BOTHY BIKING IN SCOTLAND

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BOTHY BIKING IN SCOTLAND | NORTH WEST INCIDENTALS

There’s a lot to be said for travel in your own country, especially with a bike and more–so by bike. Bikes (mountain bikes), can take you to places that cars or other motorised transport never would, and can deliver you there sooner than a journey on–foot ever could. Furthermore, a mountain bike trip can provide lots of little experiences (‘Incidentals’ I’ll call them) that make a simple day or two out in the hills into an unforgettable ‘Life Experience’. 

DIRT ISSUE 125 – JULY 2012

Words by James McKnight. Photos by Andy Lloyd

Fuel is mighty expensive these days and getting to the North–West of Scotland from, well, anywhere that you are likely to be living, is probably going to break the bank…it did ours. Therefore, I shall not burden you with the story of our entire epic voyage into one of the UK’s best kept areas of ‘wilderness’  – the hills behind Torridon – but I will tell you about a number of the incidentals from our visit. Take these little nuggets of useful and mostly useless information as you will, my intention is that you understand what a great time we had once we’d ditched the van in a lonely lay–by, saddled–up and disappeared into the northern wilderness for a weekend of eye openers.

You don’t have to travel to the tip of nowhere and beyond to make a great adventure of your own, you don’t have to rough it, and one thing you certainly don’t need to do is to spend a lot of money. Plan your own trip this summer and take away some incidentals to remember forever…

Incidental #1: The Fountain of all Knowledge

No trip into the middle–of–nowhere would be complete without an incentive, a goal and an eventual target to hunt down. Folk have been taking pilgrimages for millennia in search of Holy Grails and Oracles. However for myself and photographer Andy Lloyd we were only headed north, from the city of Bristol to the mountain bike mecca that is Innerleithen; our itinerary had been kindly prepared for us by a bearded man from the mountains… Our god–like leader was awaiting us in a lay–by near his base in the famous downhilling town and his first miracle was the ability to sport shorts and t–shirt whilst we were layered–up in nearly all the clothes we owned.

“Going to get a lot colder as we travel north”, this Andy is Andy McKenna of Go–Where Scotland and his initial greeting and hardy mountain–man look had us slightly worried. A slightly pathetic, “is there anywhere to get breakfast and a cappuccino” is about all I could offer as an insight into my southern mentality. Andy McKenna, thankfully, is no stern mountain guide – rather a happy chappy who has managed to carve himself a fantastic life out in the hills. This guide knows all there is worth knowing about the bike riding across his fantastic country and he also has the logistical know–how to shepherd even the least intrepid of explorer to a destination that will change the way they ride and think for good. I trusted Andy from the moment I stepped into the fresh Scottish air and I could tell we were in for one hell of a journey.

Incidental #2: The Road North

I don’t know if there is ever a good time to take a gamble and drive north up through Scotland’s vast expanses; the weather is certainly one part of the country’s reputation and by that we all know I’m not talking sunshine and cool beers on a beach. So why not risk everything and take our chance? We chose not just any old Spring–time weekend, but one that was forecast to be the wettest of the year, and the prophecies proved true…everywhere but our destination, that is.

Lady Luck cannot be thanked enough for the blessing of +25º weather we experienced while the rest of the UK was being pounded by storms and gales. Who’d have though it? Sunbathing loch–side in the north–west of Scotland, solitary in our thorough enjoyment and smug that for once a gamble had paid off. Aviemore was battered with reported twenty–foot snowdrifts, we were cooked up and served; three roasted Brits on holiday and headed for a remote shed.

Incidental #3: Four-star Bothy

If any of us were to claim a ‘spirit of adventure’ then he telling the utmost truth would be Andy McKenna. Andy travels the length and breadth of his country in search of spectacular riding locations, spots to camp out with his wife and friends and areas to take the clients of his Scottish–wide guiding firm. Scotland, as many will know, is one country that can probably boast more free mountain accommodation than any other. ‘Bothies’ can of course vary in size, upkeep and inhabitant, but fortunately Andy knew best this time.

I was over–packed to the absolute maximum with camping kit and food that could have sustained a family for weeks, so it was with quite something of a struggle that we climbed the handful of kilometres to reach our base for the weekend; a lonesome bothy with a view down the stunning valley and a surround of high, fierce, but intriguing peaks. Scotland’s mountains aren’t the biggest but they are some of the most crafty when it comes to catching explorers unawares and so the quality of your bothy can make quite some difference to the weekend’s fun. With this one our luck was in – nothing like a bit of ‘local’ knowledge.>>

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