Saturday, 28 September 2013

Across Scotland by Mountain Bike - The Full Story: Day 6

Back to Day 5

Glen Tanar to Glen Esk (22 miles)

So, we were nearly there or so it was starting to feel.  Just one more big push - literally as it turned out.

It must have rained during the night as the tents were wet in the morning.  The midges were pleased to see us again.

I managed to leave my black cycling gloves on the black floor the tent but of course I didn't realise until the big yellow bag was closed up and strapped into the trailer.  I was wearing some lightweight 'anti-midge' Rabs and along with the leggings, cagoule and midge net, I quickly felt too hot as we pedalled away from the camp.   To be too hot or to get eaten?  Tough choice.  I decided to forget about it and take in the view. 

I'd been wanting to ride this track for months.  This was new ground for me, crossing from one major valley system into another major valley system.  There's something very exciting about traversing a watershed.

After a couple of miles we got our first glimpse of Mt Keen. A patch of grey cloud covered the summit crown like a badly fitting wig.

Mt Keen from Glen Tanar

Although the route we had to climb up was visible, I didn't take too much notice of it.  From this distance, foreshortened by perspective, it didn't look that steep.

Shortly before the Shiel of Glentanar, the road forks and we crossed the Water of Tanar for the third time that morning, onto the Mounth Road.  Tell me someone, please, how is this pronounced?  Is mownth or mownt or moonth or something else, like , oh I don't know... blancmange? 

The start of the Mounth Road
And as we moved ever closer to the foot of Mt Keen, it still didn't look like it would take the two hours that Ballater bike shop boy had advised us would be needed to reach the shoulder,

At the foot of the slope, we looked up and agreed this was going to require a lot of Jelly Babies.  So, loaded up with sugar, we set off.  I checked the time as we started the climb.  Even at this stage, I thought we could cycle some of this.

The lower, 'easy' section of the climb up Mt Keen

Indeed, mainly as an act of bravado, I did manage to crank the pedals briefly on 2 or 3 occasions before accepting the futility of it.  This was going to take a while.

After 45 minutes, I'd risen 150 metres in about 1 km, to the point where the track splits into two more or less parallel branches.  I waited for Hilary to catch up.  I had little choice - the Jelly Babies were in her bag.

The start of the upper part of the climb

Resting before the next big push

We rested here for 5 or 10 minutes, digging deeper into the bag of JBs and listening to some gun fire coming from down in valley.  There was another 150m of ascent to be done.  We discussed whether to take the left path or the right.  They both looked unpromising - equally steep and rocky (steeper and rockier than the lower section.)  We chose right, though whether that was the right choice is open to question.  It kept us away from the edge of the corrie and the most tightly packed contours drawn on the map.

It was slow going.  Pushing 14kg of bike, 7 kg of trailer and another14kg of bag up the steep, boulder strewn side of this mountain, I started to get an idea how it might have been for Scott's party, man-hauling sledges up the Beardmore Glacier.  Only it wasn't as long or cold of course.  In fact, it was anything but cold.

On the upper section of the climb up Mt Keen

Making slow progress up the next 50m, Hilary decided she would carry the bag up on her back and then go back down for her bike and trailer.  She passed me on the way up and again on the way down.  Reaching her bag another 50m higher, gave me an excuse to stop and let her catch up but as she was still going quite slowly, I dumped my stuff, got out the poles and hefting her bag onto my back, moved it up to the top of the slope.

The track gets steeper and the rocks bigger

Returning back down, I got back to pushing and with straining knees, feet slipping on loose rocks and a degree of pig-headedness, the bike and trailer inched their way upwards over increasingly bigger boulders. 

Some (barely) action shots

I passed the time considering what sort of person it is that would think it a good idea to bikepack over Mt Keen.  I haven't reached a conclusion yet.

At almost exactly two hours from the foot of the climb, I crested the shoulder and collapsed into the heather waiting for the JBs to arrive.  Looking back, the hills beyond Glen Muick and the granitic bulk of Lochnagar were silhouetted against a watery sky.

The route to the summit of Mt Keen

From the outset, I don't think we ever really had any intention of going across the top of Mt Keen.  The route from here to the summit looked at least as steep as the last 150m, although the map suggests it's even steeper.   I'm not sure it would be that much fun to ride down it either.  The track down the far side looks much easier.

This was as high as we were going

 The singletrack section round the flank of the mountain is a pleasant ride in the main, although as with other bealachs I've walked over, they seem to take longer to traverse than you would think from  the map.

Singletrack round the flank of Mt Keen

From the far (southern) side of Mt Keen, it's a screaming descent down into Glen Mark.  In this case it wasn't only me screaming.  I was in competition with the brakes which were complaining at the task of applying Newton's third law to neutralise the effects of gravity on a mass of 110 kgs.   That's a lot of those SI Newton thingies for four tiny squares of grippy stuff to apply.

One of the more gentle sections

The descent was mostly made technical by virtue of its steepness.  I stopped worrying about the trailer behind me and put all my concentration into keeping the bike going in a straight line as we bounced off boulders and over bumps and drainage channels.  At one point it seemed as if the track was about to plunge vertically straight down and we approached the 'edge' anxiously, relieved to find the gradient was eased to something reasonable by the thoughtful insertion of a couple of hairpin bends. 

On the edge of the abyss - looking down onto the ribbon of track following
the Ladder Burn to the valley floor

I arrived at the bottom on a massive endorphin high.  If it hadn't been for the walk up, I'd have done it all over again, though probably without the trailer this time.

The end of the descent

We rolled on past Glenmark farm and stopped for lunch by the river, just opposite Queen's Well, where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert took refreshment from the artesian well in September 1861.  Albert died in December of the same year and looking at the water in the well today, you can't help wondering if the two events were connected.  Actually, it's now known that he died of Crohn's disease.

Queen's Well, Glen Mark

We lay back in the long grass, soaking up the warmth of the sun and I stripped down to my figure hugging, black cycling shorts.  The timing for this wasn't ideal as the Blairgowrie ladies walking group appeared out of nowhere and strolled past us.  The experience was almost too much for everyone.

We could quite easily have just stayed there for the rest of the afternoon but the plan had us camping at Tarfside that evening.  Somewhat reluctantly, we got back on the bikes (oh, yes, I put my clothes back on first) and rode down the valley scattering Blairgowrie ladies hither and yon in our wake.  (We didn't really.)

At the end of the track is a house and a gate.  As Hilary was shutting the gate, she commented that what would be really good now was a sign advertising teas.  I thought she was joking to start with because right behind her, on the gate post, was a sign advertising teas (and ice cream.)  And so we discovered the House of Mark and sat in the back garden with a large pot of tea and a couple of Magnums.  You should call in if you go that way.  They get a lot of walkers and mountain bikers coming through -  and they make a damned fine pot of tea. 

We had one more hill to climb for the day, to cross the col between Cairn Robie and the Hill of Rowan, with its conical monument known as The Maule Monument or Maule's Cairn.  The only details I can find about this on the web, say that the monument was constructed in 1866 by Lord Panmure in the memory of seven members of his family.  The story we were told was (I think) that it commemorates the death of a group of people who decided to go over the hill as a shortcut to church one Sunday and got caught out in a blizzard.

Monument on the Hill of Rowan

Dropping down the LRT  towards Tarfside, we came across a dozen or so LandRovers blocking the entire track, requiring us to drag the bikes and trailers up onto the bank to get past them.  It was only then that I noticed 30 or 40 people carrying shotguns, walking off the hillside towards us.  There was nothing where we joined the track to indicate there might be a shooting party further ahead.  Anyway, we didn't wait to chat.  I didn't want to spoil their shooting and I didn't especially want them to do anything which might spoil our day.   The final descent into Tarfside was rapid.

And here the day and to a  certain extent the rest of the trip, went off plan a tiny bit.  I'd not been to Tarfside before but I knew there was a recognised place where people camped.  In all of my meticulous planning for this trip, I had forgotten to find out exactly where this was.  I suppose I'd assumed that if it wasn't obvious, we would see someone to ask but when we got there, the place was deserted.  They were probably all out shooting things. 

Added to this, we were enticed by a sign advertising hot meals until 6pm, two miles down the road at The Retreat.  It was a bit gone 4pm.  We reasoned we could pop down the road, have something to eat, find out where the camping was and then pop back up to Tarfside again. 

The first problem with this plan was that, when we got there, at about a quarter to five, they had already stopped serving.  Apparently, they only serve until 6pm on Saturdays.  They didn't advertise this on the sign because it would have needed more paint!  And I thought Yorkshiremen were supposed to be tight.

The next problem was that contrary to what the Ordnance Survey might suggest with their fine cartography, there had been quite a loss of height between Tarfside and where we now found ourselves and neither of us felt like doing any more uphill that day.

And then there was this business with the guns.  We had one more off road section to do in the morning.  It was about 3.5 miles, starting from Tarfside and passing by Cowie Hill and the Clash of Wirran down into Glen Lethnot.  What we didn't especially fancy was a long slog up onto the hills only to find a shooting party letting rip on the other side.

The people at The Retreat told us that there was a campsite further down the valley and so after a brief conflab, that is where we headed.  It turned out to be a long 7 miles down the valley and we got caught by a black rain cloud that had been closing in on us since Glen Mark.  The campsite had the feel it was about to close for the season but it had hot showers and we found a comfortable place under the trees to pitch the tents, although this wasn't actually in the campers area.

Glenesk campsite

A bit of me still feels that we missed off the end of the ride but I think the fact that we had met one shooting party that day was a good reason to keep off the hills for the final day.  It didn't seem worth the risk, just for the sake of three and half miles of off-road cycling.

I can't remember if I plugged into Babylon Circus or not but here is another track anyway. 

Tomorrow we would reach the sea.  It actually looked like we might be going to finish this.

On to Day 7

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Across Scotland by Mountain Bike - The Full Story: Day 5

Day 5: Braemar to Glen Tanar (33 miles)

We were now over half way with all the major obstacles behind us other than Mt Keen, tomorrow.  OK, the contours looked a bit close together but we weren't planning to go to the top, so how hard could it be?

The sun was shining and there no midges and we sat on the grass to eat breakfast. Well, we ate a breakfast bar, so I suppose you could say that we flirted with the concept of breakfast.  Hilary shared hers with one of the many ducks which seem to own the site.


Today's route to Ballater would largely stick to the valley, through forests and minor roads.  Rather than take the road out of Braemar to Invercauld Bridge, there was a track shown on the map which runs under something a feature known as the Lion's Face.  Seasoned Challengers will  be familiar with this but I'd not been that way before.  We asked the camp site lady if she knew what it was like.  Yes, she said, she sometimes went running that way but it was a bit steep and rocky and she preferred the road.  She thought it would be too rough to cycle.  It didn't look that steep on the map and if you could run it, we reasoned, it was unlikely be that rocky.  So we ignored her advice and turned right out of the camp site to pick up the cycle track across the road.  It was a bit of a steep pull to begin with but it quickly settled down into a reasonable gradient, on a mostly grassy track sprinkled with the occasional tree root or rock for added interest.

Lion's Face track

A level section through sun dappled woods gives way, on the corner, to views west along the River Dee and north over to Braemar Castle.

Braemar Castle

From here the track descends below the rocky outcrop of the Lion's Face (hard to see the likeness from close quarters) before plunging more steeply downhill over an increasingly rocky, rooty, loose surface out to the road.  We couldn't imagine why anyone would prefer the road to this little gem of a route.

The next 2 miles of road to Invercauld Bridge (aka the old Brig of Deeeee) were quiet.  The coach parties would have still been tucking into their full Scottish breakfasts but we set all thoughts of bacon, sausages, mushrooms, fried tomatoes, fried bread (oh, just stop it) to one side and carried on pedalling.

The Brig of Dee

I could sound knowledgeable and write about the history of the bridge but I'd only be plagiarising Historic Scotland's info panel.  So here it is.  It's fascinating stuff.

We passed through the deer gate into Ballochbuie Forest.  The last time I came this way, I was hungover from a 'wild night' at Mar Lodge. 

Deer gate into Ballochbuie Forest

No hangover today and we cruised along easy forest trails

Ballochbuie Forest
 past the bridge with no name

The bridge with no name

offering fine views up and down the Dee.

River Dee from the bridge with no name

We rode past Connachat Cottage and after more forest trails the track turned to a road leading up to the gates into the grounds of Balmoral Castle.  Hilary was adamant that we were booked in for morning tea with you know who (I would have just settled for a tea shop.)  As it was, the gates were locked and we had an unexpected Norbert to cycle over to Easter Balmoral (passing between various points on the map indicating cairns named after Queen Victoria's children.)  No sign of the Easter Bunny so we continued along the B976, which was dull and after a few miles of dullness, we turned into some woods, circumnavigating a small hill called The Knock (355m - told you it was small.)  I wasn't sure about bothering with this - it seemed like 2km of off-road just for the sake of it but it was actually quite a pleasant little track, which followed the river and then back out to the road. 

We rode over the bridge into Ballater, thorough throngs of people, who I assumed had heard about our trip and had come out to cheer us on our way.  (I say, can you cheer a bit louder?  Anyone?)

We cruised the main drag eyeing up possible tea shops and then the other main drag and found one opposite the green with two empty tables outside and purveying pies from inside.  The tables were a bit wobbly and close to the road, so we decamped to the green and ate under a tree.  Sloth took hold and, after clearing aside the dog-ends dozed in the sun for a while.

It was early afternoon and Ballater was full of tourists and we didn't take to it, so we agreed to head for Glen Tanar.  The Halfway Hut was another 12 miles but there were no steep gradients.  We called in at the Cycle Highlands bike shop.  It always good to have a mooch around and see what's on offer but we also wanted to find out if we should phone any estate offices to check up on possible deer stalking or grouse shooting that might be happening over the next two days.  The young lad behind the counter thought any stalking would be in one of the neighbouring valleys but suggested we call in at the tourist office at Millfield, where we would be able to get more accurate advice.  We mentioned we were going over the Mounth Road tomorrow, across the shoulder of Mt Keen and he said we would be looking at a two hour push.  I thought he was just saying that because we looked old and left the shop feeling slightly insulted!

We stopped for a final brew in another tea shop near the old station.  I went in to order a pot for two while Hilary sat at a table outside, guarding the bikes.  I came out to find some old bloke chatting to her about bikes!

We took the Deeside Way out of Ballater, which is the track bed of the old Deeside Railway,  opened in 1853, the investment for it coming largely as a result of Price Albert bought Balmoral Castle a few years earlier.  When the royal train went through, the level crossing gates were locked and the stations closed.

On The Deeside Way

The Deeside Way makes for pleasant, fast but otherwise unexciting riding, much like the High Peak or Monsal Trails in Derbyshire (but without the tunnels.)  There are some good views of heather moorland, solitary or small stands of Silver Birch and distant hills.  It was already starting to feel like the highlands were fading to a distant memory.

We left the Deeside Way at Dinnet and followed minor roads and farm tracks to the tourist information centre at Millfield, where we called in to ask about the likelihood of meeting men with guns.  The place seemed empty but a student volunteer appeared from upstairs.  The ranger was out and she wasn't able to give us a definitive or even convincing prediction as to our safety.  She did show some concern when we said that we would be wild camping in the glen and checked that we wouldn't be lighting any fires.  We assured here we wouldn't (if you ignore the gas stoves) and went on our way.

Further down the valley, we passed St Lesmo's Chapel

St Lesmo's Chapel
 Built by Sir William Cunliffe Brooks, "an eccentric banker and MP from Manchester", the pointing in the walls is quite unusual.

Pointing in walls of St Lesmo's Chapel

We turned south west into Glen Tanar and passed a group of teenage backpackers.  And then some more.  And then still more, all the way up to the Halfway Hut.

The Halfway Hut turned out to be a garden shed, so any ideas of another cosy night in a bothy were put to one side.

The Halfway Hut
 We rode on up the glen for another few hundred yards and shortly before the forest gave way to open moor, we found a comfortable looking spot for a wild camp, in the trees, more of less out of sight of the track and just by the river.

Wild camp in Glen Tanar

It had been a great day's riding.  We'd covered 33miles and were 12 miles into tomorrow's ride.  As the midges started to close in, we disappeared into our tents and I settled into another evening with Babylon Circus and thoughts of just how much pushing we might have to look forward to in the morning.

Time to stretch your vocal chords again...

Back to Day 4  /  Forward to Day 6

Monday, 16 September 2013

Across Scotland by Mountain Bike - The Full Story: Day 4

Day 4: Glen Feshie, Geldie Burn, Linn of Dee, Braemar (19 miles)

The day didn't start especially well.  The rain had diminished to a drizzle but the midges hadn't tired of being irritating.  Encased head to foot in thick clothing, gloves and head nets and doused in Smidge, we ventured out of the tents and packed up camp.

We'd barely got going when I fluffed a gear change or thought I had, and then again and then came to a stop.  Looking down, the chain appeared to be bent double and caught in something.  It looked broken. I got off to check the damage and was relieved to find that it was just a broken spoke that had poked itself through one of the links causing the chain to twist up.  With the spoke and chain untangled, things looked much less serious. I've broken spokes on other bikes and it has always been possible to bend the wire a few times, to weaken it and then break it off at the rim.  Not this one.  The metal refused to fatigue.  I got the tool kit out of the big yellow bag and tried to cut through the spoke with a lightweight, TrekMates multi-tool.  The jaws of the multi-tool's cutters locked themselves round the spoke wire and wouldn't release.  The moral of this is don't waste your money on cheap tools.  The situation wasn't helped by the fuzzy vision I had through the midge net and trying to work in gloves.  I tried bending the spoke some more.  It still didn't break but the multi-tool let go.  Abandoning the idea of breaking it off, I just wrapped it round another spoke a couple of times. Job sorted.  I don't know why I didn't just do that in the first place.

Higher up Glen Feshie
Start of day 4, take 2.  We were back on our way.  After a night of rain, the ground was soft but we made steady progress to the Allt Eindart, our first river crossing of the day.  This was too rocky to ride so we separated the bikes and trailers and carried everything across on foot.

Crossing the Allt Eindart, Glen Feshie

I'd expected to make a bit of a loop up to the Eidart Bridge (aka Bridge of Death by some) but the Eidart's water levels were low despite the previous nights rain and we were able to push the bikes and trailers across the river at the ford.

Fording the R. Eidart
From here the route follows the River Feshie as an increasingly pleasant grassy track, which after about a km arrives at another ford.  At least it does if you want to go somewhere other than Braemar.  Switching on the GPS, something I should have done 10 minutes earlier, I confirmed our position and checked the map.  The shortest distance to where we wanted to be, was 500m along a bearing onto the summit of Cnapan Mor (893m, for those who like to know that sort of thing.)  It took about half an hour to push through a mixture of tussocky heather and long grass, skirting round the worst of the boggy stuff.

Off piste bikepacking

Any time we had saved in not going up to the Eidart Bridge had been taken back by this little navigational anomaly.  Once back on track, there followed 2.5 miles of quite difficult terrain: boggy, rocky singletrack with several small streams to cross.  If you've walked this way, you'll know what I mean.   We finally stopped going up, crossed the watershed and leaving Glen Feshie behind us, dropped down towards the Geldie Burn.

Across the watershed and the end of the single track

It was good to reach the Land Rover track.  It had taken us 4 hours to cover 5.25 miles.  We could probably have walked it faster!  The next 14 miles to Braemar were considerably easier and we rode those in 2 hours, including a lunch stop near the ford across to Bynack Lodge and another rest by the road near Inverie, to watch butterflies in a meadow.

Land Rover track alongside the Geldie Burn

There is now a sign outside here which says
"National Trust for Scotland - a place for everyone.  Do not enter"
We crossed White Bridge without stopping, passed a couple of backpackers trying to set fire to the forest and paused at the Linn of Dee to look at the water.
Linn  of Dee
River Dee after Inverey, looking west

Linn  of Quoich
Entering Braemar, we headed straight for Taste.., it being the first place offering light refreshments when approaching from the west.
displaying three magic words: coffee, cake, open
It's always an awkward moment when you come off the hill and you haven't washed for two days and you walk into a café where all the other customers are... how best to describe this?  Well, just not sweaty and mud splattered.
Hilary went off  in search of soap and water and I ordered the menu.  Let's just say we have different priorities.  By the time she got back to the table I was alternately slurping tea and juice and gnawing the edge of the table, waiting for the food to arrive.  I must have been quite an unsettling sight.
An hour later and lightly refreshed, we left Taste.. to rebuild their business and went to check into the campsite.  Tents erected, we showered, rinsed out our muddy and phew, oh so smelly gear, which we left in the drying room, and then strolled into the village to continue foraging in the cafes and pubs of Braemar.  We began at the Hungry Highlander, notable for its "curry's pizzas", where we had some disappointing samosas and excellent onion bhajis, before heading to the Fife Arms for beer and a somewhat disappointing steak pie and chips, finally finishing off with an OK ice cream from the china shop (or whatever it is - that place just down from the gear shop.)
Replete, if not a little bloated, we headed back to the tents with the prospect of an easy day to Ballater (and tea with the Queen) tomorrow.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Across Scotland by Mountain Bike - The Full Story: Day 3

The next two days of our coast to coast more or less followed my TGOC 2009 route, I'd walked with Steve Gough.  Even on wheels, it still took two days to get from Newtonmore to Braemar.

On arrival at Craigellachie House, we showered and washed clothes and then strolled across the road to the pub for dinner.  I'd forgotten quite how conveniently close this was to the hostel. It was Sunday and they had a popup carvery, which was offering a choice of  beef, pork and turkey, so naturally I chose all three. After all, it uses up a lot of energy towing a Transit van, err trailer, around Scotland.  We each forced down an ice cream sundae with some difficulty and then on returning to the hostel, were offered a crepe by the French family staying there.  Well, it would have been rude to refuse.  One of them commented that since Chris Frome had won the Tour, all the Brits were riding bikes.  In the interests of entente cordiale, I stop myself from saying, "Yes, we're showing you guys how to do it".  And then we crawled off to bed.

Day3: Glen Feshie (17 miles)

The day started grey and overcast,  We packed up, had a chat with Neil (one of the hostel owners and a keen cyclist) and cycled back up the road to the transport café for an especially fine fry up.  Hilary went for the standard fry up and I opted for the double.  After all, the next proper food would be Taste.. in Braemar (since tea shops in Kingussie don't open until halfway through the morning).  We called in at the Co-op to stock up on Jelly Babies and chocolate and left Netwonmore on the continuation of Sustrans 7 towards Kingussie.  Travelling by bike eats up boring road miles and in no time at all the cycle path terminated abruptly at a metal barrier (which was an arse to get the trailers round) and propelled us straight back onto the road, halfway round a blind bend.  Who thought that was a good idea, I wonder?

Ruthven Barracks

At Ruthven Barracks, we stopped to take a few photos and get a fix of performance enhancing JBs. This is of course Chris Frome's secret of success but we didn't tell the Frenchies that.  They certainly kept us going.  By Ballater, we were practically 'mainlining' on the things. We chatted to an American who came across to look at the trailers , then headed off for Tromie bridge where somewhat disappointingly, the view of the falls was obscured by a lot of scaffolding holding up the bridge.

Falls at Tromie Bridge

 We turned off into the forest and arrived at Drumguish to find a sign saying that a bridge had collapsed.  It obviously didn't have enough scaffolding on it.  From the grid ref, it looked like it was one that we were intending to cross.

The stretch of terrain across to Glen Feshie is pleasingly varied with open moor giving way to forest tracks, then meadows and finally more forest, leading out to the road which runs along the lower part of valley to Glenfeshie Lodge

Entering Inshriach Forest after Drumguish

Trail in Inshriach Forest

The 'not collapsed' bridge

Cycling through meadows near Baileguish

Bridges were at the forefront of my thoughts on this day.  With the collapse of the bridge at Carnachuin, only months after I had crossed it in 2009 (it was nothing to do with me) , the nearest crossing point over the R. Feshie was a couple of miles downstream or so I thought.  The 1:50,000 showed a bridge and some late night (though any time of the day would have yielded the same result) Googling came up with images of a stone, pack horse bridge.  I mentioned this to someone a few weeks prior to setting off and when they questioned if it still existed, I confidently said, "Yes, I'd seen pictures of it".  Of course what I hadn't checked on, was the age of the pictures.

I could drag this story out for a while and keep you, dear reader, in suspense but then this isn't a suspension bridge story.  There is, in fact, a bridge at the place marked on the map but it's not of the stone, pack horse variety but a new wooden thing, rather like the one in the picture below

New bridge across R Feshie (seen through rain splattered lens)
Various routes lead off from the far side and we headed a bit to the left of south and shortly reached a new looking track that had the appearance of a purpose built MTB trail.  Comparing the map with the route recorded by the GPS, they look to be the same except for a 1km section spanning the Allt Garbhlach, which now runs closer to the R. Feshie.

Upgraded singletrack along Glen Feshie

It turned out to be a bit of a curate's egg.  Much of its length was excellent for 'trailering' but the good bits were punctuated by annoying drainage channels and some very steep sections, protected against erosion by rock steps.  The latter gave rise to some immoderate language as we negotiated the trailers down these and back up the other side.  There are some "precious moments of a man's life" (Jerome K Jerome) which are best consigned to the dark recesses of the memory and left there.

Crossing the Allt Garbhlach

Whilst not the biggest stream crossing, one of the most troublesome with a trailer

By the time we reached Ruigh Aiteachain bothy we felt drained and also quite wet, after being caught in the first of a number of heavy rain showers that dropped on us that afternoon. 

Ruigh Aiteachain bothy

We brewed up some soup and accompanied this with a reight good protein splurge of  tuna, cheese and chorizo.  We idled away an hour in the bothy while it rained some more rain, during which time we psyched ourselves up for the landslips, which I was anticipating would require some faffing to get the trailers over. 

Negotiating one of the landslips

In fact they turned out to be pretty straightforward and although a bit too steep and rocky in places to cycle up, were easy enough to ride down - that is to say, I only once nearly lost the trailer (me and the bike) over the edge.

Singletrack down from one of the landslips

I'd forgotten just how long Glen Feshie is.  As is often the case, the map hides the 'true' distance.  It was only 4 miles from the bothy to the planned wild camp spot but getting there seemed to swallow up the entire afternoon.

As we rode through the ancient Caledonian Pine forests featured in a recent, well-known film about the Cairngorms, images of Chris Townsend staring wistfully up at the skies morphed into similar head shots of Professor Brian Cox telling us how the rocks were billions of years old and that there were billions of pine trees in the universe.  Hilary brought me back to reality with a  couple of Jelly Babies.

"Billions of pine trees once covered these ancient rocks..."

We met a walker coming from the direction of the river, having the appearance of someone who'd been in rather a lot of rain.  He said he'd been up on one of the hills, which accounted for his appearance, and was just returning to his tent, nestled cosily amongst the trees. 

Then after some pleasant (notwithstanding the precipitation) cycling through the trees, we reached a ford across the R. Feshie.  On foot, this can be bypassed by traversing across an exposed section of scree on the left hand side.  A quick recce convinced us that, of the two options, crossing the river and then back again was going to be easier and safer that portaging the trailers over the screes.

Fording the R Feshie

The exit from the ford was about 30m-40m upstream, so I went across on foot first, to check the depth.  If you get the line right and don't lose momentum part way across, it could be ridden without dabbing but neither of us quite managed it.

Reaching the far bank

The crossing back over to the right bank was shorter but the water was deeper and the riverbed more uneven and slippery.  My attempt to ride it ended abruptly in midstream and in view of that, Hilary took the sensible option and walked it.

Crossing back over the R Feshie

We met a party of mountain bikers coming in the opposite direction - four adults and two teenagers.  They were doing the Cairngorms tour and had set off from Tomintoul that morning heading for Kincraig or Inverdruie (I forget which).  They had virtually no gear with them, so I assume they were being supported, and they seemed a bit unsure how far they had left to go that day.

I, on the other hand, knew exactly how far we had to go.  It was not far and just around the next bend.  At least that's what I told Hilary for the next hour as we rose higher above the river and the views became more expansive. 

As the path rises up the valley side, we looked down onto the river

Finally, the track descended steeply round a bend to a stream coming down a large gulley, near the point on the map marked as Ruighe nan Leum.  We had 'reached our destination' for the day.  There was some urgency in setting up the tents.  The rain was getting heavier and the midgies were coming out to play. 

On a sunny day, out of midge season, this would be a fabulous place to camp

I thought midges and rain were incompatible.  Maybe that's just wishful thinking or perhaps they've evolved to have goretex shells.  Either way, it rained heavily all night and whenever I looked out through the ventilation hole above the Akto door, all I could see was an evil looking cloud of the little blighters, whilst images of Brian Cox droning on about billions of midges making up the dark matter of the universe haunted me.

The evil midge cloud

Eventually I managed to suppress them by playing Babylon Circus on the iPod and singing along very loudly.  Obviously that wasn't in any way annoying to anyone!

Turn up the volume very loud and sing along
The words for the chorus are easy to pick up, even in French

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