Sunday, November 4, 2012

Outer Fife 6 - Sluggan Bridge and the Burma Road

Route Points: Inverdrurie, Dalfaber, Boat of Garten, Sluggan Bridge, Insharn, Caggan, Lynwilg
Route Type: Epic
Surface: Everything but bedrock.

There are a variety of routes taking in the Aviemore Burma road, some take you up it and then down the singletrack to Balinluig, others take you up it and then round to Carrbridge, what very few do, is take you down it.

All set

I tackled this route with other members of the Dundee Mountain Club, a mixed fitness group for the day with plans on a pootle round Loch An Eilean afterwards, we set off from the Rothiemurchus car park at Inverdrurie as it was well placed for both intended routes, althoguh this gives a shorting blast along the Cycle Route towards Aviemore before picking up the NCN 7 "off road" option route towards Dalfaber, this gives a gentle warm up as you spin through the flat lands of a mid to late 80's housing estate.
Running beside the metals of the Speyside Railway, in summer you may be joined by the puffing (and exhausting) of Steam Engines, but in our late Autumn setting the tracks were silent as volunteers worked in the maintainance sheds, (I say work, the lights were on, so presumably they were doing something, boiling small kettles surely counts as work for volunteer railwaymen as much as the big ones), the route now zips off along the Speysideway, meandering and undulating (sometimes sharply) along side the railway on it's steady gradiented embankment, eventually the track and line swap sides before a junction.

At the junction there are 2 routes to Boat of Garten, we stayed on the main track but turning off could take you on some trails that take you out on the main road in the village, the track turns to tarmac and a cheeky wee sprint to the 30 limit signs where the public road is met, before turning left onto the main road through the village, just out the village there is a shared use path which twists, turns, drops, rises alongside the A95, for what is meant to be a long distance cycle route (NCN 7) suitable for tourers to use instead of the road it's pretty pathetic, but on a full-sus mountain bike (on which I had fork lock out and pro-pedal enabled) it was fun, I even spotted a wee sneaky singletrack option at a raised viewpoint, this leads down to the A95 junction where you cross and continue on a bit of old road alignment to the B road towards Carrbridge.

On this road you have 3 choices:
1) Just under 1Km after the junction there is a left turn onto a track
2) Go up to Carrbridge and take the NCN 7 Off Road option (you can pick up the same route throguh the forest from the 1st A95 junction) to Sluggan Bridge.
3) Follow any NCN 7 route to Carrbridge and then Road to Slochd and then take the NCN 7 route to Sluggan bridge as far as Inscharn.

We took Option 1, the track leads down to the A9, the access to the forest is directly across from the track so wait for a gap and cross.
The track bears left, keep climbing until a road appears on the right, we stayed straight on at this and took the next right just to make it tricky and after a short sharp climb, we joined the road from the first right insight of the junction and it looked a lot easier!

Ford at the bottom of the descent
The track starts climbing, you reach a junction where there is a gate straight ahead and the track bears right, cross the gate and keep climbing, a deer fence possible with day-glo orange plastic fencing on it will appear on the left, this lead to the first reason to disable lockout and pro-pedal as the track plunges rapidly, being first down and unsure of the route I stopped at a junction in a large clearing, the route to take is slightly to the left down an even steeper (but quite short) section to a ford, at this ford it became evident that the right hand line was the best, I was first through and took the left and fell in, everyone else went right and cleaned it!

Keep following the straight ahead route until you come to a crossing of tarred road, this is where the NCN 7 Slochd route joins to take you to Sluggan Bridge, as this is an NCN route you can follow the wee blue markers, although chances are you probably won't see some of them what with this not being the Bath to Bristol cycle path that these things were designed for.

Sluggan Bridge

Sluggan bridge is part of General Wade's Fort George to Dunkeld route, and is believed to have been built by Major Caulfeild to replace Wade's original structure, although the only known facts are that the current bridge is not Wade's and that it must have been built before Telford's work to provide what became the original A9 route.

Sluggan Bridge and Coffee Shop (Ruin)

A short rest at Sluggan and some joking about Coffee Shops on the route we trundled on nearing lunchtime to the house at Inscharn where we made use of the roadside to stop for lunch, I say we, I thought the route was only going to take a couple of hours so had left my Chicken sandwich in the van, so while the others scoffed  M&S Finest sandwiches, swigged from bottles of Tonic Water and finished that off with Millionaire's Shortcake, I snaffled one of my Snickers bars and took a mouthfull of sports drink.

Lunch break at Inscharn

Just after the cottage where the route bears off to Slochd we took the left turn and the next left and headed into the wilds proper.  Cutting along the hillside and ignoring a junction to the right we returned to a small wood where we appear to have turned right at a monument, I didn't see either junction or monument but the GPS trace shows I took the corner at 14kmh so I was either enjoying a short descent or was slogging away following the obvious main line.

We then faced a choice, the main track leads left down towards the river, or take the scruffier less used looking track straight ahead, suggestions to split were dropped infavour of the better looking track, which turned to grass after a rapid descent, and a grass climb to make up for that rapid descent...

Grassy... Ford in the Grass (Bridge to the right of photograph)

The two routes rejoin where you land on a decent track again which lasts as far as a Ford with a bridge to the side, from here it's back to a grassy slog along tracks cut out by landrovers simply being driven along.

This takes you past the cottage at Eil and nearly to Caggan where the track becomes good again, with an odd feature as you climb a large mound the width of the road and then descend off the other side and down to a fairly new bridge.

View from the bridge back where we've come from

The bridge The climb after the bridge (old route to right)

Cross the bridge (or if you refuse to use these new fangled devices, take the old alignment and ford the river) and if you have any sense turn sharp right and take the old alignment from the ford up the hill, if not or you want to test your legs of steel out, go ahead and hit the 22% gradient climb.

The climb eases for a while.

After this short sharp section (or the switchback it has bypassed) the climb eases out and you can settle in for the 5.5Km climb to the col, or at least that's the theory, as we got higher we reached a point where the going got soft, very very soft, with the amount of rain we had had this track was saturated, had frozen and resaturated, this was an aboslute slog, and eventually my granny ring started jamming the chain, I had no choice but to batter on hammering away in the 1:1 ratio, it took many stops to let my heart recover but I eventually made it to the top without pushing.  Other either had stupidly small gearing like 30-36 or used the lowest gear of all to get up to the summit.

Looking back into the glen

All the effort of the climb was rewarded as the snow coated central Cairngorms appeared on the Horizon.
The central Cairngorms

We rested, took photos, rested a bit more and then decided we were getting cold so had better get a move on.

Much daftness at the summit

We also debated whether to drop on the Single track to Ballinluig or to do the Burma Road descent to Lynwilg, I chose Lynwilg because I had been looking forward to it, the others went for the Single track.

A descent from 690m to 230m, in 4.7 Km in just under 8 minutes.
8 Minutes of pushing the bike for all the speed I would let it have, flying, swooping, braking, braking, damn sheep, pedalling again, faster faster, steeper, more sheep, backup to speed again. What's that? A gate, brakes on hard, gate open, through, shut, speed up again, faster faster, another gate, same again, speed up, tar, speed still up, junction, cars, A9, stop.

I would have been faster if I had remembered to unlock forks and shock at the summit rather than 1.4 of the way down, I had to slow down to get a hand off the bars and disengage them, but did I really need to?
It's not a technical descent, but it's fast provided you're keeping it in check for what you can see, Sheep and Walkers and maybe even Mountain Bikers following the guide books, suffering their way up the steepness, but it was just me and Mint Sauce and Co.

It takes a wee while for a big enough gap to get across into the filter lane on the otherside of the A9 to appear, the tech is over, just pedal on down to Aviemore and then turn right at the roundabout... Yeah Yeah Roadie instinct kicks in and I'm pushing this heavy bike for what I've got left, oh how I wished I was on the Zaskar here, or even a CX bike, hm.

and Alex ate the lot!
I get back to the van, I don't have the key so I'll have a wait, I don't I eat another Snickers and then head off for Loch an Elienan, I'm just past an old lady who was rather shocked at the amount of mud both bike and rider were covered in when I get a text message saying the others are back, I don't quite make the loch, but I don't turn back, don't want to freak the old lady out!  So I complete a cool down lap of the roads and return to the van knackered.

After getting changed and stowing the bikes we pop into the coffeshop on the other side of the road, but they were shutting earlier than advertised, but they tell us the estate coffee shop is still open, so we pop in there.  Hot Chocolate, Brownies and Cookies, ahh...