The Minigaig in Winter

Retro ride: 17th February 2007

One of the sections of Ralph Storer’s Scottish Hill Tracks that I had spent a particularly large amount of time studying was that which detailed the various ways to cross between Atholl and Speyside. Namely the Gaick, the Minigaig and Comyn’s road. A few years back, I had ticked off the Gaick and for some reason, I decided I was going to tackle the less cycled Minigaig in the throes of winter.

A perfect weather window looked to be appearing, so on a Saturday morning in February, I jumped into the car and headed for the Linn of Dee. The first day to my planned bothy stay looked easy enough, so I had planned to leave Aberdeen earlyish to start riding by 10am. Punctual as ever, I headed out towards White Bridge at 12:30, with a limited amount of daylight to play with.

Afternoon sun leaving Linn of Dee

There was no chance of crossing the Geldie with dry feet so I went for the barefoot option rather than suffer two days of wet shoes. The water was thigh deep and so cold I felt like I was about to pee myself (Hope that’s not just a personal problem).

Drying and thawing in the sun

After nearly ripping my shoulder muscle lifting the bike on another burn crossing near Bynack Lodge, the lovely Glen Tilt singletrack started to stretch out in front of me.

Looking back towards the Geldie
Plenty of this

As I got further along the Glen, the walls steepened and the gap narrowed, leaving little space for error. I was far too busy enjoying the fact it was warm enough for shorts and t-shirt to be that bothered.

Some path maintenance required
Remember to fall to the right

The path continued this way for a while until I spotted the singletrack coming down from Fealar lodge to my left, familiar to anyone who has ridden the Beinn a Ghlo loop.

Through the narrow bit
Track to Fealar Lodge

Shortly after this, I arrived at the beautiful spot below the Falls of Tarf and had a quick lunch, resisting the temptation to just bivvy here for the night and go back the way I came the next day.

Begging to be camped on
Bedford bridge over the Tarf
Cool in the shade

Not much further from the bridge, the land rover track began and my progress speeded considerably all the way to Blair Atholl. Unfortunately, I still had to climb into the hills to the North West and make my way to the Allt Sheicheachan bothy in the gathering darkness.

Climbing out of Glen Banvie
Lady March Cairn above Glen Banvie

It was pretty busy, but everyone seemed to have brought coal, meaning it was nice and toasty inside for dinner. Although, no one else seemed to be wearing shorts? I went to bed thinking that if I felt rubbish the next morning and wasn’t up and ready to go by 6:30am, I’d have to leave the Minigaig and do a road ride back to Braemar.

True to form, I ignored all pledges and set off from the bothy at 9:30 the following morning after a really cold frosty night.

Frozen Allt Sheicheachan bothy

The ride down to Bruar lodge and up the glen seemed to fly by, making me feel better about my inability to get up early. The good mood was quicky killed by the horrendous lugging of my heavily loaded bike up the first steep pitch onto the moors. Eventually though, I reached the first cairn of many leading the way and was able to look back on what I’d conquered so far.

Connecting path over to Bruar Water
Sparkly bridges in Glen Bruar
Beast of a push to come
Above Glen Bruar, pausing for photos, not oxygen

The path stretched out ahead of me invitingly.

Minigaig singletrack

The conditions were perfect as the stretches of path which may have been soggy normally were filled with frozen snow which was perfect for riding on, making progress even faster, except for the odd booby trap!

Barely making a dent
Stay on the path, or float over it
Not everything was frozen
Filling in the dips nicely to keep things speedy
Chunky rear end

After a tough section in a small glen, the summit of the Minigaig was reached, where I paused to have a chat with a group of intrepid young French walkers, who had spent a cold night camped out lower down. I gave them directions to the bothy, as a good place to warm up and turned off the Minigaig to climb up to bag the Corbett, Leathad an Taobhain.

Leathad an Taobhain
Super remote and atmospheric
Rare summit selfie

This would allow me to drop down north east to the bealach and climb Meall an Uilt Chreagaich, at which point I could join a land rover track and motor all the way to Glen Feshie. This drop and reclimb was hard work, but well worth it for the 7km/500m descent I got out of it. As I reached terminal velocity, a mountain hare veered on to the track and sprinted along a few feet in front for a couple of hundred metres. As I watched in wonder, he decided to put on a show and actually accelerated away from me before departing on the other side of the track.

Picking up a track after climbing out of the bealach
Time to let rip on a proper track
7km of downhill goodness

As the track contoured round, progress was interrupted by the biggest snow field yet, which completely engulfed one side of a hill. I was halfway across when I realised it was getting a bit vertical ahead and had to rethink my approach. This involved leaning the bike over and using my pedals as makeshift crampons, to avoid a slide downhill.

Halfway across before I realised a loss of traction would result in looong slide

After my improvised ice climbing I continued on my way, reaching the rickety bridge over the Feshie in no time.

I still miss this bridge
Pretty sure this will last forever

I really didn’t have much time to savour the beauty of Glen Feshie, as I needed to make as much use of the daylight as I could, though I did stop for a chat with some bothy dwellers on my way past Ruigh Aiteachain.

Glorious Glen Feshie

I negotiated the various landslides as quickly as possible and pushed hard to reach Glen Geldie before nightfall.

Glen Feshie landslip
Taking the high road in the days before it filled up with trees

Finally, I reached the river Eidart, which marked the beginning of a tough slog, once the elevated bridge had been dispatched.

Heading to the Eidart bridge as night descends

Glen Geldie passed by in a darkened blur, with me having to use my instinct to follow the slight changes in contrast to see the intermittent path in front of me. I began to regret not having a proper look for my headtorch in the morning, which had mysteriously vanished form the bothy sleeping area overnight. Just as it got dark enough for me to have to use the feel of the path below my feet to guide me, I reached the blessed land rover track opposite ruined Geldie Lodge, meaning I could literally ride the rest of the route with my eyes closed. However, I thought I might do it quicker if I turned my bike light on instead, so I happily squeezed the last life out of my knees, pedalling hard through the freezing cold night back to the Linn of Dee.

BAM 2020 – April, May, June

Not much to say for these three months. The COVID-19 lockdown was in effect and I was complying with the rules, regardless of the complete lack of risk to others my sleeping in a ditch in the middle of nowhere would constitute. Luckily, there was a temporary relaxing of the rules on the Bearbones forums, allowing for a ride from the house followed by a bivy in your own back garden.

For April, I made a pretence of packing my bike and going for a ride late on the last day of the month, before slinging up the hammock at the bottom of the garden.

Lack of time and enthusiasm limited me to a ride round the nearby forest
Chose the hammock over the nearby bothy

After weeks of sickeningly good weather and no sign of the lockdown easing, I reluctantly set out on my May bivy as late as possible on the last day of the month. I rode a bit further on yet another balmy pleasant night and slept in the tent that I had set up as a bird hide distraction for the kids in the garden.

Out the back of Hazelhead Park
Another beautiful night under lockdown
Found a nice new trail on the city outskirts
Plush accommodation a little closer to the house
Quick blast round the block to wake me up before work

I couldn’t quite believe I was going to have to do another garden bivy for June, but I don’t think I’m special, so I stuck to the rules. I strung this one out a bit, with a late night ride round the forests, followed by riding to work in the morning to deal with an emergency and then an extended ride home.

18 hours of daylight and I still end up riding in the dark
Dusted off my old impregnable Outdoor Designs Assault bivy bag
Approximately 1.5 metres from the back door
Sight-seeing on the way to work
Kincorth gravel
Flowery fields south of Aberdeen on the way home

Thinking back, I realised I was getting closer to the house each month as the lockdown continued. If I wasn’t allowed out in July, I would end up on the couch and my run would be over!

BAM 2020 – March

With the panic about COVID-19 beginning to really ramp up, I decided I would bring forward my bivy from it’s usual last-gasp position at the end of the month, to a Wednesday night barely two weeks into March. It was just a precaution, but the lockdown that was enforced the following weekend proved it to be uncharacteristically prescient of me! Still dealing with my knee issues, I was planning another short distance night out, this time using the Commando, as I’d be riding the cliff paths to the South of Aberdeen.

I loaded up the luxuries such as a stove, teabags and milk and just went for a drybag on top of the pannier rack, which I still haven’t bothered to take off since last summer. The forecast was good for a dry night so I only had my Borah Snowyside eVent bivy bag as a shelter, plus my nice toasty Mountain Hardwear Phantom Flame sleeping bag as a treat. I did my usual stock up a the Co-op and was on my way shortly before 11pm. I didn’t have far to go, so no big deal as I took my usual commute route to work along the Deeside Way. As I cut through Duthie Park the smell of illegal substances wafted in the air from some local ne’er -do-wells – never mind, I’d soon be taking in refreshing sea breezes! I followed the river right down to the harbour and made towards the Torry Battery – unfortunately the pleasant ride around the head is blocked off whilst they destroy Nigg Bay with a new harbour, so I had to cut off along the edge of the golf course to climb and drop into the bay.

Grainy view of Aberdeen Harbour

I slowly climbed back up the other side, eventually joining the nice bike path that parallels the coast road. Almost immediately, I nipped through a gate to join the cliff top path proper, which is a lovely singletrack ride without any real exposure – I normally do it on the road bike, so it was even more relaxing on 29+ tyres! I’ve been scoping this area out every time I’ve been through for a nice spot, so it was really just a question of recognising one of them in the dark.

Probably somewhere to the left?

I reached my favoured spot quite quickly and bundled myself and the bike down the steep grassy slope to a flattish area below. I settled on a spot next to a large rock that would give a bit of shelter from the Westerlies that were due to blow overnight.

Handy rock with built-in cooking shelf

I got my sleeping kit laid out on the long cushioned horizontal grass and turned my attentions to a brew. The rock behind me had a perfect shelf for setting up the meths stove – unfortunately I had left the miniscule pot stand sitting in the garage! I resorted to just holding my mug at the optimum height above the flame – annoying, but workable. Tea made and butties eaten, I messed about for a few minutes trying to take night shots, but the wind was quite chilling and I really needed some sleep before work the following day, so I reluctantly turned in.

Bit of a rush job, but you get the idea

Once I was encased in my layers, it became apparent that this wasn’t going to work. The unbelievable slippiness of the bivy bag’s bottom layer had me sliding off the sleep mat almost the minute I climbed inside. Unless I wanted to spend the night working my way to the edge of the cliffs, something had to give. Luckily, taking my winter bag meant I could get away without the extra wind protection, so I just slept out in the open – the grass around me was also bone dry, so no real issue doing this. Annoyance dealt with, I rolled over and went to sleep, setting a mental alarm to wake up before sunrise so I could try and get pictures.

Early morning peek from my bag
Plenty of time to enjoy sunrise, as i was about 2km from work!
Bivy bags are over-rated
Absorbing more rays

After lazing about for an hour or so, I roused myself for a snack and some pictures, before deciding to pack up and go. Being so close to work, there was no way I was going straight in, so I headed South instead of North, to follow the cliff path all the way to Cove. It’s a lovely wee ride, especially when not on road slicks. I turned off before going all the way down to Cove Bay, as I couldn’t be bothered with the steep road climb out. I cut through Cove and crossed the busy dual carriageway to follow the pavement along to one of the stranded back roads left perfect for cycling since the AWPR completion.

Ready for my commute
Quick heft back to the path
Beautiful morning
Cove in sight
Nipped under the railway

I wasn’t quite ready to roll straight downhill to work however, so I took a left near the end of Kincorth Hill, finding a grassy path to my right which lead to a winding way through the abundant gorse. This way will probably distribute a generous amount of leg punctures in the summer. Eventually I popped out onto the main tracks and whizzed along the gravel to the end of the reserve, with just a quick stop at the viewpoint, before mixing it on the dual carriageway to get me to work.

Following my nose across Kincorth Hill
Last view before getting the nose to the grindstone

I did this bivy mainly as a precaution in case any restrictions came in to limit movement outdoors, but turned out to have impeccable timing as the restrictions came into place a few days afterwards. Time will tell whether I have to take advantage of the relaxed BAM rules letting me do a back garden bivy for April!

BAM 2020 – February


My usual tactic of leaving my BAM until the last minute afforded an unusual opportunity in February – to bivy on a night that wouldn’t normally exist. So, at around half ten on the 29th February I headed out into the windy night to find myself a bivy spot, via my usual Co-Op stock up. I had a vague idea of a spot I wanted to try out at the edge of Durris Forest, so I made my way along the quiet roads to Drumoak before crossing the Dee and starting to climb up to the forest. I was taking very easy, thanks to my broken knees, but soon enough I neared the high point of the road, flanked by snow along the verges. The temperature was dropping rapidly and the wind was getting stronger, so I needed to find myself a sheltered spot. I hopped over the wall into a wooded area I’d always had earmarked for a bivy, thanks to its sunrise facing location. Once I’d identified my tree candidates I slung up the tarp quickly, as I could feel a light rain building up and wanted to get my hammock up under cover. I kept it nice and low and angled the side to keep off any sideways rain that could sneak under the cover. Once done, I poured myself a tea, ate a scone and went to bed.

Safe and dry

The wind was blowing a gale all night, but the combination of the stone wall nearby and the tarp placement kept me and even the kit on the floor below nice and dry. It did get a lot colder than predicted, so it took a bit of coaxing to get me out of my bag for a morning pee.

Peeking at the sunrise
No rain in the morning

I finished off my tea and scones and got things packed up, ready for an easy downhill ride home.

The sun eventually popped up
Wintry up here
Cold start

As I jumped over the wall to drop back to the road, I realised that all the surface water had frozen solid overnight – luckily this was before I tried to hop on the bike and speed away!

Slippy start

I took it easy down the hill to join my usual route towards the Lairhillock junction and then made my way home on a mix of the usual roads.

Not as slippy as it looks
Thawing out before getting home

BAM 2020 – January

After two consecutive years of bivying, I saw no reason to stop now. As usual, I had been putting January off for various reasons and saw my plans for a midweek bivy scuppered by illness. I recovered enough by the end of the week for a last gasp effort on Friday the 31st. Unfortunately my knees are still out of commission, meaning I was stuck close to home again. Just as in December, I threw a random collection of gear into my panniers and headed out towards Countesswells at about 11pm with a vague area in mind. Climbing up the back of Blacktop, I cut off onto a ribbon of singletrack that I’ve not tried out for ages, almost immediately being blocked by a fallen tree. No problem, I just pushed up the hill at a right angle, gaining enough elevation over a rise to keep me out of view in a dip under the trees.

With the recent rain, the ground was going to be soaking, so I had opted for the hammock as usual. It was a second night out in my Crimbo prezzy Exped Travel Hammock Lite and for some reason, I’d completely forgotten how I’d set it up last time. After a lot of fussing, I managed to get it slung up satisfactorily between the apparently poorly spaced trees and got the mKettle on the go. One great thing about not being able to ride far is that I don’t obsess over the weight and just lob whatever I fancy in the panniers.

Kettle on

I had a brew made in about the same time I would at home, this thing almost boils things too fast to enjoy the jet of flame it produces! I drank my brew whilst chomping a scone from the Co-Op, before getting tucked in for bed. I’d just thrown in my old 3/4 length classic Thermarest due to the deflating issue with the Klymit Hammock-V and was perfectly comfy in my warm bag with relatively mild temperatures predicted overnight. There was also some light rain in the forecast, so I reluctantly put up the tarp for the first time since December 2018!

Morning view

I got up after a decent night’s sleep and started pottering about for my morning cuppa, collecting the usual wee pile of dry twigs for the mKettle. It hadn’t rained at all overnight, which I found mildly annoying after ending my tarp-free run.

Damn you Met Office!
Better safe than sorry, I suppose

I did however put it to good use as a windbreak, by flipping it over behind the hammock as I sat there supping and pendulating.

Breaking wind, so to speak

As the sun began to rise behind me, I started packing up, at which point it began to rain lightly. Redemption! I hooked the tarp back into it’s original position and packed away the gear under my shelter, with the rain stopping soon enough to give the tarp a quick shake before stuffing into a pannier too.

Nice sunshine before the clouds took over
Ready to roll

I pushed through a bit of bracken to rejoin the singletrack path just beyond the fallen tree and enjoyed weaving my way through the trees. The handling isn’t great with just rear panniers like this, but it was just nice to be doing a ride that wasn’t my commute.

Not too bad for mud, despite the recent rain

Eventually I emerged onto a better known path and left blacktop behind, taking a random mix of trails through Countesswells, before heading home through Hazelhead Park. Oblivious to the time, I emerged right in the middle of the parkrun and had to reverse my planned direction to stalk along behind a couple of front runners to get myself out of everyone’s way at the top of the out and back running route. I also hung about for a few minutes to egg on a couple of friends I knew would be there, before whizzing away back home to see the kids.

Always dry on this bit
Haven’t cycled this bit of Blacktop for years
More Commando shots