A Week In The Cairngorms

‘Fresh’ from a weekend spent running the hills of Bennachie and Scolty, I had a week in the Cairngorms to look forward to.

Heading up early on the Monday, we arrived at our usual lodge in Coylumbridge, somewhere that we, as a couple, have been coming to for over 10 years now, and Leanne, with her family, for a good bit longer. It’s a place that feels like home and, locationally, it’s hard to beat, with The Old Logging Way directly across the road, and with easy access to Loch an Eilein, the Lairig Ghru, Glen Einich, and the many trails of Rothiemurchus and Glenmore directly from the door.

Monday afternoon was spent checking out a location that may yet become the new Eddie home as Leanne’s mum and dad follow their dreams of living in the Cairngorms. Exciting times! Although we will be sad that they no longer live in such close proximity to us in Ellon, just 5 minutes down the road, the plus side is that we should be able to enjoy more regular visits to the Cairngorms, and the potential afforded for exploring new trails has not been lost on me!

Tuesday saw an early start, with Leanne dropping me at Allt Na Criche so that I could run The Burma Road without having to first negotiate the main roads that lead to the start. The Burma Road has been on the running bucket list for a good few years now, having only ever previously cycled it, approx. 10-12 years ago.

I have to admit that I approached the route with some trepidation. In my head, perhaps not helped by the many years since I had cycled it, it was a monster trek into the wilderness, starting with a ridiculously steep and long ascent up into the Monadhliath Mountains, before then descending into a remote wilderness. It didn’t help that I just couldn’t find a definitive route online but, instead, a number of close variations, all claiming to be ‘The Burma Road’.

I wasn’t convinced that memory would serve me well enough to remember the route that I had cycled many years before and, further, we actually managed to deviate from the ‘official’ route back then, ending up on a busy road section back into Aviemore.

I finally found a route variation that fitted my requirements, with a return to Aviemore via Kinveachy Forest and proceeded to download the GPX file onto Motion-X on my iPhone. This would serve to keep me on track. Or so I thought!

Given my levels of trepidation, I discussed possible ‘extraction points’ with Leanne, with a most likely extraction point of Carrbridge. This would, at least, see me complete the main element of the run, the far from inconsiderable initial ascent, and the subsequent descent onto the remote trails ‘over the hill’. This was, after all, the part that I most wanted to complete.

Consideration of extraction points is not something I would normally entertain but, at this point, the legs were already tender to the touch from the 5 hours of ascents and descents on Bennachie on the Saturday and the further miles around Scolty the following day. That and the fact that I didn’t want to totally trash myself right at the beginning of our week in the Cairngorms!

The reality was that I had a perfect run, with an ascent that was every bit as brutal as I had remembered, but, just as when completed on the bike, with a descent that was a just reward, with scenery that had me often stopping to soak up the view and take some photographs, with trails that were an excellent mix of landrover track and more technical singletrack, and with weather that occasionally offered a hint of rain, but never (thankfully) delivered.

I arrived in Aviemore after approx. 21-22 miles, exact mileage unknown having inadvertently paused my Suunto at some point, and with a new favourite route that I am sure I will run time and time again.

Whilst parts of the route were as remote as memory suggested, the paths and trails have most definitely improved since my last visit, and I did see an occasional estate Land Rover, most likely checking on the livestock that roamed free on the hills.

Unfortunately, despite (fairly) regularly checking Motion-X (obviously not regularly enough!), I did manage to take a ‘wrong turn’. More accurately, I appear to have stayed on a main path and missed a turning onto a less obvious route.

Having completed the ‘hill’ and the remoter aspects of the route, I wasn’t hugely gutted. However, I was disappointed not to have reached the most northerly part of the route, that comes close to the Slochd before turning back over General Wade’s old military road and bridge. Next time for sure.

Skirting parallel to Coylumbridge, I soon found myself back in Kinveachy Forest and it was here that I met a couple of mountain bikers, one of whom I recognized as the award winning ‘Spud the Piper‘, piper to the stars (Madonna, Ashley Judd, Jamie Lee Curtis to name a few) and star of the BBC1 show, The Mountain, which charts life around the Cairngorms.

After a brief chat, I was soon back on my way, arriving in Aviemore considerably earlier than I had anticipated.

I’ve found in the past that something that I previously considered to be ‘epic’ was slightly less daunting second time around, no doubt assisted by my considerably different definition of ‘epic’ since ultra marathon fever took a hold of me. There’s just something about ultra marathon running that changes your perceptions of distance, effort, endurance and suffering.

Somewhat fortuitously, I bumped into Leanne’s mum and dad in The center of Aviemore and cadged a lift from Aviemore to Coylumbridge, armed with a bacon joint and Red Bull from the local Tesco.

At this point, it’s worth mentioning that the weather conditions enjoyed on the day were not unique to the Tuesday. In stark contrast to the weekend, the week of our Cairngorm stay was dry but for the occasional drop of rain throughout the night. The week started overcast but warm and gradually built up to blue sky days and high temperatures. Perfect weather. In fact, if anything, I could have done with the temperature having been turned down a notch or two where the running was concerned!

Tuesday afternoon was spent at Loch Morlich, where Harris got to engage in one of his passions – climbing trees!

Wednesday started with an early bike ride, cycling from Coylumbridge out towards Loch an Eilein, and back to the lodge via Rothiemurchus. This was followed by Harris’s first canoe trip, on Loch Morlich. Strangely, considering just how many times I have been to Loch Morlich, this was also my first time out on the water there. I will admit to feeling slightly nervous out on the Loch, largely because of the safety implications of having not only myself but Harris and Leanne to look out for. Harris, however, took to it like a duck to water, and enjoyed helping mummy and daddy to row.

Thursday was a far more relaxed affair, with a Thai massage that had been arranged for me by Leanne at the Hilton Coylumbridge. It certainly helped with the legs, by now feeing tender to the point that I jumped when Harris inadvertently landed on them!

In fact, such was my recovery that, faced with some gorgeous early evening sun, I couldn’t help but set off for an evening run. All the more surprising as running immediately after eating dinner is my least favourite time to run.

Leanne dropped me at Glenmore, and I made my way to The Green Loch (Lochan Uaine), then on to Ryvoan Bothy, and then up and over Meall a’ Bhuachaille, before returning to the lodge via The Old Logging Way.

We spent Friday at Landmark, which we all loved. Harris particularly enjoyed the water slides, with his face an absolute picture on the descents, only to be quickly followed by “again!”

By the time Saturday came around, I felt like I had one good run left in me, and I decided to opt for an old favourite, out the door of the lodge, up through the forests towards the mouth of the Lairig Ghru.

Within a mile of having started, and despite it still only being early morning, it was all too evident that the day was going to be an absolute scorcher. I texted Leanne to suggest a change of plans, with a proposed rendezvous for a picnic on the shore at Loch Morlich.

As I approached the Lairig Ghru I decided a change of route was required and, instead of following my original ‘out and back’ plan, I instead took off up towards the Chalamin Gap, a route which will surely now become a regular for me.

Negotiating the tricky boulder fields of the Chalamain Gap, I was soon heading down towards Loch Morlich and, in doing so, found some previously unexplored trails. Some of the trails had evidently been damaged by the fairly recent flooding, and it was amazing to see just how destructive the force of the water could be.

Finally arriving at Loch Morlich, I was delighted that we had decided on this itinerary, enjoying a lovely picnic in the sun before then taking Harris for a buggy sleep, which basically saw me exploring yet more of the surrounding trails, albeit more familiar ones this time around.

All good things must come to an end and this holiday was unfortunately no exception, finishing off with a family walk to The Green Loch. It felt wrong to leave the Cairngorms with the mercury hitting the low 20s but, after a week of fine weather, we had no complaints. With a bit of luck, the weather will be just as nice when we return again in August and September, arriving immediately after my Devil O’ The Highlands race from Tyndrum to Fort William and August, and then arriving for my first ever attempt at the 24 hour Glenmore 24 race.