Monday, 20 July 2015

Drumochter - Wummer

Has anyone seen summer? It seems to have vanished this year and been replaced by a new season. The new season has some aspects of summer - the nights are light, the landscape is green - but also some aspects of winter like storm force winds, cold and an absence of sunshine. I call it "wummer".

It was certainly wummer at the weekend in the Drumochter hills. The forecast had said the winds would ease in the afternoon. They didn't.  I climbed Geal Charn in blasts that I could barely stand up in and that blew me off route several times. The windchill was pretty severe and I was wrapped up in a wool layer, two fleeces, hat, gloves and my waterproof. In July! I didn't linger over the beautiful view down a shimmering Loch Ericht but dropped down off the top to pitch the tent. Much like me, it was at its limit for staying upright.

The forecast had said Sunday would be dry and bright. It wasn't.  Thick drizzle shrouded A'Mharconaich. Mountain hares were shadowy figures in the gloom and the mist coalesced into water droplets on my eyelashes. It wasn't unpleasant. But it wasn't summer. I guess we'll just have to keep searching for summer.

Meantime, it's worth bearing in mind that wummer has a couple of advantages over summer - there are less midges in the cold and the wind, and the hills are a wee bit quieter. Not a lot of folk like being out in the wummer weather.

Fact File
Start/finish: Dalwhinnie. Glasgow/Edinburgh to Inverness trains stop here and the Inverness Citylink bus.
Map: OS Landranger  42
Route: I cycled south from Dalwhinnie on the cycle route which starts close to the Dalwhinnie junction on the A9. Follow it to Balsporran Cottages,  take the track down to the railway line and cross the level crossing.  I chained up the Brompton here. Continue along the track. Ignore the first track to the right but take the second. Follow it up the northeast ridge of Geal Charn. It eventually becomes a more enjoyable path. From Geal Charn follow the path that continues south to the bealach between it and A'Mharconaich and join a track. Where it drops to the bealach a path leaves to the left. It's boggy at first but quickly improves. It gently climbs onto the ridge of A'Mharconaich and junctions with another path at a small cairn. Turn left and enjoy a level stroll to the top. I returned to the bealach and  followed the track back down to Balsporran Cottages.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Breadalbane - Biking the byways

Summer is my least favourite time of year. It's much too bright and busy for me. I prefer shuffling around in the shadows of the darker months.  So with a three-day weekend and a loaded bicycle, I sought solitude in Breadalbane on its quiet routes, old hill roads, disused railways and hidden bike paths. Well, not exactly solitude. I was joined by bike buddy Graham,  in training for a big ride abroad. The short, sharp hills would do him good.

The long cycle up Glen Lyon provided a warm up. It's widely considered to be one of Scotland's most beautiful glens. I won't argue. It was strange to be here again, two blogs in a row, after not having visited the glen for over 20 years. I climbed my first two solo Munros up here in my early twenties and I still had the same map now. I could see my pencil scribblings at the edges all those years ago, noting the hills I could see from the top. The hills haven't changed in that time. I have, of course. The wrinkles look like the contour lines on the map. We stopped to visit the old yew tree. Sitting quietly and minding its own business in the churchyard at Fortingall,  it's one of the oldest living things in the country. Estimates vary but it's certainly several thousand years old.

After Fortingall, a right turn put us into Glen Lyon. It starts as a tight pass filled with trees where the water broils below and the road is cut into the hillside. Beyond here it opens out into a green, broad valley. Farms pepper the fields and wildflowers abound in the verges.  In the upper reaches of the glen there are pockets of wilder woods and Scots pines before open, barren hills take over. Glen Lyon's finale is the  tiny, rough hill road that climbs steeply over to Glen Lochay. We cycled up it and stopped for the night on top. The tents were pitched right at the side of the road -  there was no traffic.

Next morning the road dropped steeply to Glen Lochay in a series of s-bends. The sun's rays broke through a passing shower and illuminated the green pastures below. Glen Lochay is a hidden gem, a green meandering valley far away from the busy world below. We followed its river down into Killin, joined the busier world of bikes and buses, and cycled over the arches of the old bridge that straddles the Falls of Dochart and the ancient burial place of the McNab Clan.

Beyond Killin our route climbed up into Glen Ogle on a quiet bike trail tucked away in the trees. It was lovely to be in the forest, at one moment dappled by sunshine and in the next moment kissed by a light shower that left everything smelling fresh and woody. The trail climbed higher through a clearing. The sun beat down. It crossed the road at the top then disappeared again into the trees on the old railway line that once linked Callander with Oban. We flew down the other side, pedalling flat out. The rain poured down.

Our route turned east now, using the tiny road along the south shore of Loch Earn. It swapped woods for rocky beach and then back again. At the far end we found another bit of bumpy, old railway line that cut across the fields beyond St. Fillans. At Comrie, a steep pedal in hot sunshine put us in the broad-leaved shade of Twenty Shilling Wood. The tents were pitched under a sprawling oak by the river. We cooked supper on a sunny bank and drank evening coffee on the pebble beach. 

Next morning Crieff Golf Course provided our onward route. We must have looked odd. Two scruffy cyclists that had just spent the night sleeping rough in the woods pedalling passed Pringle-sweatered golfers. We weren't churning up the greens of course but following a public track that put us in the direction of the Sma' Glen. The road twisted and turned through the tight confines of the glen before taking us over the hill to Amulree. Our final pull was up to the top of the impossibly steep single-track summer road to Loch Tay. The view stretched to the dark cone of Schiehallion as we began the hair-raising, hairpinned descent. We finished at the start and let ourselves in the quiet back door of Kenmore.

Fact File
Start/finish: Kenmore
Route: Leave Kenmore on the unclassified road northeast below Drummond Hill. At the B846 turn left and turn left again at Coshieville. A few hundred metres after Fortingall turn right up Glen Lyon. There's a great wee tearoom at Bridge of Balgie very popular with cyclists doing the Ben Lawers circuit. Continue to the end of Glen Lyon at Pubil and cross the bridge to climb the steep road south over to Glen Lochay. Online reports suggest this road is closed to public traffic as the surface is badly broken down. The surface was fine for cycling.  There were some rough sections but there was always a decent strip of tarmac to cycle on. We camped at the top at the loch beside the edge of the road - there was no traffic. Make the steep descent into Glen Lochay and continue to Killin on this very quiet road. Cycle south through Killin on the A827. After the bridge ignore the first bike sign to the left but take the second, signed for Callander.  The traffic free bike path initially follows the old railway through the woods and then climbs up to Glen Ogle on good quality forest tracks. From the top it's a super descent on the well-surfaced bike path that uses the old railway line. Leave the route where a spur to the left is signed for Lochearnhead and when you reach the A84, turn right (use the footpath as the road is busy). After a few hundred metres turn left onto the south Loch Earn road which has a cycle friendly reduced speed limit of 40mph. It joins the A85 at St. Fillans. Cycle east on the A85 for just under 2km to cottages at Dundurn. This was the only busy section of the trip. Cycle into what looks like private driveway between the pillars and hang left. Go over an old railway bridge and keep straight on the track across the fields. After another old railway bridge the track emerges at Dalchonzie. Turn right on the unclassified quiet road and follow it to Comrie. We took the Glen Lednock road north of Comrie to find a campspot.  From Comrie cycle south on the B827 through Dalginross and turn left on South Crieff Road. Follow this quiet road to Crieff. When you reach the A822 turn left then turn right on the A85. Opposite the wee square on the main street turn left up Hill Street and continue to the road end. Follow the track straight ahead across the golf course to Gilmerton and turn left up the A822 which is relatively quiet. Follow it through the Sma Glen and onto Amulree. At Amulree turn left passed the phone box on the single track road to Kenmore. It's incredibly steep in places with only one S-bend to assist. The views are great on top and the descent is exhilarating.