bike

A brace by bike

A few photos from a 24 hour trip from my door, by bike into the next glen for an outlying Munro and a Corbett. I'm still ticking, not religiously, but out of the corner of my eye. 

The last time I was up at the head of Tromie and Giack estates, it was grouse shooting territory and felt very bleak. Both estates have since been purchased by Anders Polvsen's Wild Land limited, and it'll be interesting to see what happens next. Coming in from Ruthven, there's plenty of birch, pine, rowan and juniper lining the river. I'm hoping for those natives to spread up the hillsides, which are still bare and barren aside from the old tracks for sport shooting. There's masses of potential here, though... and fossilised tree roots in the peat until about 620m. 

Polvsen is open to criticism from land reformers - he is the second largest landowner in Scotland after the Duke of Buccleuch, after all - but I'd quietly suggest a little more caution and a fraction less partisanship on that front. Until the SNP top brass get off the fence, people like Polvsen are allies, not enemies in a regenerating Highlands. To those who reckon it's all a tax dodge, note he pays taxes on all his holdings in Denmark... but not here. If you'd (quite rightly, in my own view) like those taxes to be spent in Scotland, then look to Westminster first, and Hollyrood second, and join Green MSP's like Andy Wightman in advocating for a land tax. That would start to break up the estates as well.

For me, these are the hills of home now. I'm no longer a tourist. As I type this, a few of the shinty boys are repairing the roof about a foot from my head. That's money in the community, where it's needed. 

The simplicity of a cycle to camp and a walk o'er the tops was much needed. Family life has been pretty tough in the last year; illness, death, plus the sleep deprivation that comes with two youngsters in the house. I shed a few tears of grief and relief on the rolling hills far above the village. Hills of home - not just places of escape, but spaces to take stock.

Team Heavy reprise

With the book finally submitted (bar edits, of which there will no doubt be 'some') and child 1 freed from nursery for the summer, it was time to venture forth once again on our trusty steel steeds, and attempt the full circuit through the woods that we'd trialed a month or two back. 

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A little sketchy hike-a-bike-and-cart over roots, under branches, through heather and bracken, plenty of forestry tracks, relaying kit over the Cairngorm Club footbridge, some flow, some sweat and some push, a little drizzle, some rain and some sun. We made it through to Loch Garten, and a camp so utterly quiet I woke up the family from a half sleep to wonder out loud what the hum was. It was the hum of insects, the sound of the forest. It's hard to explain that sensation to those who haven't experienced it, to express why it's important to have places we can engage with on that level... I think so, anyway. What's the big deal, why should they care? We all should, though, we definitely should.

Our eldest ran alongside the bikes laughing, our youngest crawled around on a pine needled floor, occasionally taking a header. It was only 3 camps and 3 days ride over 4, but we all got dirty and smelly and a little feral, a welcome respite from the end of days atmosphere of the news at the moment. With the kids we camp early, leave late and there plenty of variables other than the environment to factor - naps, feeds, cooking and bed times. Surprisingly full days, even hard - physically and mentally - given that we're not only looking out for ourselves now... one of the touchstones of the outdoors narrative, isn't it, that self reliance, until you go with others. And then you go with your own kids, and realise you didn't know you were born. With our eldest, I'm making an effort not to say 'be careful' as much, but rather say 'be aware' - it's not an easy habit to break.

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I was pleased the circular route came together, although some of it clearly isn't meant to have a bike buggy dragged around it. The Speyside way was a really pleasant surprise and a nice, straightforward finish - it's quite lovely from Boat of Garten to Aviemore in particular. Then there were the tiny joys of exploration - trusting in an old narrow gauge horse and cart trail that hugged the contour, tracing the eskers on a dusky Badenoch Way, the bigger pieces beginning to jigsaw with the smaller ones. I'm joining the dots, the stuff I missed when I came for the mountains only, and am glad and grateful to have the chance to know it better. 

There's been a little interest in how all this works, as far as it does, so as for the practicalities, we use Alpkit and Wildcat Gear frame bags - the former being cheaper and the latter being better made and more rigid... but both work well. I also use a bit of Revelate Designs kit - the patagucci of bikepacking stuff - super durable, large capacity and beautifully made - handy for hauling everyone's sleep kit on my handlebars. I wrote about some of the other gear here, and I wrote about the test run for this trip, here

It wasn't a priority - I was too busy trying to eat enough to haul the bike and buggy - but here's a few more photos to finish up the tale (click to make biggerer).

 

 

Some photos of a bike tour

Feshie. A beautiful chaos. I arrive late and only half recognise the place, and even in the morning it's the same until I reach the upper reaches. The 'new' track is in pieces, washed away by waters allowed to run wild. I thought it had been three years since I was last here, but it's only been two. So much has changed. Me too, I guess.

My fettling done for now, I sit, watch and listen. I'm camped in a musical place, the river running over rock to my left and right, and the long, low sweeping arc of the meander right at my feet. The music expands and the river is a glockenspiel: High notes chime on my left, low registers to my right. The moon swoons in and out of the cloud. It's out in the clear now, stroking gentle shadows from the glades, then back it sways veiled behind gauze, stretched across a blackness untroubled with tungsten. And with it the contrast opens up, from blacks to greys, even hues of green and blues. I can see more of the glen, the river course, and the forest, growing again, all the time, growing.

The pass of the flagstones

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a week around the Nevis watershed. Before revisiting the Tranter Round, I went into the Lairig Leacach by bike, to dig around some routes - some I'd done before, some I hadn't. The track was padlocked by Rio Tinto Alcan at the top of the woods, something I've reported to the appropriate access officer since. The Lairig Leacach is a historic drover's road - in English it means the pass of the flagstones - and a padlocked gate meant dismantling a loaded bike. Sadly we're seeing access infringements like this becoming more and more commonplace north of the border. What with the Loch Lomond bylaws and that sorry arsed news from the Lakes regarding a trial license for outdoor activities, I can't help thinking we're only as strong as our weakest link, which in our current state of Union is England. Time to buck your ideas up, compadres - the celts have had our back and been on point for long enough. Please return the favour by kicking back in your own backyard, before the landowning nobs in the Lords swap any more funny ideas over their earl grey and caviar.

But I digress, kinda. It was a great little preamble to the main event (the Tranter), and a magical place to spend a couple of nights, to catch up on some sleep and some work, with a day tramping some ground that needed covering for this n' that of a why. The two Innses loom over everything in this part of the world. Despite being just Corbetts they really are larger than life, and seemed to follow me around the glen, wherever I was. It was great to see them again, for the third time now.

The down back to town is more fun than the up - 5km only broken by the same gate at the top of the pass and another (without padlock) on the north side of the woods. It's what counts for exciting in my world... at least at 7am.

Some photos, then.