Thursday, 23 July 2015

Bikepacking on the Deesside Way and Speyside Way

 All packed up and ready to set off on my first bikepacking trip. A journey of just short of 160 miles including various random bits at either end. I deliberately chose a route that wasn't too challenging for my first trip out.

First job was a short ride over the hill to Lerwick from Scalloway. Despite the strong headwind I made good time and was ready to board the ferry to Aberdeen.

Waiting to board...

After 14 hours of bobbing about and I arrived in Aberdeen ready to hit the road in earnest.

Near the start in Duthie park...

The Deesside Way predictably follows the Dee up to Ballater. It does stray from it, but never that far and it's a fair easy gradual climb to Ballater, expect for a few bits like the Woods of Scolty near Banchory.

This is at The Bridge of Potarch...

It's largely disused railway track though some sections are on the road and you could easily manage it on a cyclocross or tourer with reasonable tyres.

Along side the gliding club at Dinnet...

There's plenty of opportunity to grab a bite to eat on the way too, though I had trouble eating. Nerves, excitement, the exercise or just coincidence I don't know, but I did let myself get dehydrated for no good reason.

Here's a cool suspension bridge at Cambus O May, a lovely section of the route...

With an early start from the ferry I made Ballater and the other end of the route in good time despite more building headwinds...

I had promised myself an Indian at Ballater, but I just had no appetite and after a wander around grabbed a posh panini at Rocksalt and Snails, one of many cafes in the town.

After a conflab with the helpful guys at Cycle Highlands I decided to head further to camp up at Corndavon Lodge on the River Gairn along a route slightly different to my planned one. Up hill and into a still strengthening wind my legses were feeling it by the time I got there...

Around 95km since I left the ferry that morning. I set up in the lee of the old (locked up) bothy...

Had a brew...

And admired the view...

The night brought rain that was still going strong by morning, but I packed up, donned waterproofs and carried on along the track to Loch Builg. It was been repaired in sections with river stone dumped on it. I'm sure it will be fine once the estate vehicles have bedded it in, but some bits were a bit uncomfortable to ride just now.

The section past Loch Builg was essentially peaty sheep track that wasn't so great in the rain with a loaded bike, but would have been fine otherwise. After the loch the track was much improved with some nice steep sections to speed down and a few fords to cross.

Looking down Glen Avon...

The rest of the route to Tomintoul was fast gong and once there I stopped at The Old Fire Station Cafe for some much needed refreshments.

From there the first Speyside Way section isn't recommended for bikes due to poor ground conditions so I followed the quiet fast roads to Cragganmore where I saw there was a free campsite for users of the way. Nice little spot and another 50km or so added.

With a nice view that had rabbits, deer and squirrels in it from time to time.

The route was then largely old railway line with old station buildings and distilleries along the way. 

Some notable sections take you off rail lines and into forestry and along quiet tree lined roads with a few hills on the way. There's the Speyside Way visitor centre and cafe at Aberlour, but it was closed, so next stop was the Fochabers chippy. I gazed longingly at it's front door until it opened half an hour after I got there. Lovely fish and chips for sure, but no 5 stars from me when you give me pots of UHT milk for my tea!

From Fochabers to the coast isn't far at all, a few miles. Some of the most over grown miles though especially where river bank has washed away. I was glad of leggings and gloves to keep the worst of the nettles, brambles and thistles off me. When you get down the banks of the Spey as you reach the coast it really is a wonderful river though.

I got to Spey Bay thinking to stop for a while, but the visitor centre was heaving so just carried on along the coast Buckie for another cuppa and cake and tightened a few spokes at the official end of the route.

Again the wind was getting up and I had to ride into it and get camped before the rain would start at 3pm. The lady in the cafe said 3pm, and 3pm it was! Down Enzies Brae I went to camp near the carpark at Mains of Oxhill. Not to be recommended as it seems to be the local dog emptying spot. As I read in my tent out of the intermittent rain and gusting winds I heard a couple of people swear at their dogs not to 'P' on the tent. No they didn't seem to have done, but I did find a fresh poo only a few feet from my door. Nice!

Around another 75km added

I packed up early on a dry morning before the doggy people returned and headed the last miles into Keith where I had a train back to Aberdeen booked. 

As usual I was too early for most things, but got some nice pies from a bakery to eat in a rather stinky bus stop.

I had a couple of spare hours before the train so had a wander around Keith which has some really nice spots and old buildings including the Chivas Regal distillery buildings. I don't like whisky and don't really drink anyway, but some of the associated buildings are lovely and the smell of old casks mixed with honey suckle on the cycle was heavenly.

All in all it was a great first bikepacking experience. It would only have been improved by company along the way really. I saw very few people back packing or cycling along the whole trip which was surprising.

Here's links to GPX files of the route sections from Aberdeen to Keith as you can get Scotrail between the two places. You can download them to use or open the in GPSvisualiser to view...

Aberdeen to Ballater
Ballater to Corndavon Lodge
Corndavon Lodge to Tomintoul
Tomintoul to Cragganmore
Cragganmore to Mains of Oxhill
Mains of Oxhill to Keith

Here's a video of the trip too...

If you had to do one of the routes I'd say do The Speyside Way. It's much more interesting and varied. I hope to do it again, but from Aviemore. I just need to work out a route to Aviemore, maybe via Orkney?

In case you missed it here's a video of my packing list.

Once in Aberdeen I had more time to kill before my ferry home so looked around the old houses and sheds in Footdee and had a ride along the esplanade...

Cheers t'dee Bessy Bike it's been a fine ride!

 And welcome home. Just past Fair Isle as the sun rises...

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