“It must be about a year since we bought the Bongo,” I said to Sonia as I was packing it up for an outing. “I wonder when the MOT is due.” The answer was about two weeks ago, but I decided to risk it. I’ve now got a booking for an MOT tomorrow.
Anyway, Saturday afternoon I set off down to Bridge of Tilt, just outside Blair Atholl. The road wasn’t too bad, though there’s now 7 miles of cones on each side of the A9 in the Kincraig / Dalraddy section. A cone very 10 feet I’d say, tied together in strings of 7. A quick calculation suggests about ten and a half thousand cones, not to mention 15 miles of cord to link them, 40mph signs, dire warnings of speed cameras etc. There was no-one about.
Near Old Bridge of Tilt is a car park set in the trees within hearing of the River Tilt. I could have camped at Blair Castle, but reckoned the wee car park was more my level in the trusty Bongo. I later walked into the village past the castle’s campsite and, after looking at all the static caravans and huge tents was, pleased with my decision. I know my place.
Saturday evening was quiet in the car park after the day-trippers went home. Just a minibus belonging to Perth & Kinross Council – a sure sign of a Duke of Edinburgh group – and I woke to a seasonal mist: Keats was right with – as he might have said – his “season of mists and mellow footlooseness”.
Onto my bike and cycled up Glen Banvie, knowing the generally uncongenial nature of uphill cycling would bring its own reward on the return journey. The mist cleared and the sun shone. I met the DofE group and chatted briefly with them, then headed on to the neatly maintained and attractive wee bothy at NN835 737 where I left my bike. There can’t be many bothies in the Highlands with a picnic table outside.
My target was Beinn Dearg – of which there must be hundreds in Scotland – and a pleasant walk it was, though this is one of those hills that seem to be very near for a considerable distance: you constantly have the feeling the summit is just over the next rise, but it never is. At least not until the end. The weather gods chose my arrival at the top as the cue for dumping a large claggy cloud on the summit so there was no view to admire, just a snell wind laden with chilly damp air.
Five minutes after retreating from the top, the cloud cleared and I started meeting others who had also chosen this hill for their exertions. Some of them had biked into Bruar Lodge and come up from the west.
Back at the bothy, I collected my bike and pushed it up the steep path for a few hundred yards before starting my enjoyable freewheel downhill to Bridge of Tilt.
At some point in these rambling blogs, beer always makes an appearance and I forbore mentioning a pint in Blair Atholl “last” night. However, I feel I merited it after today’s trip – about 30km, though much of it on two wheels, and thus have no qualms about bringing the topic up now. The Atholl Arms in Blair A. is linked with the Moulin Hotel (in Moulin, surprisingly!) and the micro-brewery in that village. The “Bothy Bar” in the Atholl Arms advertises “A Warm Welcome”: I would say that, whilst I had no specific complaints, there was a distinct use of hyperbole in that claim. However, the beer from the Moulin Brewery was excellent. I only tried the “Braveheart”: not because of being a Mel Gibson fan or anything, but because it wasn’t too dark or too strong. If you’re interested, you can follow this link to the brewery’s web page, which will also allow you to browse the two hotels.
Two pints later and back to Castle Morrison in the Bridge of Tilt car park. Sonia pointed out it should really be Van Morrison…
I don’t suppose many people light up a barbecue in that car park, but it didn’t seem to cause any great problem and I was soon settling down to a tasty evening meal prior to getting some kip.
Monday dawned misty again, but I was on my way up Glen Tilt before 9am, with a couple of locals having assured me the sun would be out on the tops before I got there. A young lady ranger also warned me there’d be shooting on the hill, but that I’d be perfectly safe on the slopes I was considering using. She was in a Cairngorm National Parks Land Rover and I’m always surprised, though by now I shouldn’t be, by how far the N.P. stretches.
Glen Tilt is a lovely glen: mostly fairly flat which is a mixed blessing as there’s no great freewheeling on the way back. I was headed for Carn a Chlamain and had two possible approaches. I chose to cycle all the way – about 13km – to Forest Lodge and walk up a footpath, rather than a shorter cycle and then labour up a Land Rover track. Forest Lodge (sleeps 20) – and the much less grand Marble Lodge – are available for rental. To give you an idea, Forest Lodge – if it’s still available for the coming New Year will set you back £3765. The Atholl Estates comment: It is not an obligation for your party to obtain the services of a cook but we strongly recommend it. So you may want to factor that in when toying with making a booking.
The walk up from Forest Lodge starts off pretty steeply, but being a stalker’s path it keeps a steady zig-zag and the ascent is quite manageable, levelling out at about 750m, prior to an easy stroll to the final slope up to the 963m summit. Once again, the weather gods were playing silly buggers and the top was shrouded in claggy mist: at least they didn’t tease me by whipping away the veil soon after I left the summit.
Back down to Forest Lodge and retrieve the bike. On the way down, I thought about how far-sighted the Scottish Government had been with its “Right to Roam” legislation. There had historically been an assumption of such a right, but to have it enshrined in law makes it all the more robust. It will be interesting to see how the Land Reform Bill, currently being debated, develops. According to the BBC (always reliable, of course!) ”it has been estimated that half of the privately-owned land in Scotland is controlled by 432 people”.
The cycle back down the glen was very pleasant and I stopped several times to take photos or just admire things I saw. This Glen Tilt expedition was similar in length to the previous day’s outing, both in terms of bike and walk.
It all went a bit pear-shaped on the A9: a massive two-lane north-bound tailback at the end of the dual carriage way south of Dalwhinnie (and an even longer one heading south) caused by two sets of roadworks and a convoy system. And then there’s the aforementioned 7 miles of cones further north. Those of you not lucky enough to live in the Highlands and not even granted the opportunity to visit occasionally may be unaware of the plan to convert the whole of the Perth – Inverness section of the A9 to dual carriageway. It’s planned to take about 10 years, so I’ll probably be confined to a wheelchair in a nursing home by then! The other development that has had an impact on the A9 traffic has been the controversial installation of average speed cameras which read your number plate and time you over stretches of road. Having initially been in the “anti-“ camp, I’m now convinced it’s probably a good thing. However, there is a limit of 50mph for HGVs which I think is dangerous and unnecessary: it’s almost a 50mph limit for cars by the back door and leads to frustration on the single carriageway sections.
Anyway, that’s it.
* I was stuck for a title for this post and dithered around with various options. The current choice refers – somewhat irrelevantly, I’ll admit – to the fact the Duke of Atholl is the only person in the UK allowed to have a private army. There is no further significance to the title. However, there is a long distance shooting range in Glen Tilt, so when the revolution comes…