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.
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.
I finished off my tea and scones and got things packed up, ready for an easy downhill ride home.
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!
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.
Getting my October bivy in nice and early for me left me with plenty of time to think about my November effort. I was hanging on for a weekend when someone could come with me, but with Jon and Brian too busy to manage it, I had to bite the bullet and sort something out. The first step was to book a train ticket to Kyle of Lochalsh for Friday after work.
As usual, I’d been up late the night before, doing all the stuff I had been meaning to do to the bike for ages. I swapped my Hunt front wheel for my Shimano dynamo one, as I’d be in darkness for the majority of the ride. This also prompted me to finally admit defeat and fit my winter mudguards before noticing that my Schwalbe Pro One rear tyre was worn through to the carcass in a few spots. Probably not the best idea to add another 200 miles onto it, so I stole the back wheel off my commuter too, swapping the single cog for a cassette. By the time i was done fiddling, it was getting on for 2am! Never mind, I could snooze on the train.
I had a bit of a wait in Inverness for my second train, so whiled away the time in a coffee shop, before jumping the train to Kyle. Eventually I started to pass stations I’d be cycling past tomorrow and the temptation to jump out and get a head-start. As I passed Achnasheen, I scoped my most likely bivy spot for the night and it looked lovely and clean in the darkness, which was good to know.
As soon as I got going, I felt how cold it was. The forecast had been for low temperatures, but my GPS soon started reading temperatures around -6. This was at sea level, so climbing up to Achnasheen should be interesting! I climbed out of town and began the rollercoaster of a road along to Plockton, Stromeferry and eventually Strathcarron. Despite the cold, there were no issues with ice, bar one frozen trickle across a steep climb that warranted a dismount and some Bambi action to navigate.
Once I turned up the glen, I knew at least I had a steady gradient to keep me warm without slowing me down too much. I wasn’t planning on going any further than Achnasheen, so I was glad to see the roundabout at the edge of the village. I went straight to the train station and over the footbridge after checking to see if the toilets were open. They were, but it didn’t really feel like staying there would constitute a bivy. The wooden shelter on the platform was immaculately clean and had a bench just wide enough for my sleep mat – hopefully keeping off the ground would compensate for the fact I only had a sleeping bag that went down to -2 degrees.
There was no time to hang about – I needed to get some layers on and get into my bag quick. I lay there eating sandwiches and drinking my ice cold Irn Bru from the seat pack. The water bottle full of Lucozade had the consistency of a slush puppy at this point, so I didn’t fancy my chances of a liquid drink in the morning. After my customary half an hour of wriggling to get my various layers of Western Mountaineering Summerlite bag, silk liner and SOL Escape bivy where they were supposed to be, I settled down for some kip. It was my usual restless night’s sleep, exacerbated by bouts of shivering as the mercury plummeted some way below the -6 I had seen before turning off my GPS.
There was no need to set an alarm, as I knew a train would pass by on the opposite platform shortly after 6am. However, some time after five I heard a van pull up at the station and the clink of the gate as someone with a bright torch started shuffling about on the platform, crunching through the thick layer of grit that covered it. He was there a while and the light kept piercing through the side window of the shelter, making me feel he was right outside. I finally figured out he was adding yet more grit to the platform, eventually coming over the bridge and approaching my home for the night. I wasn’t expecting any bother and just as he finished he took a look in and asked me if I was okay, which was preferable to being poked to see if I was a frozen corpse! It would have been sensible to just get up and make an early start on the long way home, but I didn’t really want to miss riding the more picturesque end of the ride in a bit of daylight. Instead I half-dozed/shivered my way through another hour or so, before reluctantly sitting up to start eating and psyching myself up to leave the sleeping bag after the scheduled train had passed through.
As I started getting my self sorted, I decided to stick with the wool socks I had slept in as they were a bit thinner than the new winter cycling socks I had been trying the night before and I needed a bit more wriggle room in my Giro Alpineduro boots which I had had wisely supplemented with some windproof overshoes for this ride. I kept my lovely Montane Hydrogen Direct jacket on as I carried the bike back over the bridge and popped into the mens toilets to shed some weight and get my cycling layers sorted. I begrudgingly packed away the fluffy Polartec Alpha lined jacket and stuck my waterproof on as a wind stopping layer over my Brevet insulated gilet that has seen a lot of action since I got it in a sale 3 years back. Once I had liberally applied some chamois cream, I was ready to find out how well I would keep warm at faster speed for the next flattish section. As I joined the main road, I was already shivering violently and jerking the handlebars around, but I knew that would pass after a bit of pedalling my way towards Garve. I paused every now and then to try and take a decent picture, slightly hampered by the fact my phone was frozen solid and needed thawing out under my layers between shots to stop it shutting down. I had more electrical woes further along, when I tried changing gear and got nothing from my Di2 lever. A slight panic set in, but I was pretty sure the battery was good, as I’d checked the level the previous night. Then I remembered, I’d wrenched on the right hand lever a ways back after noticing it had worked its way inwards. That, coupled with the bar bag leaning up on the cables had probably popped the wire out of its socket. Sure enough, I tried the left hand lever and all was good. The beauty of the 1x setup was that I had reprogrammed the levers so they both controlled the rear derailleur, meaning I didn’t have to stop and fanny about fixing my usual one.
Despite the low temperatures, ice wasn’t a problem at all due to the dry weather in advance of the cold snap. One good thing about using these non-tubeless weighty wheels was that I had fitted my old Continental GP 4 seasons, which have an uncanny ability to feel grippy in conditions where they just shouldn’t work. I reached Garve without too much drama. I would rather have done the next stretch to Contin earlier to avoid the inevitable impatient traffic, so I just got my head down and tried to bang it out as quickly as possible.
Contin was reached without too many early morning drivers trying to kill me and I managed to resist going into Contin Stores, as I had plenty to eat for now. I took a right just outside the village and left the busy road to make my way down to Muir of Ord on some quieter roads. When I reached the town, I couldn’t resist a Co-Op restock, mainly to get myself some drinks that were in actual liquid form, as my water bottle contained a giant orange ice lolly since last night. I got going again and started making good time along the road out of town, before I got the feeling I was going wrong. Sure enough, I’d missed an off course warning from my GPS and was headed to Beauly at speed. I briefly considered just carrying on and getting to Inverness that way, but sense prevailed and I did a u-turn to rejoin my planned route, which should be much quieter roads along the Beauly Firth..
North Kessock arrived promptly and I took a side track that climbed up to the A9 so I could cross the bridge. As I rolled across, I was bemused by wide icy strips the whole way along the bike path, before I realised it was caused by the shadow of the fence keeping the sun from thawing it. Around this time, I started thinking about topping up the chamois cream whilst I was still in relative comfort. Unfortunately, after some frantic rooting around my bar bag I came to the realisation that the tub I’d brought was still sitting on the toilet window ledge in Achnasheen – bummer.
I made my way hastily through Inverness by the same route I’d used for my Forsinard to Aberdeen ride, resisting the temptation to sidetrack to McDonalds this time. Instead I availed myelf of a hot chicken curry pie and a cup of tea from a petrol station Spar en route to Culloden.
I used the bike path/pavement on my way round Culloden, rather than mix it with the cars and feel compelled to ride faster up the hill than I wanted. I took the usual right turn and span my way up another long steady hill, noticing some people who appeared to be waiting for a lift up at the top. As I got closer, I began to have suspicions, which were confirmed when I got a better look at the lankiest member of the group – it was Stu, Jenny and the kids! Every time I do a long ride out this way, I’m always tempted to pop in for a cuppa, but resist, knowing I’d never get going again. Luckily, they’d beaten me to the punch by viewing my SPOT tracker and Jen was holding a steaming hot cuppa and some shortbread! It was such a lovely thought, I was delighted to hang around for a natter before dragging myself away, knowing there were a lot of hours of riding still to be done. I had a quick icy descent to the River Nairn, followed by a steep climb up to NCR 7, which I would follow all the way to Boat of Garten. I remembered from last time that it was basically uphill all the way to Carrbridge and took much longer than you’d expect, so I was under no pretence that this would be over quickly. It was still pleasant cycling however on quiet roads in the afternoon light.
I’d been hoping to get into the hills above Nethybridge in time for sunset, but the light was dying as I eventually flew down the hill into Carrbridge. As I reached maximum velocity, I heard a metallic ping under my tyres, as though I’d run over a bit of debris. My spidey-sense thought differently however, so I ground to a halt to see if anything had fallen off the bike. It looked intact, but the extra throw of the front brake lever told me all I needed to know – I had ejected a brake pad! I made a half-hearted attempt to find it, but had no chance, so I rolled up to the pavement outside the village shop and upended the bike to do a pad swap.
The daylight had really died during this brief mechanical, so I switched on my rear flasher and front dynamo before making my way quickly to Boat of Garten, followed by Nethybridge. I didn’t stop at any shops, as I had enough food to get me to Tomintoul, if not the whole way home.
I now had a whole bunch of climbing coming up and it was getting properly cold again, but at least I knew it well enough that there wouldn’t be any surprises. After a wee thawing rest stop and indoor picnic in the visitor centre I slowly climbed away from Nethybridge, which feels like a second home to me for all the times we stay there with the kids. I winched up the last evil steep bit to join the A939, which I anticipated wouldn’t be too busy at this time of year and evening. My knees had been feeling creaky most of the day, but I did okay and soon found myself entering Tomintoul, where I had a decision to make. Stop and get some hot food, or roll through and focus on finishing. I paused at the village centre, still in two minds, but eventually convinced myself that some hot soup and a pot of tea would see me right in the long run. I went in the pub next to the new tourist office and ordered, before stripping down a few layers to let the warmth reach me. I started fiddling with my phone as you do and saw a message from Yvonne telling me the weather was horrendous and I shouldn’t try and finish tonight. The thought of stopping hadn’t occurred to me since some low points in the morning, but asking if they had a room at the inn was slightly tempting now I was sampling indoor life again. Instead, I gave Yvonne a ring to reassure her and made sure all my clothes were nice and warm from the radiator before prepping to leave after my hot refreshments.
In theory, with warm food inside me and warm layers around me, I shouldn’t have suffered once I was outside. In practice, I was shivering uncontrollably by the time I got to my bike and things didn’t improve from there as I swerved my way along the road, looking like I’d had about ten pints in the pub. On leaving the village I had a long steady uphill which slowly got my blood pumping and the shivering suppressed. Up next was the biggest climb of the ride, up and over the Lecht, which definitely promised to warm me up! It’s a tough climb, but nothing like as bad as coming over the opposite way. Eventually, the lights of the ski centre came into view and I rattled over the cattle grid before swerving off into the snowy car park to get some more food on board and put on some serious layers for the descent to come.
No time for messing about, I packed away my gilet and brought out my Montane Polartec jacket. I rejoined the tarmac and started off down the plunging road in the darkness. My dynamo light only pierced so far, so I dragged my brakes a bit to make sure I wasn’t going too fast if a rogue patch of ice took me out. I did let it rip on the bit I knew was dead straight, whizzing up the re-climb with a vague idea of what was ahead. I very tentatively descended the switchbacks, before normal cycling resumed, past Corgarff and down towards Strathdon. As I reached the junction where I had originally planned to take a right and climb over towards Balmoral before riding home along Deeside, I revised my plans. Since the Lecht, the road had got increasingly treacherous, with patches of frozen snow and bands of ice where the day’s thaw had refrozen across it. I decided to head back along Strathdon instead, so I could gradually lose height and hopefully get clearer roads – at the very least, it would get me home sooner if progress was significantly slowed by ice. It meant I wouldn’t hit my 200 mile target, but as I’d originally planned to do this ride on a long summer day, I wasn’t too disappointed in myself!
I loaded up the route I had taken down from Forsinard on my previous 200 miler and started to head eastwards. I could have just stayed on the main road all the way to Alford, as it was pretty quiet, but thought I’d stick to the back lanes again as it was more direct. Temperatures were hovering around -8 at times, so I kept my big jacket on, which was surprisingly comfortable to ride in – I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do that in a down jacket without feeling very clammy. The fluffy Primaloft lining works like a very lightweight Buffalo with a full zip, but I’m yet to put it through it’s paces in a cold downpour to see if it matches the pile/pertex combo.
Luckily the ice wasn’t too big an issue and I was able to maintain decent progress, bar a couple of stops for snacks and almost liquid drinks from my back pockets. As Aberdeen approached, I realised my mental state was deteriorating when I rode through Garlogie massively confused because I thought I should be in Dunecht! Realising where I was was a nice bonus, as it was much closer to home. The last few miles from Westhill were done very cautiously, partly due to my knackered knees and partly down to random patches of ice on the bike path. I managed to navigate them without a cruel final mishap and rolled in about 0030, where I commenced quietly scrounging about for a mountain of food before attempting to watch Match of the Day without passing out.
September flew by as usual, so I was looking at another last minute job, after not making the most of the beautiful September bank holiday weather whilst up at Clachtoll beach with the kids for a few days. Instead, I set out on a soggy Saturday night from Aberdeen, armed with a hammock and a prayer. Leaving it late had its advantages today, as it the rain was due to peter out in the late evening, which proved to be the case. Even so, I opted to take my Marin Nicasio SS commuting singlespeed as it was the only bike currently armed with full mudguards.
I had a loose idea in my head of where I was headed, so I rolled along North Deeside Road, reaching the posh M&S petrol station just in time to get myself some treats for dinner, including hog roast sausage rolls! I dropped onto the Deeside Way at Peterculter and as I hit the short offroad stretch before Drumoak, became aware of some George Ezra being played at max volume up ahead. I thought it might be a party going on at one of the isolated houses coming up, but they were as quiet as usual, so it must have been coming from somewhere in the village nearby. as I reached the green near the river, I turned off my path and made a beeline across the sodden grass for the far corner, somehow not getting bogged down on my narrow slicks.
I jumped off as I reached the river bank and pushed the bike through some undergrowth to follow a rooty path along and under Park Bridge. Just past here, I returned to the saddle and rolled alongside the river on an estate track. I was on the lookout for a nice private spot for the hammock that would still give me a view over the river for the sunrise. After going for a while running the usual drill of shining my light into the undergrowth, I found a sheltered spot with a couple of ideal hammock candidates and got myself set up.
As it was such a short ride out here, I could have a leisurely drink with my food for once without feeling like it was ridiculously late. The thumping music was still drifting across even this far away, though mercifully it must have packed in around midnight as I don’t remember it keeping me awake. Another thing helping me sleep was my new Klymit Hammock V, once I’d figured out the clever inflation method. This was a very welcome birthday present from Yvonne and will hopefully save me from some rather frigid nights over the winter!
I had my usual cuppa and a spare sausage roll for breakfast before packing up and continuing along the now grassy river bank path towards Park House.
I reached the nice fishing hut with the picnic bench that has a notice saying it’s not for plebs, or words to that effect, then took a direct track back to the Drumoak through the estate. Might take the kids along this way for a play by the river some time.
I took a slightly less direct route home to throw in a couple of hilly testers for the laden singlespeed, which I got up without too much drama before arriving home in time to play with the recently woken kids.
August went by in a blur of school summer holidays and a very soggy break in the Lake District. I had taken some kit with me in case a bivy opportunity presented itself, but being the fair weather camper I am, ended up looking at the 31st as being my last chance to keep my run going. It wasn’t a work night, at least, but I was covering on-call as a last minute favour, so wherever I stopped would have to have 4G reception and not be too far from town.
I hurriedly threw a route together on Saturday afternoon which would tick off a few VVE squares out Sauchen way and had a couple of potential bivy spots to explore. In the evening, it was the same old routine and I rolled out just after half nine for my customary Co-Op food stock. The days of heading out before sun down were long gone, so I had my lights on from the off as I rolled along the Westhill bike path. I didn’t waste any time on complications and just headed straight for Dunecht next along the main road, which was nice and quiet at this time of night. Eventually I left the main road just before Sauchen, to do a quick out and back near Cluny Castle and claim another grid square. I was keeping an eye out for any bivy spots in the woods, but it felt too populated and was mostly fenced off, so I kept on with my planned route.
I started heading South from here and had a spot that I was aiming for below Corennie Forest. Not long after, I started to feel impatient as I really just wanted to get my head down for the night. I was scanning ahead on my Garmin to see I had another 2km to go, when I realised I was passing a nice heathery wood to my left. I checked my phone, saw it had reception and then hoicked the bike over the containing wall to find myself a couple of suitable trees for the hammock. The land rose steeply under the trees and I wasn’t far from the top of a hill, which would have afforded me views of the East in the morning. However the noise of the wind dissuaded me from this as I was nicely sheltered where I was and the hammock definitely gets chilly in the wind!
Once I was pitched, I got my jacket on and sat in the hammock for some food and drink, before succumbing to temptation and watching the start of Match of the Day to check how Liverpool got on. When I turned in for the night, rather than get in the sleeping bag, I zipped it right down to just leave a box for my feet and opened the rest out as a blanket. It seemed to work pretty well, rather than wasting all that down compressed beneath me.
I let the sunrise wake me up, before getting a bite to eat and finishing my flask of tea with my sleeping bag round my shoulders in the cool morning air. There wasn’t much time to linger, as I was trying to get home before the kids were up, so I was packed in a jiffy.
I dropped back through the trees and got rolling again home on nice quiet roads. I didn’t quite beat the kids, but did manage to send Yvonne back to bed whilst I took over the chaos!
Determined not to leave it till the very end of the month as usual, I hatched a plan for a midweek bivy on my way into work, as it looked like a nice weather window. I figured that I could leave myself around 50km from work overnight and still have time to get in without getting up ridiculously early. I wanted to tick off a few VeloViewer Explorer squares and sleep up high to try and avoid the midges, so my sights were set on Craiglich at 476m elevation.
I managed to head out a bit earlier than normal, before 8pm no less, so I had the pleasure of riding in daylight as I made my way West towards Dunecht. I used my usual mixture of back roads with additional diversions to pick off more VVE squares on the way.
I made decent time and only turned my lights on for the last 20 minutes as a precaution against any cars that might still be about. I dropped on to the main road near Queen’s View and looked for my exit onto the footpath that would take me up to the summit. I hopped over the gate and rode across a gradually steepening field till I ran out of traction on a muddy patch at the far end. I hopped over the next gate ad started pushing my way up the heavily overgrown path, with plenty of spiky gorse to keep me lively. The gradient eased and the path cleared for a while, enabling me to remount and cycle for a while till I reached my turn off. There was no chance of my slicks gripping there way of this, so I hopped off and strolled up the first steep pitch before the track imroved as I emerged from the trees onto open moorland. Next was an enjoyable spin through the heather all the way up to the summit cairn of Craiglich.
After taking a while to enjoy the panorama from this excellent vantage point, I found myself a nice patch of short grass near the large cairn to lay my sleeping gear out on. I was going for the SOL Escape bivy plus silk liner again, to see if it still did the job in cooler conditions. There was a decent breeze to keep the midges away and the shelter of the cairn would stop it from getting me too cold. I enjoyed my tea and butties whilst soaking up more sunset views, before turning in for the night after setting an alarm for nice and early, as I was a bit paranoid about being late for work.
I’d gone for the usual combo of some woolly socks, kneewarmers and my Montane Hydrogen jacket and again had no problems keeping warm, bar the odd swing in the wind sending a blast in the top of the bivy bag. After my usual restless sleep, I popped awake just after 4, in time to see the sun creeping over the horizon whilst the moon still shone.
I rolled over for a few more minutes before thinking I might as well get up and ready to go after a leisurely breakfast and more pictures.
I needed to leave handy, as I wasn’t sure what the next section held in store. There was definitely a route off the end of the hill, but I wasn’t sure if it would be suitable for a mountain bike, let alone a slicked up road bike. Only one way to find out!
I cruised along the ridge from the summit, before dismounting on a steep muddy descent and then gingerly pedalling up some narrow singletrack that eventually deposited me on a forestry track on the adjacent hill. That would have been a lovely stretch on the mountain bike, but the track ahead would be just fine for the roadie too.
I swooshed my way down the hill, trying not to get too carried away with the speed on the corners and arrived back at the tarmac in short order.
Now I just needed to get a move on and get to work, whilst ticking off some more VVE squares. I made my way towards Lumphanan, before cutting back up to Echt and heading for some quieter roads into Aberdeen to avoid the early commuters. I arrived at work with loads of time to spare, invigorated by a great night out in the hills.