Just done another three days (mainly) in the Caringorms - did a write up in the off-road thread - but will be easier for me to find in the future here:
My brother lives in Edinburgh, so a Thursday afternoon train had me sat on his couch by the early evening. He's converted a massive Merc Sprinter, so we set out Friday morning for some van life adventure.
First stop was Dunkeld for some proper chunky riding. Couple of well known descents before a slightly more secret bit of gnar. Tricky rooty roll overs and heavy compressions. I was very chuffed to make it out in one piece. If you like a mix of flow and tech (who doesnt), I really recommend Dunkeld. Some of the best bit are not on trailforks though, so I was very thankful for the local knowledge by brother has picked up. It also has some sweet views -was hella' muggy though - the waist pack was there to avoid a sweaty back!
With Dunkeld survived we jumped back in the van (after a well earned shandy and fries at the pub on the riverside) and headed over Glenshee to Braemar and then wiggle over to a cracking little van life camp spot at Linn of Quioch. Quick shot of the boys toys for the weekend:
Next morning we had our sights on Bein a Bhuird, a not insignificant Munro with a well reviewed descent from the top. We plotted a loop and kicked off with easy landy tracks taking us up Glen Slugain. After a few km the landy track gave way to some trickier walkers path. However, after a short section of hike a bike the trail turned into a ribbon of perfect gravel. An easy tail wind shoved us up the gentlest of inclines, winding our way through the most beautiful deserted valley. It was like riding along a brand new forestry commission green trail - but in the middle of nowhere.
After about 4km of perfection we got to the meat of the climb. We were heading up to the saddle between Bhein a Bhurd and Ben Avon called "The Sneck". It was bikes on back time as we trudged up towards the clouds.
The saddle came surprisingly quickly though, and the clouds lifted just enough to reveal a stunning U shaped valley ahead. The wind was whipping over our backs up here, so we found a spot to shelter, stuff some food in our mouths and enjoy the view. Looking at the map I realised I'd been down at the far end before, slugging up towards Faindouran bothy on this trip.
After our brief but beautiful stop we were back on our feet to polish this hill off. The next section was the steepest, so bikes were back on backs for an almost scramble up a very loose ascent to the summit. Once the hardest part was over it's a very flat summit, so finding our way to the top in the now pretty thick cloud was a bit of challenge - paths appeared and disappeared randomly. Some pedalling and some pushing later we found it. Views were sub optimal, but at least afforded some privacy.
With load lightened, we were now ready to begin the descent. It heads south west from the summit, and the early part is gentle but with some big rocks to pick your way through. It does take you close to the cliff edge and some alarming looking drops to a lochan below. fortunately the cloud lifted enough that there was only limited danger of certain death.
The trail soon became more defined, another ribbon of perfect single track. The only thing slowing me down was the thought of smashing myself up this far out of town. The trail swooped down a ridge before traversing across a stunning valley. The main obstacles were the periodic drainage bars, but unlike some other mega descents, they seemed to have been built by riders. The uphill side generally angled as a little launch pad to help hop over the downhill one. Much better than some of the monsters out there that seem to want to eat tyres and rims for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Views weren't too shabby either - just a shame I had to focus on the trail!
Anyway, the 7km of flowing descent ends with a short loamy section through some Caledonian pine, which was a great little bonus before a couple of fords and some good old landy track brought us back to the van. A smashing 5 hours of fun all round. This edit makes it looks super easy, but there are loads on youtube if you want to live vicariously.
Sausage buttys were consumed back at the van before we got back on the road and drove over to Ballater for dinner and then parked up in a nice forestry commission spot by Cambus O'May with the plan to hit the legendary Heartbreak Ridge (HBR) in the morning. For some reason, we took no photos of this, but you can trust me that the day dawned bright and blue, with a decent breeze from the south west. The climb is a bit of a slog, nice landy track but at a gradient that, given our tired legs, does just seem to just keep going. However, the reward at the top is something else. We had that gorgeous tail wind pushing us all the way down. It's an epic descent on the grippiest of Cairngorm granite. Swoopy, techy and stunning. Given the absence of photos, this video from McTrail rider will have to do.
With smiles plastered over our faces, we had time enough to do a quick run in the hills behind Cambus O'May on another awesome little loop, before a dip in the Dee to refresh ourselves ahead of the drive back to Edinburgh. I was pretty relived to come out unscathed as I've had a few too many crashes this year. A great trip though, that will live long in the memory. The Surrey hills do not quite compare.