Monday, 5 December 2016

Through the Cairngorm mountains

Just outside Musselburgh I was reunited with Cycle Route 1, which was well signposted into the heart of Edinburgh, first through housing estates and suburbs and then along the course of an old coal mining railway, 'The Innocent Railway', which ran through the fine 'St Leonard's tunnel'. Getting out of Edinburgh wasn't quite so easy, but that was my fault because I diverted off the signposted route to buy some maps in Waterstones and then couldn't find it again for a while. However, when I did it led me all the way to the Forth Road Bridge.

First view of the Forth Bridges

The rail bridge from the north

At this point I noticed a funny clicking sound coming from my left crank. I crossed the bridge and turned off through Inverkeithing, and just as I was thinking that I really needed a bike shop there was Sandy Wallace Cycles. I bought some new cleats for my shoes but they made no difference, so the guy in the shop took the crank off, cleaned it, and put it back. Perfect! And no charge either, so a highly recommended bike shop.

I carried on through back roads around Dunfermline and ate lunch in the sunshine by a trout-fishing lake with a very friendly owner who wanted to know all about my trip. From here I went up a steep hill in glorious light, and then down a fantastic descent to Kinross. I stopped for a pot of tea and then forgot, on leaving Kinross, that I was no longer going to follow Cycle Route 1, so I accidentally added a few km to the journey before realising I was heading in the wrong direction. I turned round, went back to Kinross, and set off towards Perth.

There was another fine hill climb, followed by an even better descent, very fast and on a very smooth road. As I cycled through Perth the light was starting to fade and when I reached the campsite the office was closed, so I went and camped and fell asleep to the sound of owls calling all around.

This was my first experience of a campsite run by the Camping and Caravanning Club, of which I am a member. It was a very pleasant site, but I was greeted in the office the following morning with a stern lecture when I told them I'd been camping. 'Didn't you read the notice on the door, telling you to telephone?'

Well, I had seen the notice, but I'd been on so many campsites that summer which had displayed similar notices where I'd called the number with no result that I hadn't bothered. This was not that sort of campsite. 'I could see there was plenty of space,' I said. 'Usually I camp and sort it out in the morning.'

'And what if there was a fire? How would we know you were here?'

Still, they were happy for me to pay, and with my membership card it was a very cheap campsite.

I cycled north, past 'The World's Tallest Hedge', towards Blairgowrie. I'm not sure at what point a row of very tall trees planted close together counts as a hedge. This one is trimmed like a hedge at the bottom but they can't stop the tops escaping and turning into trees. I remembered going to an interesting cafe in Blairgowrie many years ago, so I went to the Tourist Information, bought two very nice fold-up tartan shopping bags, and enquired about the best place for coffee. I was directed to 'The Dome' which turned out to be the very place. It features an Italianate domed dining room, and a decent old-fashioned menu.

The Dome cafe

From Blairgowrie I took the A93, which is not as busy as it sounds, and gets even quieter as you head north, following the valley of the River Ericht, then the Black Water and then the Shee Water, all the time climbing gently through woods and fields. At Spittal of Glenshee I found a burnt out service station and had lunch by the church, looking at the A93 disappearing round the corner and steeply upwards towards the Cairnwell Pass, the highest road in Scotland. The road is very steep in places, there's no denying it, especially for a loaded bike, but I managed to pedal all the way to the top using my Norwegian technique of riding until I ran out of steam and then taking a break for my heart to return to normal. There was a cafe at the top of the pass that was huge and underwhelming. The descent into Braemar was great apart from the rain, which forced me to stop for a while.

Towards Glenn Shee

The Dee valley near Braemar

I passed the next two nights in Inverey, a tiny village close to the Linn of Dee, and spent my rest day cycling up to Derry Lodge at the foot of Derry Cairngorm.

Me, my bike and the Cairngorms

The path to Derry Lodge


It was warm, and I found adders sunning themselves on the path. The next day I set out on another hilly day.  I followed the River Dee down as far as Balmoral and then turned north towards the Lecht Pass between Cock Bridge and Tomintoul - the second highest road in Scotland. I took a short cut up a rutted track and met a police Range Rover coming towards me. The officers (presumably guarding the queen at Balmoral) engaged in some witty banter, asking me if I had my swimming things and telling me the track was flooded further up. It wasn't as bad as they made out but I did have to unload the bike and carry it a couple of times.

The road climbed steeply over open hillsides to get to Corgarff, where I stopped at a cafe, then it ran upwards in a series of very steep pitches to the summit of the pass.


Looking south towards the Cairngorms

Roadside benefactors @alexthebikeman

After this I cruised down to Tomintoul before even more climbing to take me over to Grantown-on-Spey. At the top of the final descent I found a couple with a camper van waiting for me with a glass of red wine.  They'd passed me earlier and decided that if I caught up with them I'd probably need it. It was very welcome.

In Grantown I camped in late afternoon sunshine. It had been a very hilly day.

Maps:  to Scone;  to Braemar;  to Grantown-on-Spey

  • If you want a taste of the Scottish Highlands on the North Sea Cycle Route then this makes a perfect diversion.  

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