Category Archives: Scottish National Trail

The Scottish National Trail: Part 8 – Fort Augustus to Cluanie

A ride of two halves. A couple of days after the last section (long enough for a few days recovery), I used our Fort Augustus holiday cottage as the handy base for the next section of the Scottish National Trail. Although I had initially planned on separate sections between Fort Augustus and Cluanie, and then Cluanie to Morvich, I wondered about combining the two, since I am not in this corner of the world often, and it would be good to tick off a few miles.

The weather for our holiday week was dry but breezy and not particularly warm. Still, you can’t be too greedy in April, so this would do, and so I headed out early, leaving the understanding Mrs W to entertain the boys.

The first section from Fort Augustus was predictably easy – westwards along the canalside path following the Great Glen Way and then along the old railway line on the south side of Loch Oich, before heading round the head of the loch and into the forest above Invergarry. Good forestry roads allowed some quick miles to be ticked off down to the farm at Greenfield and then across the narrows of Loch Garry and on to the public road – apparently the longest dead end public road in the country.

As expected, the turning off the road a mile or so west of Kingie marked an abrupt end to the fast miles. The footpath up and over the shoulder of Mam na Seilg was obvious and fairly well made, but damp in places and generally just too steep or rough to ride for any great length. Ride a few hundred metres, walk a few hundred metres, repeat. The descent was little faster – interspersed with boulders and rocky slabs it was reasonable rideable, but I had my head dialled to full on mincing mode, and opted to walk more than I should have. I had not passed anybody for miles, and this was not the time for a silly spill. The lower section gradually flattened to a heathery and grassy valley bottom – more rideable but little faster.

No sooner had I waded across the River Loyne (mercifully low after a few dry weeks) and squelched along the bank on the other side, than the path headed sharply upwards again – rocky climbing (again generally too steep or loose to ride) over Creag Liathais. The summit plateau was relatively flat and allowed for better riding on a good, obvious path, before a short, enjoyable descent down to the what is left of the road to Loch Loyne – the old “Road to the Isles.” Apparently in dry months, turning east down the road allows the old bridges to be visible in the loch which was formed when the glen was dammed for a hydro scheme, but today I was turning north west for the short fast run down to the A87 at Cluanie – slowed only by a stinking westerly headwind, and a huge herd of deer brazenly blocking the road.

I rolled up to the inn at Cluanie way behind schedule. Having already read the route guide for the next section to Morvich, I suspected that the riding would be no quicker, and given that on current pace I was likely to be an hour late for my scheduled wife-driven taxi ride home, I elected to put my feet up with a coffee at the Inn.

Curiosity got the better of me as I waited for my lift home though, and I rode up the first mile of the next section on An Caorann Mor towards the Alltbeithe Hostel. A stiff climb on a good wide path suggested easy riding, but the route guide and the narrowing alongside a burn on the OS map suggests otherwise, and that boggy fun will be saved for another day.

Another short section ticked off – good views, barely a soul in sight all day and still an enjoyable day out in the hills.

Fort Augustus to Cluanie

Scores on the doors:

Distance: 57.5km
Height Climbed: 1,219m
Average speed: 13.6kph
2 hours for the first 40km, 2 hours for the next 20km

The Scottish National Trail: Part 7 – Kingussie to Fort Augustus

After the easy logistics of the last section of the National Trail, the section to Fort Augustus looked a bit trickier, with the finish being a long drive from the start, and miles from a train station. A holiday cottage for the week in Fort Augustus solved that issue though, and I was duly turfed out of the car in Kingussie, to leave my wife and children to finish the drive up on their own.

The first few miles out of Kingussie were on what looked like a relatively new and well signposted walking trail, climbing through the woods towards Loch Gynack. Unfortunately the awkwardly placed stone steps meant that whilst this would make an interesting descent, it was an impossible climb in places, unless your surname is MacAskill. At least when Loch Gynack came into view, the singletrack improved to that well drained, pine needle covered stuff which is so common in the Cairngorms. On approaching Newtonmore, a “wildcat” trail offered the possibility of singletrack through managed woods, but unfortunately this did mean more gates per metre than even the worst sections of the West Highland Way. Ride, dismount, unchain, open, close, re-chain, remount, repeat. No wildcats spotted either. Harrumph.

Emerging on to the Newtonmore to Glen Banchor road allowed a few miles to be ticked off on tarmac and then good double track. Unfortunately the pace slowed again as the path petered out through Glen Banchor, and time was wasted dithering at river crossings. After ditching the socks and shoes for the first major crossing, getting damp feet on the subsequent bogs meant I adopted a rather more relaxed attitude to subsequent splashes. At least in double figure April temperatures your feet soon dry off.

Keen to make up some time when emerging to the good track at Strath an Eilich, I overshot my planned off-piste turnoff when doing 20mph down hill, but was in no mood to back track for the sake of another boggy “footpath”. Continuing down through the grounds of Cluny Castle just meant that I emerged on to the A86 a mile earlier than expected.


Looking back down the Corrieyairack Pass toward Melgarve

The ride through Laggan towards to the Melgarve Bothy was as expected – easy riding, but a bit sloggy into a stiff April headwind. Despite the knobbly winter tyres remaining installed, I caught and passed a few other riders. The fourth hybrid rider I passed sat in my slipstream until I glanced over my shoulder and just about needed a change of trousers when I realised he was there. Good company for the last few miles took my mind off the tarmac slog, as we chatted about the estate and its new owners, and the relative remoteness of the cottage he was riding back to. I bade him farewell at the Melgarve Bothy and continued the slog up and over Corrieyairack on my own. Although mostly rideable, a long week at work meant I was feeling pretty knackered before the start, and so I took the easy option of walking round a couple of the looser, steeper hairpin bends on the zig-zag section near the top. Ascending into the clouds, the Beauty-Denny tower lines were barely visible through the gloom, but I soon dropped out of the greyness again, to open views of the hills and forests on the north side of Loch Ness. Regardless of your views on development in these locations, you have to be impressed by the engineering that goes in to building overhead power lines at this height, in these remote locations.

From the top of Corrieyairack Pass it was (almost) all downhill for the run into Fort Augustus:- smooth tracks, a mile of a back road and a quick jaunt through a graveyard all that stood between me and putting my feet up in our holiday home for the week. Another section ticked off, and now definitely with a more Highland feel – higher passes and big hills all around. Onwards and northwards…

SNT07 Route

Kingussie to Fort Augustus

Facts and figures:

Miles: 41mi
Meters climbed: 1,285m
Wildlife seen: The usual tame deer standing 10ft away in Glenshero
Ride-ability: 95% (wet feet in the other 5%)

The GPX for the ride can be found here


The Scottish National Trail: Part 6 – Pitlochry to Kingussie

The next stage of riding the Scottish National Trail has been a long time in the coming. Two young boys, a new job, lots of commuting and a house move mean that free weekends have been difficult to come by.

I’ve been looking forward to this stage for a while – a bit more remote, but logistically a lot easier than the next few sections. The first weekend in June 2016 could not have seen better conditions for riding (barely a drop of rain at home in Perthshire for the past four weeks), although being Scottish and needing something to complain about, the weather was, if anything, a little too warm.

Joined by Simon again (who rode the Comrie to Pitlochry section with me), we parked in the spiritual home of Velo Club Moulin and picked up the trail in Pitlochry early on Sunday morning, with easy riding alongside Loch Faskally and the River Garry northwards to warm up the legs. A mix of forest tracks and the odd sandy singletrack in woods that looked like they might contain lots of fun options for lucky locals.

Popping out onto a back road following the river from Killiecrankie to Blair Atholl allowed a few swift miles to be ticked off in the sunshine, before stopping for an early coffee and sublime carrot cake at The Watermill. This would normally be a bit early in a ride for a stop, but this would be the last chance before Kingussie – it would be barren glens from here on in.

The ride up Glen Tilt was exactly as I remembered it. Like many Scottish mountain bikers, I have ridden down here as part of the classic Beinn a’Ghlo loop (around the East side of Beinn a’Ghlo to Fealer Lodge, and then a great descent to and then down Glen Tilt). The riding up the Glen was uninspiring but brisk – easy Land Rover tracks follow the river, giving a chance to glance at the interesting pools and rocks in the river, with tall hills on either side (mental note: looks like there are a couple of rideable munros up here).

When the land rover track eventually peters out, the riding gets more entertaining, with singletrack punctuated by rock step ups and the odd burn crossing. Mostly rideable for those in the zone, but momentum is your friend here – satisfying to clean as many of these sections as you can.

Lunch stop by the Geldie Burn

Lunch stop by the Geldie Burn

In this section, the route overlaps with the “Cairngorm Loop” – evidenced by the numerous bikepacking individuals we passed heading south. At the top of the Glen, passing the ruins of the Bynack Lodge gives a real sense of remoteness – by this point we have ridden for miles since the road, and when in use, the lodge would have been barely more accessible from the Braemar side either.

Crossing the Geldie Burn (disappointing the waiting hoard of walkers who were anxiously waiting to see if we would fall in), the route turns Westwards climbing gently alongside the Burn. At Geldie Lodge (another ruined hunting lodge) the double track runs out and the climbing gently continues across boggier singletrack.   After several dry weeks this was mercifully rideable, but this could have been a very different section in a wet Spring – several miles of burn crossing and bog could have been hard work.

A scaffolding crossing over the impressive waterfalls on the River Eidart marks the start of the track heading downwards. At this point a blown fork seal added to the creaky bottom bracket (from the aforementioned river crossings) and the spongy front brake so a steady approach was taken, as the forks pogoed up and down. At the top of Glen Feshie we chatted to a rider heading to Braemar from Aviemore for a week of work by riding up the way we had come, and then on to the Linn of Dee. Not a bad approach to commuting.

As we descended further down Glenfeshie, the trail becomes a mix of single and double track with numerous river crossings and a few freshly laid sections of new stone. The reason for the new sections soon became clear as we rode past numerous vast washed out gulleys – the power of the water here in previous winters has clearly been awesome, and it was interesting to see tiny burns running down vast scars in the hillside.

Eventually crossing on to the west side of River Feshie at Charnachuin, we picked up what is now a well surfaced estate road to tick off a few easy miles in the sun. Eschewing the obvious turn westwards through the forest, the route continues on this for a few more miles, instead turning into the forest only closer to Inshriach, and winding down towards Insh before doubling back to Kingussie. From here, a gentle mix of forest track, footpaths and the odd tarmac section brought us into Kingussie for some very well earned steak pies in the sun. Another stage dispatched, and the satisfaction of tired legs for the drive home. More of this sort of thing please.

Facts and figures:

Miles: 54mi
Meters climbed: 1,220m
Wildlife seen: Not a huge amount (its all been shot)
Ride-ability: 99%

Map - Pitlochry to Kingussie

The Scottish National Trail: Part 5 – Comrie to Pitlochry

After last week’s failed attempt at combining “stages” 4 and 5 of my planned Scottish National Trail ride, I took advantage of the continued dry September weather to nip back to Comrie and finish the job off properly – 40 miles of mountain biking from Comrie to Pitlochry.

As noted on the last post, the logistics of a ride from Comrie were a bit of a headache, but this was solved by joining forces with VCM teammate Simon Fairfull (most of the rest of the VCM crew were jogging or slogging around West Yorkshire for the Three Peaks CX race), and leaving a car at each end of the trail.

After an 8.30 depart from Edinburgh, a car was abandoned in Pitlochry, and the fun twisty roads from Pitlochry to Comrie were quickly dispatched. The driving to the stage start meant we finally rolled out of the car park after 11am – setting off up the Deil’s Caldron climb I had ridden in the previous post, and on to Invergeldie where I had turned round little over a week ago. The track from here will be familiar to any munro baggers who have slogged up the grassy mound of Ben Chonzie – a good land rover track that quickly gains height for a couple of miles. We parted ways with the track before the slopes of Ben Chonzie kicked up too steeply, and turned north to head on up the valley. A good wide path narrowed to single track and eventually petered out for the last few hundred meters as we bogtrotted to the top of the bealach. From here, the map suggests continuing north for a kilometre or so, dropping into the valley, but with no obvious path, we cut the corner slightly to pick up a land rover track and drop down to the dam on the valley floor.

Turning east, the path now follows around the back of Ben Chonzie. The route picks up the Rob Roy Way again, with flat land rover track miles down to the farm at Auchnafree. The track kicks up more steeply again here – a narrow single track climb above a burn with plenty of obstacles thrown in. Damp rocks and a worn Racing Ralph on the back led to more dabs than I would like – almost falling down the bank towards the burn in one moment of inattentiveness. The parts which were rideable were slow and technical, but satisfying.

After picking our way over and around the boulders, a Land Rover track is picked up by the Lochan, which dropped us down to the minor road Loch Freuchie and then the parallel fast doubletrack, alongside the River Quaich. Turning our legs to “slog” we turned up the steep road climb out of the valley towards Kenmore. This afforded great views back down the valley and at least allowed the height to be gained quickly. The reward was fast miles eastwards towards Aberfeldy – initially on good land rover tracks, ducking beneath the huge (and controversial) pylons of the Beauly to Denny power line, and finally on to the footpath alongside the Birks of Aberfeldy – great single track with little rocky step downs on the bends.

A coffee and some tablet refuelled us in Aberfeldy before a few easy miles of riding. Although pan flat, the path was generally tight and twisty – more entertaining than a path  squeezed in between the River Tummel and the main road eastwards had any right to be. Reaching Grandtully, a helpful signpost marked the footpath to Pitlochry and suggested that only around 4 miles remain. Excellent. What that signpost didn’t say was that half of those miles would be steeply uphill.

At this stage in the ride, Simon had a leg injury which was playing up – not ideal up a steep, often grassy climb. The trail was good though – single track that was satisfying to clean, with only a few ditches near the top to force a dismount. Over the top, we entered the woods and thankfully turned downhill again for a final fast blast into Pitlochry. Like the descent into Aberfeldy earlier, this was a fast entertaining blast through the trees, and was a great way to finish a good ride. A spirited drive on back roads to Comrie followed to pick up the other car. A good day out – another 40 miles of Scottish National Trail ticked off, and now well into Highland Perthshire. I am really looking forward to the next section from Pitlochry to Kingussie up Glen Tilt and down Glenfeshie, but that will probably wait until 2015. I need to earn a few more brownie points for these big days out first.

Map - Comrie to Pitlochry

Facts and figures:
Miles: 40mi
Meters climbed: 1,590m
Ticks collected: 1
Ride-ability: 95%

The GPX for the ride can be found here.

The Scottish National Trail: Part 4 – Milngavie to Comrie

The next leg of my ride on the Scottish National Trail has been a long time coming. The last day on the trail was back in April of this year, but a dry September and a free weekend finally coincided to get a few more miles under the tyres.

I plotted out the route some time ago with the next leg being Milngavie to Comrie, followed by a separate, slightly shorter day for Comrie to Pitlochry. With a lack of train lines in the Comrie area, the obvious solution is an overnight there, but a full calendar put pay to that plan, so I found myself on the 4.50am sleeper from Edinburgh to Westerton, and pedalling up to Milngavie for a 6am start with the intention of reaching Pitlochry in the evening. Combining the two sections would give a total length of around 90 miles.

The initial riding from Milngavie northwards will be familiar to many Scottish mountain bikers – the easy, fast start section of the West Highland Way (interspersed with those bloody gates). My speed was kept in check by the pre-dawn light, but the miles were ticked off and Drymen approached. A lapse in concentration saw me continue on the West Highland Way for a couple of miles more than necessary until I realised that Conic Hill was alarming close, and re-traced my steps to pick up the Rob Roy Way. The riding here was similarly easy – fast forest fire tracks and roads into Aberfoyle, bypassing the Victorian industrial heritage of Glasgow’s water supply.

The route from Aberfoyle started by Dounans Centre, bringing back memories of many a Scottish XC race (thankfully no need for 4 laps up Heart Attack Hill today). Today’s path climbed more gradually eastwards, petering out to single track interspersed with a series of rocky step ups that wouldn’t have been out of place in a manmade trail centre. Mostly rideable with fresh legs on a good dry day, this was a dry day, but I was already 25 miles in by this stage. Remounting was followed by an over the bars in an invisible hole in the grass, but it was good to be riding a good mountain bikers’ trail. The singletrack spat me out on to familiar forest trails by Loch Venachar, and the run into Callendar was broken up by a short detour into the woodland trails at Coilhallan – not technical, but a welcome alternative to the obvious road link.

After a first lunch in Callander (at 9.30am?!) I bumped into some friendly company in the form of another rider for a slog up by Bracklinn Falls and on to a good track towards the south side of Ben Vorlich. The bridge shown on the OS map by Arivurichardich has long since disappeared, and even after a dry September, it was tricky crossing without getting wet feet. It turned out to be tricky to cross without getting a wet backside too, as a cleat to green rock interface ended with the inevitable sit down in the river. At least it gave me a chance to check whether my rear light would work underwater. It turns out that CatEye lights can withstand a full dunking: it fared better than my bruised coccyx.

The track eastwards was a well worn land rover track, giving two good single track grooves, livened up slightly by some overhanging bracken to catch out the unwary. For the first time on the Scottish National Trail, the views felt almost Highland – empty glens accessible only to the determined, backdropped by impressive slopes that only proper Scottish mountains can provide. At this point I pressed on solo, as my fellow rider, John, headed off towards Ben Vorlich for some hike-a-bike. Continuing on towards the top of the road by Auchinner, the suggested route eschews the good access road in favour of the track on the north side of the river. Only the most generous cartographer could describe this as a track though – the reality was a rough line of flattened marshy grass, lightly trodden by sheep. Anyone riding this on anything other than the driest summer’s day might prefer the easier option of the access road towards Comrie. Eventually the track does improve after passing a couple of bothys though, and the run into Comrie was easy enough.

By this time, I had been on the go for the best part of 6 hours, so a second lunch (at noon, so at least it was lunchtime this time) and a bit of recuperation in Comrie was in order. A calf niggle at the start of the ride 60 miles ago was making itself known. In hindsight, a tweaked muscle after a recent race had been ignored, and a new misaligned cleat was probably to blame. Despite adjusting that back in Callander, I wasn’t sure how much further I could push on for. I ordered a recovery coffee only to be told (in the friendliest way) that I looked a bit muddy. I lacked the energy for banter and the best I could manage was an apologetic explanation that I would be taking away rather than sitting in. At this point all I could think of was that this would be a great place to break the ride with an overnight in a hotel with the family, as had been the original plan.

After a caffeine boost, the climb out of Comrie through the “Deil’s Caldron” offered a nice piece of trail through the wood below the single track road. Turning off to cross the River Lednock, a short link on the route plan turned out to be a push through waist high bracken, before rejoining a better track following the east side of the river. Arriving at the car park at Invergeldie, I knew I was faced with a 25 mile relatively remote section towards Aberfeldy. With a calf muscle that was now making its presence known on every pedal stroke, I sat in the sun for a few minutes and made the difficult decision to abandon, heading back down the road to Comrie and onwards over the 20 miles to the nearest train station at Dunblane. Game over.

Doing an about turn at least allowed me to descend through the woods by the Deil’s Caldron again. Even that didn’t got quite to plan though, as I rounded an almost blind bend at speed to be confronted with a narrow bridge over a burn. Realising that I wasn’t going to make the bridge, and that falling off the side of it would result in certain death (well, possibly), I made the quick decision to hammer on the anchors and ditch the bike – face brake fully deployed. After picking myself up and dusting down the bike, I realised that there was a rideable line through the burn beside the bridge. Idiot.

As I hobbled back on the road (freewheeling the downhills, riding one legged on the flats and standing up on the climbs to stretch that dodgy calf muscle out better) I knew I had made the right decision. It was frustrating to abandon a ride, knowing that my legs were otherwise fit enough to make the 90mi to Pitlochry, (that would still have been shorter than last year’s South Downs Way), but I was heartened by the thought that I would enjoy the next section soon as a shorter 40 mile day out with fresh legs.

Map - Milngavie to Comrie (to Dunblane)

Scores on the doors:
Total miles: 134.5km from Milngavie to Dunblane (of which about 100km was on the SNT – the rest being the road ride back to the Scotrail Recovery Service)
Rideability: 99.9%
Red squirrel count: 1
OTBs: 1
Face brake applications: 1
Dents added to the top tube: 1
Sit down protests during river crossings: 1
Visits from the puncture fairy: 2 (1 small tubeless hole which took two shorts stops to fully seal)

The planned GPX for Part 4 from Milngavie to Comrie can be found here.
The GPX for the ride (including a few short wrong turns, a forestry diversion and the escape to Dunblane can be found here.

The Scottish National Trail: Part 1 – Kirk Yetholm to Peebles

After months of procrastinating, a sunny April finally allowed a chance to ride the first leg of The Scottish National Trail from Kirk Yetholm (close to the English Border) to Peebles. After riding the second and third legs solo last year, I was joined by XC whippet Dougie Shearer for this part.

Kirk Yetholm to Peebles - Route Profile

Having left a car in Peebles at 8am, driving across the gentle rolling hills around Kelso didn’t quite prepare us for the slog which lay at the start of the ride. Although the “official” start of the trail is in the village square in Kirk Yetholm, it seemed rude to come this far south and not actually visit the border, so we set out southwards from Kirk Yetholm, up and down the minor road, up a grassy mound and on to a ridge along the Pennine Way. The border at this point is an inauspicious fence and stone wall which provided a handy spot for leaning a bike for the obligatory border photo, but little in the way of  grandeur. For all Cameron McNeish’s talk about discovering Scotland through his National Trail walk ahead of the referendum in September, the English side of the wall looked much like the Scottish side – rolling hills and scattered sheep as far as the eye could see. From here, a cloudless blue sky covered the whole of the eastern Scottish Borders in front of us, and it was easy to pick out where the route would head next. First though, we continued briefly southwards, climbing the ridge alongside the border and passing White Law and beneath the 549m summit of Black Hag, before performing an abrupt U-turn and finally being rewarded for the grassy slog with a fast single track and double track descent back towards the valley floor and on towards Kirk Yetholm.

Rejoining the trail northwards at our start point in the village square, the national trail at this point follows the waymarked “St Cuthberts Way” across fields, alongside rivers and joins the dots of the few notable mounds in the area – Crookedshaws Hill and Wideopen Hill. After the efforts of the initial start loop climb and these grassy mounds, I was starting to wonder about the 1×10 with 34t chainring I was running on the XC bike. Just managing to stay on top of the gear, I managed to spin and gurn upwards (thankful for bone dry grass at least) and on down to flatter sections through Morebattle and along minor roads past Cessford Castle.

Although expecting the arrow straight Roman Road of Dere Street shown on the map to be a straight boring slog, in fact it turned out to be a lumpy single track trail through grassland and woods. I suspect the Romans didn’t have to put up with a relentless barrage of stiles and gates though. Or perhaps that’s why they didn’t venture too far north in Scotland. Almost as frustrating was a section alongside the River Tweed which I expected from the map to be flat and smooth, but which often involved a series of wooden stairs – sometimes inviting stair rides, but often time sapping walks. Continuing with the Borders tradition of ransacking and pillaging by marauding visitors from the south, a shortcut along the road allowed us to empty the local Co-op in St Boswells before turning towards Melrose. The route again makes a bee-line for the only notable hills in the area – the steep twin mounds of the Eildon Hills which I knew well from childhood walks. Thankfully the route passed relatively painlessly through the middle before descending in to Melrose and resuming the march along the Tweed and picking up the NCN cycle route. The easy miles of the old railway line were cut abruptly short as the new Borders railway line re-emerged on to the old route, necessitating a slight detour on to the main road before traversing the side of Gala Hill.

By now the long climbs were taking their toll – my legs were still working, but only at a slower pace and Dougie had been off colour but ploughing on all day. After debating the merits of lassoing a few lambs to tow us up the hill, we instead settled for haribo and strawberry laces as a better source of fuel. Passing by the summit of Hog Hill, it slowly dawned on us that although the Three Brethern looked teasingly close, the Selkirk road still lay in the way, and sure enough, our hard won height was again lost as we dived down to the road and immediately back up into the Yair Hill Forest.

Early evening sun on the Three Brethren

Early evening sun on the Three Brethren

The impressive stone cairns of the Three Brethern will be a welcome sight to anyone who has ever raced the Selkirk MTB Marathon. Thankfully the late afternoon weather was a little more welcoming than some previous trips where we had struggled to stand upright here, so final fuel was taken on board before the fast ride along the ridge on familiar trails on to Minch Moor. Eschewing the tempting swoopy trails of Innerleithen, we bee-lined down the Southern Upland Way path, startling some poor chap relieving himself against a wall as we zipped by at 30mph. By this time I was already pushing my luck for time, so we time trialled along the road past Traquair and into Peebles, skipping McNeish’s short detour into the adjacent woods, and arriving back at the car almost 10 hours after setting off from Kirk Yetholm.

Although the long grassy climbs, relentless gates and Dougie’s illness had added to the time (we had both expected 7 hours to be sufficient), there was a good sense of smug satisfaction after ticking off almost 70 miles of off road riding on dusty trails. Again, the route had been mostly rideable (with a bit of gurning required for some of the steeper climbs, and a bit of walking required for a few riverside steps) but it would certainly have been a bit more of a muddy slide in wetter weather.

Personally, I have now ticked off a total of around 150 miles from Kirk Yetholm to Milngavie, and once I have re-earned the brownie points required to make up for being 3 hours late home from this part, I’m looking forward to a two day stint from Milngavie to Pitlochry next. As the route heads further north, this first stage has reminded me that (i) a lower gearing might be sensible, (ii) I always get sunburnt on the first big sunny day out of the year, and (iii) I need to pack more Haribo. Hopefully a few words on Parts 4 and 5 might follow later in the year.

Finally, a tip of the hat to Dougie for still having the presence of mind after 10 hours in the saddle to stand on the brakes and avoid the wild boar that wandered in front of the car on the return to Kirk Yetholm in the evening. That certainly woke me up, not least with thoughts of wild boar burgers. Mmm….

Heading west from Kirk Yetholm after a border raid start loop

Heading west from Kirk Yetholm after a border raid start loop

The GPX for my “Part 1” (which uses a couple of km of road shortcut at St Boswells and past Cardrona) can be found here.

The Scottish National Trail: Part 3 – Slateford to Milngavie

As the end of 2013 approaches, it recently dawned on me that my limited miles (a single day in March) on the Scottish National Trail was a poor show, and so with Christmas turkey still weighing me down, I found time to ride the “easy” Slateford to Milngavie section (which I am labelling as “Part 3”, Peebles to Slateford having been “Part 2“, and “Part 1” still to be ridden).

In between 40mph winds and torrential downpours, the forecast suggested a couple of dry days. Boxing Day looked tempting, but the need to rely on my long suffering wife’s taxi services (in the absence of a Scotrail service) saw me delaying slightly to 29 December. Probably a wise move as I’m quite sure I’ll be cashing in lots of brownie points for her taxi services for other sections.

Whilst I intend to ride the mountain bike for the rest of the trail, the Slateford to Milngavie section is along the flat and relatively smooth Union and Forth and Clyde Canal paths for the most part, and so the lighter cyclocross bike with skinnier tyres seemed the better option. Having ridden to Linlithgow in early January before, I know how wet the canal towpaths can be, even on dry days, and so the Shimano waterproof boots were donned and the rear mudguard added to the bike.

The Slateford start is only a couple of miles from home (I pass the Scottish National Trail plaque at the Water of Leith visitor centre almost daily on my cycle to work as a constant reminder of my dilatoriness), so after a quick ride down the hill and the obligatory start photo shot, I was climbing the steps onto the Union Canal path.

The relative simplicity of this section of the trail means that I can keep the route description brief. The Union Canal allowed a brisk start, and although the prevailing westerly wind provided a bit of resistance, this day would be by far the flattest of the trail, and ideal for weary legs after a hard season of cyclocross racing and a long lingering cold. The section to Ratho was quickly dispatched, before the towpath began to resemble more of a cyclocross racecourse – skinny cyclocross tyres cutting through a sodden mulch of rotting leaves and mud. The plywood childrens’ television characters lining the banks towards Newbridge kept a colourful, if slightly menacing eye on my progress before the trail opened out on to more exposed sections through Winchburgh and Broxburn, where the leafy mulch was replaced by puddle after puddle and a slightly stronger headwind.

The flattest ride you will ever see? The lumpiest bits are actually before and after the proper Scottish National Trail sections.

The flattest ride you will ever see? The lumpiest bits are actually before and after the proper Scottish National Trail sections.

The flat nature of the route reflects the impressive engineering involved – there is just a single lock between Edinburgh and the canal end by Falkirk. I always wonder if engineering like this would be undertaken nowadays – I’m sure it would be voted down by some quango as too expensive and not worth the bother. The tunnel a couple of miles before the Falkirk wheel is no less impressive, with jagged bare rock still visible on the roof and now well illuminated. Shortly afterwards the shiny and relatively new Falkirk wheel looms into view, alongside the only descent on the canal part of the route. The last time I visited here by bike was when at university in Glasgow – riding home with a friend was good way to avoid the Scotrail and Citylink fares, although we probably spent more than that in extra mars bars along the way. It was definitely a bit warmer then.

Pressing on past pedestrians staggering around the path, the route continues along the Forth and Clyde Canal towards Glasgow on wider but similarly puddly paths. By now the dog walkers were out in slightly greater numbers, and I was glad I had added the bell to the cyclocross bike. Ting ting.

By the time I approached Cadder, I was growing weary of the long, flat miles and relentless (but thankfully not terribly strong) headwind, and was glad to turn off on to the road for a short climb up past the church and descent towards Cawder Golf Club. A brief wrong turn saw me heading along a tempting driveway towards the clubhouse before about turning and picking up the path through a line of trees that I should have seen the first time around.

After cutting through the village of Balmore, I continued over the second golf course – sneaking round the clubhouse and on to a good path. At separate points I passed two groundsmen – both exchanged brief pleasantries and neither seemed perturbed by a mucky cyclocrosser nipping round the course – right to roam working well in practice. The path through the club was relatively easy to follow (although not signposted, so I was glad of my Garmin mapping) and aside from cutting across a deserted fairway, followed a path which would trouble only the most wayward tee shot. From here, pleasant backroads (through Baldernock and a third golf course in as many miles – they love lairy polo necks, checked trousers and Jaguars in East Dunbartonshire) led onwards and down into Milngavie. Thankfully I followed a car through the fast flowing ford on Baldernock Road. I might otherwise have been tempted to power through, but going arse over tit on slippy cobbles in the final mile would have been an embarrassing way to finish the day.

Having briefly flirted with the idea of picking up the canal again near Kirkintilloch and riding home (making a 110mi round trip), I decided not to spoil a pleasant enough ride by turning it into a do-able but slightly wearing epic. Shunning the tempting tailwind back along the canal, I pedalled down the Kelvin Walkway and on to Glasgow Queen Street for a train back to Edinburgh. Just over 100km all in, confirmed by the muddy spray covering bike and legs. I’m sure the virtually empty carriage at my end of the train was nothing to do with that though.

All done, a pleasant day of riding, although I am looking forward to the more rugged sections more. The prevailing wind was never quite strong enough to make me wish I had ridden west to east (which seems sensible, but not quite in the spirit of the SNT) and the canal miles were easily ticked off. I was slightly unsure what to expect of the sections through golf courses, but all were walker friendly and posed no issues for considerate cyclocrossers either.

A paltry two days of riding on the Scottish National Trail in 2013, but I’m now itching to crack on in 2014. I will let the trails dry out a bit first, and hopefully tick off several days in March, April and May. Not least, Part 1 from Kirk Yetholm still needs tackled.

The trimmed down GPX file, showing only the part of the ride from Slateford to Milngavie is here.

The Scottish National Trail: Part 2 – Peebles to Slateford

I like having a bike project on the go. Something to look forward to. Something to take up time when I should be working and to ponder whenever glancing idling at the calendar. Recently, meticulously planned new bike builds with geeky spreadsheets have filled much of that time, but now that the FF29 is built, the singlespeed CX bike is re-modelled and a few other bits and pieces have been upgraded, it is time to put the materialistic part of me to one side and get on and ride the damn things.

The current itch and long running project is to ride the Scottish National Trail. I am writing this post over a year after Cameron McNeish’s route launch, and almost a year after BBC’s Adventure Show covered the route. Although it was always to be a long term plan, progress has been rather slow.

To date, I have spent multiple evenings poring over OS maps (on paper and in Garmin BaseCamp), often with Cameron’s book as a handy reference for his suggested route. In riding terms, sadly only one day has been undertaken thus far, and whilst I had intended to write that up after riding a few sections, I had better press on before my hazy memories disappear forever.

Getting my route planning on

More on the route in later posts, but the basic premise in creating the trail was a trail for walkers running the length of Scotland using existing routes and tracks. Whether it will all be suitable for riding remains to be seen and I suspect that a few sections might require a bit of a rethink. The trail runs from Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders, to Cape Wrath in the far north west. The appeal for me lies in exploring new trails and more than that, new areas. I have never ventured to areas such as Torridon, never visited Kirk Yetholm and never been much further north that Ullapool and Inchnadamph. Even in areas I have visited, there will be new paths I have never stumbled across.

Peebles to Slateford

Foregoing the intended first “stage” from Kirk Yetholm to Peebles (I am breaking it down into day sized chunks for mountain biking) , I instead began the second leg from Glentress to Slateford on a chilly but sunny early March day. Logistically, this worked well – a bimble around Glentress with friends in the morning, a spot of lunch in the cafe and then a solo ride home via Slateford (handily only a mile or two from home). Although not the proper first stage, this would include a neat finish by the trail’s plaque at the Water of Leith centre in Slateford (oddly lying neither at the start nor the finish of the official route, but 80 miles in). Presumably Alex Salmond could not be persuaded to get his wellies muddy in Kirk Yetholm or Cape Wrath when unveiling the plaque.

After a gentle start along the river from Glentress towards Peebles, the route soon turned uphill out of Peebles onto Hamilton Hill – already a new hill and path to me. The early afternoon sun had me down to shorts and top on only the 2nd of March, which was probably a bit ambitious (I was layering up again half an hour later). For the most part the tracks were good, although became a bit indistinct as I waded through farmyard mud by Upper Kidston Farm on my way to the Meldons. Briefly dropping down to the minor road from Eddleston (a favourite of mine on the road bike), the tarmac is short lived, giving way to a firebreak track and eventually an open climb round Drum Maw and down to Romano Bridge. Avoiding the obvious minor road (as the route often does, sometimes frustratingly) I added a bit of distance and fair amount of time skirting through farmland before eventually joining the very same minor road for the run into West Linton and on to more familiar trails – the Roman Road which connects West Linton to Carlops – a handy link for anyone mountain biking in the Pentlands. Very good of those Romans.

From here, I knew I could look forward to a stiff climb on a good track to North Esk Reservoir and then an often muddy track up to the Bore Stane. There are various trails in the Pentlands I only ride when bone dry and this is one such trail. Thankfully February had been relatively dry and the trail was mostly rideable with just a few dabs and a little wheel spinning. Over the top and on to  “Xylophone”: an inviting looking path, but made from a long line of greasy, polished logs placed side by side for a few kilometres. Polished logs lead to bum notes in the wet so I generally used the peaty singletrack to the side where available. Down to Listonshiels and avoiding the fast road down to Balerno I slogged through the slightly boggy “path” (sheep track is probably more accurate these days) towards West Rigg before a spin through Balerno to clean the tyres on the road (mostly in my face) and on to the Water of Leith walkway to Slateford. 4 hours 40 minutes after leaving Glentress was a reasonable ride – the time not helped by various stop to add layers, remove layers, add layers again, and a few short detours through muddy fields trying to find paths through farms.

A good start to the trail – 99% rideable, some new trails, some old friends, and not a drop of rain. Now, about that first leg…

The GPX for my “Part 2” from Glentress to Slateford can be found here.