The Seven Hills of Aberdeen

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This was a ride I’ve had floating about my head for years and never got round to. In the past, I would have thought of this a day’s ride, but I decided to ride my mountain bike in to work on a sunny Tuesday and get cracking straight from there. The plan was simple – ride to the top of the 7 biggest hills close to Aberdeen and get a picture of my bike at each trig point. My first target was Tullos Hill, which is approximately 5 minutes from work, reached by following a steep gravelly path straight up the side of the hill to the highest cairn of several, this one topped with a trig point, giving views North over the city and the sea to the East.

1. Tullos Hill

From the top, it was a quick ride along the top, before dropping down behind the Shell buildings and crossing the main road to reach the entrance to Kincorth Hill nature reserve. A few minutes later, I turned off the main gravel track and followed the line of fence to take me to the hidden trig point.

2. Kincorth Hill

Two hills down in short order, but I had to cover a bit of distance to reach the next. I flew down to the end of the hill, then crossed the River Dee and climbed up to the Deeside Railway Line, which I followed for a few miles to get me within range of hill number three. I turned off and started climbing up back roads and farm tracks, reaching a field entrance which my aerial reconnaissance told me contained a trig point at the top corner. I pushed my bike up the verge so as not to disturb the freshly sown soil, got to the top of the wall and started looking for the Contlaw Hill trig point.

3. Contlaw Hill (Spot the trig!)
Got a bit closer to the Contlaw trig by jumping the wall and squeezing along a barbed wire fence

This was the only summit I wasn’t sure about finding, so I rolled back down the field edge to take the handy farm track that linked across towards Countesswells and start another very familiar climb up to the top of Kingshill Wood. The trig here is tucked away in the trees behind the small water reservoir.

Rolling down off Contlaw
4. Kingshill Wood

Now, I wanted to try a new way off the hill that would deposit me right by Kingswells. I stopped in the warm sun and ate a packet of crisps from the vending machine in work and drank some tea from my insulated mug. There was a sneaky wee trail off the main path here that weaved through some young pines before a steep downhill to a field boundary, which could be hopped over before riding down a grassy field to rejoin a track to the main road. Next, I headed across to Kingswells and used its extensive network of off road paths to make my way through to the far end of the town and onto my chosen route up Brimmond Hill. There was a spanking new bridge over the AWPR before I turned off into the trees for narrow rooty singletrack riding, eventually emerging onto to the steeper hill paths. The last time I had been this side of the hill was about 14 years ago and the gorse had been above head height with no gaps between, so I had forced my way down from the top and come out well and truly perforated. Nowadays, the paths are much more well looked after, so I could concentrate on the challenge of riding up the hill!

Signposts and everything on Brimmond Hill
5. Brimmond Hill
Only two to go selfie

The light up top was amazing – even the unsightly communications towers couldn’t take away from it. I dwelled for a wee while and took a few photos, but I needed to keep moving so that I didn’t miss the last of the light for the next two hills. Off I shot, down the tarmac service road and through the gate at the bottom, crossing the road and nipping through a gap in the treeline.

Rolling down sunbathed Brimmond Hill

The path here followed the edge of the golf course, taking me down to a burn crossing, where I swung left after the bridge and contoured around Elrick Hill on a rooty, rocky path. I humphed my way up the last steep stretch to the top of the hill and emerged into a clearing with several rustic picnic benches, which looked to have been pillaged for firewood by ne’er do wells. This was the only hill without a trig point, so I had to rely on a bench for my summit shot.

6. Elrick Hill

There was a nice rocky singletrack descent through the heather off the top of the hill, where it was hard not to stop and enjoy the sunset. Unfortunately, I had places to be, so I took a couple of pictures before moving on.

Mesmerising skies on Elrick Hill

Before long, I was down at the Tyrebagger carpark and rejoined the road to cross the A90 at a sprint before any cars bore down on me at the Kirkhill turn off. I rumbled along the firm forestry tracks on my old regular running route and after a couple of brisk climbs took the final trail up to the Tappie Tower for my seventh summit shots.

7. Tyrebagger Hill
View from the Tappie Tower

A long-held mission accomplished, I bumped my way down off the hill and whizzed round on the forestry tracks to yet another new AWPR crossing. This deposited me on farm tracks above Dyce and I dropped down to the airport road, before nipping through the agricultural college on a new route for me. I added a couple more layers, as the temperature had plummeted and then cruised along a mix of more farm and park tracks to get me back home for dinner.

Back to the bright lights

BAM 2019 – March

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Jon was about to get the most thoughtful of 40th birthday presents – a free weekend in close proximity to a sweaty Scouser in the mountains. After receiving a text from his lovely wife that we were to organise something for him as a treat, a plan was finally made during the balmy week in February, henceforth referred to as Fools’ Spring. We were going to meet up in Blair Atholl on a Friday night in March, kip in the car and head out on a weekend ride of one of the Cairngorms Loops, depending on progress and weather conditions.

Needless to say, once the plan was formed, the mercury began to plummet and lots of chat about kit ensued – Jon loves a good bikepacking gear geek-out. When the weekend arrived, snow had returned to the mountains in earnest, so we were going to head out and see how conditions on the ground were before committing to anything too ambitious. I headed out in the late evening on Friday, after getting the kids to bed and made a dash for Blair Atholl, as Jon was already on the train up there from Edinburgh. The roads were quiet and I made good time, leaving us a bit of time for a drink and chat in the Atholl Arms before popping over to the car park in the forest to get our heads down.

In my head, I thought we’d be up and riding about 6-ish, to give us a good chance to hit the top of the route before the wind turned to a Northerly. In reality, we woke about half an hour after that and then spent 2 hours fannying about with our kit in the steadily increasing snowfall.

My bike was definitely ready first

With the thought of wading through snow at some point during the ride, I’d brought along the Giro gaiters that match my Alpineduro boots, to see if they would squeeze over the Adidas Goretex mid boots I was cycling in. They looked just the ticket, so that was a boost, as the snow felt pretty wet anyway. Jon however, had been so excited about wearing his new Terrex flat shoes, that he had declined my advice to wear boots for this trip, thinking I was winding him up! He went for some wool socks with SealSkinz over them and hoped for the best.

Snow was lying on the tarmac stretch already

Finally, we were up and running along the A9 cycle path, following the treads of a solitary digger that had hit the road before us. The snow was very soft and added little resistance, so we could just enjoy the muted crunch of it beneath our tyres.

Cruising the old A9 in the snow

It wasn’t long before we reached the turn off at Dalnacardoch, where an easy climb would hopefully get the blood pumping enough to warm the extremities, as John’s feet were already beginning to feel the cold. We stopped under the trees for a while to allow him to hop about and get some blood into them.

Emerging from Dalnacardoch Wood

The scene ahead looked both forbidding and inviting. The snow was extremely slippy, so any attempts to switch ruts along the estate track led to an instant dismount, which was funnier to watch than experience!

Above the Edendon Water

As we passed Sronphadruig Lodge, I guided Jon onto the first track up to the watershed, promising him a decent walk to get his feet working again. The usual bog- hopping took us across to start of the elevated path along the side of Loch an Duin, which I’d been planning to walk today regardless in these conditions.

Jon looking heroic climbing up from Sronphadruig Lodge

We slipped and slithered along, enjoying the absurdity of the situation as feeling slowly returned to Jon’s feet and the wind swung around to start blowing the snow across our faces, rather than the tailwind we’d enjoyed thus far.

Jon looking the hero again – I’m sure I rode that bit?

As the path levelled out near the far end of the loch, I got to put the 29+ tyres to work rolling through whatever was hidden under the snow and made a beeline for the crossing point of the Allt Loch an Duin. In the past, I’ve taken off my shoes to keep them dry for this crossing, but I figured I’d manage alright today. Jon was not so lucky however and his newly warmed feet were instantly chilled again.

One of several wet feet opportunities

The going is normally really quick on this side of the pass, but as the speed increased, so did the wind chill. Jon’s suffering increased and we were forced to use any steep climb as a chance for him to walk and allow his feet to thaw out a little. Once he started mentioning the numbness spreading above his foot, I called it a day in my head and started planning alternative possibilities. Or, as I put it to Jon: “No fucking way am I ending up with your feet in my armpits!”.

Winter wonderland in Glen Tromie

First priority was to get Jon warmed up, so we continued on our way down Glen Tromie in the same fashion, hammering the flats and downhills and using the uphills to give Jon’s feet some movement when walking. This worked for the most part and when we Reached Tromie Bridge I diverted us onto the National Cycle Route that would take us straight to Loch Insh on the back road. After bit of speedy road riding that tested Jon’s foot pain threshold to the limit, we exploded into the restaurant in a flurry of disrobed layers and steaming socks. Jon got himself propped up against the radiator whilst our gloves and headwear slowly dried and attempted to coax life back into his feet. There was no rush now, as one of the proper loops was out of the question and I had time to fill Jon with hot tea and healthy snacks to take his mind off the defrosting limb pain.

The very definition of hitting the spot

After an hour of being well looked after by the nice staff, we started formulating plans. My initial option of bivying in the forest nearby and then riding back down the A9 cycle path to Blair Atholl was sensible but a bit of a letdown compared to what we were here for. I put a more interesting option to Jon, that we could ride down Glen Feshie to Ruigh Aiteachain bothy for an easier night’s sleep and possible warming fire. The next morning, if all was well, we could do part of the Inner Loop backwards by continuing on to Glen Geldie and then back via Glen Tilt to the car. He was well up for this, so we had another hour’s drying time, switched Jon to dry warm socks and made our way over the hill in the deepening snow towards Tovah.

The bridge was surprisingly difficult to spot in the dark

We found the bridge and switched to the other side of the river, climbing up onto the path that would take us to the bothy. A bit of scrambling down the down and up the big landslip at the mouth of the Allt Garblach and we were on some lovely tracks through the forest. Jon was feeling much better with dry socks and fun riding, so we were at the bothy in no time – I was interested to see what the renovations had done to the place. On arrival, we said hi to the other two inhabitants and had a look around. The work had been done brilliantly – upstairs was clad completely and looked pretty posh. The young couple downstairs had cut some of the damp firewood from outside and were trying to coax it into a decent burn in the stove with the door open. Strangely, they had also put their tent up in the middle of the room, so we went back into the first room and got ourselves set up on the bench there – even without a fire, we should be warm enough overnight, with the added benefit of minimising smoke inhalation! We got ourselves out of any remaining wet kit and arranged it around the stove next door, before cooking up some food and heading back through for a warm and a chat.

We didn’t stress about being up too early the next day, as there wasn’t a lot of distance to cover, so we roused ourselves at 7ish and got breakfast on. I went outside to brush my teeth, whilst Jon used up my toilet paper in a weight-shedding exercise at the fancy toilet block. We could actually see the sky, so were keen to get up and running whilst the weather was inviting.

Perfect bothy setup
View of the site from the hillside water supply

We cleared up and got rolling on the freakishly snow free path from the bothy, before we started heading for the edge of the river where things got much narrower. All the trees were loaded with wet snow, which was deposited all over us as we passed. The undergrowth was doing the same to our drivetrains, with the snow compacting into balls of ice on the jockey wheels, causing an annoying tick followed by random mis-shifts until it was cleared.

I could have sworn someone had been gritting the paths
Wintry Glen Feshie
Riverside singletrack

We soon reached the turn off for the raised singletrack that everyone seems to miss in favour of the land rover track below. This was as overgrown as ever, giving us a thorough soaking as we pushed through to the last landslip.

Easy does it
Snow increased as we gained elevation
Picture just purely to prove I was there

The constant soaking had started to mess with Jon’s feet again, but this time I had a master plan – we would soon be walking, a lot! There was still a bit of uphill riding to do however and we were soon high up the glen, looking down on my bivy spot from the full Cairngorms Loop a couple of years back.

Full fat tyres not required
My Cairngorms Loop bivy spot

The wide track would start to deteriorate soon, so I kept an eye out for trace of the narrow path that parallels the vehicle track. It was hard to spot in the snow, but is a much better bet, as it has a firm base, unlike the alternative which is full of bottomless mud traps! As we pressed on, you could feel the consistency of the snow changing to a firmer feel due to the cold, which made it more of an effort to ride through.

Colin’s Howff in the first of many blizzards

As we approached the watershed, the snow started to come down again in earnest. We now had a push through the heather to reach the Eidart bridge while the wind drove the snow across us as we made a guess as to where the best path was.

Bridge ahoy!

The bit after the bridge is always very vague, so I just headed for wherever the pushing looked easiest whilst the blizzard really kicked in, battering us from the front right. I threw on my snow goggles, which made the whole thing much more bearable, whilst Jon went for putting up his hood. After a bit of tough pushing through the now much deeper snow, the snow eased off so we could take stock of our surroundings.

One of the better defined bits of path

Were were on the path properly now, so just needed to read the terrain ahead of us to keep on it and enjoy the slightly easier going. It was still a world better than my passage in this direction many years back on a January night in pitch dark with no head torch. I had frozen snow banks to climb up and ended up following the path by the feel of the ground underneath my feet!

Sun and snow in Glen Geldie

We also had the wind at our tails now, so our trudge through the snow was pretty enjoyable if hard work, with the odd comedy disappearance in a waist deep drift or hidden burn

Much prettier in winter conditions
This moment had so much potential

Eventually, the terrain started to flatten out and we could see Geldie Lodge ahead on the far side of the river, meaning the tough bit was nearly over. Once we were level with the lodge we joined a proper estate track, had a bit of lunch and progress increased rapidly.

Back in the saddle towards the end
There’s a proper estate track under here somewhere

As we got nearer the Geldie crossing, we started to see the first footprints we’d seen all weekend and discussing what time we’d finish the ride. Jon had a couple of options for trains, but it would be handy for him to make the 6pm one back to Edinburgh. It seemed doable, but we wouldn’t really know until we saw the conditions along Glen Tilt. First of all, Jon had to get his nice warm feet wet on the river crossing!

Jon ponders the folly of his footwear choice at the Geldie
My Giro Alpineduro gaiters were absolute lifesavers on this ride

Once we were past the follow up crossings and the boggy bit after Bynack Lodge, Jon switched to his only slightly damp socks in order to avoid a repeat of yesterday and we started to enjoy a slidey ride along the Glen Tilt singletrack. Some bits are great, some are dodgy and some have rocks that are determined to tip you over the side and into the torrent below.

One of the good sections
Jon bossing it

There was much less snow along this glen, so no big dramas – just a regular donning and disrobing of jackets as the regular blizzards blew over from behind.

Feeling the sun’s heat whilst riding on snow – magic

Eventually, the snow petered out completely, which was surprising considering the amount that had been on the ground when we left Blair Atholl. Still, it kept the progress swift and it was looking more likely we would make Jon’s earlier train.

Steep and mostly not slippy Glen Tilt
Look how cheerful he gets when his toes aren’t falling off

Taking the turn off to Fealar Lodge wasn’t going to happen today, but I pointed it out to Jon and explained how upset he was going to be for the real thing, if my experience was anything to go by! As usual, The Falls of Tarf marked the start of the really quick part of the glen and we cranked up the speed despite being unsure if we could make it.

One day I will actually camp on this spot

The extra effort was worth it, as we screamed into the car park with about 20 minutes until Jon’s train arrived. I sent him ahead to the train station whilst I packed my bike into the car and drove round with his spare gear. He had a leisurely 5 minutes to throw his stuff into his bag before he hopped onto the train and away home. I wasn’t too bothered not to have completed our original routes as we’d had a great ride regardless. Jon’s dodgy footwear choice had probably been a blessing in disguise, as it had let us chill out chat for a good bit rather than the usual non-stop late night finish my escapades have a habit of descending into!

Speeding towards Blair Atholl

BAM 2019 – February

Down to the wire as usual, I decided to go for another work night bivy after a month of either me or the family feeling unwell. The weather has been ridiculous for February, making the lack of riding even more painful. I rode home from work in toasty 13 degree temperatures, picked up the kids and went through the usual evening ritual of feeding, messing about and cosy bedtime stories, before retiring to the garage to throw some kit together. The Metoffice app was telling me it was still going to be warm riding out, but would drop to a decent wintry temperature later on thanks to the clear skies.

I headed out the door at 2140, which is better than normal for me, skipping my usual Co-op stop for food and making my way west along Deeside. A quick stop in the M&S petrol station in Peterculter saw me stocked up with a posh meal deal, before joining the Deeside way to Drumoak, where I crossed the river on the apparently closed bridge.

Park Bridge closed again. iPhones don’t like reflective surfaces
Park Bridge still there, luckily

I was basically riding to the halfway point on my usual extended commute to work, with a bit tacked on to get me up into Durris Forest. The warm temperatures predicted by the Met Office were way off, with my GPS was showing minus 3 as I climbed away from the river. I plodded up the climb to Woodlands and then carried on up to the edge of the forest and started off along the forestry tracks. I had a vague idea of where I might stop, but was really just looking for somewhere flattish. After some mild climbing on the smooth tracks, I settled for a clearing that would give me a good view of the copious stars that were already on show.

Bivy bag getting read to slide its way down to the lowest point it can find

I’d finally been tempted into buying myself a warm sleeping bag, rather than toughing it out in my lightweight Western Mountaineering Summerlite bag all year round. I’d got a Mountain Hardwear Phantom Flame -9 rated bag in the Rock and Run sale, so was looking forward to a cold clear night to see what it was made of. I chilled out for a bit, eating my Hoisin Duck wrap, followed by a brew and chocolatey treats, before retiring to my new bed for the night. The stars above were as spectacular as I hoped and I lay back, soaking up the light, fringed by the dark silhouette of the trees. As usual, I regretted not bringing a proper camera to do some long exposures, but it was pleasant to just lie back and eventually pass out without any distractions.

My usual fidgety night’s sleep ensued, with my movements and the ridiculously slippy bivy bag underside contributing to me moving a good couple of metres overnight. The bag was much warmer than usual, although my feet eventually succumbed to feeling cold late on, which has been a problem ever since spending the entire Cairngorms Loop with wet, cold feet that practically froze during my bivy. I eventually heard my phone alarm in the early hours, but relaxed for a bit before stirring, as I was already halfway to work!

Packed up for my commute

I finished off my flask of tea and had a biscuit whilst my feet were warming in the middle of my bag, then got dressed and packed everything away. I had a nice easy roll through the trees back to tarmac, no problem for 28mm slicks on these tracks.

Smooth tracks through Durris Forest are easy on road tyres
Loving the sunrise rides at this time of year

Just as I got near the road I realised I should have stopped much sooner last night, as I’d have had a wide open vista and a better sunrise view when I woke up. Still wasn’t a decent spot away from the main path, so maybe I had chosen wisely. Once back on the road it was a very easy, mostly downhill roll into work, absorbing as much of the beautiful light as I could to get me through the day stuck indoors.

Heading East
Soon to be warmed by the sun

BAM 2019 – January

I’d been in two minds whether to continue with the bivy a month this year, as I wasn’t sure if me disappearing off for random nights had been a hassle or not. As it turned out, Yvonne was the one egging me on to get out this month, so my decision was made for me! Unfortunately, I had left myself with only one weekend spare and a very poorly little girl and mummy meant doing a runner to sleep in a ditch wasn’t an option. I resigned myself to another work night bivy.

Wednesday came, the kids were put to bed and I jammed as much warm stuff as i could into my bike luggage and headed out at quarter past 10, aiming to go up high and see if I could catch a bit of sunrise before rushing in to work. The snowmageddon that is apparently hitting the south of England at the moment had already arrived at the weekend for us, so everywhere was coated in a light cover of snow, with rock hard sections of compacted snow and ice down the quiet lanes and road verges. No problem for the Marathon Winters though, as I slowly chugged along Deeside and up the Netherley road towards Stonehaven. My plan was to go up onto the Meikle Carewe Wind Farm and find a spot out of the wind near one of the trig points, which I had visited on my way back from last year’s January bivy.

After an endless gradual climb, I reached my turn off point and quietly slipped through the gates to start ascending. The track was rock hard with frozen snow, which helped me stealthily pass Husky Haven without waking a million dogs. The studs were biting well enough, only slipping a couple of times on steeper pitches. I hit my target at the base of one of the turbines and ditched the bike to check out the Curlethney Hill trig point.

Too cold to linger for the view

There was too much breeze up here for a comfortable night, so I stayed down near the base of the turbine, using it as a wind break and putting the bivy bag down on the snow away from the sheep shit that was liberally spread about it’s immediate area.

Expertly positioned to avoid the sheep shit

With the temperatures plummeting to easily the coldest night of the winter so far, I got all my gear set up as quick as possible before diving inside. I got a butty down my neck and some tea from the flask, before having a biscuit and watching the start of Match of the Day on my phone. Not something I’d normally do, but I didn’t see me getting through the day at work without someone mentioning the Liverpool match, so i treated myself to some technology as a one-off! I’d gone for two sleeping bags since I was expecting temperatures around -10 and they seemed to do the trick. I normally tough it out with my Western Mountaineering Summerlite and a silk liner, but I’d have been scuppered with that combo this night!

My alarm went off at 6, but I wasn’t in a rush to emerge into the cold, so I started slowly gathering my gear into the sleeping bag to make sure everything I needed was warm. The sky was just getting light, but not really enough for the sunrise I’d hoped to see, due to clouds on the horizon. I tanked the rest of my tea from the flask with a flapjack and swung my legs out to start putting on my frozen boots. The shock of the boots woke me up nicely and I got my kit packed up pretty quick.

Packed up and heading to work

I left my down jacket on for my ride down the hill, and stopped to take pictures of the gently glowing coastline ahead, before carefully completing the descent and racing down frozen backroads to civilsation and work.

Almost a sunrise
Descending very gingerly towards the road below

BAM 2018 – November

Down to the wire for another month, I headed out just before 10 and stocked up on food in the Co-Op for a luxurious Friday night out. I’d decided to knock off a couple of VeloViewer Explorer squares out past Echt that had been bugging me and was going to find a spot for my hammock in Midmar Forest to kill two birds with one stone. I’d loaded up the Amazon and stuck on some chunky tyres for the offroad bits, but was taking the direct tarmac route out there. I arrived at my turn off without any drama, thanks to the quiet roads.

Offroad into the forest

I needed to climb up into the trees and then get far enough along the main track to have acquired the grid square I was after. The gradient never got too steep for my gearing as I made my way up, scanning the track side for decent hammock hanging areas. There were loads of possibilities so I carried on to my turn around point, before making a u-turn and rolling back down to get myself set up for the night. It was pretty late by now, so I didn’t take too long to ponder it and settled on a clearing slightly away from the path that was in a dip to give some shelter from the wind.

Leaves lying over what was almost, but not quite mud – ideal hammock terrain

In my never-ending quest for a lightweight way of insulating the underside of the hammock, I was trying out some reflective foil bubble wrap normally used for building purposes that I had rolled up between the hammock layers when packing. No need for a tarp , judging by the forecast, so was still on only one bivy requiring a tarp for the entire year!

Shady side of the hill in the morning.

The thermal wrap idea was mostly successful, but the lack of flexibility was noticeable and I could still feel a bit of the cold through the hammock material. One day I might actually get round to purchasing an underquilt. Dawn came and I eventually roused myself to drink some tea and get packed up.

Ready to head home

I was going to ride all the way through the forest to the far end, as I’d never been the whole way before. The paths stayed good for the most part, except for a sticky patch in the middle.

Fast track through Midmar Forest
Just the one muddy stretch

Eventually, I reached the far end of the forest and was on tracks familiar from running and cycling up the Hill of Fare. I took my usual exit route, popping out on the Echt road, before turning off onto quiet back roads to take me home. All done in time for the kids’ swimming lessons!

Emerging from Midmar Forest
Some floody fun by Drum Castle

BAM 2018 – October

October saw me in my favourite part of the world with the family in a cottage in Nethy Bridge. I had a week to try and sneak in a bivy, which meant I could wait for a decent weather window in the fickle half-term weather. I was also looking forward to trying out my new 29+ WTB Ranger tyres on the Commando, which I’d hurriedly tubelessed up before leaving.

First run out on an early ride round Rothiemurchus

Tuesday night looked windy and slightly wet, but was still a better bet than the rest of the week. After the usual rigmarole of getting the kids to bed, I threw my gear together and rolled straight into Abernethy Forest, practically from the back door. Rather than head straight to my planned spot, I did a bit of exploring the trails nearby on my way.

Tried not to wake up the faeries on my way past
No view but pleasant trails

I took a side track I hadn’t used before to reach Forest Lodge and headed on up towards Ryvoan. I was aiming for the edge of the forest, where I could set up the hammock with some kind of view of the Cairngorms for the morning. After an easy gradual ascent I emerged into the howling wind, thinking maybe I should have stopped lower down! Never mind, I bashed through a bit of heather to find a suitable spot with slightly less wind and got set up.

Due to the inclement nature of the forecast, I decided to set up the tarp for the first time this year, which either says a lot about this year’s weather or more my tendency to wuss out of the rain! I drank a cuppa from my flask, had a snack and got my head down.

A hint of sky in the morning
Almost a view of the Cairngorms

As usual, I slept in a bit later than intended as I didn’t fancy packing up in the dark after putting up with this windy spot in the hope of a decent view. I’d originally planned to make a big loop on my way back by going over An Slugain, but I thought I’d better get home handy to start the day’s entertainments with the wee ones.

Not pretty, but effective
Ready to return

I still couldn’t bear to completely retrace my steps, so shortly after heading back, I swung a left and climbed up to the buildings at Rynettin, for a better view South.

Smooth tracks from Ryvoan
Always a great view up here

From Rynettin it was a fast roll to Forest Lodge, where I took a different way back towards the Loch Garten road, which I promptly left to use the local path network all the way back home.

Forest clearing
Straight on for the holiday home and play park fun

BAM 2018 – September

After doing all my bivies for the year alone apart from a couple with young Kerr, September would see a change in that I would have adult company with me for once! Iarla was over on a visit from Norway and dead keen on joining me. After a nice day in Stonehaven entertaining the kids, I took Iarla back to ours to kit him out with some cycling gear for a late night dash out to Dinnet after the kids went to bed. Somehow I managed to root out some legwear that would fit over his ridiculous rower’s thighs and let him steal my favourite windproof.

Arriving at Dinnet, the heavens had opened, so I trusted the forecast that it was going to blow over and we hung out in the car for an extra 20 minutes. After our tactical pause we were greeted with slightly lighter rain, so that would have to do!

Shoehorned into my gear and ready for the off

We whizzed along the road and turned off to follow the North shore of Loch Kinord. It’s a pleasant ride on a nice day, but we were just happy to see the rain ease off further. We popped out onto another road before turning off again to head South West on the land rover track to take us up the hills behind Burn o’ Vat. It was just a pretty straightforward uphill slog to where the path from the Vat emerges and then rolling down to where I thought I remembered the path up to Cnoc Dubh would get us to my planned bivy spot. Luckily my spidey sense was functioning and we mashed our way up a couple of steep bits to reach the rocky summit area without any major delay.

Disturbed this little guy whilst choosing a bivy spot

After a bit of wandering around, we found an ideal spot with a couple of trees for my hammock and a level enough area for Iarla to kip in my slippy bivy bag. The rain had stopped, so we got the bedding sorted and a brew on as the stars began to show.

Sandwiches, cookies and tea hit the spot
Iarla loving the star gazing and the contents of his father-in-law’s hipflask

A long night of chat ensued, which made a pleasant change from my usual loner low light photography followed by passing out. I kept faith with the weather forecast and didn’t bother putting up my tarp, whilst Iarla disappeared into the depths of the bivy. The weather held and I woke to a stunning sunrise, which had been the reason for picking this hill for the site.

Morning amber glow
Still not up – might as well get the kettle on
Plenty of fuel for the stove up here

After’s Iarla’s breakfast in bed, we started to pack up, slightly delayed by his refusal to leave my hammock once he found out how comfy it was!

Serious hat line action
He does get easily excited, bless him

Once the bikes were loaded, we backtracked from the summit and found the nice singletrack descent which would wind back round to the road.

Ribbon of pine needles down off the hill – note the mug accessory to please the Bearboners…

Once off the hill , we crossed the road and took the track that would lead us along the South shore of Loch Kinord to complete a loop of sorts.

Easy trails along Loch Kinord

After watching Iarla mash his way along a couple of rocky stretches, the torture was finally over for my poor old Kona as we paused at the end of a lochan before returning to Dinnet. I hadn’t realised this was Iarla’s first ever bikepacking ride and he was a total convert. Despite being my shortest bivy ride of the year, the excellent company had made it one of the highlights for me too.

Lochan outside Dinnet

BAM 2018 – August

For my August bivy, I wanted to take Kerr out again before the weather started to turn against us, so when a good weather window coincided with a weekend it was all systems go to get the car packed and head out to Braemar again for a second bite at Glen Quoich. I’d sourced a replacement skewer for my old cargo trailer, so hopefully I’d be able to get it to take the load this time instead of my back!

Late as always, we stocked up in the village before continuing to the Linn of Quoich and getting on the move as quickly as Kerr’s penchant for distraction would allow us.

Planning on going a lot further than the last camp spot
Many rocks were thrown in the river
Heading for wet feet at the fords
Every body of water must be thoroughly investigated

After passing our previous trip’s camping spot, we headed on up the glen – Kerr trying to fill the river with any rocks he happened upon en route. I had a particular spot in mind below Beinn a Bhuird which I had noted years back on a ride through to Gleann an t-Slugain. After passing the fords where inevitably Kerr got his feet soaked and then decided he needed a pee just as some walkers were approaching from the opposite direction, we pressed on along the Quoich Water, reaching my intended spot just as the temperature dropped a bit and the wind got up. Unfortunately, someone had beaten us to the site, erecting a large tarp vertically as a wind shield and sitting round a large camp fire, surviving to the max. Probably not the best summer to be starting fires, but at least there had been some rain recently, so much less chance of disaster than a few weeks previously.

Kerr had been quite excited at reaching my secret camp spot, so began to have a meltdown when he realised it been taken already. I quickly introduced the concept of the super secret camping spot which was just up the path. Unfortunately the path starts to seriously narrow from here, making lugging a trailer and abandoned bike a serious effort. After getting a bit of distance from the rufty-tufty survivalists I started scanning for a new spot, eventually wading through some heather to reach an ideal sheltered hollow beneath a tree.

Tent up, dinner on

After a feast of cheesy pasta and empire biscuits, we settled in for the night, Kerr passing out practically in mid-sentence. The late night had no effect on his ability to wake early the next morning, keen to go down to the river and fetch water.

Earning his keep

The wind had died completely over night, so as I got the bacon cooking the midges descended. The smoke off my wee stove was a marginal help, but Kerr made the sensible choice and went back into the tent to await his breakfast in bed.

Something tells me we may have been bitten
Kerr takes on stove extinguishing duties

After packing up, we headed back the way we came, checking out my original choice of location. It appeared that the leave no trace ethic was not one embraced by our expert survival neighbours.

As far from “Leave no Trace” as it gets

With no real time pressure on getting back, I let Kerr mess about as much as he liked along the way. This involved performing rock throwing and dam building at every river crossing we made.

Team shot
Little bit of horticulture whilst waiting around
Very purply
Thinks he can ride this one out
Gave up on shoes and equipped him with Crocs
Heading away from the fords
Shortly before one Croc started to head downriver without him
Stalking local wildlife
Finally riding again

After a loooong time, we finally flew along the last downhill stretch to the road and back along to the car, where we ditched the trailer and went to hang out on the bridge to nowhere, which always fascinates him. Then it was a peaceful drive home with a brief stop for cake and juice at Cambus o’ May.

4×4 driving through a river is 5 year old heaven

BAM 2018 – July

Another month passed with seemingly no chance for another bivy. I’d taken some gear with me on our holiday with friends in the Lake District, but hadn’t wanted to be antisocial and disappear off for a night rather than hang out. Various other happenings left me looking at using the last night of the month to try and achieve a school night bivy on Tuesday after work. The same drill as usual getting the kids to bed and I headed out around half 9 on the Van Nicholas with its offroad tyres on for a change, since I wanted to get a bit further afield in as little time as possible. I made the most of the last of the light with a bit of riding through Hazelhead and Countesswells, before emerging back onto the roads in the fading light.

AWPR Parallel

Once on the tarmac, I got my head down and took a pretty direct route out towards the Hill of Fare, eventually turning off to climb past some farm houses and on past the old quarry. The gearing was just low enough to manage the whole climb whilst laden, much easier than last time I’d bivied up this way and had done this climb in ice and snow! Eventually I reached the end of the easy track and hopped off for a wee walk up to the saddle between Hill of Fare and Greymore.

Bikewalking in the dark

Eventually the track levels and smooths out a bit, allowing me back on the bike to ride out the last climb after turning right towards Greymore. I’d bivied here a couple of years back in January and wanted to try and get to the same spot, as it had a couple of nicely spaced trees with a decent canopy for shelter. I detached my light and whacked up the power to try and identify the spot as I went along. Once found, I climbed up through the heather and got myself set up in the cosy hollow under the trees. I was a bit exposed to the wind here, but it meant I’d have a view towards the sunrise in the morning.

Ready for bed

There was a hint of light rain in the forecast, but it looked like it had already passed during the climb, so I skipped the tarp and got my head down after a quick cuppa from my flask. Alarm set for early o’clock as I was paranoid about being late for work. I was just using a thin silvered bedding blanket between the layers of my DD hammock to see if it was up to the job of insulating me in milder temperatures. It was mostly a success, but I did feel the odd cold spot during the night. I’m sure it would have been fine at a lower elevation though.

Not a terrible view to wake up to

After snoozing my way through sunrise, I dragged myself up and had another cuppa and snack for breakfast before starting to pack up. I find for these short overnighters, a flask makes a lot more sense than taking a stove. It fits nicely in the monkey cage on the bike bottle mounts and takes away the faff of boiling water and brewing up twice – especially important when you are heading to work in the morning!

Always difficult to extricate yourself from a comfy hammock

Once packed, I dragged the bike back down onto the path and slowly rode along the rest of the ridge, enjoying the sense of remoteness, despite being less than an hour’s ride from home.

Packed light in summer

Beautiful morning

Rubbly descent

I nursed the bike down the initial steep descent on a cut up, rocky stretch of track, before opening the taps once things got smoother and swooshing my way down towards the Echt road.

Dappled forest descent

Back on tarmac, I took my usual mixture of quiet back roads past Flora’s cafe and on to Peterculter, where I joined the Deeside Way to head along my usual commuting route. I’d got my timings spot on and even had a few minutes to bask in the sun in Duthie Park before continuing on to work for a hot shower and return to reality.

Last night’s bedroom

Time to chill before work

BAM 2018 – June

After getting off to a good start with my winter bivies I had neglected to set any time aside for a June one. The main reason for this was that I had always expected this to be covered by the HT550, so in doing it quicker than expected, I had sold myself short on some bivy time! Inevitably, I realised my neglect late in the month, leaving me  scrabbling about for some bivy kit on the last night of the month, as usual after getting the uncooperative kids to bed. I rolled out the house about half ten, with  a vague idea of what I was doing.

Head straight for the beach for starters

Pointing North up the coast

My plan was to head North along the coast, using the service roads through the golf courses to make quick progress, before veering off into the dunes for a pleasant midge-free bivy. After a quick dash through town, I cruised along the promenade before crossing the Don and making my way towards Royal Aberdeen Golf Club. It looked like I’d timed it just right as there was a steady flow of cars leaving the course and the club house looked deserted as I nonchalantly spun past.

The road through the course was a real pleasure, undulating along between liberally sprinkled fairways. Eventually it gave way to a section of dirt, before following vehicle tracks through some light rough to link up with the next golf course along. Everything was matching up with my aerial reconnaissance on the OS maps site, so I reached the hole that looked like it had an adjacent path into the dunes and skirted round the edge of the tee to make my exit from the course. The dunes here are pretty eroded, so there was no handy sheltered basin to set up in, just a straight drop down to the beach. I couldn’t be bothered with the thought of dragging the bike back up in the morning, so I threw my bivy down where I stood and made myself a brew whilst looking out to the new wind farm at sea that Trump is so fond of.

Bivying on the edge

I wasn’t planning on sleeping too long, as I wanted to be through the rest of the course before any avid golfers appeared and had an opinion on my presence there, so I was up and packed not too long after 0400. It was a pretty dull morning, but still warm as ever this summer. I followed the footpaths through to the Murcar clubhouse and then stopped on the access road for a snack, just as one of the mowers revved up in an outbuilding. Perfect timing.

If only I’d been this efficient on the HT550

Fleeing the scene of the crime in a leisurely manner

Next, I made my way through sleepy Bridge of Don, linking paths round the back of the housing to stay as off road as possible.

Some nice wee trails around Bridge of Don

Spooky woods?

Eventually, I dropped down to the Don and made my way along the riverside paths, before climbing up towards Hazelhead and home. I even had time for an extra nap before the kids woke up! 6 out of 6 bivies complete so far.

Follow the Don