Following on from last weeks mini adventure by train to the Scottish Borders, this week me and my bike hopped on a train in the opposite direction, to Aviemore in the Highlands.
Good friends of mine Sarah, Roger and their two kids Emily and Robbie, were staying in the area for a short break during the summer holidays, and had invited me up to guide them on a cycle run.
Although the train ride is three hours long, I thoroughly enjoy it. Gradually the landscape changes from flat farmland, to rolling hills and on to tall mountains. Population density decreases as well, as the train climbs to the highest point on the UK rail network of Drumochter Pass, at 1480ft. Small villages that are well known to me from past adventures with Pauline, of Dalwhinnie, Newtonmore and Kingussie, pass the window, and before long we're pulling in to Aviemore with its hordes of tourist.
Aviemore station is where the nostalgic Strathspey Railway journey begins, with maroon coaches from a bygone era pulled by a traditional, restored steam engine. My timing was perfect, as just as I alighted with my bike the steam locomotive was chuffing its way in, with many happy passengers aboard. By the end of the week it would be Sarah's parent's Golden Wedding Anniversary. They were arriving Friday and had booked a journey and three course meal on board the train to celebrate. I was quite jealous.
I was a few hours early to meet up with Sarah and her family, as they were five miles further north at an adventure park called Landmark, so I took off on my bike. First stop was for lunch at a cafe I regularly visit when in the area at Inverdruie, less than a mile from Aviemore up the ski road, and tucked in to cullen skink soup with soda bread, and a fruit scone and latte.
Two miles south of Inverdruie is Loch an Eilein, nestled among the native Scots Pine of Rothiemurcus Forest, and it was here that I spent the next couple of hours pottering about on my bike, taking lots of photos and pedaling the three mile circular route round the loch.
Loch an Eilein translates from the Gaelic as Loch of the Island, and you guessed it, there's a small island in the loch, close to its western shore line. On the island is the ruin of an ancient castle. Its origins are not known exactly, but there was some sort of structure on the island when Robert the Bruce's grandson Alexander Stewart, built a fortified hunting lodge in the late 1300s. Now there are only ruins. Back home Pauline has an inflatable Packraft, and looking at the still waters, and the short distance from the shore to the island, I quite fancied the idea of exploring the island. But Pauline and the Packraft were back in Edinburgh. Another day perhaps.
Having met up with Sarah and gang later on, we settled into comfy chairs in their rented accommodation, and after supper planned the following days cycle.
Getting youngsters out of bed on any day can be challenging, but after less cajoling than I thought would be needed, we were off for our mini cycle tour. Sarah and Emily opted out and chose to go swimming instead, and to meet us later in Glenmore. So "the men", myself, Roger and Robbie, took off out of Aviemore and back along the ski road, for the six miles to Glenmore, following a bike trail off the road called The Old Logging Way, once more surrounded by Scots Pine.
The route is very straightforward, and is a very gentle uphill for its whole length, so gentle you don't realise it has been uphill until the return journey. Taking a very slow pace we were in Glenmore in an hour with time to spare until Sarah and Emily arrived by local bus.
Now, if there's one animal that ranks above all others in the Scottish Highlands for me, it is the Red Squirrel, and on the veranda of the Glenmore Cafe you are pretty much guaranteed to see a wide variety of native birds, and Red Squirrels. It has been quite some time since I was last there, but I always make an effort to visit, as apart from the wildlife they do a fantastic bacon roll.
Inside they had made various changes to the seating, which was good, as it was in need of a thorough makeover, but I was disappointed to see that interest in maintaining the bird feeders seemed less of a priority. The staff were different as well, though the new name, Diana's at Glenmore, should have given that away. The feeders were looking old and rotting, with only one containing any food. Apart from a few Chaffinches and a mob of marauding seagulls, there was very little wildlife action, and of course most disappointingly of all, no Red Squirrels. It was more of a let down for Sarah and her family, as I had built up the experience prior to making the trip. But a walk down to the beach of Loch Morlich and it's fabulous views soon put all that in the past.
After a short meander, myself, Roger and Robbie set off on our bikes for the run back, taking a slightly different route round the shore of the loch. Just as we bounced on to the wide dirt track a Red Squirrel bounded across the track in front of me. Result.
There is a big reward in store having made the uphill pedal to Glenmore, and that is the fast downhill all the way back. It felt as if I only pedaled a couple of times, zipping along the narrow track as it made fun twists and turns through the forest.
Too soon it was time for my train home, and I boarded the train once again for my homeward journey. As if saying goodbye, the Strahspey steam train blew it's high-pitched whistle as we pulled out of the station, leaving the Cairngorms and Rothiemurcus Forest behind, bound for Edinburgh.