BAM 2020 – August

The long months of lockdown had left myself and Jon hankering for some kind of adventure to make up for it and constant chatter on WhatsApp wasn’t doing anything to assuage that craving. Eventually we got ourselves organised for a kind of lads’ weekend which consisted of a half day Friday and whole Saturday to go and play. My brief for the route was “A ride where we don’t have to kill ourselves for once”, which was a struggle for me as I like to get my money’s worth!

So it was, we hatched a plan which seems to be becoming our standard setup, whereby Jon chills out on the train from Edinburgh to Blair Atholl, whilst I race down there in the car to pick him up and deposit him somewhere for a magical mystery tour. Talking of the Beatles, I also doubled our Scouse contingent by persuading Brian to pop up to Scotland for the weekend and join us on a nice easy ride for once…

Traffic was ridiculous on the way down, but Jon was happy enough to wait for his pickup after lunch and a pint in the Atholl Arms. We only had to drive a few minutes to Dalnaspidal Lodge, where we ditched the car and got rolling up Glen Garry. Much later than was ideal, but optimistic of reaching Loch Ossian before nightfall, where I had scoped an ideal bivy spot on a previous passage.

On the way to Loch Garry

I had guaranteed an ideal ride for gravel style bikes with one short walking section, but the whinging about the gravel diameter started after about 5 minutes, when they went beyond pebble size to very small rocks. I happily ignored the complaints, knowing a treat was in store…

Where’s your oversized gravel now?
The watershed walk was just short enough to avoid an early mutiny

The watershed was surprisingly firm in places, given the rain that had fallen recently and we reached the hydro tracks near Duinish bothy in no time, with a chance to enjoy a long downhill to Loch Rannoch.

Flying through Craiganour Forest
Rolling by Loch Rannoch

The shores of Loch Rannoch were busy, with every single layby or picnic area inundated with cars, campers, tents and even caravans, along with mandatory loud music. This was also accompanied by the first sightings of midge swarms, which got me worried about the night ahead, as I had seen too many horror show pictures from people over the last few weeks. As it was, we were able to pass through unscathed, though I didn’t fancy the car campers’ chances.

Jon loves signs

We turned right before reaching Rannoch Station to head up and over the Road to the Isles, which has become an extremely popular route in recent years and with good reason. The quality of light and the view along there never seems to disappoint at any time of year.

Into the sun
Soul food
Late summer splendour

As the long climb began, Brian was beginning to flag a little, with various mutterings about being quicker on his fat bike. I could see where he was coming from, as you lose the ability to just sit and spin like you can on a mountain bike when you go offroad with gravel bike gearing, especially loaded. A few more of these trips and he’ll never notice though! As it was, we all just continued at our own speed until the track levelled out slightly, where Jon and I stopped to chat with a cycling photographer set up to get some shots across towards Rannoch Moor in the evening light. We had time to kill whilst we waited on Brian, so had a pleasant chat – it turns out he was from a film crew that had been shooting the GBduro a few weeks previous. With the tight time schedule, he’d come back to get more scenery footage along the route for the final film.

Peloton reformed

Reunited, we continued along and started to think of food for the night. Although we had food to cook and eat, what we really wanted was to reach Corrour Station in time to get dinner at the restaurant. Jon had been keeping in touch to see when they would stop serving and they had kindly said they’d hang on for us for a bit if we were late. With time pressing and not wanting to take advantage of their patience, we sent Jon on ahead to get there handy and order us something nice, which he did!

Plunging towards Loch Ossian and dinner
Like Jon read my mind
Beer and bikepacking – a match made in heaven

After lovely food and hospitality as always, we reluctantly put all our kit back on and headed out into the dark to head for the bivy spot I had memorised the last time I rode through here. I was looking for a spur that jutted out into the loch, which I’d seen on a hot summer’s day and figured would be good for getting us into whatever breeze was available to avoid a midge-fest. After about 15 minutes, we were there and pushing our bikes into position, checking for trees with the right spacing for mine and Jon’s hammocks. Brian had gone for ignoring my advice to bring a hammock and had his bivy bag instead, to lay on the rooty lumpy ground below.

Moonshot over Loch Ossian

There wasn’t rain in the forecast, but the showers that had caught us on the way down to the station made it worth putting up the tarps and shortly after getting set up, another light shower passed over, prompting us to overlap them to provide a large dry area and Brian to attempt a comedy upright caterpillar hop manoeuvre to get himself underneath it. A mostly dry midge-free sleep was had by all, with just enough wind to keep the beasts down without making the hammock sleepers cold.

Morning tarp peeking
Camping peninsula
Sock airing

Morning came bright and breezy, so we decided to pack up and get out of the wind a little for brewing up and breakfast. Re-joining the main track and setting up our stoves to the side showed us how effective the breezy camp spot had been, as the midges came out in earnest, though they could be mostly avoided by just walking around whilst the water was boiling.

Bike check – Jon’s Singular has a certain panache
Titanium crew – one predates gravel, the other doesn’t. What’s the difference?

Breakfast done with, Jon and I lingered for a while talking about life and bikes – okay, just bikes. This gave Brian a chance to get a nice gap without feeling like he had to push himself too hard as he was feeling the previous afternoon’s exertions a bit. There’s only a slight rise up from the loch when you are heading towards Laggan, so it took a fair while to catch him up. We carried on as a group into the headwind, with the odd shower flying through.

Surprisingly perky for someone who feels knackered
Srath Ossian gravel perfection
The sun eventually returned

A whole load of perfect gravel bike riding took us on a slowly downward trend to the end of Loch Laggan, where we doubled back on ourselves to hit the end of the lochside track towards Ardverikie.

Level lochside lollygagging
Jon does the tourist thing

The ride along the loch was pleasant and before long we passed the beach and were deposited onto the A86. Now I dislike riding on this stretch of road intensely, so I had decided to take the track over to Glen Shirra which would also be a handy recce for the next time I get to do the HT550, whenever that might be. We had less than a mile of tarmac to deal with and yet still three morons managed to put our lives at risk by all trying to overtake on a blind bend, with the third driving alongside us with nowhere to go as a van rounded the corner in the opposite direction. We gladly left the road at the first turn off to the right and started up the short steep push above the tree line.

The view opened up nicely but was unfortunately blocked by Jon
At the end of a pleasant, straightforward and very un-HT550 like section

I had planned to be in Laggan just before lunch time, but as usual had been wildly optimistic. We got a move on and whizzed down the upper Spey with coffee and cakes on our mind at the old Laggan Stores. Our tardiness saw us arrive in the midst of a lunch scrum, with cars and motorbikes everywhere, but it was all very civilised and we scored ourselves an outside table in the alternating hot sun/light showers.

Another good feed and excellent hot drinks at Laggan Stores Coffee Bothy

Suitably fed, we rejoined the road and started making our way towards Glentruim. Brian was still feeling goosed from the effects of no granny gears coupled with no sleep on his rooty bed and I gave him an escape option as we reached Catlodge. Instead of doing the planned out and back along the old military road past Phones, he could just carry on along the main road to the south at his own speed to rejoin the A9 cycle path much earlier than we would reach it. In addition, if he got to the car first he could have a sleep before heading down the road.

Binning off Brian
Glentruim bound

We had a lovely chilled out section ahead of us, with great views across the Spey valley as we made our way to Milton of Nuide. Here we would scoot across the A9 to join General Wade’s Military Road heading south, finally gaining that elusive tailwind.

Always time for sightseeing

I’m not sure why, but I love this track that parallels the A9 for a few miles. Despite the proximity of the road, you’d never know it was just behind the hills to the west of you. It was looking particularly fine today surrounded by a sea of purple heather and was one of the stretches I’d been looking forward to introducing Jon too (Luckily Brian had seen it the year before!).

Looking fine near Phones
Mostly flat the whole way

I had wanted to add in a bonus climb up to Loch Cuaich to string out our return to the A9, but we both figured we wouldn’t be riding much of the climb and also didn’t want to leave Brian hanging on too long for us. The sensible option was taken and we rolled down to the road at Etteridge for another A9 scuttle, followed by a hop over the barrier to drop onto the cycle path. We fired along towards Dalnaspidal, to make sure Brian got as short a nap as possible.

Jon takes it all in
Should have really done this signpost shot at the start

We returned to the cars triumphant and woke Brian from his slumber to set him on his way back to Liverpool. I dropped Jon off at Pitlochry train station to save him a 3 hour wait for the next train from Blair Atholl and made my way home in time for the kids bedtime. I think my brief not to kill ourselves was mostly fulfilled – we actually finished in daylight! The almost weekend away was just what we needed after all that time dreaming of going somewhere, hopefully not the last time this year. It was also an an opportunity to give my new Alpkit Stingray frame bag a proper run out, which it passed with flying colours. I only wish I hadn’t prevaricated for years about getting one, as the accessible convenience of the pockets is a total winner for me. I only added both the bar bag and seatpack so the others wouldn’t get too angry at my lightweight setup!

BAM 2020 – July

Freedom, finally! After three months of garden bivies, the restrictions on wild camping were finally lifted on 15th of July, after a cruel 2 week wait when things like recreational travel had already been allowed. Also champing at the bit was Kerr, who had been desperate for another bikepacking trip with his dad. Luckily I also had the week booked off, so off we headed for Braemar on Thursday 16th, hoping to get our camp in before the hordes descended on the Cairngorms at the weekend.

We had bought all the food we needed in advance to avoid visiting local shops before they were ready for outsiders. Kerr was dead set on returning to our previous camping spot in Glen Quoich, despite me testing the waters on the way of maybe heading through Balmoral and camping near Gelder Shiel and Lochnagar, as this looked like it would dodge the inclement weather overnight. However, he was determined to bag the spot we had missed out on last time due to it being inhabited by wannabe bushcrafters who left behind the requisite fire ring the following day.

I was going for a different packing routine this time, ditching the trailer in favour of an Axiom Fatliner pannier rack I’d fitted to the Commando, plus my well-travelled Ortlieb front rollers. Kerr being a bit bigger means I don’t need to be quite as paranoid about the amount of gear I take and I managed to get it all in without too much drama, bar a bit of low speed wobble at the front end, which had the tent and some other bits attached to the bars.

We rolled along the very familiar track from the car park, reaching our camping spot above the upper Quoich foot bridge from our first ever trip very quickly. A lot had changed! The track that drops down to the bridge had been purposely pulled over with vegetation to make it narrower and the path skirting along the edge of the eroded river bank had been purposely bulldozed to make it impassable. Kerr was gutted, as he’d loved playing about on the river bank just along from there. Instead we were forced back up onto the newly created estate track, that took you away from the river. This looked steep from the turn off and got progressively more ridiculous. I’d attached the TowWhee to give Kerr some help, but as we got to the first bend higher up, it immediately became obvious I’d struggle to do this unloaded! We stopped and hopped off the bikes, but left the tow rope attached as it was too steep and loose for Kerr to get enough traction to even push his bike up. Obviously the rain also decided this would be a good point to arrive in a misty drenching manner – at least it kept us cool! Finally the summit was reached and we apprehensively approached the descent after being told by some walkers it was worse on this side. They weren’t far wrong and Kerr, ever the sensible one, elected to walk down one section before remounting and quite skilfully negotiating the remainder of the descent making full use of those big grippy tyres!

Beeline for Beinn a Bhuird

We continued up the glen, Kerr ranting about how rubbish the new track was in comparison to the old, whilst the rain abated, having had its fun with us at an inopportune moment.

Still looks sunny by Lochnagar, not that I’m bitter
Much easier now he has a geared bike

As we reached the ford through the Quoich, I switched him over to his Crocs, knowing his affinity for being submerged in water. No such luxury for me, though the clearance on the Commando in 29+ mode normally keeps my feet dry.

Quoich fords
Bike submarine amusement
Amphibious kid

Crossing dispatched, we didn’t have far to our spot and I had my fingers crossed that we would have it to ourselves, thanks to it being a Thursday night, which was exactly how it worked out.

Splash test dummy
Parked up for the night
Kerr immediately made friends with a local resident

As soon as the bikes were parked and he’d had a chat with our tree’s carpet moth, he was straight down to the dry riverbed below our campsite to paly. After a long few months of being trapped locally, he’d immediately gone back to his happy go lucky self now he was away from civilisation and it was wonderful to see the fog of lockdown lift from his demeanour. I left him contentedly building a rock causeway whilst I got on with putting up the tent and unpacking.

Kerr in his element
Causeway mk I

Mercifully, there was a fresh wind blowing down the glen, just as on previous visits, so we weren’t treated to a midge feeding frenzy as the evening progressed. This left us free to play by the river then get dinner cooked on my trusty Solo stove, Kerr alternating between his bridge building and keeping me supplied with twigs.

All the fun of a campfire without leaving a trace
If we had a river in our back garden, he’d do the dishes every night

After dinner, we did a bit of scouting further up the glen for future spots and made note of a lovely sheltered spot under a big tree, similar to the one we had used a couple of years back. Next time here might be with his little sister too! Kerr was still wanting to wander around once darkness fell, so we went wildlife spotting in the dark.

Another warty friend

Finally he was persuaded to head to bed – no need for stories tonight, just a bit of chat and out for the count for the both of us.

Sleepier than he looks

We woke to the sound of rain on the tent, which I’d heard several times during the night as I regularly woke. This was supposed to dissipate, so we lay there snoozing and chatting until it eased off a bit and Kerr needed a pee.

Tent drying in the wind

He was straight back to the river whilst I got a brew on and prepared our continental breakfast. I went down to the river bed to bring him back to eat when I saw something hovering around his head. It was at this point that I realised the wind had suddenly dropped to nothing, which meant the invasion was about to commence! We trotted over to the tent to keep the midges off our scent and ate our pastries on the move or standing near the smoke from the stove. The sun was making brief appearances, which actually helped a bit, as well as drying the tent further, so before long we were packing up our kit and getting ready to head back.

Neither of us relished the thought of going back over that new path again, so I decided to take the less used high track on the eastern side of the glen. I’d not taken Kerr over this before to avoid the extra climbing, but it seemed like much of a muchness now and at least it would be new to him. It also had the added bonus of a deeper ford right next to our campsite, which Kerr enjoyed watching me wince across barefoot whilst he took the most circuitous route possible.

Think he did that crossing about 4 times

After the crossing it’s a steady climb up the flank of the hill, with ever-improving views back down towards Beinn a Bhuird.

Older but much easier riding on this track
Only slightly higher than the diversion path on the other side of the glen
Father and son plus bikes
Speeding down the glen
Thankfully, we will soon able to go to the barbers
Bonus burn crossings always welcome

It was a pleasant ride back, with no need to hurry and all distractions entertained. As we reached the end of the glen, I diverted us back to the foot bridge near the punch bowl. This led to a sideways topple in some thick mud just before the cottage with slight histrionics about a muddy shoe, which were not entertained in the slightest by me, by now immune to lockdown tantrums after a looong 4 months of home schooling and working. The rock slabs below the bridge looked inviting in the sun, so we hopped down and lay there eating lunch in the now lovely weather.

Final stretch
Feeling relaxed
Feeling energetic

Well fed and solar recharged, we resumed our ride down a wee bit of singletrack to re-join the estate track that took us over the pristine new bridge and back to the car park. Hopefully this won’t become a rare occurrence in future if we can keep on top of things, as this type of exposure to the outdoors makes a massive difference to a child’s mental wellbeing and I don’t want to be denying this to the kids any more than I have to.

Pine needles below the Punchbowl
I take a perverse pleasure in nearly always having the oldest car in the car park

BAM 2020 – April, May, June

Not much to say for these three months. The COVID-19 lockdown was in effect and I was complying with the rules, regardless of the complete lack of risk to others my sleeping in a ditch in the middle of nowhere would constitute. Luckily, there was a temporary relaxing of the rules on the Bearbones forums, allowing for a ride from the house followed by a bivy in your own back garden.

For April, I made a pretence of packing my bike and going for a ride late on the last day of the month, before slinging up the hammock at the bottom of the garden.

Lack of time and enthusiasm limited me to a ride round the nearby forest
Chose the hammock over the nearby bothy

After weeks of sickeningly good weather and no sign of the lockdown easing, I reluctantly set out on my May bivy as late as possible on the last day of the month. I rode a bit further on yet another balmy pleasant night and slept in the tent that I had set up as a bird hide distraction for the kids in the garden.

Out the back of Hazelhead Park
Another beautiful night under lockdown
Found a nice new trail on the city outskirts
Plush accommodation a little closer to the house
Quick blast round the block to wake me up before work

I couldn’t quite believe I was going to have to do another garden bivy for June, but I don’t think I’m special, so I stuck to the rules. I strung this one out a bit, with a late night ride round the forests, followed by riding to work in the morning to deal with an emergency and then an extended ride home.

18 hours of daylight and I still end up riding in the dark
Dusted off my old impregnable Outdoor Designs Assault bivy bag
Approximately 1.5 metres from the back door
Sight-seeing on the way to work
Kincorth gravel
Flowery fields south of Aberdeen on the way home

Thinking back, I realised I was getting closer to the house each month as the lockdown continued. If I wasn’t allowed out in July, I would end up on the couch and my run would be over!

BAM 2020 – March

With the panic about COVID-19 beginning to really ramp up, I decided I would bring forward my bivy from it’s usual last-gasp position at the end of the month, to a Wednesday night barely two weeks into March. It was just a precaution, but the lockdown that was enforced the following weekend proved it to be uncharacteristically prescient of me! Still dealing with my knee issues, I was planning another short distance night out, this time using the Commando, as I’d be riding the cliff paths to the South of Aberdeen.

I loaded up the luxuries such as a stove, teabags and milk and just went for a drybag on top of the pannier rack, which I still haven’t bothered to take off since last summer. The forecast was good for a dry night so I only had my Borah Snowyside eVent bivy bag as a shelter, plus my nice toasty Mountain Hardwear Phantom Flame sleeping bag as a treat. I did my usual stock up a the Co-op and was on my way shortly before 11pm. I didn’t have far to go, so no big deal as I took my usual commute route to work along the Deeside Way. As I cut through Duthie Park the smell of illegal substances wafted in the air from some local ne’er -do-wells – never mind, I’d soon be taking in refreshing sea breezes! I followed the river right down to the harbour and made towards the Torry Battery – unfortunately the pleasant ride around the head is blocked off whilst they destroy Nigg Bay with a new harbour, so I had to cut off along the edge of the golf course to climb and drop into the bay.

Grainy view of Aberdeen Harbour

I slowly climbed back up the other side, eventually joining the nice bike path that parallels the coast road. Almost immediately, I nipped through a gate to join the cliff top path proper, which is a lovely singletrack ride without any real exposure – I normally do it on the road bike, so it was even more relaxing on 29+ tyres! I’ve been scoping this area out every time I’ve been through for a nice spot, so it was really just a question of recognising one of them in the dark.

Probably somewhere to the left?

I reached my favoured spot quite quickly and bundled myself and the bike down the steep grassy slope to a flattish area below. I settled on a spot next to a large rock that would give a bit of shelter from the Westerlies that were due to blow overnight.

Handy rock with built-in cooking shelf

I got my sleeping kit laid out on the long cushioned horizontal grass and turned my attentions to a brew. The rock behind me had a perfect shelf for setting up the meths stove – unfortunately I had left the miniscule pot stand sitting in the garage! I resorted to just holding my mug at the optimum height above the flame – annoying, but workable. Tea made and butties eaten, I messed about for a few minutes trying to take night shots, but the wind was quite chilling and I really needed some sleep before work the following day, so I reluctantly turned in.

Bit of a rush job, but you get the idea

Once I was encased in my layers, it became apparent that this wasn’t going to work. The unbelievable slippiness of the bivy bag’s bottom layer had me sliding off the sleep mat almost the minute I climbed inside. Unless I wanted to spend the night working my way to the edge of the cliffs, something had to give. Luckily, taking my winter bag meant I could get away without the extra wind protection, so I just slept out in the open – the grass around me was also bone dry, so no real issue doing this. Annoyance dealt with, I rolled over and went to sleep, setting a mental alarm to wake up before sunrise so I could try and get pictures.

Early morning peek from my bag
Plenty of time to enjoy sunrise, as i was about 2km from work!
Bivy bags are over-rated
Absorbing more rays

After lazing about for an hour or so, I roused myself for a snack and some pictures, before deciding to pack up and go. Being so close to work, there was no way I was going straight in, so I headed South instead of North, to follow the cliff path all the way to Cove. It’s a lovely wee ride, especially when not on road slicks. I turned off before going all the way down to Cove Bay, as I couldn’t be bothered with the steep road climb out. I cut through Cove and crossed the busy dual carriageway to follow the pavement along to one of the stranded back roads left perfect for cycling since the AWPR completion.

Ready for my commute
Quick heft back to the path
Beautiful morning
Cove in sight
Nipped under the railway

I wasn’t quite ready to roll straight downhill to work however, so I took a left near the end of Kincorth Hill, finding a grassy path to my right which lead to a winding way through the abundant gorse. This way will probably distribute a generous amount of leg punctures in the summer. Eventually I popped out onto the main tracks and whizzed along the gravel to the end of the reserve, with just a quick stop at the viewpoint, before mixing it on the dual carriageway to get me to work.

Following my nose across Kincorth Hill
Last view before getting the nose to the grindstone

I did this bivy mainly as a precaution in case any restrictions came in to limit movement outdoors, but turned out to have impeccable timing as the restrictions came into place a few days afterwards. Time will tell whether I have to take advantage of the relaxed BAM rules letting me do a back garden bivy for April!

BAM 2020 – February


My usual tactic of leaving my BAM until the last minute afforded an unusual opportunity in February – to bivy on a night that wouldn’t normally exist. So, at around half ten on the 29th February I headed out into the windy night to find myself a bivy spot, via my usual Co-Op stock up. I had a vague idea of a spot I wanted to try out at the edge of Durris Forest, so I made my way along the quiet roads to Drumoak before crossing the Dee and starting to climb up to the forest. I was taking very easy, thanks to my broken knees, but soon enough I neared the high point of the road, flanked by snow along the verges. The temperature was dropping rapidly and the wind was getting stronger, so I needed to find myself a sheltered spot. I hopped over the wall into a wooded area I’d always had earmarked for a bivy, thanks to its sunrise facing location. Once I’d identified my tree candidates I slung up the tarp quickly, as I could feel a light rain building up and wanted to get my hammock up under cover. I kept it nice and low and angled the side to keep off any sideways rain that could sneak under the cover. Once done, I poured myself a tea, ate a scone and went to bed.

Safe and dry

The wind was blowing a gale all night, but the combination of the stone wall nearby and the tarp placement kept me and even the kit on the floor below nice and dry. It did get a lot colder than predicted, so it took a bit of coaxing to get me out of my bag for a morning pee.

Peeking at the sunrise
No rain in the morning

I finished off my tea and scones and got things packed up, ready for an easy downhill ride home.

The sun eventually popped up
Wintry up here
Cold start

As I jumped over the wall to drop back to the road, I realised that all the surface water had frozen solid overnight – luckily this was before I tried to hop on the bike and speed away!

Slippy start

I took it easy down the hill to join my usual route towards the Lairhillock junction and then made my way home on a mix of the usual roads.

Not as slippy as it looks
Thawing out before getting home