I came across these bags when Sandro posted a topic on Bearbones, (1st Feb 2020),
I was interested in his bags because of problems with my front sus dropping a bit (negative air pressure, now sorted), before I knew it was the front fork.
After a few days Sandro phoned me, and tried to convince me that knees wouldn’t touch.
I was very sceptical (Reg’s references to John Wayne etc.)
Anyway we agreed I would pay for the bags and if not satisfied he would refund me in full’.
They arrived early March, and I put them on the bike with :
Right hand pocket: PHD sleeping bag containing liner, long johns, woolly socks
left hand pocket: MLDesigns Trailstar + inner
Blue pocket: Neoair sleeping mat, Klymit Cush pillow, Permavent sheet, Alpkit KLoke bivvy bag
Difficult getting it in, and it was very bulky… I was definitely losing hope…
Moved them up a bit nearer the stem, and went up the street…. very surprised that my knees were almost clear, mainly clear.
Came back and adjusted my seat, moving it back a bit (5 mm)…
Up the street again…. very good, excellent..
Put my frame bag on (without taking the bags off), containing my usual haul:
First aid, tool kit, pump. zip ties, spare tube, tiny lock, MSR Trailshot, duct tape, tubeless repair, tent pegs, 500 ml water…)
So I got my gear on and went out for my regular 7 mile ride (800 feet, some gnarly climbs too, a bit of mud)
THE RESULT: Excellent !
I didn’t know it was on. Absolutely no movement. The bike handled certainly better than with a handle bar bag on, not that I find a handlebar bag much of an encumbrance)
I even simulated lifting over a gate, no problem as your fork crown is there staring at you and none of the bag anywhere near..
If you want to get out of the saddle, it’s possible but a bit awkward in that you have to lean a bit left when your right leg is at the top of the pedal, and right when your left leg is at the top.
For me though this is not a problem. If I’m climbing I rarely if ever get out of the saddle. You have to remember when climbing not to allow yourself to slip forwards.
It’s very lightweight material, so you wouldn’t want anything sharp or pointy in there. I think Sandro claims it’s waterproof (but that might be Italian or French waterproof)
So my sleeping bag is in a dry bag.
You can see it all looks bulky, but it doesn’t interfere with your riding at all. And no movement.
As for me I’m on a medium bike, and between 5’8 and 5’9, don’t have particularly short legs, nor particularly long.
If you were contemplating a multi-day trip, carrying quite a few days food, these bags would be a very good solution. All your sleeping gear in the Sandro bags (except pegs and pole), leaving you about 13 litres (or more) of space in a handlebar bag, then your frame bag, and seat bag, plus (for me anyway) my rucsac…(38 litres capacity if you had no choice).
I made my first foray into bike packing in 1997 when I went from Oban to Aberdeen, using small pannier bags at the back on a rack, screws kept coming loose…
Before that I had done about 3 days multi-day in Scotland with everything in my alpine climbing sac. After the first 12 miles my back was killing me… a few adjustments allowed me to continue.
I gradually and eventually got into bikepacking bags….
Handlebar bag, tank bag, frame bag, seat bag, bags on forks… ingenious !
What’s left ?
Well, nobody meaning NOBODY, has considered an idea which probably originated hundreds or possibly thousands of years ago ! When animals were used for carrying loads, the loads were spread across the “ridge” i.e. the back of the animal. Then it was widely used in the Wild West with cowboys.
I used to ride motorbikes and did an amazing trip sailing Newcastle to Bergen, and touring up north in Norway, Finland, Sweden, carrying a few supplies including a small tent, all in my amazing tank bag, in the same position as Sandro’s Bags.
And yet in bikepacking, it would appear that nobody thought of that area to the left and right of the top tube ! Everywhere else, but not there ! Why not, when it was used years and years and years ago when using animals for carrying.
Weight: 281 grams
Cost: 175 euros
Capacity: 16 litres
Sandro (Italy) – New Products.com
put a posting on the Bearbones Bikepacking forum (UK)…
I was convinced my knees would catch the bags… I ordered from Sandro on condition that if my knees touched he would give me a full refund.
Arrived last Saturday (22nd Feb), put them on the bike with my sleep set up in, thinking all the time these bags are going back..
Up the street for a ride… amazing, knees not touching but a bit near. Back to garage, adjusted seat 5mm further back (no issues here, probably a better position anyway)…
Up the street again !!!!
No issues whatsover.
So a bit of lunch then out for a short 7 mile ride, containing uphill, gnarly, and enough mud as usual.
Absolutely no issues with the riding, no movement, no catching of knees though if you are fighting uphill you have to remember not to slide forward.
Monday did 30 miles (proper mountain biking, with 3300 feet ascent), and the last hour in the dark, and howling wind, rain, hailstones…
Going downhill in a very strong wind, I reckon these bags actually make the bike more stable.
If there are any issues it’s the front of the bag, in front of the stem, where the flaps are not neatly folded/fastened together… my feeling is that is a potential for letting weather in.
Though none of my kit got wet.
There is a flimsy piece of material, attached to the grey strip on the last photo, and this does a great job of keeping any wet out of the steerer tube.
When riding and going down bumpy downhill there is no movement at all.
Even managed out of the saddle (read the posting as referenced above)
Here are a few photos:
From about 2pm on Saturday 30th April returning Monday 2nd May about 1pm
From sunshine to hail in a matter of minutes… then loads of uphill to get here – this was on the way back
Did about 4 days of Ray Young’s 350 mile route 3 years ago, starting from Moffat. Ray’s start is from Peebles, but I wanted to reduce the driving, and Moffat is good for parking.
147 miles drive from home (two and a half hours) a few miles north of Bolton to Moffat, just off the M74, stopping for 10 minutes at Tebay services.
Parked up on the big car park and assembled everything, and got going at 9:45am
Pleasant quiet road leading to even quieter country lanes for two and a half miles, then you turn off onto a track which ascends slightly and eventually reaches the forest after three quarters of a mile. Getting warm now so stopped to shed clothing. You’d better get used to these forests, there are plenty of them. But very pleasant riding until after 4 miles of pleasantness, enjoying the birdsong, and the morning air, instead of following the forest track down, it’s boomph !! A nasty little sign pointing “That way” – check gps… yes, it is “That way”…. Oh dear – is there a path ? just about, but it starts going up, and up, and up, and ever up. What a shock to the system. It’s the wrong muscles, it’s calf muscles, ankles, feet, toes, and a lot of wrists, and a lot of using the brakes too ! What ! Yep, the brakes, to stop the beastie going backwards down the hill. And quite a bit of ducking and weaving too because of the spruce branches hanging low… It must be over 700 feet (220metres) ascent in less than half a mile (800 meters), so it is a bit of a beast… (27.5%). Reminded me of the Coffin Road, just checked the contours of that and it goes from sea level to 150 meters in 500 meters – that’s 30%, but then it’s not over, and goes another 200 meters ascent in 1100 meters (18%).
It leaves the forest after a bit and you eventually reach the top, and descend a bit to a good track going north, then south east, and back into the forest. About 6 miles of forest later you cross the B709, but you’re soon back in the forest for 7 miles of riding till just after Greensykes Bothy.
Open country for a couple of miles with Meggett Water on your left, then a quiet single track road for 3 miles when you turn left and head in the opposite direction, on a good track which eventually crosses and follows Stennies Water. On my last foray here I camped just over the bridge.
From a bit past here the track is a bit more difficult and you have to work very hard to keep those wheels moving. There is a massive house and grounds on the right, and I’ve wondered before what’s the story behind such a big house and grounds in such a remote location, with no proper road to it except the track I’ve been on.
As the track improves the gradient increases and it’s hard work in the hot sun, when you have been going for (probably) some 5 or 6 hours, and your route goes north for a couple of miles, steadily uphill, till at the top of the “loop” you descend a bit but it doesn’t last long until you’re climbing again. Before descending I came across a caravan, which had about 10 bunks in it…
tempted to lie down but resisted…
At the top you leave the forest and start a welcome exciting descent for a good two miles (Jock’s Hope) to a farm at Burngrains, so good to leave the forest for a change of scenery:
then easy riding to cross the road (A7) then through the farm at Arkleton to start the next ascent… in my case in the gloomy drizzle. I made a point of re-filling my water bottle (using a Sawyer Filter). It’s evening by now and very gloomy and wet and miserable, but you start descending and cross Tarras Water, and join a single track road, all the way to Tarras Lodge, then 6 miles of road to Newcastleton.
It’s amazing how few people there are…(few=none), and on this road section was passed by only one vehicle.
I rolled into Newcastleton at about 8pm, it was a bit like a ghost town, nobody about. I didn’t stop but just continued straight through, wanting to get my head down before it was too late. I have a bit of a dread of being stuck in the forest when it’s gone dark, and there is nowhere for a decent pitch and no water… this was rapidly becoming the case so in the hope of making two problems into only one, I got some water from a trackside pool – it was about a foot deep so not that bad, but the midges were starting. And onwards trying to spot a decent place to pitch my ZPacks tent.
Everywhere was utterly useless, and it was still drizzling, and everytime I stopped they were out… so I just kept going until by about 8:30 three tracks joined and there was a stream, and a derelict building, and not far from that and clear of the forest was a tree, and enough space underneath to get the tent up… what a relief !
58 miles done.
Midges not too bad at this point, away from the trees and it was getting cool. Freeze dried meal with desert then time to sleep, but after 15 minutes in the sleeping bag my back was cold… the Klymit X-Lite had decided to spring another leak ! It’s let me down this year for the fourth time. I used whatever padding I could including the sleeping pad from my fancy Montane rucsac… but I wasn’t that comfortable.
Quite cold in the morning at 5:30am but got a brew on and decided not to have any breakfast as I should be at Kielder Castle in less than 13 miles.
Left about 7:30 – after a couple of miles the track meets Kershope Burn, which is the border between England and Scotland, so at this point it moves over the border into England. I arrived at the castle at 9am. They only open at 9:30am, so got my sheet out, and lay on the ground for a bit of a nap.
At 9:25am there was another cyclist waiting for breakfast, Jim, on his sit up and beg very smart bike withpanniers on. So we had breakfast together – in fact I had two breakfasts as I wouldn’t be eating much until I stopped late in the evening.
I only left there at 11am and set off in lovely bright weather again (but with a very cold wind) along the Forest Drive for 12 miles to the A696 road. There are a lot of new surfaces on this track, quite big chunks of gravel, and they are very hard work. The wheels just don’t roll over them, even on the flat.
(just spotted on my map a BW following White Kielder Burn and wonder what it’s like. It goes all the way to Catcleugh Reservoir and the A696)
i soon reached the top at Blakehope Nick (1500 feet):
It’s downhill from the top at Blakehope Nick – note the winter gloves ! It was cold despite the bright sun.
Soon reached the picnic spot (camped there previously) at Blakehopeburnhaugh, and used the toilets and re-filled my water bottle, then set off along the A696 past Byrness but turning off after a couple of miles and into the forest and steadily upwards past Spithope Bothy, which is a bit off the track but visible.
A mile or so after this you leave the forest and the character of the ride changes completely, as you enter the open moorland and cross the border back into Scotland, with faint but rideable grassy tracks of the Cheviots. You’re heading for the ridge which divides England and Scotland and maintains a height round between 500 and 600 metres… Greystone Brae 463, Lamb Hill 511, Beefstand Hill 562, Mozie Law 552, culminating in Windy Gyle at 619 metres but the route doesn’t go to Windy Gyle but heads north west along The Street.
It’s mainly rideable with some very good bits too, but it undulates a bit so there is a bit of H-A-B after Yearning Saddle Refuge and a few other bits. It seemed to take ages though getting to where you join The Street.
It’s not all plain sailing on The Street either, some lovely fast descents, then some uphill, and at one point it’s hard to find the track and you may end up trudging through bristly heather till you find it again.
There was still a bit of snow on The Cheviot in the distance.
It’s a bit of a relief to reach the road at Hownam and easy road riding for 4 miles to Pennymuir, after which I planned to camp. I knew there wouldn’t be water up there so when I crossed the river I filled up with 2 litres. I went a mile or so along the track from Pennymuir then set up the tent.
Got my food in and prepared to sleep, but even colder on my second night, so a very sporadic sleep. Up at 5am scraping bits of frost off the inside of the tent… condensation, not much breeze, and quite a frost on the bike when I looked out.
Got some breakfast in and a brew, packed up, and off for before 7:30am, but first I decided to oil the chain a bit. And riding after this there was a faint rumbling coming from the back wheel, which bothered me a lot… I couldn’t work out whether it was the bearings. Strangely after half an hour it stopped…
The route follows Dere Street (another relic of the Romans) before joining Borders Abbeys Way just before Jedburgh. Nice riding.
I rolled into Jedburgh before 9 am and found a cafe which was open, and had breakfast and tea, and more tea, finishing off with an ice cream sittinng outside in the sun.
A big drag uphill from Jedburgh on the road before joining a track through farmland. You reach a hill called Black Law, then start descending soon after. As you enter a gully you are confronted with (yet another !) electric fence, and a stile over it. Very awkward, but 6 feet after getting over this stile there is a repeat performance to be had ! Another electric fence and a stile… who are they trying to keep out ? (The Romans have gone…). Soon after Bedrule I got very confused with my navigation, and took several wrong turns, because after the sawmill there is more than one option, and the gps doesn’t pinpoint within about 50 feet, so I usually end up choosing one option, going a bit, then turning back when I see I’m off course.
But what had happened here is that my Garmin Dakota 20 had frozen, and I hadn’t yet realised it. So I kept getting the phone out, which has Memory Map on and is a lot clearer, but was I confused. I eventually managed to do a hard re-set. This wiped all my data but fortunately NOT my route, otherwise it would probably have been abandon.
I ended up going across a bad field, and at the end of it there was a sawdust track used for pony carriage trotting, boy was that bad to ride ! Like sinking in sand… As this sawdust track got near to a little road, I lugged the bike over a creaky, barbed wire gate, with great difficulty, joined the little road, and made it to Denholm.
I didn’t stop in Denholm but continued along the River Teviot towards Hawick. Some lovely riding along this 5 mile stretch, very hot in the afternoon sun, and some very awkward steps half way along.
Rolled into Hawick, found a cafe, and had a good meal with apple crumble and custard for desert 😝… then it was time to press on.
It’s all uphill out of Hawick, and road too, until you eventually turn left into a forest on what would have been a very nice surface to ride, but the cattle had been there and it was deep potholes which made it very hard work.
Things get a bit better on the Cross Borders Drive Road which joins the Borders Abbeys Way, which leads into Selkirk.
At Selkirk I just kept going as I was keen to find a place to lie down. Perfect spot near Long Philip Burn, where I collected my two litres of water.
Tent up in about 5 minutes and I was in the sleeping bag. No need for food, still full.
Another cold, very cold night, and a cold back, sleeping only in bits.
Up just before 5am – porridge and a big brew, then off, upwards, towards the Three Brethren… (but the uphill is pleasant and rideable):
Some lovely riding from here – the Old Drove Road, Brown Knowe (523m), Hare Law, Cross Borders Drive Road, then the Southern Upland Way dropping into Traquair.
Peebles soon comes into view and this wonderful three mile ‘ridge’ of the Cross Borders Drove Road in the distance: (taken just before ascending to Kirkhope Law on the right)
On this ride I had met hardly any people… in fact no people… as I was descending just before Garwaldwaterfoot I had spotted a walker taking the track on the left, but he had gone by the time I got there !
Descending from Kirkhope Law I met about a dozen walkers starting their walk of the day…(it was nearly 11am)
Coming into Peebles bought some junk food from a Spar…(in fact the caramel topped shortbreads were so bad, I could only eat one, and binned the rest….(at the end of the ride though…😜)
I decided on the first restaurant I came to, an Indian one, and put my bike outside where I could see it, with a small padlock on the rear rotor, and ordered a pot of tea and a big plate of rice and vegetable curry or something, and told the waiter I had to be able to watch my bike…
After a few cups of very sweet tea, I was sending a text, when all of a sudden, the waiter said “somebody has taken your bike” …. Holy Shit, I sprang up and dashed for the door fearing the worst, when a friendly window cleaner said, “it’s alright, I’ll put it back afterwards…”
Then he went on to tell me he’d gone to the pub opposite a few weeks ago on his bike, had a skinful, and forgot he’d gone on the bike, and waking up in the morning suddenly remembered the bike, dashed to the pub to find it still there, and it wasn’t even locked.
But he also told me about professional bike thieves who target MTB events at Innerleithen, and even follow cars to where the riders live so they can get the bike later.
Very hot when I left the restaurant and as I started the uphill from Tantah, and came to a gate, I vowed not to stop and have a nap…but I lay down just for a second and fell asleep for 10 minutes or so.
Brilliant riding after the uphill is over, sweeping along on beautiful narrow singletrack.
Navigation was a bit confusing near Easter Dawyck, and a bit tedious on the way to Hammer Head again due to cattle, but very decent riding in good country. Hot and tiring in the afternoon sun.
Eventually I reached Clover Law and stopped for a rest and some food, before the two mile descent to Broughton:
Not far from Broughton I came across this forbidding looking building:
Going through Broughton I resisted a cafe stop and a jacket potato.
The route takes the minor road on the right, and at Kilbucho House leaves the road on a track through some gardens, where there were ominous signs…
”Private Gardens” and “Beware – German Shepherds roaming”
Due to a very bad experience two years ago (attacked by two Dobermans…but not bitten thanks to my bike ‘shield’) there was no way I was risking it, so I ended up doing a 7 mile detour to get to Glencotho…
I set up camp just before the big ascent to Cocklie Rig, got my food in, and it wasn’t as cold so my fourth night I got a good sleep in 👍
Up early again, brew and porridge, packed and away for 6:25am… but not riding, except for twenty feet… a big push up to the huge wind turbines on Cocklie Rig, and eventually onto the wind turbine service track, and eventually downhill to Kingledores Farm… I made the mistake of taking the service track on the right (uphill as well…) instead of heading to the farm, and soon after the A701.
Pleasant early morning riding on the road until turning left onto a minor road, which after a while takes you to Fruid Reservoir.
All the way along the reservoir looping back on the other side at the end, takes you to the bottom of Macrule Hill, the start of the infamous hike-a-bike which Ray had warned me about.
It’s not so bad at first, east of Macrule Hill, then you realise the line is more right, crossing over to the west of Macrule Hill. Hard work pushing uphill over this stuff, and it doesn’t let up.
West of Ballaman Hill I was sure I had lost the track, but there isn’t one. Soul destroying in the heat with no visible prospect ahead of ‘redemption’…
On and on it goes… 3 miles took about 2 hours, till eventually I started descending and could ride again… but still over tussocky stuff.
Very glad to reach the Annandale Way, not much of a track but at least riding, bumpily, until it goes uphill. Reached the Devil’s Beeftub, and floated down to the road. On the road for 200 metres then off-road again to Eric’s Stane, bit of a push uphill then downhill to cross the road again, and good riding all the way to Moffat, on a good track.
Got back to the car park before 2:30pm, so my little adventure took 4 days and 5 hours, and 4 wild camps… (3 cold ones)
I’m not sure what the mileage or ascent is because of the Garmin re-set, but Ray has it as 331 kms – 207 miles, 6884 metres – 20655 feet
It is definitely very remote, I thought that last time. A lot more remote than the HT550, and a lot fewer re-supply points. There may be a bit more hike-a-bike than the HT550 too.
But overall it was a good trip, and many thanks to Ray for putting it together.
When I got home I discovered that the reason for the ‘slight wobble’ in my back wheel was not wheel bearings but a cracked seat stay !
It’s a Scott Scale 900 and within the 5 year warranty, so I’m expecting a new frame…
(perhaps this should start a discussion of whether carbon is suspect ? I’ve been riding carbon bikes for several years, and this is my first problem. I was riding my other bike a few days later, and met single speed John, on his battered old bike but it had a new frame ! He had cracked the frame a week ago (he only rides steel bikes) – and he tells me he’s cracked half a dozen steel frames in the last few years..)
I wanted to get a decent ride in before the end of summer. About 3 weeks ago I had set off from my friend’s near Chirk, to get onto Stuart’s Big Bear 530, in mid-Wales, but on the third day having reached Knighton, I abandoned it and got the train back to Chirk. Very wet conditions, very muddy trail, too much road (single track and no traffic, but more than a bit of road is too much for me).
So I downloaded the Deeside Trail gpx, it looked good, and if I set off from Blair Atholl it’s less driving plus more good riding up Glen Tilt, and I can do the best bits in the mountains.
So on Tuesday 5th September, after a 5 hour drive of 282 miles, torrential rain for the first hour or so, I arrived in Blair Atholl, found my pre-planned parking spot, unpacked the bike and gear, then spent half an hour pfaffing with my front tyre which was slowly leaking… (it was a sticky inner valve). So I finally got going at 2:34pm.
Wonderful easy riding up Glen Tilt:
as far as the Falls Of Tarf at 13 miles:
then the tricky 2 miles or so of single-track (ST) above the Allt Garbh Buidhe.
Past Bynack Lodge and Geldie Burn to arrive at White Bridge at about 6:30pm.
From here it was about 5 miles of seriously gnarly track only bits of it were rideable. It was going dark after 8:30 but I didn’t want to put my light on, I could just about see but with increasing difficulty. There’s always that little “ping” of anxiety when you’re on new ground, the weather is not peaceful, you’re tired, and you know that in the last few miles there was not one possible place to get a small tent up, just heather and boggy scrub strewn with rocks, so Corrour Bothy becomes something of a lifeline. I finally reached there at 9pm to find it full – it only sleeps 4 or 5 – there was room for one but it meant sleeping next to a dog (nothing against dogs as such but I need space and besides that I was on guard for ticks)… but there is suitable ground roundabout to pitch a tent… so I had the tent up in 10 minutes, and the food on, and by 11pm I was ready to sleep.
It was far too windy for the midge but these Corrour midges are super intelligent ! They’ve worked out that the doorway to your tent is out of the wind, so a few of them did manage a meal out of me as I was cooking.
Magic place underneath the Devils Point (my tent on the right)
Following day (Wednesday) I was ready for off at 7:30am having had a good breakfast of porridge and sultanas (800 cals freeze dried)
Again a lot of pushing for the first hour on the track over to Glen Derry:
The Bothy can be seen in the distance. then some very special ST and very rideable track dropping down into Glen Derry:
After Derry Lodge I had a confusing time trying to locate the track which goes uphill then eastwards to the wonderfully remote Clais Fhearnaig. A lot of this is rideable but I also took a lot of falls too (I still have a sore hand and a bruised right arm – I couldn’t unclip from my Eggbeaters fast enough and took a few tumbles, would have been better and safer with flats).
Eventually you descend into Glen Quoich, and continue north on a good track. After nearly a mile you turn right on another track and head eastwards, river on the right. You come to a point close to the river where, across the river, there is a distinct track which doglegs back to the south….(more later !). But the track keeps north of the river on a small ST through the pines and heather.
A strange thing happened after this… After riding for a mile or so I thought I should check my route. I couldn’t work out why I was going directly south of the river ! I should have been north of it and going east !
So I had to go back north to get to the point I was at earlier – I was somehow on the track which I mentioned earlier, which “doglegged south”.
The only explanation I have is that after making a mental note of the track on the other side of the river, and proceeding on a ST through the trees and heather, which was rideable but hard work, I do remember stopping a few times to take my jacket off, ride a bit, then the drizzle came, so stop again to put jacket on… and this happened a lot, and every time I stopped the midge congregated, so a bit of a rush to get moving again. On one if these stops I must have somehow turned the bike sideways, then unknowingly gone back the way I had come ! (nothing very distinctive about the scenery except that it all looked the same with pines and heather and little knolls everywhere). I do remember gingerly crossing the river to keep feet dry (to pick up a track on the other side) not realising that this track was the “dogleg” !!!
So I had to backtrack to where the dogleg starts and do all the hard work again on the ST through the pines and the heather, eventually coming out in open country with great views of the north top of Beinn a Bhuird.
Time to eat a bit near this stream:
Tricky navigation after this, about 2 miles from Craig an Dail Mhor and Craig an Dail Bheag:
Totally remote, the track somehow finds a way through this pass, on and off riding but when you reach the flat bottom of the pass, there is a little sliver of a track dodging boulders and rocks but sometimes you are forced to push…
This section seemed to go on for ages, very tiring with technical riding, then jumping off and pushing, then back on again until when you can see Culardoch you know there is a totally rideable Land Rover track, which takes you towards Loch Builg, then heads eastwards towards Ballater.
Had a chat with two locals in their seventies who had just descended Culardoch and had seen me in the distance and wondered if there was a rideable track… they had very smart looking mtb e-bikes, so we rode together towards Loch Builg.
After a few miles on this very good track I missed a turning (again ! ) probably due to problems with the Garmin Dakota 20…
1) it turns itself off from time to time
2) the touch screen must be nearing the end of its life because to bring the screen up you have to prod it half a dozen times
This time though it had gone flat, so I quickly put new batteries in.
I’ll have to think about replacing it – but I need something that takes batteries.
(what’s a good replacement ?)
The correct track is a bit more vague than the one leading up the hill, which is not the way, and I only realised this at the top of the hill, where on checking the Garmin I found it stone dead ! New batteries needed. I couldn’t be bothered going back again, albeit downhill, so I carried on to reach the Old Military Road and headed north to pick up the route again. However I missed the turning for the off-road section so just took the A939 to Ballater, where at about 7:45pm I found the campsite, got the tent up, ate, and went to sleep despite the “street lights” and the steady hum of the electrics in the toilet block 50 yards away.
No great rush, I was going to have a sit down breakfast in Ballater. I left the campsite at 9ish, found a cafe, but it was too hot for me inside so I opted to sit outside in the rain (but there was a canopy so it was fine). A fine breakfast of porridge and sultanas with honey, beans and tomatoes on toast, and a pot of tea.
As I set off it was pouring down, and not warm, so after a mile I found enough shelter under a tree to strip off and put my lightweight fleece on under my Paramo jacket. Following the route, I took the track to the left which eventually reaches the minor road up Glen Muick, and at this point my route crosses the river to get on the track through the woods all the way to the Spittal of Glen Muick. Great difficulty because there was a track leading to a couple of cottages, then another one just ahead, so I went round in circles for a bit before deciding it must be the one ahead, where there was a sign “Road Closed”. After a couple of hundred yards on this the tarmac stopped abruptly leading to a cliff edge 20 feet above the river ! The road had collapsed and there was no sign of any bridge, so I had no other option but to take the road on the west of the river, 6 miles to the Spittal of Glen Muick.
Could have done with a cafe at this point but no chance, so ever onward in the rain to start the ascent between Lochnagar and Conachraig…
Some pushing but after a bit I could ride, albeit in the lowest gear, and with a lot of effort. On top the rain and wind was worse so I sped on hoping to escape it. It was cold going down and I needed to get my fleece back on, but there was no way I was going to ‘undress’ in the rain… eventually towards Gelder Shiel I found a mound which gave enough shelter to do this. The track heads west then a steady but easy climb uphill (towards Cnap a Choire Bhuidhe) – confusion here because my Garmin route took the black dotted path west (I couldn’t even see the start of it, never mind attempt to ride it) but my phone gpx went north west on an excellent track. There was a neat little shelter which allowed me to consider my options and shelter from the wind and rain:
As to which way was a no brainer ! I had already done too much Hike a Bike, so got going on the good track towards the River Dee:
(Whereas the heather at home has already flowered here it was in bloom )
I reached the road at Invercauld Bridge then about 3 miles on the A93 to Braemar, where I had some good food and brews, then set off again in frequent showers (on the road) towards the Linn of Dee (via Mar Lodge).
As I got to open country it was raining heavily, but it’s a good track and I soon reached White Bridge, where I stopped to put a fleece on.
Now it was just a case of going south down Glen Tilt back to Blair Atholl, but I had already decided I would camp just before the Allt Garbh Buidhe. I got across the Geldy Burn without any problems but as I approached the Bynack Burn I made a quick decision not to try and ride across… I would only come off and get wet… just a foot or so from the water I tried to unclip with my right foot, but the foot would not come out, and over I went landing on my already bruised right arm, on the hard, very hard pebbles. And I still could not get my foot out, and eventually had to undo my boot… a good job this hadn’t happened in the water, I would have been well and truly wet through, not nice in the middle of nowhere in the rain, with about an hour of daylight left !
On inspection one of the screws holding the cleat had come out so by twisting my foot to unclip it had twisted all of the cleat, which was well stuck in the peddle. I got my small screwdriver out, but no good, it was in danger of snapping it. I tried an allen key to prise it off, but nothing ! And I thought what the F do I do now ? Walk with only one boot on and push the bike ? Not funny. After 10 minutes I managed to get it free, put the cleat away, and ride with only one foot clipped in.
At home in preparation I had carefully copper slipped all my bolts and screws, so I wonder if that had helped to undo it ? The idea of copper slip is stop things seizing up, but if you use it perhaps you should tighten just that little bit more ?
I reached my camp spot at 7:40pm, and by 8:20 I was in the sleeping bag listening to the stream, the wind, and the rain, ready for a good rest.
Time to relax a bit so I was in no hurry to leave such a magic place:
And even manage half a smile !
I soon reached Falls of Tarf again:
And the plaque in memory of Francis John Bedford:
Steady riding all the way down, following the River Tilt:
I was a bit past Forest Lodge when I heard the roar of an engine coming up behind, at what seemed to be ninety miles an hour, so I instinctively steered the bike off the track and into the grass, applied the brakes and swung round…
What a sight ! A Hercules Transport plane right behind me only a hundred feet above ground… The pilot must have laughed at that !
Soon back in Blair Atholl, where I changed and headed for Pitlochry for some lunch. My socks were smelling so bad I binned them.
All in all an amazing 4 days ! I wondered what the riding would have been like after Ballater towards Banchory. I know there is some hike-a-bike up the Hill of Fare which I wouldn’t have minded, but I wouldn’t have liked any more bits similar to what I had done, gnarly and narrow single track with awkward boulders all over the place (I have to be able to place my left foot down properly otherwse after some time I’m in a bad way) .
If I’d done the whole of it, it would have been 196 miles. Guessing a bit because of the Garmin turning itself off, I think I did 120 miles. What was nice was just going with it instead of trying to achieve a certain target each day…
In May 2015 (18th) I had set off from Tyndrum to attempt the HT550, but after being blasted by gale force winds and horizontal rain, trying to get up Glen Golly to the top of the Bealach Horn, I bailed out when reaching the road at Achfary, and sought sanctuary in a 3star hotel in Lairg some 35 miles down the road.
But somehow I wanted to get on this route again… Why ?
It’s the magic of the Highlands, the being out in it all day, and several days, some good riding, and the experience of being self contained in a hostile but beautiful environment, far away from the normal delights of daily life.
I didn’t want to do the group start (not that I would qualify anyway) as I wanted the freedom to start when my head decided, hoping my head was more in tune with the weather than me !
Besides I’m far too old to want to race a route like this, being a pensioner of more than a few years…
Monday 23rd May
So I started from By The Way Tyndrum at 6:10am on Monday 23rd May 2016, taking advantage of the glorious weather we had been having. My bike and gear weighed in at 53lbs (my bike is a Scott Scale 900 carbon everything, which is sub 20lbs without pedals but with eggbeaters (very light) and Mudhugger mudguards , probably weighed 21lbs. So I was carrying 32lbs of gear, including 1 litre of fuel (2lbs) and 3 days of freeze dried meals (1lb per day), loads of ‘stodge’ in the form of energy bars, flapjacks, gels, biscuits etc.
Because of the extra weight my seat bag was moving about too much, so when I reached the turn off to Glen Lyon after about 3 miles I had some adjustments to make.I put some in the Wildcat Lioness and some in my back pack, but it was only on day 2 that I got things more stable.
The start of Glen Lyon (new section):
It was a glorious morning and the track was excellent but with a few crossings to make of the river before Loch Lyon was reached:
After about 15 miles I reached the singletrack road… Here’s a picture of Highland cattle crossing the river:
I met one walker in all this time.
After a few more miles I stopped for tea and scones with jam and cream, at Bridge of Balgie:
Soon after that I turned north to reach Rannoch forest and Luban Feith a Mhadaidh:
Then a few. Miles further on the Bridge of Gaur.
The route then heads further north towards Loch Ericht, and Ben Alder Cottage:
On a very good track but about a mile or so before Ben Alder Cottage the first HAB (hike a bike) begins. There is a funny bridge spanning the stream before the cottage, where it must be nearly 5 feet to lift the bike onto the bridge – I found it easier to manhandle the rocky stream than get the bike onto the bridge.
It was then a very tough and frustrating quarter of an hour to actually reach the gpx route, pushing uphill through deep heather… Then out of nowhere this magical singletrack appears !
The Ben Alder Singletrack:
It’s practically all rideable, but you do have to concentrate, and it’s gently uphill most of the way to where it bends right just after Beinn a’ Chumhainn, still rideable but you do have to push to get up and over at Meall an t-Slugainn.
Looking up and fearing the uphill push a bit, I suddenly got the empty feeling in my stomach, and stopped to eat. Then on with the jacket as the rain started.
As I got to the col there was quite a dramatic rainbow :
Then on with the tricky business of descending, without falling off ! When you’re on your own up in these mountains you can’t really risk a fall, and I’m always aware of dodging sharp rocks, so easy to cut a tyre.
The rain got harder and the skies went darker as I descended, but at least I was riding. Passed a solitary walker ahead, stopped for a quick chat, he was pleased as he’d just got to the top of a beautiful mountain (to the south of us) which looked just like a pyramid from this angle. It was Ben Alder (1148 m/3766ft).
Going past Loch Pattack was pretty grim, rutted mud channels which required quite a bit of effort.
Then I got going again speedily. I needed to be cracking on, it was probably getting on for 8pm and I was tired, hungry, and weary, and needed to sort my ‘accommodation’ for the night. I’d thought I might pitch near Garve Bridge but when I finally got there it was still raining, and going dark.
There were deer everywhere in the gloom, and it was fascinating watching how skilled they were at running over lumpy heather whether it was uphill or not.
Hungry again I had to eat, and squatted down in the rain forcing chocolate and apricots and raisins in… I decided it was going to be Melgarve Bothy. I reached there about 10:15pm after 82 miles and 16 hours since I had left Tyndrum at 6:10am.
I can keep going for a long time but I never push the pace too much, and I usually ride every climb unless it’s just too steep and a waste of energy.
Sadly all the candles in Melgarve were right ‘down to the bone’ so I had to keep my head torch on.
I made a huge hot chocolate drink with sugar and powdered milk, and while it was cooling prepared my freeze dried (Expedition Foods) Vegetable Tikka with rice, followed by custard and apple.
Got the food and drink down, brushed my teeth, and got to bed at 12:30am.
Tuesday 24th May
Woke before 5 (without alarm) and away for 7:35, towards the Corrieyairach Pass:
A lot more pleasant now that Balfour Beatty have finished their upgrading of the power lines.
Rideable until the steep zigzags, but it was only about 35 minutes pushing then on again. A bit more up then down down down, until you reach a valley where a bit more uphill gets you speeding along again.
Some lunch in Fort Augustus, then the steep climb to get onto the Great Glen Way. About 5 miles of up and down through the forest gets you to Invermoriston. Tea stop there…
(and a bad encounter with a plump 30year old woman, who left her diesel engine running as she ‘nipped into the shop’, just where some walkers were sitting outside having their drinks, I had asked her politely to turn the engine off but she went ‘road rage’…)
Then 3 miles of road to turn off at Blaraidh, uphill on a gravel track for one and a half hours, past Blaraidh Reservoir and Loch Liath … then a stop to top up with water (Sawyer filter), before reaching Loch ma Stac
It’s a lonely and desolate place up here, but it felt a lot better than a year ago when it was 7pm and dark and gloomy. It’s far from any road but there was the distant sound of diggers and machinery (just visible on the ridge in the distance) disturbing the peace with their constant hammering and clattering… probably more wind farms.
Past the weird three storey building at the end of the loch (bars on the windows). Must have been a lot of rain in winter because the building was now surrounded by water.
A bit of a push to reach the cairn on the skyline some 200 metres away, then tricky technical riding all the way to the gate about a mile away , where a wide track leads down to the Abhainn na Ruighe Duibhe. Corrimony Bothy is just a bit further on.
From here quite a bit of quiet road (about 10 miles) until you turn off north via Erchless Forest. A bit of steep uphill then a track with several puddles until the ridiculous gate where you have to, with great difficulty, get your bike over (and it’s a high gate too).
I camped soon after this in a spot I’ve used before, good ground and water nearby.
Up at 5 and away for 7:15am, the track soon veers upwards and becomes a push. Soon riding again along the ‘track of a thousand puddles’, just riding through them.
Strangely the puddles disappear after crossing the stream – maybe not so strange from a drainage point of view:
Fast riding until the Scottish Hydro Bothy is reached, time for a ten minute stop for food, and to check the brake pads:
Easy and fast riding soon gets you to Contin, where I bought a coke, and sat outside for a rest and a drink. Delivery van turns up and driver spends a good ten minutes taking items into the shop, all the while with his diesel engine chugging away ! I decided this time not to tempt fate… the last incident leaves a bad taste in your mind…
(See http://www.ecology.com/2011/11/28/rough-idling/ and other references…)
On the way through the forest to Inchbae Lodge I stopped to adjust something and felt a bit tired, so I just lay down on the track with helmet on (an excellent pillow) and went into such a deep sleep with vivid dreams, for about 25 minutes.
It was now afternoon and the sun was getting hotter. Good riding along Strath Rannoch, and the uphill before getting great views of Loch Vaich:
Good riding then the climb to get past Meall a’ Chaorainn, before dropping down and past Deanich Lodge. At Croik I stopped to eat a bit then ever onwards towards Oykel Bridge. I reached there at 8pm (about 200 miles in) and ordered a coke, soup and homemade bread, chips, beans, and bread, and sticky toffee pudding with ice cream !
But the soup was very filling (especially with the lumps of butter I threw into it) and I could only manage half of the chips and beans ! They very kindly cancelled the desert.
I got going again at 9:30pm down the road towards Rosehall, and after going through the village found a spot near the river, at about 10:30pm.
Here’s a shot in the morning just before I got going again:
Thursday 26th May
Ate a bit and got going for about 7:30am, on the single track road, which eventually becomes a dirt track. No people, no cars, a few sheep, and plenty of deer.
I remembered last year how it was pouring down on this stretch. Got to Maovally Hydro Station then the massive road climb after it, which goes on and on and on, before the long downhill towards Loch Shin, and great views looking north east:
My route would take me into the hills beyond the second loch (Loch Merkland).
I passed with interest where I had had a bad time last year, struggling to get my tent up and get warm after being blasted by wind and rain for hours.
A few miles of quiet road until the turn off east after Merkland Lodge, where a good track goes leads over the Bealach nam Meirleach, before turning north west up Glen Golly.
I was struggling at this point with extreme neck pain, saddle sore chafing especially on the right gluteal bone, and lurking Achilles’ tendon pain. Ever onwards until the turn off into Glen Golly , just before Goberguisnach shooting lodge:
Then the turn off into Glen Golly, over the bridge
It was a very hot afternoon going up Glen Golly but what a change from my battle of a year ago. This time I could see the track clearly ahead, and hear a cuckoo doing its thing.
And this time I largely rode until reaching Creag Dubh
And Lochan Sgeireach perfectly calm instead of with foot high waves !
In fact I stopped here for half an hour to eat, and take my shoes off, and give my feet and smelly socks some air.
The riding after here changes character, and it is fiddly singletrack, but mostly rideable with a bit of effort…
and marvellous views of the beautiful quartzite mountain Cranstackie (801 metres/2628 feet) in the distance beyond Loch Dionard. Durness on the northern coastline is only 9 miles away, so this really is northernmost Britain
Eventually the difficult technical singletrack leads to the very awkward descent to the valley, and An Dubh Loch. Here’s a shot looking back up from where I have come :
And some of that is rideable ! But not this bit:
After crossing the river the steep ascent of the zigzag track begins, which takes you to the Bealach Horn, from where the big descent starts. It descends 3.4 miles to Lone, at the head of Loch Stack. And looking back splendid evening views of Arkle:
Then you hit the road at Achfary, but only for a mile and a quarter, then find the tricky turn off to begin the big ascent to get to the Bealach nam Fiann… it’s 350 metres (1148 feet), and only a few bits are rideable, not because of the surface but because of the gradient.
Looking back towards Loch More:
I got to the top some time after 9pm, and stopped briefly to put my jacket on for the descent, (5.5 miles down to Kylestrome, and good riding) and take some pictures:
Took a wrong turn trying to find Kylesku
but got there and just made for the picnic sign ! I just wanted to get my head down, as it was after 10pm and I had been on the go since leaving Rosehall at 7:15am. Any spot would do and this one was fine, but there was no water.:
Friday 27th May
I was away for 6am (without a brew) – the next stop was going to be Drumbeg Stores, quiet road for about 11 miles, but a lot of ascent ! (I measured it on Memory Map as 2200feet)
It was great to get some food in with an excellent pot of tea. Steve was interested in the bike and when I told him of my aches and pains, especially the pressure sore from the saddle, he produced some double thick bubble wrap and taped it to the seat with masking tape. This was a great help, but after two days it had lost most of its bubbles.
But a big thank you to Steve, Wendy, and Myrtle the cat !
Ever onward towards Lochinver, on a quiet road which still had plenty of hills, but some great views:
I reached Lochinver after some awkward off-road from Achmelvich, at about 2pm, and found the An Cala cafe near the pier. Ordered food and lots of tea and chose to sit outside, but the table was in the hot sun. Nevertheless still with a thermal vest on (by now its use was to keep the sun off me !), long bib tights and baggy shorts, and two pair of socks, I got on with it.
Left at 3pm to start the climb towards the track past Suilven and Canisp, which was quite enjoyable riding despite the heat and my various injuries.
Suilven in the distance, with Canisp on the left~:
and here’s the track, with Canisp on the left:
I’d heard how grim the going to Ledmore was and asked quite a few walkers if they had been that way, but they were all heading either to (one couple were going to camp on top) or from Suilven, and nobody could tell me, so I would have to wait…
It started at the end of Loch na Gainimh and went on and on and on, not worth the effort of trying to ride the various odd little bits, ever onward for ever and a day, on stuff like this:
When I started descending to Cam Loch I thought I would be able to ride from there, but no chance apart from the odd 30 feet or so ! After over 4 hours I finally reached the road, at about 9pm,then 10 miles to the Oykel Bridge Hotel, where I phoned Aneta then went in for a coke and a chat. I left there at about 11pm and did the 4 miles towards Ullapool to get me to the Duag Bothy (the old schoolhouse). There was other person there, who I woke up as I tried each room (Eddy from Kendal, who was riding his bike to munros then running up them ! I liked his self effacing correction of “well, I can’t really call it running..” ).
I only got to bed at 1am, so in the morning I was away for 9am, en route for Ullapool.
Saturday 28th May
When I reached the Hill Track to Ullapool, I found a spot and just lay down for a 20 minute sleep. The riding after the first climb is very enjoyable, along a lovely single track winding its way dodging gorse bushes, then soon you bear left and start descending…
Found the Tesco and stocked up, then headed for the seafront and had jacket potato and beans and two cups of tea, then set off again at 3pm for 8 miles of road (hate it… ! especially that Jaguar which blew his horn at me, so I gave him a “wave” with two fingers, and he politely responded by opening his window and waving back, but I waved back again, so 2:1 to me ! (glad we don’t have guns in this country, I’m sure quite a few motorists would shoot you for that…). Very hot work, but soon over and the turn off at Croftown and the Coffin Road track, which is very steep in parts (it makes you wonder how they got a carriage with a coffin on up there…). As I was nearing the top of the ascent I met two walkers who had been out for over a week, doing the Cape Wrath trail… “Never had wet feet in several days” – they must have been sleep-walking as it was wetter than a wet kipper.
Here’s the view towards Fisherfield and An Teallach:
The track is just about visible on the right, a bit on and off, but mostly on (with difficulty). Here’s another which shows it more clearly:
Anyway I was soon down to the road at Corrie Hallie, then the track up the Allt Gleann Chaorachain. Before I started ascending at about 6pm I thought I should eat something… then the Midge appeared in its millions, so I quickly got the midge-net out and my thin gloves and walked away at a speed, whilst putting on the net and the gloves. Then back to my bag to get food out. I was protected but I looked at my arm (thermal vest sleeves down of course, and thin gloves on, and it was covered in midges. Again I walked away until after a few feet I could risk lifting the net to get food into my mouth.
From Corrie Hallie to the top is just over 1100 feet of ascent, here’s the top:
My objective – Shenavall Bothy – was 4.5 only miles away, and downhill and along the bottom of the valley. I reached the bothy just after 10pm, and had already decided that I would put the tent up, despite the midge. Same procedure: stop, midge-net on, thin gloves on, handlebar bag off, undo, take out tarp. Frame bag, take out carbon pole and pegs, pick a spot, get the tarp up, everything else under it, then put the inner tent up, sleeping bag in it etc. Get water from the stream (I use a dry bag to hold at least 10 cups of water, yes it does leak a bit but there is usually enough for a morning brew and porridge…)
Sunday 29th May
I was up early and away for 5:50am. Here’s the tent in the morning and some early morning views: (NB the bike acts as a second pole if I want a door entrance)
And just before the river crossing:
Beinn Dearg Mor – on the southern side of the loch
After crossing the river after a couple of miles, you start up Gleann na Muice Beag. The track is on off, but the views are magical:
I remember two years ago the ascent at the end of the Gleann na Muice Beag almost finished me off, but this time I was unphased by it ! When it levelled out at the top, I did however lay down and fall asleep for 10 minutes or so, and fell into a very pleasant other worldly state, and remember thinking am I alive or dead ? Better see if I can get up to prove it !
Along the single track at the top I did meet another person (!!!) who had been camping high up to beat the midge, and we stopped for a chat for about 20 minutes.
Then the start of the descent to Dubh Loch and Fionn Loch:
Looking back, you can see the descent where the notch is at the top of the gully (beyond the causeway).
It was hot, it was midday, I had been going for 6 hours, I was tired, I was hungry…BUT I wanted to see if I could get to Kinlochewe for 6pm.. (not knowing that the Whistlestop Cafe was closed on Sunday, and it was Sunday).
The 2.3 miles to where I branch left to go up and over to Letterewe were hard going, not because it was hard going, but because I was jaded and weary. However when I did turn left to go up and over, it was not bad riding, although always uphill. My pressure sore on my butt was giving me a lot of pain, as was the pain in my right neck. My achilles tendon pain wasn’t quite so bad but I had to be careful just how I used my right leg. The seatbag was troublesome and kept catching my mudhugger, and needed frequent adjusting. But eventually I started going down on a tricky little bumpy descent, to get to a good track leading from Letterewe Estate…
The Postman’s Path….. Aaagghh !
The good track however is not for long… all too soon I found myself pushing the bike along a heather strewn excuse of a path, up a bit, down a bit, here a bit, there a bit, but seemingly (from what I remember from the state I was in) nearly always between a deer fence with a placard on it advertising or announcing the Letterewe Estate, and higher up the hill, another deer fence.
This was indeed grim work for me. Due to my old fractured heel injury, I do need to place the foot flat on the ground, if it goes on for any length of time, and this it did, and no I could not my place my foot properly.
And it was hot, no midges (the midge doesn’t like hot sun), but the flies love it !
But beautiful views of Loch Maree:
Just a case of keep going despite everything, but when the track dropped into a gully and I saw this:
my already depleted spirits sank further, and with a lot of effing and blinding I dragged old faithful down there, and lifted over the first trunk…. then climbed over it, but there was a second trunk, and it was very difficult getting a loaded bike over that tree, then up the steep bank.
It went on and on and on, you can see from the shot below where I’ve come from:
After some time it went a bit left, through a green bit which you can see below (it’s bracken) but after the bracken it went through bog myrtle which was 2 feet high… at least it’s a different smell from the heather !
When it met the path coming down from Slioch I thought it would improve a bit… it probably did, but I didn’t… eventually I jumped on the bike and tried to ride, but within 20 feet I hit something and rolled off to the right down a bit of a slope, nothing too serious but as I rolled for the second time the bottom bracket of the bike (and a chainwheel) were coming straight for me… I laugh even now as I remember how I just instinctively stuck a foot out, and got it right under the bottom bracket to deflect it from me..
I reckon the Postman’s Path goes on for some 9 miles.
I was glad to get to the pub in Kinlochewe afet 8pm, and asked if there was food… “I’ll have to check on that…” – can I have a pint of that before you go and check..
What a magnificent pint, and I got food as well, and another half… ( I thought I should get a pint but was worried that it would affect me, the state I was in)
Then got the tent up on the campsite. I had decided that was it. My foot and other aches and pains had taken all the fun out of it… I did keep having secret thoughts though to get on and do the new Torridon section, but the other half of my brain decided no.
I think I had clocked about 390 miles to here.
Monday 30th May
Monday morning I had a fine breakfast in the Whistlestop, then 10 miles road to Achnasheen, to catch a train to Inverness.
I couldn’t get from there to Perth/Glasgow/Tyndrum, so at 4pm had to cycle 35 miles on a not flat road, to Fort Augustus. Had a great pint on the way, and got to Cumberland’s Campsite at 9pm.
Tuesday 31st May
Tuesday morning down the canal to Fort William (32miles), where I had booked a train to Tyndrum. A fine meal in the Real Food Cafe, and Wednesday morning went to the finish to see the first finisher of the group start HT550 (Liam Glen) come in, and a bit later Phil Addyman.
Glorious weather, and the new section via Glen Lyon keeps you on the move until the hike-a-bike before Ben Alder Cottage, and that Ben Alder single-track is superb taking you high up into those magnificent mountains. Ben Alder itself is a fantastic mountain. This new section is better than last year’s route with its bad section of 3.7 mile before Loch Treig.
I was enjoying the trip despite the build up of a lot of pain due to saddle sores and neck pain, and after 2 or 3 days achilles tendon. Sure I was usually weary and tired in the evening, and still riding you do feel very alone at this time, and long to get your head down. I find the different mental states quite interesting and have my own methods for dealing with them.
Having got to Shenavall Bothy Saturday night I thought if I got a good day in on the Sunday and got to Kinlochewe by 6pm, and got some good food in, I could perhaps camp somewhere up in the Torridon section.
And perhaps get back to Tyndrum either late Tuesday or early Wednesday.
But “it was the postman’s path what did it” I’m afraid. On top of my other aches and pains it upset my bad foot…
But a big thanks to Alan Goldsmith for this route. If not already it will be a classic.
(I did the HT430 in 2014 over about 11 days so I know what most of the remainder of the route is like)
This is the story of my bike trip in the Highlands of Scotland…
I wanted to do the HT550 route (not the race) – but I had problems with my GPS Power, so nearing Oykel Bridge I opted for the HT430 instead.
Even though I wasn’t in a race, some days were very hard indeed, especially the ‘hike-a-bike’ sections in Fisherfield, Annat to Achnashellach, and the dreadful section of Glen Ling ending at Nonach Lodge, where there is a road.
Some days I started without breakfast hoping for refills along the route (towards Fort William at the end) and when I found nothing had a hard time coaxing my body to run on empty !
It somehow stretched to 12 days – I had one or two easy days, after nearly a week of battling with cold and constant wind, spells of rain, I seriously needed to buy some leg cover, and this I did in Ullapool in the form of ladies’ leggings – definitely the best value £5.99 for a long time !
I started Tuesday 20th May at 6am from By the Way, where I had stayed in the dorm the night before. Weather was good.Enjoyable riding all the way to the Kingshouse, and even the Devil’s Staircase went well.
A bit of lunch in Kinlochleven, bought some Smidge, and off again. Hard work going up past the vacant Mamore Lodge Hotel.
Crossed the Abhainn Rath (easily)
then 3.5 miles of not much riding but plenty of cursing and pushing and shoving – plenty wetness in the ground did not help at all.
A relief to get on the track at the bottom of Loch Treig, then upwards to Loch Ossian. Good tracks all the way along Strath Ossian, through the forest, needing to camp and lie down after a long day, but not many suitable spots so just kept going… as the skies darkened at about 8:30pm managed to get a spot near to Loch Laggan where the track meets the river.
Here’s my first camp:
Awoke at 4:30am to the sound of heavy rain, so had some porridge and tea, packed up except the tent, and sat there for half an hour hoping the rain would ease…. but it didn’t so packed a wet tent, got back on the track, very wet and windy and miserable, especially with shorts on. Decided to put my waterproof gloves on (Sealzskin £35) but discovered that when your hands are wet they are almost impossible to get on. The constriction on my fingers actually made them worse, and whiter… unpleasant.
Bad weather for about 3 hours, and GPS problems – I don’t think it likes the wet. So I hit the A86 a bit too soon.
A wet and miserable Lochan na Earba
And still some snow on the hills
Quiet road to Garva Bridge but had to stop to put all my layers on as the cold was getting to me.. put the useless gloves away and resorted to my cycling gloves with thin thermal undergloves. At Garva Bridge very strong winds and more rain, but soon reached Melgarve Bothy for a bit of shelter from the wind. Leaving there it brightened up a bit so plodded upwards towards Corrieairyack Pass. Needed a dump on the way (in the heather) and got four ticks on me, but brushed them off before they got their teeth in (I had those tick removers in my bag).
Corrieairyack was a big push, but what unsettled me was the construction work going on a few hundred metres away, upgrading the pylons… so out of place in this wild area.
Descent at last to Fort Augustus but with many uphills as well !
Rolled into Fort Augustus at about 5pm, and decided to take B&B, dry out, and get some good food in.
Set off on the Thursday along the Great Glen Way, Blaraidh, then forest track to Loch ma Stac. Just before there the weather turned bad, strong winds and rain. It’s a bit of a shock when you realise the track stops there, and your line is along the very rocky shore of the loch.
Got a bit of shelter in the ruin at the end of the loch (it was actually blowing a gale through there, so you had to tuck into the corner just past the door to get any escape). Another layer on (they were all on, again)
Muddy, boggy track to reach the windfarm track, then down to Corrimony and onwards to Erchless Castle. Hit the track north from here and camped about 4 miles further on, with problems charging my Edge 800 due to the Maplin Power pack. 8:30pm, good to have a brew and lie down.
Friday away for 9, with a big push to get me on a good but waterlogged in places track to Orrin Reservoir. 10minutes from the wind in the Scottish Hydro Bothy just before Orrin Res.then off again, to reach the road to Contin.
Bought a cheese and onion pasty at the service station, but wanted some good food, so followed the sign to the Coul House Hotel… it’s uphill for about half a mile ! And very posh ! But I got biscuits and fudge with my pot(s) of tea, which I stashed in my bag for later.
Forest riding in the now sunny afternoon brought me out at the Inchbae Lodge Hotel. If I could get B&B I would otherwise just press on and camp. As it was I did get a room, even though they are not really open as they are in the process of selling it.
Left there Saturday after a good breakfast – enjoyable riding on a good track for several miles. Saw what was I think an eagle.
Eventually reached Loch Vaich, and ahead of me a rare sight in the form of a person, who turned out to a walking guidebook writer getting material for his next book. He was on a sort of road bike, and as I was chatting to him could hear all this hissing and crackling, which I thought were geese or something, whereupon he told me it was his radio as there was ‘a lot of sport on today’ !
Magnificently remote country – a big valley to the west (Gleann Beag) with some big looking cliffs.
And Deanich Lodge
Along Gleann Mor had my packed sandwiches in a bit of sunshine,
then continued to the beautiful gardens of Amat Lodge, and an interesting little church at Croik, to gain the ‘Road to Ullapool’.
I was coming to decision time – whether to continue north along the northern loop, or bag it and head for Ullapool. I decided on Ullapool, mainly because of my GPS charging problems. Two days without a power point and I would be without my GPS, which is no good at all, even though I had the excellent Memory Map with the route on it, on my phone.
On the way to Ullapool I went past this sort of a smart shed, went back to take a look, and discovered it was Duag Bridge Bothy, so I couldn’t resist calling it a day, getting a brew on, and eating half a pizza and that cheese and onion pie
Continuing Sunday on a good track, but after a few miles you see a metal arrow sticking up, painted red, and pointing “That way” – so you are on single track down which ends up on the side of a steep valley,
eventually getting to Loch an Daimh.
Good track from there, then a surfaced road, which you have to leave to get on the “Hill track to Ullapool”.
And a gate which was securely locked, so had to somehow get the bike over (without unloading it).
Ullapool was a welcome sight…
First job was to seek B&B – got this place on the main street:
Then Tesco for provisions, then pub for some good food.Then the all important task of buying some leg cover ! This I got at the hardware store in the form of ladies’ leggings, great value at £5.99 (keep the change). They certainly did the trick.
Monday was to be the test day ! Left at 7:15am for 8 miles of road, which I didn’t like at all. Then the ridiculous ascent from Auchlunachan then over a difficult and wet track to Dundonnell House, all hard work.
Even at the top it seems to go on and on, boggy, wet, on and off riding
From Corrie Hallie it’s a good track but climbing nearly all the time to the summit at Lochan Dubh,
followed by the descent into Strath na Sealga, on a good track
where the track becomes single track and increasingly difficult. Brief stop at Shenavall,Lance Armstrong R.I.P)
then ever onwards towards Loch na Sealga, to cross the river.
At this point I was joined (but not for long !) by Phil Simcock who had clocked 340 miles since the start on Saturday (54 hours), but managing to raise a smile..
Quick photos then Phil was off over the river – about mid thigh deep for about 50 yards, so not too bad.
Then the weather closed in. Starting the awkward single track in the valley of Gleann na Muice Beag I stopped to fill up my bladder, and the midges descended.
The single track was not very rideable (not rideable for me) and it went on and on, gradually upwards then predominantly upwards, for ever and ever. Resorting to pushing and heaving the bike one step at a time. Desperate for me because of my old injury (fractured heel from many years back) –
but eventually I got to the top and could ride again, amidst stunning mountain scenery.
The descent to Carnmore was brilliant with steep drop offs never too far away…
Here’s Dubh Loch
It had stopped raining but the skies were becoming increasingly black, and by the time I got to Carnmore the bad weather had moved in. Dubh Loch and Fionn Loch beyond, separated by a thin man-made causeway
It was 7pm and I decided to carry on to Poolewe.
The single track for about 2 miles was very difficult and every time I stopped the midges were out… so best not to stop.
Then the heavy rain eased a bit and the riding was good on a very crafty single track, until I reached the forest.
The track was good at first, then very muddy due to forestry. At one river I jumped in with the bike, and washed the mud off me then off the bike.
After about 100 yards I cam e across the ‘cow dung bog’ – no way around it so me and bike were covered in mud (and cow dung) very soon.
I eventually rolled into Poolewe at 9:30pm, wet and cold and not wanting to put my tent up.
I did just manage to get B&B but with difficulty. The lady (who another full guest house had phoned) had just gone to bed, but she offered me a room, and made a pot of tea, sandwiches, and cakes for me, brilliant.
Tuesday was bright and sunny so I changed my brake pads and set off at 10:30am.
I soon left the road to start the 5 miles to Slattadale. Hardly rideable, and in front were a group on an MTB Highlands holiday. As they watched me go past I commented that this was a load of crap, and they all looked a bit timid and anxious ! Then one guy I realised was the instructor – he said it was good fun ! (at £1000 a week it probably was…)
But stunning views of Loch Maree and Slioch
Glad to get on the road to Kinlochewe, and called at the service station, and enquired about getting food. He said their cafe was closed, only hot drinks to take away… so I bought tea and sat on the bench outside drinking tea and eating stodge..
This guy was a southerner with a very pronounced southern accent – he seemed out of place up here in the Highlands…
When I set off again just around the corner was a splendid cafe with bikes and motorbikes outside !
That is what I call mean, very mean !
Anyway I rolled on towards Torridon, with good views of Beinn Eighe. I slept up there many years ago whilst walking in the Highlands.
Upper Loch Torridon:
And it was – hike a bike mostly to get to where the lochans are then some good interesting riding. A bit of a haul through Bealach na Lice amonst stunning mountain scenery, then another haul over Bealach Ban, to drop down on a good track into the Coire Grannda… brilliant except you can see what’s coming at you !
Some good riding:
then a big haul:, the bike looks as if it’s had enough… and me… better not say
Then finally the top… :
looking down, ready for the descent down Coire Lair…
It was getting late, after 9pm, and as there were no feasible tent spots I was a bit anxious to get down and find somewhere to put the tent up.The descent became trickier and I definitely didn’t want to risk ripping a tyre so I rode a bit and jumped off at the first sign of any sharp looking rocks.
I was glad to get into the forest hoping to find a spot, and finally got somewhere where the small track met a wider track (after 10pm) – pegging one end of the tent in a clump of heather I disturbed about a million midges, the air was thick with them, but I had wisely put Smidge on and my headnet.
Early morning tent picture
Got water, sat in tent, took off my wet leggings and shorts and socks, put on dry track suit bottoms and thick socks, pumped up my Klymit, made a hot brew, and enjoyed it with a tot of whisky.
Away for 6am – downhill track to cross the railway at Achnashellach, then a quiet road for 10 miles to Attadale, but stopping at the Strathcarron Hotel on the way for a pot of tea and morning rituals (one good way to avoid the midges).
At Attadale it’s off road again, on a good track which eventually starts going up and up and up, then turns right into the forest on an ill-defined wet and partially rideable track, very tedious until eventually it starts dropping down into the valley… but not very rideable even going down, just wet wet wet, and boggy.
It’s frustrating when you can see what looks like a good track on the other side of the river, you check your GPS map and realise you stay on this side, and boy was it awkward ! A very tiring slog on a bad little path, which seems to take ages to get just 1.5 miles.
A relief to get to Nonach Lodge and get rolling again, on a quiet road, all the way to Dornie.
Made full use of the cafe at the castle, loads of food and tea, but they won’t let you charge your gadgets… “Fire risk”…”Insurance…” said the kilted floozie behind the reception desk !
Leaving Dornie to get to Morvich there is a big hill to get up…. hard work. At Morvich I decided to carry on to the end of Glen Lichd, and camp.
Found a good spot inside a ruin,which kept a bit of wind at bay.
Thursday morning away for 6:10am to start the climb up to Glen Affric. Looked back and saw I was being followed, it turned out to be Alan Goldsmith ! “It’s hard isn’t it” – definitely and that’s without the northen loop !
Called in for a brief moment at Camban Bothy, then continued to Alltbeithe Youth Hostel where I had promised myself I must get more air in my tyres. So got a good spot out of the wind, and carefully unscrewed the cap… carefully… but not quite enough ! Whoosh – the valve came out and it was flat as a fluke ! Panic a bit then carefully pump up whilst eating some loaf.
Onwards on good tracks for several miles until a turn right up into the forest, and down the other side to Knockfin.
Leaving the forest the track goes through a field with cows and calves in it. They were all on the track ahead of me, so I slowed down, then they started jogging along the track ahead of me, some of the cows were so big they had great difficulty jogging. Then the ring leader followed by several calves turned off the track into the field, going faster and faster… I decided to get going when the last of them had left the track… by this time they were charging alongside a river which was forcing them back towards the track, and there was me going as fast as I could to get to the gate before they reached me ! Very scary ! The sign on the gate warned of danger because of the calves.
Plodding on through the forest the GPS battery was about to give up, so eventually I had to keep checking the map on my fancy phone. Somewhere above Fort Augustus I stopped to check where I was and another rider came along. Johann from Belgium, so we headed down to Fort Augustus together, and had a good meal in the Moorings Cafe. We were joined by Alan Parkinson recuperating from his fall on day 2. Johann was hoping to get to Kinlochleven that night, but I opted for a couple of hours riding then a stop.
I found a spot along the canal just before Laggan Lochs, and putting my tent up was very much looking forward to lying down. Threading my poles through the tent they went a bit too far and slid into the canal… horror of horrors. At the edge I could just see the end of the pole about a foot under water, and very carefully retrieved it. Phew ! Would I have gone in and under for the poles ? Probably…
Away for 6am without breakfast: 1) I had none and 2) I thought I’d find somewhere before Fort William, but sadly I didn’t. I was very hungry but did have various bits of malt loaf and things to help.
A beautiful morning, Ben Nevis gets nearer:
Rolled into Fort William still on the route thanks to my phone map, found a cafe and filled up on food. Then bought a few things from the supermarket, before setting off again at lunchtime. The West Highland Way goes up at the start and I must have been going for 40 minutes or so, uphill, when I rounded a bend and off it went downhill… speeding down for a few minutes I then came to a dead end ! It can’t be… but yes it was. Cursing and blaspheming I set to in my granny ring going up again, for about 15 minutes…
The afternoon was hot, and it went on and on… I knew I was getting somewhere near Kinlochleven when I saw this beautiful mountain, probably one of the Mamores, Stob Ban:
Dropping down to KLL I missed a turn again (which I should have known) and ended up pushing downhill over great boulders, before I reached the road.
Had a meal at the Macdonald Inn, then set off at 7pm for the ascent up to the Devils Staircase… I stopped at least once where there was an alternative track (even though I remembered it, I didn’t want any mistakes) and it was midge-fest time…
There is some quite nice riding even on the ascent. Got to the top at 9:15pm and immediately started the descent, which was going well until I took a bend too fast, and came off. Nothing serious but the impact had let some air out of my front tyre (tubeless), so there was no option but to get the pump out. I wondered how bad the midges would be… again the valve came out and it was flat ! Carefully got pressure back up again, and not too many midges. Reached the road and picked the little spot I knew to put the tent up, after 10pm. Grazing deer just moved a bit and ignored me !
Away for 6am, no breakfast, and a lot of midges, even though it was a bit cool with early morning mist. It was a bit of a drag to the bottom of where the ski slope is… and I was hungry so had only biscuits and energy bars.
Finally got going down again, dreaming of a cup of tea in Tyndrum, had to push the bike up the tarmac at Bridge of Orchy Stn. Not much left in those legs. Under the railway, up a hundred yards, then floated down all the way to Tyndrum !
A good trip, some very good riding, a lot of hike-a-bike, but it gets you into some truly awe-inspiring mountains.
Would I do it again ? No. Too much hike-a-bike for me. Even though my injury did well not to let me down in those mountains, about a week after being back, I have pain in the bone just under the bottom of the talus- I generally don’t get pain there, so I put it down to the trip. It even hurts whilst riding the bike. I’m sure it will go away if I don’t hammer it too much.
Respect for everyone who completed the race and also for those who didn’t. Where ever you came all of it needs effort, big effort.