By: Blonde Two
I feel that I should have been able to tell you before our Cairngorms trip, that the Lairig Ghru is the best known hill pass in Scotland. I didn’t, but I do now; I also know that it is a serious walk, that it has paths that disappear with regularity, that it rises to 835 metres and that you really shouldn’t attempt to carry your bike through.
Which is why I didn’t; but Mr B2 did (I was Support-Blonde for the day and drove around from Aviemore to Braemar to meet him). Here is his story:
On our last Sunday, we found ourselves back in Aviemore, and I was keen to try and ride the Lairig Ghru, an old drovers route running from Aviemore to Braemar. It was mentioned in MBR as an aside to one of their detailed routes.
So I set out at 12pm with no realistic idea of what I was letting myself in for. I had studied the map in detail and chosen to go from the Sugar Bowl car park on the way up to Cairngorm Mountain and then go through the Chalamain Gap to enter the Lairig Ghru.
I realise now that taking a bike through the Chalamain Gap was a stupid, difficult thing to do. In hindsight, I should have got more detailed information about this part of the route. Let me just say that the gap proper is about 200m of big rocks with no definable route across. Most of the rocks were bigger than me, and very difficult to drag a bike across! I very quickly realised that my estimated time for getting to my agreed meeting point was way off the mark. I had certainly not anticipated being so slow right at the beginning of the ride. Did I say ride? The footpaths (clue in the name I guess) from the car park and then beyond the gap are not designed for bikes. They feature very frequent drainage culverts that are wide and deep. I am a fairly confident rider, but I did not fancy trying to bunny hop these every few metres so I was on and off the bike like a yo-yo. This also slowed progress.
Normally I use pre-defined GPS routes that I have loaded into my Garmin. However I was relying on good old map and compass for this ride [B2 – Guess who taught him to use a map and compass!]. With this in mind, I was also having to stop to check the map often. I had no option but to continue to the agreed end of my ride, as there was no way of communicating to change the plan. This meant I had to make sure I got my nav right.
Once I was past the gap and got into the Lairig Ghru proper, I met a group of hikers who asked me where I was headed. Once I had told them, they used words such as brave and stupid. One chap’s comment was, “I hope you have strong shoulders. You’re going to need them”. I soon understood why…
I have read lots of articles, stories and ride reports, and watched a great many films on epic riding adventures. Many of these have featured people carrying their bikes for large parts of their rides; but I have never had occasion myself to carry my bike on my back across my shoulders before. You see this quite often in videos. During the course of my trek through the Lairig Ghru, I carried my bike for at least 80% of the journey.
I met some interesting characters during the day. A young couple from Spain stopped for a chat. The young lady was leading her blind boyfriend from Braemar to Aviemore. I thought I was making life hard for myself! Then there were the two teachers who were looking for their lost Duke of Edinburgh group! Finally the grumpy group of teenagers who had obviously had enough and were just desperate for the walk to be over. I assumed they were heading for the Corrour Bothy, which I discovered is in a spectacular setting.
Did I mention that it rained continuously until I was within 5km of my destination? I got wet through fairly soon and there is a great deal of water in the glen, so you spend a lot of time walking in water. At least it wasn’t cold. It would have been a different challenge if I had had cold to deal with as well.
I eventually reached the Luibeg Burn, I was supposed to find stepping stones to enable a crossing. Not for me! Obviously there had been too much rain; despite trying three times to manhandle myself and bike through the torrent, I had to admit defeat and retreat back upstream to the bridge. I decided that once the water had met my crotch and my bike was being dragged from my hands, it was far more sensible to retreat, rather than get into difficulties.
From here on, I could actually ride my bike and stay on it for more than a few seconds at a time. I passed some bike campers at Derry Lodge and pressed on, now concerned that B2 would genuinely be wondering where the hell I had got to.
So, 6hrs and 45mins after setting off, I rolled into the car park at the Linn of Dee and to my relief, B2 was waiting quite calmly for me whilst reading a book. She said she would have quite understood if I had not turned up, and had had to stay out in the Glen, as she knew I had the appropriate equipment with me, and knew how to use it. [B2 – Okay so I will admit now that I had emergency plans A, B and C ready in my head!]
To anyone considering riding (taking) your bike through the Lairig Ghru, I would suggest you think about it long and hard. I noticed on the MBR route card after my ride that they use the phrase “self flagellation” to describe riding the Lairig Ghru. Now having done it, I think their description is pretty accurate. It’s definitely more a case of taking your bike for a walk, rather than going for a ride…