Scotland – Cairngorms circuit

3 day off-road ride. The Cairngorms cover a vast area and is the largest wilderness area in the UK.  Not surprisingly the Cairngorms lends itself to some excellent bikepacking trips. It’s  a committing place to ride because of its remoteness, the weather and the need to carry everything with you – probably because of all this, it’s a very rewarding experience.

The route

This route is a circular 3 day route starting in Aviemore and finishing in Blair Atholl (a short distance on the train from Aviemore).  The real start of this trip is Glenmore Lodge  just beyond Loch Morlich.  The quickest way to get there is to ride the usually fairly quiet road from Aviemore to Loch Morlich.  Alternatively you can pick the forest bike trails that will take you from Coylumbridge to Loch Morlich. From Glenmore Lodge take a track northwards to the small lochan  An Lochan Uaine, and follow the track towards the Abernethy Forest passing the Ryvoan bothy  on the way.  Once into the forest head to the forest lodge and from here head eastwards across sometimes boggy ground to Attinlea.  From Attinlea continue eastwards and take the estate road for 2km to Dorback Lodge. From Dorback Lodge take the tracks to Bridge of Avon and then 2km on the road to Tomintoul.

cairn4Tomintoul to the Fords of Avon is about 19 miles and most of it is rideable. From Tomintoul pick up the minor road heading south west towards Delnabo and then take the land rover tracks into the Glen proper.  Just after the buildings shown on the map as Inchory, the track to the Fords of Avon turns to the right (westwards) to ruin of Faindowan Lodge.  Beyond this point the land rover track finishes and the track becomes rougher with small streams to ford and pushing can be easier than riding in some places.  At the Fords of Avon, there is a small stone bothy – this is an emergency shelter rather than a place for staying overnight.  If you’ve got the time, leave the bike at the bothy and follow the river for just over a mile to its end at Loch Avon – a wild and impressive mountain setting.

cairn3After crossing the Fords of Avon head south along the Lairig  an Laoigh in to Glen Derry.  This section can be hard going with very rocky ground to cover, with quite a bit of pushing needed both on the ascent and descent from the pass.  The track improves as you get further down Glen Derry, a beautiful wooded area, and you continue down to Derry Lodge.  From here follow the land rover tracks south east to the Linn of Dee and then head west to the White Bridge.  This is the junction with the Lairig Ghru, the most well known of the passes through the Cairngorms, but much better suited to walking than a bike.

From the White Bridge take a track southwards to Bynack Lodge fording the Geldie Burn on the way.  If there’s been heavy rain this burn quickly becomes impassable and the only route back to Blair Atholl is to go back to the Linn of Dee and then take the road through Braemar, over the Cairnwell pass and down to the Spittal of Glenshee before heading west to Blair Atholl.

scotland_1 pixabayFrom Bynack Lodge continue south to the Falls of Tarf where there is a bridge across the river.  Land rover tracks appear after a few kilometres and follow these  to Blair Atholl.

Practicalities.

Guidebooks and maps.  ‘Scotland Mountain Biking: The Wild Trails Volume 1’ Phil McKane. Includes various Cairgorms routes. http://tinyurl.com/gubgeyr

‘Exploring Scottish Hill Tracks’ – Ralph Storer. Out of print but secondhand copies available.  Gives details of MTB routes through the Cairngorms and other Scottish Mountains. Search for copies on ABE Books http://www.abebooks.co.uk/?cm_sp=TopNav-_-Home-_-Logo

Maps: OS 50,000 Sheets 36 & 43. https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/shop/maps.html?cat%5B0%5D=20&cat%5B1%5D=23

When to go/weather

The best time to go is from in early May through to late September, with May and September often having the best weather and least midges.  July and August are the worse times for midges. See blog for more details on midges.  River levels are critical for this trip, particularly at the key crossings mentioned, and can change rapidly if you encounter heavy rain, making them impassable.  The Mountain Weather Information Service gives detailed mountain forecasts and outlook for the Cairngorms. http://www.mwis.org.uk/scottish-forecast

Travel.

Aviemore is easy to access by road or by rail.  A real luxury is to travel to Aviemore by sleeper – book early and it’s not that expensive. https://www.sleeper.scot/ It departs from London at 9.00 PM in the evening and arrives in Aviemore at 7.30 the following morning – it’s also possible to pick it up at Crewe, Preston or Carlisle.  The return journey is equally easy with a train departing Blair Atholl at about 10.00pm.  You can book up to 12 months in advance and also there is the option of reclining seats which are cheaper than the sleeper.

Camping/supplies.

The Cairngorms offer endless wild camping possibilities and this is a central element of why this is a great trip.  Although there are some bothies on route you still need camping/bivi gear in case of weather or change of plans.

Aviemore at the start of the route has a full range of food, gear and bike shops. Tomintoul is the only village on route where you can re-supply with food.

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