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.

Soggy bottom boys

I have a feature in the September 2018 issue of The Great Outdoors, about a journey I haven't really mentioned here, so this is as good a time as any to share a few extra photos. Here's a fancypants quote from near the surprise end to whet your appetite...

Lintern-08133.jpg

We floated in space, among the multi-coloured galaxies of a NASA photograph. The airless vacuum beneath our boats was so dense with life that we moved without splashing, pulling our way gently though this universe of water and timing our paddle strokes to avoid contact.  

 

 

Richard, David and I set off from Beasdale, paddled Lochs Morar and Nevis and finished in Inverie. It was a WET trip and there was plenty of squelchy walking and camping. The route choice was a little arbitrary and planned on the hoof to accommodate the weather, but in retrospect it's a pretty classic 3 or 4 day paddling route. Using the postie path along Loch Morar, and the crossing point at Tarbet (literally, gaelic for portage) is exactly how some of our forebears would have cut about the place... just with less expensive toys. Our train back was a local diesel, but if you timed it right, you could even return by steam train and keep the old skool atmosphere going right to the end.

Looking through these, I'm feeling all nostalgic for a wet bum and the shivers again. Now that normal Scottish summertime has resumed, a reprise is overdue.

Click/swipe to navigate. Thanks for taking a look.

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. 

Lintern-6706.jpg

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.

Lintern-6690.jpg

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.

Lintern-6580.jpg

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. 

Lintern-6542.jpg

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.

Lintern-6522.jpg

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. 

Lintern-6573.jpg

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.

Lintern-6566.jpg