We arrived at Aviemore train station late morning. Although we were staying about 20 miles away from Aviemore, Scotland’s mountain sports capital (which is hotly contested by Fort William), we were picking up hire bikes close to the station.
Having booked three Genesis mountain bikes from Bothy Bikes, we set out to find the bike shop. Aviemore is small. The main shopping area is condensed into one street. Could we find it. No.
We resorted to “asking for directions”. We then resorted to “getting out the phone and looking it up on google maps”.
This was not the start we had anticipated. But, after a half hour walk to the very outskirts of what could conceivably still be called Aviemore, we found the bike shop.
Half an hour later and we were good to go, and we set off on our 19 miles journey to Newtonmore on our alfine-geared bikes. With a full rucksack and hiking boots, it didn’t feel great. Add to that the weight of the mountain bikes, a head wind and an increasing ambient temperature, and you have a gruelling start to the weekend.
Half way into the cycle and Jim was struggling. He hadn’t done much cycling and the weight of his collection of toiletries was beginning to take its toll on him. We stopped occasionally during which various moisturisers and sun lotions were applied.
On the mountain bike, this was slow tourism. But that let us take in the sights, spot some wildlife – Red kites and Buzzards being frequent roadside visitors – and enjoy the approach to the munros we would shortly be climbing.
A couple of hours later we reached Newtonmore and our Hostel. Our hosts let us use their garage for our bikes, and it was then that we realised that they were keen and former-competitive cyclists. Half-a-dozen old-school classic bikes adorned the garage, all with various mano-a-shimano upgrades.
The hostel owners encourage people not to use cars, so guests propelled by carbohydrates, rather than petrol, get special dispensation by way of a cost discount.
After a tour of the facilities and some refuelling, we stripped toiletries and other unnecessary items from our rucksacks, got some advice on how to find the trail head from the hostel owner, and got back on our bikes.
We began the cycle to the trail head to climb three of the four Monadh Liath Munros – Carn Dearg, Carn Sgulain & A’Chailleach. It was hard and we had jelly legs before even starting the hike-proper.
The cycle had already taken 20 miles hard graft out of our legs, and the hills would take another 16 miles-worth. But we were prepared and had a good 7-8 hours of light left. The fact that the hike takes an average 8-10 hours seemed not to register in our minds.
So off we went. We claimed the first Munro of the day easily enough, but the short plunge before a steep ascent to the second hill was enough to put one of our party in trouble. An old IT-band injury flared up. The strain of cycling and then hiking was ripping his leg to shreds. Our combined pace fell sharply.
It was around this time that we asked ourselves if anyone could remember when The Glen Hotel stopped taking orders for evening meals. In arduous cirumstances, it is right to get one’s priorities in order!
Our vague recollection was that we would have to be at the Glennie for 8pm or we’d likely be eating cold supplies for dinner.
The possible denial of hot food, the ingestion of a few painkillers, and a tot of whisky put a spring in the step of our injured man. It put a spring in my step too and, with the sun now belting down on us we made our way across a 3 miles of ice field to the third and last Munro of the day.
A’Chailleach was the most stunning of the three. After a fairly dramatic ridge walk along some suicidal crags, the descent quickly became boggy and difficult. The paths were indiscernible and you’d have been as well drawing a straight line to Newtonmore and marching along it, as it could be no less difficult than navigating the thick gorse and boggy peat fields.
At dangerously close to last orders for hot food, we reached our bikes and rode like Goonies all the way back to the village.
One man went straight to the hotel to get a table for food, while the other two changed. This act of chivalry was of course rewarded by virtue of being first man to the bar for a pint of cold lager. Bliss!
The next morning we packed up all our gear and took a 30-mile cycle past Drumguish, Insh, Feshiebridge, stopping for a bit of sight-seeing and walking as we went.
That final effort had strained Jim’s IT band to the limit. He bailed out for an early train home, leaving James and myself to do a couple of hours of mountain biking.
But the over-packed bag took it’s toll on me too. Every bump on the trail went through my shoulders, and every steep descent tipped my rucksack forward, which in turn tipped my helmet forward and obscured my vision. It was time to take the bikes back.
As we walked back into Aviemore, I wished Jim was still with us. I missed his company, but more so, I missed his collection of toiletries. My legs were severely sunburned and I needed liberal application of Aftersun!
The wait for the train home was filled by a trip to Aviemore’s Mountain Cafe. And I mean ‘filled’ in every sense of the word. If you have an hour to kill in Aviemore, just go to the Mountain Cafe. You’ll thank me for it one day.
And after we thanked our waitress for the food, we waddled to the station to make our way home. The time on the tracks was spent analysing our weekend and our good fortune …
- Three Munros bagged with over 50 happy miles of road and mountain biking.
- A few doubts, a few victories, a few pints of beer.
- Two full days of crisp fresh air.
- No cars, no arguments, no worries.
- Home in one piece, and in time to see our families.