Cairngorms Short Route – pdf
Distance: 20.8 km
Height Gain: 211m
Highest Point: 360m
1- 1.5 hours approx
Cairngorms Big Route – pdf
Distance: 50.9 km
Height Gain: 698m
Highest Point: 408m
2- 3 hours approx
So, how long have you been out for then?’ we innocently enquired, expecting the usual answer of a day, or two at the most. ‘Two years, give or take,’ our fellow bothy dweller answered, stirring his soup thoughtfully. ‘Oh.’
We were kicking back for a rest in the classic wooden bothy of Inshriach, nibbling a few sandwiches and chatting to the bothy rat company we had found cooking up a lunch in the tiny wooden building. It was based in an idyllic location, set back under some classic Caledonian pine trees with shadows swaying lazily across the doorway and a beautiful trail snaking past the door.
I couldn’t help but feel jealous of our hosts sitting in the open doorway as we were waved off to continue our ride by some properly chilled out people, walking the Highlands with no deadline or stress. Don’t ask me to analyze the practicalities of it, I am just happy with my romantic notions…
We couldn’t complain of course. We had left that morning from Inverdruie and pedaled some of the best natural trails in the country through some amazing countryside and even some pretty good weather. We do all right, I thought, as the gang pedalled on.
Starting in the small village of Inverdruie, just south of Aviemore, we were already showing the locals how it was done. Brian started early by leaving a lifelong impression on an unfortunate young lady walking through the car park. Just at the ‘pants down’ stage of his change out of civvies she happened by and probably wished she hadn’t. Not the scenery
she imagined on her walk, I’ll wager. Still, it got the job done and we were all soon changed and ready to roll out.
One quick hoist over a gate and we were off into the Rothiemurchus Estate – one of my favourite places on the planet.
With Vern leading out our intrepid trio we snaked through the sandy trails heading south into the massive forest, dodging over roots and round rocks, turning at a few small junctions of the singletrack and dropping down past a
picturesque little loch. It wasn’t too soon for a quick stop and mess about on some of the tiny deer paths round the loch, so it was probably a full half hour before we were on our way again and hitting a short stretch of singletrack tarmac up to Loch an Eilean.
As we skirted the edge of the water to get a good view of the castle the rain started to fall, as per the forecast, but we weren’t put off. Under the trees we got some great shelter and the fast and open trails were all so well drained and sandy that it made little difference to the surface. So we chain-ganged along the banks of the loch, before swinging left round the edge, down a slope, over a bridge and onto the ‘out and back’ leg of the ride. Although I wouldn’t normally recommend any out and back, this one has to be worth it. At the start of the trail we had agreed that there was to be no photo stops, no hanging about on this section, so we just rode. Skipping boulders, railing round puddles, crashing up rock fields and splashing through rivers, we had a ball. It is definitely a stretch best savoured in one long stream of hard riding. Vern had never ridden through this area, and by the time he appeared at the small bothy in the woods he was grinning ear to ear. Not a word was said on his arrival, just a big grin.
That was where we met our bothy dwellers and exchanged lifestyle descriptions for a happy half hour over lunch. We departed with thoughts of wandering hills for a living, and I like to think they were a bit more tuned into the two wheeled approach to the trails. Either way we had got our lunch and were once again heading into Rothiemurchus for some more mileage, leaving the wanderers waving from their open door.
Retracing our steps through the rivers and over the technical rock and roots was a hoot again, and it soon brought us back to the wide open sandy tracks that would take us through the forest heading east. It was a chilled pace that saw us riding shoulder to shoulder through the winding route up towards the Cairngorm Club footbridge. The weather was clearing too, so there was no rush to push on and ignore our surroundings. The couple camped in the trees by the bridge, reading books by the side of the Allt Druidh looked up and cast a wave as we shouldered the bikes over the narrow metal bridge and carried on through to Loch Morlich, past the infamous ‘Picadilly’ junction of trails. Southeast led deep into the Cairngorms via the Lairig Ghru, but we were continuing northeast further into the forest.
Skipping round the loch we soon hit the road and turned up to the Glenmore area of the waterside. There is a terrific little café here, with a shop and opportunity to buy goodies for the riding ahead, so we took full advantage by topping up on trail munchies before sitting out on the picnic bench and exchanging notes on the trail so far.
Back in the saddle again the ride up past Glenmore Lodge went by quickly, following the snaking singletrack road up through the trees and onto yet more of those, by now very familiar, Cairngorm sandy tracks. It was to be a rougher ride than before though as the trail higher up broke into a real stony trials section up towards Ryvoan Bothy.
Another bothy, another chance to kick back and sit against the wall for a bite and some scenery appreciation…
With that done and some more energy bars working their way slowly into our legs we continued, hacking along the fast section towards Forest Lodge.
There are plenty of alternatives for the route here, but with time moving on and the weather looking less than friendly, we took the easy option by sticking to the tracks and working our way back down towards the B970 via the network of trails and minor roads. It was glorious to be fast pedalling through the trees, swishing by cottages and crackling off down more sandy trails, so it was a bit of a shame to be spat out onto the main road at the bottom. However, this wasn’t to last long, and the sign for Milton Farm was soon in our sight as a signal to turn up An Slugan for the climb back over and into the welcoming arms of Rothiemurchus again.
We climbed and climbed through the Cally Pines, fighting the temptation to stop and put our feet up under those inviting branches, willing tired legs on to the top of the hill and a flowing descent back into Glenmore. On the left, as you descend, you will see from the map that you are passing Badaguish, the outdoor centre. If you have time, it is definitely worth the diversion into the area around the centre to check out the maze of superb singletrack that is there to be bagged. We just carried on down under ever darkening skies and picked up the cycle path beside the Cairngorm Ski Road and descended gently back to Inverdruie and our car park.
Fortunately there were no girls for Brian to expose himself to so it was a quick change, up to the all you can eat pasta place in Aviemore and a bolt for the accommodation. We had Laggan to go ride the next day, after all! Maybe I won’t hurry to swap this life for the wandering bothy life after all.
From the south, get yourself to Scotland via the usual M6/M74 route up towards Glasgow. Follow the M73 north signed to Stirling and keep following signs for Stirling onto the M80, then the M876 then M9. Once on this, follow it as it goes
round Perth and turns to the A9 and continues north. Follow this all the way north right to the doorstep of the Cairngorms – Aviemore. You have arrived!
There are Youth Hostels in Aviemore itself (0870 004 1104) and down by Loch Morlich (0870 004 1137) but there are plenty of other options. The campsite at Loch Morlich (01479 861 271) is in a terrific location and there is also one further down the road in Coylumridge (01479 812800). Hotels and B&Bs are everywhere as you would imagine of such a popular place, so just get up there and find somewhere.
As the area is so blessed with tremendous trails, so there are a few really good bike shops to compliment them. Give Bothy Bikes a call at Inverdruie (01479 810111) or drop into Fat Tread Bikes (01479 812019) up behind the Myrtlefield
Centre on the high street – a bit trickier to find but worth the hunt for some quality gear! Both shops have an excellent selection of kit and great service facilities.