Strictly Local

2021 seemed destined to follow the example set by 2020, which was a shame. In the midst of the second lockdown at the turn of the year I was starting to get itchy feet, knowing any proper adventures were on hold again. Inspired by a post by Markus Stitz, where he rode around the edge of Edinburgh, I decided I would stick to the Scottish COVID lockdown rules as closely as possible and ride around the exact periphery of my local authority. For Aberdeen City, this meant hugging the banks of the River Dee and Don along with some coast riding and cross country to connect the two rivers at either end.

The official boundary of fun

Since the route I had traced out along the boundary had a long stretch of beach riding, there was only one bike I could take – the ever dependable Ritchey Commando in 29+ guise. I had managed to negotiate heading out with 2 hours of light remaining in the day, so off I rolled on Sunday afternoon, aiming to get what I imagined to be the roughest part of the ride out of the way, along the banks of the Dee. Dropping down to the riverside path just behind Boots at Garthdee, I had a long stretch of what was an unknown quantity to me with the potential for icy patches in the -2 temperatures.

Joining the river bank
Low temperatures mean no mud

The weather had been cold for so long that practically every muddy stretch had frozen solid and I enjoyed trundling along, patiently letting oncoming walkers pass when necessary on a beautiful crisp afternoon. The river itself was beginning to ice up along the edges, with lots of icy slush floating along, which made an odd scraping sound as it collided with the solid skin of ice outlining the river bank.

Rock solid golf course

The riding this far had been lovely, with lots of little undulating singletrack stretches through the trees at times, but I knew my luck couldn’t hold much longer. Not long after Deeside Golf Club, I had to turn away from the river briefly to use a bridge crossing a tributary. As I turned back along the wee burn to get back to the Dee I noticed a well-trod path across the empty grassy field. Stubborn as ever, I stuck to my guns and followed the narrow path which followed the barbed wire fence field boundary. This immediately turned into tussocks at the river bank, then narrowed down to non-existent proportions, leaving me with a choice of thick gorse to my left or barbed wire to my right. I ploughed on, occasionally needing to lift the bike to clear a particularly narrow stretch, whilst looking into the field where the occasional dog walker casually strolled along without a care in the world! After a brief stop to allow a couple in similar pain to pass in the opposite direction, whilst promising them only 100m more of the spikiest patches, I got fed up and threw my bike over the fence at a good spot to climb over without damaging anything and rolled along quite happily 10 metres to the right of where I had been.

Hardier souls than I navigate the ice-laden Dee
The occasional gappy bit after the gorse escapade
Speedy but rock hard and rattly

The path improved again shortly afterwards and I made good progress towards Maryculter. There had been a burn crossing I was worried would stop me as I remember turning back there once on a walk, but I was through it and past before I realised where I was, soon passing under the AWPR and crossing the road below to take on the last stretch of the Dee, which would take me to the end of a spur on the City boundary map.

Frosty evening light on the Dee

Again, the path was surprisingly good and I soon reached the Culter Burn, where I turned away from the river, joining the Deeside Way very briefly to cross over and double back. I skirted the edge of Peterculter golf course, which was frozen solid and closed. At the far end of the course I popped over a dyke to drop down into a swampy section before regaining the river bank and bumping my way along an improving grassy path. This led to a well-appointed fishing hut before carrying me onwards to Dalmaik Kirk, where I would leave the river to start heading north for the Don.

Fancy fishing hut
Running out of light
Dalmaik Kirk

After a bit of faffing, it appeared the only way I could join the track leading away from the river without entering someone’s garden was to hop over the wall into the graveyard, which I duly did. The little-used road had some long stretches of ice, which required careful navigation with no mishaps, before I popped out onto the short road stretch of the Deeside Way. Because of this being an outlier of the city boundary, I had to now turn back the way I had come from and go east into the edge of Peterculter before performing another U-turn and heading west again. This was all on road, so I could get my average speed up whilst the last of the day’s light faded. Another spur followed around the icy declassified road by Leuchar Moss and I got myself offroad again at Benthoul to take a beeline past the helipad and along the field margins to get me near Wester Ord. I’ve taken this way a few times over the years and it’s great when frozen like this.

Heading for Leuchar Moss
Last light
Rock hard tracks and fields from Benthoul

After rejoining the tarmac I headed towards Countesswells, but took the road North to skirt around Westhill and enjoy a quick refreshment stop at the Tesco petrol station. It was so cold and dark, the thought of a 10 minute ride home was pretty tempting at this point, but I resisted the temptation and kept following the border to the north, making good time on the quiet roads towards Blackburn. After crossing the A96, I kept to the east of the Blackburn and navigated some substantial ice patches on the back road, gingerly descending to the crossing and joining the B road that would take me to Hatton of Fintray and beyond. My route now was going to roughly follow the Don to the east, but I took the easy option of staying on the road for a bit longer, as the path I had planned along the river banks was guaranteed to turn into an icy walk in these conditions. This resulted in me reaching Dyce very quickly, where I could get off road again in the Parkhill estate for a pleasant ride through the forest. As I reached the end of this section, my plotted path appeared to deposit me in someone’s back garden. Despite the exit being about 30 metres away, I didn’t feel right ambling past someone’s house and using their gate, so I found an extra path that wound through the trees, eventually letting me out through a gap in the wall.

I kept wending my way east towards the coast, with a couple more new off road excursions to do before Potterton that worked out quite well. Soon, I crossed the AWPR for the final time and rolled down into Blackdog for the beach section of the journey. As I hit the sand, I knew I would have to cross the Blackdog Burn somehow to start heading south. I reached the burn at a wide crossing that still showed a bridge across in satellite imagery of the area, but I’d had a feeling this would be long gone, which proved to be the case! The simplest way to get down to the beach would be to turn left and climb a faint path through the dunes to take me down to where the burn emptied into the sea. This had been my original plan, but I had been worrying about high tide since setting off, as I was sure it was pretty much now, meaning there might not be a shallow crossing available. If I could cross the burn higher up somehow, then I would take out that uncertainty. So I turned right against my better judgement and started climbing an even fainter path going inland. I had hoped there might be a sneaky wee bridge here, but no such luck. The burn did narrow significantly, however, so I dropped down to a particularly narrow spot for a closer look. It was an easy jump across to the other side, but not easy or shallow enough to stand the bike up and swing across whilst holding on to it. I resolved to just throw the bike over and hop across afterwards. The bike throw did not go well – the bike, on landing on the far side, did not flop over as expected, but somehow contrived to bounce on its front wheel and spring backwards, landing neatly in the deep burn with the voluminous tyres keeping it afloat. Panic ensued and I immediately leapt across without thinking to rescue my beloved. With little care taken to pick a landing spot, my left foot crunched through the frozen vegetation and plunged shin deep in the burn whilst I fished out the Commando.

Once the extraction was complete, I dragged myself up the bank a little and sat down to take stock. The bike looked fine but my foot was soaking, so I took off my boot and wrung out my sock to try and minimise the damage the rest of the ride was going to do. I also emptied out my mini saddle bag to see what was what. Luckily I had already switched to my properly warm gloves, so the sodden ones inside weren’t an issue and I could probably manage okay without eating the now unappealing caramel shortbread slices from the garage. My extra layers seemed fine after a quick shake out, so I threw on my Mavic windproof and resumed my trudge along the burn and over onto the beach, where I finally started on the southward leg of my journey.

Couldn’t resist stopping for a shot of the usual pillbox

I’ve been up and down here quite a bit in recent times, but the frigid temperatures lately had resulted in the sand being frozen solid if you found the right band, so I was absolutely flying along, wondering if I had even needed to bring the plus bike. As I pulled in at the branded pillbox, I thought to check the high tide time as it didn’t look to be as far up as expected. High tide was closer to midnight than 10pm so my Blackdog Burn exploits had been totally needless! Never mind, I was here now and could mostly still feel my wet foot, so on I went.

Bright light heading for the bright lights

As I got closer to the mouth of the Don, the firm surface disappeared under thousands of footprints from the COVID-enclosed folks of Aberdeen City all visiting the same haunts. At least the later than expected high tide hadn’t forced me to use the paths through the golf courses to reach the Don, meaning I could hug the boundary as tightly as possible. I did a quick dogleg to cross the Don and then started off along the esplanade which was nice and quick. As I reached Footdee, I managed to drop down onto the beach and nip past the waves that were lapping against the sea defences to enjoy the last stretch of sand on my journey.

Footdee beach exit

I now had to make my way through the docks of Aberdeen and cross the Dee at Victoria Bridge. I would not be able to follow the complete coast of the headland that would take me to Nigg Bay as it is currently being destroyed for yet more harbour space. I had to content myself with climbing past the Torry battery and on to the lighthouse, then taking a track that bisects the golf course to drop me back on the coast road, where I could climb out of the bay and start riding along the cliff tops towards Cove.

Top of the golf course looking towards my office somewhere

The cliff top paths are a joy to ride as long as you don’t overcook it on the corners which were mostly free of ice, though I was being nice and careful. The last kilometre down to Cove Bay itself was new to me, but I managed to follow what was on the ground to get me down to sea level where I had the joy of the very steep climb through the village on a mercifully ice-free road.

Too dark to get any cliff edge shots

I used a rough path along the edge of the Cove community woodland to hug the southernmost point of the city boundary and eventually managed to extract myself through some dense trees, emerging onto the road out of Cove. The rest of the route was simple, taking roads that were closed off to traffic by the AWPR, but link handily together for cyclists. I popped out onto the edge of the A90, rolling downhill before crossing and nipping onto South Deeside road for the last bit of boundary hugging towards my final crossing of the Dee, where the loop was completed. 100km of mostly offroad riding, all whilst remaining inside the city boundary and never being more than an hour’s ride from home!

BAM 2020 – December

For December, I had been planning to get my BAM in at some point over the Christmas period when family were around to entertain the kids. Obviously that option was taken away and it looked like a stricter lockdown was coming, so I opted for an earlier date on the Solstice weekend. I’d also spotted an email from Restrap promoting a Solstice Century ride which involved doing 100 miles over the weekend to claim yourself a badge. Always a sucker for a badge, I decided to go for it. Originally planning to go out on the Saturday night, I delayed by a day as Yvonne was particularly knackered on Saturday and I didn’t want to leave her getting up early with the kids next day. So, prompt as ever I headed out about 10pm on Sunday night, wandering if this even counted for the Solstice Century.

Good Christmas lights effort at Kingswells

Since I was going to be riding 100 miles, I had hastily plotted out a route that would gather me up some new VVE tiles. Due to the size of max square I have now, it takes nearly two hours to get to the edge and start adding new ones! My route was going to the north west corner of my square to tick off a bunch near Insch, heading towards Huntly. Despite the late hour, I stuck to my planned and complicated route, ticking off tiles with the odd out and back diversion or occasional offroad stretch. Despite being fine in Aberdeen, the temperatures were much colder than forecast and I began to hit patches where the entire road had frosted over, that I had to descend very gingerly to keep upright.

Not much time to spare for night photos, but stars and stuff were in abundance

Finally I reached my planned turn off and climbed up into the forest at Gartly Moor. I’d done a quick Google Street View recce beforehand and had spotted a track going onto the forest that should suit my needs. I turned off into the layby and spotted a path heading off through the undergrowth, which I followed uphill for a short while before looking for likely hammock spots off to the side. It didn’t take too long and I got everything up and ready in no time. The tree cover meant that I couldn’t feel a breath of wind, despite it being quite strong on the way here. I took my chances with the forecast and left the tarp in my frame bag, so I could catch glimpses of the stars through the canopy above. I’d not bothered with a stove or flask in favour of carrying more water, so I drank the wee can of coke I’d picked up in the Co-Op and had a cranberry pork pie and some stollen from home before turning in.

Super cosy spot tonight

The sheltered location did the trick – I could hear the wind raging through the trees nearby, but not a breath of it reached me, meaning a pleasant night’s kip. I had an alarm set for half seven, but snoozed for a wee bit to allow the light to build. The main reason for this was so I could switch my dynamo to charging the Garmin as soon as possible rather than powering the lights, as I had decided to try out a battery pack-free ride and had less than 20% on the Garmin after last night. When I eventually emerged from the trees, it was much lighter than I realised, so I immediately switched to the Sinewave Revolution that was stashed in the frame bag to ease my GPS battery woes.

As I emerged from the forest, it immediately became apparent that the frost had deepened overnight, with my first turn off looking particularly frosty. One of the hazards of always sticking to the backroads when possible, but I just took it easy and never left myself in a position where I’d have to brake or turn sharply on one of the white patches. Having the old Continental GP 4 Seasons was a help too as the softer rubber compound always seems to give that tiniest extra bit of traction, enabling to keep pedalling uphill on it as long as I didn’t push too hard.

Didn’t get any good shots of the ice, as I couldn’t risk stopping to take a picture
Much icier than it looks, honest

My route back home was similar to the previous night, with lots of offshoots to pick off VVE tiles and the odd cheeky bit of offroad, despite the inappropriate tyres.

28mm is all you need
Almost getting sunny

Eventually I looped back towards the opposite side of Insch from last night and turned on my Co-Op Spidey-sense to take a little diversion which swung me right past one. Don’t know how I do it, but it never fails if there’s one about! After a quick stock up and a nice chat with an old chap who was wondering where I’d been, I was ready to polish off the rest of this ride.

Home from home
Not quite finished with the non-tarmac diversions
Smooth and non-icy tarmac got the average speed up

As I passed Keig, the stretches of ice finally eased up for good and I was able to get my head down and make a beeline for home, ensuring I kept the distance up over 100 miles by the time I reached home to complete my kind-of Solstice Century. More importantly, this got me to another complete year of BAM to make it 3 in a row. I was glad I hadn’t jacked it in during the pointless garden lockdown bivies in the spring, as I’d have missed out on the motivation to complete in the winter months, although these are often my favourite rides of the lot.

Went over the century by a couple of km to be sure

Will I carry it on? Probably – I don’t know when I’ll next be able to commit the time needed to do a big group start ride like the HT550 again, as family health is something I need to keep an eye on before knowing if its possible. Just because I am capable of it doesn’t mean I have to do it and BAM has been a good way of keeping a small sense of adventure and maintaining my sanity in the meantime!

BAM 2020 – November

November was a wet and miserable month, resulting in me putting off my bivy continuously so that I was stuck with the last night of the month yet again. I couldn’t be bothered heading out to a soggy forest somewhere so went for a safe bet along the coast. It was a late start to the ride at about half ten and I went straight through town to reach the beach front, pausing to take in the eerily empty Union Street.

Christmas lights were up
Only took a global pandemic for them to finally pedestrianise Union Street
City lights
Marine lights

High tide was due at 1 am, so I skipped the bit of headland at Donmouth and used the golf course access road to make some decent progress before rejoining the coastline round the back of a tee. This had been handily discovered on a late evening ride with Kerr a couple of weeks previously. Once down on the sand, the tide line seemed ominously close, especially along the stretches that were bounded by vertical cliffs of dunes.

Skirting the tide

Despite not being in full fat mode, the 29+ setup was working as fine as ever and I hugged the moist bits of shoreline were the waves came and went, occasionally veering further up the beach when a bigger wave came in. So far, I’m still not seeing a need to finally make this into the full fat bike it’s supposed to be. If I did veer too far into the softer sand then it would bog down a bit, but not too much to prevent me finding a firmer line elsewhere.

I kept moving, wanting to get as far long as possible before the tide came in too far for me to use the firmest sand. I had a few burns to cross, which I thought would dictate how far north I got, as the option of swinging around their emptying channels to cross the shallow water was going to be less likely. The first couple were manageable but I had to think about the last one before Balmedie, eventually deciding to just go for it and jump off into the channel and wheelie up the opposite bank. It wasn’t pretty, but it did the job. Past Balmedie, I began to think about stopping for the night, as I wanted to get back handy in the morning. The beach had widened a bit by now and the tide wasn’t going to be getting much higher, so I hopped up to a higher level in the dunes and found myself a nice sheltered scrape out of the wind.

Out of the wind at around freezing point

Once stopped, I popped off my single pannier and rolled out the kit. Usual drill, bit of food, cup of tea and off to bed. No need for an alarm, I figured I’d be up before sunrise.

Early morning peek out of the bivy bag

Once I was awake, I polished off the tea from the flask, took a few pictures and packed up – dead simple with the pannier.

Quickly packed pannier
Much clearer skies than than forecast

The tide was now well out, so I had the whole beach to pick a line on the way home and enjoy the unexpected bonus of the sun.

All the float I needed
Solar charging time
Not bad for November
Bunkers prepped for post-Brexit War of Independence

I strung out my return on such a beautiful morning, taking pictures and snacking and finally reaching the mouth of the Don, which is much more easily navigable at low tide.

A lot colder than it looks
Commando at Donmouth
Back to the big smoke

Once I reached the Bridge of Don, I took the direct route home, rather than milk it any longer. As soon as I got in, I also hosed down the bike to remove as much salt and sand as I could, making it the cleanest it’s been since the HT550 start line! I hadn’t been feeling it this month at all, but the night out and lovely morning ride had worked its magic as always.

Good as newish

BAM 2020 – October

I had big plans for October, since I was going to be in Nethy Bridge for the first week of the half term holiday as usual. This meant I had the northern Cairngorms as my playground if I could manage to sneak out one night of our stay. I had managed to stuff my bivy gear in as I packed the car with everything we needed, so I just needed to pick a decent night. The weather however, had other ideas and was particularly wet from the minute we arrived. Coupled to this I was feeling rough with a pounding headache, as was Yvonne, meaning I couldn’t abandon her even if I did feel up to it. We still managed to squeeze in plenty of fun with the kids and I even recced the track from Ryvoan back to the house with Kerr, riding back from a canoe day at Loch Morlich on a mostly dry afternoon. The track was an absolute state, thanks to the diggers that have used it to access the hills, though Kerr seemed happy enough getting covered head to toe in mud!

Late in the week, I finally felt up to a night out, setting out just after the kids’ bedtime. The forecast wasn’t great, but I was hoping to do something similar to last year’s October bivy on the Bynack More summit, but this time on Cairn Gorm itself. I headed straight up the road and into Abernethy Forest, making a beeline for the Forest Lodge track. I nearly had an off before I even left the tarmac, as I met some mountain bikers coming the other way, who collectively gave a cheery wave whilst pointing around 2 million lumens of lights and head torches in my face, causing me to lose the edge of the road and fall into the ditch there. This was quite a contrast, as I was currently only using the light off one of the kids bikes in an effort to save the Joystick until I needed it, thanks to them having taken it somewhere below 50% battery running around the cottage in the dark on previous nights! I still wasn’t feeling 100%, so I just trundled along uphill, only pausing for a snack at the edge of the forest before heading on to Ryvoan.

Dirty before I started

I reached An Lochan Uaine and stopped for a wee bit to think about my plans. I was feeling crappy and it was going to take me a good while to reach the top of Cairn Gorm. I had a faint hope there might be a cloud inversion so I actually saw something in the morning, but it was unlikely. As I pondered my options I noticed rain drops passing in front of my headlight, meaning it was only going to get more persistent and pervasive as I climbed. Finally I came to my senses – it was neither productive or responsible to carry on to the summit and try to bivy in my state and these conditions. Instead I rolled up to the fancy viewing platform and started to get my kit out, occasionally pausing as I had second thoughts, such is my stubborn nature.

5-star bivy accommodation

I drank my tea and had a snack, sitting on the luxurious bench and not feeling particularly sorry for myself. I eventually got into bed well before midnight and arranged my kit so the rain wouldn’t find its way into my boots. One bonus of the level sleeping area was that my ultra slippy bivy bag didn’t go AWOL during the night – it was also its first test in some proper rain, though the surrounding trees helped too. After a cosy night’s low altitude sleep I woke in the grey drizzle and gradually worked up the energy to get myself up and going.

Would love to pretend it was the morning sun peeking through, but it’s actually one of those damn diggers
Palatial
Can still see a bit of green even in this light
Always a lovely spot
Probably need to service these moving parts one day

I could have packed up and gone back the way I came, but my lack of riding the night before and my severe case of antiloopophobia would have kicked in, so I made for Loch Morlich instead and straight onto the old logging way.

Never gets that wet on these tracks

I turned off to the north at the end of the loch and started heading for An Slugan, which is a handy shortcut for getting back towards Abernethy offroad.

Gloomy Cairngorms from An Slugain
Much more thoughtful than a Keep Out sign at Pityoulish

Once down the other side, I just needed to whip along the old declassified road past Tulloch Moor and I’d be just about home. First of all I had to stop and admire the boardwalk bypassing the puddle of doom which beat the semi-submerged pallets that were there on my last crossing.

A good few years since I last drove this road
I’ve been through it on a road bike but not a mountain bike, no idea why
Amused by the simple things

After my North Shore excursion, I continued onto the roads near Loch Garten, hopping off into the Forest as soon as possible to enjoy some lovely forest riding on my way back to join in for breakfast with the kids. I’d done nothing like what I’d planned, but who’s keeping score anyway?

Sublime Abernethy
Last photo pause before home

BAM 2020 – September

September had been a busy month keeping the kids entertained and I left it as late as always, heading out on a Tuesday night with a plan to be back for the school run. I couldn’t go too far without needing to get up stupidly early, so I aimed for Kirkhill Forest, keeping to a mix of my usual offroad tracks and trails on the Amazon. I’d brought a proper camera with me so I could get some decent night time shots for once in the mild evening air.

Urban singletrack
Bucks Burn bridge
Bright moon plus long exposure
Down past Craibstone and into Tyrebagger

Despite being as late as ever, it was a pleasant night to be out and about and I was through Kirkhill and doing the last climb to the Tappie Tower before I knew it. The wind was blowing hard here, so I set about scouting for a couple of decent trees off the summit with a bit of shelter after a few more long exposures.

Summit trig
Tappie Tower

I found a decent spot off the north side of the hill and got the hammock strung up. It still had the midge net attached from August, but I flipped it underneath as no midges would be flying in these winds! I also left the tarp in the bag, trusting the forecast and having my usual snack and a brew before bedtime.

Pitched
Tea and cake treat

The spot proved ideal – I could hear the wind roaring all night, but barely felt it in my little copse. I had an early alarm set and took a stroll up to the top of the hill for some sunrise pictures before breakfast.

Kirkhill sunrise
Tappie by day
Ideal spot for my purposes

A quick snack and the rest of my tea and I got packed and decided to follow the track I was on down the flank of the hill. It was much more suited to a mountain bike, but I slipped and slid my way down to the forestry track, where I could get cracking on my way home.

Packed light
Skirting round Hill of Marcus
Sunrise near the stone circle
Descent to Dyce

The ride home took me round the edge of Kirkhill Forest and over the AWPR, before dropping to the delights of Dyce industrial estate and the airport. A quicker ride home completed a loop and got me there in time to to walk Kerr to school before starting yet another day of home working, for once charged up with a healthy dose of outdoor exercise.