Cycle touring Scotland – Aviemore to the border

My arrival in Aviemore may have been heralded by soggy conditions, but the following morning was stellar. I woke early and rode the lovely trails of the Rothiemurchus for a while, drinking in my favourite forest. I’ve waxed lyrical (tried to) about this place before and you can still find a quiet spot early in the day to ‘listen to it breathe’.

Leaving the Rothiemurchus
Leaving the Rothiemurchus

I pointed the ECR south, now bent on a new plan I’d formulated over a potent and prodigious curry the previous night. Checking the weather carefully, it appeared the grim conditions to the west were now chasing me east and south. This system’s southerly course would last for the next week or so, with conditions filling in behind the front.

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Bikepacking Scotland – the Great Glen Way

Three soggy days on the West Highland Way had taken their toll. My kit was damp, I’d started to stink a bit while the lens on my trusty Olympus camera was fogged and its operation sporadic. I needed to dry out and clean up.

The camera problems – experienced last time when I cycle toured Iceland – meant I had to shift to the phone for pictures so apologies for the poor quality of the some of the resulting shots.

I bagged a luxury pitch next to the river at the Lochy Holiday Park  just north of Fort William. Such heavily groomed, holiday housing estates are generally not my overnight stop of choice on bike tours but the facilities are normally excellent, and so they proved to be here.

Lochy Holiday park campsite... it rained and rained and rained
Lochy Holiday park campsite… it rained and rained and rained

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Two fingers from the Lairig Ghru

Before our blissful decompression at Kylesmorar, we spend a few days in the Rothiemurchus in the shadow of the Cairngorms.

As some ferocious weather battered much of Scotland, and curtains of rain turned some of Perthshire’s streets to rivers, the maelstrom didn’t really hit the northwestern Cairngorms. When things did take a turn for the worst, the Caledonian woods protected the tent.
Checking the week’s forecast, I picked the best day of a bad bunch to climb up into the Lairig Ghru and, perhaps, ‘top out’ on Braeriarch or, failing that, Sron na Lairige.

I’ve never been to the Lairig before, but had read plenty about it. The declivity slicing through the Cairngorm range offers bleak but beautiful passage for backpackers who’ve solved the logistical conundrum of car sharing or public transport and got to Braemar for the start of the walk to Aviemore (or vice versa).
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Back from my grand tour

Just back from another superb trip touring the Highlands.

I’ve run out of superlatives to describe the landscapes we travelled through so I think I am going to recount my experiences through a number of postcards.

They’ll follow once I’ve done the first edit of my pictures.

Missing you already… well, most of you

After this summer’s Scottish adventure, with it’s campervans, big skies, tick bites, peak bagging, and mild madness, I’m going back in a week or so for more. Can’t wait.

The view, or lack of, from the top of CairngormOne trip from the summer left a bit of a sour taste in the mouth, though.

The concept of the hike had been as wholesome as ever. Staying on the Rothiemurchus Estate, I would head into the Cairngorms – virgin territory for me – and lose myself in the granite… perhaps bumping into the Great Grey Man.

Approaching the Cairngorm massive on a long walk in, the imposing bulk of the plateau and the deep groove of the Lairig Ghru were impressive. Ploughing on further, though, the fractious weather had a strop and Ben MacDui suddenly lost its appeal.

Wishing to salvage something from the day, I opted for an ascent of Cairngorm, which proved to be a big mistake.

Although aware of the ‘Gorm’s use as Scotland’s premier ski resort, I hadn’t fully considered the unseemly effect this has had on the mountain.

Approaching the lower ski lodge in the murk, it felt like everyone had left town. Torn fabric hung from broken fences and flapped in the wind, ski lifts stacked in rows creaked as they rocked.

Worse was to come. The dark skeletons of the ski runs dotted the side of Coire na Ciste, resembling abandoned mine workings. I trudged on, the only saviour being a halo of sunlight over the vast swathe of Caledonian woodland below.

I reached the shoulder of the hill and contoured across to the Ptarmigan lodge, again somewhat shellshocked at the heavy weight of man’s influence on the hill, including the scar of the funicular. The scene desperately needed the flattering cover of snow.

I noted that walkers were allowed in the lodge to escape the hill but train travellers were not allowed to do the reverse. The large glass windows and balcony would be the extent of their mountain experience, then.

Heading for the summit, I reached a well-engineered path to the top but delineated by a red roped balustrade. This led a line of cairns to the top. Emering out of the gloom was a family, the father’s arms wrapped around a baby strapped to his chest.

There was more ugliness on the way down – the funicular, the ski centre, a huge car park. It all contrasted starkly with the track which followed a brurn through the forest to Glen More. A little bit of heaven to end the most curious of days.

The walk back down to Glen More in improving weather