Updated: Jan 10, 2022
Scottish Adventure members from all over Scotland converged on Braemar in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park at the weekend. This was for SA's first Christmas weekender where we enjoyed/ endured all sorts of conditions, a power cut and some highland hospitality.
In the wake of Storm Arwen, we discovered upon arrival that our intended accommodation for the weekend - the Cairngorm Club's Muir Cottage - was still suffering a power outage. Luckily Roy was prepared as ever and had brought a generator as a backup. With the fire roaring and lighting taken of, the gang enjoyed some good food and drink, and games galore into the wee hours.
We awoke to snowflakes falling silently throughout the surrounding pine woods - a Christmasy scene indeed! Multiple cups of tee and coffee were enjoyed in pyjamas by the fire before Roy cooked a hearty breakfast of eggs and bacon - provided by the local butcher in Braemar - on a camping stove. We got the bikes prepped and ventured out into the snowy 'Gorms.
We headed out past the Linn of Dee and turned east to road's end at the Linn of Quoich. Within just 10 minutes since departing, many of us were soaked and cold. The air temperature was hovering around zero, but the wind, coupled with the large wet flakes of snow and sleet tested our waterproofs to their limit.
As we made our way higher up the glen and further from civilisation the sleet turned to snow and the blizzard intensified. The track became icier and the going slowed to a crawl. Soon snow drifts began to block our way and biking turned to hiking. We regrouped at a flattening and discussed our options. Doing the planned 60 km route in these conditions was not going to happen. Even if we could endure the weather (which was becoming increasingly difficult) the track was quickly becoming impassable for two wheels. The group broke into two with one half turning back to the warmth of the fire and another continuing for a more modest target of the Secret Howff bothy at the top of the glen just 2 km away. I led the second group on for another couple of hundred metres but it soon became apparent that it was futile. As far as we could see up the glen, the track was a white snake of seemingly unrideable snow. Once we saw this, we too turned back.
On the return journey I took the group on a slight detour to the Linn of Quoich and the Devil's Punchbowl. From here we made straight for Muir Cottage, arriving frozen to the bone and soaked to the skin. Having 12 sodden cyclists arrive back to a powerless cottage with no means of drying wet kit or having hot showers was less than ideal. Roy had given this some forethought and procured accommodation and showers at the Braemar Lodge Hotel bunkhouse for the night. So it was that we all jumped ship and made the 10 min trip into Braemar. Once showered and warm again we went into the village for some browsing and boozing. We sampled both The Bothy Braemar cafe and the Stag's Head pub in the Fife Arms Hotel, before going back to Braemar Lodge for dinner and a show as Roy delighted us with tune after tune on the keyboard.
Sunday dawned bright with a promising weather forecast. Full of hope and eagerness to explore, we had a second round of bacon, egg or sausage filled rolls/ softies/ batches/ baps/ barm cakes (??!?).
We headed east on the A93 to turn off into Ballochbuie forest and explored its waterfalls, hidden royal lodgings and viewpoints of snow-draped Lochnagar.
From here we cycled onto the Balmoral Estate along smooth gravel tracks. On our left was the canopy of Scots Pines which lined the banks of the River Dee below. The view back west, of a snowy hills and a sea of pines, beneath a cerulean sky was as bonnie as there is.
We made for the Balmoral Cairns, in particular to Prince Albert's pyramid which offers a fine view over Deeside. The descent down to Easter Balmoral was steep but exhilarating and a couple of Arwen's victims had to be negotiated. Once back down at the road we had a small detour for coffee and cake at the Tarmachan Cafe in Crathie.
We took the off-road route back, cycling through the lovely Glen Felagie and then over the old Dee bridge at Invercalud. From here we high-tailed it back into town where we said our goodbyes and parted ways.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all SA members old, new and yet to be!