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