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

Back to days 1 and 2  /  Forward to Day 4


Pauline said...

Love the photos of your Feshie rover crossing. Imagine you had a packraft ........

Tony Bennett said...

Oh now you just stop that kind of talk. Putting such ideas into a chap's head :¬)

John J said...

A good read Tony....could you perhaps be considering applying for TGOC2014? You've now got a thoroughly checked-out and recced route!


Tony Bennett said...


Oh, I don't know about TGOC 2014, though I suppose the forms will be out any day now. I did start working up a possible Challenge route earlier in the summer - one with sections that couldn't realistically be cycled with a trailer. We've also got a rough outline for a circular MTB route starting north of Inverness and taking in the Outer Hebrides and Skye. There are just so many choices :¬/