Sunday, April 29, 2012

Outer Fife 5 - Glen Tilt

Near Fealar Lodge
Route Points: Blair Atholl area

Route Type: Epic Day Out

Access Type: Rights of Way, Long Distance Routes, etc.

Route Access:
Blair Atholl: I'd say go up the castle drive
Bridge of Tilt car park:  Starts from there really


Did I say I had had enough of epics after Outer Fife 4?  Well er... this is only 54km according to the White book (Scotland Mountain Biking - The Wild Trails) and the Red Book (Bike Scotland 1) and afternoon easy.

I suppose doing a 60km road ride the previous night wasn't the best of preparation for this but with Selkirk looming I was going to have to get used to it, except more than double the road distance and add a wee bit to the MTB route.

Blair Atholl

We set off early afternoon (1226) from the Blair Atholl Village Hall car park and up the Castle Drive, this shuts at Dusk should you return this way but there is a path to the side which can be traversed on bike. Just after the first speed bump there is a road to the right, I remembered this being a path but with further development of the castle estate this is now good track, you could also go up past the castle and along beside the cemetery at Old Blair.  The track drops you directly at the Glen Tilt Car Park and just across the road is signed Glen Tilt and Forest Lodge, this climbs steeply again on a good track with warnings of a steep gorge to the side of the road. There is a short cut signed near the end of the woods but did not explore

One of the holiday cottages in the Glen
The sound of rifle shots cracked through the wind from the Rifle Range on the hillside, an alternative route to "Gilberts Bridge" would be to climb the track from Old Blair and then before the rifle range cut over to the bridge, this is part of a major loop on the Atholl Estates cycle maps that I would like to try in future.

A number of lodges residential, hunting and holiday lets are out this road and cars may be encountered but there is plenty of visibility.  These also give an easy indication of your progress on the map and only once Forest Lodge is reached are you into the "real" wilderness.
One of the footbridges across the Tilt

After the forest lodge the conditions of the trail deteriorate slowly and you pass a number of foot bridges across to the Beinn A' Ghlo side of the river. Continue on the track until a fork junction takes the left hand route up hill and the right hand down to the river side, the track stops at a turning area and some single track takes you down to the "Bedford Bridge" at the falls of Tarff.

The road deteriorates after Forest Lodge from Rough Track

The planks on this bridge run longitudinally and the sides are basic so care should be taken when crossing but it is all rideable, once you are off the wooden ramp at the end you find yourself at a perfect rest area.

To rocky Single Track

Approaching The Bedford Bridge

Bedford Bridge
Falls of Tarff
After a small rest and taking in the Falls of Tarff follow the grass track along the riverside and it will eventually climb verry narrowly and with a bit of exposure along the hillside, you will eventually find a chute back down to a ford where the climb to Fealar lodge starts.

Exposed singletrack climb to the ford
Looking down to the ford from the climb, note the high track
above the ford, and the sheep trail starting low on the steeper side.

The guide books warn that if the rivers are in spate this is a dangerous crossing, you should have a good idea of this from the start of Glen Tilt so may be able to judge if it's worthwhile doing something else early on.
Spot the trail... Yes this is Sheep track

Once you cross the ford do not follow the path along the right hand burn, you will have noticed before you cross a path up the middle of the hill, this you should follow, unfortuantely I can't tell you what this was like as we took the sheep track which is about 1.5 size 43 cycling shoes wide and on a 66 degree slope.

Judging by the aerial photos we were really about 5m below where we should have been and once we found our way up to a clear area I spotted the path and took the bike up, the ground was fairly soft and I found it difficult to get going again and to keep going due to the bumpiness, I had my only SPD related fall of the day up here.
The climb and soft going are worth it though as the views of the surrounding area are stunning (see the title photo).

Following the grass/peat track we eventually got to a sheep field belonging to Fealar lodge, the path is fairly visible throguh and eventually you see the lodge and the target gate.

Fealar Lodge

When you reach the lodge you are at the remotest settlement in Scotland. From here you have an immense landrover track descent/climb/descent to Daldhu.  This starts by going the other side of the gorge you've just walked along the side of, you do this an awful lot quicker than you climbed the other side.

Bridge on the Descent between Fealar and Daldhu
On the descent the only limit is your bottle and how fast you can pedal, as the route switches burnsides over bridges at right angles and swoops down hill you have to pick your line carefully, at one point I got it a tad wrong and looked into the ditch at the left hand side of a left right chicane, clipping the edge of the drop with the brakes hard on I lost momentum for the hill and dropped straight into ther granny ring.

Looking back to Daldhu from the Glen Loch track
This continues to Daldhu where you pass the buldings on some tarmac before a sharp right onto a rough track beside the Alt Glen Loch, this after a rocky climb turns into another amazing descent, not so much for being fast this time but for the challenge of rockiness with a few exposed slab ramps and chutey bits to challenge this hardtail rider.

The track fades to this
Pass the Glen Loch track on the right and the track now climbs steadily and eventually deteriorates to a lumpy grass track and then a peaty single track, I have seen this described as the best in Scotland and I had some decent speed up, but it's up hill in this direction...  Later research tells me that despite the books indicating a clockwise direction the route should be done anti-clockwise to get the best of this bit. (But then you would miss all the fast track descents).

And then to this
This single track eventually dumps you out into a peninsula where the OS maps show a track straight on, this apparently "leads to failure", although I have seen someone suggest they could ford.  Unfortunately we lost the path well enough to spend around half an hour first trying to work out where we were on the map (This all happens in a square Km and I didn't have a roamer to get much better accuracy from the map and OS grid ref shown on my phone GPS - OS convertor).
Broken Bridge
Eventually after pushing along one of the rivers we got to the point where the 2 rivers meet (we also passed some broken bridges) and got our location and worked out we had to walk back where we had been until we found a ford...

Once we had forded the burn and pushed on to a track within 3 minutes we were passing the spots where the broken bridges were!

Finally a Ford


 It's track all the way now, rough to start with down to Shinagag and then well made with some stiff climbs and swooping descents to Loch Moraig.
A resting point
Loch Moraig

The sun was now setting (2040) and hitting the public road at Loch Moraig was brilliant, this was where my roadie instinct cut in. On solid surfaces the Zaskar handles as well as my road bikes, and in some cases better and this is a stonker of a descent in places the visibility required backing off and in others I could just nail it, the 2.1" tyres screaming their way past 50km in places, yes slow by road standards for such a descent but after the fun descents on loose paths this was a perfect ending to the route, the caravans in the estate park flew past and the road throguh Blair Atholl appeared, a quick jink into the triangle junction and a clear road meant I could carry the speed all the way into the village hall carpark.

It was 2101 we had been going for almost as long as the Tour De Ben route had taken at 10km longer as the final total from the GPS was 61km not 54km (Navigational issues and the extra km or so from starting at Blair)

Nah I've still not sorted out the API key.

GPS Trace:

My BikeJim's Bike

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Fifeing Eejit Racing - Round 1

Fifeing Eejit Racing - Round 1

Having signed up to do the Selkirk Sportive and MTB Marathon and then Ten Under the Ben, discovering the inaugural Muckmedden race gave me a good chance to get an idea of the format for these sorts of events.

Muckmedden is the offspring of Aaron Gray of Abernethey, a regular in the forests above the village known as "Pitmedden", despite being only just along the road I had never been to Pitmedden before, I had no idea what i was letting myself in for.

Well ok I did, in years gone by it was used for Special Stage rallying and a former co-driver once said the name is very apt, (think Pit, Midden) (I paraphrase).

And various people I know described it as 10 Miles, you'll feel like you've done double that if it's dry, who knows if it's wet.

With an unprecedented (even for the East Coast of Scotland) trail conditions leading up to the event were dry to very dry, or so I read.  Then the week before the event we got solid rain.

The trails were wet again, appropriately mucky and well...

I knew about there being no real climbs or descents, but plenty of undulations but I did not know about the rootiness, oh there are roots, roots and more roots.  In that one day I probably crossed more roots than I have ever before on an MTB.  Add to that my decision to go for a 1.8 on the back due to the muckyness and I was struggling for rear end grip, but to be honest I doubt I would have been faster in the dry.

I practices the "Blue" and "White" routes (which has nothing to do with the grading) and sat at the start line.

The 2 lap Mental Muckers and Tag Teams set off 10 minutes before the Mad Muckers, 30km sounds like nothing, just as well I did decide only to do the single lap.

I sat back a bit at the start line not sure how I would compare to those around me, I got held up on the firetrail into the "Red" loop and on the early stages as we battered along slightly down hill smooth trail, and then a few wee kicks, I was off the bike a couple of times on these, but so were some in front and some behind, others battered on past. A steep climb saw everyone off theri bikes, not because we couldn't all do the climb but becasue it was narrow enough that there was no chance of getting past, this brought us up to a firetrail where I put my road speed to some use and passed everyone that had passed me on the climb.

Then this first trail turned rooty, at one point there was a steep wee climb, at the top a young marshall bribing riders with a plate of jelly beans, perfectly placed. If you're reading thanks.
Although unfortuantely jelly beans eaten while cycling and breathing rapidly get stuck to teeth and it was to remain for the whole of the first lap before I got a chance while approaching the timing mats to rest enough to shift it.

Shortly after the mats the White loop started with a sharp right, a marshal standing in the road asking you which way you were going and pointing you the right way, this climbed breifly onto a rooty traill and then to a steep drop to the fire road, no grip, inexperienced on SPDs, total wuss, all 3? I walked it, but I've seen pictures of others doing the same, so I'm not the only one in the wuss category.

Across the fire road and a route descended in the trees to the forest boundary, this was set up for going fast, but I just didn't have the momentum with the soft ground and the roots and the lack of bottle, at the bottom fence the route turned onto a soft path and then hard right back onto where we had been, I got confused here in practice and had tuend back because the routes ran side by side, it seemed there was still plenty of people behind me and I hadn't yet been passed by the leader of the Mental so they must have been on the same lap as me...

This dropped me back onto the fire road and back up over the mats for the "Blue" loop, this was a left turn at the marshall, in practice I had gone up a steep climb but had spotted someone else take a longer route round, I took this and found it much better going.  This comprised more battering through the forest on mucky trails, and a very mucky steep descent before a flatish "blast" to fire road, a short steep climb and another marshall pointing down to the singel track to the road, this was by far the rootiest section of all I'm sure, there's also bombholes and my lack of grip was telling again (and I'm a wuss...) somewhere in here Huw the winner of the Mental race passed me, I heard him coming a long way off I'm sure he was doing 20Ks more than me! (Ok so I did stop breifly as he passed, but it was fast)

Eventually this rooty hell was over, just a climb up the fire track to the finish, steep fire track climb... Woo hoo, saddle up (a few seconds wern't going to hurt) and I was "flying" all the knackeredness disguised with the feeling that the end is nearly there, I pushed as hard as I could up the hill before encountering some cars and other riders on the way down, they were clearly finished and going home already.
I dropped into the granny ring but kept pushing as the hill stiffened, I caught up with someone who still had a blue loop to go, I passed someone else and just before the mats nearly passed someone else but decided not to pass them on the mats.

Looknig at my results no one was near me time wise, 5 minutes ahead and 3 behind in the Mad Muckers category, so those I passed on the hill must have been doing 2 laps or way behind.

The results show I was 48th Mad Mucker and last Under 35 male, oh dear.

The format, terrain and general structure were new to me, I know kind of what to expect from 10 Under the ben, although tha'ts about lasting the distance and have an idea of my pace on easy surfaces for Selkirk, so hopefully carry that on.

If Aaron runs it again, I'm going, and I will practice anyway now I've seen the forest, Drop Dead Fred I must learn to do... And maybe I shall purchase a fatter rear tyre with muck dispersing ability, that forest is no place for Panaracer FireXCs.

GPS Track:

Event website

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Outer Fife 4: Tour De Ben Nevis

Route Points: Nevis Range, Fort William, Kinloch Leven, Meannanach Bothy, Lairig Leacach Bothy, Spean Bridge

Route Type: Epic Day Out

Access Type: Rights of Way, Long Distance Routes, etc.

Route Access:

Nevis Range: From the Gondola or Leanachan Forest Car Parks head down either the road, Broom Stick Blue or 10 Under the Ben Marked Routes to the old road to Torlundy.

Fort William: Take Glen Nevis road to the West Highland way turn off.

Kinloch Leven: Climb up to the Mamore Lodge Hotel and onto the higest marked landrover track on the OS.

Meannanach Bothy: Take the path over to Lairig Leacach

Lairig Leachach Bothy: Follow the road towards Spean Bridge

Spean Bridge: Either head up to wards the Lairig Leachach and start through Leanachan forest or take the road to Nevis Range.

Publications of this book:
Kenny Wilson: Mountain Bike Scotland "Blue Book"
Phil McKane: Scotland MountainBiking the wild trails "White Book"
No Fuss Events: Tour De Ben


This route is a true epic, No Fuss use a similar route for their Tour De Ben race in September each year, with the fastest times being around the 4 hour mark and the longest being 8 or 9, they run a broom waggon that picks you up at Kinloch Leven if you haven't made it there in 3 hours and Spean Bridge if you aren't at the turn into Leanachan forest after 7.

The distance I recorded was over 70km, and it's a tough 70km at that.

Starting at Nevis Range we headed down the access road and onto the Torlundy road, this is marked up as part of a Blue route and joins the cycle path into Fort William once you reach the main road.  When the Cycle Path cuts over to Corpach join the road and continue to the Glen Nevis Roundabout.

The No Fuss route diverges here as they take a tarmac road to avoid the West Highland way climb.  We headed into Glen Nevis and stopped breifly at the Cow Hill access convinced that was the WHW but there is no post there (It was previously the WHW access) continuing on past the Youth Hostel we realised we were far to far in and turned back towards the small retail area where we eventually spotted the WHW post.

The BenLooking out the glen

This route up the WHW is very good wide estate road, some sections even appear to be either tar or very well compacted.  After a few switchbacks up the hill we were rewarded with cracking views both out the glen and to the Ben where some of the winters snow remained.  Or it may have been the previous night's snow as despite a forecast for rain showers what we actually encountered was hail showers, slightly more painful than rain but much more pleasant due to not needing to dry off...

This eventually turns to narrow rock strewn pathwhich isn't great for only your 3rd trip on SPD shoes!  There is a steep set of steps followed by a steep loose climb where I had my first fall of the day and couldn't get retarted.  Thankfully it isn't too long and flattens out at the top and you are at the summit of this section of the ride, but the route remains rocky from here to pretty much Spean Bridge.

Rush hour at the WHW Section Summit

Approaching Lochan Lunn Da BhráThe Road to the Mamores
Here we started to meet some serious traffic as midday approached but from the summit there is also a rather nice section of single track where I added 3 more SPD related falls to my daily total this leads down to the Military Road at Lochan Lunn Da Bhrá where the No Fuss route joins.

Along here is a cairn where the Campbells followed the MacDonalds in their flight from Glen Coe, at the side of the road lies the site of a memorial stone raised in defiance of the Campbells by the MacDonands, the stone is long gone but a cairn and information sign sit at the side of the road.

Continuing along the road the West Highland Way drives down to Kinlochmore and the No Fuss route also descends for a special stage however to save a tough rocky climb we stated high past the tv transmitter and the Mamore Lodge Hotel and then round the private dwellings on a narrow path.
The road descends in towards the Coiree na Bá and then climbs steeply up to a well placed memorial bench with excellent views out over Loch Leven.

Loch LevenLoch Leven
This cracking view point was the perfect place to stop for a decent sized lunch as it is also very close to the summit before a good plunge to the lochs Eilde Mór and Beag.  Here my hairdtail advantage saw me miles ahead of Alex, eventually I stopped as I couldn't see him behind, and then waited, and waited, and got cold so I set off back to see where he was, eventually I saw him in the distance gonig at normal speed. Usual cyclist story "P*ncture".

Loch Eilde Mór looking to Meall an Doire DharaichLoch Eilde Mór looking to the Locheilt Lodge

The road here is good, reasonably flat and not too rocky for a decent distance and we made decent progress to the ruins at Lúibeilt where there was a bog to cross, another short break and then the river crossing, and with feet wetter than fish's piecebox set off up the "Hike a Bike Section".

Heading to the Lúibeilt Ruins and Meannanach Bothy with Ben Nevis and Aonach Mohr in the backgroundLooking back to the Mamores from Druim Nan Sac.
If you really needed to return to Fort William you could by heading west in the valley before this clim to the Steall but you would have a tough walk throguh the gorge to the Glen Nevis car park.

The Hike-a-Bike section is tough trudge to the cairns at Druim nan sac, this is billed by No Fuss and Phil McKane as Hike-a-Bike and it is along way up before you can realistically consider getting back on the bike, even after the summit I found it very tough going on the Hard Tail while Alex was able to batter on, on his All Mountain Full Sus.  It was here I also had my 6th and last fall of the day, it wasn't even a heavy fall as I travelled no mare than a 30 cm from sitting on saddle to lying against a rock but I was so tired by this point that the shock went right through me. 
However as the path goes on it gets steeper and now wider for the descent to Lairig Leacach, nowq it was my turn for a visit from the puncture fairy, thankfully it was a slow puncture that had been coming for a while but when I stopped I briefly considered changing the tube, or at least pumping it up, but my CO2 inflator was easier to get to and less effort to use, the inflation I got into the tyre lasted to the car and little further.

Once we reaced the bothy I "retook" a picture I had taken years ago on a hike between Corrour station and Spean Bridge, the picture shows that much has changed, while changing little.

Lairig Leacach Bothy in 2004Lairig Leacach Bothy Today

You can see in the 2004 picture that the window, roof and chimney of the bothy have seen attention, and a wider path now climbs where we descended, the path to Corrour goes to the left of this picture.
The door of this bothy tells a small story, that of years of inhabitation by hikers, mountaineers and wild cyclists with graffiti declaring "Dave Smith 1936" and even older etched in it.

You may feel you have broken the back of the route with only a descent to Spean Bridge and on to Nevis Range to go, I'm affraid you haven't as you are not yet past the watershed, the Allt Leacach at the bothy flows to Loch Treig and it is not until the edge of Leanachan forrest where the Allt Leachdach flows to the Spean.  At this point the road drops steeply, I was completely knackered at the sight of an old woman at the side of the road looking into the valley didn't seem odd, until I got much closer and realised it was a statue and was rather freaked out!

We chose not to go through the forest as we wern't sure of the route through fro mthe map, and I hadn't thought to carry my "White book".  We took off down the road to Nevis Range, being a road cyclist I have plenty experience cycling on roads in the dying light, with no lights and no energy, I also know that in those conditions climbing is not fun.  These road sections seem so short in a car, but at even 30kmh on an MTB the 2 "Great Glen Cattle Ranch" sheds never seemed to come, but eventually they did and then the Nevis Range access road, my tyre was starting to feel really flat again which is now what you want on a climb and I had to stop for a rest once, as the car park approached I seemed to get some energy back or was it just the road easing out, after 10 hours over 6 hours of it moving we were finally finished.

This route is a true epic, it's rough, it's tough and no matter how fit you are, it will beat you.
So will I enter the No Fuss event, er...

Still not figured out the issue with my OpenSpace. (And I still haven't bothered to e-mail the OS to find out)

GPS Trace:

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Outer Fife 3: Glen Isla, Broad Cairn, Lochs and Mucik and the Capel Mounth

Route Points: The Doll, Broad Cairn, Loch Dubh, Lock Muick, Capel Mounth Road

Route Type:Big Day Out

Access Type:Mostly Rights of Way

Route Access:
Lock Muick: Right of way to Glen Isla on Capel Mounth
The Doll: From Car Park head back to public road and Turn Right.


This is a big day out with a bit of a faux pas in the route decision, most guidebooks will tell you to cross the capel mounth, pick your way up the rocky trail to the col below Broad Cairn and then pick one of 2 rapid descents, either the Land Rover Track or Corriecash (referred to as The Lightning Streak to the Aberdeenshire clubs) dow to Loch Muick.

Foot of the Capel Mounth
Starting at the Doll car park we headed into the higher section of Glen Islaon good estate track, passing the foot of the Capel Mounth road, at one point you get a choice of two routes, I took the right hand route without thinking, and this brought me to a cracking bit of boardwalk. Yes I did just say that!

Cracking bit of Boardwalk

Alex pushing the Meta over some very rocky stuff
This leads to a quick hike-a-bike over some rocks and a bridge to get back onto the land rover track, from here the climb really kicks in and is fairly rocky and was tricky for me on a hard tail with not much cadence range, Alex just battered over pretty much everything on the Meta, so I had to find a picture of him pushing up it!

It's a cracking climb both when pushing and when finding rideable sections though, and the views back down the glen are spectacular.
The steep but well made section near the col.

This eventually leads to a memorial bridge where the path becomes smooth and well made, it is however also very steep and littered with culverts, if you are fit enough it is climbable.

It was on this section that with a bit of speed up I decided to try and jump a culvert, fud!  A rapidly deflating rear tyre was the reward and an enforced stop.  There isn't much shelter here either thankfully all the effort of a tyre change meant I didn't notice but Alex headed on for a bit to keep warm.

When you reach the col you are presented with a T-Junction, to the left is the path up to the boulderfields round broadcairn, and to the right is the horse stable at the junction of the two routes down to Loch Muick.

Alex on the edge of nothing?
The OS Landranger shows a path round Broadcairn and we headed for this only to realise that the boulder field was unrelenting for a short sharp lift onto the path, the path wasn't much better!
One of the waterfalls was rideable
As we went round the side of Broad Cairn it quickly became obvious that it was gonig to be too windy to make decent progress along the intended route round the horseshoe and descenting the side of Lochnagar, so we bailed out down the Coirre Uilleim Mohr, this has a faint path visible down it and we followed it as far as possible before picking a route to the waterfalls of the Allt an Dubh-Loch.

The first waterfall we hit at a flat point and it was possible to ride across it, the picture to the left shows Alex crossing, I had crossed on foot to get this before going back to try it on my bike.

The 2nd waterfall was a different challenge. We arrived it a narrow section with steeps sides, what looked like a piece of the rock stretching across as if the water had carved under turned out to be a rock wedged over a precipice.

The other needed a more careful crossing
But after this we found a good route for a reasonable distance along the exposed rock before picking a route on a better trampled path down to the loch.

At the loch is a narrow rocky path identifed as a good nit of single track by Kenny Wilson in his publication of the Loch Muick and Capel Mounth route, going down this bouncing between rocks, battering pedals and going huge sections without pedalling was brilliant, utterly nuts but brilliant. I think at one point I spent 5 minutes without pedalling and not knowing my chain was off the small ring at the front.  At one point at a river crossing that was not rideable some walkers had stopped for a break. "Oh look here's another nutter!" was my greeting from them.

Singtrack Chute at the Boathouse
Eventually this spits you out on the track round Loch Muick and we stopped on the shore in the woods near the lodge to consume lunch.

From the lodge the trail becomes a land rover track and is really smooth and if you follow it all the way will take you to Ballater, however if you are going for the Capel Mounth you need to turn off at the boathouse at the north end of the loch down a short singletrack chute.

The Capel Mounth Road starts here
Follow the path from the boathouse to the junction with the path along the east side of the loch, but turn left and then right singposted for the Capel Mounth.

This is a sharp climb on good land rover track, I was attacking the Jennly Babies by now though and Alex was running on empty, it is a tough climb but well worth it, as with all the Mounth roads you are following the footsteps of many a cattle drover or theif and clan chief with war party.

At the summit of the Land Rover Track you hit the march line and presumably an estate boundary here the road turns from landrover track to singletrack path despite being marked by the OS as a track.

This also signifies the start of a cracking descent down to the foot of the glen, it's steep, technical in places and great fun.

The trail changes from a path cut by years of trampling to rocky chutes and back again a few times and as you plummet into Glen Isla you can see the Doll far below.  Nearer the glen floor you enter an area of woodland with the trail defined by logs either side, with a tricky rocky river crossing.  This path then spits you back onto the landrover track on the glen floor that you started off on for a nice easy downhill spin back to the Doll Car Park

No map yet as there is something wrong with my Open Space API key