I felt like I wanted to do something a bit bigger for June, ideally maximising all that lovely daylight. Inspiration came in the shape of an email from Restrap, exhorting riders to do a Solstice Century and earn a badge. Always a sucker for earning a free badge I will never get round to sewing into a cap, I signed up and got thinking. As much as I’d love to do something more exotic, the travel time to get somewhere away from home always reverts me to riding from the house to minimise domestic disruption. Luckily Aberdeen has plenty of interesting options once the ride distance goes beyond a hundred miles!
My last century for the winter solstice had taken me north, but I fancied heading out to do a loop taking in Glenshee, which I have gone over several times in the past, but always heading south. This time I would head over to Angus and along before turning north to tackle Glenshee from the steeper side. I finally headed out on Saturday night at 7pm, knowing I still had lots of daylight to play with, despite having to double back for repairs after my brake pads fell out at the first set of traffic lights! Unfortunately, the weather had also gone downhill from the beautiful conditions we’d been seeing earlier in the week. so I was surrounded by warm greyness as I climbed up and over the Netherley road to Stonehaven.
I’d gone slightly off course to stock up on food at the M&S in Peterculter before climbing over the Netherley road, completely forgetting I would pass right by a Co-Op in Stonehaven. Never mind, I’m sure the weight training would do me some good! I climbed away from the coast on the back roads, with Fetteresso Forest on my right. Normally, I would take the route past Drumtochty to avoid traffic, but it was unlikely to be an issue at this time of night. I wanted to make as quick progress as possible, so I dived down through Auchenblae and joined the B road for Fettercairn as early as possible. This was the right choice, as it was smooth and fast and I barely saw a single car.
After resisting the temptation to stop at the pub, my next waypoint was Edzell and I rolled along at decent speed, though I still had a fair way to go to reach my tentative bivy area.
Time dragged on as I headed westwards, impatiently waiting for the junction I would take to climb a hill and get some sleep in the trees at the top. I’d thought of not bivying and riding through the night, but then I’d be a BAM down for no good reason. I pushed ever onwards into the dark, finally reaching the turn off I wanted some time after midnight. I’d prevaricated over what I was going to sleep in all day, eventually deciding on just my Exped hammock and light sleeping bag. I’d toyed with the idea of my SOL bivy and a warm jacket, but it added up to practically the same weight (More If I took a mat) and wouldn’t be as comfortable. I got the hammock slung up in the trees just over the crest of the hill and settled in after some food and drink.
I slept okay, thanks to the hill deflecting the worst of the wind, a lack of midges and the luxury of a sleeping bag. My faith in the weather forecast paid off and I didn’t need to pack up and go due to any late night showers. I was up and about around 4am, though my hopes of getting some nice sunrise shots were dashed by the continued cloud cover. Never mind, at least I was warm, dry and slightly rested! I hopped back over the fence to rejoin the road, which would drop me quickly to my onward route.
From this point onwards the route was going to trend upwards all the way to the ski centre, so I knuckled down and headed up Glenisla, at one point distracted by a hare that insisted on running up the road ahead of me for a good mile or so before hunkering down in an adjacent field fully in my view. It was interesting to take this stretch at a more sedate pace, as I’ve always flown down here pretty quickly in the opposite direction, aided by gravity.
The deserted roads were a joy to ride on at this hour and I eventually emerged onto the A93, where the climbing would soon start in earnest. Although this was supposed to be all uphill, it felt fine for the time being, though I knew what was coming in the last stretch to the ski centre. It was around 0700 by now and I was seeing the odd car coming along, but still peaceful enough to feel the whole road was mine to enjoy.
Finally the climb began to ramp up properly and I settled in for a tough slog. I’ve only ever come down this side of Glenshee, but I knew it was a lot steeper than the northern side by the speeds I’ve hit during the descent! It very gradually gets tougher and tougher, right up to the last agonising drag over the top, where I paused to gather my thoughts and alveoli.
Despite the fact I was hot and sweaty after the climb, I stuck on an extra layer for the descent, which was going to go on a while! My reward for the steeper climb should be a longer descent towards Braemar, where I planned to stop for second breakfast. I went into a nice aero tuck and flew down the first section, eventually resorting to casually turning the pedals as the gradient eased. Soon enough, I reached the wee bridge onto the old military road, which would make for a nicer entry to the village than the main road.
As I reached sleepy Braemar the sun was warming things up nicely, so I basked on a bench for a while, working my way through my treats from the Co-Op, before availing myself of the toilets nearby.
I wasn’t going to hang about for the rest of the ride, as it was all trending downhill and I wanted to be home handy for taking the kids swimming. I stuck to the A93 the whole way, as it never got too busy until I passed Banchory and it was good to ride on a road that wasn’t mainly constructed out of potholes for a change.
I arrived home a few minutes after midday, feeling great for my little adventure – 153 miles in the bag and only a morning missed with the family. It’s not a bad compromise I suppose!
I bided my time through May, waiting for the weather to warm up enough to let me take my best cycling buddy Kerr along with me. Predictably, that was the last weekend in May, but the forecast was good enough and so off we headed for Braemar on Saturday straight after lunch. As usual, I had no choice in our destination as Kerr was determined to return to “His” camp spot in Glen Quoich. Since he was a year bigger, I figured I would make him work for it this time out. We parked up at Invercauld, with the aim of riding along the Dee to Glen Quoich and then climbing up and along the high eastern side of the glen.
The weather was warm and sultry, just right for shorts and t-shirt, though the first steep climb away from the Linn of Quoich got us hot and sweaty. Luckily I had brought Irn Bru to use as bribery along the way, as well as a pack of Maoam in his bar bag!
We had left later than I would have liked as usual, but I made sure there was no rush other than needing to get the dinner on before he got too hungry. We undulated along above the glen, my only real worry being the level of the river crossing once we reached the end of this track. We had come back this way the previous year, but it had been later in the summer and the warm weather, plus lots of snow still on the hills meant it could be pretty high.
As we dropped to the ford at the Quoich Water, my fears proved well founded, as there were a couple of sections I really didn’t want Kerr walking through unaided. His lip started to wobble at the thought of not getting to our camp site, tantalisingly in view across the water, so I did a bit of scouting round for our options. By dropping off the side of the track a little way back from the ford, there was a wider option available which should go if we were careful. I had to abandon thoughts of crossing barefoot as usual to make sure I had good purchase for looking after Kerr. After two trips for the bikes and a final one for Kerr, who found the whole thing a great laugh and had the advantage of a pair of Crocs to keep his shoes dry, we were finally at our camp site.
The massive exodus of post- lockdown campers to the mountains luckily hadn’t extended as far as Glen Quoich, so we found our favourite spot uninhabited. After receiving some sporadic help with the tent pitching, I left Kerr to play at the river bed whilst I got everything else sorted in camp.
Kerr was ecstatic to find that his stone causeway had somehow survived the winter and we wound the evening down messing about at the water’s edge and constructing a cooling area for our drinks once our luxurious macaroni cheese dinner had been dispatched.
Time was getting on so we decided to turn in for a bit to get cosy, before another night excursion to see what was about and about. As it turned out, it was neither of us – after plenty of one way chat from Kerr, we both drifted off to sleep, with the outer door still held open to let the breeze in on a pleasantly mild night.
We woke early and dozed around for a bit until Kerr decided he was hungry, meaning I had to get myself up and shuffle around our campsite barefoot, as my shoes were still propped up on the nearby tree to dry in the steadily warming morning sun. I sent Kerr to collect the milk from my fridge, but he returned gleefully informing me it had dried out and that we should have stuck with his original spot, to which he had moved it to cool again after being heated up all morning.
We whiled away the morning with cups of tea for me and general splashing around in water for Kerr, with the sun beating down and a complete lack of midges, despite the low winds. All good things must come to and end, however, so I started packing up the tent and kit, ready for our return. As usual, Kerr asked if we could come back and camp out for more than one night next time – he never seems happier than when he’s hanging out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by nature and I vowed to try and do this more often.
To get back to the car, I decided Kerr was going to get a bit more adventure. Rather than head back the way we came, we would continue up the glen to cross the Quoich Water much higher up, allowing us to link onto the top of Gleann an t-Slugain. Distance wise, it’s a shortcut, but effort wise, not at all. Once we got past the river-eroded parts of the path, there was a great surface for riding on for a good while. This was a marked improvement on what was there 15 years ago on my last passage.
After crossing a smaller burn, we had a steep push up onto some more rooty singletrack which wound its way through the trees. Despite it being a constant uphill, Kerr just kept powering along, with his wee fat tyres gripping their way out of every dip and rise. We just had the one mishap, with a pedal strike on a steep camber leaving him wrapped up in his bike upside down. I gave him a bit of a break and some more sweets before coaxing him back into action. Luckily, the surfaced track reappeared, which meant a bit less shuttling of the two bikes on the dodgy bits for me and a feeling that he would soon be at the river crossing whose proximity he had been nagging me about for the last half hour.
Finally, the ford was in sight and we dropped down steeply to appraise it. Whilst the levels weren’t too bad, I opted to keep my shoes on again and walk Kerr and the bikes over separately. Job done, we sat on the far side eating our lunch and letting my shoes dry out in the sun.
Once fed, more pushing interspersed with riding brought us up to meet the track from The Sneck. I had promised Kerr a constant downhill from here, which was kind of true, though my memory of the condition of the upper track down Gleann an t-Slugain didn’t quite tie in with reality. It was pretty steep and loose at times, with Kerr sensibly opting to walk his bike down the bits that made him nervous.
The temperature ramped up as we descended, so we stopped at a mini ford and started splashing about and topping up on water, now that Kerr had finished his emergency Irn Bru ration. We were briefly interrupted by the passage of a Mountain Rescue Land Rover as we made sure the bikes were out of the way. They weren’t for chatting, but hopefully nothing too serious had occurred on the hill.
Eventually, we rolled on to enjoy a speedy ride down the rest of the glen, Kerr happily chatting and veering around the track as he saw fit. The more adventurous route home had used up plenty of the day and we arrived back at Invercauld almost exactly 24 hours after we left. Kerr was right, we need to get a multi day trip organised – though I imagine his version has more messing about in rivers and a lot less cycling than mine!
Finally, the latest lockdown had ended and I needed to sleep somewhere different. As usual my time was scarce, so I headed out on a Friday night to go to a nice spot I had been with the kids just a couple of weeks before, whilst keeping to the 5 mile limit from the Aberdeen City boundary. As I rolled west the skies looked gloomy and threatening, but I put my faith in the forecast that I might be able to dodge the rain on the way to my spot and possibly even see the sky in the morning!
I used the Deeside Way to get me to Drumoak and crossed the now pedestrian bridge and started climbing up to Durris. I’ve had a couple of bivvies round here in the past, but wanted to ride through the forest to reach the point where the Elsick Mounth route leaves the trees at the far side. I’d had a lovely picnic with the kids here and had been meaning to try it out for a good while.
I could have brought a bivy bag and slept on the grass outside the trees, but I’d gone for my hammock instead to keep me off the sodden ground, also opting to put the tarp up for once as rain was due overnight. I settled in with a cuppa and a cake before bed time, hoping to see some sort of sunrise in the morning.
With my winter bag and sleep mat in the hammock I was nice and cosy, bar the odd wrestling match to keep the mat in place, due to it being far too long to sit comfortably in the Exped hammock. I’m not sure if the rain ever showed up in earnest, but at least I had bothered to be prepared for it for once. When the sun started to rise, it was still a bit dull to be worth getting up for pictures, so it was a while before I ventured out of my bed for breakfast and packing up. Emerging from the trees for a proper look, I realised there had been a hard frost overnight, with the grass I would have bivvied on frozen solid. Feeling smug about my life choices, I packed up and took some pictures in the now beaming morning sun.
To get home, I just needed to drop down the Elsick Mounth towards Stonehaven before doubling back on the tarmac for a pleasantly quiet ride towards home over the Netherley Road. It was a short excursion, but much appreciated, as was second breakfast when I got in!
I couldn’t quite believe that this was coming round again, but here I was, kipping in the back garden as a poor substitute for a proper bivvy. I could have maybe squeezed in a New Year bivvy before the COVID restrictions came down again, but I missed that ship. As with last year I’m lumping the garden bivvies into one blog post.
I held on for a few weeks just in case a miracle occurred and I was allowed out, but no. On a stunning cold night, I went out for a late 11pm ride around the rapidly freezing roads nearby before coming home and settling down in my SOL bivy bag on the back step I had used for my last garden bivy in 2020.
Not quite down to the wire as usual, I even did my pre-bivy ride by daylight, thanks to having the Friday afternoon off. Another cold clear night required only a bivy bag as shelter.
March was a work night bivvy, which isn’t really a hassle when you’re sleeping in your back garden during Work From Home. Still, I fancied a decent ride so I did my out ride first thing in the morning, taking the mountain bike up and over Brimmond Hill just at dawn on a beautiful day. Payback was a ride through the mist the following morning!
The three months had dragged on a bit, especially with people only a few miles west having the whole of Aberdeenshire as their playground, but the garden BAMs helped a little. I still couldn’t wait for late April to roll around for the chance of a proper forest ditch bivvy!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!