Bikepacking the West Highland Way

I shared the train journey to Glasgow with two coast-to-coast road riders who alighted at Carlisle. Their interest – and that of the train steward – in the ECR and it’s ‘ridiculous’ tyres set a tone that would resonate for the whole trip.

Unable to find anything that palatable on the Trans Pennine Express service save for a questionable cup of coffee, I carb loaded at Glasgow station on croissants while consulting Viewranger for a suitable escape route.

I’d walked out of this fine city before using the satisfactory Kelvin and Allander walkways. These seemed fair game for the bike too although I was soon distracted by blue signs drawing me to alternative bikeways.

ECR on the slight detour from the West Highland Way after Mudgock Wood
ECR on the slight detour from the West Highland Way after Mudgock Wood

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This year’s adventure and a change of plan

rannoch moorI had planned to head to France for this year’s bike tour and tackle the Grande Traversée du Massif Central, a 700km mountain bike route from Clermont Ferrard to Montpellier.

I bought the guidebook and had (nearly) sorted my slightly awkward logistics flying outbound and grabbing the Bike Europe Express coach service home. Naturally, I wanted to take the Surly ECR on this trip although this bike’s massive proportions would cause problems on both modes of travel. If you’re interested, Bike Europe Express will take fat bikes – be they half or full fat – classing them as ‘unconventional solos’. However, I think it’s a good idea to call them first if you fancy taking your monster truck. Continue reading

Day dreaming

I’m working at home today and my office is filled with the smells of summer.

A stormy sky hihg over GlencoeThe ground is damp, and the air heavy. Bees are busy in the garden, birdsong drowns out a distant commuter train and, occasionally, I hear a sheep bleating from the valley side.

I’m only seven miles from the city, but the urban mess feels very distant.

Thoughts inevitably turn to getting away…

This time last year I was in Scotland, travelling at 45mph in an old camper van. The weather was wild – typically Scottish – and it allowed me to get this atmospheric, if technically sketchy, shot of Glencoe.

Next month, I’ll be camped on the wild coast of North Wales. This summer fug will be replaced by an excitable Westerly wind.

We’ll batten down the hatches, and hope for a still evening when we can get a fire going and cook fresh mackerel caught from the rocky shoreline.

Oh deer

Spent some time over the weekend going through a few shots on my digital camera and came across this taken in Glencoe.

Red Squirrel campsite deer pictureStrangely, I’d forgotten about this encounter. I’d been nonchalantly wandering through the campsite enjoying a rare bit of dry weather only to notice this deer in the corner of my eye.

Of course, seeing deer is not a big deal (particularly in Scotland), but the fact that she had no fear of me was unusual.

Talking to one of the locals, she’d wandered into the campsite to escape the amorous attentions of the stags on the run up to the rutting season.

Fire!

I recall a chat with an American friend who couldn’t get his head around the idea of going camping and not having a fire.

Our fire at Red Squirrel campsite, after a lot of work!The fire, he insisted, was central to the camping experience… it provided a focal point for a group, a contemplative fix for a lone camper, and something to tend to and nurture. Good fire building was ‘an art’.

He was alarmed that most campsites (or ‘campgrounds’, to use his terminology) in the UK don’t allow fires. Although acknowledging the risks in some areas (dry peatland, for example) he felt it was more a product of over-cautious health and safety or planning regulations.

This conversation got me thinking. How many UK campsites have I been to where fires are allowed (I could count them on the fingers of one hand) and why hadn’t I bothered sparking up, as it were?

On most occasions, I’d be travelling solo and light and not all available wood supplies would be sodden. So, for my last trip to a fire-friendly site, the quirky Red Squirrel in Glen Coe, I planned ahead and purchased dry, sustainable sourced fire wood from a garage.

’Fire building is an art,’ he’d said. Damn right.

Given the edited exploits of the various survival experts on TV, it is all too easy to become blasé about getting that tinder to light.

I was accompanied on this trip by my other half and her brother, the latter optimistically armed with a Light My Fire steel and some treated wood chippings.The steel kicked out a hefty (and hot) spark, but the flames never came.

Aware of his growing frustration, I remembered an old North American fire lighting trick showed to me by a fellow RV-er in Canada a couple of years ago.

Seeing me struggling to light up, this indubitably experienced outdoorsman produced a can of petrol and, with grin, doused my pitiful pile with high octane.

I grabbed a lighter and a bottle of lighter fluid from the boot of the car and we were soon drying (or smoking?) soggy socks.

But lighting the fire is only half the battle. We then embarked on an engaging and ultimately rewarding campaign of balancing oxygen flow with fuel levels for the next three hours.

Fires are a great addition to camp, no doubt, but in the right context. Many larger sites could not tolerate fire pits given the addition of inquisitive children and ‘lads or lasses camping weekends’.

Naked flames do demand greater responsibility.