It was day one of a holiday which had already got off to a somewhat chaotic start. I’d relied on getting the train to Aberdeen, and then the Stagecoach bus in to Braemar in order to get a mountain bike up for a grand expedition into the mountains.

It was not, however, to be. The train part of the journey went smoothly, the bike travelling happily up from Queen Street. I got to Aberdeen, found the bus station, and waited an hour or so for the bus into Braemar to arrive. The website had assured me it would carry a bike, but, as it turns out, the website was not accurate, and the small bus which arrived was very clearly incapable of carrying a bike the whole way! Fortunately, Magnus was able to give me a lift in, and disaster was averted.

The next morning was relaxed, and I was in no hurry to get started; it’s almost mid-summer, and the days are very long. I set out around ten on the bike towards Linn of Dee, with mild anxieties about my knee, which was still slowly recovering from a hamstring injury, and about the ridability of the long landrover track that would lead me deep into the remotest part of the Cairngorms. The road to Linn of Dee was good, and fast, and it didn’t seem too long until I reached the point where I needed to turn off, into the woods. The track from here would be rough, and a spring with a lot of road cycling had left me used to slighly smoother riding (though I’m not sure parts of this track weren’t better than Maryhill Road).

The track is good, and well-compressed out to White Bridge, which was around half way through the off-road part of my route, and the ride went by quickly. Past the bridge though it does deteriorate and becomes gravelly, the sort of terrain which saps a lot of energy, especially on climbs. Not long after the centre of the road becomes overgrown with grass, and careful control is required to not catch your pedals in the median. Eventually I passed the bothy which is under (re)construction, and not long after I’d finished the long but gentle climb up to the Geldie Burn. In what felt like a mark of respect to these remote hills, I stopped to remove shoes and socks; the river was deep enough and wide enough that it needed to be forded; there was no chance of crossing on stepping-stones. A hundred metres or so further along stands the ruined Geldie Lodge, where I left my bike alongside half a dozen others.

▲ The ruins of Geldie Lodge

I’d decided to walk the route anti-clockwise, so I set off in earnest towards Càrn an Fhidleir, the more distant of the two hills, leaning a little heavily on a walking pole in the hope it would keep my knee happy (as it turned out, it did). The climb was almost entirely gentle, slowly crossing contours along a stalkers path, until reaching an area of open moorland. I was lucky, it had been fairly dry over the last month, and while the going was a lot slower than it would have been with a path, things could have been a lot worse. Once I reached the climb up to the shoulder of the mountain the ground grew solid, and the climb up was quick. The view from the cairn aross the Cairngorms and Atholl was extensive and spectacular, and I stopped here for a short while, before moving on; the wind was bringing with it a chill.

▲ The summit of Càrn an Fhidleir

It wasn’t a long walk between the summit of Càrn an Fhidleir and the bealach which linked it to An Sgarsoch, dropping only around 250-metres between the two summits. There wasn’t a great deal by way of a path during the re-ascent, but sometimes a stonier track would reappear from the otherwise boggy ground, and it took around an hour to reach the summit of the slightly more angular of the two hills from the saddle.

From here it was a fairly long gradual descent over heathery ground, skirting around the minor outlying summit of An Sgarsoch Beag. I spent the last half hour or so slowly catching up with a pair of walkers ahead of me, and then overtook them during the fairly long and flat walk out back to Geldie Lodge. They caught me up again as I was unlocking the bike.

The return out from Geldie Lodge was pleasantly fast, and after the quick river crossing I was able to reclaim the effort I’d put-in in the morning, making it back to Braemar almost half an hour faster than it had taken me to leave.

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