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