Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Mountain biking adventures in Scotland - Rothiemurchus and Abernethy Forests

When I first thought of an MTB trip in Scotland, the original plan had been a 5-6 day tour round the Cairngorms on the bikes with trailers to carry the camping gear - based on the route in the Vertebrate Scotland Mountain Biking guide.  We'd bought a couple of trailers cheap on eBay at the back end of last year and even before the first ride, I had doubts about it's ability to stand the course.  My main concern was the rather dodgy quick release spindle with the trailer attachments, which seemed not so much a quick release but more of a randomly spontaneous one.

On returning from my Challenge debacle, I underwent some retail therapy in the form of a BoB Ibex trailer and did a few practice runs with it around the Peak District, loaded up with camping gear.

Practice run over Houndkirk Road to the office towing the Bob Ibex trailer

Hilary decided to stick with her eBay copy-BoB but bought a Bob quick release spindle, which sort of worked with some modification involving bolts and wingnuts.

By the time we set of for Scotland, we'd also moderated our original plan to something less ambitious in the light of a few unknowns including: the weather, which continued to be wet giving the liklihood of impossible stream crossings and our uncertainty about the ridability of some of the tracks coupled with our levels of fitness (the guys who wrote the guide looked like they had bigger legs than us and there's a limit to how much pushing we wanted to do.)  So the new plan was a couple of single days rides without the trailers (including the 'Well Ard'verikie ride previously blogged) followed by a two day trip with an overnight wild camp .  If that went ok we planned to fit in a second two day ride, though that never happened because of the weather.

By the time reached Coylumbridge and parked up at the campsite, we'd roughed out a route through Rothiemurchus with an overnight wild camp at or near Ryvoan Bothy, then through Abernethy Forest to Loch Garten and back down to Aviemore.  The chap who runs the campsite suggested a couple of useful variations, which included an overnight camp by the River Nethy on the track over to Bynack Mor and to come back down the Speyside Way from Boat of Garten, which runs by the railway line and avoids a lot of on road stuff.

It seemed to require a lot of faffing to pack up the trailers and get the bikes ready and it was midday before we set off.  I seemed to have woken with a headache, which I can only attribute to whisky fumes - the merest whiff does it.  Anyway we set out from the back of the campsite along well surfaced wide tracks through Rothiemurchus to the Cairngorm Club footbridge, where we had to  separate bikes and trailers and sherpa them across. 

The Lairig Ghru from Rothiemurchus

Then skirting the southern shore of Loch Morlich we had a stop for lunch by the road, with a brief siesta in the sun and then a whizz down the road to Glenmore Lodge, which I have to say looks considerably different from the one I first saw in 1961 on my first caravanning holiday in Scotland. 

The track above Glenmore Lodge towards Ryvoan Bothy

The only real climb of the day was from there up past the aptly named An Lochan Uaine or Green Loch in the direction of Ryvoan Bothy. 

The Green Loch

Before the final climb up to the bothy, we took a track on the right, which heads eastwards out past Bynack Mor to the Fords of Avon.  We were only going a short distance along it and made a wild camp by the bridge over the R Nethy, with magnificent views up Strath Nethy, over to the Bynacks and across to Abernethy Forest.  (I've since learnt, this is referred to as Bynack Stable by those in the know.  The stable was a wooden hut, which blew down in 2004.  It is no longer marked on OS maps)

View from the tent looking up Strath Nethy

It was three in the afternoon and whilst Hilary did her Duracell bunny bit and went for a walk round the Cairngorms, I dozed in the tent, listening to the music on the iPod. 

Wild camp at Bynack Stable

It takes a long time to get dark in the Scottish Highlands on midsummer's day and it didn't feel like I'd been asleep that long before I was woken by the sound of vehicles outside the tent and the banging of doors.  I checked the time.  It was 4am.  I'm a nervous wild camper.  I always expect some sort of bother but I had hoped we were far enough away from anything and anyone to escape it.  Whoever they were, they were soon gone, leaving the two Toyota trucks parked at rakish angles by our camping spot.  Well really! How inconsiderate.

I was just finishing breakfast, which was a truely meagre affair, when the owners of the vehicles returned.   It turned out they were from the RSBP, doing a survey of nesting birds in the area and culling the odd deer that they came across, which accounted for what I thought earlier had been a gun shot.

The Bynack Stable car park!

We packed up and retraced our tyre tracks for a couple of kms, then hung a right towards Ryvoan Bothy, perched up on the skyline.

Ryvoan Bothy

View from Ryvoan back towards Glenmore and Rothiemurchus

From the bothy it was just a seemingly endless, fast downhill through Abernethy Forest.  I wove the bike and trailer around puddles just for the fun of it and noticed how much more Hilary's trailer bounced around compared to the BoB, justifying to myself that the extra money I'd spent on a BoB with a spring was worth it (no, no, I really do think it is.)

We'd planned to call in at Loch Garten to see the Ospreys.  Hilary was already an RSPB member and the attractive young girl behind the desk convinced me that I should join as well, with a vague promise of seeing her tits (the Crested ones that visit the bird feeders opposite her cabin) though I never did get a sighting.  I've waited 50 years to see a Crested Tit and it looks like I will have to wait a bit longer.  We did see the Osprey, through some binoculars, along with some Greater Spotted Woodpeckers and Red Squirrels.  We just missed seeing a Capercaille.

From Loch Garten we did a bit of road work before cutting through a some more forest to the Boat of Garten, where we called in at the shop for something to eat.  I seemed to have a lot of trouble convincing everyone around me that I wanted BOTH of pies on display in the cabinet and I wanted them right away and I didn't care if they were hot or cold and that they could be filled with bits from a scabby cat (any variety including Scottish wild ones would do), it really didn't matter.  I JUST NEEDED TO EAT!  And breathe...

After lunch, we set off up the road opposite the shop along the Speyside Way and passed under the railway and I stopped to hold a gate open for Hilary and was about to take a drink from my CamelBack when I realised it wasn't there.  My daysack was in fact on the table, outside the shop, back down the road.  So I unhooked the trailer and raced the mile or so back the way we'd come and collected it and raced, more slowly, back again. 

"Now we're even", said Hilary, alluding to the time  a few months earlier, when she had left her daysack in the car park in Linacre Woods on a Sunday ride.  "At least you didn't have your money in it"

"Well, actually I did.  And my credit card.  And the keys to the campervan.  But I wasn't too worried because I knew you'd have the spare set with you"

"Err, actually I left them in the van"


Anyway, we continued along the SpeysideWay as it turned south over open moor, running alongside the railway line towards Aviemore and we entered the town round the back of the golf course and through a housing estate and got spat out onto the main street and it started to rain.  I hate Aviemore.  I won't even begin to describe my dislike of the place, in case I offend anyone.  We mused over whether we should find a cafe to sit out the rain and decided on balance that we'd be just as well heading back to the campsite and a bottle of beer, which is exactly what we did.  And the rain stopped and we washed the bikes and opened the beer and felt both smug over such a splendid trip and at the same time, slightly subdued that it had ended all to quickly and wondered if we should have gone for plan A and the bigger adventure.  But that is waiting for another time.

Distance: 11.5 miles on first day and 26 miles on second day.  I never did measure the height change

About a BoB

The Bob Ibex weighs 8 kg, so with 11-12 kg of camping gear and bike spares, the whole thing comes in at around 20 kg. On the flat you hardly notice it's there (until you cycle without it). On steeper hills that require a get of and push, the pushing can be quite an effort. Gates with springs can be a real pain. BoB also make a trailer without suspension, called the Yak. Although the Ibex is more expensive, I think the suspension is worth the extra money. We noticed that the wheel on the unsuspended trailer had a tendency to leave the ground a lot on bumpy terrain, whilst that on the Ibex just flowed along. It's a nicely engineered bit of kit.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

NY Moors Mountain Biking

It's always a surprise to get away for a weekend and find that not only is the weather better than forecast but it's actually fabulous.  So it was last weekend which was bookended by rain the previous week and dense fog the following.

Saturday: Swainby and Whorlton Moor

Because of work commitments, we didn't leave Sheffield until Saturday morning with three routes programmed into the GPS, all based around Osmotherley.  This is a village which nestles in a cliched kind of way under the western edge of the North York Moors.  Yellow sandstone buildings with terracotta pantiled roofs and woodsmoke rising from their chimneys, lining narrow streets full of parked cars, all contribute to the impression that this biscuit tin lid of a village is now a haven for tourists and second home owners.  I've made a few visits here in the late 70s, always at night, on my way to Sheepwash Car Park and the start of the Lyke Wake Walk.  This time we headed up a different hill to a different car park, at the curiously named 'Square Corner' below Black Hambleton, whose northern aspect is indeed dark and a little bit brooding in the Autumn light.

Black Hambleton from Square Corner

We had a choice of two routes, one from the book and one I'd made up, which looked like it might be a bit shorter and less hilly.  So we did the latter (and it turned out to be longer and more hilly).  After a short road section we got onto a mile of doubletrack heading north, which increased in gradient and technicality until finally forcing a brief walk down some rock steps (because we are lightweights and can't do jumps).  Then after spitting us out onto the road at Scarth Nick there was more, even faster descent down into Swainby.  Hmmm, I mused to myself, we seem to have lost quite a bit more height than I had envisaged.

The castle between Swainby and Whorlton

Out from Swainby, we passed Whorlton Castle (or maybe it's Swainby castle - it's a bit of an early infill between the two villages) before striking out onto a bridleway mainly comprising hostile vegetation and  glutinous mud.  Clarty is the word used in this part of the world to describe these conditions.  Pedalling just spun the back wheels deeper into the ruts and it quickly became a GOAP (Get Off And Push).  We had been warned by some locals but of course we chose to ignore them in favour of adventure, jammed chains and a puncture.  We then enjoyed a brief section of the LWW down to Huthwaite Green (enjoyable that is apart from an encounter with two large horses that left me covered in burrs and ill-tempered) before making a small navigational cock up and missing the intended bridleway through the forest, instead riding a nicely graded, firm, wide track up onto Whorlton Moor. 

At this point we hit Open Access land and a notice scratched on a metal plate, saying No Bikes.  We took this to mean motor bikes (since any alternative interpretation would have required a descent and re-ascent of a few hundred feet each way) and followed some other mountain bike tyre tracks on the LRT which thread across the moor.  The sun was starting to drop and it was getting a bit chilly but the views were expansive and the surroundings utterly silent and devoid of life save for us and a lot of grouse.

Shooting Hut on Whorlton Moor

After a brief snack stop at the Shooting House, it was an easy ride south(ish) along the continuing LRT over the moor back to Square Corner, the whole thing coming in at 13.5 miles and 1600' of uppityness

Back at Square Corner

Sunday: Black Hambleton and Hawnby

Sunday was a day of sun and this route was straight out of the book, promising lots of off road across open moorland - and that's what we got.

Starting from Square Corner again (it's such a fab name, I think I shall start all my routes from there from now on) a broad track climbs steadily over the western shoulder of Black Hambleton.

Track over Black Hambleton - looking back northwards

It's all ridable but gets a bit steep towards the top, forcing old blokes like me to have a rest (or maybe two) on the way up.  But the effort is rewarded by spledid views north and west with autumnal colours which my camera has completely failed to capture.

Looking west from top of Black Hambleton - moors, forests and fields

From here the fun just never stops, with a fast, wide track under a massive, sun-filled sky and only a couple of gates to break the momentum.

Fast riding on flat, wide tracks

If you're only into MTB technical stuff, this route probably isn't for you.  I go mountain biking as a way of moving through the landscape, off-road, to reach more remote areas more quickly and it seems to me, this is a 'must tick' ride.

Arden Great Moor - looking back along our route

At the edge of Arden Great Moor there is a confluence of routes and the feeling that a follow up visit is going to be needed to explore all of them.  On this ocassion, the book made the choice for us and after the initial climb up, we now had the promise of losing all that height - and it was just a huge amount of fun with the gradient (and speed) increasing as we dropped lower into the valley. 

The NY Moors are frequently a contrast between fun, easy riding high up on the moors and poorly maintained, muddy bridleways down in the valley, often with challenging navigation. And so it was here, starting with a GOAP up a steep muddy slope, followed by three attempts to find the gate into a wood - including finding the right wood but that was partly my fault for (mis)reading from my MemoryMap GPS instead of doing it 'Old School' and getting out the paper version and a compass from my rucksack.  It was worth the effort though and the dappled light filtering through the trees, the smells of autumnal vegitation and a brief encounter with a Roe Deer, which ran out in front of me, made up for having to dismount a push past a few boggy sections. 

There is just so much stuff to kill around here.  Apart from the deer, we saw braces of Red Partridge, pheasants and grouse and probably all the rabbits on the world.  You could easily grow fat on game pie all year round up there, unless of course you're a vegetarian in which case you might look to move to somewhere more suited to the cultivation of cereal and root crops since the bilberry season is quite brief.  Also, the farmers are all friendly and even the off-roaders on trail bikes held a gate open for us with a cheery hello - it's so difficult to maintain a grumpy old bigot stance towards these folk in the face of such friendliness - dammit.

In Hawnby, we stopped at the tea shop, which had a rather too shady tea garden and rather to soggy scone before a steep pull up the road up onto Bilsdale Moor.  We were heading for the Bilsdale West transmitter, not because we had any special desire to see a 1000' mast close up, (though it was interesting for me - my Dad did a lot of work in the 50s installing microwave links in the north of England and up through Scotland as far as the Orkneys) but rather, there was a stonking great track which went north past the mast for a few miles before doing a U turn and returning us to Square Corner

Bilsdale West transmitter from the north

We arrived at the mast, after a light lunch and short siesta in the sunshine and realised that the OS 1:50,000 didn't quite line up with what was on the ground.  This is another problem with the Moors - tracks disappears.  The book wanted to take us off the LRT onto a bridleway but it no longer exists as far as we could see.  We found something which fitted the description but in a different place - and it was a foorpath.  So instead of thrashing through heathery singletrack, we were forced to carry along the wide, fast and fun route, which got even more fun as we turned south and started dropping furiously into a valley and back to farms and the road.  A final thrash along yet another poorly maintained bridleway got us back to Square square box, errr Corner.  A total of 21.5 miles and 2700' of up (and down)

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Sheffield Moors Partnership

"The ‘Sheffield Moors’ is a collective name for a group of connected and adjoining upland, and predominantly moorland sites that are all in public or charitable ownership. Collectively, they provide an amazing and very accessible landscape for people and wildlife across some 56 square kilometres (21 square miles) of the Peak District National Park" [1]

The Sheffield Moors Partnership comprises 34 stakeholder organisations including the main agencies who manage the area at the moment, namely:Peak District National Park Authority, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the National Trust (who jointly make up the Eastern Moors Partnership), Sheffield City Council, Natural England and The Wildlife Trust (Sheffield and Rotherham) along with 'user groups' including the British Mountaineering Council, Ramblers Association, Ride Sheffield (who represent the local mountain bikers) and Dark Peak Fell Runners. There are many more.

The Partnership has published a consultation draft masterplan covering the next 15 years from 2013-28.  It's a weighty, well-written, thought-provoking and exciting document and essential reading if you live in or make use of the recreational facilities of the area.

Burbage valley in Winter

You can download a copy from their website at along with maps and other supplementary documents.  (I had a few problems downloading some of the maps but got them eventually).

Some of the highlights of the document include 15 new bridleways, which will neatly link up many of the existing ones.  This is  essentially 'up-rating' existing wide and sustainable footpaths and should excite the local mountain bikers.  It certainly has my heart racing at the thought of it!  Also, a 'low key, low impact' campsite in Lady Canning Plantation (between Sheffield and Burbage) and various woodland management works including the felling of the coniferous plantations in the Burbage valley and replacing them with a mix of native woodland trees and open moorland.  The latter is likely to have a striking visual impact, which in the short term won't be pretty but in the longer term one would hope would be a vast improvement over three largely impenetrable coniferous areas that are there now.  I have some concerns over how they will extract the timber without causing some fairly serious damage to the moorland - there is no easy way to get it out.  A friend of mine who is a tree surgeon has suggested using horses to drag out the logs.  Apparently it's a tried and tested method, albeit slow and expensive.  There's much more included in the proposals: restoration of heathland, blanket bog and mire, wildflower meadow restoration, increased areas of scattered trees and shrubs to encourage and assist wildlife to move across the landscape and other habitat restoration and management.

The Causeway from Stanage Edge looking towards Dennis Knoll

There is a public consultation period running up to 23 November 2012.  I went to one of the roadshows last week and had a long chat with Rita Whitcome, the project officer.  I will be sending her my thoughts on the proposals in the next week or so.

If the moors around Sheffield are important to you, download and read the masterplan and send Rita some feedback.  She'd love to hear from you.

Whisps of cloud and smoke in the Hope Valley from above Callow Bank, Stanage

[1]    Masterplan 2013-28 Consultation Draft, Sheffield Moors Partnership (2012)