Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The Pass of Gaick

It's been a busy old time recently, so apologies for my absence of posting for over a week.

Pauline and I have been continuing with our talk tour for Sleepless 'til Seattle, last Friday appearing at the newly refurbished Birks Cinema in Aberfeldy. It was first opened in July of 1939 but sadly only remained in operation until 1980. At that point, until 2004, like many old cinemas, it became a tacky amusement arcade. Now, thanks to generous donations, fund raising and grants it has opened once again with a 100-seat, 3D digital cinema.

This talk was quite different from all of the other venues we will be appearing at, mainly because of course it is a cinema and not an actual theatre. We were also not the only participants that night. Several amateur films were shown after us as part of the Highland Perthshire Cycling festival week.

It was a late finish when we left the venue, and it was midnight before we were pitching our tent on the outskirts of Blair Atholl, some 15 miles away. We had decided to make the most of being in the area that weekend by taking our mountain bikes with us for an off road run through the hills.

The following morning was bright as we pedalled out of Blair Atholl west, past the small settlements of Bruar and Calvine, before reaching our turn off for the start of the Gaick Pass that would take us 20 miles through the hills to Kingussie. The route is an ancient drove trail, a remote u-shaped pass through the Drumochter Hills.

It was more like winter instead of late spring, with a bitingly cold wind and frequent squally showers pushing through. Half way we were off the bikes and pushing for a mile and a half alongside a small loch callled Loch an Dun, which forms the pass, where in a previous year we had see whooper swans. This time there were no swans but there was a pair of oyster catchers.

We had anticipated three river crossings but in the end we only had to negotiate one, which was difficult enough pushing a loaded bicycle through knee-deep fast-flowing waters.

The run out at the north end was spectacular and fast. We popped out of the hills at the ruins of Ruthven Barracks at Kingussie, then turned west, three miles down the road to camp near the wildcat trail on the outskirts of Newtonmore.

Our second day, though dry, was hampered by a constant 20mph headwind. We had hoped that it would become a tail wind as we followed the curve of the Drumochter Pass back toward Blair Atholl. However in reality the wind was being channeled round the curve of the pass and remained in our faces for the entire 33 miles back.

It was great to be back out in the Scottish hills again, with Pauline, working hard on the mountain bikes, battling the elements and camping out.

This is the second time I have been through the Gaick Pass, once on foot with my friends Andrew and Pauline, and now by bike with just Pauline. Both times it has been entirely different, with the walking trip in a near white-out blizzard.

It is a fabulous walk or bike run, and I don't think it will be the last time I enjoy it's beauty.

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