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!