to celebrate as well.

 The Green Loch not looking very green this time....

Friday was much better weather and that just makes being out in these hills a brilliant experience.  Target of 36 kms for the day continuing round clockwise.  So from the Lodge up past the Green Loch and fork right, the steep long climb towards Bynack Mor, and then fortunately going to its eastern flank rather than the summit.  The pass here is still over 800m ASL but its not as barren and rugged as day 1. 

Views from the top of the Bynack Mor climb/push

 Approaching the Fords of A'an and the Refuge Hut

Continuing southwards and a lunch stop at the Fords of Avon refuge hut before tackling the two rivers/streams - waded through the Avon with plastic carrier bags taped over my feet to try and keep my shoes drier; water was nearly knee deep.  

After all this there’s quite a long stretch passing down to Glen Derry.  The glen is very pretty and gets back to some decent downwards pointing single track.  Finally there’s the easy run from Derry Lodge back to the Linn and to Inverey.  Day 2 wildlife was just geese and grouse.

The whole route is about 72 kms and takes in two significant highland passes, unfortunately at least half of this is pushing your bike – not because of gradient but because of the boulders strewn everywhere.  .  .  .    8 hrs on day 1  plus 5½ hrs on day 2.

My learnings from this outing is that (just like on the big Torridon loop), there is a need to appreciate the exposure in such places if things go pear-shaped.  Any mechanicals on your bike are a bit more serious if you are wet/tired/stuck out here; being stationary for long isn’t great.  And I guess there’s no phone coverage.  I was carrying more gear for this trip than previous ones (probably 8 or 9kgs in the rucksack on my back) just in case but the uncertainty still remains the highland weather.

Great to do it, a challenging ride, not sure I’ll do it again soon!.


Paddling & pedalling...... More please

August 2018.

The last of the summer months in Scotland saw me still fighting the kitchen mega-project and at last I got some more time into paddling & pedalling through life.  From a couple of NESKy sea kayak pootling evenings at Cove and Stonehaven (one of them was really quite bouncy) to a misty circuit under the Forth rail bridge with SSKeG and then out to the west coast for MTB around Torridon plus a bit of paddling.

Somewhere before all this I seem to recall doing a bike ride up Clachnaben as well with Alec & John.  Its the very obvious “nipple” that sticks upwards south of Deeside just off the Cairn o’Mount road.  There’s a long gradual climb on an estate track that curls south and west of the summit.  Then we  skipped the bouldering at the actual top so we could get on with the fast blast down the east side walkers path.  Lots of rock gullies and steps so technique needs to be switched on – I have a desire to learn more control of my descents rather than pure speed so this was a good practice.  Snakebite puncture for J though at the bottom!

The 19th was about paddling with new buddies.  I went out with a SSKeG group of about a dozen folk from under the arches of the Forth rail bridge and out into the mist of Crammond, Battleship Island, and Inchcolm.  Easy paddling conditions so time for a relaxed lunch on Inchcolm.  Had a curious seal follow closely after that and nibble the stern toggles of a number of boats.  Photo credits to Dave Brown & Vinny Campbell.

At the end of the month the kitchen was nearly complete and I got a 4-day pass out for the west coast.  Starting with an old mate Chris doing the 21 kms of Arrochar (Loch Long) to Lochgoilhead in bright sunshine.  A brisk southerly made progress down Loch Long (past the LPG store and Mark Cottage bothy etc) quite energetic and we switched sides of the loch as required for minimal shelter.  Shame the folk using the bothy had made such a litter mess – do no cider/Tenants drinkers ever take their used tinnies home again?

Carrick castle looks like it is held up by some very rusty scaffolding nowadays; maybe a few more years before it ends up toppling in to Loch Goil.

Then up to Torridon for a big MTB ride.  Woke up in the morning in the van to see some visiting stags come down to the water meadow whilst it was quiet at first light.  Magnificent beasts.

The ride was the classic Loch Clair/Coulin up & over to Achnashellach station then a coast down to Coulags before the pull up again past Peaty’s bothy and finally the hike a bike to get to the Bealach na Lice.  The pleasure though is in the two great descents on this loop – firstly going down from Drochaid Coire Lair to Achnashellach, and of course the big bare rock slabs of the final pitch back to Annat.  Of course you then need to enjoy the hospitality at the Torridon Inn.  I was there on a bit of a pilgrimage with Mike & Lynn and were just as thrilled as the last time we did it.  It’s a 7 hour day though and this is wild Scotland so best be prepared.  Not sure that Lynn enjoyed the company of the midges though!

Just time on the 31st to squeeze in a solo sea loch paddle.  Launched at Shieldaig and went off into outer Loch Torridon at about 7 kph – yes it was a brisk south easterly that morning.  I revised my original plan on the grounds that the return paddle would be twice as long timewise.  So instead of heading to Red Point, I compromised with a loop inside the few islands.  Did 21 kms and saw the young sea eagles soaring above Shieldaig Island. On landing I had a good chinwag with the lady selling seafood at the jetty and went home with fresh local scallops and langoustines for supper.   Great stuff.


Getting my MTB back in shape...

July 2018

So after the excitement of Italian whitewater, the calm of some sunny sea paddling evenings its time to shred some MTB trails.  I got a day way down south in Berkshire at the Swinley Forest crown estate and their many acres of mtb routes.  Not much altitude in scottish terms but they have used whats there pretty well.  I blasted off the blue on to the full red loop and then back to the coffee house on the blue again.  Refreshed, I went back out and off-piste as the woods are simply full of trails built by the locals.  They have even got tall pines to make me feel at home.  Of the whole 42 kms I did that afternoon, the "Labrynth" was the best bit and had me whooping with delight and pedalling like fury. What a great work-out.  If you are doooon sooooth from scotland then have a look on the map just south of Bracknell.

And another coincidence was to bump into another solo rider that afternoon by the name of Chris - who was not only an offshore sort of guy but was born in the same place I was.  Small world!

Next up was a couple of leg stretcher loops including an evening with my local group - Aboyne Nomads.  Good to get up and around Scolty Hill with its many local built short, snappy, reasonably steep trails (downwards of course). A group of 8 so lots of social giggles and camaraderie.  Nice to feel back in the local riders group and the weather up here just now is stunning.

Summer sea kayak evenings again

July, Tuesday the what....

Managed to get the long boat back on the water with my friends in NESKy as the summer evenings along the Moray and East coasts were stunning.  Gentle exercise and good banter all round.  Managed on various weeks to get out at Pennan (across Troup Head to Gardenstown and back), Stonehaven for caves, and along the coast south from Cove.

At Troup Head we saw the many thousands of sea birds on their tiny perches on the cliffs - mainly razorbills and gannets just now.  And just one seal to spy on us.  Whilst on the evening run down from Cove to the Findon Survival Craft works we also saw just a few puffins.  And for some reason a gaggle of ducks were in the sea too.

About time the jelly babies were broached !