Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Drumochter Pass

Try as we might to book our bicycles on a Scotrail train for our return journey, following three days away in the highlands, we were unable to do so, despite trying 11 train times! In the end we opted to drive to Pitlochry, park the van, and then get the bikes on the train from there to Aviemore, with the intention of cycling back.

This three day adventure was primarily a road test for Pauline's new bike, specially built for her imminent two year cycle round the world. We started out around midday from Aviemore and took the ski road for seven miles as far as Glenmore, stopping, of course, at the Ord Ban cafe, for cappuccino and a heavenly fruits-of-the-forest-filled, coffee-cream meringue!

Saturday was a reasonably short day, with our route going from Glenmore, round the south shore of Loch Morlich, on through Rothiemurcus forest to Lochan Eilean, finishing at a small clearing under an enormous ancient Scots Pine that we knew about previously. This was camp for the night. It was an idylic spot and one where we had wanted to camp for years.

Unfortunately, as evening wore on, the tranquility was broken with a contingent of local neds riding trail motorbikes, a quad bike and a small Suzuki 4x4, along the forest track, barely wide enough for our mountain bikes. Surprise surprise, the 4x4 became stuck, and thus around an hour later we endured their noisy return. There's no escape from the ned element of British society. There are more brains in a butchers pork sausage than all of them combined! We would later report it to the police, who literally told us there was nothing they could do. Another example of the dregs of society imposing their crass behaviour on others.

As darkness fell, off in the distance we could hear black grouse lekking. We ventured out to try to see them, but the encroaching darkness made it difficult to see anything. At 4am the next morning we were woken by the black grouse once again, and this time we could just make them out in the distance, strutting around each other, the white of their rear feathers fanned in display in their little dance. A rare sight indeed.

Sunday was a five hour ride that would take us out of the forest and onto tarmac quiet back roads, through Kingussie, Newtonmore and on to Dalwhinnie. We stopped for coffee at the only hotel in Dalwhinnie, and I had to admire their sense of humour. Outside they had put up a sign, that said: "Dalwhinnie - twinned with Las Vegas".

There was quite a head wind as we eventually joined the cycle path after Dalwhinnie. This fairly new section funded and built by Sustrans, leaves a lot to be desired as a cycle path. At points it runs just three feet from the edge of trucks and cars travelling in excess of 70mph, with no barrier between the path and the road. One false move by either party and you're dead meat. Evidence of previous crashes lay along the embankment, together with mountains of rubbish, discarded from passing cars by more brain-dead people. Obviously way too much effort to wait until the next refuse bin!

Around four miles after Dalwhinnie we pull off the track and head into the hills up a dirt track and find a sheltered spot to camp for the night. A local flock of sheep found us most interesting as we negotiated getting over a locked gate, dissappointed I think that we didn't feed them!

Day three was the homeward stretch as we set off from the drumochter summit of 462m toward our finish line at Pitlochry. It is quite literally all down hill from there, and we made very good time. The cycle path still went too close to the main road at points, but eventually picked up the old disused A9. The road had become quite narrow as roads go, with nature reclaiming the tarmac. All was going well, until I commented that on Pauline's bike's maiden trip there had been no major problems. Within minutes she hit a large nail that went straight through the tyre and deflated it in a matter of seconds! However, as ever, pauline turned this negative into a positive and relished the experience of repairing a roadside puncture for the first time.

With a stop for lunch beside the river Garry, by mid afternoon we were back at the van in Pitlochry, after what seemed to me to be a very easy ride, with all three days stunning hot and sunny weather.

As for getting bikes onto Scotrail trains: I'll be booking my next trip in advance . . . for 2012 when Pauline returns!

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