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