Scotland

Glen Affric

Feeling a bit down about the recent weather and with post-holiday blues after returning from France, we booked a night at the remote Glen Affric Youth Hostel. The north of Scotland seems to have had better weather than the Central belt and so we hoped travelling to Cannich near Inverness would give us less mud under our tyres.

The plan was to drive up on Saturday morning, ride Saturday afternoon, stay over, ride back Sunday morning and then drive back Sunday afternoon.

We drove up in mixed weather with sunshine and showers, stopped for brunch in Inverness, parked at Dog Falls car park near Cannich and set off early afternoon. The weather was mild despite the showers and we were treated to sunny spells as we cycled along the south bank of the stunning Loch Beinn a’Mheadhoin towards Loch Affric.

The path on this section was easy and well-surfaced but quite unused and with a sense of remoteness. When we got to Loch Affric the path along the south side is even more of a well-made track and the cycling very straight forward but we were looking forward to a more interesting single-track return along the North side of Loch Affric on Sunday.

At the head of Loch Affric we reached a beautiful white sand beach and headed off up the narrowing glen following the River Affric.

The Hostel (shown in the first photo) sits about 5km from the beach at the head of Loch Affric, up a slightly more technical track which eventually runs right through Kintail to the banks of Loch Duich near Sheil Bridge. Just before we reached the hostel some heavier rain set in but we could smell the warm homely scent of wood smoke coming down the glen so we knew we were close. We arrived after 25km of cycling in just over two and a half hours.

The hostel was a great choice for our first ‘overnighter’ on the mountain bikes; we had to take sleeping bags and all our food but cooking facilities were provided and bunks so we didn’t need a stove, sleeping mats or a tent. I am not sure how well I’d be able to cycle with any more weight on my back than I had.

We arrived pretty wet due to riding through a few rather deep fords on the last section so it was a treat to get into dry clothes and sit by the wood burning stove while preparing dinner. After an early night and a really good night’s sleep, we woke to pretty awful looking weather – a strong westerly wind, low cloud and quite heavy rain. But by the time we left after breakfast, the rain was letting up and the sky brightening and thankfully as we were headed east along the valley the wind was at our backs. The biggest problem was the rain that had fallen in the night; where we had cycled across fords on the way to the hostel, we were wading through thigh-deep torrents on the way back. And some streams had completely taken over the path.

Still, once you’ve waded through the first, your feet can’t really get any wetter!

After re-tracing our route back to Loch Affric we headed round the north side which was a lot more interesting than the south had been. The path was undulating and fun to ride, with some loose sections both up and down but nothing too extreme.

At the bottom of Loch Affric we crossed a bridge and re-joined the quiet and pretty path on the south of Loch Beinn a’Mheadhoin that we’d started on, getting back to the car after another 26km and just over two and a half hours riding. Mostly the weather had been kind and dry with even a few sunny spells but we were utterly soaked from wading through “streams”. It took a half an hour walk to the Dog Falls viewpoint before the feeling came back into my toes.  Driving back down the A9 it felt like we’d been away a lot longer than one night, almost like a mini-holiday.

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Categories: mountain biking, mountains, outdoors, Scotland | 3 Comments

Air Maiden 2012

Spot the Difference?

Air Maiden 2012

Air Maiden 2010

I make the difference about 8″ of air 🙂

Air Maiden in 2010 was my first ever attempt at getting my wheels off the ground ‘voluntarily’. I’d had little moments on the trails when I’d come off a bump at speed, but never really tried to jump as I didn’t know how to and wasn’t very sure what would happen when I landed if I did get into the air.

The weekend is a female-only free ride coaching weekend at Glentress ending in a fun ‘competition’. Participants sign up to a choice of sessions with coaches Emma and Tracy (of “the Hub” fame) Helen Gaskill and Andy Barlow (from Dirtschool). Choices include; beginners jumps, beginners drops, skinnies, and the kicker(!).

Back in 2010 I did beginner drops and beginner jumps and was very pleased to get the small amount of air you see in the photo above and to also ride off the small ‘huck’. In 2012 I was ready for more – progressive jumps and ‘the kicker’!

The weekends are so much fun. The coaches are fantastic, the ‘girls’ range from teenagers to well into their 40s and are all so friendly and always willing to advise and support, the atmosphere is so supportive, it’s perfect for learning and challenging yourself but with really no pressure to do anything you’re not sure about.

And for those who are still not sure you want to get your wheels off the ground – you don’t know what you’re missing 🙂

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Natural Tweed

Best bike ride in a long time thanks to the fantastic Tweedlove festival. ‘Natural Tweed’ was the last event of this year’s festival and it was worth waiting for! 140 riders headed out from Peebles for a self-sufficient ride with maps of the route and volunteer riding marshalls, bike patrol and emergency mechanics scattered through the pack.

The route was absolutely stunning.. best natural ride I’ve done in the Tweed valley ever, the weather was perfect and trail conditions ideal. Good times.

Categories: mountain biking, outdoors, Scotland, Tweed Valley | 1 Comment

Glentress 7

A moment of calm

We entered the Tweedlove festival 2012 “Glentress 7” as a mixed pair. The format is 7 hours of riding on an 11km loop course of pretty technical singletrack and 450m ascent. We didn’t really know how long each loop would take us. I was thinking we’d maybe hit 6 laps… Si went first so that if we hit an odd number of laps it would be him that did more, but we didn’t allow for the fact that the first lap was much easier with a neutralised start – up the fireroad – instead of the first third of technical climbing and descending.

I went out FAR too fast on my first lap, keeping up with the traffic around me and nearly blew up entirely about a quarter of the way round, stopped for a bit and pulled it together then carried on finishing in 1hr13min. Went out much steadier for my second lap and maybe took it a bit too easy (even having a quick toilet stop) but only added 5mins to my lap time.

The cut off for the end of the day was 5:30pm and the cut off for going out for a last lap was 4:30pm. Si was due back from his third lap at 3:20pm so I didn’t think we’d have time for two more laps as I didn’t think I could make it round in 1hr10min so I was going to offer him the next lap as it would be our last and I was ambivalent about riding another one or not. But when he got in he made me go anyway… I headed off knowing I had to put in my fastest lap of the day but also had to not blow up like I did in the first lap… I decided to start steady and ramp it up.

In that last lap my heart and lungs and head felt better than they had all day, but my legs (left knee) and lower back/hip were really starting to grumble. I also somehow got engaged in two conversations with guys on climbs on that lap who kept asking me questions despite my gasping one-word responses(!?!). Knowing the course by this time made it go much quicker, and knowing where to push hard and where to ease up helped. I also concentrated on taking every bit of speed on the downhills that I could. At the hour-mark I knew I had gone further than the first lap so I had a chance. There also wasn’t too much traffic at that point so I really picked up the descent speed. I hadn’t managed to clean the off-camber rooty traverse near the end on either of my two previous laps and was worried about crashing messily on that bit but the extra speed seemed to help. On the final descent I heard the tannoy down at the finish saying two minutes to cut-off and I was caught by the crazy soloists and really fast male riders who were all aiming for the 4:30 cut off too, I was going too fast to pull over and let them past so I picked up even more speed in an attempt to not hold them up too much. I FLEW down the last section of rutted grass as fast as I possibly could (topping out at 29kph according to my gps) and crossed the mat with 30 seconds to spare!

Si headed out with an hour to finish his fourth (and our seventh) lap. He’d been hitting 55-56min laps all day so he’d be ok if he didn’t crash badly or have a mechanical…

Personalised race nubmers – how cool!

He finished four minutes before the final cut-off and so we had our seven laps. We were 88 out of 101 pairs overall (though only 15th out of 16th in our category which doesn’t sound so good) but both of us rode well, and I in particular rode far faster than ever in my life before so a good day all round 🙂

Categories: mountain biking, mountains, outdoors, Scotland, Tweed Valley | 2 Comments

Mountain bike marathon

Sunday was the annual CRC mountain bike marathon series Selkirk event. I have been working towards riding the 50km route at this event for six years!

I first rode this event in 2006 when I didn’t even own my own mountain bike and had to borrow one from my husband’s friend. I’d moved up from London where I’d been a cycle commuter about 15 months earlier, and ridden the Glentress blue route a handful of times but that was about the limit of my off-road experience.

That year I rode the shortest option – 25km – with a group of friends and found it really tough. The next year I rode the same route again and this time actually rode it rather than walking most of it! In 2008 I was going to move up to the 50km but the weather was awful with torrential rain all day so I rode the 25 again and this time found it a bit of a let-down as I’d really out-grown that distance. So we went to the Penrith leg of the series and I rode the 50k there (though it was undoubtedly easier than the Selkirk route). We skipped 2009, so in 2010 I was really up for the 50km. I went out for a short run the day before, fell over, fainted and thanks to some concerned passers-by ended up in an ambulance. Doctors suspected a broken hand so I had to spectate as my husband, brother in law and sister in law rode the driest trails they’d had for years!

We skipped 2011 again, so this year nothing was going to stop me from completing the 50km route. The weather leading up to the event had been wet, wet, wet so I was feeling a bit worried about the trail conditions but the forecast for the actual day of the ride was good. I ride this kind of terrain at around 6-8kph average so I worked out it might take between 5 1/2 hours and 7 1/2. I hoped for around 6 hours. When we arrived in the morning at the event village the ground was clearly water-logged, and the temperature was around 5degC. I set off dressed in 3/4 leg shorts and long sleeves… big mistake!! This is a hilly route with over 1500m of climbing and by the top of the first climb of the day I was seriously overheating.

Course profile

I rode up the first climb leapfrogging with a friend Dawn and her friend Tracy, and pushed to the top of the second climb with them. Just before the second summit, Dawn managed to sink her front wheel into a bog past the axle and flip over the handlebars into deep smelly bog! At that summit, Tracy decided to call it a day as she’d ridden the road bike event the day before. At that point we weren’t even halfway round which was a bit of a worry. I wasn’t tempted to go back with Tracy but as we’d been going for nearly  3 1/2 hours I thought I’d be lucky now to finish in 6 1/2 hours or more.

Towards the bottom of the next descent I lost touch with Dawn, she was ahead of me and I was a bit surprised she hadn’t waited but thought she’d maybe got bored as I was a lot slower than her. At the feed-station again I was surprised she wasn’t there and asked the marshal if she’d seen her but she wasn’t sure… there were a lot of biting flies so I just assumed she had moved on because of them.

The final climb of the day started gently with a long tarmac climb up a valley, then hit a steep grassy slope which I knew from a long way away I wouldn’t be able to ride up. I was actually looking forward to getting to it as I was pretty knackered and overheating and told myself I could push when I got to the farmyard. At the farmyard I also took off my long-sleeved top as I couldn’t bear it anymore and I just put my gilet back on top of my sports bra which felt much better. But even with the wardrobe adjustment that push up was awful, truly truly awful. I felt terrible and dizzy. I looked at my gps and it read 36km.  I knew that the “50” was actually about 45km and I guessed the final descent was around 5-6km so I thought I’d be ok if I could just get to the 40km point. But pushing up at the 36km point I saw I was only moving at 4kph! The thought of taking another HOUR to push the last 4km was truly miserable. Also, I’d sucked my camelbak dry of water and only had energy drink left in my bottle.

Thankfully, the pushing didn’t last, soon I was able to get on the bike again and ride. As we went along the top I was passed by a number of the elite racers who’d completed 85km and they were really encouraging. Once I could see the final climb on a rocky path I knew it would be ok. My gps was reading about 5 hrs 40mins so I wasn’t going to be as long as I thought. I stopped at a bench to finish my drink telling myself I could have five minutes but actually only needed about 2 minutes before I felt good to carry on. From there my mood turned entirely and I felt great. I ground out the last climb, saw I was actually going to finish in near to my 6 hour target, stopped for a very quick breather on top to get rid of the jelly legs then whooped my way down the big final descent.

I found out yesterday my finish time was 5 hours 59 minutes and 52 seconds!

And Dawn? – She wasn’t ahead after all, she took a wrong turn on the fast descent between climbs 2 and 3 and went through that feed-station behind me. The woman I spoke to told her I was ahead and she came in three minutes behind me.

Categories: mountain biking, outdoors, Scotland, Tweed Valley | Leave a comment

A pair of unusual evening running events

In the past two weekends I’ve had two of the most unusual but fun night’s running…

Friday May 4th – the Blackrock 5 – the best running race in the Edinburgh area by a long way…. this race is run every year on a friday night at low tide, from the village of Kinghorn, out into the Forth Estuary and around the Black Rock and back to a killer uphill finish. All finishers get given a banana and bottle of beer and the rest of the evening is spent with more beers and chips from the chip shop 🙂

 

 

 

Sunday April 29th – training for NVA’s speed of light – a bitterly cold night on Arthur’s seat trying out light suits and the choreography for this participatory public art project to take place in August.

           

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Mountain bike orienteering – Glentress

The second round of the Scottish mountain bike orienteering (SMBO) series for 2012 was at Glentress last weekend. I like to think I know Glentress pretty well, including a lot of the ‘off-piste’ but I’m happy to say that I discovered two new trails on Sunday – and one is a real beauty of a descent 🙂

So many trails, such tired legs

There are more trails that I don’t know on the map so I’ll be keeping hold of that and going back for another explore sometime soon.

The weather was dry, and sunny although very cold, perfect riding weather really. So, how did we do? Well we came second last (again). We spent a lot of time plotting our route (15mins) because it was a really tricky map to get your head round, GT is a confusing forest with a real maze of fireroad, marked bike trails, walkers paths and other singletrack. Then we had to climb up into the forest – old skool-style up the fireroad! It really made me appreciate the newer singletrack climb as I had forgotten how much of a grind the fireroad climb is (even if it is quicker). In total it was 30mins before we clocked our first points…

But we did make some good navigation decisions and rode down a sweet descent everybody else was pushing up and took the sensible way up to the point high above spooky woods. We also caught the really great descent in the right direction. At the end we made a good decision at the bottom of red trail “sair fecht” to get up to the red “falla brae” descent for a big points point before then cutting out at red squirrel car park to race for a five pointer on Admirals blue trail. We got back 30seconds over time to lose 1 point but gained 5 by catching that last checkpoint so it was a good call.

I had a bit of a cold, but rode as hard as I could for the whole three hours. Navigation was alright (no big mistakes) so all in all I’m happy… even if a small child in the ‘generation’ category got more points than we did!!! 🙂

Finished!

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Glen Feshie – 1 May 2011

As we set off today for a ride in the rain near Peebles, Bill asked me if I thought all the bridges would be intact. This wasn’t as random a question as it sounds, nearly a year ago we had maybe the most fun and memorable mountain bike ride ever. Thanks to Will and Kate’s royal nuptuals we had a long long weekend and decided to celebrate Si and Derm’s 40th birthdays with a weekend in Aviemore which turned out to be the warmest, sunniest weekend of the year.

On the Sunday, a group of us headed up Glen Feshie on the mountain bike. Here’s the story in pictures…

Started out on gorgeous singletrack up the east side of the river Feshie

After riding for some time we reach the bridge that marks our halfway point and leads to the return on the other side of the river!

Fancy skills aren't going to help here

COLD feet!!!

It looks warm but note the snow on the hills in the background, that water was ice-cold melt-water

Survivors

Lunch

beautiful descending

Categories: Cairngorms, mountain biking, mountains, outdoors, Scotland | 1 Comment

Easter Monday – Gypsy Glen

Gypsy Glen – Parking at Glentress trail centre, climb up through Cardrona forest, top out at Kirkhope Law before descending via Kalzie Hill all the way to Peebles. Some climbing, some mud, some pushing, LOTS of fun descending!

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Mountain bike orienteering – Pentlands

Image copyright: Walter Brydon

Last weekend, less than 24hrs after landing back in Edinburgh after our Austrian skiing holiday, we headed up to Currie rugby club for the first round of the Scottish Mountain Bike Orienteering series. I’ve not actually got any photos of this event, because I was too busy riding my bike… so I’ve borrowed the photo above from another rider. It shows a checkpoint we didn’t actually make due to a slight misjudgment of the path up there… we tried to go up the really steep way thinking that the other way would make a more feasible descent.. but unfortunately we gave up pushing up the steep side as it was just too time-consuming.

The event is ‘score’ format, which means you get a map with checkpoints marked on it and a list of how many points each checkpoint is worth and each team plots their own route. There is a three-hour time limit and there are penalty points for being late back. Giving up on 22 was probably the right decision, it allowed us to catch a relatively easy big points checkpoint (19) on the way back and get back on time (no penalty points).

We rushed off afterwards for a family lunch so missed the prize-giving etc but as usual we weren’t in a leading position anyway. We got 245 points to come 5th out of 6 mixed teams. However the mixed team category is very competitive – our points total would have put us 3rd if we’d been a male pair and first if we’d been a female solo or a female pair. In all, I was happy with my riding and happy with our route planning… though next time I think we need to take a highlighter and spend a little bit longer planning the later stages of our route before we start off, now that I’m a bit fitter we can afford to plan a bit more because my riding speed is a bit more consistent.

Categories: mountain biking, mountains, outdoors, Scotland | Leave a comment

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