BAM 2020 – July

Freedom, finally! After three months of garden bivies, the restrictions on wild camping were finally lifted on 15th of July, after a cruel 2 week wait when things like recreational travel had already been allowed. Also champing at the bit was Kerr, who had been desperate for another bikepacking trip with his dad. Luckily I also had the week booked off, so off we headed for Braemar on Thursday 16th, hoping to get our camp in before the hordes descended on the Cairngorms at the weekend.

We had bought all the food we needed in advance to avoid visiting local shops before they were ready for outsiders. Kerr was dead set on returning to our previous camping spot in Glen Quoich, despite me testing the waters on the way of maybe heading through Balmoral and camping near Gelder Shiel and Lochnagar, as this looked like it would dodge the inclement weather overnight. However, he was determined to bag the spot we had missed out on last time due to it being inhabited by wannabe bushcrafters who left behind the requisite fire ring the following day.

I was going for a different packing routine this time, ditching the trailer in favour of an Axiom Fatliner pannier rack I’d fitted to the Commando, plus my well-travelled Ortlieb front rollers. Kerr being a bit bigger means I don’t need to be quite as paranoid about the amount of gear I take and I managed to get it all in without too much drama, bar a bit of low speed wobble at the front end, which had the tent and some other bits attached to the bars.

We rolled along the very familiar track from the car park, reaching our camping spot above the upper Quoich foot bridge from our first ever trip very quickly. A lot had changed! The track that drops down to the bridge had been purposely pulled over with vegetation to make it narrower and the path skirting along the edge of the eroded river bank had been purposely bulldozed to make it impassable. Kerr was gutted, as he’d loved playing about on the river bank just along from there. Instead we were forced back up onto the newly created estate track, that took you away from the river. This looked steep from the turn off and got progressively more ridiculous. I’d attached the TowWhee to give Kerr some help, but as we got to the first bend higher up, it immediately became obvious I’d struggle to do this unloaded! We stopped and hopped off the bikes, but left the tow rope attached as it was too steep and loose for Kerr to get enough traction to even push his bike up. Obviously the rain also decided this would be a good point to arrive in a misty drenching manner – at least it kept us cool! Finally the summit was reached and we apprehensively approached the descent after being told by some walkers it was worse on this side. They weren’t far wrong and Kerr, ever the sensible one, elected to walk down one section before remounting and quite skilfully negotiating the remainder of the descent making full use of those big grippy tyres!

Beeline for Beinn a Bhuird

We continued up the glen, Kerr ranting about how rubbish the new track was in comparison to the old, whilst the rain abated, having had its fun with us at an inopportune moment.

Still looks sunny by Lochnagar, not that I’m bitter
Much easier now he has a geared bike

As we reached the ford through the Quoich, I switched him over to his Crocs, knowing his affinity for being submerged in water. No such luxury for me, though the clearance on the Commando in 29+ mode normally keeps my feet dry.

Quoich fords
Bike submarine amusement
Amphibious kid

Crossing dispatched, we didn’t have far to our spot and I had my fingers crossed that we would have it to ourselves, thanks to it being a Thursday night, which was exactly how it worked out.

Splash test dummy
Parked up for the night
Kerr immediately made friends with a local resident

As soon as the bikes were parked and he’d had a chat with our tree’s carpet moth, he was straight down to the dry riverbed below our campsite to paly. After a long few months of being trapped locally, he’d immediately gone back to his happy go lucky self now he was away from civilisation and it was wonderful to see the fog of lockdown lift from his demeanour. I left him contentedly building a rock causeway whilst I got on with putting up the tent and unpacking.

Kerr in his element
Causeway mk I

Mercifully, there was a fresh wind blowing down the glen, just as on previous visits, so we weren’t treated to a midge feeding frenzy as the evening progressed. This left us free to play by the river then get dinner cooked on my trusty Solo stove, Kerr alternating between his bridge building and keeping me supplied with twigs.

All the fun of a campfire without leaving a trace
If we had a river in our back garden, he’d do the dishes every night

After dinner, we did a bit of scouting further up the glen for future spots and made note of a lovely sheltered spot under a big tree, similar to the one we had used a couple of years back. Next time here might be with his little sister too! Kerr was still wanting to wander around once darkness fell, so we went wildlife spotting in the dark.

Another warty friend

Finally he was persuaded to head to bed – no need for stories tonight, just a bit of chat and out for the count for the both of us.

Sleepier than he looks

We woke to the sound of rain on the tent, which I’d heard several times during the night as I regularly woke. This was supposed to dissipate, so we lay there snoozing and chatting until it eased off a bit and Kerr needed a pee.

Tent drying in the wind

He was straight back to the river whilst I got a brew on and prepared our continental breakfast. I went down to the river bed to bring him back to eat when I saw something hovering around his head. It was at this point that I realised the wind had suddenly dropped to nothing, which meant the invasion was about to commence! We trotted over to the tent to keep the midges off our scent and ate our pastries on the move or standing near the smoke from the stove. The sun was making brief appearances, which actually helped a bit, as well as drying the tent further, so before long we were packing up our kit and getting ready to head back.

Neither of us relished the thought of going back over that new path again, so I decided to take the less used high track on the eastern side of the glen. I’d not taken Kerr over this before to avoid the extra climbing, but it seemed like much of a muchness now and at least it would be new to him. It also had the added bonus of a deeper ford right next to our campsite, which Kerr enjoyed watching me wince across barefoot whilst he took the most circuitous route possible.

Think he did that crossing about 4 times

After the crossing it’s a steady climb up the flank of the hill, with ever-improving views back down towards Beinn a Bhuird.

Older but much easier riding on this track
Only slightly higher than the diversion path on the other side of the glen
Father and son plus bikes
Speeding down the glen
Thankfully, we will soon able to go to the barbers
Bonus burn crossings always welcome

It was a pleasant ride back, with no need to hurry and all distractions entertained. As we reached the end of the glen, I diverted us back to the foot bridge near the punch bowl. This led to a sideways topple in some thick mud just before the cottage with slight histrionics about a muddy shoe, which were not entertained in the slightest by me, by now immune to lockdown tantrums after a looong 4 months of home schooling and working. The rock slabs below the bridge looked inviting in the sun, so we hopped down and lay there eating lunch in the now lovely weather.

Final stretch
Feeling relaxed
Feeling energetic

Well fed and solar recharged, we resumed our ride down a wee bit of singletrack to re-join the estate track that took us over the pristine new bridge and back to the car park. Hopefully this won’t become a rare occurrence in future if we can keep on top of things, as this type of exposure to the outdoors makes a massive difference to a child’s mental wellbeing and I don’t want to be denying this to the kids any more than I have to.

Pine needles below the Punchbowl
I take a perverse pleasure in nearly always having the oldest car in the car park

The Minigaig in Winter

Retro ride: 17th February 2007

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

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

Afternoon sun leaving Linn of Dee

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

Drying and thawing in the sun

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

Looking back towards the Geldie
Plenty of this

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

Some path maintenance required
Remember to fall to the right

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

Through the narrow bit
Track to Fealar Lodge

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

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

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

Climbing out of Glen Banvie
Lady March Cairn above Glen Banvie

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

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

Frozen Allt Sheicheachan bothy

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

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

The path stretched out ahead of me invitingly.

Minigaig singletrack

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

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

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

Leathad an Taobhain
Super remote and atmospheric
Rare summit selfie

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

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

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

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

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

I still miss this bridge
Pretty sure this will last forever

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

Glorious Glen Feshie

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

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

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

Heading to the Eidart bridge as night descends

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

BAM 2020 – March

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

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

Grainy view of Aberdeen Harbour

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

Probably somewhere to the left?

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

Handy rock with built-in cooking shelf

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

Bit of a rush job, but you get the idea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BAM 2020 – January

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

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

Kettle on

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

Morning view

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

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

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

Breaking wind, so to speak

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

Nice sunshine before the clouds took over
Ready to roll

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

Not too bad for mud, despite the recent rain

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

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

BAM 2019 – December

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.

Kettle on and hammock doing it’s best to flip over in the 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.

Morning brew on the go

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.

At least my mini mince pie deflected attention from the lukewarm 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.

Quick and easy packing

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.

As picturesque as the sunrise got
Will be a while before these paths dry out
What used to be the darkest part of the forest

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.

Link path to Hazlehead

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.