Autumn colours, rain and grit – Riding across Scotland

It’s Friday afternoon, I’m sat looking out of the window at my work, debating whether to ignore the weather forecast and head up north for some bike packing.
You only live once and all that, so I slung some hastily packed Apidura bags on my bike and headed off to Edinburgh train station. With no real itinerary in mind I had also grabbed some maps and I had 4G on the train to plan a route. The nerves from being underprepared were there, but so was the potential for an awesome weekend exploring a new part of the Highlands.

After amassing an elephant sized carbon footprint from visiting at least 18 countries in 2017 I also wanted to see if I could be carbon neutral for a trip. Riding the 40km to catch a train was a good warm up. I jumped on board at 4.30pm, not before a lecture from the guard about not booking my bike on the Virgin Train.

See route here

I was heading to Aviemore, I was in two minds about where to go from there, but decided to ride west into a bothy near General Wade’s Military road to Fort Augustus. It was a beautiful night ride through the forest’s of the Cairngorms national park. I am flanked by bats, moths fluttering around and then a barn owl joins me for a while. It’s beautiful to ride bikes at night and the forests here are extra special. The last of the autumnal warm(ish) evenings.

While cloudy overhead the glow from the harvest moon keeps a good level of light. I am also testing some pretty decent new Lezyne lights too which helped! This is a candle, the lezyne has 119 of these but it’s not as atmospheric in a bothy….

After heading west I was past Laggan and into the misty drizzle uphill. The bothy was illuminated like a beacon taunting me as to how far ahead it actually was. I was glad that I wouldn’t be alone and hopefully warm too when I got there! However it turned out to be a house. The bothy itself was further away and empty but quite plush for a bothy with sofas for the resident mice to enjoy.



Just as I was settling down, a knock at the door. Damn who’s that out here on a stormy midnight? It was two slightly tipsy but friendly Glaswegians offering warmth and Lasagne in the bunk house I had seen. I said thanks but an hour ago maybe, now I was ready to sleep after a quick 100km ridden since I left work!
After a restful night’s sleep I awoke to the drip and drumming of steady rain. I knew there was a reason I made the ride in the dark to a bothy. This is the window view:

 

Inside I cooked up some breakfast and took in my surroundings. I could see the bunk house a bit further away up by the river where the Glaswegians were staying. After eating I contemplated heading back down the track towards civilisation, rather than uphill further info the mists and bleak nothing.

The track was running with water as a cranked uphill towards Corrieyairack Pass.

This road was built to link Fort Augustus with the Ruthren Barracks. The stone bridge I crossed was built in 1731 so has done OK to be still standing. Let me reiterate that, for any Americans that’s over 40 years before the USA even existed that this same stone bridge has stood here, judging by what Trump is doing I would bet it might outlast it too….

Finally I reach the bowl at the head of the valley, before the steep zig zags up to the 720m pass. On all sides I can hear the roar or bark of stags. It’s full on rutting season and things are tense between the various competing herds. Each led by a stag with impressive antlers looking proud and agressive. Along with the stalking it’s a dodgy time to be out in the hills.



I soon enter the mist and stay in it for a while on Meallan Odhar Beag. The descent is awesome fast gravel leading into visibility and along to the pink Culachy House, a smart estate castle. I meet a game keeper and have a chat about the rutting stags
Apparently he saw one kill another recently!

I am now linking up with the second half of the Great Glen Way. A scenic trail but cruisey gravel path route from Inverness to Fort William. Following the canals and great Lochs it’s a classic part of Scotland. The canal linking the lochs puts me in a reflective mood.

Finally, after a headwind trying it’s hardest to stop me, I am in Fort William. After some fish and chips (in paper wrapping only #noplastic) I am off to start the West Highland Way, a 90 mile off road route to Glasgow. At 3pm Saturday it’s a bit late in the day and some of the route is too full on for a gravel bike. The colours of autumn are in full swing as I head uphill into the wilds again.

The WHW is rougher than the rest of the route and hard going. I head towards Kinlochleven and the views are incredible:

I descend slowly with the hydro pipes and old aluminium smelter dominating the landscape. The next section is the devil’s staircase, as the name suggests it’s not gravel bike friendly. I opt for the road detour at three times as far but easier going.



The route also takes me up the dramatic Glencoe valley as it’s getting gloomy bit moody and dramatic. I stop to eat two scotch eggs and some salami. Not great food just before a big climb!

It’s now dark as I leave the road and rejoin the WHW, this section is still bumpy but smoother and faster. The lezyne Super Drive xxl 1500 light on the lowest setting is plenty. I carry good speed along the track; past moors, mountains and forests. The eerie call of angry rutting stags echoes through the dark it’s amazing to be riding here.

The hurried noises of scurrying sheep  are surprisingly creepy when alone and tired, then I am accompanied by an inquisitive small owl diving up and down beside me, either borrowing the light or fascinated by it.

I spend almost an hour looking for a camp spot. It’s either still midgey by the river and too wet or exposed on the moors. Finally I stop cook oats and hot chocolate and unroll my bivvy bag to sleep just 2 feet from the path!

In morning I can see it’s just under the railway line. I had covered 140kms and was just near Tyndrum. The light on the hills was briefly bright and looked promising when I first woke.Short lived sunshine as it switched between drizzle and cloud. I rode the WHW until Loch Lomond here I detoured off on the West Lomond cycle path, skirting the lake on the easier west shore. The rode was a pleasant 75km on mix of gravel and paved paths. I didn’t take any pictures as  the scenery was ok but never exciting on a grey day.

I ended at Dumbarton just outside Glasgow feeling pretty happy with the ride. A train trip then another 40km from the train station and I was home.

Except for a bag of sweets at the station I had been plastic free and carbon free. Something I am keen to think harder about in future trips. Sometimes it is too easy to buy plastic wrapped junk food when bikepacking or bottled water. However with my filter bottle and streams everywhere I managed well. I had also ridden or used the train from door to door. A small achievement but something I need to do more. Flying and driving is all too easy and it’s hard to take the cleaner option. Talking of cleaner, the bike was anything but. The grit wore out a set of pads and probably the chain in just two days! This wet mineral rich muck is deadly for bike kit but with a wash and relube the titanium frame looked good again!

 

Kit used:

Tripster ATR with 650b wheels

Vee Tire Rail 1.9″ tyres

Praxis Works Alba Cranks (Alba for those that don’t know is the local name for Scotland so appropriate!)

Apidura dry series 14l saddle pack and 14l bar bag. 

Lomo 100% waterproof backpack for camera

Terra Nova Gore Tex Bivvy

Exped SynMat Hyperlite UL

Gore – Power Trail Gore Tex Jacket

Gore -Power Trail Gore Tex Shorts

Gore – Element 2.0 Jersey

Gore – Oxygen CC Bib shorts

Lezyne Super Drive 1500 front light (lasted both nights)

Lezyne Zecto Drive Auto 80

Lezyne Super GPS (24hr battery life on a GPS lasted the weekend on one charge!)

4 Comments
  1. A map of the route would be a nice addition to the write up

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  2. this is so good

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    • Thanks, was wet but fun trip, need to get back up there!

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Any thoughts or questions?