Strictly Local

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.

The official boundary of fun

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.

Joining the river bank
Low temperatures mean no mud

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.

Rock solid golf course

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.

Hardier souls than I navigate the ice-laden Dee
The occasional gappy bit after the gorse escapade
Speedy but rock hard and rattly

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.

Frosty evening light on the Dee

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.

Fancy fishing hut
Running out of light
Dalmaik Kirk

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.

Heading for Leuchar Moss
Last light
Rock hard tracks and fields from Benthoul

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.

Couldn’t resist stopping for a shot of the usual pillbox

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.

Bright light heading for the bright lights

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.

Footdee beach exit

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.

Top of the golf course looking towards my office somewhere

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.

Too dark to get any cliff edge shots

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!

BAM 2020 – November

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.

Christmas lights were up
Only took a global pandemic for them to finally pedestrianise Union Street
City lights
Marine lights

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.

Skirting the tide

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.

Out of the wind at around freezing point

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.

Early morning peek out of the bivy bag

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

Quickly packed pannier
Much clearer skies than than forecast

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.

All the float I needed
Solar charging time
Not bad for November
Bunkers prepped for post-Brexit War of Independence

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.

A lot colder than it looks
Commando at Donmouth
Back to the big smoke

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.

Good as newish

BAM 2020 – March

With the panic about COVID-19 beginning to really ramp up, I decided I would bring forward my bivy from it’s usual last-gasp position at the end of the month, to a Wednesday night barely two weeks into March. It was just a precaution, but the lockdown that was enforced the following weekend proved it to be uncharacteristically prescient of me! Still dealing with my knee issues, I was planning another short distance night out, this time using the Commando, as I’d be riding the cliff paths to the South of Aberdeen.

I loaded up the luxuries such as a stove, teabags and milk and just went for a drybag on top of the pannier rack, which I still haven’t bothered to take off since last summer. The forecast was good for a dry night so I only had my Borah Snowyside eVent bivy bag as a shelter, plus my nice toasty Mountain Hardwear Phantom Flame sleeping bag as a treat. I did my usual stock up a the Co-op and was on my way shortly before 11pm. I didn’t have far to go, so no big deal as I took my usual commute route to work along the Deeside Way. As I cut through Duthie Park the smell of illegal substances wafted in the air from some local ne’er -do-wells – never mind, I’d soon be taking in refreshing sea breezes! I followed the river right down to the harbour and made towards the Torry Battery – unfortunately the pleasant ride around the head is blocked off whilst they destroy Nigg Bay with a new harbour, so I had to cut off along the edge of the golf course to climb and drop into the bay.

Grainy view of Aberdeen Harbour

I slowly climbed back up the other side, eventually joining the nice bike path that parallels the coast road. Almost immediately, I nipped through a gate to join the cliff top path proper, which is a lovely singletrack ride without any real exposure – I normally do it on the road bike, so it was even more relaxing on 29+ tyres! I’ve been scoping this area out every time I’ve been through for a nice spot, so it was really just a question of recognising one of them in the dark.

Probably somewhere to the left?

I reached my favoured spot quite quickly and bundled myself and the bike down the steep grassy slope to a flattish area below. I settled on a spot next to a large rock that would give a bit of shelter from the Westerlies that were due to blow overnight.

Handy rock with built-in cooking shelf

I got my sleeping kit laid out on the long cushioned horizontal grass and turned my attentions to a brew. The rock behind me had a perfect shelf for setting up the meths stove – unfortunately I had left the miniscule pot stand sitting in the garage! I resorted to just holding my mug at the optimum height above the flame – annoying, but workable. Tea made and butties eaten, I messed about for a few minutes trying to take night shots, but the wind was quite chilling and I really needed some sleep before work the following day, so I reluctantly turned in.

Bit of a rush job, but you get the idea

Once I was encased in my layers, it became apparent that this wasn’t going to work. The unbelievable slippiness of the bivy bag’s bottom layer had me sliding off the sleep mat almost the minute I climbed inside. Unless I wanted to spend the night working my way to the edge of the cliffs, something had to give. Luckily, taking my winter bag meant I could get away without the extra wind protection, so I just slept out in the open – the grass around me was also bone dry, so no real issue doing this. Annoyance dealt with, I rolled over and went to sleep, setting a mental alarm to wake up before sunrise so I could try and get pictures.

Early morning peek from my bag
Plenty of time to enjoy sunrise, as i was about 2km from work!
Bivy bags are over-rated
Absorbing more rays

After lazing about for an hour or so, I roused myself for a snack and some pictures, before deciding to pack up and go. Being so close to work, there was no way I was going straight in, so I headed South instead of North, to follow the cliff path all the way to Cove. It’s a lovely wee ride, especially when not on road slicks. I turned off before going all the way down to Cove Bay, as I couldn’t be bothered with the steep road climb out. I cut through Cove and crossed the busy dual carriageway to follow the pavement along to one of the stranded back roads left perfect for cycling since the AWPR completion.

Ready for my commute
Quick heft back to the path
Beautiful morning
Cove in sight
Nipped under the railway

I wasn’t quite ready to roll straight downhill to work however, so I took a left near the end of Kincorth Hill, finding a grassy path to my right which lead to a winding way through the abundant gorse. This way will probably distribute a generous amount of leg punctures in the summer. Eventually I popped out onto the main tracks and whizzed along the gravel to the end of the reserve, with just a quick stop at the viewpoint, before mixing it on the dual carriageway to get me to work.

Following my nose across Kincorth Hill
Last view before getting the nose to the grindstone

I did this bivy mainly as a precaution in case any restrictions came in to limit movement outdoors, but turned out to have impeccable timing as the restrictions came into place a few days afterwards. Time will tell whether I have to take advantage of the relaxed BAM rules letting me do a back garden bivy for April!

BAM 2020 – January

After two consecutive years of bivying, I saw no reason to stop now. As usual, I had been putting January off for various reasons and saw my plans for a midweek bivy scuppered by illness. I recovered enough by the end of the week for a last gasp effort on Friday the 31st. Unfortunately my knees are still out of commission, meaning I was stuck close to home again. Just as in December, I threw a random collection of gear into my panniers and headed out towards Countesswells at about 11pm with a vague area in mind. Climbing up the back of Blacktop, I cut off onto a ribbon of singletrack that I’ve not tried out for ages, almost immediately being blocked by a fallen tree. No problem, I just pushed up the hill at a right angle, gaining enough elevation over a rise to keep me out of view in a dip under the trees.

With the recent rain, the ground was going to be soaking, so I had opted for the hammock as usual. It was a second night out in my Crimbo prezzy Exped Travel Hammock Lite and for some reason, I’d completely forgotten how I’d set it up last time. After a lot of fussing, I managed to get it slung up satisfactorily between the apparently poorly spaced trees and got the mKettle on the go. One great thing about not being able to ride far is that I don’t obsess over the weight and just lob whatever I fancy in the panniers.

Kettle on

I had a brew made in about the same time I would at home, this thing almost boils things too fast to enjoy the jet of flame it produces! I drank my brew whilst chomping a scone from the Co-Op, before getting tucked in for bed. I’d just thrown in my old 3/4 length classic Thermarest due to the deflating issue with the Klymit Hammock-V and was perfectly comfy in my warm bag with relatively mild temperatures predicted overnight. There was also some light rain in the forecast, so I reluctantly put up the tarp for the first time since December 2018!

Morning view

I got up after a decent night’s sleep and started pottering about for my morning cuppa, collecting the usual wee pile of dry twigs for the mKettle. It hadn’t rained at all overnight, which I found mildly annoying after ending my tarp-free run.

Damn you Met Office!
Better safe than sorry, I suppose

I did however put it to good use as a windbreak, by flipping it over behind the hammock as I sat there supping and pendulating.

Breaking wind, so to speak

As the sun began to rise behind me, I started packing up, at which point it began to rain lightly. Redemption! I hooked the tarp back into it’s original position and packed away the gear under my shelter, with the rain stopping soon enough to give the tarp a quick shake before stuffing into a pannier too.

Nice sunshine before the clouds took over
Ready to roll

I pushed through a bit of bracken to rejoin the singletrack path just beyond the fallen tree and enjoyed weaving my way through the trees. The handling isn’t great with just rear panniers like this, but it was just nice to be doing a ride that wasn’t my commute.

Not too bad for mud, despite the recent rain

Eventually I emerged onto a better known path and left blacktop behind, taking a random mix of trails through Countesswells, before heading home through Hazelhead Park. Oblivious to the time, I emerged right in the middle of the parkrun and had to reverse my planned direction to stalk along behind a couple of front runners to get myself out of everyone’s way at the top of the out and back running route. I also hung about for a few minutes to egg on a couple of friends I knew would be there, before whizzing away back home to see the kids.

Always dry on this bit
Haven’t cycled this bit of Blacktop for years
More Commando shots

BAM 2019 – December

I’d been thinking of getting another long ride in for my December bivy, but unfortunately my knees were a bit of a mess after November’s effort. This had left me struggling even on my short rides into work. I rested up over the festive period and decided I’d just have to make up the numbers this month, as going too far wouldn’t do me any good. So, once the in-laws were away home and the kids were in bed, I started packing up my kit as usual. I was going to use the Commando, as I’d been missing it, but it still had a pannier rack fitted from a planned camping trip with Kerr last Summer. Since I wasn’t going far, I just lobbed the kit in my good old Ortlieb Front Roller Classics and got rolling. I even treated myself to the stove and some milk, rather than the usual flask of tea. No need to stop at the shop, with the last of the turkey making some lovely butties plus various sweet things from the Christmas goody pile.

I had no idea where I was going to sleep, so pointed the bike along the park and forest paths to take me into Countesswells Forest. Once there, I picked a faint trail through the trees and pushed through some gorse to find a nice clearing with a couple of hammock-spaced trees. Time to break out my Christmas present, an Exped Travel Hammock Lite. This is miles smaller and lighter than my usual DD hammock setup, due to it being single layer and not having an insect net. The suspension kit is also way lighter without sacrificing protection for the trees you use. Despite the fact I hadn’t even got it out of the bag before, I managed to get it strung up using the slit lines in no time at all. Fitting my Klymit Hammock-V mat into it was another matter entirely, especially in the strong wind.

Kettle on and hammock doing it’s best to flip over in the wind

I drank my tea and enjoyed my leftovers swinging in the breeze. The temperature was going to be about 9 degrees overnight, so quite the contrast with the -11 on my last outing! Once I was settled in, I was aware of the reduction in length compared to the good old DD, but it was still fine for my 6 foot and also seemed to be easier to sleep in a foetal position. I slept okay, but became aware of my backside getting cold later on, thanks to my mat deflating overnight. This also happened the first time I used it, so it looks like it may be going back unless I can work out if I’m doing something wrong. I woke up at first light, pleased to have chosen an isolated enough spot to avoid any early morning dog walkers.

Morning brew on the go

I’d picked up a random gas canister from the garage and predicted it had about a brew and a half’s worth of gas inside. A highly accurate estimation, as it turned out, so my morning brew was just borderline hot enough to be called a cup of tea.

At least my mini mince pie deflected attention from the lukewarm tea

Packing up was easy – just stuff everything into what ever pannier you fancy and hook back onto rack. I might start using them a bit more frequently, when I’m not going anywhere too far or rough.

Quick and easy packing

I pushed my way back onto another trail that looked to be in the right direction and followed it back to the main forest road, admiring the forestry devastation near the car park.

As picturesque as the sunrise got
Will be a while before these paths dry out
What used to be the darkest part of the forest

I was glad I hadn’t planned anything more ambitious, as my knees were hurting even on this short excursion, so I just enjoyed riding slowly along through Hazlehead Park and on to home. Obviously people were still feeling festive, as I managed a 100% pleasant interaction ratio with all the runners and dog walkers out and about on my way by.

Link path to Hazlehead

That’s another year complete for BAM, making it 24 months in a row. I went through the entire year without pitching my tarp once, which is impressive in itself for this country! I think I’ll keep it going, as it is well worth it as a motivator to get out on those nights when you really don’t want to do anything. I’ve never gone out and not felt better for it, regardless of the distance or location.