Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Plan B

So in the absence of a place on next year's challenge and no big desire to sit by the phone waiting for the call, it's Plan B, which is... Fort William to Montrose by mountain bike and trailer

Corrieyairack Pass

The route will be pretty much out of the Scotland Mountain Biking guide, with perhaps a few small variations and is:
  • Fort William to Fort Augustus along the Great Glen Way
  • Fort Augustus over the Corrieyairack Pass to Garva Bridge (or Laggan)
  • Garva Bridge (or Laggan) to Glen Feshie - most likely Ruightechain 
  • Ruightechain  to Braemar
  • Braemar to Ballater
  • Ballater, possibly over but more likely round Mt Keen, to Tarfside
  • Tarfside to Montrose
This should come in at around 175 miles and 17,000'.  The plan is start off about a week after the Challenge, which means everyone should be leaving Montrose as we arrive. 

Glen Feshie

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Review - Berghaus Full Zip Hoody

This is the first time I've been approached to review kit and I was pleased to find out that it was going to be something made by Berghaus.  I had a choice of fleece, hoody or rucksack and as I have quite a few of the latter two already, I opted for the hoody.

My first thought when I picked up the package was, "Blimey, this is heavy".  And it is.  I'd requested a large size and it weighs in at 760gms, so it's not about to get taken on any lightweight backpacking trips.

Berghaus Full Zip Hoody

It's 100% cotton, which accounts for the weight and is beautifully made, as you might expect from a company such as Berghaus.  The inner surface is brushed and has a soft, warm feel.   The stitching is excellent and there are no lose threads.  I really like the look of it.  It's a great colour and the styling is good, with ribbed, elasticated side panels, decent length sleeves and good sized pockets that you can bury your hands into.  A feature of pockets, that I have also on a cycling top, is an inner pocket formed from the 'pouch' of the outer pocket.  I don't know if this is intentional but its just the right size to take a walking or mtb guide book, or older style climbing guides.

The useful 'inner' pocket which conveniently takes a guide book

The draw tape for the hood is nice and chunky and would be easy to grip with gloves on.  The zip comprises looped metal teeth and works like a zip should.  Too often, jackets are spoilt by a cheap plastic zip with small niggardly teeth that are a pain to do up with cold hands.  Not this one.  Well done Berghaus! I also liked that it was a full zip rather than a pullover style, which makes it more versatile for controlling temperature.

The metal zip, beautiful stitching and slightly retro label

Another styling feature I like is the slightly retro feel to the labelling on both the large inner and smaller outer labels.  The Berghaus red, white and blue colour theme is carried though on the tape which runs round the neck, a smaller tape on the bottom corner, which seems to have no discernible use but looks nice, the zip puller and the hanging loop, although the latter is a very thin cord and looks like it may break or pull out if used too frequently.

Inner label, chunky hood draw tape and insubstantial looking hanging loop

So far, so good.  What's it like to wear?  Well here, for me, a bit of disappointment set in.  The first thing I noticed was that it was quite a tight fit.  I would have not normally expect to need a larger size.  I'm not especially big:  5' 10" and 39" round the chest.  Apart from the base layer, I usually wear outer layers that are a looser fit, so as to trap some air.  I tend to run hot when I'm moving and chill off quickly when I stop.  This was a large size but whilst there was plenty of length in the body and sleeves, it felt tight round the chest and on the arms.  The next thing I noticed was that I felt cold in it, even indoors.  Perhaps this is the wrong time of year to be wearing cotton. I can see myself wearing it on a warm summer evening, with a light breeze blowing in off the sea or sitting at the top of a crag but it doesn't feel right for outdoors in November. 

I think the cold feeling is in part due to the cotton fabric (I've grown used to micro-fleeces)  but also due to the tightness.  I considered that maybe on what I guess to be the targeted demographic of hoody wearers, i.e. teenagers and twenty somethings, it would fit less snugly.  My son Joe was back from uni in Liverpool at the weekend and I handed it over to him to try out. He's around 5' 8" and thinner than me and it fitted him well round the body although the sleeves were perhaps a bit long. The pictures are of him modelling it, not me, by the way.

Hood down

Hood up

Unzipped and showing the deep pockets

His comments about it were:

"Like the hood, covers my head but doesn't obscure the vision.  Warmer than I'd expect from that kind of hoody and feels really well made.  Cuffs very long but they can be rolled up and they're good for wearing with gloves."

So there you have it.  A nice looking and well made garment, as you would expect from Berghaus.  Good for indoors and summer use, though Joe found it warm enough outside in November. The sizing seems a bit questionable to me but it's probably aimed at a younger audience.  Not really practical for lightweight backpacking due to its weight and would be slow to dry if it got wet.  I can see it getting a lot of use down at the climbing wall - but that would be the one in Liverpool!

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Mountain Bike Adventures in Scotland - Gleann Eannaich and Linn of Dee

After the Rothiemurcus/Abernethy tour, we had three days left and the plan was a quick trip up Gleann Eannaich (or Glen Einich, which is easier to type) and a possible two day tour out from Braemar or Ballater.

Terminating in a rather impressive headwall, a trip to the end of Glen Einich from Coylumbridge requires reversing the outbound route (or a desperate carry up to Carn na Criche or spending the rest of one's life by the loch). 

We started the day by calling in at the Rothiemurchus Centre for a coffee and to buy some local cheeses and meat.  The former was easy enough but the latter proved troublesome.  Nobody seemed to be serving in the 'deli' section and when someone did eventually notice us, we started to ask about some of the different cheeses on offer and got a got a rather grumpy response because we hadn't decided what we wanted.  I guess it's just the Scottish approach to customer service.  Actually it's a bit like mine to clients who can't tell me what they want their database systems to do!

Glen Einich
We drove up to the car park at Loch An Eilein and headed out on the bikes along more trails though Rothiemurchus, following the signs for Glen Einich .  As you enter the glen, the gradient picks up a little but it's nowhere especially steep and we were soon looking down onto the river below us, gripped between steep valley walls.

The start of Glen Einich

There are a number of stream crossings to be negotiated.  The MTB guide book says three but we encountered seven - which could all be cycled with varying degrees of feet wetting, although in flood, some would have been impassable. 

Crossing one of the smaller streams in Glen Einich

It's uphill all the way to Loch Einich at the head of the valley and as there seems to be a continual wind coming down the valley, it feels a bit of a slog towards the end but that is more than offset by the many textbook examples of post-glacial landscape features.  It's like Drumlins R Us!

A drumlin fest

We had a chilly lunch sat by the loch, where we strained our eyes for the footpath up onto Carn na Criche and considered what it would be like to do the ride in winter. 

Loch Einich

Then we headed back the seven miles to the start.  It's a 1200' climb up from the car park, although it hadn't really seemed like it.  It made for a very fast ride back, the more so because the wind was now at our backs.  Standing out of the seat, absorbing the bumps with our legs and ploughing through the streams, it's impossible not to have a big grin on at times like this.  It may go nowhere but it's a great little ride.


We drove to Braemar that afternoon, which is an astonishingly long way by road from Aviemore as it involves a half circumnavigation of the Cairngorms.  As a result, we arrived at the Caravan Club campsite at 5.20 and were a bit surprised by the rather curt welcome we received from Norma there, who told us that they shut at 5.  What?  What sort of campsite shuts at 5pm in June (for goodness sake)?  She  then proceeded to berate us for not being CC members which meant she was obliged to charge us an extra £7/night.  We tried reasoning with her that if she felt that offended by this imposition, we would be pleased to accept the member's rate but that only seemed to add fuel to the already blazing fire.  The real problem was that Norma was just about to sit down to her fish supper when we rolled up and her chips were getting cold.  She did point us in the direction of the Callater Lodge for tea, which is a bit of an odd affair (tartan carpets and the feeling of being in someone's living room) but they serve up a very fine roast beef dinner.  We then took a stroll along to the Fife Arms, which was a fairly depressing place full of coach trippers (and more tartan carpet), though I imagine it livens up once a year when the TGO Challenge passes through town.

The next morning (Thursday) it was raining and we passed a couple of hours in "Taste.." consuming coffee and cake.  I first became acquainted with this establishment in 2009, hungover after a rather heavy session the night before at Mar Lodge and en route to Gelder Shiel. It's a nice little tea shop but the name "Taste.." troubles me.  It has a . too many to indicate completion or termination (or a state of fullness) and a . too few to suggest continuation or expectation (of a state of fullness).  Maybe it's a deliberate attempt to generate discourse and debate amongst people who would otherwise be playing chess or reading existentialist books by Jean Paul Sartre or who just have nothing better to do.  Having nothing better to do, we spotted a number of examples of dodgy grammar in Braemar, in particular the chippy advertising Curry's Pizzas .  Curry's Pizzas is run by a couple of enterprising Indians neither of whom I suspect are called Curry.  Although, not to diss them too much, they do some bloody good chips, especially when you've just got back from facing down The Geldie Burn on a bike (but I am getting ahead of myself).  The whole of Thursday was a write-off, with us iterating though periods of eating, reading and sleeping.

It was still raining at the start of Friday morning when we waved a cheery goodbye to Norma and returned to the cafe of challenged punctuation.  By 11 the rain had eased and we decided to drive up to the Linnnn of Deeeee and ride up to White Bridge. 

At White Bridge, I looked at the map and said,

"If we go along this track, we could cycle up to the start of the Lairig Ghru and then come back past Derry Lodge". 

"Ooh that's a good idea", said Hilary. 

She didn't actually say that but we did set off along the track (up Glen Dee), which gave the appearance of having been recently 'upgraded' with a wide, well drained surface...

White Bridge from Glen Dee and the  well surfaced track
which tempted us along it, snaking back to the bridge
past a little waterfall (where the nice smooth track gave way to something more 'natural'...

River Dee

and which became increasingly thinner and more challenging to ride.

When there's more walking than pedalling...

At this point we thought, bugger this for a game of soldiers and turned around.  Back at White Bridge, I suggested we go and look at Geldie Burn and maybe ride up to Bynack Lodge.  You probably sense that the whole project was starting to disintegrate through lack of any real advanced planning.

Crossing Geldie Burn

Geldie Burn was successfully crossed with nothing more than wet feet, well ok, shins.  The same cannot be said for the return crossing but I have no pictures of that.  It's difficult to take photos when your hands are covering your eyes in an attempt not to see your cycling partner lying prostrate in the Geldie Burn with a bike wrapped round her.  Tum ti tum.

Bynack Lodge

At Bynack Lodge, the going was still good and we carried on south towards the bealach into Glen Tilt.  Had we done the five day, round Cairngorms trip originally planned, we would have been pulling the trailers along here, so it was a useful recce (and promises quite a bit of walking)

Towards Glen Tilt

We continued to the bealach and peered down Glen Tilt.  As we had to drive back to England that evening, we thought there probably wasn't time to continue on to the Falls of Tarf.  So after the obligatory chocolate stop, we pointed the bikes northwards and the rest is history and already sufficiently alluded to.

It's always pleasing to snatch success from the jaws of defeat and we came away feeling we had made the best of a cold, damp day and clocked up another 17 miles in the process.