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Best Laid Plans - John's Scotland Road Trip

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Kinlochleven mountain biking in Scotland. Photo: John Coefield.

'The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley.'

It had been in the diary for ages – since last year in fact – and after many months of planning, poring over maps, physio for a dicky shoulder and bike prep, the time had finally arrived. May's road trip to Scotland, to Torridon in the north-west in particular. A mere 500 miles from Sheffield.

Despite the horrific forecast, Team Leisure Pace/Winch and Plummet Racing (me, Rich, Harvey) hit the road on Sunday morning, aiming for the Highlands. Naturally the plan changed immediately and we opted to make the first stop just over the border instead, at the trail centre at Dalbeattie. I've only done one of the 7Stanes before – Ae – so it was good to get another ticked off, even if it was banging it down for the first half of the ride. Satisfyingly worked and wet, we piled back into the car and headed north via a motorway stop near Glasgow where Harvey had the piss ripped out of him mercilessly by the barista for asking for a skinny latte. A good sign we were no longer in England. The plan was to overnight in Newtownmore and then hit the road round to Torridon the following morning.

Morning came. Apocalyptic forecast for the north-west. We stayed in Aviemore. Despite having read the entire internet we were stuck for where to ride in the area in mixed weather; cue a trip to Bothy Bikes, who gladly pointed us in the direction of some outstanding commute-and-descend technical riding in the woods overlooking the town. Now these trails were really special; steep, rocky, loamy, rooty, techy, fast - they had everything. It might not have been the big backcountry riding we were planning, but it was spot on after the soaking we'd had the day before. Cleaned and fed, we decided to brave Torridon.

Aviemore mountain biking. Photo: John Coefield

The following morning, to say the weather was bad, doesn't really do it justice. But we're stubborn, and went out anyway, up from Annat and into the back of beyond. Things might not have been so bad had it not started raining again as we left, or if the wind wasn't gusting at a million miles an hour, or if it wasn't sleeting and snowing from about 500 metres up, or if we'd dressed for winter riding, or if Harvey hadn't punctured right on top, and then pinched his spare tube when putting that in, or if we'd remembered to take the 1:25,000 map rather than the 1:50,000, or if there was more than 10 metres visibility at 600 metres, or if we hadn't followed the wrong trail for a bit, got lost on a big bog and had to retrace our steps, or if the 6 inches of running water on the trails wasn't there, or if we could feel our feet. You know all those amazing photos you see of Torridon in the mags and online? Yep, it was NOTHING like that. Yet, it was a 'memorable' experience (the descent back to Annat is incredible - photo below), and although we promptly sacked it the next day for dry weather in Fort William, I'll definitely be back. Hopefully next spring. And we did all agree that flirting with hypothermia beats Scottish midges any day ...

Torridon mountain biking in Scotland. Photo: John Coefield.

Emotionally scarred from the day before, we rocked up at Nevis Range for some Gondola Therapy. Only Harvey had the luxury of full suspension, and we didn't have full-facers, so we were spared a beating on the World Cup DH and instead hit the Red 'XC' (!) run. It's a hell of a trail; fast boardwalk escorts you over the boggy bits to the granite rock slabs and techy bits. And it's steep in places too, and super fast at the bottom. Then we dived into the woods and linked up bits of the other various man-made trails, finding a couple of natural lines in the process, finishing on Nessie and rolling back to the car park sated.

Nevis Range red route. Photo: John Coefield

We decided to stick around Fort William, like moths to a good weather flame, and repeated the Gondola trip and Red XC the following day, but this time headed over towards the North Face path up to the CIC hut below the north face of Ben Nevis. The path was built for winter climbers heading up the Ben to climb, but it also makes a very good – and largely singletrack – rocky climb and descent, plus you get to marvel at the north face (still covered in snow in mid May) when you get up there. Rich had been staying at the hut only 6 weeks previously, while climbing on the Ben. We endured a light dusting of snow, boshed some Haribo and hit the descent. Watching Harvey clear some of the drainage channels was seriously impressive – even if I had a similar lack of respect for my rear wheel, I still wouldn't be able to throw a bike around like that. Buzzing again, we hit the Clachaig in Glencoe for some well earned dinner.

Riding up to Ben Nevis in Scotland. Photo: John Coefield

The week's plan had been to ride at least 3 days in Torridon, and possibly even head over to Skye to do Glen Sligachan, but we were miles away from Torridon, Skye and The Plan by now. By text from Sheffield, Tom had suggested going to look for the enduro (buzz word alert!) trails around Kinlochleven, so that became Friday's plan. In glorious weather we headed out of Kinlochleven, via a short section of West Highland Way, and up past Mamore Lodge into the hills. The target: Coire an Lochain, between Sgor Eilde Beag and Sgurr Eilde Mor at about 750 metres. Riding up we spied a great looking trail by the Allt nan Slatan so detoured via that (top photo) before looping back up and onwards towards Loch Eilde Mor. The push up from the loch was long, but thankfully never too arduous, and the views back over towards Glencoe and especially Buchaille Etive Mor more than made up for it.

What followed was one of the best bits of riding I've ever done. Over 750 metres of height loss down to Kinlochleven, over about 5 kilometres of trail. Rocky, techy, scary, flowy. The drop from the Coire back down to the landrover track near the loch was incredible enough, but we then dropped straight into one of the enduro (buzz word alert!) trails back down to Kinlochleven - the An Cumhann, and it just got steeper and more technical the more we descended. The perfect end to a stunning week of a riding. Make plans, but be sure to know when to change them. You never know what you might discover.

JC

P.S. Here's our GoPro of the Nevis Red Route:

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