We used the Caledonian Sleeper from Euston to get to our start at Kingussie.
This worked very well, with plenty of secure storage for our bikes (in a locked room). The buffet car was a delight, with the bar staying open until 1am, and a great vibe with all occupants enjoying the relaxing mode of travel to the Highlands. The cabins are quite small but provide enough storage space for two mountain bikers. The gentle rocking motion, and creeks from the old carriages plus the alcohol consumed from the bar, meant that nodding off in the bunk bed was immediate !
We arrived at Kingussie on time and popped into the Spar round the corner from the station to grab some food for the day. Once away from the road most of the trails were very well maintained and navigation in the morning was no problem at all. We picked off some quite beautiful single track, before we ended up at Glenmore where we had a spot of early lunch. Following an unnecessary mistake which resulted in us taking on a relentlessly steep slope at the back of the visitors centre, we got back on the correct route – passing the front of the visitors centre, a reindeer park and then Glenmore Lodge as we headed back into the mountain terrain. We stopped at the beautiful aqua blue loch for a few minutes before setting off again. It was soon that we hit the first river crossing of the expedition and learned a few lessons on the way:
- If crossing in bare feet, your shoes should be secured onto/in your rucksack
- Trying to push the bike through fast flowing water whilst holding shoes at same time is recipe for disaster
- Biking shoes with SPD cleats do not float....
30 mins later, with cold and bruised feet we set off again, with one of our group (yours truly !) minus one shoe.
Trying to get back on the route was a little problematic.
We’re not sure where we went wrong – there was no obvious path from the other side of the river so we headed for high ground and soon enough we were back on the trail breezing through some beautiful scenery.
The going was bit tough in places – a bit boggy and another river crossing. We seemed to be heading to Tomintoul in good time, or so we thought. We recall a sign to Tomintoul at one point – but it was angled and it looked like it had been blown down slightly or knocked. So we headed straight on – as that was where we thought we should head…..To cut a long story short it got to 5pm, with only an hour left of light, we felt somewhat lost, the Garmin had decided to give up and there were no obvious landmarks for a bit of map navigation.
A bit of focussed team work with the map and compass and a boost for the Garmin with a battery pack (good idea to have some back up batteries) and we worked out we were heading in the wrong direction. We turned round, headed north towards high ground again, and eventually spotted an obvious trail heading to Tomintoul. We breezed along a quite beautiful gorge, that you won’t see if you get the navigation right, and eventually into Tomintoul before dusk.
An epic of a day had been completed – quite brilliant but with unnecessary additional mileage and ascent and a further lesson learned – to keep looking at the trail description.
Distance - 75km
Ascent - 1227m
Strava Link - Cairngorm Carousel Day 1
Accommodation for the night was the Smugglers Hostel
We were made very welcome by the friendly manager and pointed in the direction of places to eat. Dinner for us was at the Richmond Arms Hotel.