Thursday, 15 December 2016

Final Trip To Bute for a While

With ZV up for sale at the moment I took a trip to Bute at the beginning of November, weather was fantastic

Monday, 26 September 2016

Cabrach 50 Mile Ride

My standard 50 mile training route taking the chance while the weather is still good to get out now that evening riding in the dark post-equinox nights is less appealing

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The Quilter Cheviot Etape Royale 18 September 2016

The Etape Royale is the only 100 mile Closed Road Cycle Sportive in Scotland. This year’s event took place in glorious sunshine on 18 September.  There are also 65 mile and 45 mile routes but I was in for the 100 miler starting and finishing at the beautiful town of Ballater, one of Royal Deeside’s wee gems that is now thankfully recovered from the tremendous floods of last winter.

As Ballater is only an hour from home I decided that I would drive to the start on the Sunday morning and benefit from a good night’s sleep in my own bed (I slept terribly and was awake at 0330!) despite the early 0600 start of the Etape.  The weekend started on Saturday when I had to drive to Ballater to Register and collect my race number and timing chip, but a trip to Ballater is always a joy and it was a good excuse to pop into the Boat Inn at Aboyne on the way home for lunch.  On Saturday night I was in bed by 2130 but sleep was fitful and although the alarm was set for 0415 in order to get me to Ballater before any road closures, I was out of bed by 0330 so just grabbed my prepared oats and yogurt breakfast and 500ml pre-race drink (the 1st time I had bothered with either – the oats were a good idea to get carbs into my system but the drink was too much and I ended up having to stop for the loo at the 1st two feed stations at Tarland and Tullynessle). I arrived in Ballater, having had 2 close encounters with deer, by 0430 and sat in the car in the dark listening to a Michael Palin Audiobook until I decided to eat my breakfast and wander up to the start point in the middle of the town.

By 0550 several hundred riders were silently awaiting the start, voices hushed as a reaction to the pre-dawn darkness when the race starter cracked the silence with his 1st Tannoy announcement of the day.  Round the World (among other things) cyclist Mark Beaumont – who had previously  ridden the route on a Penny Farthing - and former Scotland Rugby Captain Rob Wainwright (both of whom would later pass me on the Cabrach) offered some words of encouragement and started the 1st wave of riders on the dot of 0600.  I was in the 3rd wave of riders off at 0606 heading north towards the Pass of Ballater where we would see the 1st mile marker – somewhat discouraging on a ride advertised as 102 miles!


The route from Ballater was initially along Royal Deeside where in the lightening dawn the blinking  tail lights of the bikes in front made route-finding simple tough there were marshals at every turn and plenty of signage.  At this early hour there was still mist in the low lying hollows and with now wind it was a glorious September dawn.   After a quick pit-stop in Tarland, mentioned earlier the route passed on towards Alford via the “Queen’s View” where I remembered to look behind me for a cracking view of Deeside, Lochnagar and the Cairngorms.  Onwards towards Tullynessle and pit stop number 2 before approaching the Suie hill from the south after Bridge of Alford.  This southern approach is the easier way up the Suie and it was a pleasant climb in bright sunshine to the summit before a very steep ut short descent on the other side and via Clatt to Rhynie, the start point for the 65 mile course.  I was now on familiar territory as I often ride the Cabrach, a lovely pass between Rhynie and Dufftown, where I once this year saw an otter cross the road in front of me.  Having taken a gel a couple of mile out of Rhynie I was surprised how easy I found the ride to the Cabrach summit on this occasion; a year ago this would have been a tough climb so I must be getting fitter.

Up the Cabrach

At the feed station in Dufftown I grabbed a buttery whilst a kind volunteer re-filled my water bottle. Dufftown is in the heart of Whisky Country , it is said that whilst Rome was built on seven hills, Dufftown was built on seven stills.  

The road along Glen Rinnes and Glenlivet to Tomintoul was, I found, a bit of a slog but at least there was another food stop at the end to fortify me for the climb to the top of the Lecht – where yet another food station provided sausage rolls and soup that given the at times 20% gradient you feel you have earned.  The Lecht climb isn’t really that long but it is steep and a number of riders were zig-zagging on the steeper sections.  The 1st time I climbed the Lecht – on a recce ride the week before the Etape, I was horrified to crest the hill to see another dip and crest almost as high about a mile away, today though the stop at the feed station made this much easier than last week.  

Descending the Lecht one has to be careful.  At over 2000ft today crosswinds were a problem so the brakes were in quite constant use in order to make the bike controllable near the bottom of the descent at Corgarff Castle the brakes even started to squeal as they were, by now, hot.  I had hoped that the route into Ballater would be downhill all the way from the Lecht but a rude shock was the discovery of the old military road over the Gairnshiel was between me and Ballater, with nearly 90 miles in the legs it was a tough grind to the top though the ride down the other side was fast and the scenery spectacular.  Seven and a half hours after setting off I was entering the pass of Ballater for the 2nd time before turning  back towards Ballater and the finish point and foolishly challenging the rider in front to a sprint finish.  What a great ride.

For me this is the best organised sportive I have ever been involved with.  There was ample car parking in Ballater – provided as part of the entry fee.  Feed stations were plentiful – every 20 miles or even less – at Tarland; Tullynessle; Rhynie; Dufftown; Tomintoul and the Lecht.  The volunteers manning the feed stations were friendly and very helpful and I am told the mechanical assistance for those who needed it was second to none.  On finishing the race although roads were still closed, diversions were very effective in getting cars away.  My only complaint was that in the glorious 21C heat that there was a long queue for the ice cream van at the finish line.  This route is a classic and deserves to grow as an annual event.  I shall definitely be back next year – though I shall take some photos next time.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Tour O the Borders 2016

Last year I rode my 1st Sportive the Tesco Tour O the Borders which I reported on here: 2015

Since then I have tried to keep the cycling going and this same event was my 4th of 2016 (after Etape  Loch Ness in April, Etape Caledonia in May and my unsuccessful  attempt at the Trossachs Ton in June ).  All of these rides have been thoroughly enjoyable and have provided some great riding in some very scenic parts of Scotland, nevertheless, the Tour O The Borders is, IMHO, one of the very best for the scenery on offer (it does help that I am not really familiar with the area.

This year’s route was the same as last year with just modifications to the locations of the feed stations; the old Gordon Arms Hotel double feed station was replaced with 2 smaller ones – 1 about 5km up Berry Bush Hill and the other a couple of km up Paddy Slacks hill. More importantly the Talla descent - scene of a serious crash last year that left most riders freezing at the top of Talla whilst the air ambulance evacuated the casualty - was a neutralised timing zone, not that that would worry me as this descent is perfectly safe at the speeds I am comfortable travelling.

This year the views surpassed those of last year as the low cloud was replaced with sunshine and excellent visibility.  The weather, however, was not benign as this was the day that Cairngorm experienced its strongest ever August wind (gusting 115 mph).  Whilst we were not at that altitude, the Tour is quite high and the wind was strong throughout the ride – the 1st 27 miles were almost totally into wind as was the climb up Berry Bush and the 1st half of the KOM hill.  Sometimes I was even in my Granny Gear on the flat and making slow progress into the wind, I found the run up to Paddy Slacks, in particular, tough.  On the positive side the hill climbing was easier than last year – the results of improved fitness and more training (though my training since June has been limited by bike repairs and illness as well as bad weather).  By the end the wind had taken its toll and although my time was slightly faster than last year, I was knackered. 

For a good article and some great pictures of this year’s Tour take a look here:

So what did I learn this year?
1 – Don’t fight the wind it will win, accept you will get a slower time and enjoy the scenery!
2 – I found out what a derailleur hanger is – struggling before the ride to get my gears to index I spoke to one of the attendant Shimano mechanics who took one look at the mech and spotted that my derailleur hanger was bent, kindly he bent it back for me but advised me to replace it ASAP (I have 2 on order).
3 – Test your refreshments before the ride – my drink mix made my stomach knot up, I threw it out at the Berry Bush feed station and replaced it with the Tesco Isotonic water they were handing out there.

4 – This really is a fantastic Sportive and is very well organised.  If I can I shall be back next year.

Friday, 29 July 2016

2 Days - 2 Lairigs

I have had very few days in the hills this year – due mainly to work commitments and to the appalling Scottish summer throwing a spanner in the works whenever I have had spare time.  Nevertheless , some months ago I pencilled in last weekend as a good time to get into the hills.  My diminutive chum, Mike Wilson, had asked me to walk through the Lairig Ghru with him so the plan came together to Walk from Derry Lodge, through the Lairig Ghru and Chalamain Gap to Glenmore on Saturday and return to Derry Lodge on Sunday via the Fords of Avon and the Lairig an Laoigh.  Mike had never walked these 2 wonderful Cairngorm passes before and I had not been through the Chalamain Gap so our plan would give us both a new experience.

We arranged to meet at the Linn of Dee car park at 0800 on Saturday 23 July.  Mike had, sensibly suggested that we should cycle to Derry Lodge where we could dump the bikes before carrying on on foot.  This was a damned good suggestion as we probably saved ourselves at least 45 mins at the start and finish of the weekend.  More importantly at the end of a long second day getting back to the car park whilst seated would be a fine relief for sore feet.  My MTB is an old Raleigh circa 1993 that weighs something north of 30 pounds, and given that I never take it off road (until now) is fitted with slick road tyres; in future I shall think about cycling into the longer walks as this experiment was certainly successful.

After locking the 2 bikes to a log, we set off on the path to the Lairig Ghru.  Initially it was cool and seemed to become cooler as we got higher –in line with the forecast which foretold (inaccurately as it turned out) of rain with cloud on the tops. As we entered the Lairig Ghru however, the wind stilled, the cloud cleared and the sun came out.  Conditions were perfect.  As we walked on Mike grumbled that I had persuaded him to leave his flask of coffee behind whilst I reminded him that he had plenty of water and the flask would simply have added to the weight of his pack.  He seemed unconvinced of my argument.  Passing the Corrour bothy we noted a couple of tents close by and continued to climb to the summit of the pass.  I pointed out the pools of Dee and we chatted to a few walkers heading in the opposite direction to us – most planning to stay in or around Corrour bothy for the night, though it was still early afternoon even as we exited the Lairig Ghru and climbed up towards the Chalamain Gap.  As the path split towards the Gap we met a German man and his son who asked us where the Lairig Ghru went and could they get back to Glenmore that way by a circular route.  I pointed out they could if they had a couple of days!  These guys had no map and little idea of the terrain.   Its easy to see how people could get lost; at least they had the good sense to ask for the best way back! 

The Ghalamain gap is a short V sided valley with a boulder field along its floor and sides.  A number of people we had met on the way up gave us the impression that it was treacherous underfoot but neither of us found it difficult, although I wouldn’t run through it – just pick your route carefully and it’s a doddle.  From the Gap it was about an hour to Glenmore Lodge where we had a room booked for the night.   I did promise Mike an apple strudel and Ice Cream 1st at the Glenmore Shop / Café (nothing to do with Glenmore Lodge) where I promised he could watch the red squirrels and siskins on the feeders at the rear of the Café.  We were both a little distressed to find that although the shop was still open the Café had closed at 4 – just 15 minutes before we had arrived.  Never mind, the bar section was open so we could get a couple of beers and as we could see the cakes in the café just behind the bar surely we could at least get a piece of sponge!  Not a bit of it!  The bar lady was happy to sell us a pint and some crisps but that was it despite me laying it on thick as to just how much we had been looking forward to Strudel and Ice Cream and after all we were only 15 minutes after 4   and the sign outside said the café was open until 4:30.  So we had a pack of Cheese and onion crisps and queried where the famed Highland hospitality was that day.

The beer however, combined with the warm sunshine, cheered us up and after a couple we dragged ourselves along to the National Outdoor Activity Centre at Glenmore Lodge (  ) where we had booked a room for the night.  The trick to get a room here is to leave it more or less until the last minute as the excellent accommodation is pre-allocated to the wide range of courses that are run from here.  Last minute rooms do however come available if courses are not filled.  I was a little perplexed when booking the twin room when the email confirmation said there was 1 towel.  I bagsied that and told Mike he would have to bring his own towel which he did but then he also asked for another towel at the Lodge reception on arrival.  Of course when we got to the room it was clear that the email had meant 1 towel each not 1 for the room – so by now Mike had 3 towels – what a plonker!

Even if you can’t get a room here, if you are passing you are always welcome in the dog-friendly bar where proper Ales such as Cairngorm’s ‘Tradewinds’ are always on tap.  The food here is excellent, and as I warned Mike it comes in very large portions – designed for people who have been on the hill all day.  Tonight I had a starter of Baked Camembert followed by the Pork and Apple Burger.  Following Mike’s lead I added a fried egg and bacon to the burger.  This was a mistake, though a tasty one, as the Burger already comes with cheese, black pudding and onion rings plus fries.  After all this we were stuffed so sat on the balcony savouring a pint (me) and whisky (Mike).  After 30 minutes Mike decided he was going to eat even more and ordered Sticky Toffee Pudding, though I at least had the good sense not to follow this lead. Suitably replete we retired at 2200.

Sunday dawned cloudy and drizzly.  After a healthy Breakfast in the canteen, where Mike eyed up the packed lunches made up for those on courses (I did manage to restrain him) we were ready to go at 0900.  For the 1st 2.5hours of the day Mike’s old boss and his wife (Willy and Sandra) would walk with us.  We quickly passed the beautiful Lochan Uaine and stopped momentarily for a  look at its turquoise water and sunken pines.  Willy and Sandra had retired to Inverness and both have a wealth of hill experience and knowledge (Willy is in training for a trip to the Alps in a couple of weeks) so it was a pleasure to chat and to walk to the high point of the pass the shoulder of Bynack More (just short of 800m) with them.  Even more pleasurable was sharing the Earl Grey that Willy had in his flask when we rested at the point they would turn back, just by Bynack More, just after we had crossed cross the Uisge Dubh Poll a' Choin.   For a moment the Sun even came out and the summit of Bynack More cleared momentarily.

As we left Willy and Sandra and headed towards the Fords of Avon the clouds returned and the rain started to become heavier.  Waterproofs went on as we trudged downhill across bleak terrain past the small Lochan a'Bhainne and on to the small refuge at the Fords where we finally caught up with a group of walkers (old university chums) whom we had met in the bar last night.  They were well ensconced in the hut and enjoying proper lunches (we had a chocolate bar each).  After a brief stop for a chat and for Mike to put on gaiters (bending over far enough to but his bald head into a bed of nettles in the process) before crossing the Fords.  By now it was peeing down and I realised I had left it too late to put on my waterproof trousers so plodded on anyway – at least my trousers dry very quickly when its not raining.  Once past the Fords of Avon you are in the Lairig an Laoigh proper and then descend for around 10km into Glen Derry and on to Derry Lodge.  Today our views were not great given the weather but we did get a good view of Glen Derry from above and of the Hutchinson memorial hut with the path behind leading up to Loch Etchachan.   On the way down as the Lairig gives way to Glen Derry we stayed to the East side of the Glen.  As the  Derry pinewoods are reached there are 2 possible routes back to Derry Lodge.  I persuaded Mike that the best path was the high one  that forks off to the left and climbs above the trees and as the  rain had now stopped it gave us some great views down to the woods and river below.  Mike enjoyed this path though was somewhat annoyed that it was considerably further to the Lodge than the ‘just 1km’ I had promised. 

On arrival at Derry Lodge we quickly recovered the Bikes and 15 minutes later, having gone far too quickly and uncontrollably, we were back at the car park at the Linn of Dee.  Bikes were thrown in the back of the cars and we were on our way to Braemar, which even at 5pm on a Sunday was buzzing with Activity and open coffee shops, for a well-deserved Coffee and Scone.  A great couple of days in the hills and almost 50km of walking with even some cycling thrown in.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Trossachs Ton - Failure and Human Kindness

Yesterday, along with a few hundred others I attempted the Trossach's Ton 106 miler.  This was to have been my 1st Century ride.  Sadly it didn't go to plan.  Whilst crossing a wet cattle grid on the southern shore of Loch Katrine (63 miles into the ride) my bike skidded and I was thrown clear - both myself and the bike receiving damage - me more cuts and bruises but unfortunately the bike was hors de combat.

I am writing this post to thank those who helped me to get back to the start point.  To Grant and Lorna - who took a bleeding cyclist into their car and delivered me back to Aberfoyle where I could contact Event Control- I hope I didn't spoil your day out too much.  To Kirsty - Paramedic, Mountaineer and Jumbo Jet pilot - who cleaned me up, gave me flap jacks and took me an my bike in her camper van back to Stirling.

Thank You for putting yourselves out to help me.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Love this video - even if it is an advert the sentiment is right

Born Wild. Live WildNEW Icebreaker Merino, now available at Wiggle! Everyday merino protection, for the explorer who loves to Live Wild. >>
Posted by Wiggle on Friday, 1 April 2016

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Some Photos from Saturday's Flying

With high pressure established over Scotland excellent flying  prevailed last weekend;  here are some pics taken by my passenger on Saturday - Mike Wilson