The largest of the UK’s national parks, located in the heart of Scotland, the Cairngorms is made up of over 4,500sq km of un-spoilt countryside, five of the UK’s six highest mountains, 43 munros, 9 nature reserves, an abundance of majestic wildlife, glistening lochs, fast flowing rivers and huge swathes of forests containing ancient Caledonian Pine trees.
I've been wanting to bike pack in the Cairngorms for several years now but like most people, the pandemic meant putting those plans on hold until it was safe to do so. After Scotland came out of lockdown, there was a new sense of urgency to get some dates in the diary. After several planning meetings, it was arranged for the second week in June and we would base ourselves out of a small village just south of Aviemore.
The three of us met for drinks the night before to discuss the proposed route and ended up having a few more than planned. The following morning we checked our kit and prepared for the off, albeit a little later than first planned.
For the first couple of miles we followed a cycle path until we crossed the River Spey and joined a woodland route and headed north into the Rothiemurcus Forest. The conditions of the trails were dry and dusty and after a couple of hours we stopped for a cup of tea at small Lochan.
The tracks continued to be a mixture of wide gravel and dry forest double tracks and we were thankful for such stunning conditions. Two of us were on fat bikes and one plus bike so the comfort level was high for our hungover states. The weather was warm with a breeze that was welcomed, especially after a climb or sheltered stretch.
Before long we started the climb from Loch Morlich to the 'Emerald Loch' and past the bothy before finding a spot for the first camp spot. The criteria for our camp spot was to be by a river with a small copse or wood, to help with shelter.
For this trip I took my Deschutes Zero-G shelter with the serenity net, lightweight and durable but most of all, quick to put up due to the single pole and five pegs. With its low weight, 230g and 312g for the net tent, and small pack size it makes for the perfect bikepacking shelter. The single pole folds in to 3-sections and becomes easy to carry in my frame bag.
Before long, I'm tucking into my evening meal and we start to talk about the days highlights before the conversation switches to tomorrow's monster climb
Day 2 started with a short return leg to the bothy, where the track split and we could see the track winding up the mountain. It was another glorious day but with a slight increase in the wind, this was welcomed as it kept us cooler during the effort required to get over Bynack More. The track at the highest point is 800m and the rest at the top was definitely earned.
The descent was tricky with the loaded bikes due to sizeable drainage channels and the speed we were travelling at. After a few crossings and some hike-a-bike later, we reached rideable single track down to the Fords of Avon refuge. This small bothy was a welcome sight and provided some shelter from the wind for our stoves in making a refreshing cup of tea.
After we packed up we headed to the river crossing, the River can be difficult to cross after rain due to the force of the flow. It's quite wide and it can easy become dangerous, due to along period of dry weather we crossed with relative ease. The next section started with a rideable single track but shortly became a sizeable hike-a-bike climb out of the glen. Pushing a laden bike over rough terrain soon begins to make you question your route choice. No sooner had I started having my doubts, we had reached the top and was created with an incredible vista of Glen Derry.
After to some dreamy single track we joined a double track section that lead us to the forest around Derry Lodge.
After another river crossing we were cruising down Glen Lui towards the Linn of Dee where after following the river, will find a spot to overnight. With the wind coming down the Glen, it was decided to find a little shelter next to a wood block. We found a spot near a old ruin and only 25 meters from the river, so we could easy resupply water after an evening meal.
After another great sleep in an idyllic location, breakfast was consumed with a slight air of sadness as it was our last morning. The route was relatively short compared to the first two days but was to take us through the iconic Glen Feshie. We packed up and made sure we 'left no trace' and made our way to the river to resupply water before making our way down the track.
The estate tracks were in great condition and apart from distractions of the scenery, we were making good progress. After a few kilometres the track became single track and the riding got more exciting and slightly technical. After several hike-a-bike sections we reached the waterfall and the bridge crossing.
From the bridge it was a long descent to the flood plain of the River Feshie and the incredible forest of Scots pines. The Glen has to be one of the finest that Scotland has to offer, the pine trees, a multitude of wildlife and the crystal clear water cascading over the granite, make for an incredible experience.
It wasn't long before the track turned to an estate tarmac access road, it was a strange sensation after riding off road for several days being on a super smooth surface.
We were getting close to re-joining our initial out bound leg of the route and then retraced our steps back to the cottage. The final few kilometres passed by and we started to ride on the cycle path, although tired we were still in good spirits and the conversation switched towards what was for dinner.
The trip was a success and certainly the most scenic 3 days I’ve had on a bike, and plans have already been made for our return.