Wednesday 29 September 2021.
(Cairngorms National Park)
Yesterday, we had decided that we would hire bikes today and, having popped in to see the bike hire place, I’d booked them online as per their instructions. We reckoned that 3.5 hours of mountain biking would be enough, so we’d booked them just for the afternoon, allowing us a leisurely morning to relax, read books in bed and have a late breakfast, which was a breakfast burrito. We may not be in the American South-West, but we can still eat like we are!
Around noon we started getting ready and we were at the bike hire shop at 1.30pm, exactly as planned. Kitted out as we were in bike clothes, the man decided not to give us much of a briefing, but gave us the very short version of what the bikes were and sent us off round the car park to check they were ok. That done, we checked how to get to our chosen route, and then put on our packs and helmets and set off.
The route I had picked was to follow the Long Walk to Loch Morlich. To get to this path, which is both a walk and a cycle route, we first did a half mile or so along the road, passing the Coylumbridge Hotel before turning right just before the river. Or at least, we actually went past the river, turned around and came back to the path, as it wasn’t particularly obvious at first. With just that short detour, we were on course and headed through the Rothiemurchas Forest. In Gaelic, Rothiemurchas means ‘plain of the great pines’, which seems very appropriate.
I really enjoyed that section of the route, although I soon felt tired as it was a constant, if subtle, uphill gradient all the way. It looked level, but it wasn’t, and consequently it seemed harder that your brain told you it should be. Still, the pines, were tall and shielded us from the wind, the scent was lovely, needles carpeted the trail (and I was glad of the rugged, hopefully puncture resistant tyres) and there were very few people on that trail, just the occasional local out walking their dog.
After about 3 miles we came to a metal footbridge over the River Beanaidh (“Bennie”, meaning ‘of the washerwomen’). After admiring the river we hoisted our heavy bikes onto our shoulders and climbed the steps of the bridge. It was that or swim…
From there, the trail followed the tributary stream, Allt Dhruidh (“Droo-ee”, ‘oozing’ or ‘soaking’). We stopped alongside for a short break to munch some shortbread, finding another handy log to sit on. After this, the path included several steep climbs, which we would never have managed on our gravel bikes, but the extra grip on the tyres and the low gears meant we were able to get up them. We paused at the top of one such climb and were soon joined by a woman on another hire bike. She said she wouldn’t have tried the climb, except that she saw us manage it, so she gave it a go. It turned out she was also from Derbyshire, and far more used to road bikes.
A number of other mountain bike routes (probably far more technical) merged onto our path and we saw quite a number of riders at this point. Soon, the trail joined a forestry road and we crossed the bridge over the outflow from Loch Morlich. The trail continued along the side of the very pretty loch, where a number of people were wading in for a swim. And shrieking. I know that feeling well.
We had now cycled about 6.5 miles, which reassured me that my route planning was not too bad (we were about 2/3 of the way around, and I was reckoning on around 10 miles in total, but the bike hire man had thought it was 10 miles one-way…). We crossed over the road that abutted Loch Morlich to pick up the Old Logging Way back towards Aviemore. After a short climb, this turned west and became a mostly downhill ride all the way back, resulting in a fun and (relatively!) speedy section. At one point, I was enjoying the speed and in a higher gear, winding through some narrow single track section when I suddenly encountered a deep muddy puddle. Luckily I rode through that without problem, only to face a steep climb on the other side. I was in completely the wrong gear, but made it most of the way to the top before grinding to a halt and having to dismount, bringing Andrew, who was behind me, also to a rapid stop.
It was a fun ride, and generally very quiet and peaceful. After about 3 hours we were back at the hire shop, having done 11-11.5 miles, depending on which GPS device you believe.
After that, it was back to the ‘Cedar Cafe’ (aka our cottage!), for chocolate muffins, shortbread and coffee (well, we had missed out on lunch), before showering and lounging in the cottage. We decided on another meal in, pasta tonight, as we have supplies and it meant we didn’t need to go out again.
There was, though, another space station pass, and nipping out for that confirmed that the sky was clear of cloud and good for star gazing again. It is difficult to spot some of the usual constellations, as they are so cluttered with all the extra stars that you usually can’t see. Suitably layered up, I headed back out with the camera, to take a few more photos. And that was it, but by then it was 10pm, so writing the blog and posting is definitely delayed until morning!