Monday, 26 July 2010

Cairngorm Caper Part 2

Monday: Echos of the past.

The bike has been nagging me, sat there in the boot ready to devour the trails that litter the hills round here. Today I’ve given in and am going to cycle along Glen Tilt following the ancient drove road toward Blair Atholl. The idea is to get as far as the watershed where the Rivers Dee and River Tilt spring from the top of the pass a round trip of about 25 km.

The drive down to the Lin of Dee is enchanting with the river winding it's way sinuously across the flat valley floor. A thread of silver surrounded by green meadowland and forests of Caledonian Pine, nestled between the barren hills heather clad hills that rise steeply either side.
Looking towards the Lin of Dee
Putting the bike together in the forest the air is still; like a miasma they appear, flitting and hovering, tiny yet infuriating, the bane of the Highlands, the midge. Now extinction is a bad thing but I think in the case of the midge an exception can be made. The bike goes together in double quick time and off we go.

The riding is easy, starting on rolling estate tracks, solid and well made allowing me to move along at a good pace. A couple of fords add to the excitement but in the low water of summer most of them are ride-able if you hit them with enough speed. I notice the weather changing. Sheets of rain are advancing down the valley, grey curtains drawing a vale over the panorama. I meet them; drizzle at first then becoming heavier, but I’m wrapped up inside my Paramo which is perfect for this sort of weather remaining warm no mater how wet I get.

I approach Bryank Lodge gaunt and ruined within its copse of trees; I always find my mind wondering when I come across these places, thinking of what it may have been like in past days when the windows glowed with a warm fire as hunting parties or estate workers truly lived in the wilderness. The trail I am following has resounded to the footfall of thousands of feet over the centuries a natural pathway through a landscape that for centuries made travel a difficult task.
The ruins of Bryank Lodge
The Landrover track begins to feel less traveled, with grass creeping in to the tread marks then slowly begins to climb before finally fading out entirely to become a winding trail of single track. Most of it is ride-able with just the odd boulder field to avoid. Then the track fades out almost entirely as I approach the watershed and the source of the River Dee. The summit itself is a little boggy but the worst of it is easily avoided Just past the watershed the hills close in and the westward flowing River Tilt runs in a narrow defile with the trail winding its way high on the north bank. Taking this as the midpoint I turn for home and quickly lose height.

It’s much easier to ride down these sections of single track using momentum to overcome boulders and ruts than climb them. Soon back on the Landrover track, picking up speed when suddenly SHIT; wheels sliding too fast on loose wet rocks I try to correct but its too late and I’m off, sliding along the ground right leg trapped between my inverted front wheel and the bike frame.

After grinding to a halt I gingerly test all my extremities; my right leg hurts but once I’ve freed it from the bike I find I can put weight on it and thankfully all I will have to show for my carelessness it a big purple bruise. Taking a bit more care I jump back on the bike and continue. The rain has turned the track to a stream and huge cartwheels of spray poor off my tyres mostly it appears into my face. It doesn't matter; although short the ride has opened my eyes to the possibilities of these ancient rights of way and I'm excited by the prospect of some long distance touring in the years to come.

The River Tilt

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