A late start to the day, mainly due to spending ages chatting with the hostel manager having got myself sorted and ready to go. I was on the road by around 11.00 I guess, not a real problem as the light was good until around 22.30.
A short ride along the road to Invercauld Bridge, better known as the Brig ‘o Dee, a few photos and then it was into the Invercauld estate to find the track that leads through to Glen Builg.
The weather was OK though it looked a little windy on the tops, that said it wasn’t cold here in the valley. The ride into the estate is initially on a sealed road, past the estate office and once past the main house the track veers to the right and heads uphill, into the woods. Pretty sheltered in the woods, I was starting to overheat as I climbed through the estate, a couple of stops while trying to tally the map with the web of trails going in all directions.
I managed to identify the trail that heads to Craig Leek, and pick up the gate that gives access to the glen I was looking to follow. The gate was in deer fence, and as the main gate was locked I had to squeeze the bike through the walkers gate!! A bit like the picture of the monkey trying to get the fruit out of the box.
Once out of the estate and on to the hill I was confronted with a good double track, this heads over the shoulder of Culardoch, it starts out fairly innocently but you can see it winding up the shoulder a few Km ahead, and pretty steeply too!
The high point is around 700mtrs, climbing almost 400mtrs to this point. The difference in the weather up here was quite marked. A very strong wind that made moving quite difficult, even the short push over the final 100mtrs of the saddle, and pretty cold too as the cloud was down to about 600mtrs, thus visibility was down to less than 100 mtrs on the saddle itself.
A nice descent of ~200mtrs down to the Gairn river is a fair reward for your effort, not least because it warmed up a little and I could see where I was going again. At the bottom of the track there is a ford over the river, while the track itself continues right, this side to a bridge about 1Km away. As I was aware of the time I opted to follow the track in order to save a little time, especially given the weather. This proved to be a bit of a mistake as the track was very wet, and as the infamous Argocats had been used it was all I could do to walk through it, let alone ride. I think it took me about 30 mins to get to the bridge!!
There were a couple of guys working on the bridge, stone masons I think, and the look on their faces was a picture, given the weather, and the fact that the bike was so loaded they thought I was mad to have ridden it over the hill. When I told them where I was heading the just looked at each other and shrugged…. I bet they checked the evening news for reports of a found body on the hill.
Having left the bridge the track bears left/north to the old Loch Builg Lodge, now derelict, and then follows the east shore through to Tomintoul. Some really nice single track along the shoreline finally gives way to double track, but all nice riding. The weather was improving too so all was well with the world.
I was planning to make it to Tomintoul in time to have coffee and a bacon&egg roll in the old fire station cafe, and did so, just! The conditions through the Glen and the wind etc had made for slower going than I had expected, and given the late start I was finally left the cafe at around 6.00. There was quite a lively DofE group having tea and cakes having just finished their expedition, I seem to have been followed by these groups on this trip, some of whom were asking about the bike etc. We had quite a good chat about doing expeds on bikes, including the assessors, who have seen groups doing it with trailers but felt that the set up I was using would be much better for the off road trips. It seems that there are several schools in the Perth area that have a fleet of BOB trailers for school trips and DofE expeds. It seems to me that we may see more and more education groups putting their toe in the bikepacking pool, only a good thing in my view.
Leaving Tomintoul involves a short road section that takes you just past the turn of for Glenlivet, after which you follow a Rights of Way marked track through to Glen Brown, via the woods behind Kylinadrochit Lodge. The track over the the glen is very easy going, if a little “washboard” in places, especially on a rigid bike. Once one drops to the river at the bottom of the glen a faint trail follows the SW bank of the river, there are a few crossings back and forth which are fine when it’s dry. I have done this ride a few times now, some when it was wet and it’s a completely different proposition then. Fortunately today it was pretty dry.
At the end of this short glen the track heads right, and over to Dorback Lodge. Along the way there are lots of ruins, some very old, others not so. The old farmhouse at Letteraitten looks almost like a Roman villa with it’s pillars facing you as you approach! By now the time is getting on and I still have the Braes of Abernethy and Eag Mhor to negotiate.
Coming the other way this section can be a tricky needle to thread as the track veers one way, but the route itself crosses a river at a very unlikely looking spot, with the track on the other side not really being visible until you have crossed and headed into the growth. This way though is much less problematic, hough there is a bit of a tricky climb up to Eag Mhor from Ballintum, after another river crossing the trail heads into the moorland and is very narrow in places, such that pedalling can be quite difficult due to catching the sides of the path with pedals! Once into the cleft though the track from here to the river crossing previously mentioned is some of the best bit of single track on the whole trip.
Once through Eag Mhor itself and across the short stretch of moorland, the trail that winds through the tree line to the river is great, even with a loaded bike. Once over the river it becomes double track again, all the way back to Glenmore. The track gives great views over to Meall a’Bhuachaille and the Cairngorm hills. A shallowish ford takes you over the river and joins the track from Forest Lodge through to the Ryvoan pass. The riding along here is extremely bumpy on a rigid bike, and given the late hour the need to race the fading light to get home before dark just made matters worse…. 70km in the saddle and now hammering along the trail left an impression(almost literally!!) on my rear that would stay with me for a few days.
The ride past the Bothy and Lochan Uaine is a lovely stretch of open double track, with a little bit of tech descending just past the Bothy. I whizzed past Glenmore Lodge, giving the bar a miss in favour of getting home for a meal and shower. I finally propped the bike against the wall at home at around 22.00, about 30 mins of daylight to spare. A long day to cover some ~75Km, the conditions didn’t help, nor the fact that I carried a little too much kit, which both highlighted my lack of base fitness, but as this was the first multi day trip with a loaded bike this year I did ok I think. A few lessons learnt.