Sunday, 8 July 2012

Mountain biking adventures in Scotland - Ardverikie

When I'd set off for the start of the Challenge, I'd been warned not to return injured because we had a trip around the Cairngorms with the bikes planned for mid-June.  Fortunately, cycling is kind to knees (ha ha) so on arriving back in Sheffield from Aviemore and after a quick trip to the minor injuries unit to get the knee checked over, I was soon back out into the Peak District on the bike.

We left Sheffield on the Friday afternoon before summer solstice week with the campervan, two bikes and trailers and drove to Berwick for a curry before parking up for the night by the side of the A1 on the English/Scottish border.  We made good time the following day and reached Blair Atholl by early afternoon, so we decided to call in at the Laggan Wolftrax MTB trail centre, just west of Laggan.  I'm not a huge fan of MTB trail centres.  They're for folk who like levels of danger and excitement that generally go beyond what I consider to be enjoyable.  They're artificial and they're nearly always in forests, so there is little to see apart from trees.  They're the equivalent of climbing walls - good places to hone your skills but somehow falling short of the real thing. 

On the Sunday, we drove to Kinloch Laggan to ride a route in the Vertebrate Scotland Mountain Biking guide around the Ardverikie Estate.  Ardverikie featured in the TV series, Monarch of The Glen.

From the road, the route crosses the R Pattack by the bridge at the gatehouse and follows the estate road, which runs by an inviting sandy beach at the eastern end of Loch Laggan before taking an LRT south to rejoin and follow the line of the River Pattack after about 4km. 

A steep uphill section leads to easy riding on land rover track to the R Pattack

The track passes through a narrow tree lined valley, with a small waterfall

River Pattack and waterfall

but soon opens out into broad, grassy flood plain with the hills of the Ben Alder Forest in the distance.

The midge net - 'a la mode' gear for Scottish mountain biking

Looking south down R Pattack towards Ben Alder

This felt like big country and it would be interesting to work it into a TGO Challenge route, from Corrour Station perhaps, over the Bealach Dubh and with an overnight wild camp on one of the large grassy areas by the river.  I feel a next year's plan taking shape already.

Bridge over the R Pattack

The LRT takes in two sides of Loch Pattack followed by one of those adorable Scottish wobbly bridges that prove so entertaining to cross, especially with a bike. 

Loch Pattack - we were heading through those hills

The wobbly bridge over the Allt a Chaoil-reidhe

From here, the LRT continued another 2km to the start of the big climb.  The guide book describes this as 3.25km of serious climbing involving some hike-a-bike.  But before that we had to ford the Allt Cam.  I was having so much fun that I nearly missed the crossing point, which was marked by a very small cairn and with a faint path showing through the heather on the far bank. More entertainment was had crossing the stream, followed by a wringing out of footwear and a light lunch.

Crossing the Allt Cam.
The stepping stones mentioned in the guidebook were noticeably absent

The hike-a-bike turned out to be quite extensive, about 3km in fact.  Where the track was flat enough to ride, it was generally too boggy.  Where it wasn't boggy, it was too steep or too brief before the next boggy section, to get enough momentum.  I think the longest stretch I managed to cycle was about 75m near the top.  A younger, fitter person would doubtless have made a better fist of it.  We climbed to 800m and from this lofty standpoint we could look down through the mist and light rain onto Loch a Bhealaich Leamhain

Topping out at 800m

Loch a Bhealaich Leamhain

I wasn't sure about the downhill section which was to follow.  The map showed the contours to be steeper than the ones we'd crossed on the way up but as we set off over the edge, I knew instantly that the next 15 or so minutes were going to be a huge amount of fun.  I could see the track disappear off into the distance, with almost 450m of descent in 3.5km in store, down to Lochan na h-Earba.  It was singletrack and steep but not too steep, technical without being too gnarly and with varying terrain, starting through heather, then some rocky stuff and finishing over grass.  We had to stop 2 or 3 times on the way down just to ease the burn in our thighs but any previous doubts about the quality of this route I'd been having on the push up, were all swept into a corner by this absolutely magnificent, fast and furious descent.

At the bottom, and after a few minutes to compose ourselves and let the adrenalin rush subside, we picked up the LRT along the side of Lochan na h-Earba and followed this for a fast 6 km to the locked deer gate back into the main estate grounds.
Lochan na h-Earba

Here we had a faff in the rain and midges to lift the bikes over an 8' stile before dropping down through the forest to Ardverikie House, which could almost have been modelled on Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast Castle*.  As we cycled past the house, I thought I could hear Flay's cracking knee joints as he skulked along the dark corridors, then I realised that it was my knees that were making the noise.  We retraced out route back over the gatehouse bridge to the road and stowed the bikes onto the back of the campervan with a feeling of smugness and satisfaction.  What a fabulous ride!
Distance: 34km  (21miles)
Ascent: 870m (2850')

* Ok so Arverikie predates Gormenghast but allow me some poetic licence here.

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