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).

 

 

Travelogue/Travelodge

Travelogue to Travelodge, we took the road to little England, a land that has gone quite to seed, a land of smiles and good intentions, but sadly low on willpower. A land with heart disease.

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England; no country for old men, but we've travelled south to see one. Oh how you've let yourself go, but then, weren't it ever so? Ours is not a city of dreaming spires and genteel similes shared, it's a city of creosote, concrete and dogshit, lazy racism, casual homophobia and maccy d's. We were always overfed and undernourished, we were always here. We've always wanted someone else to blame, we've always been held to ransom by the same elites. Nothing has changed. The only difference is Russian 'bots and a Waitrose. 

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We pass Pray for Tommy Robinson graffiti in a blur, marvel at her faux-leopard-skin covered crutches, and eat an airless breakfast surrounded by massive, tattooed men with tiny hands clutching smartphones tightly. England sizzles in it's juices. We keep on driving, now on the Dorking road, along mellow sun-streaked ghost holloways, once arteries through a forest that stretched from Essex to the great chalk plains, fragile leather soles swapped for black liquid bones, already half auto-maton.

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Finally, we reach the coast, and a little corner of a foreign field. This is where my stepfather lies. I water a thirsty shrub and clear away some brambles. Forever England, just off the bypass and in-between the housing estates. On the Monarch's Way, widely spaced beech trees hang from chalky Downs, flinty drove roads meander through coppiced woods. A shotgun rings out, spooking the dog. Piles of aggregate stir slightly in the heat haze. The traffic churns on and on, around the roundabouts. England burns. 

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But back on the road, people are unfailingly kind. And in London too, there's a kindness in the crush that doesn't fit the narrative at all. Jan from upstairs offers to lend a hand, Mike and Debbie from across the road have noticed that Dave hasn't been around lately. Our parents might not take your help - they live in fear - but help is there. Dave has delirium; not only a metaphor but a real medical condition. He doesn't recognise his own home, his own fate. The meek can and will get fucked. England waits, ready to wake.

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Mountain gold

A few photos from a two day trip in the North-West. Not exactly off the beaten track, but not the usual honeypots either (although you'll see a fair few of them on the skyline). Big, rough and tumble country, a natural circuit around a rugged glen, a high camp and no midges. The sun never quite sets in the mountains at this time of year. It's pretty perfect if the weather works out.

I went with a photography client, but when the company and conditions are this good, it's not work - or at least, it's not hard work! Matt has an interesting job working for the planning department at SNH, and for me personally it was energising to spend time with someone who has a layered understanding and appreciation of wild places. Whatever people come with is great - the range of experience is one of the best things about tutoring - as for Matt, he was pretty familiar with camera technicals, and more than able enough in the hills, which allowed us to cover some burly ground on foot, as well as (I hope) some alternate ways of looking and seeing.

I can't wait to go back for the Corbett, and to camp in the deer paradise underneath, studded with lochans and stuffed with craggy ribs of pink granite.

 

 

 

Taps aff west

Continuing the family theme, a few snapshots from three days on the west coast of Scotland between deadlines, staying on a formal campsite with the pack; a new camera (not entirely convinced), chronic hay fever, an eagle ignored as punters checked their phones, cuckoos and midges at dusk, ice cream at lunch, ridiculous beaches and ridiculous weather. Just as we were due to leave, we figured out the best thing to do was as little as possible. Hoping we'll remember that for next time.