BAM 2019 – January

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

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

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

Too cold to linger for the view

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

Expertly positioned to avoid the sheep shit

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

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

Packed up and heading to work

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

Almost a sunrise
Descending very gingerly towards the road below

BAM 2018 – December

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Nearly there, just needed to squeeze in a bivy somewhere between the holiday festivities and having to work in the days between. As Gran and Papa were here to help out with the kids whilst we both had to go to work, I had the option of getting a few more early morning rides in than normal. I’d already managed a couple of Christmas Eve extended commute rides and and almost unprecedented Christmas Day ride (At 10pm!). I had been receiving the usual Rapha Festive 500 emails in the build up, which I normally discount as impossible to fit in. However the realisation that it was actually 500km rather than miles tempted me into giving it a go.

After a productive week of extra rides, I was withing striking distance of my goal – I just needed to commit to a longer ride to my monthly bivy than usual. Saturday night came and I did my usual routine of getting the kids to bed, having got my kit ready in advance to give me the maximum amount of night riding time. So, off I set at ten to 9 with a plan to get to Ballater as fast as I could before the predicted rain hit the area and got me soaked before I could get set up in my selected spot. In order to make progress, I stuck to North Deeside Road all the way out to Banchory after my usual Co-op food stock. Without too much delay, I arrived at Potarch bridge, where I stopped for a snack before crossing the Dee.

Quick photo/snack stop at Potarch

The traffic had been light thanks to the time but I fancied riding South Deeside all the way to my bivy spot so I could make a loop of sorts by returning along the North in the morning. It was cold but not too cold, somewhere around zero degrees and it was pleasant riding along familiar roads in the dark. Shortly after Aboyne, I started to feel spots of rain occasionally – my plan was not going to work! I increased my efforts to try and minimise my time in the increasing precipitation but it was properly raining by the time I passed Ballater. I pushed on past the bottom of Glen Muick and started up the climb towards Loch Ullachie. I had a spot in mind from some Google Streetview reconnaissance, so I took a rough track to the right and climbed up to the edge of the trees and found myself a couple of likely prospects for a hammock hang. First thing up was the tarp to keep me dry while I got the rest of my kit out. Once done, I sat in the hammock eating my supper, drinking tea and enjoying being out in the rain whilst not getting any more wet.

Only the second bivy of the year to require a tarp

I didn’t delay too long, as I wanted to be up early to get back home and entertain the kids in the morning. I slept okay, without feeling cold as there was little in the way of wind. At some point the rain must have stopped, as I could see the moon when I woke up after 0500 and started to think about getting up and at it.

Shining moon at my feet
Scintillating views at my head

I got my kit packed up quick after shaking the last of the rain from my tarp and decided to ride for a bit to get some blood pumped into my feet before breakfast. There was no daylight for a good few hours yet, soI popped over the top of the climb and whizzed down the other side before making my way along to Balmoral, where I stopped at the bridge for refreshments.

Only 3 hours till sunrise
Strangely short of tourists at Balmoral

After my brew and a sandwich I hit the A93 to start my mostly downhill roll home. Progress was good and I started to see the first glimmers of light on the eastern horizon ahead of me.

Light at the end of the tunnel
Was it just the glare from the Loch Kinord Hotel?

Just as it looked like I would enjoy blazing skies on my final stretch, I rode straight into a wall of fog to put me back into the gloom for the next 20 miles or so. Not too big a deal as I was just happy to be out on the bike for a long ride. The roads started to get busier as I reached Banchory but I stuck with it to keep my average speed up.

Comfort break before Banchory
Misty Drumoak

As I got near home, I threw in a cheeky extra loop to add on a few km, just in case I would be needing them to get me over the line for the Festive 500. It left me needing a couple of extended commutes on New Year’s Eve to get me over the line.

Chilly Milltimber

BAM 2018 – November

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

Offroad into the forest

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

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

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

Shady side of the hill in the morning.

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

Ready to head home

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

Fast track through Midmar Forest
Just the one muddy stretch

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

Emerging from Midmar Forest
Some floody fun by Drum Castle

BAM 2018 – October

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

First run out on an early ride round Rothiemurchus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not pretty, but effective
Ready to return

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

Smooth tracks from Ryvoan
Always a great view up here

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

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

BAM 2018 – September

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

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

Shoehorned into my gear and ready for the off

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

Disturbed this little guy whilst choosing a bivy spot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easy trails along Loch Kinord

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

Lochan outside Dinnet