Sunday, 22 August 2010

Mountain Biking in Scotland

Just returned from a week's mountain biking in Scotland with Cath. Did some excellent rides and some not so good plus a day on the routes in Leanachan Forest.

We'd booked a chalet at Bunroy Park in Roy Bridge on the basis that if the weather was poor then at least we'd have somewhere to dry and sort things out rather than have to struggle camping. We've been to Scotland in August before! Getting there took a bit longer than we had planned - an accident on the M8 in Glasgow meant an hour and half delay in getting through the city. This combined with the holiday traffic meant that we took nearly eight hours to get to Roy Bridge (it only took six going steady going home).

We'd got a mountain biking guide to "Wild Trails" in Scotland. One was just up the road on the Ardverikie estate. The estate house is well known as it is the setting for the BBC series "Monarch of the Glen" but this ride heads over towards Loch Ericht on good tracks then passing round Loch Pattack before a steep climb and descent back over to the Laggan side before heading back along loch shores to the start.

Loch Pattach. The route went over the col just right of centre.

With good sunshine and little breeze it was a really nice ride with great views.

The following day we headed off for another route out of the guide. We had thought of doing this ride last year when coming back from a trip to the Outer Hebrides but the weather had been poor so we didn't bother. On paper the route, Glengarry Circuit, was similar to that around Ardverikie - easy fire roads then a climb to and descent from a high col before more fire roads back to the start. On the ground it couldn't have been more different! Once leaving the fire roads, the climb to the col was several hours of pushing and carrying over peat hags, tufted grass and heather. The supposed brilliant descent was largely washed out and you'd need to be better riders than us to ride it all. A bit of a disappointment after the previous day.

One of the things I'd wanted to do was a two day ride with an overnight stop in a bothy. The guidebook described one such ride which circumnavigated the Mamores and Ben Nevis/Grey Corries ranges. However the first day was mainly on estate tracks and having walked/run on them before I knew they weren't desperately interesting so I came up with a variation: get the train to Corrour station then head down to Loch Treig before following the river up to the bothy then do the described second day. Bikes go free on the train but you need to pre-book them. That done we got packing, trying to get all we'd need in to 25L sacks.

Our itinerary actually makes a decent day ride but splitting it into two meant that we wouldn't feel rushed, plus we could take time getting used to riding whilst wearing larger and heavier sacks than we were used to. It also meant that we could get the midday train rather than the early one.

Luibelt in the trees on the left. Ben Nevis and Aonach Beag in the centre distance with Meanach bothy to the right.
I have to say that the guard on the train was very friendly, not really had a bad experience on this line. Getting off at Corrour we remembered that we'd forgotten coffee powder so a visit to the cafe (now run by the SYHA) to try a bit of begging was in order - we also bought some tea and cakes while we were there!

The direct path looked a bit boggy following the recent rain so we took the estate tracks heading east before turning and descending to Loch Treig. The good tracks continue around the head of the loch until the remote Creaguaineach Lodge is reached, apparently the postman used to deliver here! From here we followed the Abhainn Rath past Staoineag bothy ( a lovelier spot is hard to imagine) until the valley opened out and we got to Meanach itself. Much of the second half of the route had been intermittent riding, maybe on the bike for 50 metres then a couple of ditches or rock steps to negotiate then a bit more riding etc. It's not like the purpose built trails which are designed to be ridden.

The bothy is well maintained (by the MBA) and has two rooms one of which has wooden flooring which makes a lightweight trip all the easier - we'd only got cut-down sleeping mats. It's also got a resident mouse called Clive! Another advantage of doing short overnight trips is that invariably you get things about your kit wrong: too much of this; not enough of that; should have brought that piece of kit; never used that; etc. Bothying and bivvying is an ongoing art and with practice you do get close to an ideal set of stuff to take.

The following day began with a big push up to the col above the Lairig Leacach, you could ride short sections where it levelled out. Once at the top there was a brilliant kilometre or so of singletrack before it became a recently bulldozed track - apparently the singletrack used to continue all the way to the bothy at Leacach. Once at Leacach it was all good surfaced landrover track down to the River Spean before a couple of miles of road to finish. Since leaving Corrour we had only seen one fisherman in the distance and the crew of two Tornadoes as they flew by the bothy.

Our final day began with heavy rain. By dinner time we could no longer put it off so headed to Leanachan forest to do some of the trails there. As it happened we timed it just right as the rain stopped about ten minutes after we set off on the first trail. After the grandeur of biking in the highlands pretty well any trail was going to disappoint, and so it proved. The "World Champs" trail was effectively a single climb followed by one long section of descent of varying technicality. Having done that we headed out on the "Ten under the Ben" trail. This is used for the annual race of the same name, suffice to say that for three quarters of the trail I was using the big front ring with high gears. Stuck in the middle of all this cruising was a short downhill section, including about 50m graded black. All a bit unsatisfying really, it is as if they are training routes for the main event here - the downhill course - plenty of riders doing that but in the whole week we only actually met two other riders out riding - near the end of the Ten under the Ben course.

In fact we only met a handful of people each day, usually Munro baggers, everywhere was decidedly quiet despite the amount of traffic we had seen heading north on the Saturday.

The forecast now is for "mixed" weather, let's just hope it doesn't put all the crags out of condition.

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