I’d been thinking of getting another long ride in for my December bivy, but unfortunately my knees were a bit of a mess after November’s effort. This had left me struggling even on my short rides into work. I rested up over the festive period and decided I’d just have to make up the numbers this month, as going too far wouldn’t do me any good. So, once the in-laws were away home and the kids were in bed, I started packing up my kit as usual. I was going to use the Commando, as I’d been missing it, but it still had a pannier rack fitted from a planned camping trip with Kerr last Summer. Since I wasn’t going far, I just lobbed the kit in my good old Ortlieb Front Roller Classics and got rolling. I even treated myself to the stove and some milk, rather than the usual flask of tea. No need to stop at the shop, with the last of the turkey making some lovely butties plus various sweet things from the Christmas goody pile.
I had no idea where I was going to sleep, so pointed the bike along the park and forest paths to take me into Countesswells Forest. Once there, I picked a faint trail through the trees and pushed through some gorse to find a nice clearing with a couple of hammock-spaced trees. Time to break out my Christmas present, an Exped Travel Hammock Lite. This is miles smaller and lighter than my usual DD hammock setup, due to it being single layer and not having an insect net. The suspension kit is also way lighter without sacrificing protection for the trees you use. Despite the fact I hadn’t even got it out of the bag before, I managed to get it strung up using the slit lines in no time at all. Fitting my Klymit Hammock-V mat into it was another matter entirely, especially in the strong wind.
I drank my tea and enjoyed my leftovers swinging in the breeze. The temperature was going to be about 9 degrees overnight, so quite the contrast with the -11 on my last outing! Once I was settled in, I was aware of the reduction in length compared to the good old DD, but it was still fine for my 6 foot and also seemed to be easier to sleep in a foetal position. I slept okay, but became aware of my backside getting cold later on, thanks to my mat deflating overnight. This also happened the first time I used it, so it looks like it may be going back unless I can work out if I’m doing something wrong. I woke up at first light, pleased to have chosen an isolated enough spot to avoid any early morning dog walkers.
I’d picked up a random gas canister from the garage and predicted it had about a brew and a half’s worth of gas inside. A highly accurate estimation, as it turned out, so my morning brew was just borderline hot enough to be called a cup of tea.
Packing up was easy – just stuff everything into what ever pannier you fancy and hook back onto rack. I might start using them a bit more frequently, when I’m not going anywhere too far or rough.
I pushed my way back onto another trail that looked to be in the right direction and followed it back to the main forest road, admiring the forestry devastation near the car park.
I was glad I hadn’t planned anything more ambitious, as my knees were hurting even on this short excursion, so I just enjoyed riding slowly along through Hazlehead Park and on to home. Obviously people were still feeling festive, as I managed a 100% pleasant interaction ratio with all the runners and dog walkers out and about on my way by.
That’s another year complete for BAM, making it 24 months in a row. I went through the entire year without pitching my tarp once, which is impressive in itself for this country! I think I’ll keep it going, as it is well worth it as a motivator to get out on those nights when you really don’t want to do anything. I’ve never gone out and not felt better for it, regardless of the distance or location.
Getting my October bivy in nice and early for me left me with plenty of time to think about my November effort. I was hanging on for a weekend when someone could come with me, but with Jon and Brian too busy to manage it, I had to bite the bullet and sort something out. The first step was to book a train ticket to Kyle of Lochalsh for Friday after work.
As usual, I’d been up late the night before, doing all the stuff I had been meaning to do to the bike for ages. I swapped my Hunt front wheel for my Shimano dynamo one, as I’d be in darkness for the majority of the ride. This also prompted me to finally admit defeat and fit my winter mudguards before noticing that my Schwalbe Pro One rear tyre was worn through to the carcass in a few spots. Probably not the best idea to add another 200 miles onto it, so I stole the back wheel off my commuter too, swapping the single cog for a cassette. By the time i was done fiddling, it was getting on for 2am! Never mind, I could snooze on the train.
I had a bit of a wait in Inverness for my second train, so whiled away the time in a coffee shop, before jumping the train to Kyle. Eventually I started to pass stations I’d be cycling past tomorrow and the temptation to jump out and get a head-start. As I passed Achnasheen, I scoped my most likely bivy spot for the night and it looked lovely and clean in the darkness, which was good to know.
As soon as I got going, I felt how cold it was. The forecast had been for low temperatures, but my GPS soon started reading temperatures around -6. This was at sea level, so climbing up to Achnasheen should be interesting! I climbed out of town and began the rollercoaster of a road along to Plockton, Stromeferry and eventually Strathcarron. Despite the cold, there were no issues with ice, bar one frozen trickle across a steep climb that warranted a dismount and some Bambi action to navigate.
Once I turned up the glen, I knew at least I had a steady gradient to keep me warm without slowing me down too much. I wasn’t planning on going any further than Achnasheen, so I was glad to see the roundabout at the edge of the village. I went straight to the train station and over the footbridge after checking to see if the toilets were open. They were, but it didn’t really feel like staying there would constitute a bivy. The wooden shelter on the platform was immaculately clean and had a bench just wide enough for my sleep mat – hopefully keeping off the ground would compensate for the fact I only had a sleeping bag that went down to -2 degrees.
There was no time to hang about – I needed to get some layers on and get into my bag quick. I lay there eating sandwiches and drinking my ice cold Irn Bru from the seat pack. The water bottle full of Lucozade had the consistency of a slush puppy at this point, so I didn’t fancy my chances of a liquid drink in the morning. After my customary half an hour of wriggling to get my various layers of Western Mountaineering Summerlite bag, silk liner and SOL Escape bivy where they were supposed to be, I settled down for some kip. It was my usual restless night’s sleep, exacerbated by bouts of shivering as the mercury plummeted some way below the -6 I had seen before turning off my GPS.
There was no need to set an alarm, as I knew a train would pass by on the opposite platform some time after 6am. However, some time after five I heard a van pull up at the station and the clink of the gate as someone with a bright torch started shuffling about on the platform, crunching through the thick layer of grit that covered it. He was there a while and the light kept piercing through the side window of the shelter, making me feel he was right outside. I eventually figured out he was adding yet more grit to the platform, eventually coming over the bridge and approaching my home for the night. I wasn’t expecting any bother and just as he finished he took a look in and asked me if I was okay, which was preferable to being poked to see if I was a frozen corpse! It would have been sensible to just get up and make an early start on the long way home, but I didn’t really want to miss riding the more picturesque end of the ride in a bit of daylight. Instead I half-dozed/shivered my way through another hour or so, before reluctantly sitting up to start eating and psyching myself up to leave the sleeping bag after the scheduled train had passed through.
As I started getting my self sorted, I decided to stick with the wool socks I had slept in as they were a bit thinner than the new winter cycling socks I had been trying the night before and I needed a bit more wriggle room in my Giro Alpineduro boots which I had had wisely supplemented with some windproof overshoes for this ride. I kept my lovely Montane Hydrogen Direct jacket on as I carried the bike back over the bridge and popped into the mens toilets to shed some weight and get my cycling layers sorted. I begrudgingly packed away the fluffy Polartec Alpha lined jacket and stuck my waterproof on as a wind stopping layer over my Brevet insulated gilet that has seen a lot of action since I got it in a sale 3 years back. Once I had liberally applied some chamois cream, I was ready to find out how well I would keep warm at faster speed for the next flattish section. As I joined the main road, I was already shivering violently and jerking the handlebars around, but I knew that would pass after a bit of pedalling my way towards Garve. I paused every now and then to try and take a decent picture, slightly hampered by the fact my phone was frozen solid and needed thawing out under my layers between shots to stop it shutting down. I had more electrical woes further along, when I tried changing gear and got nothing from my Di2 lever. A slight panic set in, but I was pretty sure the battery was good, as I’d checked the level the previous night. Then I remembered, I’d wrenched on the right hand lever a ways back after noticing it had worked its way inwards. That, coupled with the bar bag leaning up on the cables had probably popped the wire out of its socket. Sure enough, I tried the left hand lever and all was good. The beauty of the 1x setup was that I had reprogrammed the levers so they both controlled the rear derailleur, meaning I didn’t have to stop and fanny about fixing my usual one.
Despite the low temperatures, ice wasn’t a problem at all due to the dry weather in advance of the cold snap. One good thing about using these non-tubeless weighty wheels was that I had fitted my old Continental GP 4 seasons, which have an uncanny ability to feel grippy in conditions where they just shouldn’t work. I reached Garve without too much drama. I would rather have done the next stretch to Contin earlier to avoid the inevitable impatient traffic, so I just got my head down and tried to bang it out as quickly as possible.
Contin was reached without too many early morning drivers trying to kill me and I managed to resist going into Contin Stores, as I had plenty to eat for now. I took a right just outside the village and left the busy road to make my down to Muir of Ord on some quieter roads. When I reached the town, I couldn’t resist a Co-Op restock, mainly to get myself some drinks that were in actual liquid form, as my water bottle contained a giant orange ice lolly since last night. I got going again and started making good time along the road out of town, before I got the feeling I was going wrong. Sure enough, I’d missed an off course warning from my GPS and was headed to Beauly at speed. I briefly considered just carrying on and getting to Inverness that way, but sense prevailed and I did a u-turn to rejoin my planned route, which should be much quieter roads along the Beauly Firth..
North Kessock arrived promptly and I took a side track that climbed up to the A9 so I could cross the bridge. As I rolled across, I was bemused by wide icy strips the whole way along the bike path, before I realised it was caused by the shadow of the fence keeping the sun from thawing it. Around this time, I started thinking about topping up the chamois cream whilst I was still in relative comfort. Unfortunately, after some frantic rooting around my bar bag I came to the realisation that the tub I’d brought was still sitting on the toilet window ledge in Achnasheen – bummer.
I made my way hastily through Inverness by the same route I’d used for my Forsinard to Aberdeen ride, resisting the temptation to sidetrack to McDonalds this time. Instead I availed myelf of a hot chicken curry pie and a cup of tea from a petrol station Spar en route to Culloden.
I used the bike path/pavement on my way round Culloden, rather than mix it with the cars and feel compelled to ride faster up the hill than I wanted. I took the usual right turn and span my way up another long steady hill, noticing some people who appeared to be waiting for a lift up at the top. As I got closer, I began to have suspicions, which were confirmed when I got a better look at the lankiest member of the group – it was Stu, Jenny and the kids! Every time I do a long ride out this way, I’m always tempted to pop in for a cuppa, but resist, knowing I’d never get going again. Luckily, they’d beaten me to the punch and Jen was holding a steaming hot cuppa and some shortbread! It was such a lovely thought, I was delighted to hang around for a natter before dragging myself away, knowing there were a lot of hours of riding still to be done. I had a quick icy descent to the River Nairn, followed by a steep climb up to NCR 7, which I would follow all the way to Boat of Garten. I remembered from last time that it was basically uphill all the way to Carrbridge and took much longer than you’d expect, so I was under no pretence that this would be over quickly. It was still pleasant cycling however on quiet roads in the afternoon light.
I’d been hoping to get into the hills above Nethybridge in time for sunset, but the light was dying as I eventually flew down the hill into Carrbridge. As I reached maximum velocity, I heard a metallic ping under my tyres, as though I’d run over a bit of debris. My spidey-sense thought differently however, so I ground to a halt to see if anything had fallen off the bike. It looked intact, but the extra throw of the front brake lever told me all I needed to know – I had ejected a brake pad! I made a half-hearted attempt to find it, but had no chance, so I rolled up to the pavement outside the village shop and upended the bike to do a pad swap.
The daylight had really died during this brief mechanical, so I switched on my rear flasher and front dynamo before making my way quickly to Boat of Garten, followed by Nethybridge. I didn’t stop at any shops, as I had enough food to get me to Tomintoul, if not the whole way home.
I now had a whole bunch of climbing coming up and it was getting properly cold again, but at least I knew it well enough that there wouldn’t be any surprises. After a wee thawing rest stop and indoor picnic in the visitor centre I slowly climbed away from Nethybridge, which feels like a second home to me for all the times we stay there with the kids. I winched up the last evil steep bit to join the A939, which I anticipated wouldn’t be too busy at this time of year and evening. My knees had been feeling creaky most of the day, but I did okay and soon found myself entering Tomintoul, where I had a decision to make. Stop and get some hot food, or roll through and focus on finishing. I paused at the village centre, still in two minds, but eventually convinced myself that some hot soup and a pot of tea would see me right in the long run. I went in the pub next to the new tourist office and ordered before stripping down a few layers to let the warmth reach me. I started fiddling with my phone as you do and saw a message from Yvonne telling me the weather was horrendous and I shouldn’t try and finish tonight. The thought of stopping hadn’t occurred to me since some low points in the morning, but asking if they had a room at the inn was slightly tempting now I was sampling indoor life again. Instead, I gave Yvonne a ring to reassure her and made sure all my clothes were nice and warm from the radiator before prepping to leave after my hot refreshments.
In theory, with warm food inside me and warm layers around me, I shouldn’t have suffered once I was outside. In practice, I was shivering uncontrollably by the time I got to my bike and things didn’t improve from there as I swerved my way along the road, looking like I’d had about ten pints in the pub. On leaving the village I had a long steady uphill which slowly got my blood pumping and the shivering suppressed. Up next was the biggest climb of the ride, up and over the Lecht, which definitely promised to warm me up! It’s a tough climb, but nothing like as bad as coming over the opposite way. Eventually, the lights of the ski centre came into view and I rattled over the cattle grid before swerving off into the snowy car park to get some more food on board and put on some serious layers for the descent to come.
No time for messing about, I packed away my gilet and brought out my Montane Polartec jacket. I rejoined the tarmac and started off down the plunging road in the darkness. My dynamo light only pierced so far, so I dragged my brakes a bit to make sure I wasn’t going too fast if a rogue patch of ice took me out. I did let it rip on the bit I knew was dead straight, whizzing up the re-climb with a vague idea of what was ahead. I very tentatively descended the switchbacks, before normal cycling resumed, past Corgarff and down towards Strathdon. As I reached the junction where I had originally planned to take a right and climb over towards Balmoral before riding home along Deeside, I revised my plans. Since the Lecht, the road had got increasingly treacherous, with patches of frozen snow and bands of ice where the day’s thaw had refrozen across it. I decided to head back along Strathdon instead, so I could gradually lose height and hopefully get clearer roads – at the very least, it would get me home sooner if progress was significantly slowed by ice. It meant I wouldn’t hit my 200 mile target, but as I’d originally planned to do this ride on a long summer day, I wasn’t too disappointed in myself!
I loaded up the route I had taken down from Forsinard on my previous 200 miler and started to head eastwards. I could have just stayed on the main road all the way to Alford, as it was pretty quiet, but though I’d stick to the back lanes again as it was more direct. Temperatures were hovering around -8 at times, so I kept my big jacket on, which was surprisingly comfortable to ride in – I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do that in a down jacket without feeling very clammy. The fluffy Primaloft lining works like a very lightweight Buffalo with a full zip, but I’m yet to put it through it’s paces in a cold downpour to see if it matches the pile/pertex combo.
Luckily the ice wasn’t too big an issue and I was able to maintain decent progress, bar a couple of stops for snacks and almost liquid drinks from my back pockets. As Aberdeen approached, I realised my mental state was deteriorating when I rode through Garlogie massively confused because I thought I should be in Dunecht! Realising where I was was a nice bonus, as it was much closer to home. The last few miles from Westhill were done very cautiously, partly due to my knackered knees and partly down to random patches of ice on the bike path. I managed to navigate them without a cruel final mishap and rolled in about 0030, where I commenced quietly scrounging about for a mountain of food before attempting to watch Match of the Day without passing out.
October was another chance to get in a bivy somewhere more exotic than Aberdeen’s surroundings, as we were in Nethybridge for the week for Kerr’s half term. I hatched a plan to either bivy up high for a sunrise view, or the easier option of down low with the hammock somewhere in the forest. After watching the weather all week for an overnight that fit the bill, I headed out around 10pm with the aim of getting the bike up to the summit of Bynack More and finding a sheltered spot among the rock tors.
As i was leaving the village, I saw a set of lanterns in the trees along the road to Dell Lodge which I wanted to get a long exposure shot of. On getting the camera out, it instantly died with a low battery warning. I figured it was just a bit too cold, as the temperature was really low already but it never came back, even after warming it up. I was going to have to slum it with my iPhone pictures instead.
I didn’t hang about once I hit the forest proper and started up the long gradual climb to Forest Lodge, where I took the turn for Ryvoan. More gradual climbing ensued and I exited Abernethy Forest into an icy headwind. I rolled down past the bothy and doubled-back on the Bynack More track, slowly climbing round the hillside before dropping down to the slightly too narrow bridge.
Next it was a case of grinding and hopping my way up towards the plateau. I kept going until I messed up on a steep section, which gave me the excuse to start pushing. At this point I also realised that the moon was bright enough for lights to be superfluous, so I switched off the Joystick and enjoyed finishing off the climb under natural light.
I reached the fork and left the Cairngrms Loop route to take the walker’s path towards Bynack More. Last time I was here was on a run nearly 10 years ago, so I couldn’t remember how much would be awkward to ride. Turns out the whole initial stretch was lovely to ride, so much so that I was considering just bivying where I was, as I seemed to be completely out of the wind at times. However, I was consumed with the idea of a summit bivy, so on I went regardless of the late hour. I soon reached the bottom of the ridge proper and hopped off quite quickly, rather than making a pretence of riding anything.
I slogged my way up, feeling like I was really making a meal of the steep bits, whilst being painfully aware of the fact I wouldn’t be riding down any of this in the morning. I managed to lose my planned path on the right side of the ridge, so ended up doing a bit of clambering over rocks I didn’t need to, but at least I was moving up! The gradient eased further up and I was able to hop back on the bike for the odd section before reaching the rocky summit area. After a quick recce, I found a good spot to hoist the bike up to the summit cairn.
The wind was pretty cutting up here, so I identified a nice hollow in the lee to bed down in. I’d wisely brought my warmer bag ( Mountain Hardwear Phantom Flame, rated at -9), so was pretty cosy once inside and I got myself a good night’s sleep without the dreaded frozen foot syndrome. I woke around dawn and took a peek to see if I needed to drag myself out and take some pictures.
I noticed the bike was coated in a layer of frost and the foot area of my bivy looked like it was coated in a massive bird poo, which also turned out to be frost. I didn’t rush to get up, as it was too pleasant just lying there drinking tea and watching the light improve.
After getting up, I wandered around trying to take some decent pictures and mostly failing. The phone also kept shutting down with the cold and had to be dropped into my bib shorts to revive with some body heat.
I lifted the bike back over the rocks and dropped to the main path, where I could finally do some riding, taking care not to test my grip too far on the ice-covered rocks. The daylight made keeping to the best line a lot more straightforward.
I jumped off to roll/carry the bike down the steep final switchbacks before returning the way I’d come across the plateau.
The descent passed without incident – it was nice to actually come down this way for a change. I had been thinking of extending my return with a loop through Rothiemurchus, but thought better of it and headed back past Ryvoan to get me home at a decent time, so we could take the kids to the wildlife park on what looked like it was going to be a lovely sunny day.
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!
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!