Like all great plans this one started in the Winton Arms, my local pub in Pencaitland, East Lothian. Over the years lots of maps and guidebooks have been studied here and some of the ideas have even turned into reality, although there are many more that remain ‘things to get round to one day!’ or just ‘stupid ideas!’.
Previous adventures hatched here have included both across Scotland open canoe trips and even the epic Great Divide Cycle ride was originally planned (well thought about!) here.
Anyway, the plan was to try and go away for a few days, do a journey, see a bit more of Scotland and get some exercise. Initially, Ian Robertson and I chatted over an Open Canoe trip (perhaps cross-Scotland three?). In the end we decided that a mountain bike expedition might be better but we would stick with the cross Scotland theme.
We thought we would travel light, carrying everything that we needed but we would stay in hostels so we wouldn’t have to carry camping gear. Looking at the maps and guidebook we thought we might like to attempt the fairly well documented route from Fort William (on the West of Scotand) to Montrose (on the East).
As always there were however a few logistical problems these included:
- How would we get to and from the start and finish?
- It was the middle of winter, with more snow than Scotland has seen in years and this was pretty much a summer route
- I didn’t have a mountain bike (I had given my away on the USA / Mexico boarder in the summer!)
After some more thought, another pint of Black Sheep and pickled egg each we had managed to get round / ignore most of the problems by:
- I ordered a bike on-line with my phone (there is nothing like impulse buying!)
- We decided that we would cycle from home to the local train station (5 miles) and get the train to the start and then the train back home again (it seemed like a great idea at the time!)
- We decided the weather was bound to get better and forecast was obviously wrong.
So a plan was hatched...
Day one - After work on Friday we cycled from Pencaitland to Longniddry Train Station. Ian arrived in plenty of time I was still answering emails when he left my house to cycle the 5 miles. As a result I arrived at Longniddry as the train arrived at Longniddry (almost the end of the trip). From Longniddry we got the train to Edinburgh. From Edinburgh to Glasgow and from Glasgow to Fort William.
The Fort William Train is meant to be beautiful – which is one of the reasons that we went when it was dark!
From Fort William it was then a very cold and dark 35 mile cycle along the Caledonian Cannel to Fort Augustus, on the shore of Loch Ness. Here we stayed for the night in a great hostel (Morag’s Lodge) – we arrived just in time for whiskey tasting.
Day two - On the Saturday morning we left Fort Augustus and followed General Wades old military road (built in 1731) up and over the Corrieyairick Pass.
We were able to cycle for most of the morning but there was a massive amount of snow on the top and we spend a couple of hours pushing our bikes up and over the pass until it was safe and possible to cycle again.
The scenery was spectacular and the detail was really brought out by the snow and light. It was also amazing to see so many frozen Lochs.
On the other side of the pass we cycled down to Lagan and spent the night in the Monadhliath Hotel. This again was another great place to stay – we were very well looked after and they even have a ruined chapel in their grounds.
We had to make a couple of difficult decisions on day four. Ian decided to get the train back home as he was not getting any better, the weather was due to get worse and the route over to Braemar (through Glen Feshie) was going to be tough in the snow.
We sorted out our gear and I decided to go and have a look at the Glen – thinking I could always get a later train home if things looked impossible.
The first part of the day went well and despite having to push a bit I made pretty good progress to the Glen Feshie Bothy. I have many happy memories of this place from my time a Dunbar Grammar School when we used to take the first year students camp outside the bothy and give many of them their first wilderness experience.
One of the other great features of the glen is this deserted chimney stack – you used to be able to have fires in the stack but now the estate warm people that this is unsafe (and they are probably right!).
From the bothy things got a lot harder and even though I was able to cylce a bit the landrover track was full of snow and I ended up pushing most of the day. The navigation was particularly hard at the watershed mainly due to the lack of visibility and the fact that it is very hard to pace or follow a compass bearing while pushing a bike!
My original plan was to get to Montrose via Mt Keen. But I decided that probably would be at least another 6 – 7 hour push plus the cycling either side. So instead I decided I would take the road to Stonhaven. Stonhaven was 55 miles away and as it was on the coast as well it would still be a Cross-Scotland cycle trip.
So, on Day five I opened the bunkhouse door to be faced by a blizzard and I did actually think for a moment about going back to bed as got dressed in the bunkhouse drying room.
Considering the weather and the darkness for the first couple of hours I made pretty good progress down the road. It was very cold and large icicles formed on my cycle helmet! But as the sun came up and I dropped in altitude the weather did get gradually better. Apart from when a snow plough went passed covering me in a Tsunami of so much snow, I had to stop to try and get it out of jacket, rucksack and ears!
It was a nice ride to Stonehaven. I’m sure the road would have been a lot busier if the weather hadn’t been so bad – but I pretty much had the whole route to myself all of the day.
When I got to Stonehaven I cycled right down to the sea for a final photograph before heading to the train station to get a ticket. The attendent checked me on and it was luck that the train terminated in Edinburgh – because that’s where I woke up!
From Edinburgh I got the train to Longniddy and then it was five mile ride up the hill back to Pencaitand. I cycled via the Winton Arms deciding that it would be best to end this adventure in exactly the same place that it had started only a few days before!
I have embedded a Google Map of the route below:
View Cross Scotland by Mountain Bike (in winter?!?!) in a larger map