It was one of the quietest night’s sleep I have had in a hostel this trip with no snorers in the room, although I could just hear that those in the room directly above were not so fortunate.
I was up shortly before 8.00, and got my stuff from the drying room. I got to the dining room just after an enormous group of Italian youngsters, and it took some time for me to get any food. I was able to make up a few ham and cheese sandwiches as usual.
My throat was no worse, but I could feel my head blocking up during the night, so a cold is making a merry procession through my body at the moment.
I was away by 9.10, and lost by 9.15! After a week of only having one or two roads junctions to deal with in a day, to suddenly be in a city with a one-way system was too much for me. I gave in after about ten minutes and fired up a map app on the phone which helped me navigate eastwards.
It was a dull start to the day, and Culloden moor, scene of the battle, was still shrouded in mist as I passed. I stopped to put my waterproof on, as there was a cool wind from the south-east. I was heading for Cawdor, where there was a castle, and a right turn to be made. I passed field upon field of barley, and barns full of those rolls of hay, ready for the winter feed.
I turned into the castle entrance, but it was impossible to see it without paying an entrance fee, so I returned to my journey. I passed over a strange looking bridge, that looked as though it would turn into a ford when the river was running high. There were piles of logs nearby, so maybe it was simply a strong construction method to take the weight of the logging lorries.
Just after a village called Ferness, I saw and heard a pair of buzzards, circling above the trees which lined the road on both sides.
The day was clearing, and I admired that most fleeting of nature’s artwork, the cloud formations. The wind, however, was becoming increasingly strong as I gained height, and I was having to soft pedal downhill to maintain momentum
I got to Grantown-on-Spey at about 12.30. The town reminded me of Broadway in the Cotswolds, except with buildings made from different coloured stone. It had that same wide thoroughfare, with a grass strip and then a narrow road before the shops or houses.
I got a sandwich, Coke and crisps from the local Coop, and a coffee from a bike shop, where I also re-filled my water bottles.
As I climbed out of Grantown-on-Spey, the peaks of the Cairngorms came into view. I say peaks, but they were more like mounds, as the hills in the northern area seem to be. No sharp edges here.
There was a sharp descent to Brown Bridge, which was a bit depressing, as I could see the road climbing again back to my current height on the other side. Cautiously on the brakes for most of the descent, I let go near the bottom, and it was as if I had been shot forward by a catapult. The forward momentum didn’t last far past the bridge, when a short section of 20% gradient left me pausing to refuel before continuing the less steep remainder of the climb.
I arrived at the village of Tomintoul at 14.30, thinking that I had done the worst. After getting a Coke and a choc ice, I talked to an Australian couple who were on a tandem. I was a little shocked when they said it had taken them all day to get here from Braemar. It was only 30 miles away – what were they doing? Warning bells should have rung loudly at this point, but I set off, blissfully unaware of the torture that lay ahead of me.
I was soon acquainted with it, as the hill tilted up to 20%. I had already been in my lowest gear, due to the headwind, so just had to grind the revolutions out. At first I looked up from time to time, but the top seemed no closer, so I decided to focus on the tarmac just ahead of me.
I finally reached a building near the top, the Lecht ski centre at 15.45. Going in for a drink (guess which one), I asked how far it was to Tomintoul. Six miles, came the reply. It had taken me an hour to cover six miles. At this rate, I would be on the bike for another four hours before I got to Braemar.
There was some downhill, of course, but until the gradient got quite steep, I had to continue pedalling. It seemed I was to get precious few ‘free’ miles today.
I think there were another two large climbs before it was over. On one straight-ish sharp descent, I did keep off the brakes for a bit, and was shot down the hill until my nerve gave way and I washed some speed off. After the penultimate one, I came to a village where the groceries were being delivered to a house by Asda – six crates of them! Why not!! The terrain got quieter for a bit as the road followed the course of a river, before tilting skyward once more. The hillsides looked like a patchwork of heathers.
Eventually the madness came to an end, and I was spat out onto the main road from Aberdeen just west of Balmoral. Suddenly, normality was resumed, and with only a crosswind to contend with, I made a reasonable end to a tough ride, getting to Braemar by 18.15. Braemar castle was apparently on the left as I approached, but was completely hidden.
The hostel warden told me that the road past Lecht is the second highest public road in Britain. He then proceeded to tell me that the only one higher the it is the one I will be on tomorrow on my way to Perth! Thankfully the height will be gained more gradually.
Overall, I still think that the Applecross ride was harder, but those 22 miles from Tomintoul are the hardest I have ever done, and done with panniers to boot. If you want to ride in the Cairngorms, my advice is don’t go via Tomintoul!
Perhaps because I was staring at the road for much of today, I was aware of a LOT of roadkill. Badgers, game and other birds, but most of all, rabbits, hundreds of them. If they didn’t have such a prolific breeding capacity, I would say that from today’s evidence, they were on the verge of extinction in the Cairngorms.
I am hoping for an easy descent to Perth tomorrow, and if memory serves correctly, I will have a room of my own. Bliss 🙂
I keep forgetting to thank all of you who have commented. Please keep it up, to sustain me through these final days. I’ll even take abuse, Kevin 😉