Category Archives: cycle tours

ups and downs

Back on the bike after my flirtation with car hire, returning home last night from a trip to Burnmouth Cottage on Hoy, and a fact finding mission to the Croft House at Loch Strathy. With the weather initially on my side the Orkney leg was a delight, two nights stop-over with my friend Kate, and a floaty day on Hoy, remembering the far off days of my last visit, when the Old Man was successfully scaled, and our four man team basked in front of the bothy fire, impressing a group of youngsters on a school field-trip with tales of daring do. Then with heavy rain forecast for the next afternoon, I steeled myself for a more challenging proposition, a cycle in to Lochstrathy, simply in order to check to terrain of the 15 miles of track from Strathy East. The morning crossing to Scrabster was hassled free, and then it was a right turn towards Dounreay, and on to the handy unofficial camp-site on sandy cliff top above Strathy Bay. Pitched my tent just as the heavens opened and took a deep breath, thinking the last thing I actually wanted to do was hit the track and prepare for a soaking.

Even in the nagging rain the cycle wasn’t too much of a hardship. I still get a real thrill heading into the middle of nowhere, especially up in the Flow Country where it feels like your on the edge of the Canadian wilderness, the sense of isolation increasingly gripping even though I knew this was a quick round trip. And then I got a puncture. Not a biggie in most circumstances, but I was only half way to Loch Strathy, and the worst case scenario would be a twelve mile jog to the bothy and back, and a head down nine miles pushing the bike to civilisation. Or just abort. No, there was no option. When would I have the time to get back? I had no leeway, schedule locked down with an advanced ticket back from Forsinard the following day. And with a tight writing schedule, there was no chance of a return in the foreseeable. Anyway back to the job in hand. Ray was with me in spirit as the rain started clattering down in an intense burst of spite, and the midges began to hone in. Reluctantly I had to struggle into my waterproof trousers just to keep the blighters at bay, and only then able to concentrate on what is normally a very simple task. Found the hole in the inner tube, patch on, tyre pumped, instant deflation. Bollocks. Inspect inside of the tyre, remove stone which has pierced right through the rubber, and apply another patch. Plus a couple to the tyre itself for some kind of insurance. Pump up tyre again and all good. Right. Back on it. Gingery cycled on to the bothy fearful for a slow release of pressure, but eventually it came into view, and with increasing pace and a following wind I made it to the Strathy Inn before the light faded. Sopping wet I must have looked a sight, but I didn’t have a care, eyed the warm glow of the stove in the lounge, and ordered some soup. Book entry: ‘straight forward to cycle’.


Boulders on the beach at Rackwick Bay you just want to hug and take home with you…


the Old Man…


Burnmouth Cottage


chintzy interior


ferry arriving at Moaness


proof that the bike did made it to Lochstrathy!


camp-site above Strathy Bay the morning after..


Flow Country close to Forsinard

quick, quick, slow

For quite a while now I’ve been conscious that I wanted to put something back into the MBA, and idly thought I’d end up on a work party sooner or later. More recently I realised that maybe now was the time to actually step up and make a full commitment to being a maintenance officer, so I’ve been scanning the quarterly newsletters to see what posts were being advertised. Not having a car is quite a restriction – strapping a bag of cement to the bike rack is hardly a practical reality – but in December I saw that the position at Dibidil on the south coast of Rum was available, and in a moment of unnerving clarity thought this was the opportunity I was waiting for. No need for a motor when there is barely a kilometre of publicly accessible track on the island. An email exchange with the organisation confirmed that the post was still free, the only seemingly straight forward stipulation was attendance at the next area meeting. No problem I enthused I’ll be there.

Inevitably, there was a snag to proceedings because when I hastily opened the spring issue of the newsletter, the agreed location of the gathering was at Suardalan bothy, south of Shiel Bridge. I winced thinking about the logistics, as not only would this mean coming in from the west to avoid a hideous cycle along the stretch of the A87 from Invergarry, but there was also the small matter of the Mam Ratagan pass to negotiate, if I came in from Plockton or Kyle of Lochlash. This classic cycling test piece tops out at a hard earned 388m, and although I’d sweated up it three years ago while staying at Letterfearn, that was without the dead weight of my panniers.

Later that evening, having looked at the Scotrail timetable and taken account of the rather expensive advance fare prices, I hit upon a cunning plan. The alternative to the Mam Ratagan is heading over to Glenelg via the Kylerhea ferry, so I thought with a couple of extra days in hand I could take the Mallaig train and cycle through Skye, taking in a couple of bothy visits on the way. I wanted to get a shot of the train from Essan bothy between Glenfinnan and Lochailort, and also visit the recently openly new build at Camasunary. Done.

The reality was a hit and miss tale of happiness and woe, though this is of course, what I have come to expect. After a partially successful afternoon shoot, I slept in and missed the first train out to Mallaig. Not too much of a problem as I had already steeled myself for the cycle, though it did add twenty miles to my day. More frustratingly three sailings over to Armadale were cancelled due to unusually low neap tides, so I didn’t start off up the Sleat peninsula until after four. The rain had predictably set in by then, and I only got to Camasunary just before dark, replaying the decision to just turn over and have a snooze twelve hours earlier, as I slogged up the final step stretch on the north side of Loch Slappin. After a welcome morning chat with a laid back German guy walking the Skye Trail, I took some brooding shots of the Cuillin, and very efficiently made my way back to Broadford with plenty of time to spare. Here I took a closer inspection of the map and with typical blindness to elevation, realised that the pass over Glen Arroch and down to Kyle Rhea was only 50m lower than the Mam Ratagan! Psyched I took on the challenge in reasonable style, and even had an hour in hand to pop round to Glen Beag and take a couple of pictures of Dun Telve, an impressive broch which has withstood the passage of 3000 years since it was built in the Neolithic. A quick half in the Glenelg Inn and it was on to Suardalan and the Area Meeting, where I passed the secretive initiation and now have the proud title of probationary joint maintenance officer of Dibidil, Rum. I’m sharing my duties until I get an official hand over, and my new associate Dave gave me a very gratefully received lift back to Spean Bridge, thus avoiding the fearsome looking ascent back over to Broadford and on to the Mallaig ferry. Happy to put my feet up yesterday…

Essan bothy from the Mallaig train

A closer look

The quirky interior

Debris fished from the river

A moment of contemplation

Evening light

Champagne shot…Offsets the unfortunate deleting of my picture of the train while flicking through the photos on the journey back to Edinburgh. Doh! Back to capture the steam train later in the year as compensation.

Bothy humour

Loch Eilt on the walk out from Essan, still optimistic that I might make the train

Dawn at Camasunary

View of the new bothy and across the bay to Sgurr na Stri

Camasunary Bay with the Cuillin brooding in the background

View back to Beinn na Caillich and round to Glamaig from Glen Arroch


View across to Glen Elg from below Bealach Udal

The Kylerhea swing ferry

Well earned rest

Dun Telve, impressive broch in Glen Beag

Another quick pit stop

Arriving at Suardalan

Early morning shot of the bothy with Beinn Sgritheall in the background





Scotland at its best

Feeling slightly embarrassed to effuse too much, but what a weekend to be in the hills. I’d already made the decision to head out if the weather held fair, but there was certainly no indication from the Met Office forecast of the wall to wall sunshine that transpired. The plan was a two night stay at Glenpean bothy out towards Knoydart, the only dilemma whether to walk in from Glenfinnan and down into Gleann Cuirnean, or cycle from Spean Bridge. The bike won the day, and I thanked my lucky stars, as the cycle back along Loch Arkaig on Sunday was a wonder to behold. The mirroring of the hills in the water was really quite spooky, and I was so relieved that all the photos I took were in focus and not over exposed. Spent Saturday nipping over to Kinbreak to see how the bothy was doing, and got some interior shots. The new rosy red roof is a very cheery sight, and really given the place a lift.

On to the long stretch round the north side of Loch Arkaig looking across to Glen Maille. 5ks of coal split between the panniers just to keep me honest.

Finally arriving at the bothy after negotiating the final 500 yards beyond the end of the forestry track

Fire lit, wine opened, time to take in the gloaming

quiet satisfaction

chilly overnight

up for the dawn

better perspective of the view west down Glen Pean heading on to Oban bothy and Loch Morar

cheery sight of the new roof on Kinbreak bothy

photo (7281)

photo (7283)

Much improved ambience of the attic space


View west up Glen Kingie, Sgurr an Fhuarain to the right of shot and Sgurr Mor at the back

back over the bealach

heading back for the train on a crystal clear Sunday morning

amazing reflections in Loch Arkaig, looking back west to Carn Mor and on east

late lunch at Corpach sea loch, with a fine view of the Ben

back to where it all began

Finishing fever seems to have got the better of me, so despite pulling out two big trips on the spin, I was off again over the weekend, overnighting at White Laggan. This makes it a grand total of 78 current Scottish MBA’s out of 79, so all done bar one. Before I made my return to Barrhill and the train home to Edinburgh, I looked in on Back Hill of Bush, which seemed very fitting as its pretty much 50 years to the day that the MBA was brought into being within its haloed confines. Shame its been bashed about recently, but I think the Forestry Commission has committed to straightening it out again.

off we go again…start of the off road section of the Sustrans National Cycle Route 7 from Loch Trool to Gatehope of Fleet

arriving at White Laggan

first priority a mug of tea

second priority getting the stove lit

dawn in the kitchen window

view down the valley to Loch Dee and beyond

more tea

the bothy stove

Back Hill of Bush

didn’t quite know what I was expecting inside, especially after the reports I’d read of the bothies mishandling

not too bad which was a relief, though certainly quite a lot of rubbish piled up in the porch

view over to Craignaw and Dungeon Hill

view back towards Loch Dee

view towards Loch Dee and Curleywee on the cycle back…

route there and back…

Indian summer just keeps on giving

Now I’ve already been to the Lookout at Rubha Hunish on the northern tip of Skye, and checked out the amazing view it commands over the Western Isles, but at the time I had quite a minimalist approach to taking photos. I had been quite taken by a philosophy I had read about which put forward the idea of only taking one photograph a day, honing the skill of judging what makes a worthwhile image. So for example, if you woke up to a beautiful sunrise, you would have to quickly decide whether it was going to be the best set up of the day, or hope a more enticing scene would reveal itself later on. Had you already got a better picture of a sunrise on your travels? Was the composition going to draw the viewer in? That kind of malarkey. I never got that extreme, but was very disciplined in my approach, conscious to only get just enough pictures that ‘spoke’ of the essence of a trip, and not get snap happy. God have I lived to regret that now, I didn’t even take a picture of the bothy!

In the back of my mind I knew at some point I’d have to get a proper photo shoot, and having missed out on my last trip to Skye in May, I knew my opportunities were starting to dwindle, before the winter weather brought my more ambitious plans to an end for the year. So having just come back from Jura the day before, the forecast of continued high pressure for the next three days at least, was an opportunity just too irresistible to miss, and I booked the bike on the service to Mallaig before the day was out. My kit was barely dry when I jumped on a train Saturday lunchtime, and after an overnight camp in Arisaig, was totally focused on getting to Rubha Hunish and the bothy by the evening. According to mapmyride this is a fairly honest 65 miles through the Cuillin and beyond, and having misread the train timetable, realising at the station that there was no early morning service on a Sunday, I had to throw in the extra nine miles on the back road up to Mallaig. Oh and an extra two mile round trip back, when I realised as I went to take the first picture of the day, that in my earnestness I had left the camera behind at the campsite. Doh!

evening light at Arisaig

evening light at Arisaig

Fortunately there are some days when despite yourself you get a good slice of luck, and having no idea when the next ferry left for Armadale and Skye, I arrived at the dock with moments to spare. No time lost after all that. Substance not necessarily style the order of the day. Well, I made it to the road end just as it was getting dark, and stumbled up to the bothy in the light of my head torch. There was a welcome glow at the window, and a pleasant evening spent chatting to a lovely Irish woman, who was heading for Harris the following day.  I was up for the dawn, and the next 24 hours were a photographers dream. By lunchtime I had all the pictures I needed, and just when I thought I could put my feet up, tracked a rainbow for half an hour as it made its way across the Minch. Got some more shots at the point and returned for a satisfying long exposure of the bothy interior, lit with candles with the last of the light in the window. Back down to Sligachan by the following evening, taking pictures all the way, and back to Edinburgh the day after. I had toyed with the idea of stopping off at Glenpean, but after being ambushed by a half and a half on the ferry, I was in no fit state to do little more than snooze on the train home.

dawn shot of the bothy, which sits on the edge of a line of cliffs above Rubha Hunish, the most northern point of Skye

Pan (6676)

view out of the 180 degree Lookout observatory window at first light

dawn from the bothy door

dawn from the bothy door

view of Rubha Hunish as you start to head down the path between the cliffs

as it says on the tin

catching the light

relic of a time when the bothy was a Coastguard Station

rainbow on the Minch

view out to Harris

kitchen window

one of ten or so pictures of the bothy I took during the day, minimalism be damned

view back to the bothy from Rubha Hunish, its just visible on the top left of the cliff

evening light

final shot of the day

and a few of the pic’s I took on the way back down to Sligachan…

view across to the mainland from somewhere around Flodigarry, Torridon and An Teallach just visible on the horizon

quick stop off on the hill out of Staffin with the Quiraing behind

clearer view across the sound to Rona, with Applecross and Torridon on the horizon

the Old Man of Stoer

coasting down to Sligachan, with Glamaig and Sgurr nan Gillean catching the last of the sun

route round….

going lightweight

Entry in the bothy book at An Cladach on Islay:

Mon 5th to Wed 7th Oct 2015

Wasn’t initially thinking of coming here on this trip, but through a creeping sense of inertia yesterday afternoon, and strong winds forecast for today, I thought it would be a good backstop if the ferries weren’t guaranteed to run. Cycled from Bordick last Thursday morning, heading for Cruib, with a planned excursion to Ruantallain if the time allowed. Finally made it to Loch Tarbert after a night camping in ‘the Field’ outside the Jura Hotel at Craighouse, and spent a rather spaced and rambling two hours walking in. I caught a stray bungee cord in the eye as I was setting off to Ardrossan on the train, and have had cloudy vision for the last couple of days! Cruib is in excellent shape, and I was relieved that there is a peat cutting just above the bothy, so I could have a cosy evening by the fire.

I am experimenting with overnight bothy stays with a 35 litre OMM sack, stowing my bike and panniers by the roadside, and taking whatever I can squeeze in beyond the basics. In fact, I coped surprisingly well, despite the lack of fresh milk for my tea, and fried breakfast on the menu, and actually stayed on for a second night instead of heading back to Craighouse to watch the rugby. A fortuitous decision it turned out, as I avoided the carnage inflicted on puffed up England by the marauding Aussies. It also meant that I could spend a more leisurely amount of time at Ruantallain, and do a bit of exploring of the cliffs. The added significance of the afternoon was that this prized bothy ‘tick’ means that to all intents and purposes I have ‘finished’ the full round of Sottish MBA’s, and what I slightly arbitrarily call significant others. There are a few more places I want to visit, ( and a couple of borders day trips to polish off) but I have drawn a satisfactory line, and am happy with that. Spent part of today deciphering some notes, and resolved to try and come out in this direction once a year around this time. It was also lovely to see my sister’s entry of September last, and I have a lot of time for your man asking after the old bothy book so that regulars can revel in times past. (I am officially going to make a smart arsed comment here but can’t help myself) On a past visit to Clennoch for example, I discovered that the ‘Friends’ of the bothy have actually photocopied and laminated a number of the old bothy books, going back to the 90’s at least. Sorry out of the system now. Anyway I should be writing a blog entry, but I thought I’d take some time to jot down something here. I’m not a big fan of writing long entries, but I have been inspired this evening.

In terms of house keeping, I’ve hopefully left enough kindling to dry off the last blocks of peat. There are some rather damp pieces up at the cutting, but I think that’s it for the year. And apologises if the place is a little untidy, I’ve got to rush off in the morning to get the 12.30 ferry from Port Ellon. Normally I would clear out the ash from the fireplace, but I’m loathed to put out the embers tonight. And good luck with the big logs, a happy find on the beach back at the Logain burn.

Also a big thank you to Dave (1 of) MO, and of course the MBA and the estate. This really is a home from home.

Geoff Allan


Photos from the trip…

sunset over Arran from the last ferry of the day

campsite outside the Jura Hotel with the Paps behind


attempt at going light weight

view south over Loch Tarbert to the Paps

peat fire magic


view back to the Paps

an old Laird of the estate

stumbled on these two by accident and quickly made my apologises…

walking back to Cruib, view of Islay on the horizon

back to the hotel just in time for a late Sunday lunch

a quiet evening by the fire at An Cladach

a writers retreat

only partially a set up shot, as I had just about run out of gas by early afternoon on the second day

walking out in the dawn glow

discovered that a ferry left for Oban from Port Arkaig, saving me a pedal south to Port Ellon…happy days

faindouran or bust

The first inkling that the afternoon might become an uphill struggle, was when a traffic sign cheerfully informed me that the bridge was closed at Blairdryne. I was just heading out of Stonehaven on the locally infamous Slug road, hoping to make it to Ballater by nightfall, and I started to wonder if I should shelve my plans as it was already well past two thirty. The diversion was via the dual carriageway so that was a non starter, and a quick look at the map confirmed that the first turning west into the Dee basin was just past the bridge, so it was all a bit of a gamble. I was hoping to make it on to Fairdouran and back the next day, which was a ambitious plan as it was, but I was as focused as always, and knew the forecast was for wall to wall sunshine for the next 48 hours.

what to do?

I set off envisaging a river crossing if need be, and was mightily relieved when a fellow cyclist coasted down the hill towards me, about twenty minutes into the route. He stopped for a wee chat, and said that they were only repairing the wall to the bridge, and there wasn’t even a barrier. Feeling instantly a lot better, I asked him how steep the hill was to the pass, and he replied ‘ach not bad, as long as you’ve got some gears to play with it’. No problem then. Well momentarily at least, as literally fifty yards back into the pedals my rear deraileur gear changer finally gave up the ghost, having been loose for a while, and quietly fell onto the tarmac. To make matters worse the front deraileur itself had seized up god knows when. I’d meant to get the bike serviced before heading out, but it always seemed to be at the bottom of the to do list. I gamely tried to put the changer back together, but it was well beyond repair, so there was nothing left for it but to push on in single speed. The chain was fixed in quite a high cadence, so this wasn’t going to be a piece of cake, but I was in the zone by then, and wasn’t going to let anything stop me come hell or high water.  I beasted up the hill getting more and more pumped, and was so wired I didn’t even stop at the top, making the decision to only take a rest when I got to the bridge, just to make certain that the way was clear. It was only when I got off the bike that I realised that I’d pushed too far in the red zone and had completely bonked, having failed to eat anything bar fruit gums since breakfast. I limped the three miles into Banchory in a bit of a daze, and was only just coherent enough to order tea and a sandwich from the first cafe I could find.

Well, it could have all gone Pete Tong from here, but fortunately the force is strong at the moment. Within half an hour I had recovered enough to be back on the road, and as it was well into the evening, the A93 was almost completely traffic free. The couple who ran the camp site in Ballater were friends of friends, and turned out to be the most generous people you could ever hope to meet. Having heard my tale of woe, a mountain bike was offered for the run to Fairdouran, breakfast and dinner promised if I was up for it, and there was no question that they would charge me for my tent fees. I couldn’t thank them enough. I bought pastries and fruit round in the morning, put my wounded machine into the bike shop for repair, and sped off up the Tomintoul road in excellent form. Fifteen miles up and down to Cockbridge, a very deliberate stop for an early sandwich, and a fun couple of hours chugging along the track west into Glen Avon. The bothy is just about on the mend after suffering an almost terminal collapse in a winter storm eighteen months ago, and although a planned push onto the Fords of Avon refuge was filed for another occasion, I was very happy with my lot. Stopped for a quick dip on the way out back out to the road, and was still just in time for tea and lemon sponge at the cafe at Corgarff. Just the small matter of a 200m ascent to the summit layby on the A939 before sitting back in the saddle down to Ballater, and a date with a pasta bake. Popped into to see a mate in Torphins on the way back to Stonehaven, and although I have been swithering about admitting it, he slung my bike into the back of his estate and took me back to the bealach on the Slug road, so all I had to do was free wheel back down the hill, and had just enough time to change into my civvies before the train came. Rendrezvous in Dundee sadly missed, but in the circumstances I think I had had a good run as it was.

borrowed bike

photo (6436)

bothy finally comes into view after 15 miles of off road effort

the requisite photo

the requisite photo

new stove…

view back down Glen Avon with Ben Avon in the background

wild swim

the route in…

Three days, two bikes, one bothy. Job done. Next!