September flew by as usual, so I was looking at another last minute job, after not making the most of the beautiful September bank holiday weather whilst up at Clachtoll beach with the kids for a few days. Instead, I set out on a soggy Saturday night from Aberdeen, armed with a hammock and a prayer. Leaving it late had its advantages today, as it the rain was due to peter out in the late evening, which proved to be the case. Even so, I opted to take my Marin Nicasio SS commuting singlespeed as it was the only bike currently armed with full mudguards.
I had a loose idea in my head of where I was headed, so I rolled along North Deeside Road, reaching the posh M&S petrol station just in time to get myself some treats for dinner, including hog roast sausage rolls! I dropped onto the Deeside Way at Peterculter and as I hit the short offroad stretch before Drumoak, became aware of some George Ezra being played at max volume up ahead. I thought it might be a party going on at one of the isolated houses coming up, but they were as quiet as usual, so it must have been coming from somewhere in the village nearby. as I reached the green near the river, I turned off my path and made a beeline across the sodden grass for the far corner, somehow not getting bogged down on my narrow slicks.
I jumped off as I reached the river bank and pushed the bike through some undergrowth to follow a rooty path along and under Park Bridge. Just past here, I returned to the saddle and rolled alongside the river on an estate track. I was on the lookout for a nice private spot for the hammock that would still give me a view over the river for the sunrise. After going for a while running the usual drill of shining my light into the undergrowth, I found a sheltered spot with a couple of ideal hammock candidates and got myself set up.
As it was such a short ride out here, I could have a leisurely drink with my food for once without feeling like it was ridiculously late. The thumping music was still drifting across even this far away, though mercifully it must have packed in around midnight as I don’t remember it keeping me awake. Another thing helping me sleep was my new Klymit Hammock V, once I’d figured out the clever inflation method. This was a very welcome birthday present from Yvonne and will hopefully save me from some rather frigid nights over the winter!
I had my usual cuppa and a spare sausage roll for breakfast before packing up and continuing along the now grassy river bank path towards Park House.
I reached the nice fishing hut with the picnic bench that has a notice saying it’s not for plebs, or words to that effect, then took a direct track back to the Drumoak through the estate. Might take the kids along this way for a play by the river some time.
I took a slightly less direct route home to throw in a couple of hilly testers for the laden singlespeed, which I got up without too much drama before arriving home in time to play with the recently woken kids.
August went by in a blur of school summer holidays and a very soggy break in the Lake District. I had taken some kit with me in case a bivy opportunity presented itself, but being the fair weather camper I am, ended up looking at the 31st as being my last chance to keep my run going. It wasn’t a work night, at least, but I was covering on-call as a last minute favour, so wherever I stopped would have to have 4G reception and not be too far from town.
I hurriedly threw a route together on Saturday afternoon which would tick off a few VVE squares out Sauchen way and had a couple of potential bivy spots to explore. In the evening, it was the same old routine and I rolled out just after half nine for my customary Co-Op food stock. The days of heading out before sun down were long gone, so I had my lights on from the off as I rolled along the Westhill bike path. I didn’t waste any time on complications and just headed straight for Dunecht next along the main road, which was nice and quiet at this time of night. Eventually I left the main road just before Sauchen, to do a quick out and back near Cluny Castle and claim another grid square. I was keeping an eye out for any bivy spots in the woods, but it felt too populated and was mostly fenced off, so I kept on with my planned route.
I started heading South from here and had a spot that I was aiming for below Corennie Forest. Not long after, I started to feel impatient as I really just wanted to get my head down for the night. I was scanning ahead on my Garmin to see I had another 2km to go, when I realised I was passing a nice heathery wood to my left. I checked my phone, saw it had reception and then hoicked the bike over the containing wall to find myself a couple of suitable trees for the hammock. The land rose steeply under the trees and I wasn’t far from the top of a hill, which would have afforded me views of the East in the morning. However the noise of the wind dissuaded me from this as I was nicely sheltered where I was and the hammock definitely gets chilly in the wind!
Once I was pitched, I got my jacket on and sat in the hammock for some food and drink, before succumbing to temptation and watching the start of Match of the Day to check how Liverpool got on. When I turned in for the night, rather than get in the sleeping bag, I zipped it right down to just leave a box for my feet and opened the rest out as a blanket. It seemed to work pretty well, rather than wasting all that down compressed beneath me.
I let the sunrise wake me up, before getting a bite to eat and finishing my flask of tea with my sleeping bag round my shoulders in the cool morning air. There wasn’t much time to linger, as I was trying to get home before the kids were up, so I was packed in a jiffy.
I dropped back through the trees and got rolling again home on nice quiet roads. I didn’t quite beat the kids, but did manage to send Yvonne back to bed whilst I took over the chaos!
Determined not to leave it till the very end of the month as usual, I hatched a plan for a midweek bivy on my way into work, as it looked like a nice weather window. I figured that I could leave myself around 50km from work overnight and still have time to get in without getting up ridiculously early. I wanted to tick off a few VeloViewer Explorer squares and sleep up high to try and avoid the midges, so my sights were set on Craiglich at 476m elevation.
I managed to head out a bit earlier than normal, before 8pm no less, so I had the pleasure of riding in daylight as I made my way West towards Dunecht. I used my usual mixture of back roads with additional diversions to pick off more VVE squares on the way.
I made decent time and only turned my lights on for the last 20 minutes as a precaution against any cars that might still be about. I dropped on to the main road near Queen’s View and looked for my exit onto the footpath that would take me up to the summit. I hopped over the gate and rode across a gradually steepening field till I ran out of traction on a muddy patch at the far end. I hopped over the next gate ad started pushing my way up the heavily overgrown path, with plenty of spiky gorse to keep me lively. The gradient eased and the path cleared for a while, enabling me to remount and cycle for a while till I reached my turn off. There was no chance of my slicks gripping there way of this, so I hopped off and strolled up the first steep pitch before the track imroved as I emerged from the trees onto open moorland. Next was an enjoyable spin through the heather all the way up to the summit cairn of Craiglich.
After taking a while to enjoy the panorama from this excellent vantage point, I found myself a nice patch of short grass near the large cairn to lay my sleeping gear out on. I was going for the SOL Escape bivy plus silk liner again, to see if it still did the job in cooler conditions. There was a decent breeze to keep the midges away and the shelter of the cairn would stop it from getting me too cold. I enjoyed my tea and butties whilst soaking up more sunset views, before turning in for the night after setting an alarm for nice and early, as I was a bit paranoid about being late for work.
I’d gone for the usual combo of some woolly socks, kneewarmers and my Montane Hydrogen jacket and again had no problems keeping warm, bar the odd swing in the wind sending a blast in the top of the bivy bag. After my usual restless sleep, I popped awake just after 4, in time to see the sun creeping over the horizon whilst the moon still shone.
I rolled over for a few more minutes before thinking I might as well get up and ready to go after a leisurely breakfast and more pictures.
I needed to leave handy, as I wasn’t sure what the next section held in store. There was definitely a route off the end of the hill, but I wasn’t sure if it would be suitable for a mountain bike, let alone a slicked up road bike. Only one way to find out!
I cruised along the ridge from the summit, before dismounting on a steep muddy descent and then gingerly pedalling up some narrow singletrack that eventually deposited me on a forestry track on the adjacent hill. That would have been a lovely stretch on the mountain bike, but the track ahead would be just fine for the roadie too.
I swooshed my way down the hill, trying not to get too carried away with the speed on the corners and arrived back at the tarmac in short order.
Now I just needed to get a move on and get to work, whilst ticking off some more VVE squares. I made my way towards Lumphanan, before cutting back up to Echt and heading for some quieter roads into Aberdeen to avoid the early commuters. I arrived at work with loads of time to spare, invigorated by a great night out in the hills.
Last night of the month? Check. Set out after 10pm? Check. Have work the next morning? Check. All the ingredients for my standard monthly bivy were there, with the added bonus of needing to be back home by 0630 to start getting the kids ready for school/nursery as Yvonne was also in work the next day. For these reasons, I decided on something relatively short, so I’d not be in a rush in the morning. No route planned in advance I went with an idea and a rough location in my head.
I’d decided to give the mountain bike and its plus tyres a go on some sand to see if it would be viable for a longer coastal trek in future. I also wanted to see how light I could pack for a night out in summer. As usual I was on my way after the standard Co-Op shop at about 10pm and rolling down towards the sea after throwing in some town based singletrack. I was a fair way downhill when I realised my phone was still sitting in the garage. As the true horror of being unable to post a sunrise picture on instagram/facebook or obsessively check the weather forecast every 20 minutes began to dawn on me, I briefly considered going back up to fetch it. My main concern was that I wouldn’t have an alarm to wake me up, but i figured the fact that I seem to wake up every 30 minutes when bivying would probably see me right.
I popped out of Seaton park near the bridge and turned down the first road that would give me access to the beach. After hitting a couple of dead ends where the shore line had been eroded I found my way down to the tide line and got rolling North without any sinking issues that would have required fatter tyres. It really was lovely to just pedal along on the flat without a care in the world, taking in the views of Trump’s beloved wind turbines.
I started looking for a suitable bivy spot as the light faded further – somewhere near the base of the dunes with a little elevation to make sure I wasn’t caught out at high tide in an hour. I finally identified a likely looking shelf and scrambled up to take a peek. It looked just right to fit me and the bike in together, so I pulled up the bike and unpacked my gear. My minimal sleeping gear consisted of a Klymit Ultralite V pad, a SOL Escape bivy and my old silk sleeping bag liner, adding up to less than 700g I’d guess. I had a bit of tea and a sandwich before sticking on my light down jacket and sliding my knee warmers down to cover my legs to my socks. It was a mild night, so I didn’t foresee any problems with having so little shelter, as I got myself comfy and tried to sleep.
It was one of those nights that never really gets dark and I found myself able to maintain a comfortable temperature throughout, without any condensation issues. Eventually it got light enough for me to check the time on my GPS – far too early. I dozed for a while longer and eventually struggled upright to take in the sunrise. There was a break in the cloud, allowing the sun to stream through for the perfect picture opportunity I was missing. Instead, I was forced to suffer the indignity of absorbing the view with my eyeballs and brain alone whilst sipping my tea.
My natural fear of out and back rides had me checking out the top of the dune I was camped on to see If I could go back a different way. Directly above, after some bike hefting was a faint path through the undergrowth to a working area at the back of the local golf course. I recognised it as one of the ones I had passed through on a similar bivy last year, so I knew I’d be able to follow the mix of gravel and tarmac paths through this and the next course back to where I’d joined the beach. At just after 5am, golfers were thin on the ground, so I had the courses to myself as I made my way back to the Don.
I didn’t stick to the road long, immediately diving onto a path above the riverside which eventually deposited me in Seaton Park. From there, I followed my usual mix of riverside trail and back field shortcuts to get me home before even the kids had woken up.
May was a bivy with a difference – I was killing two birds with one stone by using a bivy to get a head start on a ride over to Fort William to collect my car, which had been abandoned in Glen Nevis after taking us all over to this year’s Coast to Coast start point. My plan was to knock off 50km or so by heading out after bedtime to a bivy spot I had identified as we passed in the opposite direction on our mountain bikes. This should hopefully mean I wouldn’t be arriving at the car too late for the long drive back to Aberdeen afterwards. Even though I was heading out late it almost wasn’t dark, thanks to the long summer days we enjoy up here.
Well stocked with food, I took as direct a route I could out towards Strathdon. Once past Echt, I stuck with the B9119 all the way to Tarland and hardly saw a car the whole way. I’d been waiting for the driest forecast possible to do this ride before the end of May but the night was getting cold, with a headwind chilling me nicely as I rode. After a brief pause for a snack, I left Tarland and started climbing up towards my planned spot. I’d made a mental note to revisit this spot during the coast to coast ride, as it looked particularly picturesque for a site so close to a main road. 220m of steady climbing later, I turned off the A97 onto a rough track that took me to the bank of Witchock Loch, where I found a gap through the trees leading me to some perfectly spaced specimens for my hammock.
By now the temperature was around -2°C, so I didn’t hang about in getting some food down my neck and a drink, before retiring for the night. The forecast looked much more favourable for a dry night now, so I left the tarp in the bag and tried to send warm thoughts to my toes. I had toyed with the idea of going further up the track into the forest to another loch that looked as though it could have a great sunrise view, but didn’t have the desire to be up any later than I already was. This spot worked out quite well, as I slept a bit longer in the shade of the trees before I was too aware of the daylight.
I sat eating some breakfast, admiring the mist swirling around the loch surface under the strengthening sunlight. I had a long way to go still, but wasn’t feeling too rushed thanks to chipping a wee bit off last night.
Whilst packing up, I resisted the temptation to keep all my warm gear on for the descent, as I’d just be stopping shortly to take them off once I was climbing in the sun again. On a whim, I took a left at the next crossroads to climb up a hill on a minor road in the thawing sunlight, rather than stay on the main road towards the junction with the A944. It was an enjoyable diversion and I noted another future bivy prospect in the forestry near the hill top.
I was back at the main road shortly afterwards and decided to stick with it and make some progress, as I’d been messing about sending the C2C boys pictures of what I was up to. It was pretty quiet this early in the morning and I was able to enjoy being out in the sun, as the feeling gradually returned to my feet.
As I approached Corgarff, I got my head down and tried to gain as much speed as I could for the drop to Cock Bridge, in the vain hope it would catapult me up the other side. My momentum only got me so far and I was quickly down in my bottom gear for the initial killer steep pull up towards the Lecht. It was hard going with the bivy gear, but I winched my way along until the steepness subsided and I could spin for the remainder.
I now finally had some downhill to enjoy, as the route had trended upwards from Aberdeen all the way to this point. My downhill attempt at the land speed record was aborted halfway down to investigate a curious noise from my back wheel, but still managed to hit 75km/h with the final drop. The downward trend continued all the way to Tomintoul and I arrived in no time at all. It was a bit early to stop at a cafe, so I breezed through, setting my sights on the Rothiemurchus Centre Cafe as my first resupply stop. There was still the matter of the even steeper climb up from the Bridge of Brown to dispatch first, however. As I gurned my way to the top, I noticed another cyclist to the side of the road faffing with her bike. I called across to check if any assistance was needed, expecting the usual “No thanks”, when she asked if I had a pump. This was just the excuse I needed for a breather, so I gladly pulled across to help out! She was having a nightmare with pinch flats and her miniscule pump wasn’t doing the job on the valves that were on her spare tube. Luckily, my Birzman pump had been bought for just such awkward valves that had come with my Mavic UST wheels on the MTB, so I could get some air in it for her. Less luckily, the spare tube also had a hole right by the valve! We patched up her original tube and managed to get her up and running – I also handed over a few of my Park patches just in case disaster struck twice. My good deed done for the day, I finished off the climb with fresh legs, stripped back down to shorts and short sleeves with the increasing temperatures.
I love this stretch of road, so I soaked up the views across to the Cairngorms as I headed to the the turn off for Nethy Bridge, watching a buzzard quartering over the heather below. I plunged down the hill after a sharp left and rolled on through my favourite village without stopping as I was starting to feel hungry for my planned cafe stop in Rothiemurchus.
My usual masterful timing saw me reaching the cafe just after they’d stopped serving breakfast, so I was limited to tea and cakes. A pot of tea for two, a can of ginger beer and a scone went down a treat – unfortunately I had to overdo it and get a slab of cake as well. It was a bit too sticky to bring along but was a real effort to get down my neck, even with copious amounts of tea to melt it down.
Once finished, I popped into the farm shop and picked up one of their lovely sandwiches and more drink for later, as the cake was sitting heavily on my stomach. The next stretch was following National Cycle Route 7 all the way to Newtonmore, with little navigational thought required. The ride wasn’t too testing, other than the ever present headwind, but as I approached Ruthven Barracks, I though a rest might be in order. I got myself to the top of the climb near the deserted parking area and got myself comfy on one of the benches for a 10 minute cake digestion nap – just what the doctor ordered!
Feeling much better for the brief rest, I carried on down to Kingussie and along the bike path to Newtonmore. I left NCR7 shortly after climbing out of Newtonmore, having a nice chat with a retired couple from Orkney I caught my way up the hill. A quiet back road took me to a main road which would drop me to Laggan. Unfortunate timing saw me waiting behind a tourist coach for most of the descent, which stopped dead for any oncoming traffic. On the final quick descent before the Pottery Cafe a 4×4 that had nipped in between me and the bus decided he’d pull away at a geological speed after pausing for oncoming traffic, to make sure I had to slow down as I caught up again. I wasn’t in the mood to waste that momentum so I overtook, giving the unfriendly inhabitants a cheesy grin in the window before dropping back once they found the accelerator.
The next stretch had looked mainly flat from a quick glance of the profile. In actual fact, it was very slightly uphill into a constant strong headwind with a few climbs along Loch Laggan to keep me honest. I do love a long point to point ride, but if conditions are against you it can make for a tough day out. I gritted my teeth and kept moving as well as I could – I hadn’t been looking forward to this bit as it’s a fairly busy road and has plenty of idiots when you’re driving it. In truth, the cars were fine today but the tourist coaches were a nightmare, overtaking blind and at times far too close to a vulnerable cyclist. Not long after the end of Loch Laggan, I pulled off down a track to the left for some respite and a quick pee. The whole area was saturated with food packets and lucozade bottles, which did nothing to improve my mood as it was a lovely spot otherwise.
I progressed quickly downhill to Roybridge after the dam and onwards to Spean Bridge where I decided to change my plans a bit. I had wanted to go past the Commando Memorial and then drop onto the Great Glen Way for the last stretch to Fort William and hopefully say hello to any HT550er’s that were on that stretch of the route. I was feeling a bit pressed for time however, due to needing a long drive home after finishing and work the next day, so I took the least desirable option of following the A82 straight down there. This proved to be every bit as horrible as i had imagined, especially as I was feeling tired and not exactly smashing the uphills. Eventually, after one close pass too many, I looked for the first escape and pulled into a field entrance, before jumping the gate and going for a lie down and some refreshments away from the noise . The sandwich from Rothiemurchus and some Irn Bru did their magic as I lay in the sun and looked for the nearest way off this road. Feeling much better for the quiet time, I rejoined the road and took the turnoff for Nevis Range – I was going to put the big slicks I was running to use on some offroad.
I followed my offroad alternative at a much reduced speed, before popping out at Torlundy, where a proper cycle path took me down into town, bypassing the many traffic queues towards the centre.
Soon enough I got to the turning for Glen Nevis and rolled up towards the youth hostel, praying that my car was still there and that I hadn’t lost my key since leaving home. Luckily, all was well and I had plenty of time to change into something more comfortable for the less enticing prospect of driving back the way I’d come.
For April I ended up needing another work night bivy as it had been left late as always. As a bonus I also plotted out a course to pick up some VeloViewer Explorer grid squares – I figured I could ride out to about 40km away from Aberdeen to leave me enough time to ride in without having to set off stupidly early. I left home just before 10 as always, popped to the Co-Op and made a beeline for Westhill and Dunecht, to get me to the edge of my already collected squares. The roads were nice and quiet at this time of night as always, as I turned off and made my way past Castle Fraser, with just a quick stop in Craigearn to mess with a workmate’s windscreen wipers, since he wasn’t still up for me to try and scare at his living room window.
The route was a straightforward loop to the North of Sauchen, with a couple of offroad bits and dead end turnoffs to collect the more awkward grid squares. That is the great thing about this part of the world – there is very rarely a large patch of land that doesn’t have some kind of rideable path intersecting it. I passed through Sauchen in the dead of night and headed to Comers, where I had identified a patch of woodland ripe for some hammocking. I rode up through the trees until a decent patch on the hillside to my left identified itself and climbed up away from the track before getting myself set up for a late sleep after a cuppa and a sandwich. I left my alarm set for my usual Wednesday morning ride time, as I had left myself about 40km to get to work.
The temperatures were pretty mild, so I had no frozen feet issues for a change, though it felt a bit clammy in the sleeping bag after the steep climb to get to my bivy spot. When I surfaced in the morning, I didn’t rush things as I had a good idea of how long the rest of the ride would take.
I bumped my way down the forestry track and rejoined my route. I wasn’t quite heading directly to work, as I had an awkward square to pick off at the far end of the Hill of Fare. This involved another offroad out and back with a steep climb that the chunky slicks just about handled.
Once I was back on the road, there was no more messing about – I took the most direct route possible to Aberdeen, whilst avoiding the worst of any morning traffic on the quiet back roads. Not a bad way to start another working day!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.