August went by in a blur of school summer holidays and a very soggy break in the Lake District. I had taken some kit with me in case a bivy opportunity presented itself, but being the fair weather camper I am, ended up looking at the 31st as being my last chance to keep my run going. It wasn’t a work night, at least, but I was covering on-call as a last minute favour, so wherever I stopped would have to have 4G reception and not be too far from town.
I hurriedly threw a route together on Saturday afternoon which would tick off a few VVE squares out Sauchen way and had a couple of potential bivy spots to explore. In the evening, it was the same old routine and I rolled out just after half nine for my customary Co-Op food stock. The days of heading out before sun down were long gone, so I had my lights on from the off as I rolled along the Westhill bike path. I didn’t waste any time on complications and just headed straight for Dunecht next along the main road, which was nice and quiet at this time of night. Eventually I left the main road just before Sauchen, to do a quick out and back near Cluny Castle and claim another grid square. I was keeping an eye out for any bivy spots in the woods, but it felt too populated and was mostly fenced off, so I kept on with my planned route.
I started heading South from here and had a spot that I was aiming for below Corennie Forest. Not long after, I started to feel impatient as I really just wanted to get my head down for the night. I was scanning ahead on my Garmin to see I had another 2km to go, when I realised I was passing a nice heathery wood to my left. I checked my phone, saw it had reception and then hoicked the bike over the containing wall to find myself a couple of suitable trees for the hammock. The land rose steeply under the trees and I wasn’t far from the top of a hill, which would have afforded me views of the East in the morning. However the noise of the wind dissuaded me from this as I was nicely sheltered where I was and the hammock definitely gets chilly in the wind!
Once I was pitched, I got my jacket on and sat in the hammock for some food and drink, before succumbing to temptation and watching the start of Match of the Day to check how Liverpool got on. When I turned in for the night, rather than get in the sleeping bag, I zipped it right down to just leave a box for my feet and opened the rest out as a blanket. It seemed to work pretty well, rather than wasting all that down compressed beneath me.
I let the sunrise wake me up, before getting a bite to eat and finishing my flask of tea with my sleeping bag round my shoulders in the cool morning air. There wasn’t much time to linger, as I was trying to get home before the kids were up, so I was packed in a jiffy.
I dropped back through the trees and got rolling again home on nice quiet roads. I didn’t quite beat the kids, but did manage to send Yvonne back to bed whilst I took over the chaos!
Determined not to leave it till the very end of the month as usual, I hatched a plan for a midweek bivy on my way into work, as it looked like a nice weather window. I figured that I could leave myself around 50km from work overnight and still have time to get in without getting up ridiculously early. I wanted to tick off a few VeloViewer Explorer squares and sleep up high to try and avoid the midges, so my sights were set on Craiglich at 476m elevation.
I managed to head out a bit earlier than normal, before 8pm no less, so I had the pleasure of riding in daylight as I made my way West towards Dunecht. I used my usual mixture of back roads with additional diversions to pick off more VVE squares on the way.
I made decent time and only turned my lights on for the last 20 minutes as a precaution against any cars that might still be about. I dropped on to the main road near Queen’s View and looked for my exit onto the footpath that would take me up to the summit. I hopped over the gate and rode across a gradually steepening field till I ran out of traction on a muddy patch at the far end. I hopped over the next gate ad started pushing my way up the heavily overgrown path, with plenty of spiky gorse to keep me lively. The gradient eased and the path cleared for a while, enabling me to remount and cycle for a while till I reached my turn off. There was no chance of my slicks gripping there way of this, so I hopped off and strolled up the first steep pitch before the track imroved as I emerged from the trees onto open moorland. Next was an enjoyable spin through the heather all the way up to the summit cairn of Craiglich.
After taking a while to enjoy the panorama from this excellent vantage point, I found myself a nice patch of short grass near the large cairn to lay my sleeping gear out on. I was going for the SOL Escape bivy plus silk liner again, to see if it still did the job in cooler conditions. There was a decent breeze to keep the midges away and the shelter of the cairn would stop it from getting me too cold. I enjoyed my tea and butties whilst soaking up more sunset views, before turning in for the night after setting an alarm for nice and early, as I was a bit paranoid about being late for work.
I’d gone for the usual combo of some woolly socks, kneewarmers and my Montane Hydrogen jacket and again had no problems keeping warm, bar the odd swing in the wind sending a blast in the top of the bivy bag. After my usual restless sleep, I popped awake just after 4, in time to see the sun creeping over the horizon whilst the moon still shone.
I rolled over for a few more minutes before thinking I might as well get up and ready to go after a leisurely breakfast and more pictures.
I needed to leave handy, as I wasn’t sure what the next section held in store. There was definitely a route off the end of the hill, but I wasn’t sure if it would be suitable for a mountain bike, let alone a slicked up road bike. Only one way to find out!
I cruised along the ridge from the summit, before dismounting on a steep muddy descent and then gingerly pedalling up some narrow singletrack that eventually deposited me on a forestry track on the adjacent hill. That would have been a lovely stretch on the mountain bike, but the track ahead would be just fine for the roadie too.
I swooshed my way down the hill, trying not to get too carried away with the speed on the corners and arrived back at the tarmac in short order.
Now I just needed to get a move on and get to work, whilst ticking off some more VVE squares. I made my way towards Lumphanan, before cutting back up to Echt and heading for some quieter roads into Aberdeen to avoid the early commuters. I arrived at work with loads of time to spare, invigorated by a great night out in the hills.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.