Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Blair Atholl - Bikes, blizzards and Belgians

I can’t say I was looking my best at the weekend. My hair was matted like fuzzy felt under a hat under a helmet; my jaws were so frozen that I could hardly speak or eat my chocolate-coated peanuts; and the biting cold winds had given me a face like a pizza. And to top it all my Belgian lover had arrived for a spot of romancing.

A plan had already been in place with my friend to bike a circuit through the Gaick Pass and return over the Drummochter Pass. But the best laid plans aft gang agley and winter, snow and blizzards returned to Scotland to scupper this one. Not to be put off we set out biking up through Glen Tilt, today a deserted Arctic landscape where drifts of sculpted snow grew to several feet in the wind and clouds of spindrift reduced our view to just a few feet of the track ahead. 

Anybody seeing us setting out from Blair Atholl with bikes and camping kit might have thought we were a little bit crazy. And maybe we were! But sometimes you have to struggle and take on a challenge to feel good and alive and invigorated. And so we battled through the snow on our bikes, enjoying the brief moments when short sections of trail passed through the shelter and calm of the Glen Tilt woods. The only imprints in the fresh, powder snow were three bicycle tracks and the footprints of hare, deer and pheasants.

In the late afternoon we pitched our tents in a little copse of trees, sheltered from the worst of the icy blasts, where snowflakes fell gently to the forest floor and a little robin visited our campsot for crumbs of cheese. We risked life and limb, or at least a severe dunking, picking our way over snow and ice-covered rocks in the gorge of the river to collect water for cooking. But boy, did I enjoy my cup of hot tea that evening!

Next day we biked another track out onto the open wind-scoured, snow-blasted moors and pushed our bikes through deep snow before abandoning them and walking on a little further. In a brief moment of sunshine the light illuminated the slopes of Beinn Dearg ahead and we soaked up the beauty of the winter landscape before jumping back on our bikes for a fast descent to Blair Atholl. I finished the weekend off being wined and dined at a restaurant where my margherita pizza looked just like my face.

Fact file
Start/finish: Blair Atholl
Route: The track north through Glen Tilt is beautiful at any time of year and you can make a loop by going up the east side and returning on the west. In good conditions it's an easy biking route with nice picnic spots. We camped in the trees near Gilbert's Bridge. Our second route took us out on the track to Beinn Dearg with quite a bit of climbing.
Tip: If you want to give a Belgian man an authentic Scottish cultural experience, take him to the Atholl Arms Hotel in Blair Atholl, buy him a Scottish beer and sit him in front of the roaring peat fire!


  1. looks a great wee jaunt! I mean to cycle and camp up Glen Tilt this year (although maybe when it's a tad warmer...)

  2. It's a beautiful glen, Julie, always a favourite of mine. There's a super wee camp spot higher up the glen beyond the lodge with a lovely waterfall on the left that I've used previously or if the weather's bit wild you can hunker down in the trees.