Friday, 7 August 2020

Speyside tour and August BAM

Given whats been going on over the last five months, it was little wonder that I was at a bit of a loss contemplating a weeks holiday and what to do. I'd various ideas but nothing seemed to leap out as 'the one'. Stuff was open up north but it all seemed too much hassle - pre-book only campsites and accommodation and a lot of other people to compete with. This is totally at odds with my normal casual route prep and take-it-as-it-comes attitude to bike touring. Then a few texts with pals up in Speyside lead to the plan. Spend a couple of days biking up to their place, spend a couple of days with them and then spend a couple of days biking back. There were plenty of route choices but scrutiny of the forecast suggested a north east-ish route was favoured.

I departed the house just before 11 and trundled north by way of Glen Devon. I'd given myself an option on a more hardcore route via Lochs Tay, Rannoch and Ossian but looking west revealed many black clouds so east and sunshine was the way. The wide strath carrying the river Earn and Almond is covered in a network of wee roads which see little traffic. I traced my way on these to Bankfoot and the first track of the day down by the (currently being upgraded to dual carriageway) A9 and across it east to Murthly. From here many more wee roads can be followed east into Angus skirting the bottom of the Angus glens, finally ending up in Fettercairn, start of the famous Cairn O'Mounth road.

As I'd headed east I noted with nothing more than a roll of the eye a large black cloud spilling out of the Angus Glens. Of course my route took me straight to and under it but in the event I only got a few spots of rain. Beyond this it was much brighter. Oddly I became aware that the wind was now in my face and several wind turbines confirmed the easterly. This had actually been in the forecast I'd seen yesterday but not in the one this morning. The Beeb weather seems to be particularly bad at wind forecasting these days.... It mattered little as I was just about at my most easterly point in any case and only served to cool me as I'd climbed away from the Howe of the Mearns.

I'd been over the Cairn O' Mounth road some 9 years previously so today I planned a different (and harder) way over the eastern Mounth by way of Drumtochty Forest and one of three other Mounth Roads in the area. By this time it was 7pm and with over 100 miles done I was starting to feel the distance. I knew the woods would abound with bivvy spots but the midges would be fierce if I couldn't find somewhere in the breeze. Blimey, more nav errors. Somehow I missed an obvious turn and ended up way higher than my route and in the midst of felling works with churned up tracks, only to have to descend nearly all the way back to my missed turn.

Finally I climbed out of the trees to the large windfarm that went up here a few years ago. It was plenty breezy but pitch options were either hard standing by the wind turbines, a concrete slab outside the control building or raised peat bog full of tussocks. I was reluctant to carry on as I knew my route stuck to the woods for several miles but on backtracking a bit found a decent enough spot off a side track which would have to do. Needless to say the wind dropped as soon as I started putting the tarp up and the midges rose out of the grass like a storm cloud. Thank god for smidge. I sprayed it on liberally, put on my head net and persevered. Of course the tarp blocked the breeze, such as it was, so all these midges took shelter under it. I got the mozzie mesh in place and lay out the bivvy bag underneath it. Getting under it gave the opportunity for a thousand friends to join me. More Smidge got rid of the worst of them but cooking tea was accompanied by much slapping and swatting!
At least I was stopped and retreating into the confines of the bivvy bag got me away from the winged menaces and quite comfortable. If I needed the loo I would use one my water bottles so I had no need to emerge until the following morning. What a day, 112 miles in eight and a half hours so my whisky was well earned. I finally crashed out at 11 and lay awake listening to the midges pattering on the tarp followed by intermittent rain. Sleep came eventually....

I woke to a horrible squawking, cackling, roaring noise. Talk about a heart stopper and for a few seconds I could not work out what could possibly make such a racket. As sleep departed it came to me - a Capercaillie in flight signalling an alarm call (from what I have no idea, certainly not me!) This preceded the more normal dawn chorus so maybe it did it every morning to wake all the other birds. I dropped off again and awoke to sunshine at eight. No breeze though so breakfast operations were carried out from the confines of the bivvy bag. The thousands of midges that had sheltered under my tarp got their just deserts as the whole lot of them had drowned in condensation....
Morning world, morning midges

The pitch - black shadows are dead midges.

A breeze was building but packing up was still done in double quick time, head net and smidge in place. Then it was off back into the forest. I missed yet another another turn and soon realised I was on the Stock Mounth. This had beaten me on my trip in May 2016 as it was covered in wind blow. Now all was felled so I picked my way up a steep and rocky track. This faded to a single track but it was OK going, only spoiled by a few trail bikes that churned bits up. Then it went into the trees....
Not exactly the territory for a gravel bike sporting schwalbes venerable marathons but the plot surprised me with its ability to trundle through all in its path. Maybe I don't need a fat bike... There was a brief respite across a burn then more of the same.

I could have missed this bit but I was now on a mission to bag the whole route. Another track was joined and I picked my way down a rough descent to an old shooting hut long since demolished. Below this the track was smooth and I flew down it easily to the road. So finally I have bagged all of the Mounth Roads, 10 years after I scoped them out on Heritagepaths.org. 

On the descent I checked out the view north and west. Some big clouds were around but plenty of sun too. South looked blacker so on I went hopeful to miss the rain. My route took me on more wee roads to join the Deeside Way. This now runs all the way from Ballater to Aberdeen on a mix of old railway line, various paths and tracks. I joined it in Scolty woods by Banchory. This forest is full of mountainbike trails all created by locals and looks worthy of a visit with something not sporting drop bars. Despite my earlier single track triumph I was happy to pedal along the undulating track the way follows, burning off a few 'duro mounted blokes in the process. On the nice trail that parallels the bottom of the Cairn O'Mounth Road I ran straight into a torrential rain cloud that seemed to have appeared from nowhere. It only lasted 10 minutes but I was soaked. Thereafter the Deesideway added to the damp as it hasn't been mown and the now wet vegetation ensured a steady stream of water down my water-proof socks....

I followed this to a road climbing out of Deeside and this substantial climb lead to a reasonably direct route along many similar roads with pretty much no traffic. It was hard work though - a series of climbs and descents and all into the now stiff breeze (where was it last night!) The crux was the substantial moor of Cabrach and a long, long climb with a hard headwind. At the top you join an A road but this too was empty of traffic and a blessedly long descent towards Dufftown. I'd been feeling pretty wabbit today and had been eating pretty much constantly in a bid to gain some energy. Finally on this descent normal leg service resumed.

After Dufftown was the heavily trafficked road to Aberlour (not that much traffic) but it was short lived. More good news was the Speyside way which has recently been surfaced and now a nice smooth and fast dust path all the way to Carron. The end was near so I got my head down and pedalled. After Carron I left the SSW to miss a big loop of river out by way of Drum wood, finishing with a smooth run down to my pals place by the river. The sun was blazing so I pitched the deschutes in the garden and we had a barby and beers whilst it (and the million dead midges) dried in the sun and breeze. 80 miles today so I earned every bottle!

Monday was sunny so we met up with other friends for a fine trundle around local forest tracks (gravel bike versus mtb's!) followed by a number of G and T's in the sun. 

Speyside scenery - very pleasant and apart from the distilleries well off the tourist trail.

Tuesday rained all day so we sat inside and chewed the fat about life in the current situation and what we would do when its all over.

The forescast for the next few days was looking good so on Wednesday morning at a leisurely 11am I departed westbound along the Spey valley. More stiff headwinds and it looked like this would be the score all the way home. My route was straightforward to Nethy Bridge, some gravel bashing past here and then NCN 7 down the A9 route. 

Cairngorms with their heads in the cloud. Lairig Ghru centre

I had an option to head down to Lagan and do a wilder route via the Old Road to the Isles (i.e plan B for my outward route) but black clouds were spilling out of Strath Mashie whereas south and east looked much brighter. So it was over the Drumochter pass and the long descent back into Perthshire. Hmm what to do. I could continue on NCN7 or even keep on south via NCN78 for a direct route home. But given the forecast of improving weather I fancied another long day the next day so instead turned off at Dalnacardoch lodge, an oft used (and hilly) route ahead of me.

On topping out above Trinafour I was presented with a dark sky and clouds full of rain. The sun to the south and east was receding, so much for the forecast. But a memory of a cheeky shelter not to far away lead me onwards. I reached this at 6pm with a vague notion to wait out the rain, cook and eat tea, and then carry on riding to a bivvy spot above Loch Rannoch. In the event I relaxed in said shelter, read, ate and drank reflecting on my day of cycling well past the point where I was likely to leave. Little in the way of challenge, just a progression from A to B. But none the worse for that and a far better way to travel than in a car or train.

Home for the night

I was startled out of this reverie by a sharp banging on the tin sides of my personal shed. As it turned out the locals weren't happy about me being there and objected in the only way they knew how. I wandered out and chased the sheep away (including the one that had rattled its horns along the tin corrugations) and returned to my private little haven from the wind, rain and midges. I crashed out when darkness fell, visions of the sheep mounting a concerted attack on my refuge. This they in fact did come dawn (much banging and bleating) requiring a further sojourn outside and much shouting to chase the buggers away. Thereafter my rest was undisturbed until I woke at 8.

The sun shone and the sky was clear blue. A light breeze enabled my (LNT) morning ablutions to be midge free and the hills beckoned. As usual I had a number of route options and no real plan. In the event I elected to pick up my outward route of two weeks previous by descending to Tummel Bridge and up the first of many climbs over to Strath Tay. I missed out the woods above Kenmore (just as well as I found a twenty pound note lying in the empty road) and blazed through the already busy village and along the South Loch Tay road. Then up the next big climb out of Ardtalnaig and over into Glen Almond. Instead of the headwind grind of two weeks ago it was an easy descent in a gentle breeze and hot sunshine. The top section was quite wet after the rain of the previous days so I was pleased to be able to ride through clean on the straggler. 

Looking back to Loch Tay, Ben Lawyers behind

So this is a great through route and another string in the web of ways north or south. Buoyed by this success I also picked up the short section Wades road to the A822 and the track over the moor to Fowlis. Then it was just the now familiar wee roads to Aberuthven, Dunning, one last climb over Dunning glen and home at 4.

Total distance was 350 miles, not bad in 4 days of pedalling. The Straggler had (again) proved its considerable worth being at turns comfy, fast and able to deal with a surprising range of terrain. My bikepacking set up suits such riding. Twice I passed more traditional tourers with front and rear panniers but such a load surely takes any joy out cycling other than as a means to get from once place to another. Fine for sight seeing but no fun!

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

July BAM, Perthshire here we come!

The hills of Perthshire span a large area ranging from the Ochills in the South, my local playground, all the way into the Southern Cairngorms. However the 'classic' Perthshire hills are the ranges north of Crieff and south of the 'gorms. These comprise varying sizes of rocky hill which are much greener than than the higher hills to the north but subtly different from the Western Highlands. Mountainbike wise a glance at the map will reveal.... not a lot. There are trails, but not much in the way of single track / stalkers paths and big areas with apparently nothing in the way of paths. In reality there is, but you have to go looking for them.

This went through my mind as I contemplated my July BAM. Recently, I'd been made aware of two Perthshire routes - Perthshiregrit (https://www.plotaroute.com/route/1125079?units=km), and Perthshiregravel.com. This was timely as they both picked up a few trails I'd been eyeing up for a while. I'd actually meant to do something like this way back in March but the lockdown scuppered this thoroughly. So this weekend I figured I'd head up there and see what was what. I had a few options in mind, as usual, and even bunged a route on the GPS, in a fit of organisation.


I loaded for a nominal three days which left the bike weighing a ton but meant I'd avoid crowded pubs, cafes and shops.

I went off route almost immediately as I wasn't in any rush and wanted to minimise road miles given that my route would involve a fair few. So instead of a rapid transit through to Auchterader I picked up a few Ochills trails including the ace Drove Road which goes down the west side of Glen Eagles. Thanks to the recent run of good weather, everything was back to being (nearly) dry.

North of Auchterarder there is a large network of great wee roads with varying levels of bugger all traffic. I cruised through these in hot sunshine. That said, there was a fair bit of cloud around, and contrary (yet again) to the forecast the wind was in the northwest and about twice the strength the beeb had suggested. My route took me over a ridge of hills north of the A85. About halfway up the climb was new trail number one. A good doubletrack over to the A822. This was easy going and gave fantastic views over the wide vale bordered by the Ochills and the main Perthshire massif.

Looking back to my beloved Ochills and the large area of flat land I'd crossed on various back roads.

View West to Ben Ledi in the Trossachs

It popped out by a golf course (in full flow once again, I ducked) and nearly opposite was the start of new trail number two - a shortish section of Wades Road to the Sma Glen. It was great - a lovely grassy double track that hadn't been churned up by farm vehicles. Wee tracks like this are becoming increasingly rare as most seem to have been upgraded to motorway standard for wind farms, power lines or stalking access. I sat in the sun eating a late lunch checking out the views:

East to the hills above Dundee
Looking into the Sma Glen

This trails pops out on the A822 which I followed for a couple of miles to the bridge over the river Almond. There were a fair few folk camped at the road side and down by the river with the usual fires and mess. So I burned past and turned off the road just over the bridge. This is a great route through a 15 mile long strath. It climbs steadily for about 10 miles, mostly on a smooth track with only the last couple of miles a bit rough; descending to Loch Tay on another good track. That was the good news. The bad news was the stiff north westerly wind being nicely funneled through the glen. Fortunately it was all within the range of my (one) gear so I was able to make good progress without killing myself. I was still pretty bushed by the time I got to the estate bothy at the top.


View back down. The bothy is unfortunately locked as the estate use it for shooting parties. It was open when I passed by a few years ago and very posh - sofas, beds and gas cooking (plus a lot of empty whisky bottles!)

A few large clouds had passed close by depositing a few sprinkles. Finally descending down to loch Tay it came on to rain in earnest. I kept on as it looked like it was short lived so I was rather damp when I hit the road for some blessedly easy tailwind pedaling to Kenmore, sunny once more.

Again I blazed straight through as there were lots of people around all enjoying the newly opened pubs. More new ground was the woods of Drummond Hill. I'd traced a route through the southern slopes to drop out on the Fortingall road. Despite having this in the GPS I still made two nav errors thanks to following my nose rather than the machine, the second leading to a wasted climb and descent (and back again). I actually think I'm better off without a plotted route for these rides as then I'll check the screen at every turn...

I hit the road eventually and it was decision time. I'd had a notion to keep heading north and west up Glen Lyon, over to Loch Rannoch and then onwards and upwards to Ben Alder. But the cloud to the north west look pretty black and I really didn't fancy another 10 mile grind into the wind. East looked much brighter so off I went on another wee road to Coshieville. Hmm now what. I was now off my route (hurrah!) and back to my more favoured method of bike riding which is to go where the mood takes me. I could continue east and head into the woods above Dull (a real place) or further east again to the woods above Pitlochry, scene of my face plant / skull smash crash in 1994. Or, climb up the road over to Rannoch but turn off on another track I'd eyed up pre ride. 

Off I went, more stand up pedaling, my legs starting to feel it. It was now 6.45 so I was up for a stop at any likely looking spot. There were more road side campers where the track started. I sniggered to myself - their spot would be death by midges (and mozzies as it turned out). For me was another substantial climb up which I walked. Then off this wide track onto a vague, rough double track with little sign of use. Just what you need at the end of a long day and not only that I had the added bonus of gathering clouds behind me to add to the drama. Hmm, single speed limitations - it was hard work pedaling and I was off regularly where the track jumped up a steeper slope. On a geared bike I'd have been able to twiddle along in my granny gear with minimal effort. Hey ho. 


I was looking for a turn off but in keeping with my ride so far rode past it focusing on the trail ahead. To be fair I'd read it was very vague but it would lead to an old shooting hut, now surrounded by woodland, that I had thought would make a nice cheeky bivvy spot. A quick check of the map indicated I could keep going (rather than back track for a mile) and join the same track where it emerged from the woods. So onwards, upwards and finally downwards I went, all on this great track. A few sprinkles of rain came through but it was clear that the big hills behind were holding the worst, justifying my reduced route. A bit more head scratching saw me pick up the track back into the woods but on crossing the gate, I looked about me and thought "this is a good bivvy spot" and stopped. It was near ideal, breezy enough to keep the midges at bay but sheltered from the worst of the wind. I actually pitched right on the track, such as it was, but I figured no-one would be passing as it was now 8.30. In fact it didn't look like anyone had been past for some time.

Isolation pitch. 

I was knackered and very hungry having been riding for eight and a half hours and only eaten a cheese roll, crisps and a double biscuit. Annoyingly the wind was dropping so the midges came out. I'd actually forgotten my smidge but I was saved by my nano mesh mozzie tent which I'd chucked in at the last minute. It only weighs 60g's but it will cover a bivvy. I draped it over my head, tucked it under the bag and was able to cook and eat tea, read and drink whisky in relative comfort. But the mozzies got me again. As per the June BAM I wasn't aware of them until the next day when all these bumps appeared on my head.... At 10.30 I crashed out and fell asleep instantly.

Morning World

I woke to clear blue skies with the sun just under the horizon. Thereafter sleep came and went but not my usual solid eight hours despite the rigours of the previous day. Rain also came and went but when I eventually got going at 6.45 it was dry again. I had a leisurely breakfast and considered my options. I'd vaguely thought of doing another day and a night out but the weather looked less than inspiring. Plus I'd have to buy more food but lacked the mandatory face mask... South looked brighter so I figured out a run back home via more (hopefully) great trails.

First I tried to continue on the track to check out the shooting hut. But several increasingly boggy areas gave pause until one particularly bad one defeated me. I'd only got half a mile so gave up and back tracked to my route of the night before. There seemed to be tracks everywhere not marked on the map and a big track appeared heading back into Dull Wood and down the hill. I followed this to a junction and a sign announcing 'Path to Weem 3 miles'. As this is where I was heading why not - except there was nothing on the map.... It was fine and well way marked until I emerged on a large forest track above Weem with no indication of the direction. This track was also not on the map so I was now into the land of guess work. There then followed around 45 minutes of riding down bits of dead end bike trail still under construction, quad tracks (more dead ends) and forest tracks that lead to.... a dead end! Much climbing / re-climbing, huffing, puffing and swearing eventually got me back to where I started. I then went up the track but it turned back into the forest and away from Weem. One last chance on another bike trail lead me into a maze of trails, all a like. I've been here before (figuratively not literally) so it was with a sense of inevitability that I chose a trail at random knowing that it would be the steepest one of the lot. 10 minutes of arse over seat descending got me onto another bigger path and finally out onto the road. Muttering curses about signposting, Forestry Commisson and bike trail builders who build trails everywhere instead of a few clearly defined ones that are easy to follow, I pedaled quickly through Aberfeldy.

At least I knew where I was going now. A bit of riverside trail avoided the main road and then it was the long, long climb into Griffin Forest, heading over towards Dunkeld (15 miles, all off road). This is all easy going but a nice traverse across a large moor, forest and Windfarm with good views all around.

Looking west up the Tay valley, Schiehallion the pointy peak right of centre

At Rumbling bridge I crossed the main road and started another long climb up a trail I'd done in around 2004. I had no memory of it other than it had been very wet, being January. After the usual big farm track start it pealed off onto a fine grassy trail climbing easily up into a narrow defile. No leg buster, the gradient stayed steady to the summit, only a few small wet bits interrupting the flow.


The fab descent - this should be etched in my memory but I couldn't recall this bit at all from sixteen years ago! It popped out into a couple of fields (with cows but they were over the other side this morning) and then the road again down to Bankfoot.

More wee roads followed and a feeling of extreme hunger. I'd already had a second breakfast and a cup of sweet coffee in Griffin Forest so this wasn't usual. I'd been feeling pretty wabbit since Bankfoot so stopped in the edge of some woods and ate most of the rest of my stash whilst checking out the hills I'd been riding through, laid out before me. Must be all that singlespeeding! At a cross roads above the A9 was a 'Road ahead closed' sign. These seem to be plaguing my rides this year and after the navigational faffing so far, entirely typical. The alternatives were to cut west to my outward route or cut east but end up on the A9 itself (dual carriageway, no thanks). Of course I rode through the closure thinking I'd get through one way or another. As I approached the junction I noted lots of paving plant, lorries, rollers and the traffic in a contraflow. Bugger; I couldn't sneak through that lot as per my ride of the previous weekend. Salvation came in the form of another path sign pointing to Aberuthven where I knew I could pick up another back road to Dunning. First the old A9 (9m wide tarmac with large piles of manure stored on it) then a good gravel track, and then the crux.....

It was with a further sense of inevitability that I ploughed into the 'path' actually a 3m strip of dense vegetation with the vaguest of trampled line through it. Only 20 minutes but at one point I was actually brought to a halt by the tangle of plant life wrapped round legs and pedals. Further map appraisal suggested I could have avoided this with a loop of more farm track. Oh well, back on track again to Aberuthven, across the A9 and up to the Dunning Road. This lead to the last new trail of the route and (mostly) a good one. A few weeks previous I'd passed here on the road bike and noted a sign 'Path to Dunning Glen road via the Cat Road'. Intriguing and got to be worth a look.


Another fine piece of track. The route turned off this after a bit (well waymarked!) but it seemed to continue to more woods and possibly a way up onto the moor above me. Something to check out on another day. The only iffy bit was two barbed wire fences with stiles, not gates, unlike the rest of it. As I approached the Dunning road two roadies went past. Being on a single speed Jones plus with bags on, and being pretty wrecked I paid them no heed but after settling into to my pace on the climb I started slowly reeling them in. I nearly caught the guy at the back (they both had Dunfermline Cycling Club kit on so should be pretty handy) so maybe I'm fitter than I think. They did see me when taking their summit photos (!) but sped away on the descent where I was happy to freewheel. I had a few more trail options here but in the event stuck to the tarmac most of the way home joining my outward route at Crook of Devon. 

70 miles today making 150 over two days, not bad going all in all. I'd bagged some great trails, nav errors notwithstanding, and spied a few more for future trips. The singlespeed had revealed a few limitations for the first time. Specifically at the end of a long day when you are faced with a climb requiring either max effort pedaling or a walk. Also a couple of trails that would have made for a nice easy granny gear twiddle were hard work on my one gear (32/21 so not tall). That said I started with around 3kg of food (and drink!) so with a more normal load out I'd probably be fine...

Monday, 13 July 2020

Biking round the Trossachs

The Trossachs is an area of the Southern Highlands that are quite hard to define. They roughly cover an area east of Ben Lomond (but the most southerly munro isn't counted as being in the Trossachs), north and west of the A81 and A84 and South of Loch Voil. Its fairly mountainous with numerous rocky corberts but no Munros, lots of greenery, lots of bogs and a fair few evergreens in the large expanse of forestry. It falls within the boundary of the the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park but this covers a much larger area extending west into Argyll and North and East to Tyndrum and Crianlarich. Its tourism central and has the full tartan / scotty dog / haggis / twee stuff as well as a few more restrained attractions such as various lochs and visitor centres. My first visit to the area was in 1989 on about the third run with the Heriot Watt Uni cycling club (Aka the Watt Wheelers!) The Trossachs was one of their regular destinations. We'd get the train from Embra to Dunblane and then do one of various circuits around the area, generally always including a lap of Loch Katrine on its quiet private road. This reservoir was famously extended and connected to Glasgow by an aqueduct as a way of bringing fresh water into this hideously polluted city that had previously used the Clyde for both its toilet and water supply with Cholera rife as a result. 

Watt Wheeler runs were a far cry from what was the norm for cycling clubs in those days. Generally clubs were either full on roadie clubs (long before this pastime was anything like as mainstream as today) or CTC District Associations. The former involved much speed, pain and suffering, the latter much low speed and cafes. The CTC Hard Riders and RSF were the exceptions but these branches were largely unknown outside of their own worlds. We invented our own form of cycling - long rides, mainly on road but at a moderate (aka lazy) pace making use of the better tracks where possible, in all weathers and at all times of year. Many was the time it ended up dark (with minimal lights), far from home, in foul weather with poor gear. Cafes were frequented but so were pubs as long as they welcomed a bunch of scruffy students looking for maximum food (and a few pints) for minimum dosh. The bikes were an absolute mish mash of anything and everything available to us impoverished students so every ride was punctuated by at lease one mechanical breakdown. Mine was relatively flash being a fancy custom framed mountainbike; a mate had a Saracen Tuftrax, another a fine Mercian. The rest were a mix of touring machines of various vintages, old style 'racers' with better gear ranges and wider tyres and a few other mountainbikes. Bike runs were often supplemented by train journeys with a constant battle with train guards to avoid bike number restrictions and charges.

Post Uni, I stopped going for many years until 2014. I was training for that years Highland Trail and looking to do an easy century with some off road thrown in as a season opener. A bit of map appraisal suggested that I could reach Loch Katrine from the house and the sections of gravel trail and road would make the Fargo an ideal machine to do it on. So that was the first time I did my now ubiquitous Trossachs bash. 

I did it the other day and its a great circuit, albeit with a few bits of back tracking. Distance ranges from 115 to 120 miles depending on what bits of Queen Elizabeth forest you do. I'll not say much about my outward route (as per my March and June 2018 BAMS!) but its a nice mix of back roads and cycleways with only one bit of busy road for a few miles before Bridge of Alan. Just after Bridge of Allan you turn off the A9 onto a great wee road which sees pretty much zero traffic. You can track this to just outside Doune then you link through to the B8032. This is also quiet as most traffic uses the parallel A84. 

A few miles of steady climbing takes you to just south of Callander and a short section of the A81. There was a fair bit of traffic on it as this is the main route from Glasgow to Callander and points north. You turn off before the town centre on a back road which takes you along the south shore of Loch Venechar. Numerous people were parked up along here setting up camp, lighting fires and already starting on the days drinking. Music blared from cheap speakers at one group's camp so I made swift progress away. This is part of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park managed camping zone and you need a permit to camp here subject to all sorts of rules and regulations (which under the current restrictions your supposedly not allowed to do at all....). Clearly this, as predicted when it was introduced, is having little impact on peoples behaviour and is just an embuggerance if you want to bivvy within the zone. My advice? Find a quiet spot, bivvy without bothering to get a permit, leave no trace. Just like normal then.

Sneaky bivvy in the LLTNP managed camping zone. Don't tell anybody....

The public road ends at a car park but the tarmac continues along the loch shore for another couple of miles. On the north side of the loch there is another trail - 'The Great Trossachs Trail' which is a good gravel path that climbs high above the loch level and pops out at Brig O'Turk (good cafe and excellent pub). I did this on the straggler last year on a visit to my parents holiday cottage and its a good one. Being on single speed and out for a long day, today I decided to give it a miss.


On the Great Trossachs Trail in 2019. The woods of Invertrossachs in the distance.

The south shore path (i.e. NCN 7) is a cracker. I first rode this in 1989 on the first of those Watt Wheeler trips, shortly after it was built. Lots of twists and turns and ups and downs - a great laugh on any bike with 40mm or wider tyres. It was one of the early Sustrans volunteer projects and has stood the test of time, albeit with a few improvements over the years. My involvement came in about 1997 when the two rock causeways were starting to collapse, the remote location leading to the usual challenges of getting plant and materials in. Its part of a short walking loop and there were actually quite a few peds on it today. Usually I start this ride early morning and its quiet. My late start today meant I hit rush hour..... 

Pedalling along the forest road beyond the end of the path indicated that the forest drive was shut. This loops out from the Dukes Pass road and normally its a nuisance. Despite being fairly smooth people tend to drive along it at a terminally slow pace. As is typical with a lot of car drivers they are oblivious to all around them so overtakes have to be planned carefully. Worse, you are allowed to camp at various points along it for a fee so many good bivvy spots are spoiled as most 'campers' will have music, generators and fires to help them survive their night in the wilds. I don't get why Forestry Commission still persist with this in this day and age. It appears it will be shut for all of this year so maybe this will persuade them to close it to vehicles for good.

Hey ho, for now it was quiet. I passed the scene of my self destructing back tyre back in May without incident then linked across to the bottom of the Dukes Pass road via a short gravel path. This road was also shut due to roadworks but cars were abandoned everywhere by the Ben Venue car park, something of a common theme of late as hoards of people escape the confines of their houses now that you can do it officially. The Loch Katrine car park was open but fairly quiet. Beyond here the road is private, only used by a handful of properties and Scottish Water vehicles. Various signs give dire warnings telling cyclists to be aware of traffic but in reality its just a very quiet back road along which you can pedal with little concern for vehicle traffic. As it happened I met a car and a tractor along here - my only vehicle encounters in around a dozen trips.

Of greater concern were a couple of notices a few miles in indicating a road closure due to landslips. A cyclist heading the other way also shouted that the road was closed. These signs had been up last August on my lap of this road due to a major flooding incident a couple of days previous. In the event I got through albeit with a few challenges crossing some big washed out sections. The last was the worst - around 100m of road was covered to about head height in boulders washed down the hillside. There were a couple of holiday properties and a big farm house adjacent. One of the properties was half buried and two cars had also fallen victim to the flood. It's a not uncommon weather phenomena when you get summer storms - a monster cloud staggers over a range of hills then empties itself on what is over the other side. In this case a few square miles of ground that was iron hard after a long dry spell. So the deluge ran straight into the many burns destroying all in its path. It seemed odd that this hadn't been sorted sooner but I figured that having got through a couple of days after it happened last year, I'd be fine today.


Flood damage on my ride of 2019, just after the event. Fortunately only property was damaged not people

At one point you can leave the road onto a short section of fast gravel path which misses a bit of climbing. I always stop for food here as the views are fab:-

Ben Lomond and Ben A'Choin from my lunch spot (taken in the Spring of 2018, I was camera free today)

And looking back down to my lunch spot from the summit of Ben A'Choin on a blazing day last September. Note multiple scoured out burn lines.

I passed a few more cyclists but none gave any indication of what was ahead. So I got a bit of a shock to suddenly come across a substantial barrier across the road and lots of 'Construction Site Keep Out' signs. There was even a matrix sign blazing a message to say that the route was closed to all users, as if the barrier wasn't enough. I felt justified in grumbling at this. There had not been even a hint of this closure back at the start of the route and the signs previously suggested that the road was closed due to land slips, not due to it being a construction site. Its typical of such locations where a contractor used to working in urban environments try to use the same approach to site security in the countryside. Of course there was nothing to stop you walking round them other than a bit of dense vegetation and a deer fence (no obstacle to a seasoned mountainbiker) plus you could easily walk into the 'site' off the surrounding hills. I hummed and hawed for a bit. Back tracking would pretty much scupper the ride (again!) and I was seriously miffed that they had gone to such lengths to close the road without any pre-warning where it would have made sense. Imagine driving down the M74 only to come up with a road closure with no warning, and no diversion!

You know whats coming so I did what apparently, given the trampled grass, numerous other people had done and climbed over the adjacent deer fence and went on my way. I pedaled along cautiously as I wasn't going to ride through a construction site where they were actually working. I passed a couple of the damaged sections. All the works looked to be complete apart from the final surface on the road. Further along a few machines were parked up but no-one was present. The two really bad sections had also been largely finished, again only lacking the final road surface. So all that trouble with barriers when it was clear that the site wasn't operating on a weekend, there was no issue passing through and so they could have quite easily opened it outside working hours. 

This kind of thing annoys me. Over the years I've managed numerous construction sites in similar locations where we knew that excluding people would be impossible or just plain not right. So we just worked around it on the basis that during working hours, passers by would be minimal. Measures to ensure that no-one gets squashed by a machine are easy and allowing routes to be used outside of working hours minimised the chances of people trying to break through barriers as well as keeping them on-side. The big farm house seemed empty which made me wonder where the residents were. This gave me hope that there wouldn't be a similar barrier further along so that the owners could get through but no, a couple of miles after another deserted site compound was a similar fortress. This required crossing the same deer fence twice but again, I wasn't the first.

I felt the need to write a snotty letter to someone about this but I can't be bothered really. The daft thing is; had I managed to get squashed by a machine I've no doubt that the HSE wouldn't have been impressed by the lack of thought over the closure and how practical it is to close off several square miles of hillside instead of putting in a few measures to manage people safely through the site. Likewise there were no signs at Stronachlachur indicating the closure ahead and there was no one around so I carried on my way. 

The munros above Loch Lomond (Ben Vane, Ime and Narnain)

A couple of miles down the Aberfoyle road you turn off into the forest. Loch Ard forest is a big one and has a network of tracks through it. Oddly no singletrack that I've found possibly as its a bit remote from populations so of little interest to the usual trail building types. The Forestry Commission did consider a trail centre here but it didn't get anywhere before they stopped building them. It roughly follows the Duchray water but extends over several corries on the lower slopes of a ridge of hills ending in Ben Lomond. Of interest are the two aqueducts which lead from Loch Katrine, eventually to Glasgow. A mix of steel box aqueducts and tunnels; it was quite an undertaking, particularly as its all gravity fed - in otherwords it follows a steady downhill gradient all the way to the treatment works at Mugdock Country Park. So there are a few ways through the woods to Aberfoyle, depending on how much climbing you fancy. Today I chose a middling route which would avoid the car parks in the forest and the attendant crowds of people. 

Ben Lomond from Loch Ard Forest (also taken in Spring 2018)

Aberfoyle was mobbed so I burned straight up the hill and back into the forest once more. The first section of the NCN after the road was more of my handiwork, partially with a group of volunteers and partially using our own specialist team. There were a fair few folk looking at the water-fall but the 'Go-Ape' oversized assault course was shut so the climb away from the visitor centre was quiet. And steep. I'd had this pegged as one to walk on my 36/18 gear, but in the event I got up it with only a modicum of straining. Over the top is a great descent and the shut forest drive made it even better without any vehicles. Oddly I passed a few groups of people, one lot with an inflated dingy in tow, who must have walked into the picnic areas by Loch Drunkie. So there you go - if people have to walk to get to a known picnic spot, they will. Ergo no need for vehicles to be able to get in here. There were a lot of bikes to, mainly people also having been for a picnic but a few other gravel bashers making use of the vast network of trails. In fact this is probably the biggest area of forest this side of Kielder so an obvious draw for this burgeoning biking trend.

On the descent I left all behind and had the Venechar cycleway to myself. Then it was out onto the road and back the way I came as far as Doune. I noticed a young lad in a LLTNP truck patrolling along the road eyeing up all the camps. This pretty much highlighted the problem as how this guy was going to drive off the large number of numpties was anyone's guess. I would very much doubt if the Police would want to get involved so what do you do. The answer is education but no-one seems willing to tackle such a monster of a task. Instead all we are seeing is an increasing number of no-camping byelaws across Scotland which have little effect on people who have no respect for the law or else will just drive them elsewhere. Anyway enough of the soapboxing, on with the ride.

Beyond Doune I picked up NCN765 along a bit of disused railway line, some old estate roads and then the usual convoluted route the NCN tends to follow through a sizeable community, Dunblane in this case. The route then continues above Bridge of Allan on an old road closed due to repeated landslips into the gorge of Kippenrait Glen below. The first time I did this ride, a recent deluge / flood / landslip had left two large bites out of the public road just past the closed section. As I approached several engineers and residents were peering into the resulting abyss wondering how to sort it. Fortunately I was able to bypass this. Today I followed various streets with many monster houses. Not sure where the money for these comes from but there are a hundred or so in this corner of Bridge of Allan suggesting an unknown but well paying industry. On a whim I used a section path behind Stirling Uni which is a swamp in normal weather but dry today. This misses out the A91 I'd hoofed along that morning and lead me into another signed path to Blair Logie. As per usual at the end of a long day, after a promising start it degenerated to a narrow, overgrown, rough and ready path but thanks to the dry spring was fine on my narrow tyres. Another (better) path connect to one of Clacks Councils excellent cycle routes to just above Tillycoutry. Finally a few more climbs got me back to the house just before 8, some eight and three quarters of an hour after I started, 118 miles done. Not bad on the single speed especially as my earlier plans to pace it nice and easy went straight out the window as I bombed through traffic, round people and along twisty trails.


Saturday, 27 June 2020

Build a bike, fix a bike

This will be of limited interest to anyone straying onto this blog but having thrown together lots of bikes over the years (the first being in 1988 age 17!) I figured I should document at least one build for posterity. It does surprise me the number of people who want a custom build but will pay a bike shop to do it rather than do it themselves. I know bike shops make good money doing this but given that its pretty easy when all's said and done it should be something any keen cyclist aspires to. Of course in my case, the somewhat organic nature of my bike collection pretty much dictates that they are all DIY jobs. I've only ever bought two complete new bikes and done one custom build where pretty much everything was new. Every other one was a case of buy a frame swap as many bits over to it as possible, upgrade, buy another frame etc. etc.

This one was possibly a result of too much confinement in the house, under the current circumstances, prompting a need for some retail therapy. I'd also just off loaded a frame and realised I'd not built a new bike for three years.... The cue was a few rides I did in the early part of the 'lockdown' on a fixie I'd thrown together about 12 years ago, but never really used. This was dragged out and fettled, a pair of sawn off drops used for 'bullhorn' bars (fixie de rigueur) and the 18mm tyres ditched for some 23mils, all that would fit in the frame. This frame is quite nice as its an ex track bike frame sporting the name 'Sandy Wallace' of Edinburgh (in)fame. It was actually built by M Steels in Newcastle, source of many custom steel frames over the years. Being a track bike, it was incredibly stiff, had bugger all clearance and was actually quite heavy. I'd drilled the forks to take one brake, fitted a 42/17 gear and gone for a proper try out. Having ridden a lot of single speed this year, I was in a much better frame of mind to appreciate a fixed gear. But the frames limitations were manifest. No room for mudguards, so useless other than for dry weather, very twitchy (not ideal when every time you try to freewheel it tries to hurl you out of the seat) and very uncomfortable.

So as usual the seed had been sewn and I spent some weeks ruminating on whether I should invest in something that could be run fixed but was overall more usable. A surly steamroller was the obvious choice but its still track geo and not that versatile off the road. Furthermore there were none to be had in the UK or Europe in my size. Some of the fixed gear specialists offer some nice frames, specifically Brick Lane Bikes in London, but none of them quite met my exacting needs. I could have fixed the Straggler but this would have involved a new back wheel and a fair bit of fiddling. Plus disk brakes on a fixie??

Hmmm, how about a Cross-check then. I'd actually had one of these previously, my first ever Surly. It was a great thing but I'd got it a size too large as I hadn't a clue how road bike sizing went. So it was always a bit long plus I only really used it for commuting. By the time I was back into cycle touring, it was totally knackered and therefore got neglected. Soon after I became enamoured of the idea of disk brakes on a road bike so the cross-check was abandoned and eventually sold. But if I got the right size then it would be a far nicer prospect, the dodgy canti brakes would only be a back up to the fixed wheel, and being a 'classic' Surly, pretty cool to boot. Or something.

Of course there were non to be had of these in my size either. Some web searching sourced one in Germany for not much more than the bargain priced ones in Spa cycles (that weren't due in stock until October). I was pretty dubious about this as if it went wrong, sending it back would be a PIA. I also like to buy my frames from Bothy Bikes these days as its the nearest thing to my local bike shop but they had none in stock and were therefore dependent on Ison getting more in October. The shop had good reviews and if you used a bank card rather than Paypal the exchange rate was pretty much what was being advertised as the standard rate across the board. Word of advice, Paypal rip you off for exchange rates, paying this way would have cost me an extra thirty quid. So I hit the button and fretted for 10 days until it duly arrived on Monday.


All was well (in fact it was mint) and I noted that unlike my old one, its now also got the ED black coating which cuts down on rust inside and out. Also new were extra barnacles on the fork crown and mid blade, for a front rack. I'd been digging through my parts bin, as well as looking at what was on the track bike and figured I had most of what I needed. Wheels were a pair of Miche track wheels with a 120 rear hub, and practically unused. I had a selection of stems, various drop bars, various cranks, some old XT cantis, nice Cane Creek road levers, a choice of seat pins and a nice brown leather Charge spoon saddle. I then got the chance of a set of mini V's cheap so went for them figuring they'd be easier to set up and live with than the cantis, which were always a pain in the backside back in the days when there was nowt else.


First job, waxoyl the frame. I use a sprayer which fits into a standard waxoyl can on my compressor. This is very messy but if you thin the waxoyl with white spirit, the spray coats the inside of the tubes with a thin film. I've done this on all my steel frames and ones that have been used for many years in all weathers are still mint inside. ACF30 spray gets used for awkward nooks and crannies, chainstays and fork blades etc. This then gets left to dry for a few hours.


Next up, what used to be my least favourite job - bashing in the headset. These days I use a Park headset press which is a nice thing. I also have a 30 Ton press for the stubborn ones. The Cane Creek headset I got off the BB forum classified is nice in that it has a slight machined reduced diameter which allows you to push it in a bit square prior to pressing it it fully. These are half the price of a hope one so guess what I'll be buying next time. You can use a bit of M20 threaded bar, nuts and washers to do this but the Park tool is really nice, comes with stepped spacers and makes it a breeze. The crown race put up a fight as it was quite tight. I prefer the split ones as you can just push them on.

Next up, in with the forks, put some spacers on and fit a stem to hold it all in place. I've not cut the steerer yet as I want to have a sit on it and measure up. On three of my bikes I've been a bit keen cutting the steerer and ended up with bars too low. Given my age and dodgy back I err on the side of long and upright. I hate the horrible star fangled nut things so used a BBB wedge type steerer bung. Lavish use of copper grease figures in all of these proceedings. Then on with a seat and put the wheels in. I'd converted the front to QR and spaced the 120 hub out to 130. The cross check has forward facing drop outs with adjuster screws sticking out the back. Years of motorcycle ownership has lead me to appreciate screw adjusters to tension the chain but these adjusters only locate the wheel, not adjust it as they would for rear facing drop outs. I contemplated various designs in my head to turn these into things that would drag the wheel back but in the end got a Surly hurdy gurdy chain tensioner. Despite the stupid name it's a nice piece of machined stainless kit designed specially for this or other forward loading drop out frames. The only issue is that the wheel spindle is a bit short . I'll have to get a new axle but this will do for now.


The plan was to use these RF 46 cm deep drop bars cut down to bull bars. But they have a short reach and initial sittings-on suggested they would be uncomfortable. I then did my usual internal debate about bars and stems and what I could buy; but in the end stuck to my original determination to not end up spending huge amounts of dosh on new bits for what is only going to be a commuter come mess-around machine. So the RF bars got returned to the back hedge and the bars I'd had on the track back went on. They are a wee bit narrow but fine for now. Note short stem (70mm with a 35 degree angle). I just do not get fitting a 120 stem on any bike road or off-road. And thats speaking as someone who (like everyone else) had a 150 stem on my mountainbike, back in the day. Short stems make for very light and responsive steering and mean your not facing the front tyre. For me its crucial to minimise the angle I lean forward on a bike, in order to minimise back pain. So short stems are a double whammy meaning sweet steering and a nice comfy riding position. After further debate I decided to lop an inch and a half off the steerer tube.



Another job I used to make a meal of. Using a saw guide helps immensely - this is an Ice toolz one. Annoyingly my only hacksaw blade was blunt so I reached for the power saw which is a bit of a scary thing but licked through the cromo tube in jig time.

I wired up the brakes and got them set up with minimum fuss, justifying getting the mini V's. Got a good lever feel so they should be fine. There is some amount of nonsense talked on the net about setting up cantis or V brakes. People talk about having lots of 'modulation' for good feel, but this is what I (and any other motorcyclist) refers to as a crap, spongy brake. I like to feel the blocks hitting the rim / pads hitting the disk; followed by a generous dose of braking power.

I was still awaiting the arrival of a BB so cracked on with fitting the mudguards. These were previously on my Strag but were a bit narrow for 40mm tyres. For the 35mm marathons I'd bunged on this they were ideal. After a bit of stay faffing and messing with bits of bracket, bolts and washers I got them on. The front was a bit tight under the brake cable so I may need to fiddle a bit more. The brake works fine however, it just rubs the 'guard a bit. I always run the front stays to the mid fork mounts. This gives a much stiffer front guard as the stays end up very short. It requires a bit of bending and fiddling but works really well and eliminates horrible mudguard off tyre rattle. I don't use the safety clips on the end of the stays. I appreciate why these are fitted but I don't like them, despite once having a rock up mudguard / jam fork / face plant / cracked skull scenario many years ago. They wear quickly (The SKS ones with the waggly bit on the plastic lump that detaches under force) meaning they can detach under normal use. Having a loose stay flailing about as you descend a gravel track is not a good thing. The chances of a stick getting caught up are slim, and I just take extra care when riding trails covered in sticks.... Whilst doing this I taped over all the weld vent holes. Water can get in these holes and can't drain out so the tubes could rust from the inside, even though I've waxoyled them. I also tape round the chainstays where the tyre goes and up the seat stays where the bike will get lent against posts.

The BB arrived so it was on with the (laughably simple) drive train. I had various crank / ring / BB options but fancied using a set of old Ultegra cranks that were actually on my last Cross-check. They are Octalink and the BB I had was worn out. They don't last as long as the square taper ones and cost £32 so I may revert to square taper at some point. Ring wise I had a choice but went with 38 to the 16T back sprocket. Gearing on fixies takes up a lot of internet space and the 'standard' seems to be 46/16. Fine for the city or open road without any big hills but way over-geared for my needs. I'd had 42/16 on the track bike with the 23mm tyres so 38/16 with the 35's will work out a wee bit lower in terms of gear inches. Note I use circumference of the wheel to calculate this (not the stupid convention of diameter only to compare with a mythical penny-farthing!) as you get a real value i.e the length traveled for one pedal revolution. A check of the chainline with a straight edge indicated it was spot on by good fortune. More wrenching and tightening, a quick check of everything I've done so far and.....


Boom, finished. Just need to ride it, faff a bit, ride it some more, faff some more and then get on with it. So it proved. First ride of 12 miles revealed a few minor tweaks required and then the next day it was out for a proper ride. As it happens I ended up doing 60 miles (mostly in the rain) and it was great. But knackering as freewheeling involves taking the feet of the pedals which looks highly dubious to me.

In fact I've been checking out all of those youtube vids showing nutters screaming around various metropolis's on fixies with scant regard for personal safety. (Search for Terry Bartensen, they are well worth a look.) There isn't much scope for such silliness round here and I'm too old for it anyway; but its clear that fun is to be had on these things, which makes a change from my normal bike riding exploits. Next blog from the hospital!


Monday, 22 June 2020

June BAM

Midsummer. The longest day of the year and the official start of Summer 2020. Given the weather we've had throughout Spring it seems inevitable that we are in for another 'typical' Scottish Summer.... This went through my head as I looked at a final weather forecast prior to starting out on my annual midsummers ride. Saturday looked to be fine but Sunday was going to be wet, starting at the notional dawn of around 3.00am. The plan was to ride until last light, await the dawn and then ride home. Sleep would figure in this plan and as usual, I had numerous bivvy sites in mind.

So 1.30pm saw me head roughly east on a not dissimilar route to my August '19 BAM. That day I'd intended to ride the whole of the Fife Pilgrims route to St. Andrews, bivvy in Tentsmuir forest then ride back. A somewhat damp forecast curtailed this plan and I ended up in the five star bivvy spot at Falkland. That wasn't an option today but I figured I wouldn't need it. Unlike last year, the trails were pretty much dry apart from a few bits thanks to Fridays rain. This led me to depart the Loch Leven trail at Scotlandwell and head straight up the Bishop hill on what is a fierce climb, largely pushed given my single gear. It was roasting going over the Lomonds but the trails were running great. I've not been over here since the beginning of March so it was fab to get re-acquainted. 

The car park at West Lomond was mobbed. I watched a large group of people setting up their barby in the adjacent disused quarry and got out of there sharpish.... As per last year I hit the Pilgrims Way at Balbirnie. It was quiet, dry and I had a stiff tailwind.

Path through the fields. This was stubble last year and hard work. This year the farmer has left a margin and the path is a smooth and firm line.



My fairly TLS load out and the Lomonds behind

Pedaling up through Kennoway revealed much traffic. So much for any idea that peoples travel habits would change once restrictions on movement were eased. People seem to have rushed back to their cars as soon as they were able. Beyond here the route is great as previously reported. It was now early evening and I had the place to myself, Likewise the next few sections to Ceres. Sunshine, smooth, easy trails through pleasant farmland, views to the hills to the north; all added up to a fab ride, all cares forgotten. I rode straight through Ceres and continued east on what was now new ground. More of the above in the event, then a stiff climb up to Kinninmonth farm where I left the Pilgrims route to head north to the coastal path. 


North Fife farmland



Riding through Guardbridge I could smell the chippy and was sorely tempted to stop. I did have all my food with me however so stuck to my guns, and route. Tea was needed though given the plan to keep riding until last light and it was now after 7. Entering Tentsmuir forest I was therefore on the lookout for a quiet spot to have food. A vague line to my right took me to a sunny clearing with enough breeze to keep the midges away. Food was heated and eaten, including a much needed cuppa. As it happened I wasn't alone, a load of mosquitoes decided to join me. I'm never quite sure where and when you get mozzies and I've not encountered them very often. I guess the mild winter and the current damp but warm conditions around me was their ideal breeding ground. Oh well, live and let live. (When I got home I discovered I'd been thoroughly savaged by the little swines!)

Fed and rested off I went through the forest edge, past the spot where I'd bivvied in Midsummer 2017. There were still no parking and road closed signs everywhere but I suspect this will change soon and Tentsmuir, like the other forests, will become mobbed once more. From Morton Loch Nature Reserve I hit the tarmac and started my return west. There is a few options off road along here, including the Coastal Path. But this is a bit faffy with lots of gates; and the other options needed to be scoped when it wasn't after 8pm and I was 50 miles from home. 

I rejoined the FCP near Brunton and started looking for bivvy spots as the miles were taking their toll. That said I made it up the climb past Normans Law without too much effort (or pushing) and started checking out the woods. Hmm, someone seems to have established a permanent camp up here with a campervan, awning, various huts and teepees. No way was I stopping here as they would inevitably have a heard of rabid mutts about the place so instead I hared down the long descent to Glenduckie. Its odd that such an encampment is tolerated by the landowner (who would typically have them firmly evicted) or the locals. It does seem an odd place though - a real land that time forgot. The weirdness continued approaching the tiny community of Glenduckie when I passed a group of teenage girls glammed up to the nines, wandering through the farmyard.....

I lifted water out of a burn just past Dunbog. I've taken to carrying my filter on these trips as good water is hard to come by, unlike the Highlands, and the filter means you can pretty much drink anything. I'd already filled up at Clatto res but the heat made me want to keep topped up. Finally I was on the last climb up to Weddersbie hill. I knew I'd get a bivvy spot in the woods here and as it was now 10.30 I was done. Sure enough I found a nice sheltered spot by an old wall in amongst some broom, got the tarp up and flaked out after 9 hours and 82 miles. I lay in splendour sipping whisky and eating chocolate whilst looking at the thickening cloud through the tree branches. The sunset had been fairly red so maybe the forecast rain wouldn't appear.

3am and I woke to the unwelcome sound of rain on the tarp. So much for welcoming the sun. It was just starting to get light but I rolled over and crashed out once more. Then at 5 I was woken by my bladder. The rain was heavy and the wind quite strong in the trees above me. By the time I'd got my gear on, done what had to be done and got back into my bag, I was wide awake. I guess I could have got back to sleep eventually but I figured there was little point. Home, a hot shower and breakfast was 2 hours or so away. I had a quick cuppa, packed up and headed out into the rain. 


Hello Summer....


Another good flat tarp pitch

It lasted through Pitmedden forest but by the time I got home the sky was clearing. Total distance was 112 miles in about 10 and a half hours of riding, the longest I've done on the single speed. All being well there is a chance I will be able to head north next month. I'm not holding my breath given how the Scottish Government is playing the 'who can keep the restrictions in the longest' game but if I can, I've got a few trip ideas, including a monster!