Author Archives: cojacal

About cojacal

I like playing outdoors, in my twenties mostly rock climbing, thirties mostly sea kayaking, forties mostly triathlon, and latterly mostly running ultras and mountain biking. All good.

Cairngorms Loop – Sept 12th 2020 Group Start

I’ve been riding my mountain bike a bit this year, including the Deeside trail and brilliant tours around the HT550 northern loop and inner Cairngorms loop over two days each with Fi in August. The latter was a bit of a nostalgic repeat, albeit in reverse, of a ride I first did in 1994 with Stuart Mitchell and Graeme Livingston. It seemed like a big adventure 26 years ago, not really aware of anyone else doing rides like that, and I came back with a bit more respect for my younger self and 26 x 1.7″ wheeled cantilever braked steel forked MTB exploits. Also reminded me how wild it is over the Geldie burn, and how much I like being out and about in the Cairngorms. It’s also the middle of the Cairngorms Loop, and I fancied riding the group start, for the craic, the motivation to get out on the ride, and to test cumulative changes to bike and kit I’ve been making. I also haven’t ridden a group start like this before, and was curious about other riders’ kit, pace etc .. curiosity never killed anything .. did it?

I sorted the bike and went down in the van on Friday night to the start at the old bridge of Tilt carpark above Blair Athol. A couple of other vans there, but pretty quiet. Went for a ride up the hill to stretch my legs and have a nosey about the final descent – I’d been here with Fi in May 2019 to ride around the Beinn a’Ghlo circuit, largely the last twenty or so miles of the Cairngorms loop in reverse – Blair Athol to Fealar lodge, along with the easy run down glen Tilt, but my recollections weren’t entirely clear or accurate. Nice to stretch the legs, then I drove down to Blair Athol for chips and had an early night.

photo by Colin Cadden

Good to chat, socially distanced, with other riders as vans and cars arrived in the morning, quite a bit of variety in rigs and kit, and interest in my fatty. Steve Wilkinson who is responsible for the thing came over and introduced himself, as did Colin Cadden who was taking over the organisation mantle from Steve. No one seemed in too much of a hurry to be off, and it wasn’t until 10:04 that we rolled out.

Very quickly everyone was however going very quickly! I was single speed and expected that the geared bikes would be going up the tarmac quicker than I wanted to spin, but there was another guy riding a single speed Jones who rode away from me too. The overhead conditions were nice with a gusty wind from the north west, and I was sort of glad the wind gave me something to work against as we wound our way upwards towards the A9 crossing, but I think probably there was only one bike behind me – I kept John Williamson in my field of view ahead but had in mind not to beast myself at the start.

After we crossed the A9 John and I rode together for a bit up the hill, chatting about bikes mostly, the wind coming nicely around behind us. This was a section I’d never been on before – new ground for me until Feshie Bridge, and the landscape didn’t disappoint. At the first river crossing I passed three other riders, who were looking a bit shell shocked! then on to some boggy ground then some nice single track around loch an Duin, Gaick, then a long tailwind assisted whiz down the fast doubletrack of Glen Tromie.

After dropping back on the singletrack John caught me up down here and we leap frogged or rode together until the singletrack into Feshibridge, when he stopped and I didn’t see him again. Lovely riding followed, infact a brilliant flowy trail for miles and miles all the way through to Rothiemurchus and Loch Morlich. Familiar ground , and enjoying the solitude and music from headphones, but as I’m riding round the loch there is a rider grinning at me coming the other way – I’m sure I should know who, and thankfully main man Colin Cadden re-introduced himself from the morning. Quick chat then onwards. I didn’t really have a plan but wanted to get out of Glen Feshie that night. Partly because the weather forecast was really grim and I was worried about the river crossings, but also I figured if I didn’t it would be late Monday before I finished!

Right now though the weather was great, as was the tailwind! There was a rider outside the cafe as I went past, but I didn’t stop. A family walking the other way past the green loch, young lad wide eyed at my wheels, Mum commenting that she wouldn’t hear the end of it – there is always (always!) someone who comments on my wheels … like I never noticed they were fat! Onwards through to the Garbh Allt bridge before the Bynack More climb, where I stopped to fill up bottles and put on warmer clothes – windy it was and going to get windier. The rider from the Cafe came through, and we had a quick chat – although I wasn’t really listening in the wind, and distracted by the wind blowing over one of my re-filled bottles before I could spoon tailwind into it. Off he went and I sorted my bottles, had a bite to eat, and rode on catching him up as he was pushing up ahead – but as it steepened I got off to push too and when I came up to the cairn he was no where in sight, or visible on the descent/next climb. I was taking it pretty conservatively on the way down, bags and all and being on my own in quite a wild place, but wasn’t going that slowly – surely he must have stopped? At that point snatches of the conversation about stopping to record a podcast came back to me, but I have no idea where he went. There were curiously a group of large diggers parked up on the hill at 700m too, again I have no idea why?!?

Anyway perhaps better not to wonder why – very windy up there, and just starting to rain. Rain was a worry, as much of it would get into the the Avon, which needed crossing shortly. There are three ups and downs to go to the fords under the looming trolls of the Barns of Bynack, and mostly ridable for the first two at least, with some rocky, some boggy sections, along with the ever present ‘gorms water bars to negotiate. Riding down one section a group of big back-pack hikers stopped me to ask if I was alright? Even more curious I thought, I’m fine! Perhaps I didn’t look it!

Coming down to the fords it was very gloomy with rain, wind, and dense low cloud which made it feel like it was getting dark. I could see a couple of figures at tents at the refuge, and went over for a quick chat – seemed like a pretty grim time to be camping there. The fords themselves though were a doddle, very low indeed. Over the other side and more walkers, another quick chat, and around the loch side more tents. What is going on I thought? When we were here in August we were surprised to be at the refuge with another bike packer on a solo ITT around the loop, and that was it pretty much. The last group of walkers coming down to the fords asked me where I was going to camp, and I was thinking aloud – bottom of Glen Feshie probably. Wide eyes, and comments about it going to be dark! Yup, defo going to be dark!

The push up to the summit of the Lairig an Laoigh went quickly enough, and the low cloud lifted on the Derry side, the brighter skies lifting my spirits. Wind dropped a bit, rain stopped, and I enjoyed the run down into Glen Derry. Glad I had been here a few weeks before and knew that most of the water bars could be bypassed on the left, but there were a couple that weren’t – caution required. It was getting dark as I climbed up into the woods lower down, and I put my light on there. I was taken aback to see what I thought were really bright deer eyes reflecting back at me a little further on, then even more surprised to see them so close to a bonfire with a reasonable sized group of folk gathered round … before it dawned on me that the ‘eyes’ were reflective fabric on their tents. What are all these people doing here?

On down, Derry lodge, Linn of Dee, and on to White bridge. The wind had dropped but the Geldie burn crossing was going to be wild in the dark as the heavy rain forecast started to pick up. Biving always an option but I thought if it’s raining hard and I’m worried about getting over river crossings I’m not going to sleep anyway. The double track was easy riding, I stopped to fill bottles at white bridge, then surprised to see vehicles up ahead. As I got closer there were three 4×4 vehicles in the track and tents at the red house – presumed MBA work party, but no lights on and all quiet as I rode on into the dark and the rain. Fords then single track. When we rode around here in August it was really dry and more ridable than not. In the dark and the rain it was more hike-a-bike than ridable. Eventually the roar of the falls and the Eidart bridge came into view. Scary intimidating bridge, with an apt ‘cross at your own risk’ sign. The wind had got up again here, and in the dark and the rain I could see broken slats over the scaffolding frame, and glimpses of the torrent below. Getting the bike up onto it not easy, I went across gingerly keeping my feet above the metal frame!

The path on the other side bogging, wet, and unridable by me in the dark and rain. Hike a bike down to past the howf and the argocat track was bottomless goo. I took the single track but much of it was beyond my ability to ride in heavy rain and dark too. Down though and eventually the double track firmed up and I was at the Feshie Fords. Having been here before the line of the crossings were pretty easy but up over my knees. Pleased to get across, with this rain they could only keep going up. Riding again was warming me up, and round a corner suddenly two bikes parked next a nice dry looking bivy. Some of the larger trees lower down were tempting but I was keen to get out of Glen Feshie. I knew from the August trip the diversion upstream around the washed out Alt Garbhlach, then ever quicker down and out onto tarmac at Achlean. Pleased to get out of Glen Feshie!

There wasn’t however anywhere appealing in the rain to Bivi in the glen so red light on the back and just rode on with my eye out for a spot. Back on tarmac I could ride on in the dark without speed penalty but thought I should sleep somewhere and didn’t want to waste the daylight when it came. Everywhere was however soaking wet, and it was raining heavily. The increased speed on the road was cooling me down too, so it was either more clothes (I had leg warmers and a dry thermal to go) or Bivi somewhere. Eventually picked a dryish bit of path in the woods on the left, and once the decision was made into the bag as quick as possible, with phone/headphones/watch to put on charge. The phone however refused to charge reporting that the lightning port was too wet. Sent Fi a text, and thought I’d try the battery again in the morning, even if there was little chance of anything drying in a hurry. As I was thinking this I remembered that I’d taken the batteries out of the top tube bag on the bike, which was still open. Back out the bag, and as I tried to zip it up in the dark out dropped my sunnies into the heather. I found them but one leg came off as I stuffed them back in. Argghhh!!! head torch out, but couldn’t see it. Arrghh!!, sort it in the morning – time to sleep. Sort of. Very wet Bivi. Bag unzipped a bit with a midge net but wet fabric kept closing the vent hole and I slowly asphyxiated. I came too several times breathing hard and had to flap air in. Eventually must have slept though because woken by alarm, and no rain sound! Out the bag into midges and a calm misty morning. Quickly sorted against midge with leg warmers, shorts, and waterproof back on, midge hat and buff under helmet, but took me a while to find the brown sunnies leg in the heather – white characters spelling POC miraculously turning over just as I was about to give up!

The phone still wouldn’t charge though, which was a bit frustrating given I had plenty of battery. 20% left on the phone – that would limit music and pictures, and maps if I needed them. …

Moving warmed me up and cleared the midges and twenty odd minutes later after passing many lovely looking dryer bivi’s under ancient beach trees I rolled through Inverdruie – I don’t know why I didn’t think to bivi there, the wooden information point thing in the carpark even has a roof!

Onwards, Fi phoned as I was rolling on towards Pitioulish, eating butteries and cheese for breakfast. Lovely morning, but heavy rain forecast Aviemore … but the further east I went the clearer it got!

The next section was also new to me, and possibly my favourite on the whole route, lovely trails through Abernethy, with a slight navigation error diversion after Forest Lodge to set me back and forth a half a km looking for the right singletrack … but then fantastic woodland reminiscent of the magical Quoich woods going through to Dorback. The river crossing was fine, up the hill and tarmac again. I had been aware of a camper van on the horizon from the river and as I approached a bike rider jumped out, kissed his better half and rode off ahead of me, with bags on his bike I wondered whether he was in the group start, but better half jumped back in the van before I passed, and he went around to the lodge while I followed the .gpx track up the back and on over the hill to the burn of Brown. This section went really quickly, and the river was very low, with bike tracks easy to follow – a few weeks ago I’d ridden around here and come down the right hand bank, which was OK but lots of young trees in the way and sometimes washed out path, it is I think a better ride straight down the middle, but with river crossings twice each meander – plenty of fresh bike tracks to show the way and this low crossings were all ridable. There is a fallen tree to bypass going up the hill, and then I stopped to wring my socks out – no more rivers for a while!

The weather was now beautiful, up the road into and through Tomintoul without stopping – I had plenty of food and just rolled on. A strong warm wind in my face up the side of the Avon, but such a great day. About half way to Inchrory I could see a couple walking down towards me, and lo and behold as I approached it was old colleagues and friends Ian and Sarah. Ian ran the spine race (and lots of other epic stuff) since I’d last spoken to him and we chatted for 15 minutes or so, before rolling on. It was so warm and sunny here I should have pulled the wet bivi kit out and dried it, 50 miles away but I was at this point thinking I’d hopefully be rolling in to Blair Athol later that night anyway.

Up the climbs to the loch. I’d been here last week of August riding out of Corgarf and back via Gairnshiel and had charged up all the hills, but with bags on I found myself jumping off and walking some of the steeper sections, perhaps it was the stiff headwind. At the last rise looking back down I could see a couple more bikes away down the glen behind me, but up ahead weather coming. By the time I was around the loch it was on me, gusty squalls and really hard work to make progress into the wind up towards Culardoch. I stopped in the lee of the Troll’s house to see if it would pass quickly and put on a brew, and water to rehydrate hot food, and lubed the chain which was running dry after all the rain and rivers. Feeling fuelled up the weather had eased a bit from the first squall front, but still windy I rode some, pushed more up the climb. Easy run down to Invercauld, and as I’m rolling along feeling pleased with myself a bike comes up from behind … I recognised the yellow bike, a Santa Cruz Tallboy I think, from the bivi I passed in glen Feshie. Hamish introduced himself along with tales of woe about his pal’s broken rear mech. He was riding hard to Blair Atholl via glen tilt to fetch a car, while said pal walked to Braemar. I was heading for Blair Atholl too, but via Fealar lodge. Hamish pressed on and I was impressed how quickly he got away from me down the hill, pumping his full suss into the wind.

Lovely ride down though! I stopped at the toilet at the Invercauld car park and familiar with Sunday A93 traffic put my headtorch on the seat pack in red mode for the tarmac up to and beyond Braemar. Still plenty of light to ride by but the end of the day was drawing in. Braemar was quiet and felt largely shut and I didn’t stop, on up to the Linn of Dee and repeating yesterday’s route, just earlier in the day with less rain, more wind, and more light. The river was ominously up though – the section from the Geldie crossing to Glen Tilt the last bit which was unknown to me, but I knew it had rivers! The crossings were ok though, one had a deep fast channel which needed a bit of a dog leg down stream to connect shingle banks. I passed a couple walking the other way mid stream with big rucksacks and shorts, and another couple a km further on who asked me about the crossing – the girl was wearing flip flops with her boots around her neck in anticipation, but the crossings were fine, excluding the shingle diversion about knee high. On up to the ruins of Bynack lodge – I was a bit perplexed why the .gpx went up there, largely because with my unchargable phone switched off I didn’t have easy access to a map and wasn’t sure which valley was the route. It turned out to be rocky and broken double track, with a lot of long puddles mostly, but firm ground and ridable and good progress was made which I was pleased with – hoping I’d get over the Allt Garbh Buidhe crossing at the top of Tilt and up the Fealar lodge climb in reasonable light.

All good things come to an end though, and the double track petered out into on/off single track across the watershed, then into a steep sided gorge as the light was fading. Joystick back on my helmet, hood up underneath it against the now increasing rain. This section was the crux for me, hard hike a bike on a narrow path contouring wet steep ground. There were a couple of wet slabby gullies crossing the path with a lot of water coming down them, and the ever-present thunder of flowing water in the dark down below – I did think on one of them that if I dropped the bike here, the situation would be pretty unrecoverable! However with relentless forward progress the difficult sections also come to an end, and as the track started descending I was startled by a torch up ahead of me – another rider perhaps?

As I dropped down to the river crossing there was a tent below me with the light on in it, and a packed bike outside. I went over to say hello, but not one of the group start, a guy with a gravel bike who had come down from Fealar – in his words ‘pretty full on!’ I’d never been up the track, but I have been down it, and I was keen to get going, but it was somewhat re-assuring that there was someone at least in the vicinity!

The river crossing was knee deep again, and then steeply up. The track is steep loose chuckies and switchbacks at the bottom, turning softer and wetter as the climb went on. No riding, just a push/manhandle up, with a few awkward steps in the dark, wind, rain, and accompanied by the ever-present sound of flowing water. Eventually gates, and fences, then the signs directing bikes around the lodge. Excellent I thought, ridable double track here I come! The weather was improving, definitely dry and then stars started appearing too – pretty stunning when it all cleared and nice to get my hood off! I was naively thinking that the double track from here was largely down, and rudely awakened to find that no – it is largely up to 630m over Carn an t-Sionnaich, and into a massive headwind. A lot of it wasn’t ridable for me singlespeed into the wind, but progress nevertheless. Eventually the descent to and turn at Daldhu came, then into what seemed like the final leg. In the dark though I found it hard to reconcile the track with my memory of riding in the other direction in sunshine a year or so ago! I remembered a short climb where I’d broken a chain, and a ruin beside a river after a long grassy descent, but not much else. In the dark it was very ridable but it seemed grassier than I recalled … and then as if by magic I realised I was back up at 600m at the top of the last climb!

At this point though my joystick started flashing low battery warnings, It had done well with an exposure piggy back battery plugged in, but it would be helpful if it could hang on just a little longer! The descent was ok and largely ridable, but would have been much better, and quicker, with more light. Eventually I was what I thought nearly down, and expecting to skirt around the back of steadings and a wood, but no sign of that. in fact with my fading light no sign of anything really … and then I lost the track. The .gpx track on my watch had been diverging a little for about half a km, but now it was clear I should be on the other side of a river, and about 250m from where I was. I didn’t recall a river crossing at all and was a bit confused, but eventually committed to cross the river and up the steep bank on the other side, then wandering in deep heather trying to find the track again. Some time later I emerged on to really good double track, which I could have been on from the missed river crossing close to where I went off piste. Better light, and my phone accessible with a proper 1:25k map would have helped, but glad nonetheless to get out on to the double track. Then my watch bleeped that it was about to auto shut down as it was flat too! Arghhh!!! Nearly there but I am in the dark fumbling for a battery to keep my watch charged to record the track and show me where to go! ArghHHH!. The watch died. I found the battery. Plugged it in, and waited, seemingly an age but probably minutes, for it to come back to life. Glad that hadn’t happened in the heather excursion! At this point I realised the route I had taken riding up in the other direction the year before wasn’t the same, and that explained my confusion. Nice double track here though, and moving again, quickly on to tarmac, then just a few miles downhill into Blair Atholl.

As I’m rolling the joystick keeps flashing it’s imminent death, each time the light emitted getting dimmer. It was definitely holding me up not being able to see, and I took the head torch off the seat pack to give me some extra light forward. Down I rolled, and I started wondering what time it was. Into Blair Atholl and everything dark. On to the station. The End! Whoohooo! Stopped the watch, it was twenty past two, 40 hours 23 minutes of riding. Re-boot the phone for a quick picture, head torch back on the back, and spin back up the hill to the van. Bike on the back, heating on, text Fi, comfy bed, sleep!

Epilogue

I really enjoyed this ride, it felt quite adventurous and a bit out there particularly in the dark, but I also learned a lot. My Strava track is here.

Some thoughts:

Timing

I didn’t give enough thought to a plan, other than ride around probably with one bivi somewhere along the way. I was concerned to get out of Glen Feshie on the first day, but hadn’t thought about it much more than that. Life would have been much easier if I’d worked harder earlier and consequently got through the more technical sections in daylight on both days. I wasn’t anywhere near done at the end, I felt like I’d had a long ride, but it was at a very sustainable pace – I could have pushed on much harder much sooner. I could equally I think have sustained the pace forward for days without too much fuss. Partly this is how and why I like to ride single speed, but food for thought. My timings/distance/speeds are here:

The slowest sections were as expected the hike-a-bike climbs, the quickest on tarmac and easy rolling double track, but the long section of flowy single track Feshiebridge to Morlich felt quick too. I don’t think I could up my pace a huge amount on the hike a bike, but could have gone harder on a lot of the easy rolling terrain, particularly with gears or a bigger gear.

Darkness

I didn’t think about the night riding much either, other than taking a joystick and a piggy back battery for it. When it died, I could have (had I been more alert) plugged the cache battery I had for the phone into it as I had a USB exposure cable with me. In fact I had plenty of charge available. Why this didn’t occur to me I don’t know, I was pre-occupied with getting the last few miles done, but I think with hindsight if I’d plugged a battery into it when it started to fade at the top before the last descent, or riding in daylight, I would have saved a lot of time. I was aware that if I’d needed to bivi again I could have charged it, but didn’t think to just plug it in while riding.

Battery management aside, the lesson for me is that I should have anticipated more night riding – I ended up riding ~7 hours each night in the dark, and consequently would have gone quicker, particularly on the technical bits, if I’d taken another light – I like night riding and have Hope R2, R4, and a diablo in the garage, any one of which on the bars casts shadows which along with a head mounted light greatly increase the ride-ability of terrain in the dark. A few hundred grams of extra lights would have payed dividends I think.

Food

Along with not taking much consideration of timing I’d taken enough food not to have to re-supply, although I’d thought Braemar if necessary. At the end I had a reserve of one bar, some tailwind, and 465 calories of dehydrated meal. I ended up consuming about 200 calories an hour over the whole ride, which is about the max I can absorb. In total I had 2kg food at the start, and a couple of hundred of grams at the end. Perhaps planning to buy re-supplies on route would be slightly quicker, perhaps not.

All the kit and food I carried is here:

With the proviso that another light would be good I think this worked pretty well. I havered but in the end took a stove, which I rationalised as being counter balanced by the weight saved by taking dehydrated food … however I only used it once … but then again it was a really tasty hot meal and a cup of tea, just when I wanted it!

I have up to now carried bivi bag and sleeping mat in the seat pack, and sleeping bag in its own dry bag inside the handlebar roll (along with a dry thermal and glasses/contact lenses). After bivying wet in heavy rain I think putting the sleeping bag in the bivy bag, ditching the RAB dry bag, and carrying the bivi in the (also dry bag) handlebar roll would be more efficient to get into and pack up.

I carried two standard 750ml bike bidons in two bar mounted stem cells. Handy having one for water and one for tailwind, which was a reasonable chunk of the calories I had going in. I think when it’s wet and not too warm though that one 1l bottle in one stem cell would work just as well, leaving the other stem cell for easy access to food on the go. Bags would be neater at the start before I consumed some of the load and easier to pack too.

Minor things. Largely used everything, largely nothing surplus. In this forecast could have left the sunnies behind and saved some hassle after I dropped them in the heather in the dark!

Charging

I rode on the first day with my phone on a quad lock mount on my stem. This was new for me and it worked really well, handy to see the route in detail on the OS maps app, handy to DJ music for bluetooth (aeropex) headphones. Liked that. The phone is waterproof. However after hours and hours of persistent rain I hadn’t anticipated that it would refuse to charge when the port was wet (incidentally it was fine on Monday morning after drying out in the van). A lesson learned. I’ve added a quad lock poncho to keep the port dry when using it like this. Maybe I should get a dedicated gps unit, but I like using the watch (Garmin Fennix 5s+) for recording and navigation, it’s familiar to me from running ultras and triathlon and I like to feel it buzz warnings on my wrist – it works for me, although it does need a 20 minute charge every 8-10 hours. No dedicated gps is going to have the same resolution of OS maps as my phone either, and I’m going to take the phone anyway … but must work on keeping the thing charged.

Bike

The bike is a carbon Farley, set up single speed with jones style bars and a reverb dropper post, and was as usual very comfy. I am a fan of this bike! I rode 30×22 with the big diameter 27.5″x4.5″ Barbegazi tyres smoothing things out and providing lots of grip. I run these tubeless, and they are actually lighter than big enduro tyres with tubes, and roll really well over many different surfaces. Maybe I should build some 29+ wheels, might be able to save a couple of hundred grams a wheel in the rims and have almost the same diameter rolling over stuff, and there are lighter tyre options out there for 29+ … but I like the feel of these wheels. I also have a set of wheels mounted up with studdable Gnarwhals, which are much better in mud and epic on ice with the studs in, but slower and heavier. Barbegazi is a good rolling vs grip compromise. Apropos of the gear – I have used this ratio largely because the 22 tooth sprocket was the magic gear for my last ti 29er which didn’t have adjustable dropouts, so I had 22 tooth sprockets lying around when I singlepseeded the Farley … and they have worked for me. The Farley fat BB will only really run a 30 tooth chainring, but I have considered a smaller sprocket for a while. Following this ride my chain needed changed, so I’ve put a 21 on with the new chain to see how that works.

Finally I think familiarity with the route is a really important factor. To be fair I knew much of the route – some of it very well – at Inchrory, or Loch Builg I could ride home in an hour and a half or so. It is really nice to explore new trails, but some of the sections I didn’t know I think I could get through quicker second time around.

Great ride, good craic with the other riders I met, many thanks to Steve Wilkinson for thinking this up, and Colin Cadden for organising! Please note guys – less of the wind and rain be nice next time!

The Deeside Trail

I rode the Deeside trail  the weekend of 4th July, the day after Coronavirus lockdown restrictions were eased in Scotland.

I don’t often write up events, the last time was when I did Celtman! in 2015,  and before that when I did my first Ironman in 2012. I ran the West Highland Way Race in 2018, an amazing run and should have written it up, but it was too big an experience to process at once, and I’m still thinking about it. I made this doodle which helps me but probably not much use to anyone else!

The Deeside trail was ace though, and I haven’t used this site (originally a place to list epic events) for years, so here is what I thought of my ride:

I’ve been minded to do some longer bike packing trips for a while, and because of the pandemic have been riding my bike a lot. I have a few bikes, and always ride a lot, but have only really been on a fat bike since November.

During lockdown limited swimming meant more biking, and because of movement restrictions riding the local hills, finding new trails in familiar places, and just journeying about. The riding has been great, but with the end of lockdown I felt that I needed to go somewhere, do something, and the Deeside trail seemed like the right thing to do. That and I can see it from the kitchen window, right where it passes over the summit of Pressendye

The route is a figure eight loop around the Dee officially started at the bridge in Banchory, and just about meeting itself at Ballater. But it is a loop and the closest point to me seemed like the best place to start, and is about an hour and a half uphill ride to get there from home. I’ve been up Pressendye numerous times during the lockdown, and looked at the view above and thought ‘must ride the Deeside Trail right round and back here’!

So I edited the .gpx to begin where the trail hits the ridge between the Socach and the summit of Pressendye, loaded it into my watch, loaded it onto the OSmaps app on my phone, downloaded the OS maps to go with it, and packed my bike on Friday 3rd. 

Normal sort of breakfast on Saturday, then Fi gave me a lift in the van to the closest road point at Cushnie Forest. Quick hug then set off at 08:23 for the 4 mile ride from there (and 1000ft uphill) to the start. Here is the track for the ride there.

Not a bad morning at all, t-shirt weather riding up. Quick stop for a picture and to turn the .gpx track on on my watch – my ‘Start’ where the Humphrey’s well track meets the ridge between the Socach and Pressendye is at ~600m and NJ 481 097.

I was away at 09:18. Woohoo! Bike was heavy though (too much stuff with me I thought), and I was (as I often am at the start of things) beset with FUD – fear (of failure), uncertainty (would it be fun), and doubt (should I be doing something else?). Quickly over Pressendye and steeply down and then up and over Pittenderich. Track was wet, and the rear bag was rubbing on the tyre when the saddle was dropped. Track was steep and slidey. More FUD. Stopped and adjusted straps on bag, rode on. 

I passed a couple of walkers around Burnside pond, through the familiar gates on Long Hill, over the road and steeply up the start of the Craiglich climb. The gate at the forest is unmovable, and was the first of two gates I had to lift the bike over. Bike was heavy! Up, over Craiglich, down the steep side. FUD evaporating with the movement! 

Riding down the woods towards the Lumphanan road could see a family with a dog ahead, and as I got closer realised it was Jo, Gordon, Freya, Finn, and Coco. Unusual co-incidence to bump into Gordon, who would actually understand where I was going! Gordon took this photo with the comment ‘in case Colin Calder is never seen again’!

Didn’t want to sound too committed – see how it goes etc, but I felt a bit more committed telling someone else what I was up to. Quick chat and onwards. 

There is a bit of road to traverse then a familiar trail down to Lumphanan. More road, then up towards Learney from Torphins. This was one of the few bits of the Deeside trail that I wasn’t familiar with. Followed the .gpx on my watch to the gate of Learney House, where there was a big ‘private no walkers, bikes, horse, etc etc’ sign. Two hours into the ride I didn’t feel like going off piste so just followed the .gpx up to the big house. Very smart gaff it is too. Lots of rangerovers and lux estate vehicles, dogs barking in Kennels, but no sign of people. The track takes you quickly past but a little further on it was obvious that the big house could be easily by-passed by a forest track around the north side. Oh well, no harm done. 

Crossed the road and through a car park busy with dog walkers and headed on up towards the Hill of Fare. Surprisingly ridable even with bags until the last half a Km, when it was a hike a bike up the steepest bit. The weather was great, thumping tunes on my headphones, gentle breeze, and great double tracks all the way down to Raemoir. Until the music abruptly stopped. Had a quick look at Spotify on my phone, or tried to – completely flat! Aggghhh! This wasn’t good. I’d brought only one cache battery to re-charge phone, headphones, and most importantly watch which is the easiest way to keep on the .gpx of the route. My phone never goes flat like that, and there are only two phone charges in the Cache I’d brought. FUD returned. Oh, well, nothing I can do, put it on charge for an hour and see what happens, carry on. If I can’t charge it I’ll just ride around as far as I can today and spin home.

Onto the road again, thinking five mins and I’ll be down to Banchory and the ‘real’ start. Going down through Brathens was nostalgic (I was there doing a PhD in what was then the ITE thirty years ago) but also an early education in the Deeside trail – don’t expect it to be quick or easy. The riding was great, but when you have a long way to go winding back and forth about local MTB trails seemed like a frustrating amount of time! Around the golf course and along the river to the Bridge, and it had taken me nearly an hour to get from Raemoir to the ‘normal’ start.

Up the little climb over the bridge past many many many brightly dressed MTBers coming and going from the Scolty trails, and onwards towards Potarch. I stopped and checked the phone charge situation, which was phone re-charged but cache battery now at 50%. Contemplated phoning Fi to see if she was going swimming at Knockburn – if she had been our paths might be close to passing and I could plug the battery into the van. The battery though takes several hours to re-charge. Considered phoning pal Ian who lives a little further up the road for same. Dismissed both and carried on, self sufficiency etc. Switched the data off on the phone.

Second lesson in Deeside trail route setting, up the hill to almost the top towards Shooting greens, then all the way down again to a point five minutes down the main trail from the start of the up, perhaps just to experience one of the MTB trails at Shooting greens. Nice enough red sort of technicalities, but felt a bit frustrated not making direct progress. Oh, well if you are going to ride someone else’s route better stick to it.

Across the road and up into Balogie Woods. Hot now, and flies, but those woods are stunningly beautiful, and a new trig point as a bonus.

On the road again for a mile or so then into Birse. I’d been perplexed before riding it why the route doesn’t go over Carnferg, rather traversing around to the south. The answer is the traverse is amazing! On down to the Fungle. Slippery and wet the trail here, and I crashed painfully into a tree with my right hand, care required! 

Filled up bottles at the first stream crossed by the Fungle path. This was the first water I’d want to drink that I’d seen on the route – further west water is plentiful but it is limited at the eastern end. Familiar terrain here, the Guard, Glen Tanar. The door to the half way was hut taped shut with Coronavirus signs. A beardy guy passed me here on a sort of flat bar cross bike, heading in the same direction and spinning away at a speedy cadence. No bags, probably not riding around the Deeside trail!

Out of the trees and then up, up, and on my way over to Ballater. Never ridden this path. Looking down I could see the other cyclist now heading back down the glen, and the sunshine lighting up Clachan Yell and Mount Keen. Pretty stunning spot.

Good double track too! Making progress. Er, until the .gpx trail turned off it. Onto heather bog. Eh? Why? The answer revealed in half a km as a grassy trail led beautifully down another valley I’d never been in to cross the Pollagach Burn. Unexpected views here of Bennachie and the eastern hills of the shire, from where I’d come this morning. I’d been riding now for ten hours, and expecting an easy spin along the road to Ballater, chips, and a re-supply of food. 8 o’clock. Got the phone out to ring Fi, no signal. Checked the route. Eh? Off route again. Not the 3 Km along the road to Ballater then? Nope, down fields towards the Dee. Fi phoned me back so my first call must have done something. Had a chat as I rode towards the obvious landmark of Camus o’May bridge, but on the unfamiliar south west side. Had to lift my bike over the second immovable gate, then fisherman’s tracks around the river, past a few campervans probably out for the first time after lockdown too. Fi gave me a weather forecast (heavy rain due 10pm) and checked the chip shop close time – I had 45 minutes to get there. With that forecast I defo wasn’t getting over the high point into Glen Gelder that night. Cracked on for chips though the track was quite overgrown, and steep down to a fairly full river – I was now used to what would seem like an easy spin being something else.

The objective always arrives sooner or later though, and I made the chip shop to place my socially distanced order, then around to the co-op while they fried it, then back for the much needed calories. I’d taken too little food with me for the day, a peanut butter sandwich, a couple of roast potato left overs, a Torque bar, some cheese oatcakes, noodles, and five caffeine green tea stick packs of tailwind. The limited water meant I hadn’t stopped to use the stove for noodles, so still had them and three sticks of tailwind, but nothing else. Bought two packs of Edam, two packs of butteries, and two bars of fruit and nut in the coop, and headed up Glen Muick, in drizzling rain and darkening skies.

As I’m going past Birkhall it is starting to really rain, and now also getting dark. Even without the ominous security camo netting, presumably for Charles and Camilla’s privacy, I didn’t fancy trying to camp where I was, so carried on up. 

The track up the glen was good going but wet. A few miles on as I’m going through the Linn of Muick I spotted a small flat area sheltered by trees and thought just stop. Now. Tent up in the dark, stuff out the rain. No phone signal, but it had retained plenty of charge. Put the watch on charge. 

Moving for 12 Hours and 75 miles. Time to sleep.

Sunday dawned bright and breezy. I made coffee, and drank it watching the large frog sat outside the tent while I ate breakfast. That and the river, which was up from the night before. I also considered for the first time whether the stove was a useful addition to my kit. Nice coffee, but … Filled one bottle with Tailwind, and left the other empty. Quickly packed up and was away by 0830. Lovely morning coming up towards Alt-na-G, a few camper vans away over on the road side of the glen, but no one on my side. Didn’t see any other terribly promising camp sites either but was at the Lochnagar turn in 20 minutes, where the open shelter of the stables would have been a perfect bivvy. 20 minutes extra riding, and no tent would have been required. I’d brought my smallest tent, nearly 20 year old exped vela extreme, it is pretty minimalist with no zip and in it’s day was super super light, but at ~1800gms not so competitive today. Considered bringing just the flysheet and a bivy bag, but with just my equally old 670g gortex bivy bag I would have saved nearly a kilo and a half. There are lighter bivy bags now too. Hmmm, pondered stove and tent choices heading up the Lochnagar landy track.

The river crossing was sufficiently up to not be ridable, but the shining sun and still dry feet after a day of riding lured me into shoes off to wade across. Carried on up the track, riding some, pushing some, catching up a couple of hillwalkers. Rain squalls started coming through, and it was windy as I approached the high point, so waterproof top and shorts on, but stunning views of Lochnagar, a wee snow patch left of the wreath of Cuidhe Crom, which I’d been watching melt at a distance from the top of the local hills during the lockdown months.

This was the highest point of the Deeside Trail (~700m), the path ahead now downhill into Glen Gelder.

Gusty though, and care needed at speed while trying to gawk into the corrie as it opened out. Down. Miles down. Down into the Balmoral estate. I stopped at the Gelder Burn, lying on my stomach on a wee wooden bridge and reaching down to fill both water bottles, and noting a fishing shelter that would also make a great bivy spot. The ancient scots pine woods from here for the next ten miles would however also make any number of amazing bivy spots, assuming no royalty to spoil the peace.

These trails are also sort of familiar from the 15 mile trail race and duathlon courses in ‘the Devil of Deeside‘ at https://runbalmoral.com, but can’t recall being here much past Garbh Alt Shiel. It was raining on and off, a gravel bike passed going the other way, and Guy from the Braemar mountain shop passed heading in the same direction on an MTB. At the Invercauld gate I passed two runners I recognised run with Ros, but who I don’t know. Onto the road, and on towards Braemar. 

I’d thought I might get a take away coffee but there were a couple waiting at the shop. The public toilets were surprisingly open, with one at a time social distancing signs. Pressed on towards the big hills, expecting a quick spin up to Mar lodge, familiar ground, here last in the Lairig Ghru race a year ago. The pattern should be familiar though – think easy but Deeside trail says no. The trail here spurned the fast, smooth, scenic road and went up into a mess of heathery boggy trails before dropping down through trees to the road at Corrriemulzie half an hour later. I was still undecided about whether to go for the long Deeside trail or the standard one. Both routes familiar. Time the limiting factor. I realised after the unexpected Corriemulzie detour that I was probably not going to get around to white bridge and make it to the end before midnight. Perhaps I should look at the map and then I would know what to expect! I’d downloaded OS maps to the phone, but selecting the route to access them seemingly needed data to be switched on. Note, get maps and route started in wifi or 4G. To be fair I wasn’t really needing a map enough to switch the data on, and I was enjoying the game of following the .gpx.

Lovely sunshine going over the Dee and into a very abandoned feeling Mar Lodge. A wee bit of tarmac and then I turned right at Claybokie for the climb up the Lairig Ghru race course into Derry lodge. I had only the long .gpx on my watch, so was off piste until I picked the route up again at the Clais Fhearnaig turn. Nice riding and familiar terrain, too steep to pedal in a couple of places. Then down to the bridge and three girls heading the other way on bikes out of Glen Derry. Wondered where the turn would be when the watch buzzed me that I had missed the turn. Back up. Up here? Really? This was hike a bike with perhaps 1 or 2 short riding sections for 2km. Steep in places, I considered the tent, and stove I had used once, and the excess spare clothes I hadn’t worn, as I manhandled the bike up and around steep obstacles. Coming down the other side in to the Quoich three more girls hill walking the other way commented I could do with a motor as I pushed the bike up and around boulders.

Ridable in the Quoich again, the river was high though. Sections ridden easily a year ago with Fi, Sally, Caroline, and Stuart, were now over the knee fords. There is a wee bit of an art to stopping a fat bike floating while fording deep water. At least if I swim anytime it will be a helpful raft!

A couple of hillwalkers sitting in the sun outside their tents waved at me as I headed towards the woods, and I thought feels late, been going a long time. After the last ford before the woods I stopped and thought I had better make use of the stove. Surprised that it was only half past two in the afternoon. Hot noodles and coffee was great. Cheese, and chocolate calories as well. Bottles filled. Put the watch on to charge and increasingly confident the cache would cope. Charged the headphones too but left the phone. Felt in really good shape.

The Quoich woods are one of the wonders of the world, but the trail was a bit wetter than last time I was here. After multiple fords I was wet anyway, and planned to wring out socks after crossing the top ford. Riding was good, but fell off twice as front wheel, massively fat though it is, failed to come up out of peat bog.

Out of the Quoich, socks now wrung out and dryish, and upwards onto the drainage bars of the trail up to the sneck. Ridable but needing a bit of care. A couple of larger patches of snow still on the south slopes of Beinn a’ Bhuird.

Then a hike a bike up to the col before dropping into the top of Glen Gairn. This is the second highest point of the circuit at ~700m, and the next section is the crux of the whole trail. I’d been here before three years ago on a 23mile run, and it had impressed me how wild, and difficult to traverse, the terrain in upper Glen Gairn is. To be fair a ~20kg loaded bike didn’t really help that. 

Some of it was ridable, but those sections were short and interspersed with a lot of difficulty. I was glad of the fat wheels in places allowing me to ride over the very wet terrain, but the multiple river crossings are unavoidable, and I missed being able to fully drop my seatpost on the steeper sections. I didn’t really stop for anything, took no photos. Four miles took an hour and a half. Near the end you can see a bridge at NO172 998, and it tempts with thoughts of easy ridable track. Nope, the easy ridable track is another Km!

There is this beautiful stalking bothy at NJ 167 006, where the double track starts again, the view to the west in the photo above the line the ‘trail’ has come down. The bothy unsurprisingly locked, but a nosey through the windows revealed a lot of empties!

Taking pictures wasn’t going to get me home today though. From here the riding is easy for a good while, and familiar, down good fast double track and gravel past the turn for Loch Builg, Corndavon Lodge, and on down to Gairnsheil. The further down, the more sheep. Very dim animals, and often in the way when travelling fast on a bike! Somewhere down here the watch needed charging and my headphones died shortly afterwards. I decided I had enough cache left after the watch charged to 80%, so put the phone on charge, and turned the data back on.

At Gairnshiel back on the road and down to Ballater. Again easily so I thought, again thwarted by the Deeside trail .gpx. Turn left here it said, as I looked down a short track to a very fast moving river in spate. Really? In fact I didn’t need to ford the Gairn, the track led onto a hidden narrow but rideable fisherman’s path down the riverside to a bridge. Wish I’d taken a picture of the footbridge, with a ~15ft set of steep wooden steps up and down on either side. Glad of the brakes and the fat tyres going up and down, one step at a time.

On the other side I ate the last of the cheese and Fi phoned. She could now see where I was again. I thought I’d be about two and a half hours from Ballater, and that I would be ‘shortly’ in Ballater. Almost right, and wrong! The trail goes down the east side of the Gairn and up and down the spurs coming down from Morven Lodge. Took a while longer than I anticipated, but again great riding. I took a wrong turn in Ballater, the gps signal lost in the trees and I thought the trail would go around the river to the campsite, but uncharacteristically it took the easy way on the road. After that straight through on the fast, and wind assisted, old railway line to Camus o’May, this time on the more familiar side of the Dee. 

Time was getting on as I turned north onto the trails leading over Cnoc Dubh to Kinord. Sort of familiar but getting gloomy and disorientating in the woods, must have been about half nine. Again nice riding but I was pressing on, through Kinord, a short section of road I put on my orange windshirt to make me more visible in the gloom. Should have got the headtorch out at that point, and put it on the back in red light mode, but no traffic anyway. Onwards, into, and down the Tarland trails, through Tarland, and I can see the finish. Sort of. At the top of the longest climb on the circuit. My choice of end point!

I was at this point really pleased that finishing that day was pretty certain, but also pleased I was in really good shape. Singlespeeding sort of dictates the pace and the long climb up out of Tarland was a nice steady trog out of the saddle for an hour or so. I wasn’t sure where it would join the Lazywells ridge line, but I’m very familiar with the route when it does. I stopped at the end of the tarmac and got the headtorch out, and put it on shortly afterwards as it was now very dark (and steep) in the trees. Out of the trees near the top of Broom hill my headphones ran out of battery and the music died, and I emerged into strong wind and flurries of rain. Dark but I can see lights dotted about the shire and nearly home now. Rain jacket on, down Broom hill, up Humphrey’s well, and I’m back at the start. It was about quarter past 11. Stopped the watch at 38:07:4 total time, 23:54:03 moving time. 144.23 miles. 15, 210ft of climbing.

Here is the track on Strava

A very quick stop, then carried on down. When I had spoken to Fi in Ballater she could at that point track my phone and planned to come and pick me up from the Glacks where she had dropped me off the day before. 34 Minutes and 1000ft lower down and there she was 🙂

Here is the final short track on Strava.

Epilogue

I had a really enjoyable Deeside trail, rode some familiar ground and some unexpected and great new trails. I also played the game of following a long .gpx for the first time. All good!

Some thoughts:

Battery Management

Right devices – iphone XR (for camera, OS maps, backup GPS, phone, music), and Garmin fenix 5s plus (for tracking, on wrist warning of route/visual maps, spare music), and AfterShokz Aeropex bone conducting headphones (awesome – music and phone on the bike, don’t stop your ambient hearing, don’t get in the way).

Not enough reserve charge. An additional small cache battery (66g) would have saved a lot of anxiety, as alone it would run the watch for a trip like this. Another large cache battery (200g) gives two more complete phone charges. My phone would normally be fine for this duration with one charge, however the lost charge culprits were spotify and apple photos apps trying to down/upload in poor data coverage. Need to watch this and/or shut the data off.

I didn’t take a spare headtorch battery, rationalising that I could also charge it from the cache. Wouldn’t have been able to charge it with a flat cache. The headtorch has a 380 lumen mode, but it’s short lived. I think an exposure joystick would have been a better choice of light.

Too much stuff

I took a second set of riding clothes, and a dry thermal top and longs to sleep in. It was pretty wet some of the time, and cold too, but with the securtity of a sleeping/bivy bag I think all of the spares were unnecessary. Perhaps 1-2kg of unused clothes.

I took a stove. Used it twice. Full gas bottle @190g, 25g stove, 200g pot and coffee. 

Tent with minimum pegs etc ~1800g. With hindsight bivy bag would have been fine. Knowing now where to bivy better than the tent. 

The bike itself is a very simple completely rigid Trek Farley 9.6. Apart from being ace in all respects it’s worth highlighting the awesome ‘stranglehold’ adjustable dropouts. These were a major contributor to my interest in the bike, and being able to easily singlespeed it: It came with a 1x 12 speed transmission which I immediately improved by removing 1.6kg of shifter, massive cassette, rear mech, cables, and 18 chain links to be replaced with one 22 tooth sprocket. The circumference of the wheels on this bike is somewhat bigger than 29+, and 30×22 with these wheels measures at 42 gear inches. Whatever, I only have 22 tooth singlespeed sprockets, and seems to work fine!

I also swapped the stock level brakes for guide Rs, maybe slightly more powerful but feel much the same , but they have adjustable reach without tools, and I went through sufficient pads that I was adjusting them on this ride. Also no innertubes (fat inner tubes 800g), added a reverb stealth dropper post, changed the saddle to a ti flite, and am riding it with PX ‘Geoff’ jones style bars (‘wolves did it’). The bike weighs 11.8kg with a reverb stealth dropper post, and give or take changes in bars and bags I’ve ridden ~1600 miles on it in the last eight months in this configuration. Very stiff, amazing power transfer, very comfortable, the mahoosive 27.5 x 4.5” wheels roll fast and easy over many surfaces I wouldn’t have ridden much on my previous 29er. Massive grip, but fast rolling. Perfect singlespeeder.

On singlespeeding

I’ve ridden ~2000 miles singlespeed in the last two years. Every now and again I feel I should have gears and pondered putting them on for this ride, but when I ride gears I realise all the things I like best about singlespeeding.  Occasionally (flat terrain, or tarmac) I could be going much faster with gears, but largely not, and with patience the flat terrain where gears would be faster is a good rest.  Generally, and climbing in particular, I’m always surprised that I seem to go faster and easier off road with no gears!

Singlespeed is simple, quiet, light, but mostly for me it’s the mindset which comes with it. If you don’t do it, you won’t get that.

Take more food

I didn’t have much in the way of food reserves. At the end I had one tailwind (200 calories).  Partly this was for weight, but also bag capacity. With fewer spare clothes, no cooking kit, and a bivy bag instead of a tent the capacity limitations sort of disappear. 

Bags

I used these bags:

2 x Alpkit stem cells (these are brilliant). Carried a 750ml bike bottle each plus space for whatever, wet jacket, gloves etc.

1 x Alpkit fuel cell top tube bag. I have had an alpkit possum frame bag fro a few years with a cable hole, and it’s always wet inside in the rain because of this hole. I added a wee cover to the fuel cell where the power cable hole is at the top and was dry in the rain. Carried sunnies, glasses, contact lenses, phone, battery, hat.

1 x Alpkit fat stingray custom frame bag (this is brilliant too, custom fit and specified with a horizontal divider, and without a cable hole). Bottom compartment carried tools, pump, tubeless repair kit, first aid kit, midge hat and smidge, suncream, hand sanitiser, odds and ends. Top compartment stove, 600ml ti pot, food, tent pole.

13l double ended handlebar dry bag under jones style bars. Carried sleeping bag (Rab neutrino 400 pro), and spare clothes.

13l seatpost shaped dry bag (supported by a wildcat harness, and an exo-rail, but see below). Carried tent (exped vela I) and sleeping mat (sea to summit ultralight insulated)

2x small drybags flexibly on top of bars or seat pack (OMM Kamleika waterproof smock, trousers, clothes not being worn etc)

All bags performed perfectly, keeping everything where it should be and bone dry despite heavy rain and numerous river crossings. I’ve had some of these bags years, but the stem cells were new, and to be recommended – they really are good.

I however have low confidence in the straps with fastex buckles that Alpkit supply to attach/compress their bar and seat pack bags. Cam-lock kayak straps can compress bags more, are quicker to attach/remove, more secure, and with the right strap have minimal weight penalty. I have lots of these for carrying boats about, so shortened four of them and used these – a broken strap buckle would be a real problem.

In total this gives ~35litres of bag capacity, but I would rather not stuff to their limit. 

I used a wildcat saddle harness which I’ve had for five years, and a new alpkit Exo-rail to hold the seatpack. Super stable but I think overkill using both. My rationale was the stability of the familiar harness, but in a position which allows use of a dropper post. However, the exo-rail by itself with good straps would allow more usable seat post drop (up from 90mm to 120mm), and save 200g weight without the harness. Exo-rail alone is for loads under 2.3Kg, and would have been fine for tent and thermarest. Harness itself works fine, but sits lower allowing minimal seat post drop.

I think I could get rid of a lot of superfluous stuff and get the bike and kit down to ~16Kg, and have everything I want.

Last thought

Altra Grafton shoes. Over the last few years I’ve run a lot of ultras and have come to appreciate the flat wide and foot shaped altra trail running shoes. Altra introduced the grafton shoe last year with a Vibram sole with a similar pattern to 5:10 flat pedal MTB shoes, a lacing pattern like a climbing shoe, and a low flat firm last. Amazing foot shaped bike shoes! They are somewhere between 5:10 and Shimano shoes for pedal grip, but you can walk/run easily in them too, and they are half the weight of not foot shaped enduro focussed MTB offerings. Totally recommend these.

Some more photos here.

2017 Events

Event What is it? Date   Month Info at:
Blast to the Mast CX/MTB 1 Jan turn up!
Detox 10k 2 Jan www.lumphanan.com/DetoxDetails.html
Puffer 24hr MTB 21 22 Jan www.sientries.com 
FortWilliam Runduro multi stage trail run 18 Feb www.nofussevents.co.uk
D33, Deeside Way Ultra 33 mile ultra 11 Mar www.entrycentral.com
Dirty Reiver 200k offroad bike 22 April www.dirtyreiver.co.uk
Balmoral running festival 5k, 10k, 15 mile trail 22 23 April www.runbalmoral.com
Highland Fling 53 mile ultra 29 April www.highlandflingrace.org
10 under the Ben 10 hours MTB 29 April www.nofussevents.co.uk
Glen Lyon Ultra 31 mile ultra 6 May www.runyabam.com
Glen Lyon Trail race 17 Mile Trail run 7 May http://www.runyabam.com
Cateran Trail 55 mile ultra 13 May www.entrycentral.com/festival/415
Tour of the Highlands 3 Day sportive, 300 miles 27 29 May www.entrycentral.com/3PistesTourHighlands
3 Pistes 100 mile sportive, day 2 of tour of the highlands 28 May www.entrycentral.com/3PistesTourHighlands
Highland Trail 550 550 mile epic MTB race 27 May http://www.highlandtrail.net
Celtman! 3k sea swim, 125mile bike, 27miles run over a big hill 17 June www.cxtri.com
ArranMan Festival Standard – Middle,  1k & 5K swims, runs 18 June www.entrycentral.com/hahaevents
WHWR 95 mile ultra 24 June www.westhighlandwayrace.org
Skyfall Swim Run 50k Run, 8k Swim 25 June www.entrycentral.com/hahaevents
Ironman 70.3 Edinburgh 70.3 2 July www.eu.ironman.com
Great Glen Ultra 71 mile ultra 8 9 July www.runybam.com
Devil o’ the highlands 43 mile ultra Aug www.devilothehighlandsfootrace.co.uk
Isklar Norseman 3.8k, 180k, 42K 5 Aug www.nxtri.com 
Aviemore Triathlons Cross, Sprint, Standard 6 Aug www.durtyevents.com 
Aberfeldy Middle Distance 70.3 20 Aug www.liveactive.co.uk
Ride the north 2 day sportive, 84 miles & 90 miles 26 27 Aug www.ride-the-north.co.uk
Oban Sea Kayak Race 20k around Kerrera 27 Aug www.obanseakayakrace.org
Inch By Inch Swim Run 31 Aug http://www.entrycentral.com/hahaevents
Glen Ogle 33 33 mile ultra 17 Sept www.runyabam.com
St Andrews Triathlons sprint – iron 17 Sept www.entrycentral.com/hahaevents
Huntly Standard Triathlon standard www.resultsbase.net
Tour De Ben Nevis epic MTB loop 7 Oct www.nofussevents.co.uk
Illuminator night time trail race Oct www.illuminatorrun.co.uk