A blog about me, what I'm up to, where I've been, who I've met, and of how I'm trying to live life as fully as possible, making the most of every day, every opportunity, enjoying every moment and experience, having no regrets, following my dreams, and remembering to be grateful that I can....
....and always remembering my amazing husband, best-friend, and soul-mate...who is with me still throughout every adventure...Gareth xx
Monday, 8 June 2015
Bank Holiday Bothy Adventures
A few weeks
ago, adventurer Alastair Humphreys released a beautiful video online titled
“Mountain Bikes and Bothy Nights” following an imaginary journey linking
bothies in the wildest parts of Scotland by bike. I can’t believe anyone who
loves the great outdoors didn’t watch it and think longingly of the mountains
and start planning their next adventure…..which is exactly what Andy, Aneela,
Anna and I did!
For those not
in the know, or who haven’t yet watched Alastair’s film, Bothies are simple,
rustic, rudimentary shelters in remote places, left unlocked and free to use by
all those who enjoy wild and lonely places.
They can range
from small huts, to 2-storey cottages. There are no facilities, just a dry
space, often with a fireplace or woodburner, and sometimes a sleeping bench on
which to put your mat. You must take in (and out) everything you will need,
including food, sleeping equipment, fuel for cooking and the fire, and anything
else you need to be self sufficient.
They are not 5
star hotels, they are not even ‘glamping’, but they are usually in beautiful
places, there are rarely others around, and I love them.
Armed with a
trolley full of food from Aldi, kit for every weather eventuality and our bikes,
the four of us headed north from the Borders on Bank Holiday Friday. Feeling
smug whilst we cruised along with few other cars on the roads as we listened to
a 30minute bulletin of Bank Holiday traffic chaos in the south of England, it
felt good to be going further away from the crowds!
Our plan was
loosely based around heading North West, checking the weather, and deciding on
a one or two night bothy trip with some exploratory mountain biking in between.
Despite the fact that Andy and Aneela know most of Scotland like the back of
their hands, there are occasionally still trails they haven’t explored, and
bothies they haven’t stayed in, and whilst I’ve done some riding in the North
West Highlands, there are many many trails I’ve yet to discover there.
forecast was terrible, we hadn’t sorted out bags or kit, and there were a whole
load of reasons and excuses we could have come up with for not setting out on
Saturday morning. But ultimately, we all knew that the hardest part of trips
like this is getting started, and once you’re on your way, you’re so glad you
are…so we summoned up some motivation and got ready to go.
A couple of
hours of kit packing followed….This may sound excessive until you realise what
needed to be carried, and carried in a way that it was still possible, and
enjoyable, to ride a bike on some technical terrain!
Photo: Andy McKenna
sleeping bags, mats, dry clothes and warm jackets, food for 3 days, water, first
aid kit, maps, bike parts and tools, a camping stove and fuel, pans and mugs,
fuel for the fire, and headtorches, there was also the small matter of trying
to fit in some beer and wine for a couple of nights for the four of us! I for
one was adamant this wasn’t going to get left behind….we were going to need
some nightly reward for hefting these heavy bags across the mountains on our
backs! Some tough riding was going to follow for sure!
There’s a sense
of setting out on a great big adventure when you take all your food and kit
with you like that, even if it’s just for a night or two. Once you pedal away
from your car and out into the hills it feels like you’re getting “out there”,
away from it all….from people, from the noise of roads, from computers and
smartphones and TVs, from the comforts of modern living, out of your comfort
zone…it’s just you, your friends and your bikes in the great outdoors. If you
forget something or break something you can’t just nip to the shops to fix it,
you have to be completely self-sufficient.
Britain is not a particularly wild place when you compare it to the great wildernesses of the World, but “Wild” can mean different things to different people, and for most of us that aren’t explorers, there are plenty of places in Scotland where the ‘Wild Factor’ is pretty high. It is also a place where the wilderness is easily accessible. You just need to get inspired, grab a map, make a plan and go, and as we found within a few hours of effort, you can find yourself in a place that feels remote, lonely and isolated, where you are humbled by incredible mountains all around and few signs of human interference. No pylons and electricity, no roads, no phone reception, no houses, just the small trace of rocky singletrack you’ve followed to get here, and the sight of a tiny stone bothy nestled deep in the valley below.
Photo: Aneela McKenna
So we pushed and rode our bikes uphill and over a small pass, stopping to readjust bags so we weren’t unbalanced on the bikes. It was hard work, but then the harder you work to get somewhere, often the greater the reward is when you get there. It took a while to get used to riding with such a heavy bag, and there were a few boggy sections where we all only narrowly avoided being dispatched out the front door as our front wheels sank and the weight of the bags on our backs kept us travelling forward with more momentum than normal!
Photo: Aneela McKenna
But the weather was perfect, the views were stunning, and it felt good to be outside on bikes in an incredibly beautiful place. The descent to the bothy was superb, and became a whole lot more fun as we spotted 5 walkers heading across the valley floor to the same bothy we were making our way towards! Andy and I picked up the pace and began charging down, unsure of how much space was in the bothy and whether we’d get there and stake our claim first! Fortunately they were all staying in tents nearby and there was only one other resident for the night, and plenty of space for us all in the cosy little building.
As the gale force wind howled and roared outside overnight, sounding as though it would lift the roof off at times, the rain and sleet lashed down, and the rivers around us swelled to impassable torrents of gushing water, we stayed warm and dry sleeping inside the bothy after our feast of risotto with chorizo, washed down with a mug of French red wine, enjoyed in front of a roaring fire. We awoke to more of the same, gale force winds that would’ve made riding impossible, heavy sleety rain, and no desire to leave the warmth of our little shelter!
Photo: Andy McKenna
So we drank tea, ate sweets and chocolate, played cards, talked about all sorts of stuff and put the world to rights, played rounders with scrunched up paper and a bottle, and came up with numerous other ways to pass the time. Apart from the rounders, most of the time we were sat in our down jackets and sleeping bags….like a kind of bothy-duvet day! It was great.
It’s so rare that you ever find yourselves in that position, with no phones or computers or tv or indeed anything to do except talk and interact with other people who are equally undistracted! I think we all felt it was good for us! However, after 10 hours in a small room, we were all going a bit stir-crazy…fortunately, the weather had started to abate, the river levels were receeding and we decided that we might go insane if we stayed indoors any longer, so we packed up in record time, cleaned the bothy to leave it as we found it, and headed out at 7pm for a dash to another bothy.
A half hour of river and saturated bog crossing, then a pedal on gloriously fast landrover track followed. The weather was continuing to improve, we were sheltered in the lee of the wind behind a big hill, and the sun was trying to come out, illuminating the new snow on the high hills above us. Maybe it was the effect of having been stuck indoors all day, or perhaps the quantity of sugar we’d consumed whilst sat around, or possibly the exhilaration of feeling so alive as the cold water filled our shoes and socks as we crossed rivers and bogs, and the wind and the sun hit our faces as we pedalled away, or perhaps even the vastness and emptiness of the place we found ourselves in, towering mountains all around, rivers full with rain water, the herd of deer that ran past…Whatever it was, it made me want to whoop and holler in delight at where we were and what we were doing!
The bothy we arrived at was huge, it even had a toilet! Even more excitingly, there was masses of firewood to burn on the fire to try to dry our wet kit. We cooked another feast, drank some more delicious beer and wine, went out to look at the beautiful starry skies, threw logs on the fire until we were practically cooking from the heat given off, and then slept well again.
The next morning brought much better weather, and with packs infinitely lighter now our food, fuel, and alcohol were depleted, we headed off on an interesting looking trail on the map that none of us had ridden before. It looked on paper like it had the potential to be either completely amazing, or utterly soul-destroyingly boggy and unrideable! That’s the beauty of trail exploring, and what you have to prepare yourself for when you set off on a ride like that!
We started by pushing and carrying our bikes up a boggy hillside on a barely-there trail through the tussocks and heather….you might be thinking this already sounds horrendous, but none of us are averse to a bit of hike-a-bike in the search for those ultimate trails! In fact, I often actually quite like that kind of suffering to get to a trail…it makes the reward of finding a good one oh so much sweeter when you get there, and knowing that most of the biking population won’t bother to put that kind of effort in to ride something makes you smile at the knowledge that you’ve found your own little secret piece of singletrack gold.
And find it we did….
A glorious ribbon of undulating technical rocky singletrack, followed by a fantastic technical descent, 99% rideable, 100% pure fun. It was the kind of trail you always hope to find when you’re exploring new trails, almost like it had been made for bikes. I was in my element. It’s for days and moments like this that I ride my bike….an awesome ride and adventure, on an engaging, exhilarating trail, with great, like-minded people, in a wild and special place amidst dramatic scenery. There were smiles for miles by the time we got to the bottom and headed back to where we’d left our vans a couple of days before.
It’s amazing how a few days living without the usual comforts of modern life can make you appreciate everything so much more…. clean clothes, dry shoes, food that doesn’t just need water adding to cook it, a proper bed, a shower…they all felt like little luxuries!
Our trip was only a mini adventure, but that’s all we all needed to come back feeling refreshed, energised, and inspired for more. In fact, in 3 days we rode a grand total of 15 miles, but boy did it feel a lot bigger and like we got a lot further away. It just goes to show though, that adventures don’t all have to be huge, monumental, daunting challenges that take weeks to plan, to feel like you’ve had a giant break from normality. They may not even feel worthy of being called an “adventure”….but the beauty of adventure is that it means different things to different people. For me it means stepping outside of your comfort zone, away from the things you know and that make life easy, doing something different from your “normal”, challenging yourself, taking on something that scares you, going somewhere that excites you, that may have risks and almost certainly has an uncertain outcome. Something that you might not complete, or finish, where you may have to turn back, or alter your plans. Something that’ll leave you with a sense of reward or satisfaction, or achievement.
Whatever and wherever your adventures are, they are always good for the soul, and we should all seek to take them once in a while. I think John Muir knew what I was trying to say about this….
“Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
Biking to bothies is a great way to have a micro adventure and a way to explore some of the wild places that do still exist in our little country. All it takes is a will to want to do it and the motivation to make it happen.
Selfishly, I’m not going to tell you exactly where we rode or on what trails….Scotland is full of spectacular places and half the fun of adventures is going to explore and find your own hidden gems! So get out there and go and explore!!