A loop around the Cairngorm.

27 03 2014

It is time to get some proper miles in the legs. Weather and circumstance kissed opportunity and the bike and bags were made ready. Some new kit to check out with the promise of a good few river crossings and a cold night on the proposed route.

Leaving Blair Atholl, I rolled up Glen Tilt. Still early, but the sun was out and it was entirely pleasant. As I neared the north eastern end, it was clear that there was going to be a fair amount of low snow to navigate.

Sure enough, as I passed above the Allt Garbh Buidhe gingerly placed feet were a necessity whilst manoeuvring the bike along the vague impression of the trail left in the snow on the steep sided glen. After a few challenging route choices to avoid the often hidden, crusted over frigid waters, the trail dropped to the ruins of Bynack Lodge and it was here that the first major obstacle was to be found: fording the swollen Geldie Burn.

I have learned that I am a softie when it comes to going barefoot in rivers, so I removed my socks and insoles, rebuckled my shoes and plunged in. Thinking about it too much was just going to lead to stalling. The water was cold enough to take my breath away, but it was keeping my bike out of the mid thigh deep water that became the real test as I scrabbled for purchase on the slippery boulders in the river bed. Glad to have made it, I drained my shoes, rubbed life back into my toes and donned the shoes whilst munching on some much needed calories. Onwards.

The Lairig Ghru was barely visible in the low cloud and precipitation: I was glad I had opted for a loop around rather than passage through. I passed Braemar and Mar Lodge after a brief flurry of snow reminded me spring didn’t yet have a solid grip on this land.

From here, I could drop into the gorgeous woodland of the Balmoral Estate. I had originally planned to take the trail up towards Lochnagar and then drop down to Loch Muick before heading out towards Aboyne and north, but given the amount of snow low down in Glen Tilt I decided to miss this part out and keep pedaling alongside the Dee. Before too long I passed the majesty of the castle itself and after pressing a curious button the gates opened to allow my exit.

Steady as she goes. I could tell some of the warmth was beginning to drain from the sun, but I knew I had a few hours of light yet. The aim was to get as far round my proposed loop towards Tomintoul as I could before bedding down.

Candycraig, then Aboyne, follow the off road trail to Tarland, then up, up, up.

After an age of climbing, then following the River Don, and with the light fading fast, I made it to Cock Bridge and Corgarff Castle. Here, I ducked over towards Glen Avon. The temperature was plummeting and I was in no doubt that my energy was going. Twice I rode off trail. As soon as I found a likely looking grove of trees, I unrolled the bivi. Shivering became uncontrollable so it was straight into the sleeping bag once divested of my cycling shorts and my wool longs were in place. I didn’t even crack open the can of Torpedo – or my hip flask.

The lights went out at 8.30pm…

…and came on again at 5.30am after lazing around in my bag for an hour. Rapidly, I danced around to get blood back into my limbs, making coffee and packing the bike.

The moon was still visible in the clear, blue sky as I rolled out of the woods down towards the River Avon and day 2.

As the sun rose more fully, I could strip a layer and really appreciate the landscape. Beautiful.

Unfortunately, as I dropped down towards the river, I dropped into shadow also. This meant it was colder. However, it did keep me honest and my speed up.

After Tomintoul, there was the usual hop-scotch down the Burn of Brown, before climbing up and over to Dorback Lodge. I knew the trail over to the Braes of Abernethy was vague, having failed to find it previously. But this time, I had a gps!

Let’s just say it is no wonder I couldnt find the trail…

A bit of grumpy tussock bashing led to the Eag Mhòr and after a couple of fairly deep river crossings that left my toes numb for the next 2 days, I popped out near Aviemore.

The route I had originally decided to try was through the Gaick, but again, the low snow led me to believe it would be a nightmare, so I opted for the national cycle route 7 alongside the A9 back to Blair Atholl. Of course, this also meant I had to grit my teeth into a fairly fierce headwind for about 50 miles. Ouch.

Once home and defrosted, it was time to make some notes.

Total distance 175 miles. 22.5 hours riding time. Well, there was 2 hours on day one and 1 hour on day 2 of pushing through snow.

The VBL I used as a liner in the sleeping bag was interesting. I did get warm quickly, but I didn’t particularly appreciate the soggy feeling in the morning. I need easier access to several small things whilst riding: I didn’t use the front pocket on the Revelate designs sweetroll for the fist time, which made for less rattling around on rough ground, but if I couldn’t reach something easily, I tended to ignore it. My life would have been made easier with easier access to certain bits of kit. The PHD sleeping bag is great, my riding kit was great, the GPS was worth it’s weight in gold. As my friend chris pointed out, it did randomly jettison. Glad I made a wee elastic leash for it.

I easily carried enough food for 2 days riding and although I refilled with water, this is never an issue in Scotland. I don’t know how much my kit weighed, I had very little on my back – thanks to the new revelate frame bag from Backcountry biking. Otherwise all my kit was as good as ever. My legs, however, were a little weak and I wouldn’t have complained if my overall set up had been a wee bit lighter. Always picky.


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12 responses

27 03 2014
Vik

Nice Bike. Love seeing Krampi on tour! :)

28 03 2014
velopest

thanks!…it will be moved on shortly….but its been a good ride…

27 03 2014
John Ross

Add a Mountain Feed bag for a bit more easy to access space?
An Exposure Joystick would save a few grams and is less to flap about.
Dare I say leave the stove and coffee at home?

28 03 2014
velopest

i think that’s the plan, though i think ill make one that clips into the clips on the sweet roll for either side…better break out the sewing machine again! id thought about a joystick…ended up going with what i know. niterider batteries tend to be pretty bomber for me. the nite rider is a few grams heavier overall, but the battery can go in the ruck sack so it ends up very lightweight on your lid.

28 03 2014
Blair

Really cool to see the area around Blair Athol. I’m a Murray living in BC Canada. My father named me Blair after visiting Scotland and being very impressed with the country side around Blair Athol. Hope to make it over there and do some riding in the next few years. The Krampus is pretty cool too.

28 03 2014
velopest

cool!….its a beautiful area for sure!

28 03 2014
Dan Lees

Inspiring stuff as ever Jon! Keep the coffee (and hipflask) but leave the beer at home?

28 03 2014
velopest

crazy talk!…. :-)~

29 03 2014
Cass

Fantastic. I’ve wanted to do a Cairngorm loop for too long…

30 03 2014
John Burns

You do some epic trips, thanks for posting the details and pics. Keep up the good work :-)

31 03 2014
ScotRoutes

Dorback to Eag Mhor is easy if you spin down the road for about 1km to Ballintuim and then follow the signpost to Glenmore :-) The track you tried to follow hasn’t existed on the ground for several years.

http://www.heritagepaths.co.uk/pathdetails.php?path=342

1 04 2014
velopest

aha! thanks! the trail from the river to the eag mhor looked too well used to just stop…my OS map of the area is out of date and doesnt show the alternative. thanks! with a better route in this would be a good option

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