With the possible exception of one face-smashing over-the-handlebars incident I've been enjoying being out on the bike since getting back north. In search of a simple, good value, easy-to-arrange holiday I headed up to Scotland to enjoy a week or so of riding up there.
DAY 1. HOME TO ABERDEEN TO PORTLETHEN
Leaving the train station at Aberdeen there's some pretty hectic traffic so I just walked along the pavement until I had crossed the River Dee and was on less busy roads and National Cycle Network 1. Almost immediately though there was a road closure so I had to miss a nice-looking bit of the coast. Still, there was another few km between the cliffs and railway that were pleasant riding.
DAY 2. PORTLETHEN TO BALLATER
Half and hour after setting off I had travelled 4km but barely moved anywhere due to missing the first turn and almost immediately getting lost in an industrial estate. The next hour was a frustrating one as each time I got going I met another road closure from where they're building a big new road out of Aberdeen. After a few diversions and backtracking I headed straight north to reach the River Dee at Peterculter and there the NCN 195, the Deeside Way.
Most of the day from here was spent on this cycle way which alternated between roads and well-made tracks.
I arrived in Ballater early afternoon and spent an enjoyable couple of hours relaxing in the sun, eating a huge and delicious vegan ice-cream, before checking into the absolutely superb hostel there.
DAY 3. BALLATER TO TOMINTOUL
Heading south of the river through Dalliefour Wood I pretty much straight away came to this:
Continuing on the road I was overtaken by a few teams of road-riders from the RAF before I crossed the river again and found yet another road, the main link for my route, closed. I continued a while thinking I could bypass it on a dirt track, but got the wrong track and ended up at a farm in the middle of nowhere. Identifying my location I turned to head back and found my rear tyre was flat. I repaired the puncture and put everything back together but then couldn't get the required pressure in the tyre, and every time I tried more air would come out than go in. I tried my spare inner tube in case it was a dodgy valve but came to the conclusion it was duff pump. At this point it was starting to feel a little like a horror film, that I had come to the wrong remote farm and now couldn't leave.
Eventually I decided I had no choice but to head off slowly with under 15psi in there. It wasn't much fun but it also wasn't far to Balmoral. I wasn't expecting any help from the queen but here were a good number of campervans in the ca park, many with bikes on the back. I found one that had its owners present and ended up borrowing a foot-pump off a German tourist to get my tyre back up to pressure.
Following that close call I headed straight along the main road back to Ballater where I bought myself a new pump and inner tube. Then, having travelled 34km to end up back where I started, I set off again. This time a different direction on a small road up Glen Gairn. Where the road turned into track there were big signs saying 'welcome to the moors' and the heather-covered slopes became home to lapwing, oystercatcher and curlew, some of whom had chicks hiding at the edge of the track. A water vole also scuttled across the track in front of me which was a nice surprise.
I continued on tracks up alongside the River Gairn, slowly gaining altitude and sweating in the sun. I didn't hang about as I was aware how delayed I was. When I reached Loch Builg though I was happily back on track and, having not seen anyone for hours, felt comfortable enough that I could strip off and go for a swim.
After having to push a bit around the loch I got about 15km of straight downhill almost all the way into Tomintoul.
Down in Tomintoul I checked into the hostel and went straight to get a beer and food.
DAY 4. TOMINTOUL TO RYVOAN BOTHY
DAY 5. RYVOAN BOTHY TO KINGUSSIE
Dropping back down towards the forest I headed toward Loch an Eilein and then Inverdruie, where I stopped at a lovely cafe for coffee and cake having arrived in the half hour period between the end of breakfast and start of lunch.
DAY 6. KINGUSSIE TO BLACKBURN OF CORIEYAIRACK BOTHY
The forecast was for thunder and rain, but there was some uncertainty as to when it would hit. It seemed sensible to make an early start and get on with it rather than making too many interceptions. I took a direct route along General Wade's Military Road, one of the 18th century constructions that criss-cross the highlands, built to facilitate rapid troop movements to put down the Jacobite rebellions.
DAY 7. BLACKBURN OF CORIEYAIRACK BOTHY TO FORT WILLIAM
It started off foggy and although the clouds looked lovely hanging low over the lush green valleys it did feel like it could rain at any moment.
The going was pretty similar to day one; mostly flat along a well made track. Not so many walkers and not so warm. I felt pretty tired this day though, physically and mentally, and a large part of the journey through the woods alongside Loch Lochy felt like I was going uphill all the way.
I cut off toward Loch Arkaig and the bothy at Invermallie.
At this point I had a look around Invermallie bothy, a well constructed building with several rooms, but also scattered packets of food, packaging and, the last straw, a half full / empty pint of beer. I went and sat outside to eat my lunch and consider my options:
- Stay here, tidy up a bit, make myself comfortable, have another quiet night in a bothy.
- Stay here, whoever left this mess comes back, we probably don't get on.
- Head round the loch to have a look at a couple of the other nearby bothies.
After about two minutes of relentless midge attack I added a fourth to the list: feck off into Fort William, and immediately went for that option.
The next few miles were straightforward as I continued down the Great Glen Cycle Way into town. I had a look at the backpackers hostel but it looked like student accommodation and by this point I really wanted my own comfortable, quiet room with a good shower. I ended up heading to the Travelodge, eating an early tea at the Wetherspoons next door and heading to be about 9:00.
DAY 8. FORT WILLIAM TO LOCH OSSIAN
I woke up feeling very refreshed and, after breakfast at Morrisson's was ready to get started. Even though I'd technically reached my destination I had another two days until my train and the forecast was good.
DAY 9. LOCH OSSIAN TO FORT WILLIAM
Swapped my brake blocks over before heading out as they were looking a little worn, then headed back past Loch Treig and once agin onto a path rather than track.
And that's it. The next day I had a relaxing breakfast then a somewhat farcical train journey home with delayed and replacement trains, never mind negotiating the cramped lifts of Glasgow station.
Total distance: 564km, total ascent 7,327m