The Bothy Files…

It may come of no surprise to the reader on here that I have a fascination and love of bothy’s. Not everyone is familiar with the term ‘bothy’, so i’ll provide a brief explanation:

‘It is a mountain shelter that is open for people to stop over for a night, or take refuge in poor weather, or just visit for a picnic or lunch. There is much more to the bothy than this, as they are all individual and have rich histories, both from the peasant farmers and shepherds that use to live in them with their families generations ago, to the mountaineers that have used them on epic and pioneering winter climbs. They are a wonderful asset to have in the UKs wilderness areas and a night in one can enhance any visit to the mountains, as well as the chance to have a great social encounter with other likeminded mountain visitors, of whom you may of never met before, nor meet again – but often those stories told and memories will never be forgotten’.

In no particular order I have included a range of bothy’s from locations all over the UK. Later on I will include a few of my favourite foreign ones – usually termed ‘refugio’, sometime just ‘hut’ or ‘hytte’ in Scandinavia.

First up is the lovely Greensykes Bothy in the Southern Scotland area. I am now the Maintenance Organiser (or MO for short), who helps maintain, tidy and generally keep an eye on Greensykes. Each MBA bothy has an MO, or quite often two MO’s. Info and advice can be found via MBA webpage link: https://www.mountainbothies.org.uk/ If you start you use these places I recommend you to join, for £25 per year you get a quarterly news letter and the money from subscriptions is well spent on maintaining, improving and adding new bothies.

Here’s my ‘potted’ Greensykes story…

Greensykes Workparty - Jan 2017
Greensykes Workparty – Jan 2017

I guess it all started in 2016, when I caught site in the Bothy Newsletter of a Workparty support request, at the time a chap called Mike Parker was at the helm, so I emailed him and asked if I could join and possibly bring my two teenage lads along – he was very accommodating and welcomed us along, this workparty in action is shown above – there was a lot going on, with thirteen helpers in all. It was in January and we had been blessed by the winter weather gods! It all started there…

The ‘snowy’ one! (Jan ’18)

I have since visited Greensykes on many occasions, in all seasons, usually on the bike, sometime alone and sometimes with friends and sometimes with family. On one occasion, I can’t quite remember, but pretty sure it was winter pre-pandemic – so lets say January 2018. There was a lot of snow lying in Megdale and my ride in, up the dale got gradually harder, to the point at the sheep pens just before the forest boundary I decided to abandon the bike and continue on foot for the last km. I was following two sets of foot prints, so I knew that there would likely be other guests at the bothy. My assumption was correct as the smell of smoke drifted down from the bothy – a most welcoming smell to a weary and cold cyclist, even more welcoming was the greeting from the guests, they were as surprised as myself and it was the aforementioned Mike Parker that greeted me, he then offered me dinner and then plied me with some beers and whisky.

The previous ‘MO’ -Mike.

On my travels I find this happens all too often, usually with complete strangers, small acts of kindness and sometimes like this ‘quite big’ acts of kindness! I always pass on this gratitude in my own way when I meet others.

The evening went on until late and I recall uttering the words at some point – ‘I could fancy doing this MO role’.

Mike held me to this! A year or so later he asked me if I could take on the role, after some short thoughts and checks with the domestic management, I agreed to it. I would nominally begin in Jan 2020, with a ‘handover’ of tasks from the master. Meanwhile Mike was not leaving as he went on to fulfil a more demanding role within the Mountain Bothy Association (MBA), as the Area Organiser for Southern Scotland.

So that’s were it all started …and then the Pandemic hit, so for the best part of 18 months the bothy’s were closed, except for critical maintenance.

Winter
Spring
Summer

Some of the more unusual, interesting ones, quite often my favourites as they are tricky to locate…

Not all the bothy’s in the UK are managed by the MBA, there are others, usually owned by the estate, sometimes managed by the estate, or sometimes just managed by ‘friends’. These places are not publicised, they are certainly not ‘secret’ either, you just have to do your own research to find them, or quite often there whereabouts may be shared during a night in a bothy with other like minded folk. This keeps them special! They are located across the country – Wales, England and Scotland. I am not sure what is on offer in Ireland..? (something to have a think about…?)

A few of my favourite non-MBA bothy are pictured below. I am happy to share their locations, but it will have to be done with you over a whisky, in a bothy and sat in front of a toasty-warm fire!

I also have many more to find, some that I know about already and others that I will find on the way – both by riding by them, or finding out about them during the ‘bothy nights’.

The interiors… these have a wide range of styles and decor, from the quaint to the curious, to the well presented, some have little or nothing and some can be down right rancid – no photo’s of these one’s I’m afraid.

Some Bothy views to die for…

Bothy Artwork …or is it graffiti?

I can not locate my other bothy ‘artwork’ pictures – when found I will be sure to include them.

So what does Europe have in its wilderness places?

There are many countries that I have not visited in Europe, however in the ones that I have, I have found huts and refugio’s that serve a similar purpose and usually have a small group of people or friends to help maintain them and keep them special. In no particular order..

Italy
Italy
Spain
Spain
Spain
Slovenia
Montenegro

This post is still a little ‘Work in Progress’ – I will add and update it as more discoveries are made.

The ‘Wolf’s Lair’ ride – Monti Appennini Centrale – Italia

[artwork / photo credit – Montanus]

If Carlsberg did Bike-Packing Rides… this would surely be it!

This time two weeks ago it was my 53rd birthday and I vividly recall the pain and the pleasure of struggling with my loaded bike up a rocky track in the dark trying to get to Refugio La Vecchia.

La Vecchia – Fairy Tale hut tucked away in the mountains

Three years has passed since my last foreign bike-packing trip – back in September 2019, after that last trip my ride buddy – Mark Wildsmith and I had set eyes on this bike-packing film called the ‘Wolf’s Lair’ [link]. It was 10 minutes of jaw-dropping wonderness, beautifully and imaginatively filmed by the Italian duo behind ‘Montanus’, it inspired us and we wanted to experience these wild landscapes that we had not associated with Italy. Then in early 2020 the world changed and along with it came travel restrictions and everything else, so during these difficult, restricted times I adapted and started to explore and re-explore the beautiful areas that we have here in the United Kingdom – and although we may take it for granted we are lucky to have such a varied and beautiful little country. Eventually however the curiosity to travel further afield was beckoning and the lure to experience different cultures, landscapes, weather, food and all that, prompted us to make the decision to go to Appennini Centrale and ‘do’ the Wolfs Lair – and we loved it all!

The Route of the ‘Pimped’ Wolf’s Lair

We chose to go in Autumn, mainly as it was cooler and we knew that the autumn colours would be in full splendour.

Chapel on Monte Tranquilo

After the chaos of summertime travel through the airports, things had quietened by early October and we had a pain free flight to Fiumicino – the main airport for Roma, which lies by the coast.

Fiumicino and the Canal that links the River Tiber to the Sea

This is where our cycling adventure would begin, we had a B&B for the first and last night near to the airport and in the town of Fiumicino, which made a nice and interesting place to start and finish, we did not realise it, but it is famed for its fresh fish and its numerous fish restaurant’s (the B&B also let us store our bike-boxes, which was kind of them helpful, as bike logistics can be a pain!). Here we found that the Italians like to eat and food in Italy is generally of a very high quality and more often than not cooked using local produce.

Our plan to get to the central mountains, was to cycle the 40km into Roma, then do some swift city sight-seeing – Vatican City, Spanish Steps, Colosseum and a few other ‘pop-up’ places along the way.

As it happened there was pretty good cycle route all the way into the city centre, most of it avoiding the roads and this was a really pleasant surprise as we were both dreading the Italian traffic and their driving skills. The cycle route enters the city in the most innocuous way using the flood channel of the River Tiber which is set well down from the rest of the city, the river itself was a surprisingly fast flowing and at times a violent white water river and not what you would usually associate within a city centre and certainly not one to fall into either! It was along the river that I recalled the mini’s of the film the Italian Job using this as their escape route!

Mark was navigating (on the nav, as we say!)  and the route from the river took us quickly to the Vatican City, even at the relatively early hour (10:30) it was a chaos of tourists and while it was good to see this important landmark, we were pleased to soon leave it – we now had to head across the city to the Termini Station, here we would get a regional train to Avezzano in the mountains. From our brief experience trains in Italy seem to work well for bikes, the regional ones have a large area for up to 6 bikes and the trains are all electric and pretty comfortable and a lot cheaper than the UK. It would take us around 2 hours to do the 120km journey, through many tunnels and viaducts rising up to around 700m.

The town of Avezzano is on the edge of an unusual plain, which was covered with water and was Italia’s biggest lake, drained in the 1700’s and now a fertile industrial scale growing area, from above the landscape looks like a patch-work quilt made up of thousands of rectangular fields, we would later cycle through this landscape, but for now we had to go the other way and climb into the mountains. By this time it was mid-afternoon and we had what seemed a straightforward and do-able 50km and 1400m cycle along a mix of road and tracks. It soon got hard work with loose and rounded gravel and we soon realised we were not properly ride fit as we had been in the past, partly due to us both having done a lack of the ‘long stuff’ and in Marks case recovering from his Covid of the previous month, still it was a joy to be in the mountains – freedom and seven days of adventure ahead!

La Vecchia by night

The night time soon arrived, the temperature dropped and we still had around 10km to go, we had climbed up to 1600m by now and were above the warmth of the trees and forests and the double track had turned into a vague rough path. We had both hoped on this trip to do some riding at night, as it in itself is an exciting experience, but we had not planned on doing it on night one – at this point sticking to the vague footpath was a challenge and whilst it would make for a great descent, it was a tough ride and push up. Despite the hardship our excitement levels were high, as we had a small stampede of Red Deer pass ahead of us and we instantly thought that Wolves would be in close pursuit, but not so – phew!

The mountain top eventually levelled and we started to drop over the far side, by now the night view was far reaching and the sight of many distant little mountain villages cloaked in their orange street lights, all under a blanket of stars was quite something. However, by this stage we were both pretty exhausted and hungry, we longed for the cosiness of the Refugio, thank fully after a scramble through some rocks and trees we could see it emerge and it looked to be unoccupied, which was good as it was tiny. This Refugio was not on the Wolf’s Lair route, this was a ‘POI’, that I had found on the map and I can’t recall if it was through Google or the wonderful navigation tool of Komoot, either way we knew that it was ‘gem’ and it was like a little fairy tale grotto all built into some rocks and hidden on the mountain side, 1900m up – a place well worth visiting!  Anyway it was my birthday and it was time for a beer… which we had lugged up and worked up a thirst. Despite wanting the beer, the hard toil had made me feel a little nauseous and it took an hour before I felt ready to drink it, which meant it could chill down nicely – I can still taste that one, so hard earned! Inside the hut the old stove was soon lit and we had food being cooked up. It may not have been a wild party, but it was a pretty special place to spend my birthday and a great location to start our travels.

…and the view from it the morning after – stunning and in no rush to leave!
Birthday Boy – not a bad place to start the first day of 53 – feeling as excited as a child! [Photo credit Mark Wildsmith]

So to the Wolf’s Lair route itself, in its normal form it is around 400km and 9000m vertical, however I had found a few other POIs, that we extended the route for, this was through playing with Komoot, a ride planning an navigation tool – from my initial experiences of it, I would recommend it, our extended route took the distance up to 550km/12000m, which meant a rough average of 80-90km per day. Not a massive amount, given previous rides, but enough for us not to feel time pressured, which had happened in the past. The route is in the very rural and mountainous region contained within the Abruzzo province and links up four national parks; La Aquila and Avezzano are the main centres, however there are numerous small towns and villages enroute, this generally made it pretty easy getting supplies, but it is worth bearing in mind that most shops are closed on Sundays, however there are also numerous bars and cafes to get food and drink from.

The actual landscape, was quite unusual – Limestone Karst, as such we saw very few streams, rivers or lakes and quite often were riding in these ‘sink-hole’ type features. It was really hard to get the lay of the land, and it made it even more interesting.

For the main Wolf’s Lair journey I will let the pictures tell most of the story and add some brief words when needed…

Day 1 – After descending from the Refugio we pass through a 1.4km tunnel to nowhere in particular, only one car passed us by.
This was on the other side of the long tunnel – a portal into another dimension.
Old farm tracks – some dust and some stone.
Empty roads – just the odd farmer and the odd Fiat.
Typical scenes on Day 1 – The Beech Forests surrounding the plains, good cover for the predators!
Soon in the Gran Sasso NP, after passing through the not-so exciting bits around L’Aquila.
Day 2 – The historic old village of Santo Stefano do Sessanio.
Opportunity for tent drying (a lot of condensation) and a picnic breakfast. [Photo credit Mark Wildsmith]
Rocca Calascio – Ruined, historic and beautiful.
The same castle from a different angle – it was hard to leave this place!
A closer view of the Corno Grande, the highest mountain in Central Italy at 2912m, it was here that we briefly met two other Italian ‘old boys’ on E-Bikes and they kindly named all the peaks for us and I’m sure that they had climbed them all!
Obtaining Drinking Water was never difficult, even if it was shared with the ‘locals’. [Photo credit Mark Wildsmith]
The unusual ‘dry river’.
Down the Canyon (this was an off-piste deviation and we had no idea where we would exit it). [Photo credit Mark Wildsmith]
Even more unexpected, after exiting the dry river we came across a DIY-BBQ ‘Ristoro Giuliani’ – having missed the last village, we were a couple of hours overdue for lunch – lamb kebab, toast cheese and a big beer did the trick. [Photo credit Mark Wildsmith]
Another of those ‘infinity roads’ to nowhere. [Photo credit Mark Wildsmith]
After the ‘Piano’ (Plain) we plunged deep into the forest, we spent most of the end of day 2 descending through these.
End of Day 2 – a long shift (07:00 to 19:00) and we decide to strike for the comfort of a B&B while in a small town – the scene above is typical of many of these towns and villages. This was a pretty overwhelming day, quite hard to take in all the amazing places that we had ridden through.
Day 3 – The first surprise – a huge concrete viaduct built in the sixties – an impressive feat of engineering, now used for bungee at the weekends.
More forest…
Forest Camp – these worked well as they stayed warm and dry and also an abundant supply of fire wood. The fire pit was covered the morning after – leavenotrace!

Day 4 – A Slideshow to walk through, after leaving the forest camp we descend on drovers roads, taking in an old ‘ish’ ski-station and a characterful restaurant and its friendly dog and amazing croissants (a word about the Italian croissants, they are bigger and crispier than their French cousins and usually have a filling of custard, or chocolate – great with a double expresso!). We head into the Abruzzo NP, its also a Sunday and like North Yorkshire it is full of motorbikes ripping up the tarmac. After the previous couple of tough days we plan a slightly shorter one and decide to head up Monte Tranquilo.

Day 5 – For some reason, maybe it being a Monday..? we both felt a bit disengaged and struggled to get going – even despite two expressos and two filled croissants each (which only cost 8E total!). We quietly chugged along and soon left the Abruzzo NP, it felt like we had passed through it all too quickly and the next section, despite being pretty good cycling, did not seem so great. However we did pass some strange ‘ghost villages’ and interesting landmarks, there was also some threatening weather, so far in the trip it had all be dry and sunny. We had a few spots of rain late PM and we could tell as we moved between valley systems that some heavy rain had passed through. We had earlier stocked up at a supermarket and were now keen to camp. Its worth mentioning and it happens all the time when bike-packing – you always seem to see the perfect camp spots at the wrong time of day. It was going dark quickly, the mist was down and it was dripping wet everywhere. To make things worse our route took us through a small steep sided canyon, quite vegetated and totally unappealing to camp within, persevering, we eventually climbed out of it and reached a Fontaine and a picnic area, rather luckily we found a cosy and dry camp spot under some beech trees also with a fire pit (the ‘trail gods’ helping us again!) – it felt good to finish this day and a beer was needed. I think the ride fatigue had caught up with us and taken the edge off things and a good sleep would sort things hopefully…

Day 6 – This was to be our last day in the mountains proper, it sort of felt sad to be leaving them, however as usual on this ride more surprises were in store… First up was another ghost village of Pagliare di Tione, this was an eerie place as the early morning mists swirled, we had not had breakfast so we brewed up here – dozens of old houses, all empty and some in better states than others, some locked and some unlocked. It felt like we were being watched and there was a presence of something (cows..?) The coffee and bread and cheese perked us up and it would be another 20kms or so and we would be at our start point / finish point of Rocca di Mezzo. However before we got there we had to negotiate the sticky mud that we had heard of… Our bikes had stayed quite clean up till this point – hopefully we would find a tap and wash area in the next village (and as it happened we did – it was good to de-gunge things).

I have not mentioned the other redeeming feature of this ride and this was… there were no gates, well not quite true, we had five or six rickety wire-gates to pass through, that was all in 550km of riding. The landscapes had very few fences and walls, it added to the rural feel. Why in the UK is our agriculture, estates and forestry so obsessed with fencing everything up..?

Celano Castle.

The last night of our ride would see us reach the town of Celano, very much dominated by its huge castle. This is a must see and along with all the other historic sites that we saw along the way, it added to the extra special feel of this trip. Everyday along this ride there was a surprise of some sort, usually it would be seeing the landscape dramatically change, or the sighting of a wild animal or bird, while we did not see a Golden Eagle or a Brown Bear we did glimpse a small pack of Grey Wolves and we could hear their cry’s and barking. I hope that the wildlife and its apex predators continue to grow and roam afar; the national parks and protected areas are doing all they can to protect these species, however where the wild animals meet the areas with more humans, or areas not protected they are at threat. A fine balance exists…

As a cyclist it is not the wild animals that usually pose a threat to us, more the farmers dogs and on past rides we have had some scary close calls, in Abruzzo most of the dogs seemed pretty chilled, we only had a couple of dog chase incidents and thankfully we got away in time…

The plain, once the bed of Italy’s greatest lake (and another infinity road to nowhere).

The last day of the ride in the mountains and we get to cross the great plateau, to go from Celano to Avezzano (train here to Fiumicino, via Roma), this flat route mainly consisted of minor dusty straight-line roads and 90deg corners, fun at first, but soon starting to look all the same and very boring after doing 25km of it, also the totally disrespectful truck drivers who just blasted past and chocking us in dust. Another recollection from along here – I know the meat industry is pretty grim, but here the industrial veg farming was not so hot either – looking dirty and scruffy! On that note Mark managed quite well getting veggie options, some places better than others, I also made a conscious effort to take the veggie option, but sometimes this was lost in translation, or I was just craving something meaty! However the fish was very good and it was a nice treat to have the fresh fish on offer back down in Fiumicino.  

 

As a wrap-up — I thank Italy and its lovely people for providing such a great adventure, I thank Montanus and Bikepacking.com for the superb route and information, I thank Mark for being awesome company…

– and I thank my wife and my family (and my little dog) for letting me go – these adventures help keep me alive and reset all those critical checks and balances.

Wolf’s Lair – done the full circle and back in Rocca di Mezza [photo credit – Mark Wildsmith].

…I did not mention the bikes… both our trusty steads performed so well. We both had punctures that self sealed and that was it really, maybe a few new creaks..! For me I was riding a larger framed Fatster, and while a little less agile maybe, it was super comfy and well suited to all the surfaces. While on bikes, I would definitely recommend an Mtb for this ride, while a Gravel Bike will do it, having fun on the descents and not having to worry about smashing your rims, out-weighed the potential extra gain in speed that a Gravel Bike may have on the smoother surfaces.

Trans Scotland Mtb

An East to West Traverse, following Old Drovers Routes, Footpaths, Forest Gravel and Quiet Roads

Link to Route and GPX on Komoot: https://www.komoot.com/tour/959912235

Note: The Komoot route is slightly different to the one shown above (start from Aberdeen Lighthouse has been added, also an extra bit through the oak woods at Strontian has been included, and the section across Isle of Mull removed, so it now finishes at Ardnamurchan Lighthouse – making it 407km / 4500m.) 4-5 Days riding would be a good time to aim for, there are several bothy’s on or near to the route and good camp spots come up.

I have been enjoying a bit of a re-focus recently, I’m always hungry for doing miles in new places, pushing hard whilst going steady if that makes sense..? While I’m at it, immersing myself in the environment as much as possible, quite often just having a 5 minute stop now and then, to soak up the view, the sounds and the smells – appreciating ‘the moment’ if you like!

Since the covid restrictions and since having covid myself, I seem to of had a physical and mental shift and this has made me feel much less competitive, both within me and with others – I’m kind of happy to ‘chug’ along!

This Trans-Scotland ride, wasn’t over-planned or scrutinised, I just had a few places that I wished to visit, or pass through…

From North Sea to Atlantic, doing a coast-to-coast crossing always makes for a magnificent journey. Crossing the Scottish Highlands by Mountain Bike has to be one of the best Bike-Packing journeys that I have done. Like most Scottish trips the weather can be the deciding factor and for this journey, the Weather Gods were with me, there is no finer place to be than Scotland when it is bathed in the spring time sunshine.

Seeing the landscapes changes as I made slow but sure progress west was really noticeable, from the soft green east to wild barren west. The mountain bike is the best tool for the job as you can get access to all the hidden away places, which I just love finding.

My ride is told in the pictures below. If anyone would like the GPX then just drop me a message.

Day 1 – Dee Valley – Forests, Lochs and Glens

Day 2 – Out of the Dee Watershed and into the Centre of Scotland

Day 3 – A Taste of the West

Day 4 – The Atlantic and the Point of Ardnamurchan

Cuckoo in the Glen Trail

A rather belated write-up. The last year has been busy with non-cycling work, mainly a house restoration, so cycling and sport has been pushed to the wayside for a little while – normal service should resume in 2022! This journey was made at the end May and was one of my all-time favourites. The route is available on ‘All-Trails’ and ‘Komoot‘, or just message me for the GPX.

Aberdeen to Glasgow – Offroad

It all started on the train.

Travel by train, sometimes you love it, some times you hate it. Taking bikes on trains in the UK is never that straightforward, with all the regional rail franchises all offering some thing different. On the plus side Scotrail seem to have grasped the bike-on-trains issue the best and now offer more bike spaces and are sometimes a more flexible to the pre-booking rule. This for me is the issue, all too often you book your ticket by the App then have to make a separate call to reserve the bike space, which is not always available – so the conclusion is rail travel with a bike is often hit and miss and frustrating, particularly if you are not able to plan well in advance.

But anyway back in June I was wanting a ‘mountains detox’ and had planned to travel to Glasgow and start a bike-packing route called the ‘Badger Divide’, which is a pretty do-able 3-4 day affair to Inverness.

The trains had other plans for me (and my bike).

At Oxenholme the Glasgow train was double booked and they offered me a later train, rather than wait I asked if I could swap to the Edinburgh train 10 minutes later – yes – no problem. All was good on the train! However I soon realised Edinburgh didn’t offer the quick access to the Highlands that Glasgow’s position does, so I then looked at continuing on to Perth or even Aberdeen. Aberdeen looked appealing as I had not been there before on bike and I was aware of the ‘Deeside Way’ route that heads up into the Cairngorm. So Aberdeen it was.

Where I would head after that would be decided on the fly along the route – I like travelling this way, my goal destination would be Glasgow in 4 days time – Perfect!

How the weather can change between destinations, on arrival at Aberdeen, by now well past 11pm it was cold and foggy, an east coast ‘Harr’ was in force, ten degrees cooler than were I boarded the train and a thick damp fog.

My plan was to exit the city environs then look for a suitable camp spot just off the path somewhere. Within an hour a good little spot presented itself and I was soon tucked up. I was up early as my pitch was not as ideal as it could have been – sloping! I hate camping on a slope, you constantly roll off your mat and can’t get comfy. At Banachory I was able to get a coffee and some breakfast and enjoyed it along the riverside watching the morning mist slowly lift. It was here that I worked out the next part of the route. As nice as the Deeside way was, it wasn’t particularly challenging and I was aware of another ‘saved’ route that I wished to make use of – Trans-Scotland-Mtb, I decided to vaguely follow this until Blair Atholl – about 150km away. It would take me up into the hills and use some of the old drovers roads, with exciting names like ‘The Fungle Road’.

Fungle Road and Mount Keen in the distance.

Lunch was taken by the burn in the wild Glen Tanar, famous for its rare Capercaillie, but it was a different bird that was making its presence known today – the infamous Cuckoo – a constant backdrop of birdsong.

Lunch is a Noodle Soup by the Water of Tanar

Soon after rising out of the Glen, the trails stretched dry and dusty into the far distance. It was along one of these while quietly pedalling up a long hill, that another bike-packer came up along side me and made jump out of my skin. The face was familiar and so was the voice and it was an old riding buddy who I used to bump into on the HT550 rides – Philip! It was great to see him and we shared the journey for a while on to Lochnagar and then he talked me into continuing my ride a bit further than I’d intended to and stay at the remote and idilic Faindoran Bothy – deep in the Cairngorms. So on we went, the sprightly Phil and not so sprightly me!

Chance Encounters

The journey onto Faindoran was lovely, but was hard going on what were by now tired legs. Expecting to find it empty, it most certainly was not, as there was an Eastern Cairngorm Group Work-Party there. As the repair work stopped, the musical instruments started to come out. It turned into a great night, with a range of music and singing like I’ve never heard before – so much talent, I felt privileged and humbled to be there (having no musical talent of my own), not to mention the food and whisky that they plied us with…

Bothy Nights at their Best!

I have stopped over at Faindoran Bothy twice and both times woken the day after with a hangover!

The remote Faindoran Bothy – camping next to it.
Cairngorm Single-tracks you cant beat them..!

The ride up to the ‘Fords of Avon’ was a techie single-track, not an ideal starter while nursing a groggy head, but the scenery was just stunning and I was feeling so alive!

…all too soon there was ‘the’ river crossing, it was high as the snow was melting, made trickier still, as I took off my shoes so as to keep them dry.

It is worth noting that this point in the route could be a ‘gamechanger’ if the river is higher still as it would not be safe to cross and the options are limited to either back tracking or heading north on more tricky path towards Ryovan and then around the Cairngorm massif.

A hiker crossing the notorious and bouldery River Avon

The exit route from this central and isolated point was to head south on good paths, down into Glen Derry and then on to Glen Tilt, some 60km south. The paths are well made and almost all rideable and are a great joy to descend.

A soon too be ‘MBA’ Bothy, sometimes known as the Red House.
Brynack Lodge – An Old Ruined Military Camp.

Fast gravel trails enable a quick exit of Glen Derry to connect with the long (circa 25km) Glen Tilt. Soon the double track gives way to more twisty single track and this gets exciting and engaging as you start the steep sided descent into the main Glen. This is what I relish on these long journeys – the ever changing terrain and landscapes. At the bottom of the Glen is the village of Blair Atholl and an opportunity to re-stock or get a meal – the first civilisation for over 100km!

After a food and rest-up at Blair I used a mix of the NCN route and footpaths, the hidden highlight here was the lovely twisty path down the Killiecrankie Gorge, almost under the railway and A9. I would leave the road again at Kinnaird to begin the climb up to Loch Skiach, which would be my destination for the day, as there is an old fishing hut that is used as a bothy.

What a stunning location, the bothy itself was a little ‘ropey’ inside and need a good dose of TLC, however feeling a bit beaten and lazy I opted to stop in it rather than camp besides it. It was a pleasant place, to freshen in the Loch and then enjoy dinner watching the sunset, also with a beer that I’d picked up in Blair – Perfect end to a perfect day!

Looking at the map that evening and planning day 3, my objective was to try to reach Loch Lomond, it was almost impossible to gauge the distance, or time it would take, but I knew that it would be a ‘big day’, around 130km perhaps, the town of Creiff would be the first town to aim for, getting there using as much ‘off-road’ as possible.

Techie descent into Glen Almond
Morning mist burning off in Glen Almond

I decided not to divert into Crieff town centre as I had got a noodle lunch to enjoy… So I pushed on through and decided to find a spot in Glen Artney some 20km further. The riding was really varied and interesting and all along trails that were new to me – always a bonus!

Exiting the QE Forest and over the pass to Loch Lomond.
Acres of purple and acres of blue – and a brake melting decent!

The constantly changing vistas – especially the bealach where the view of Loch Lomond and the Arrochar Alps great you. However hunger was beckoning and a camping spot was needed, I hoped that the Loch Shore would provide a small patch of grass for me… and it did.

A sweet camp.

Day 4 required a bit of an earlier start as I was booked on to a train from Glasgow at 11am. Early starts mid-summer are not such a pain as it starts to become light at 4am, the other bonus is that I would be down the WHW path before all the punters are up and on it!

So back into the city, the Central Station being my final destination for this ride. The whole journey really blew me away – the chance encounters with old friends, bothy nights, the flora and fauna, the ever changing landscapes and vistas and the riding itself so many interesting and exciting trails. I’ll definitely do this ride again! And thank you Avanti-Trains for cocking up my original travel plans and allowing this one to unfurl.

Long Overdue Trip North…

Reflections on Loch Arkaig

Since the Dales Divide Race in August last year, my time has been spent on a house move project, and like all house projects, it has been more work and taken longer than expected. Its been nice to go back to doing DIY, as I am a practical person and like making things – which is just as well! The down-side to this is that I have put all riding and outdoors stuff on the back-burner. I had originally set my sights on around six months to get the bulk of the work finished, and as it happened this would time nicely with England coming out of the latest lock-down restrictions and our freedom of movement for exercise would be increased from just our local areas.

After no visit to the Highlands in 2020, I was realising that I was well overdue – for me being in wilderness areas helps reset my ‘checks and balances’, I do like being cosy and warm at home, but I really love the minimalist, exposure and challenge of being ‘ out there with nature’ .

I had decided not to partake in the 2021 Dales Divide, I was just not ‘bike-fit’, too busy and not in the right ‘head-space’ to bury myself in a race, that said I was longing for a more sedate explore somewhere – ideally the Highlands, as it had been almost two years since I had last visited them. The discovery and visiting new places and seeing nature is an important element of any ride for me …perhaps an ageing thing…! but you get less caught up in the competitive/challenge element and more taken by the moments and experiences you get.

Scotland as a nation was lagging the rest of the country in lifting restrictions, so it meant hanging on until late April time, meanwhile for pretty well the whole of the month so far there had not been a drop of rain and every day was a ‘blue-sky’ day – I was hoping it would hold and it did.

I had many routes and trails in my head that I wanted to do, but I only had 3 days, also the Highland Rail service was still on reduced timings, so I elected South Highlands and base myself from the well known (HT550) Tyndrum village. I would do some new trails across Rannoch Moor and I had a couple of other POIs that I hoped to pass.

The Route – 355km / 5250m

After crossing Rannoch from Blackmount, I thought the cafe at the station may be open for take-away coffee and cake, however there was not a soul around, the empty station is pictured above. This set the form for the next couple of days – empty landscapes and empty places – even the Monument at Glenfinnian only had a handful of cars there.

The vast emptiness of Rannoch Moor

From Rannoch there is a great little track over to the next habitation – ‘think ‘2 houses, a hostel and a station – Corrour. I had recollections of visiting this area some 30 years ago on an Outward Bound expedition, but visiting it again reminded me of the beauty and isolation of this place. Loch Ossain provided an ideal lunch spot, at the end of this ?loch is the impressive Corrour Shooting Lodge – They will happily hire it out to you …for £25,000 for a weekend – cheap thrills!

From Corrour I headed east towards the next magnificent estate – Ardverike, see castle above – famed for its Monarch of the Glen series. Again more stunning lochs passed, even saw a Golden Eagle here and paused for five minutes to watch it. A highlight of my ride!

Lochan na Earba

Passing Laggan, my route would now veer and head west, towards the stunning and unique Glen Roy, my overnight destination was Luib Connel, a bothy, to camp besides (see tent pic above). This has to be one of my favourite Highland bothies and it was pleasing to see it fairing-up okay.

Heading towards Melgarve – a large herd of big reds!

The story of Glen Roy goes back 12,000 years to the last min ice-age when the Highlands and parts of northern Europe were under the grip of an ice sheet and when this started to recede it left a vast lake, the shore lines of which are visible around the sides of the Glen and are known as parallel roads – see an OS 1:50k map…

Glen Roy drops out at near to Spean Bridge, usually a tourist stop for the lovely Commando Monument, as well as this a chance for me to call in at the shop for a drink and some fruit

Commando Memorial and snow capped Nevis Range beyond

After passing the POI above I had planned to visit a non-MBE bothy near Fort Augustus, meaning a bit of a detour, I elected to ‘pass’ on this and take the little road down Loch Arkaig, then over unknown trail to Glenfinnan. Pictured at the top, the loch was mirror flat, not a ripple I saw from its start to finish. At the end of the loch I would take a small detour to inspect the Glenpean Bothy, and like the last one was all clean and tidy – always pleasing to see, nothing more upsetting than seeing a lovely bothy not being cared for or used with the respect it deserves!

Sometimes there is no trail…

After the bothy excursion a small line on the map connected Glen Pean to Glenfinnan, however the line on the map was not present on the ground, apart from a faint trod, that came and went, there would now be a 500m 4km climb to the Bealach, a push-up I can deal with, but I was hoping for it to be ‘more’ rideable on the other side…? 2 hours of toiling and I reached the high point – ‘I won’t be doing that one again!’

My aim for the day was to be around the Sunart/Argdour area at the south of Loch Sheil, so that I could be within easy striking distance of the Corran ferry, to get me back down Glen Coe early the following morning. However, finding a camp when you need one, sometimes never happens, especially when you are in a ‘fussy’ mood, looking for that pristine spot! First attempt was in an old Oak Forrest, however I had to abandon camp as it was infested with ticks – nobodies friend and worse than the midge! Luckily it was still too early in the season for the midge, which was an added draw to the visit. A midge can ruin a camp full stop! Th

Unzipping the tent I was greeted to another crisp morning. I decided to skip porridge and just have coffee, as a breakfast opportunity should be present as I head back south through Glen Coe. An ideal route, should have very little ‘trunk road’ sections, mainly as they are unpleasant when busy and usually a little scary with the close, noisy fast moving traffic. Glencoe is hard to avoid and it would really benefit from have the few trail sections that there are, all linked together to make a safe ‘through’ route for cyclists …maybe one day it will happen! I was too early for the shop in Glencoe, but had enough to get by until Tyndrum, some 50km south.

The most majestic mountain – Buachaille Etive Mor

The West Highland Way would take my back from Kingshouse hotel to Tyndrum. It is the final leg for the HT550 and I had painful memories of it, however today, feeling far less beaten-up, it was a pleasure to ride it.

Although my ride-thirst is quenched, I suspect that the addiction will draw me back next month. In between this there is the Dales Divide Race, which I am doing the Dotwatcher.com media updates for – hoping I enjoy doing it and not miss riding it too much! Also nice to feel that we have our ‘wild’ places to visit again after being constrained by lock-down.

Dales Divide Ride – 2020

Self, Chris Ellison and Pat Hall

I recall the words that I wrote for last year’s Dales Divide ride and they very much stand for and represent this year’s ride. However, this year has been different, we have all had Covid to contend with.

Scarborough – Wild Sea

It’s fair to say it’s been a pretty interesting year so far – our normal lives have been changed, up-set and totally interfered with by Covid – this is something that we’ll never ever forget!

There is now a sense of ‘normality’ returning to life and it is good to be able to get back doing things that we took for granted before. The Dales Divide (DD) is the first ‘event’ for me this year and I guess the same for many of us.

Artwork by George Pilkington

Inspiring Stuff…

Taking inspiration from the late Mike Hall; Chris Ellison (the DD creator) has worked super-hard in getting the ride off the ground, he has biked all his life and has gradually worked his way into bike-packing during this last decade. As well as taking inspiration from our local past-master Mike, Chris was inspired to create a ride based on his Tour Divide Ride experience that traverses the Rockies from Border to Border. Sadly the UK lacks any such extreme mountains or distance, but we can make a good substitute through the softer Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cleveland landscapes. And this is exactly what the Dales Divide is an off-road, coast-to-coast and all the way back again.

East Coast

Bring ‘New Blood’ in…

Last year’s ride had around 20 starters and this year the ride had progressed to around 50 starters, it had such a wide spectrum of riders and bikes from age 19 to age 70 and bikes ranging from a Dawes Galaxy (Rough-stuff style) to a Full-Susser and no doubt at Fat-bike and everything else in between. The DD has seen a large interest in those starting out in bike-packing and for whom this may be their first multi-day minimalist bike adventure… I found the love of bike-packing about five years ago, I had previously been involved with Adventure Racing directly before and was ready for a change – for something simple – exactly like Bike-Packing. You can make Bike-Packing into whatever you wish …a solo jaunt or challenge, a tour with friends or family, somewhere local or somewhere foreign and then there are organised events from ‘grass-roots’ stuff like the DD, on to the more ‘commercial’ events that are now appearing.

This year was even more special, since Mike’s mum had travelled from Harrogate to see us all off and to ride with integrity and determination – we are all ‘crazies’!

This time round…

Like last year’s inaugural DD the weather was pretty good for this weekend, just a ‘punchy’ northerly wind to contend with and some cooler than usual temperatures, so this means you can run a nice light set-up, but never to  skimp on taking the wet weather gear and some spare warm clothing – the nights got cool and as the ride progresses it is often hard to keep a fatigued body warm. As always in these long bike-pack rides (read ‘races’ here!), there is point in it were it turns from a ‘race’ to a ‘survival game’…

It’s not your fellow competitors you have to conquer, but the all that the terrain and weather throws at you.

North York Moors – Unrelenting but Beautiful…

The DD is a great route and covers a wide range of landscapes, terrains and surfaces, to me it feels like a ‘friendly’ ride, as there are no nasty surprises, or extended Hike-a-Bikes, but don’t take it for granted any landscape can be challenging if the conditions are poor – local rider and guru all things bike-packing – Stu Taylor had some brutal conditions when he ‘proof rode’ the 2019 route the March before. I recall his story of a pub-landlord taking pity on him and letting him use the summerhouse to kip in after Stu asked if he could pitch his tent in the back garden – you get these moments and encounters in bike-packing, small acts of kindness – you get them and you pass them on!

What’s the ride-plan..?

Just keep it simple and don’t overwhelm yourself with times, targets and positions. To finish the ride should be the main objective, hopefully you’ll enjoy some great scenery and wildlife encounters, sun-sets and sun-rises, moon-lit night riding, sharing the journey with other riders, or being out there alone. Don’t push hard from the start – we should all just be just ‘cruising’ to Scarborough! Keep some gas in the tank for the second half, the NY Moors present some very difficult climbs, so get a good feed beforehand and don’t be afraid to get off and push – your ‘quads’ will thank you for it later! Then there’s the rest and sleep… I grabbed 3 hours on night one in a nice cosy church porch. It was an odd start to my ride having had a very stressful week completing our house sale, which went through successfully the Friday before, I was riding to York with a sense of guilt and certainly no-passion to ride. Something then clicked in me while riding through the city, maybe seeing the tail light and catching up with the rider ahead – Richard Gate. Like a ‘switch’ I then felt back ‘on-it’, I had a job to do and it was to ride my arse-off and get to Arnside!

Grundgy Bike in a Grundgy Spot – Good Pizza Though!

Marginal Gains…

There was no-way  that I was any fitter or faster this year, only just recently I had started to get back into some multi-day rides, I was also heavier – having found the love of ‘home-baking’ during lockdown – who can resist the smell of fresh bread..?!? …anyway I’d soon burn the excess off… As I mentioned before forget schedules etc. there are too many variables to contend with in this game. Ride by feel alone and you should always feel happy when riding – being on a bike in the wild, even in poor conditions is better than being in the office at work! 

Waking on day 2 I checked ‘Trackleaders’ and it looked like I had assumed lead position, this can instantly create another burden of stress – if you let it. But if you know that your strong point is the ‘long-game endurance stuff’, then all you have to do is ride as best as you can and be efficient with everything as you can and this is done by minimising ‘stop’ time. This year I had planned just 3 supply stops, if it was warmer more stops would have likely been needed.

Not My Wellies?

Bike Set-up…

My bike set-up is my trusty Fatster-1 – a home built 29er+. It boasts a very comfy ride from the oversize tyres, I think that this is a game-changer on a long ride, forget the turn of speed a skinny bike may provide, comfort is key and it helps protect your body and allows you to endure more distance and rougher surfaces. You can ride ‘lazy’, no need for precise-ness that all takes extra concentration and effort. You just crank the pedals and steer a bit.  I went quite light, with a front roll, containing sleeping kit and some spare clothes, everything else like food in my top-tube back, bike spares, tools and batteries in the small seat pack, then everything else in my back pockets! 

Arnside – Frazzled, Tired, Happy, Hungry.

Further info and results here…  (also a good portal for event watching)

(https://dotwatcher.cc/race/dales-divide-2020)

A bit of post-race geekery…

As I had progressed well through night 2, it was looking like I may be ‘up’ on last year’s time, although I was not motivated to push harder, I had worked hard-enough and no-one was chasing me, by now it had looked like the ‘chasers’ had stopped to rest or had retired. I looked at ‘Trackleaders’ and appeared to be about 6-7hrs ahead. What happened to the others..?  I ended up finishing at 07:12, 2019 I finished at 07:16. Also I compared my CP timings between this year and last and all within 20 minutes of each other – that’s sort of spooky-weird, I had no watch and only checked the time on my phone every few hours.

Carlton Bank – A mecca of outdoor sports!

I ‘doff’ my hat to all the finishers, but especially the following people:-

–          Karen Price – First female finisher – the sport needs the ladies as well!

–          Mark Wildsmith – He rode magnificently on this first ever event and was 2nd rider to finish.

–          Chris Ellison (aka The Captain) took 5hrs off his last year’s time.

–          Rod Gemmell who is 70 years of age just ‘rode long and rode strong’, his dot was on the course and moving for 5days 8hrs – a credit and inspiration to us all.

Also a thanks to Stu Taylor for being the DotWatcher Media editor, bring the race to life for those at home.

Nice to finish on a good one – I now prepare myself to become ‘Mr DIY Man’ for the next six months – the new house project beckons!

Rods words…

Hi Chris, Alex and others

What a ride. The TD has nothing on the DD except length.  Those bogs, those stony tracks will live on long in the memory.  As will the 7km ride out of Bainbridge on the Roman road. I could hear the legions marching up behind me such I had to get out of their way.  What a feat of 2,000 year old engineering.   Later that day at the Sweet William bothy sheltering from the driving wind and rain and putting on every piece of clothing  I had I even sent my sister a message to say where I was and where I was going and wrote the same message in the book.  The sense of struggling on against the elements is one again I will not forget.

Thanks Chris a great and challenging ride.

Building Your Own Bike..?

Some words about Bike Building and the Key Parts and Components used…

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The Fatster 1, back in winter 2017/2018. I look back at this picture and think ‘all that unnecessary packaging’… possibly a downside to a self-build bike…?

I have built five further ‘Fatsters‘ for people and I’m ‘coaching’ another chap through his own self-build at the moment (summer 2020). Not that many and not enough to make a living from, but that’s not what it’s about, being serious about it  I would need insurances and other overheads. It is more about the fun of building and sharing the ‘love’ and passing on the knowledge.

You don’t need to be super clever to build up a bike, however some practical and engineering skills are a benefit, as well as an eye for detail and quality. Like with a lot of things in life, if you don’t do it properly there could be consequences…

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It’s also helpful to have a good workshop and the tools, items such as wheel truing jigs are probably going to be the most costly, other specialist tools such as hub spanners and bearing presses can all be bought for less that £20.

Doing the Research:

As mentioned the Fatster is a bike to fill a particular ‘niche’, the only thing similar on the high street is the Trek Stache (I still have a Stache 9.7). The main item of a bike-build is probably the frame. Again I did quite a lot of research in trying to ascertain the right specification. I used a supplier called ‘Workswell’, based in Shenzen, China. Almost all bicycle frames come from the far east – branded or unbranded, for example ‘Giant Bikes’ are made in Taiwan, reputedly the biggest bicycle factory in the world. At the other end of the spectrum you have the ‘Open Mould’ companies like ‘Hongfu’, ‘Dengfu’ and ‘Longteng’ (Longteng are reportedly the supplier for the ‘Ribble’ bike frames). The term ‘Open Mould’ means that it is a design that is not proprietary to a particular brand – like ‘Trek’, or ‘Cannondale’ and the ‘generic’ suppliers use them.

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Quality, Warranty and Come-back…?

The Chinese companies mentioned above usually offer a two year warranty, how easy it is to make a claim – I have no idea..? Probably not that easy… and this is perhaps were you expect to have a trade-off, between getting something cheap and getting something with high integrity. The converse is ‘branded’ bikes are expensive, but you also pay considerably for the reputation and reliability.

– Basically it’s the old adage – you pay for what you get and is that a ‘Risk’ that you are happy to manage or live with..? 

The Frame:

The Workswell WCB-M-149 29ER + Frame has been on my Fatster 1 bike for some 30 months now, it has done well over 15,000km and has been raced on ‘hard’ many times. It has however been very well looked after and maintained – more so the components, than the frame itself, which does not actually need much in the way of maintenance. I think it’s stood the test of time incredibly well, the frame weighs in at around 1375g for a large size, it’s not ‘super-weight-weeny’ light and nor should it be for a Mtb. There have been many forum discussions on ‘generic ‘ carbon frames (and components), failing or of poor quality, but from what I have seen these tend to be road bike and time-trial bike variants. ‘Workswell’ do undertake a level of strength testing and their papers can be requested when purchasing – only to a structural-strength expert they will make much sense, but it does appear that ‘they’ do something!

Wheels, Stems, Seat-posts, Handlebars and other components:

I have used various companies for all these parts, for the wheels my top place to go to for Rims and Wheels is Light Bicycle Company, they have a brilliant pick-n-mix website http://www.lightbicycle.com and I have used their 50mm wide rims on a number of own wheel builds. Like building the bike itself, wheel-building is another skill well worth mastering, so like with everything else in life nowadays, instructions and guidance can be found on ‘Youtube’! Ali Clarkson provides a great start, link  here: Ali Clarkson   That said however I suspect some professional guidance and tuition could also be of benefit… My first wheel set took me an age to do, but I got there in the end and it has been a ‘true’ running wheel all tensioned nicely and remaining that way since. There are lots of tips and techniques to watch for that will improve build-up speed, reliability and longevity.

– always grease your nipples!

My Fatster 1 is built from ‘branded’ carbon parts, mainly ‘Deda’ an Italian brand. For later ‘Fatsters’ I have used more generic ‘non-branded’ parts. Off inspection and from ride testing, these items seem to be of sufficient strength and quality, again because they are for Mtb, they tend to be more heavy-duty and durable. It is probably if you are a ‘weight-weeny’ type of person then make sure the lightweight items are up to the job.

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Components:

Keeping weight down is key and it is pleasing to see most of my Fatster Eagle 1×12 bikes come in at under 10kg. The SRAM Eagle componentry is just fantastic – either GX, X01 or if you want the ‘bling’ then the XX1 are all good. The ‘GX’ is as good as the other two, but a shade heavier, my choice would be X01 – for the carbon crank and one-piece machined cassette – a true beauty of design and machining excellence! …And keep on top of your chain changes and it to will also last – mine is still going fine at 15,000km! SRAM Eagle is simply bombproof!

My next favorite brand is ‘Hope’, made less than 30km, just down the road in Barnoldswick (or Barlick to locals!). The factory tour is an excellent thing to see, they stay ahead by innovation and reliability, not cheap, but people are prepared to pay a premium for stuff that works well and looks good – and nothing better than billet metal machinings!

Assembly:

Lots to say here, but I’ll just touch on a couple of things; I’m a big advocate of ‘wet-assembly’, branded bikes see little if any the way of grease applied to the bearings, axles etc, other than perhaps a small dollop on the freehub, a lithium grease often works well. While your at it, also make sure you use ‘Loctite’ in the right places as well – sometimes a little helps on the press-fit bottom-brackets to stop those any creaks. Finally use a torque wrench to prevent overtightening, most components have aluminium thread inserts and they can strip quite easily.

Rubber:

Tyres and tyre materials have improved so much in the last decade, everything is now getting fatter..! – gone are the 23mm race tyres – 28mm is now the new norm, much better ride, grip, rolling resistance, puncture resistance and longevity. Same for Mtbs, don’t be put off buy volume, have 3″ tyres gives you a magic carpet ride, tonnes of grip and no rolling penalties – you have to try a ‘plus’ bike! No suspension needed either, if you are after a long-distance cruiser! Wtb Ranger Light & Fast or Bontrager Chucabra (now XR2) are the tyre of choice – both great!

Wrap-up:

As a wrap-up the other thing to think about, is when buying a second-hand bike is its ‘history’. We worry about the integrity of non-branded Chinese Carbon parts, but if the bike you are buying has had a hard ‘bump’, there could well be underly issues that could cause a failure in the future. That said ‘carbon’ behaves differently to either aluminium, steel or titanium, it tends not to ‘harbour’ cracks or ‘dormant failures’, that could propagate, carbon usually fails in quite an ‘explosive’ way. I enjoyed watching Danny MacAskill test to destruction a set of carbon wheels, it is quite unbelievable what they stood up to – link here… Wheel Test

043601F6-4B21-4BB1-8560-A34555F1FB5CMy Fatster (Mk5) – its full of ‘generic’ carbon components (except the seat post which is a genuine Deda part). I like the unassuming ‘stealth’ look. I’m getting this set-up for longer outings with a Frame bag in-situ, which I have never used before. My prefered set-up is a  13l bar bag, 10l seatpost bag and a small top tube bag, and this will work for medium distance outings (4-6 days) in reasonable weather conditions. Many folk ‘festoon’ their bikes with a clutter of bags – I have counted 9 in some cases …are they all necessary..? Less is better!

Land meets Sea! – A shakedown and explore in Pula, Croatia, before we ride too and tour round Slovenia.
Remember the days when we could travel…? …Lockdown #3 – Restrictions are getting tedious for us all…!

The Borders 350 – The ‘Forgotten Mountains’

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I just love Scotland, the topography, the history, the wildlife, okay perhaps not always the weather. But if you are a bit flexible and plan your visit to align with a weather window then all the better, particularly for an activity like bike-packing – you are exposed and properly ‘in-it’ if the weather is poor, and it’s not all that nice …especially if prolonged. Maybe I’m just getting soft..?

You say Scotland to most people and they usually think of the majestic Highlands, full of dramatic mountains, picturesque lochs and intriguing glens. The ‘Borders’ however is an area which is perhaps not quite so awe inspiring, but it does have big mountains, lochs and glens and also some lush ‘softer’ landscapes and natural forests.

You should add the Borders region to a visit one day and you’ll be pleasantly surprised, it does feel like it is the ‘forgotten’ bit of Scotland.

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The Borders 350 ride, starts from the lovely market town of ‘Peebles’ on the beautiful River Tweed. It is quite accessible, but unfortunately no train line access, in fact the ride does not pass over an active train line or indeed near to a town that has a station. The whole region has quite a hidden away and inaccessible feel to it. The ride was devised by Raymond Young, living nearby he has gained a lot of trail knowledge and the route he has devised links up some impressive mountain and forest regions. It has not been around all that long and has a shorter companion ride ‘the 220’ an easier option.

I first came across it in 2018 after my first Highland Trail 550 ride – my first big bike-pack, infact first big bike-pack race. I was ‘hungry’ to do more of this sort of stuff and I had an affinity to the Southern Upland Way and the landscape through which it traverses, the Borders 350 was a circular and slightly extended variation – see map below:

Screenshot 2020-07-26 at 14.05.45

There is ‘group ride’ at the August bank holiday, however I was unable to make it in either 2018 or 2019, then as for this year it’s all been a bit unknown and I had committed to the re-scheduled Dales Divide ride on that weekend. With lockdown rules easing in Scotland on the 14th July and with a long weekend opportunity, also with good weather forecast, I kicked into action a plan to give it a go… I was not sure which one (220 or 350) as I only had 2 and half days. I plugged for the 220 and thought I’d leave the option open to switch to the big brother if I felt like doing so.

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I emailed Ray to let him know of my intentions and he sent me the latest GPX route files, I mentioned the ‘option’ and he kindly advised that the 350 is not just harder because it is longer, it is all ‘tougher’ going. I kept that thought in my head…

I asked if I could start the ride, further to the south, to save the drive and so pick up the route just north of Langholm, not far from Greensykes Bothy (which I have recently been appointed as Maintenance Officer ‘MO’ for). The set-off time was a little odd as it was straight off the back of a ‘family weekend’ away, I managed to get going at 16:10 on the Sunday – and as usual it felt lovely to just get rolling along!

I was on my ‘Fatster’ and had planned to go light ‘n’ fast, I was wanting this to get me out of my ‘lockdown slumber’, a ‘full-gas’ Independent Time Trial (ITT).

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The first 100km were quick going mainly on forest gravel roads, up through Kielder and on to the Cheviots, I thought ‘hmm’ that’s okay 100km in just over 5hrs, I was deliberating the ‘option’, as the decision point would be coming up along the Borders Ridge further on in the Cheviots, it was now dark and the weather was calm, clear and cool. I kept doing some maths and was using the similar distanced ‘Dales Divide Ride’ as a comparator – that was 47hrs ride time for some 600km / 8000m and this was 540km / 11400m – should be pretty similar eh..?

The words of Ray were sort of forgotten. I made the decision to crack-on and do the big one, in for a penny, in for pound – why not..? if all did go badly wrong there were ‘escape route’ options to get me back to the start point.

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The 350 has an extra 105km loop of the north Cheviots and then a couple of other extra loops to bump up the distance. I was breaking my ride down into 100km chunks, first chunk; around 5hrs, 2nd around 9hrs. Here the ride character would change from fast rolling ‘not so hilly gravel’ to hilly single track, some Hike-a-Bike (HaB), which all had to be worked at. Nothing much in the way of re-supply in those first 200km either, but I had plenty with me and some chaps at Hut 2 on the ridge afforded me a pie! The first town I would come to would be Jedburgh in the early afternoon, I had been riding non-stop for 22hrs and was ready for a cafe stop and to pick up some re-supplies. I then had about a further 100km to get to Peebles, which I thought would be a good point to aim for.

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The food stop was great, I was flagging and I felt like I was struggling to eat the ‘junk’ bars that I had been previously devouring. After a wholesome Cafe feed, I stocked up on baby-bells and nuts and some lovely ‘jelly sweet’s as well as some more liquids. The 40min stop was good for me and I was pleased with progress, but somewhat concerned about the remainder lying ahead 240km down, about 300km to go…

With a ITT you go as quick as you please, do it as a ‘tour’ if you wish, however I was keen to go under 3 days (the current fastest ride time), in fact, it really had to be a lot less as I was due in work on Wednesday AM and did not fancy ‘ringing-in’ with another ‘cock-un-bull’ excuse – I do have a very good and understanding work boss though – very important on these occasions, similarly for the domestic boss situation as well, but I had earned significant ‘brownie points’ for this one!

The next sections followed a lot of Scotland’s existing long distance trails, I always like riding these as they take in lots of interesting points of interest (POIs). Like this odd door in the forest…

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I passed by another bike-packer and stopped for a short chat, he was doing the Great North Trail, heading up to his hometown of Edinburgh, he was pretty well the first Mtber that I had seen so far on my journey – everywhere is so quiet in the Borders. This ‘softer’ section between the towns, was in fact quite tough, lots of smaller, but no less steep hills and some tough H-a-B, through a couple of overgrown sections. I was soon on the SUW again and heading up high on to the Three Brethren cairns – famous Mtb country again, but still no one seen, or passed in the early evening. The wind along Minch Moor was punchy and right in my face, it was cooler and time to layer up in readiness for the night shift, I was keen to get past Peebles, possibly a take-away too, however it was still 30kms off and another 400m climb and some mountain track.

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The descent into Peebles is a ‘monster’ about 6km, some rough rocks and some screaming grass, lights on full as it was now past 10pm, it was a ‘hoot’ flying down into civilisation again. Spirits soon dropped when I found no take-away around or open, so I passed-on quietly through – the whole place had gone to bed! I also passed through the normal ‘start-point’ for the ride, which was just slightly off the road. I decided to head on into Cardrona Forest and look to find a bivvy location in there, hoping that there would be no midges! A spot soon came up, not as flat as I would have liked, but it had soft pine needles and a nice cosy feel to, it would be ideal. A routine of eating / degunging / getting set-up for sleepy ensured, after 20min and a quick teeth clean I was off to sleep – and no midges! I planned to sleep until first light light around 04:30; that is a pretty decent rest by race standards, but I deserved it as I had been on the go for 32hrs.

I awoke to the birdsong at 05:00, a bit later than planned, but not fussed, even though it was not a race, I had been managing to keep it ‘feeling that way’ – full-gass / no-faff / press-on! A big climb would warm me up and although a little jaded to start with I soon started to feel real good and the weather looked that way too!

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About 200km lay between me and the finish, I was hoping that that would be 16-18hrs riding… After the big climb there was a techy decent and then the track gave way to heathery-nothing-ness – time to push, pace had dropped to about 3kmph and this is what chewed the time up, but I don’t mind HaB, in fact I rather like it as it stretches the legs and gives the big quads a rest. I was heading south to St Mary’s Loch, then it goes back north over the highest ground – just shy of 800m on a mountain called ‘Dollar’.

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The River Tweed was crossed again after coming off the long mountain section of Dollar, it was tough going up there, lots of careful navigation needed and thankful of the clear conditions. Off Dollar was another ‘screaming’ grass decent for 600m – it was hard just holding on down here!

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Moffat was my next objective at 55km, after that was just a further 45km to the end and it was around 1pm. The road signs to Moffat said 20 miles, but our route was not the line of least resistance, we climbed to a wind farm, followed a ‘mountain gravel motorway’ for some more km and then onto the ‘HaB of all HaBs’! I remember reading a bit in Ray’s route notes on the section before the Devils Beef Tub. I would be lying if I said it was not tough, it was trackless soft long grass pushing for 5km – a bit of a ‘low point’ for me came up, I was suffering with the heat and often had to shoulder the bike on the steep bits, I spent about 2hrs battling this 5km and felt ‘battered’ coming off the last top “Annandale’, even the descent to Moffat was painful, me feet were sore and I was keen to ‘air’ them off.

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I got some more cheese, ice cream and coke, the crappy McColls there didn’t have much else. I stopped after town in a quiet spot and had a 20min rest and eat before the last push…

The route climbs high again following the SUW, over into Ettrick Valley, past the lovely Pawhope Bothy. I checked the map here and there was 10km of road and 25km of forest gravel – yippee. The forest soon appeared and I enjoyed the climb on the gravel and the re-appearance of lots of wildlife, I had not mentioned this but I had seen quite a few things and night time is often the best for the likes of owls, badgers and foxes.

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It was now dark and the bugs were really annoying as the flew to the light of my head torch, an attack of the ‘sleepies’ also came so I decided to get on some hard house music to get me out of the never ending forest, the trail disappeared too

– it felt like a good ‘old school’ Adventure Race in the ‘Magic Forest’, were things ‘happen’ and people get lost…

I would pass near to Greensykes bothy, shortly before exiting, but it seemed to take an age and my ‘route-line’ was twisting around all-over the place, it seemed like a joke route in my spangled confused state, but I was loving it!

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My car was at Km195 – so not far away now… I eventually exited the magic forest and headed down to the hamlet of Jamestown and so to the road-head and then a down-hill whizz to the car. My plan was to sleep for a couple of hours and then drive back, stopping again if necessary. I reached the car and another car was there, it was 12:30, I thought it the Police at first, then the voice said hello / well done / its Ray… It was so nice to see someone and I was really touched at the gesture of him driving down from Edinburgh to find me and better still provide a beer and some soup – so happy! he was too! – pleased that his route had been given a good solid ride. We chatted for a while and kept saying it was deserved of more attention and I commented on it being as hard as the HT550 mile-for-mile.

My ride time was confirmed as 2days 8hrs 29mins, I was more than happy with this, taking around 16hrs off the previous time. …And more importantly for me, it has helped get rid of my ‘bread belly’ – another bi-product of working from home and lockdown (you may laugh!!), I took to baking bread on a daily basis, and who can resist the smell of fresh bread..?

It felt good to press-on and ride hard during this outing as well as to be at one with nature and appreciating the wild landscapes that you pass through. This is all part of the attraction for me and draws me back to mountains and forests.

Post ride musings and the other ‘thing’ that happened just after the ride…. [I’ll add this in shortly…]

C2C Cycle / Reivers Route Combo – A Top-Notch Adventure Ride!

IMG_1524Coast to Coast and back.

A year has passed since I did this lovely adventure ride, back in Aug 2019. I was looking back through and saw some photos from the ride and had some time to spare and decided to write a few words about it.

I have to say, I never find ‘road’ based rides as fulfilling or as adventurous as those off-road…

However, what I did not realise was quite how much NCN ‘trail’ there was on these two routes and those routes, being the C2C route and the Reivers route, both emanating from the same coastal locations – Whitehaven on the west and Tynemouth on the east. I previously knew about the ‘border-crossing’ off-road section of the Reivers and that could be avoided it by a longer road loop, but what I did not plan for was the miles of ‘cinder’ track into and out of Newcastle .

The Cannondale Evo was well out of its comfort zone on this ride, which I guess added to the thrill of it all.

This ride was a ‘spur-of-the-moment’ thing and I am a big advocate of these adventures… In a busy life it is hard to fit everything in, often the only way to do something, is just grab the moment and go for it. If I was being more serious about the ride I would have done perhaps a little more research, but hey-ho it’s off to Penrith we go! Heading up there after a long day at work (also perhaps not the best preparation), but I was itching to get out for a long ride after being on holiday for two weeks with no cycle… Torture!

IMG_1523Whitehaven.

To save the extra travel, I decided to pick up the C2C route in Penrith, which is a hell of a lot easier to get to than Whitehaven, so it made good sense.

Screenshot 2020-07-13 at 17.00.58The ‘Combo’ and Strava Log:  http://www.strava.com/activities/2585087737 [532km – 7200m]

Since some time has passed since I did this ride, I will just recall some of highlights and lowlights that stick with me (also known as ‘those moments’)…

Highlights:

  • Riding over the Pennines into the tranquil evening was a real pleasure, warm & still and lots of bird song
  • Seeing the lights of the towns and cities on the east coast from the spine of England
  • Whizzing along down the deserted cinder tracks into the city of Newcastle
  • Having to micro-navigate through the urban setting in a strange nightime foggy drizzle
  • Seeing dozens of ‘urban foxes’
  • The start of the ‘new day’ on the approach to Kielder
  • Chips in Carlisle, then Pizza in Whitehaven

Lowlights:

  • The ‘root’ bumps along the old rail line cycle track out of whitehaven ‘smashing’ my hands, also the bike handle-bars and road back set-up not absorbing the impacts.

I can’t recall anymore ‘lowlights’. It is odd how you often forget the ‘bad’ bits of an activity or event, it always happens with us types.. and I guess that’s why we keep going back for more…

The Cannondale Evo went well, its a 2012 model with an early Di2 set-up that works well and has been pretty reliable (after a few initial cable routing issues), I still can’t believe I did not get a puncture, a real testament to the tubeless ‘Schwalbe Ones’. I have two tyre brands I always seem to defer to on my bikes Schwalbe and WTB, both brands making good tyres, suitable for fast-rolling, hard-wearing endurance stuff. This combo loop saw about 22hrs of ‘ride time’ and 27:10hrs elapsed time, covering some 532km and 7200m. I did have a sleep for a couple of hours in a quaint village sometime after leaving the metropolis of Newcastle and I had three decent food stops of about 30 minutes each, not sure were the other hour and half went to – probably a bit of faffing!

To the present day – [mid July 2020]

So as we are now just past Day 100 of the UK covid regime, we are now all allowed to do more stuff and go places, but still being sensible about distancing, hygiene and group sizing etc. Importantly Scotland opens up for ‘wild-camping’ – so time to start planning the next adventure ride …I really quite fancy the Borders 350 route…?

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The Wuhan Project Isolation Archive…

FA791EE6-6AB5-4992-B9E7-121FE3996341Lambs on the River Ribble Bank

Its March – Spring time in full flow – Lets remind ourselves its not all doom and gloom!

In a few years time we’ll look back on this period, questioning did it really happen..? Were we really prisoners in our own homes? unable to see friends or family, schools closed, and a list of restrictions as long as your arm…

This is a short Lockdown Chronicle, or my Wuhan Project diaries… 

I’m sure that you’ve got your own memories of this period and maybe your own diary…? I will keep adding to the story every few days.

Little would we know that a virus that emanated from a ‘wet’ food market in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of 2019, would lead to the shutting down of most of the ‘developed world’ some 10 weeks later. The effects of the Coronavirus or Corvid-19 as it is also known have moved at a very fast pace, some nations being almost dismissive of it one week, are then in a state of sudden direction change and strict lockdown the following week – the UK being one of those countries. By mid-March, Europe has now become the centre of this outbreak, with Italy, Spain and France being worst affected in that order.

Before the Lockdown – The Last Escape… Go North to Big Wide Open Spaces!

As the Coronavirus was starting to get a grip of society in Europe and seeing Italy, Spain and France going into lock down, I decided to seize the opportunity of a ‘last’ big-ride before the UK was in the same state. I had hoped for a Highlands foray, all the more so because I had been planning to attempt a Winter Highland Trail 550, however the conditions over the winter months were never that favourable and an attempt would have been pretty futile, not to mention miserable and probably quite dangerous as well in the shockingly poor weather – so perhaps save that one for another year – it’ll still be there…! So for this big ride, I decided it will be from the door and basically just pedal north to the Scottish borders. My loose plan was to spend the night at the Chalk Memorial Bothy (see pictures), this would be about 250km, mostly backroads, but a few trail sections as well. I had visited this bothy before on my Southern Upland Way rides, it was just a plain hut then, with no character, unloved and pretty scruffy, however in the last couple of years it has been transformed, lovingly so and has had a Dowling stove added for warmth and some caring artwork added to the interior walls, making it feel like a little library, a haven of warmth and comfort in the forests and mountains.

As the journey progressed, my objective destination was looking like it would be a late arrival (midnight-ish), so I plugged for a deviation into the Lowther Hills and this would take me past another little bothy – Kettleton Byre, I had visited this bothy before but not stayed at it, more importantly it was 40km nearer and as it happened it turned out to be a perfect peaceful stopover. A small mixture of photos are above, unfortunately it does not capture all of the wildlife I saw – many Red Kites, a Badger, several Deer, several Hare’s, a lovely Hedgehog and a couple of Owls. The following day I would cycle another 100km or so to meet the family at Dalbeattie, for a further couple of days of walks and exploring.

The daily updates on the news were now hinting a change of track by the government, so far trying to ‘contain’ the virus by tracking known sources, instead it was to move to ‘delay’ and this would mean the introduction of far stricter measures, akin to Italy, Spain and France …i.e.  A Lockdown.

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Apart from nature continuing on as normal, normal life for those in the developed world (i.e. ‘us’) has changed beyond recognition. Governments are telling people to ‘Stay at Home’, this message is loud and clear. The less contact there is, the less the spread of the virus and unlike other flu virus’s (even man-flu!), Covid-19 is much more prolific in its transmission and as yet there is no vaccine available. Schools are closed and all but essential work is permitted, or to work from home if that is possible (like my good self). Strict measures are in place for leaving your home, thankfully in the UK you are permitted to leave home for exercise once a day and then being careful, keeping it local and trying to keep a distance from another people. New terms enter our daily vocabulary, such as; ‘social distancing’ and ‘furloughed’ (an arrangement for companies to send workers home and seek reimbursement from the government), oh and yes – ‘Joe Wicks’ now a household name!

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Some thoughts on my mind after that last long ride…

After hearing the UK news and reading recent stories, do you not think that we are dealing with this at a ‘micro level’, perhaps it’s all we can do..? Governments of the developed world, large businesses and society in general have all been brought to their knees by Covid-19. But is Covid-19 the problem or mankind itself? We have taken from this planet like no other species – land, oceans and sky are all polluted, unsustainable population growth and consumption. Is this Mother Nature’s warning shot? Nature has no conscience, it will do what it has to do. Life comes and goes on this planet on a macro scale. Hopefully after all the bad, some good will come, not just for ourselves, but for the planet as well. Maybe easy for me to say, as I’m not a health worker, or in the ‘at risk’ category.  

But it does make one think… We are all just ‘specks’ on this planet…

Alex Pilkington  23/03/20

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Our world has paused for Covid-19, the roads are empty, the tourist hotspots in the towns and cities are empty, the skies are empty, the shops are empty of loo roll… and the list goes on…IMG_3635Lockdown Day 3 – Emptiness abounds.

Living out in the ‘sticks’ in the Yorkshire Dales seems to have its advantages in these strange times. Our local patch for our daily exercise is a wilderness playground for which I am thankful and the enforced restrictions just mean that we will have to explore and discover new things on ‘our patch’.

Since the UK lock down, which was enforced on March 23rd, following a very ‘Churchill-esque ‘ type speech from Boris, life seems to have slowed down for us here in the Dale and it gives us time to appreciate the ‘little things’ in life. Also an upside for us, is seeing the weather improve, timed as the spring equinox passes. This is very uplifting, following what has been the dullest and wettest winter for a long time and possibly on record, with upper Ribblesdale seeing flood after flood and damage to walls, footbridges and animal habitats.

IMG_3656The 30m footbridge swept off its parapet by the flooding of Storm Ciara.

Going through the photos and writing is a great way to relive and reflect on your adventures, it really is quite therapeutic, especially doing it when the weather is poor and getting outside is not a priority option.

IMG_3640Lock down – Day 4 – Thieves Moss, a short distance from home. Very grateful to be able to go where you feel most alive!

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Lockdown Day – 6

What to do at the weekend…? It was so strange to see our village deserted on a Saturday morning. Come April time and the longer days sees the return of the ‘dreaded’ Three Peakers! They come in there 1000’s to do the route. It is a ‘cash-cow’ for all the charities and while we are supportive of people doing things for good causes and people experiencing the great outdoors; it is the sheer volume that causes problems for the community and the environment. So seeing the village quiet and peaceful is an unusual and welcome sight. 

[add Horton Picture here …but can’t find it!!!]

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Lockdown Day – 8 – Thoughts while out on my daily exercise ride…

Wildlife flourishes unaware of Hooman’s predicament.

Enjoying the deserted roads on my daily ride.

What do the Swedes know that the rest of us don’t..? 

Is there going to be an end to this way of life anytime in the near future..?

But I am curious of the Swedish Covid-19 approach…

I believe it will ‘win out’ in the long run. They have opted for no strict lockdown, some guidance measures are in place and the older and ‘at risk’ community are advised to isolate. Meanwhile the remaining populous carefully carries on day-to-day life and over-time it is thought that a ‘herd immunity’ may build, with more people developing the antibodies to protect themselves and the population. Another factor to help the Swedes, is that they are known to be a ‘Social Responsible’ nation – they live life by a good code, doing good by themselves, their neighbours and their nation, perhaps not quite the same can be said for the UK and other countries…? Also ‘we’ are all still learning about this new virus…  I personally don’t think that one can hide from the virus, no better than one can hide from a tsunami, earthquake or other act from Mother Nature..! …and then one has to come out of hiding at some point, surely..?   …the ‘flat curve’ scenario can not go on indefinitely… (i.e. months and months). 

Time will tell…

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Lockdown Day – 10  Keeping Occupied, Happy and Productive…

Things to do and keep us busy… Tee-shirt making, lots of reading (Bothy Journal, Bike-Packing Journal), Spoon making, Going on a camp trip to our backfield.

We also find out that some family who live close by have the virus, our cousin is admitted to hospital. Worrying times.

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I don’t know who wrote this, but the words are so true.. ♥️

We fell asleep in one world, and woke up in another.

Suddenly Disney is out of magic,

Paris is no longer romantic,

New York doesn’t stand up anymore,

the Chinese wall is no longer a fortress, and Mecca is empty.

Hugs & kisses suddenly become weapons, and not visiting parents & friends becomes an act of love.

Suddenly you realise that power, beauty & money are worthless, and can’t get you the oxygen you’re fighting for.

The world continues its life and it is beautiful. It only puts humans in cages. I think it’s sending us a message:

“You are not necessary. The air, earth, water and sky without you are fine. When you come back, remember that you are my guests. Not my masters.”

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Lockdown – Day 11 – BBC News Reads:

Levels of air pollutants and warming gases over some cities and regions are showing significant drops as coronavirus impacts work and travel.

Researchers in New York told the BBC their early results showed carbon monoxide mainly from cars had been reduced by nearly 50% compared with last year.

Emissions of the planet-heating gas CO2 have also fallen sharply.

But there are warnings levels could rise rapidly after the pandemic.

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Lockdown – Day 14 – Two weeks in…

IMG_143597% Full moon – taken from the summit of Penyghent with a 40 x zoom.

There is a super moon this month, 15% bigger than normal and the forecast is for clear skies – so this may mean my daily exercise shifting into the evening..! Other big news is the Prime Minister’s virus condition has worsened and he is now in Intensive Care – poor old Boris! and not a good time while the country struggles, hopefully he’ll pull through quickly …most do, but some don’t… The rate of infections and C-19 is about 1% and the death rate is now nearing its likely peak of 500-800 a day (similar to the numbers in Italy, Spain and France), hopefully the lockdown measures are now going to show results and this figure hopefully dropping. Italy is showing signs of being over the worst of it.

Also its haircut time, as I’m starting to get overgrown, not sure wether to go for the Covid Shave… or the Covid Cut – I elect for the cut first, if that goes wrong then the shave! Fortunately it seemed to go okay, however I was never shown a mirror for the back!

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Lockdown – Day 17 – The Long Good Friday!

…And the start of the Easter Weekend.

..And it would have also been the start of the Dales Divide Race! – Starting on Easter Friday at Arnside pier, the ride goes on a mixed off-road route to Scarborough town and back, 600km all in! There was going to be a good show of riders this year, with as many as 100, from across the country and of all abilities and experiences. Something that we were all looking forward to, after what had seemed like a ‘lockdown’ winter, many of us hungry for an adventure ride… As it happens the conditions and forecast were looking perfect again – last year it was dry, dusty and warm.

No Dales Divide this year though, does not really fit within the guidelines of your daily exercise and the ‘stay at home’ ethos that we now live our lives by…

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Lockdown – Day 20 – Easter Bunny Time

IMG_1473Happy Lockdown Easter Everyone! (Bunny photo taken by Mrs P.)

The bank holiday is now in full swing, except that no one is off holidaying; everywhere that would normally be busy on a sunny Easter weekend remains deserted, silent, its almost unimaginable to see. People are having Easter ‘staycations’, some people have transformed their gardens and have created their own little haven holiday spot. We have also been busy getting to grips with the grass cutting and other outdoor tidying jobs. In the ‘top field’ we have made a camping spot and have enjoyed some damper breads, sausage sizzles and a couple of nights under the starry skies.

IMG_3851Top Field – Ponty-Pandy Camp Spot.

Now with the Dales being much less visited and much less disturbed, the wildlife seems to be flourishing and we have enjoyed seeing the Lapwings, Oystercatchers, Barn Owls, Toads, Hedgehogs, Deer and much other wildlife on our doorstep. This is probably the same across much of rural Britain as the Hooman’s ‘Stay Home’. This is good for nature.

The other good news is, our cousin is now out of the Intensive Care Unit, he was on a ventilator and it was describe as ‘touch and go’ at times. The hospital have said that he is getting stronger.

Some of the wildlife we have come across on our daily exercises.

 

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Lockdown – Day 21 – Three Weeks In – Time to Reflect Some More…

Its something that you don’t always write about in a ‘ride log’, but quite often when you are out there alone in the mountains and particularly at night time and when you are most tired, you realise just how ‘small’ you are. With mountains and stars watching over you, one’s thoughts often drift and how ‘we’ mankind can continue our lives and protect the planet from further, or irreversible damage. It seems that all nations, especially those that command most power have little regard for these aspects, all the thinking is short-term and ‘what’s in it for me’ approach.

Earlier this year I decided to enter the GBDuro, a 2000km mixed off-road route from Land’s End to John ‘O’ Groats, I was successful in being rostered to ride in this years race, starting 27th June and I was quite excited about it. As much as the race and the challenge of it, it was seeing and exploring new areas and untrodden paths – this is always a big attraction for me! The guys that organise it have strong values and ethos for the protection of the planet and the ‘way we do things’ as riders and bike-packers –

Sometimes a ‘dichotomy’. 

We all want the opportunity to go good places don’t we! We all see the pictures that others post! However we are lucky in the UK, as there is a very good variety of terrains, but lets face it we are all drawn to other cool places – Europe or beyond and invariably these require a flight, and flying is pretty CO2 intense. So the GBDuro organisation set out as a ‘no-fly ride’. Quite contentious maybe..? meaning many foreigners are unable to take part, but I guess someone has to start this way of thinking…? As bikers we like to think we are environmentally friendly – but are we really?

I like this quote that the GBDuro team use, it also prompted me to look at more of Rachel Carson’s work, which is pretty amazing considering the era and the country in which she lived i.e. the USA in the 50’s and 60’s, in full swing of their gas-guzzling development.

We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the road in Robert Frost’s famous poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth super-highway on which we progress with great speed, but at the end lies disaster. The other fork in the road – the one ‘less traveled by’ – offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of our earth.”

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, 1962

Many sporting event’s that have taken place for decades and are part of our lives perhaps now need to be re-thought – maybe in the ‘Post Corvid World’..? For example the Tour-de-France, imagine the carbon footprint of that? – a competition of one of the cleanest methods of transportation paradoxically generates an ugly footprint. A 2013 estimate put the Tour’s total carbon imprint at 341,000 tonnes! Food for thought..? it is the biggest sporting event in the world.

That’s enough reflecting for a little while, but the ‘new-normal’ world needs to re-think things and look seriously at the ‘other fork in the road’!

Here are some photo’s from today’s walk…

Surprised to see the Hare take to the wall top.

Why have I got a bucket on my head…?

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Lockdown – Day 24

The  big news is the Government is extending the current lockdown by a further 3 weeks. We now seem to have adapted this new-normal life quite nicely, however there are a lot of things we miss.

The dry and sunny weather continues, its hardly rained since this all started and the forecast for the foreseeable future also looks dry, dominated by high pressure and an easterly weather system. The lovely weather is making me itch for a bike-packing trip, which will have to wait, being constrained is not great, but being constrained in the Dales is not all that bad. With the trails and terrain all in a super-dry state I am taking the opportunity to do some ‘cheeky-trail’ exploration, also no walkers around at the moment. The hills are in fact empty of people, except for the odd farmer…

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IMG_3924Whernside Summit and Ribblehead Viaduct.

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Lockdown – 4 Weeks in – Enjoying the different pace of life and the super weather…

Where has the last four weeks gone? With the lack of routine the days seem to merge and how life as changed for us, I mentioned before about noticing the wildlife flourishing. There are other ‘silver linings’ to this situation, for us being out in the countryside it has allowed us to connect to nature more, both with frequent local walks and garden camp outs, enjoying the night skies and observing the Lyrids (meteor shower). It feels that life has been ‘striped back’ to us just doing the essentials to satisfy our daily needs. The longest car journey that I have been on in the last month, is a 20 mile round trip to take food to relatives who are isolating, we have not had to fuel the car in weeks.

Also since the start of all this the weather has been consistently dry and sunny, amplifying the spring time has flourish, we notice the trees are in bud, the daffodils are dying, but other flowers are appearing, the hawthorn hedgerows, the bluebells are a  favourite, but also the orchids and primrose that grow wild in the limestone soil.

I couldn’t help myself by noticing that Scotland is experiencing the same good weather as the rest of the UK, I have to say that I am feeling a little ‘constrained’ – not grumbling about it all, but as a ‘free spirit’ the draw of a Highland bike-pack adventure is taunting! …to visit some new bothies and explore new places. However that is still not possible and will not be so for the foreseeable future, so instead we are making do with some painting –  ‘bothy pebbles’, it is very therapeutic!

IMG_3980If I can’t go and visit a bothy, then why not paint one..?

Mid-April – Local walks and more back field camps. (Night photo credit R. Moore)

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Lockdown – Day 30 – John Muir Day

Tuesday 21st April is John Muir day. John Muir is a Scottish/American naturalist and now has a Trust that helps manage parts of our wonderful landscape. I became a member of the trust last year, after the organiser of the Highland Trail 550, asked riders to join, as a good gesture, since we pass through land and use trails managed by the trust.

IMG_1664Hawthorn edged lane – With every walk in nature one receives far more than one seeks…

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Lockdown – Day 35 – Five Weeks In

Lots of days starting to feel like ‘Groundhog Day’, it’s important to try to keep to our usual routine, albeit in a slightly more relaxed way. During the week its nice not to have to get up at 05:20 and do the 80min drive to work, but I usually rise an hour later and get up to let the chickens out, make ourselves a cup of tea and get set-up for work, starting that a 07:00. Working from home is a routine that I have been used to before, but usually only for 1 day a week, doing it 4-5 days a week is vastly different. I work as an Aerospace Safety Engineer working on development projects, the current work is particularly interesting as it is a solar powered aircraft – testing the bounds of technology, with every day a learning day. Moulding this work into a home environment is not easy, I am easily distracted, especially when its sunny…

 

IMG_4094Bothy 18 – Greensykes (I help the MO to look after this one) …and one day I hope to be a bothy MO – Maintenance Officer!

 

Lockdown – Day 37 – Lets talk Bike-Packing…

I take a lot of inspiration and information from the Bikepacking.com website, I have also signed-up and receive their lovely Journal, its my only magazine, not just a little ‘nice-to-have’, but also a way of giving a little back to the cause. At the moment Bike-packing is still quite ‘grass-routes’, its interesting that as I have transitioned through sports, almost all have been similar ‘grass routes’ stuff, or at least started out that way – Fell Running, Mountain Marathon, Mountain Bike Orienteering, Ultra-Running, Adventure Racing and now Bike-Packing. Some of the sports in that list are now no longer niche, the best example is probably Ultra-running – back in 2007, there were only a handful of races, the pinnacle of them being the Ultra Tour de Mont Blanc, now there are hundreds – its over commercialised – with everyone wanting a part of it and offering a service – no matter how obscure or  bizarre – we would never of expected companies to offer a bespoke Guided Bob Graham service would we..?

This is the current issue under discussion in the bike-packing community:

Isn’t bikepacking getting too commercialized? Why do you publicize routes? Don’t we want fewer people on trails? And what exactly is bikepacking? Isn’t that just a new word for touring?” Those are just a few of the questions we’re asked regularly. To answer such queries into our motives, here’s our mission statement, and why we think the growth of bikepacking is one of the best things to happen to both riders and the bike industry…

Worth a read yourself:-  https://bikepacking.com/plog/manifesto/

Lots of other good-stuff to while-away a spare ‘lock-down’ hour or two….

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Lockdown – Day 40 – Its the weekend!

An ever so slight routine shift differentiates the weekend from the week. We (well me) still gets up pretty early, especially if the sun shines – like it is doing again, the main thing is no work and no 8am team dial-in to get ready for – yippeeee! Apart from a few walks I had not done much in the way of exercise during the week, so I was itching to get a reasonable ride in. The government guidance on the permitted exercise is not that prescriptive and I have decided to get a 3 hour ride in and head north to the small lake of Semer Water. It is always quiet up here, but for a sunny Saturday it seemed like it was just me. Not a single sign of human life at Ribblehead either, normally buzzing on a Saturday morning. I was please to ride a new trail around Wether Fell, which was a little section of single track, leading to this spot…

IMG_4076Slightly out of this Dale – Wensleydale

IMG_4124Sundays Ride with George

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Lockdown – 6 Weeks In

The usual C-19 stuff is in the news, key points are that the UK now has the second highest death toll, passing that of France, Spain and Italy. Lots of criticism of the government going on in the media and social media, citing both short term issues in dealing with the outbreak in its early stages and the longer term issues associated with the under-funding of the NHS.

I do feel strongly that the UK has another big problem developing, a lot of emerging issues are linked to the wealth gap that is forming – inequality is very detrimental to a healthy well-balanced and content society. Take for example Northern Europe, like the Scandinavia countries and also countries like Australia and New Zealand, which have a much better balance of wealth and ‘people power’ and as a result a much more contented and happy society. Did you know that about half the ‘UK’ is owned by the ‘landed gentry’ and foreign oligarchs etc.

Never mind all that…

IMG_2100The Full Moon is forming nicely this month – Full on May 8th

One thing I do know is that I am liking the ‘simple life’ we are now living! But some days do feel odd because of the massive routine change.

Oxenber Wood – Is looking very rich, with an Ocean of Flowers –  Like a big ol’ hug from mother nature is this!

IMG_2090A pair of Meadow Pipits on high ground on Moughton Moor.

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Lockdown – Day 45 – A very warm day and VE Day preparations…

Well a day off work today to extend the bank holiday weekend… A bit of an extended excursion on the Mtb today, feel like I’m going down with ‘lockdown fatigue’ and need to stretch the local patch into the next Dale a little… So with it I planned a route to explore some shooting huts to the north side of Wensleydale, stunning moors, but with a feeling that one was definitely on a Grouse Shooting Estate – love them or hate them..? I’m not biased, but I don’t like the idea of toffs paying to shoot, some say it helps the local economy and has other benefits maybe..? Here are some pictures and a couple of the huts are unlocked and would make for good ‘overnighters’

IMG_4145Gravel, its better than bog I suppose!

IMG_4153My mouth felt very similar to this!

…So to VE Day preparations, we have planned a bit of fun for kids of the hamlet:-

VE Day Paper Aircraft Fly Past Competition…

Hope that you are all designing a serious flyer!

Here are the rules:
1. It has to be paper only.
2. No kerosene.
3. No engines.
4. Just a paper plane folded from a sheet of A4 paper and the skills to throw it further than anyone else.
5. You get four attempts  (12:00 midday and then 18:00) and your best flight will count. Practice flights at other times are permitted, however ATC permission, maybe required if more than one aircraft is in the air at any one time.
6. The distance shall be recorded in metric metres and shall be the final resting place.
7. A judge may be brought in to resolve any disputes.
8. Winning prizes will be award for
– Distance
– Flight Aerobatics
– Appearance
– Livery

Finally –

Good luck flyers and get to it!

Please brief this on to your squadron teams – Roger Wilco Over and Out!

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Lockdown – Day 46 – VE Day

Legs tired, which is good and I can settle into an ‘easy’ day of relaxing, and poignant to remember the World Wars and those who suffered and gave their lives, to enable us to have ours. A life they had was totally different to the safe and cosseted lives that we all generally now live, in the developed world; though not necessarily a better one! Life is far busier, interconnected and complex.

The hamlet in which we lived enjoyed an ‘over-the-wall’ type party, so nice to chat and catch up and enjoy the warm weather together, but not-together!

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Lockdown – Day 47 –  Up very early to Capture the Moment…

AB3252A4-D917-46C1-9A91-9292F46AB81ELone Tree on Sulber Limestone Pavements (Photo credit R. Pilkington)

3DA752AC-BB51-491A-A32E-6489F58903F2Bikes resting, Penyghent on fire.  (Photo credit R. Pilkington)

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Lock down – Day 50 – Easement on Restrictions…

Boris addresses the nation and introduces some incremental lifting of the restrictions. Different advice is in place for Wales and Scotland – stricter, as usual it is not all clear at first and it will take a few days for the guidance to be clarified, it does mean that ‘exercise’ and where you do it, is now relaxed. Places like the Lake District will have to brace themselves for a ‘mass-influx’…

So rolling back to day 1 of this Lockdown, my thought was you can’t hide from this virus. This is nature in action, nature has no conscience. The lockdown has been massively difficult for people and we are not through it yet by any stretch, however we are now beginning to see what the signs of the ‘new normal’ will be like. For the foreseeable future and until a vaccine is widely available, the pre-covid times will not be back with us, many aspects of our lives will be affected and will be new and different, everything from our work and school to the way we travel and the way we interact with others.

I will wrap up the Wuhan Project Lockdown Archive here and maybe just add some ‘key snippets’ to this, as we continue along the Covid journey (which won’t be short one). I have enjoyed living and writing it, I never used to be massively ‘into’ writing about my activities, but I now find it quite satisfying and fun and it allows a second chance to remember ‘the moment’.

I hope that all who have glimpsed through this, have found it an okay read, I think I will enjoy going back to it in ten, twenty years time, thinking did this period really happen..?

So yep – take care, be sensible, kind and respectful to all and keep adventuring and pushing yourself. Take a look back every so often and just feel grateful to be able to do this sort of thing..!

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