BAM 2019 – February

Down to the wire as usual, I decided to go for another work night bivy after a month of either me or the family feeling unwell. The weather has been ridiculous for February, making the lack of riding even more painful. I rode home from work in toasty 13 degree temperatures, picked up the kids and went through the usual evening ritual of feeding, messing about and cosy bedtime stories, before retiring to the garage to throw some kit together. The Metoffice app was telling me it was still going to be warm riding out, but would drop to a decent wintry temperature later on thanks to the clear skies.

I headed out the door at 2140, which is better than normal for me, skipping my usual Co-op stop for food and making my way west along Deeside. A quick stop in the M&S petrol station in Peterculter saw me stocked up with a posh meal deal, before joining the Deeside way to Drumoak, where I crossed the river on the apparently closed bridge.

Park Bridge closed again. iPhones don’t like reflective surfaces
Park Bridge still there, luckily

I was basically riding to the halfway point on my usual extended commute to work, with a bit tacked on to get me up into Durris Forest. The warm temperatures predicted by the Met Office were way off, with my GPS was showing minus 3 as I climbed away from the river. I plodded up the climb to Woodlands and then carried on up to the edge of the forest and started off along the forestry tracks. I had a vague idea of where I might stop, but was really just looking for somewhere flattish. After some mild climbing on the smooth tracks, I settled for a clearing that would give me a good view of the copious stars that were already on show.

Bivy bag getting read to slide its way down to the lowest point it can find

I’d finally been tempted into buying myself a warm sleeping bag, rather than toughing it out in my lightweight Western Mountaineering Summerlite bag all year round. I’d got a Mountain Hardwear Phantom Flame -9 rated bag in the Rock and Run sale, so was looking forward to a cold clear night to see what it was made of. I chilled out for a bit, eating my Hoisin Duck wrap, followed by a brew and chocolatey treats, before retiring to my new bed for the night. The stars above were as spectacular as I hoped and I lay back, soaking up the light, fringed by the dark silhouette of the trees. As usual, I regretted not bringing a proper camera to do some long exposures, but it was pleasant to just lie back and eventually pass out without any distractions.

My usual fidgety night’s sleep ensued, with my movements and the ridiculously slippy bivy bag underside contributing to me moving a good couple of metres overnight. The bag was much warmer than usual, although my feet eventually succumbed to feeling cold late on, which has been a problem ever since spending the entire Cairngorms Loop with wet, cold feet that practically froze during my bivy. I eventually heard my phone alarm in the early hours, but relaxed for a bit before stirring, as I was already halfway to work!

Packed up for my commute

I finished off my flask of tea and had a biscuit whilst my feet were warming in the middle of my bag, then got dressed and packed everything away. I had a nice easy roll through the trees back to tarmac, no problem for 28mm slicks on these tracks.

Smooth tracks through Durris Forest are easy on road tyres
Loving the sunrise rides at this time of year

Just as I got near the road I realised I should have stopped much sooner last night, as I’d have had a wide open vista and a better sunrise view when I woke up. Still wasn’t a decent spot away from the main path, so maybe I had chosen wisely. Once back on the road it was a very easy, mostly downhill roll into work, absorbing as much of the beautiful light as I could to get me through the day stuck indoors.

Heading East
Soon to be warmed by the sun

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 – 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

BAM 2018 – August

For my August bivy, I wanted to take Kerr out again before the weather started to turn against us, so when a good weather window coincided with a weekend it was all systems go to get the car packed and head out to Braemar again for a second bite at Glen Quoich. I’d sourced a replacement skewer for my old cargo trailer, so hopefully I’d be able to get it to take the load this time instead of my back!

Late as always, we stocked up in the village before continuing to the Linn of Quoich and getting on the move as quickly as Kerr’s penchant for distraction would allow us.

Planning on going a lot further than the last camp spot
Many rocks were thrown in the river
Heading for wet feet at the fords
Every body of water must be thoroughly investigated

After passing our previous trip’s camping spot, we headed on up the glen – Kerr trying to fill the river with any rocks he happened upon en route. I had a particular spot in mind below Beinn a Bhuird which I had noted years back on a ride through to Gleann an t-Slugain. After passing the fords where inevitably Kerr got his feet soaked and then decided he needed a pee just as some walkers were approaching from the opposite direction, we pressed on along the Quoich Water, reaching my intended spot just as the temperature dropped a bit and the wind got up. Unfortunately, someone had beaten us to the site, erecting a large tarp vertically as a wind shield and sitting round a large camp fire, surviving to the max. Probably not the best summer to be starting fires, but at least there had been some rain recently, so much less chance of disaster than a few weeks previously.

Kerr had been quite excited at reaching my secret camp spot, so began to have a meltdown when he realised it been taken already. I quickly introduced the concept of the super secret camping spot which was just up the path. Unfortunately the path starts to seriously narrow from here, making lugging a trailer and abandoned bike a serious effort. After getting a bit of distance from the rufty-tufty survivalists I started scanning for a new spot, eventually wading through some heather to reach an ideal sheltered hollow beneath a tree.

Tent up, dinner on

After a feast of cheesy pasta and empire biscuits, we settled in for the night, Kerr passing out practically in mid-sentence. The late night had no effect on his ability to wake early the next morning, keen to go down to the river and fetch water.

Earning his keep

The wind had died completely over night, so as I got the bacon cooking the midges descended. The smoke off my wee stove was a marginal help, but Kerr made the sensible choice and went back into the tent to await his breakfast in bed.

Something tells me we may have been bitten
Kerr takes on stove extinguishing duties

After packing up, we headed back the way we came, checking out my original choice of location. It appeared that the leave no trace ethic was not one embraced by our expert survival neighbours.

As far from “Leave no Trace” as it gets

With no real time pressure on getting back, I let Kerr mess about as much as he liked along the way. This involved performing rock throwing and dam building at every river crossing we made.

Team shot
Little bit of horticulture whilst waiting around
Very purply
Thinks he can ride this one out
Gave up on shoes and equipped him with Crocs
Heading away from the fords
Shortly before one Croc started to head downriver without him
Stalking local wildlife
Finally riding again

After a loooong time, we finally flew along the last downhill stretch to the road and back along to the car, where we ditched the trailer and went to hang out on the bridge to nowhere, which always fascinates him. Then it was a peaceful drive home with a brief stop for cake and juice at Cambus o’ May.

4×4 driving through a river is 5 year old heaven

BAM 2018 – July

Another month passed with seemingly no chance for another bivy. I’d taken some gear with me on our holiday with friends in the Lake District, but hadn’t wanted to be antisocial and disappear off for a night rather than hang out. Various other happenings left me looking at using the last night of the month to try and achieve a school night bivy on Tuesday after work. The same drill as usual getting the kids to bed and I headed out around half 9 on the Van Nicholas with its offroad tyres on for a change, since I wanted to get a bit further afield in as little time as possible. I made the most of the last of the light with a bit of riding through Hazelhead and Countesswells, before emerging back onto the roads in the fading light.

AWPR Parallel

Once on the tarmac, I got my head down and took a pretty direct route out towards the Hill of Fare, eventually turning off to climb past some farm houses and on past the old quarry. The gearing was just low enough to manage the whole climb whilst laden, much easier than last time I’d bivied up this way and had done this climb in ice and snow! Eventually I reached the end of the easy track and hopped off for a wee walk up to the saddle between Hill of Fare and Greymore.

Bikewalking in the dark

Eventually the track levels and smooths out a bit, allowing me back on the bike to ride out the last climb after turning right towards Greymore. I’d bivied here a couple of years back in January and wanted to try and get to the same spot, as it had a couple of nicely spaced trees with a decent canopy for shelter. I detached my light and whacked up the power to try and identify the spot as I went along. Once found, I climbed up through the heather and got myself set up in the cosy hollow under the trees. I was a bit exposed to the wind here, but it meant I’d have a view towards the sunrise in the morning.

Ready for bed

There was a hint of light rain in the forecast, but it looked like it had already passed during the climb, so I skipped the tarp and got my head down after a quick cuppa from my flask. Alarm set for early o’clock as I was paranoid about being late for work. I was just using a thin silvered bedding blanket between the layers of my DD hammock to see if it was up to the job of insulating me in milder temperatures. It was mostly a success, but I did feel the odd cold spot during the night. I’m sure it would have been fine at a lower elevation though.

Not a terrible view to wake up to

After snoozing my way through sunrise, I dragged myself up and had another cuppa and snack for breakfast before starting to pack up. I find for these short overnighters, a flask makes a lot more sense than taking a stove. It fits nicely in the monkey cage on the bike bottle mounts and takes away the faff of boiling water and brewing up twice – especially important when you are heading to work in the morning!

Always difficult to extricate yourself from a comfy hammock

Once packed, I dragged the bike back down onto the path and slowly rode along the rest of the ridge, enjoying the sense of remoteness, despite being less than an hour’s ride from home.

Packed light in summer

Beautiful morning

Rubbly descent

I nursed the bike down the initial steep descent on a cut up, rocky stretch of track, before opening the taps once things got smoother and swooshing my way down towards the Echt road.

Dappled forest descent

Back on tarmac, I took my usual mixture of quiet back roads past Flora’s cafe and on to Peterculter, where I joined the Deeside Way to head along my usual commuting route. I’d got my timings spot on and even had a few minutes to bask in the sun in Duthie Park before continuing on to work for a hot shower and return to reality.

Last night’s bedroom

Time to chill before work

BAM 2018 – June

After getting off to a good start with my winter bivies I had neglected to set any time aside for a June one. The main reason for this was that I had always expected this to be covered by the HT550, so in doing it quicker than expected, I had sold myself short on some bivy time! Inevitably, I realised my neglect late in the month, leaving me  scrabbling about for some bivy kit on the last night of the month, as usual after getting the uncooperative kids to bed. I rolled out the house about half ten, with  a vague idea of what I was doing.

Head straight for the beach for starters

Pointing North up the coast

My plan was to head North along the coast, using the service roads through the golf courses to make quick progress, before veering off into the dunes for a pleasant midge-free bivy. After a quick dash through town, I cruised along the promenade before crossing the Don and making my way towards Royal Aberdeen Golf Club. It looked like I’d timed it just right as there was a steady flow of cars leaving the course and the club house looked deserted as I nonchalantly spun past.

The road through the course was a real pleasure, undulating along between liberally sprinkled fairways. Eventually it gave way to a section of dirt, before following vehicle tracks through some light rough to link up with the next golf course along. Everything was matching up with my aerial reconnaissance on the OS maps site, so I reached the hole that looked like it had an adjacent path into the dunes and skirted round the edge of the tee to make my exit from the course. The dunes here are pretty eroded, so there was no handy sheltered basin to set up in, just a straight drop down to the beach. I couldn’t be bothered with the thought of dragging the bike back up in the morning, so I threw my bivy down where I stood and made myself a brew whilst looking out to the new wind farm at sea that Trump is so fond of.

Bivying on the edge

I wasn’t planning on sleeping too long, as I wanted to be through the rest of the course before any avid golfers appeared and had an opinion on my presence there, so I was up and packed not too long after 0400. It was a pretty dull morning, but still warm as ever this summer. I followed the footpaths through to the Murcar clubhouse and then stopped on the access road for a snack, just as one of the mowers revved up in an outbuilding. Perfect timing.

If only I’d been this efficient on the HT550

Fleeing the scene of the crime in a leisurely manner

Next, I made my way through sleepy Bridge of Don, linking paths round the back of the housing to stay as off road as possible.

Some nice wee trails around Bridge of Don

Spooky woods?

Eventually, I dropped down to the Don and made my way along the riverside paths, before climbing up towards Hazelhead and home. I even had time for an extra nap before the kids woke up! 6 out of 6 bivies complete so far.

Follow the Don