Friday, 3 June 2016

Bikepacking the Mounth


I'd supposed to be doing the Highland Trail again this year but back problems threw a spanner in my training and made doing 550 miles with lots of hike a bike a no no. As compensation I decided to do an easy tour from Stonehaven west picking up a few of the Mounth roads that zig zag north / south through the eastern Grampian hills towards the Cairngorms. If you've done the coast to coast you'll have done a fair bit of this route but for some reason the 'official' coast to coast takes you on road from Glen Mark to Montrose instead of heading further east on more great tails to Stonehaven. So I trained it to Stonehaven and after only a couple of miles of road I hit the dirt.

The start of the Elsick Mounth. For this trip I was in touring mode so had a fairly big load with everything on the bike to give my back an easy time.


At the top of the pass looking west - a nice trail all in all with single track through the woods bone dry after all the sun. Note weather...


Next up was the Cryne Course Road - this bit was a bit crap but being dry and downhill passed fairly quickly...
The Stock mounth was a no go as the first section was covered in wind blown trees and I couldn't be arsed with a death march on such a nice day. So I short cutted to the Builg Mounth via a new windfarm track


The summit of the Builg - Tussock central but short lived as you pick up a fast doubletrack descent to the Cairn o' Mounth road. From here its a short hop to Char Bothy where I'd planned to stop but as it was only 5pm I cracked on up the glen and Mount Battock (778m!)


 

The trail over the summit and down the first part of the ridge is a nice mix of turf and rock before you hit a network of smooth stalking tracks. I was feeling a bit bushed by this time so when I spied a nice grassy side glen after dropping off the ridge it was an easy choice to make camp.

The next morning the forecasted cloud and dreich turned out to be clear blue sky and not a breath of wind (or midges). Finally I was doing a trip at the end of May which didn't involve gale force winds, rain and snow. Plans were changed to hit as many trails as I could.

From my campsite this morning to my destination at Ballater was about 20k as the crow flies. My route was nearer 100....


The junction of the Fungle road and Firmounth - I'd be back here in a few hours. The Fungle road is a gem with a mix of made and natural double and single track. There are plenty of options to do this as a circuit and its well worth it.

After a late brekky in Aboyne it was back over the Firmounth to Glen Mark and up onto a beast of a climb over the Mount Keen Mounth road.


The single track that runs below the summit cone is divine - nadgery rocks and narrow gravel followed by a wide boulder field...


This kind of stuff needs a deal of care on a rigid bike with bags on. I made reasonable progress down it with only one dab on a particularly large rock....


There followed a leisurely pedal down through the Forest of Glen Tannar with the mandatory stop at the Halfway hut for a snack:-


A fine wee hut which would be a squeeze to sleep in! I sat in the sun at Dinnet drinking coffee and eating ice cream reflecting on a pefect day on the bike - Sun, scenery and dry trails. Later whilst sat in the pub in Ballater it lashed down for about 30 mins but the sun was back out as I weaved my way back to the tent at last light.

Day 3 was a steady day heading up Glen Gairn on road and track to Loch Builg and then down to Tomintoul. I'd had a few plans to head north from here and even have a razz round the Glenlivet trails but murky cloud in that direction persuaded me to head west to Aviemore by the usual Glen Brown / Dorback / Eigh Mhor / Ryvoan Cairngorms Loop route.


The top of Glen Brown before the climb to Dorback Lodge.

Monday and Tuesday night were spent in a friends spare room in Aviemore with an afternoon spent riding the woods around Boat of Garten, Carrbridge and Burnside.

The plan was to spend a couple of days heading down to Tyndrum to catch up with a few of the Highland Trail finishers and then an easy pedal home from there. Wednesday morning dawned rather murky but by the time I'd left Aviemore it was already clearing. My route took me due south west with a monster tailwind. From Ruthven Barracks the old military road provides and easy pedal and a much nicer route than NCN 7



From Phones lodge there is good route over to Dalwhinnie, again better than NCN 7 albeit with a bit of a bump...



In the cafe at Dalwhinnie I checked out the progress of the HTR and noted everyone seemed to be going like the clappers and many would be finishing this day and the next. The plan was revised....


Going down by Loch Ericht was absolutely stunning


On the first section of singletrack - Ben Alder from the north


On the Bealach Dubh looking towards Ossian. You'd never have guessed 40 odd riders had passed this way a few days previously...

I hit Loch Rannoch at about 6.15pm and just kept going, the weather was so good...


Above Loch Rannoch looking back to Ben Alder from the South.

Over the Lairig Gallabahaich the distance started to tell but the mega tailwind made Glen Lion a breeze. I hit the WHW at 8pm and made Tyndrum at 8.30, 11 hours and 100 miles after leaving Aviemore. There followed a pleasant evening of drinking and chatting with folk who had finished the HTR and seeing a few more folk in. Next morning was more of the same followed by a gentle pedal home on roads and cycleways. 6 days of great trails, great weather and tailwinds...


On NCN 7 near Lochearnhead - for me always known as the bridge that didn't fit...