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