Aberdeen-Braemar-Glen Feshie Bothy-Loch Ossian-Fort Augustus-Kirkhill, Inverness; we made it on schedule, with no mechanicals except for a smashed smartphone!
Neither of us could believe how lucky we were with the weather and as a result did not need to use our Pyramid midge repellant at all.
The views, the terrain and the challenge all lived up to our expectations. Everyone we met were kind and helpful as well as interested in the two charities we were raising cash for, viz. the Scottish Association for Mental Health and the Slattadale Restoration project – Gairloch High School.
After a comfortable train journey from Inverness to Aberdeen we were met at half past eleven by Malcolm who took our first photo and kindly bought us our first, but not our last of the trip Coca Cola. I vaguely remembered riding beside the River Dee as a student but the banks have got a lot more overgrown which necessitated a diversion at Garthdee into the lovely new Robert Gordon University campus. We then quickly got established on the Deeside Way by the old railway line and were soon ticking off the miles. However by the time we got to Aboyne it became apparent that our late start was going to prove challenging and that we may have to take to the road to make up time. After a bacon roll and lemonade in Banchory we climbed up onto Scalty Hill which proved to be the highlight of the day, especially the fab descent off the ‘right side’ of the hill. Dunc and I pushed on along the main road arriving at Braemar before 9 o’clock just in time to meet Ryan the friendly warden as he locked up. We celebrated our first day with a Cairngorm bottled beer and looked forward to finally getting into the mountains the next day.
Dunc and I started our day with a breakfast of heroes at Braemar Mountain Sports where we met a local guy David, whose wife had cycled Lands End to John O Groats this year, before leaving David kindly gave us a cash donation to the SAMH and Slattadale charities. He thought that our use of a SPOT gen 3 tracker was a great idea and wanted to tell his wife about it for her next adventure maybe!
Pine trees, rivers and space – to me this is what Deeside and the Cairngorms are all about. We felt ourselves get further and further from the roads and villages on a beautiful morning. White bridge was a ticking off point but we managed to go a wee bit further and also ‘tick off’ Bynack Lodge. At least that is our story, the SPOT tracker might show something different…
As we headed down the Geldie Burn we started to feel the first spots of light rain but the trail heading to Glen Feshie kept our spirits up. On the way we passed a very clean and happy looking family on bikes and to this day Dunc and I cannot work out where they came from! There were some excavations by University of Stirling & Dublin University where some flints were being examined, perhaps folk saw them on the news? Soon we were pushing our bikes and simply wanted to get into Glen Feshie, however our lightly packed bikes meant that this more physical aspect of the day did not take its’ toll too much.
Eventually after some fun wading of the River Feshie we were treated to absolutely splendid trails all the way to Ruighe-aiteachain bothy.
Soon the sun was out, our clothes and bikes drying in the sun and then we got organised in the bothy with the stove providing a final touch. It is worth remembering that we are all lucky to be able to use simple shelters like this and they should be treated accordingly; watch out for Jack Archer’s film on BBC later this year which celebrated 50 years of the Mountain Bothy Association.
The big day. The unknown day. The ride along by the river from the bothy was simply world class. The surface was excellent, the scenery breathtaking and our bikes ‘flowed’ down every meter to the bridge near Achlean. We knew there was a lot of terrain to cover today so the Garmin was soon strapped to my bars to help us navigate efficiently to Drumguish and onto Cycle Route no. 7. Although not quite the same as a truck stop on the Tour Divide the trucker grill outside of Newtonmore felt frontier-like enough for us both. We both often compared our ‘wee’ adventure to those of our friends Al, on the Tour Divide and Jenny, on the Highland Trail 550. Still, you’ve got to start somewhere!
My cocktail and paracetemol & ibuprofen for ‘man pain’ did not go well with my hay-fever tablet so I had a bit of a turn whilst Dunc sorted out his gear for the rest of the day.
Our ride up Loch Ericht was our exit point from the A9 corridor, the next main communication route would then be the West Highland Railway Line at Corrour. What an amazing estate. The scale and splendour of the buildings, gardens and tracks were evidence of some pretty rich owners. Eventually we pulled out of the trees and headed on the track to Culra Bothy in the opposite direction to everyone else. Unlike the two of us almost everybody was on bikes, with day sacks. We were given some strange looks when we explained where we had started that morning and where we were heading.
Sadly Culra Bothy is closed due to asbestos danger. Who knows its’ future; I am lucky to have stayed in it more than twenty years ago.
The ride past the bothy and up towards the Bealach Dubh was surprisingly ‘rideable’. In fact it was only when we got to the last hundred meters or so that we had to push our bikes up the path. The view from the bealach to the west was awesome – you could see a path snaking down beside the river, Loch Ossian in the distance and the Lochaber peaks at last.
Neither of us needed reminding of how remote from help we now were and how important it was to ride within our limits, especially on bikes with up to an extra 8kg. of gear on them. The initial descent was as we had hoped until we realised that the ‘path’ on the other side of the Uisge Labhair was most likely not a path. This probably explained the lack of information about this part we got from friends during the planning phase; no problems though as our pledge was to be riding as much terrain as possible for the first time to maximise the adventure… An hour and a half of stubborn pushing and optimistic pedalling soon got us to a brand new estate track which took us at warp speed to the east end of Loch Ossian. The rest of the ride along the south side of Loch Ossian was taken as fast as we could. Dunc and I arrived at Loch Ossian SYHA hostel to be warmly welcomed by the warden. The sun falling behind the mountains and the view back up the loch to the Bealach Dubh made me feel so pleased that the route had worked as this day was most definitely the crux.
After some pretty awful de-hi dinner and breakfast we were both keen to stay in the amber-zone and not get too depleted on the tough section from Loch Treig to Lairig Bothy. We managed but chocolate and muesli bars will only get you so far. Still I am used to being a bit tired at the Lairig Bothy on the Tour de Ben Nevis! From the bothy there is only one wee ascent before another warp speed descent all the way to the chipper at Spean Bridge – we made it with seconds to spare although Dunc’s Spanish might have helped?
More man pain for both of us on the Great Glen Way (GGW) to Fort Augustus and Morag’s Lodge. Our last night and our energy levels were low so we went to the excellent Lock Inn for dinner and rehydration. Dunc treated me to my dinner as a thank you for putting this route together but I dread to think what he will come up with for the next one…
The other bit of the GGW today and then a wee bit more singletrack almost to Dunc’s house. We had three climbs of about three hundred meters on the way; the first two were well within our capabilities and desire to pedal but the third one from near Drumnadrochit was unbelievable. Arriving at Abriachan we felt our energies return as the sun shone and we hit familiar trails. Dunc has been riding the trails near to Abriachan, Lentran and Kirkhill since he was a kid so I was treated to an unforgettable descent from three hundred meters down to almost sea level. Pine needles, fences, roots, overgrown gorse, mud and lots of laughs just the way to end a fantastic five days biking across some of the most spectacular terrain in the Scottish Highlands.
We were raising cash for the Scottish Association for Mental Health and the Slattadale Restoration project – Gairloch High School.
Aaron from Openhouse products has promised to get us the expedition meals in time for our next trip…
Although we did not need to use them thanks to Carolyn Parker at pyramidtravelproducts
Finally, Ben Cooper at Ben Cooper at Kinetics who converted my Kona Lava Dome to take disc brakes.
To see Dunc’s photos of the DJ2fifty click Dunc Maclennan’s photos
Finally, if you’d like to ask us about anything, or would like nineonesix-guiding to organise some wilderness biking for you please get in touch!