Retro ride: 17th February 2007
One of the sections of Ralph Storer’s Scottish Hill Tracks that I had spent a particularly large amount of time studying was that which detailed the various ways to cross between Atholl and Speyside. Namely the Gaick, the Minigaig and Comyn’s road. A few years back, I had ticked off the Gaick and for some reason, I decided I was going to tackle the less cycled Minigaig in the throes of winter.
A perfect weather window looked to be appearing, so on a Saturday morning in February, I jumped into the car and headed for the Linn of Dee. The first day to my planned bothy stay looked easy enough, so I had planned to leave Aberdeen earlyish to start riding by 10am. Punctual as ever, I headed out towards White Bridge at 12:30, with a limited amount of daylight to play with.
There was no chance of crossing the Geldie with dry feet so I went for the barefoot option rather than suffer two days of wet shoes. The water was thigh deep and so cold I felt like I was about to pee myself (Hope that’s not just a personal problem).
After nearly ripping my shoulder muscle lifting the bike on another burn crossing near Bynack Lodge, the lovely Glen Tilt singletrack started to stretch out in front of me.
As I got further along the Glen, the walls steepened and the gap narrowed, leaving little space for error. I was far too busy enjoying the fact it was warm enough for shorts and t-shirt to be that bothered.
The path continued this way for a while until I spotted the singletrack coming down from Fealar lodge to my left, familiar to anyone who has ridden the Beinn a Ghlo loop.
Shortly after this, I arrived at the beautiful spot below the Falls of Tarf and had a quick lunch, resisting the temptation to just bivvy here for the night and go back the way I came the next day.
Not much further from the bridge, the land rover track began and my progress speeded considerably all the way to Blair Atholl. Unfortunately, I still had to climb into the hills to the North West and make my way to the Allt Sheicheachan bothy in the gathering darkness.
It was pretty busy, but everyone seemed to have brought coal, meaning it was nice and toasty inside for dinner. Although, no one else seemed to be wearing shorts? I went to bed thinking that if I felt rubbish the next morning and wasn’t up and ready to go by 6:30am, I’d have to leave the Minigaig and do a road ride back to Braemar.
True to form, I ignored all pledges and set off from the bothy at 9:30 the following morning after a really cold frosty night.
The ride down to Bruar lodge and up the glen seemed to fly by, making me feel better about my inability to get up early. The good mood was quicky killed by the horrendous lugging of my heavily loaded bike up the first steep pitch onto the moors. Eventually though, I reached the first cairn of many leading the way and was able to look back on what I’d conquered so far.
The path stretched out ahead of me invitingly.
The conditions were perfect as the stretches of path which may have been soggy normally were filled with frozen snow which was perfect for riding on, making progress even faster, except for the odd booby trap!
After a tough section in a small glen, the summit of the Minigaig was reached, where I paused to have a chat with a group of intrepid young French walkers, who had spent a cold night camped out lower down. I gave them directions to the bothy, as a good place to warm up and turned off the Minigaig to climb up to bag the Corbett, Leathad an Taobhain.
This would allow me to drop down north east to the bealach and climb Meall an Uilt Chreagaich, at which point I could join a land rover track and motor all the way to Glen Feshie. This drop and reclimb was hard work, but well worth it for the 7km/500m descent I got out of it. As I reached terminal velocity, a mountain hare veered on to the track and sprinted along a few feet in front for a couple of hundred metres. As I watched in wonder, he decided to put on a show and actually accelerated away from me before departing on the other side of the track.
As the track contoured round, progress was interrupted by the biggest snow field yet, which completely engulfed one side of a hill. I was halfway across when I realised it was getting a bit vertical ahead and had to rethink my approach. This involved leaning the bike over and using my pedals as makeshift crampons, to avoid a slide downhill.
After my improvised ice climbing I continued on my way, reaching the rickety bridge over the Feshie in no time.
I really didn’t have much time to savour the beauty of Glen Feshie, as I needed to make as much use of the daylight as I could, though I did stop for a chat with some bothy dwellers on my way past Ruigh Aiteachain.
I negotiated the various landslides as quickly as possible and pushed hard to reach Glen Geldie before nightfall.
Finally, I reached the river Eidart, which marked the beginning of a tough slog, once the elevated bridge had been dispatched.
Glen Geldie passed by in a darkened blur, with me having to use my instinct to follow the slight changes in contrast to see the intermittent path in front of me. I began to regret not having a proper look for my headtorch in the morning, which had mysteriously vanished form the bothy sleeping area overnight. Just as it got dark enough for me to have to use the feel of the path below my feet to guide me, I reached the blessed land rover track opposite ruined Geldie Lodge, meaning I could literally ride the rest of the route with my eyes closed. However, I thought I might do it quicker if I turned my bike light on instead, so I happily squeezed the last life out of my knees, pedalling hard through the freezing cold night back to the Linn of Dee.