Thursday, 4 December 2014

The oldest man in Scotland.

I've been chipping away at my fitness since I got my Fat bike and really enjoying riding locally but my aim all along has been to use it further afield once my endurance had improved. I decided that my next step would be to do a bike packing trip just up the road near Arrochar.
I parked the car near the top of the "Rest and be Thankful" pass around lunchtime on Wednesday and unloaded the bike.
 Despite the forecast high pressure it was drizzling hard, backing up my theory that it can be nice weather five miles away and still raining on the "Rest". I hastily put my waterproof jacket on to save getting soaked and set off east on the forest road that leads to Ardgarten. Normally there are nice views here but not on this occasion!

Above Ardgarten the track forks and I took the higher route (Cat Craig loop) to save losing height unnecessarily. A little further on I passed a little waterfall
 ..........before crossing Prince Charlies' bridge and onto a new section of trail that's been built since I last rode here.
A gap in the trees gave me a view of Loch Long and Arrochar before I plunged once more into the gloom under the tree canopy.
From here on the track runs parallel but above Loch Long and thankfully the rain relented and I could remove my jacket. The clouds parted and the watery late afternoon sun made an appearance.

I gradually gained height until I came to a junction in the forest track that I hoped was the way to Mark Cottage bothy, my home for the night. It was a bitter pill losing my hard earned altitude as I dropped down steeply opposite Finnart oil terminal.
With gravity on my side it didn't take long to reach the bothy which was unoccupied. I parked the bike and set too searching for firewood before it went dark.
 The views were varied, lovely looking south down Loch Long but not so nice eastwards across to Finnart and it's resident tanker!

The hunt for firewood was fruitful as I found a large broken branch suspended just above the ground and was able to get some nice dry logs. My return to the bothy was greeted by the moon rising over Finnart.
I settled in for the evening and lit the fire. I used my bike pump to fan the flames and soon had the place nice and cosy.
Mark Cottage was once the home of Scotland's oldest man James Grieve who was something of a tourist attraction as well to do Victorians flocked to have their photograph taken with him. The MBA have added some copies of period pictures to the walls of the bothy.

I sat by the fire watching the flames for a couple of hours, cooking my dinner on the fire rather than using gas. It was really warm and I was able to dry all my damp clothing.
All too soon I found my self nodding off so decided to go to bed just after nine.
Thursdays forecast was worse so I wasn't surprised to wake to a damp drizzly morning. I ate breakfast, tidied the bothy and packed my kit before starting the slog back up the hill to rejoin the top track at the junction I'd turned off yesterday. Here I turned left and continued climbing up to Corran Lochan.

By this stage it was raining quite hard making the lochan look bleak but from past experience I know it's a lovely spot on a nice day. I turned off the forest road and set off along the singletrack path known as the Dukes' Path which climbs over a bealach before dropping down to Lochgoil.

Smile or grimace? You decide!
The path was too steep to ride up in places but I was encouraged when the cloud started to break a little to the west.
Eventually the track started to drop down and breaks in the forest revealed tantalising glimpses of Loch Goil.

The descent was good fun with some really steep sections but I kept reminding myself to hold back as I didn't want to risk a crash while riding alone. The bike handled the terrain well but adding almost eight kilos of extra weight to it with the luggage meant that getting out of shape was quite easy. Caution was the name of the game.
The path wound it's way above Loch Goil passing a nice little waterfall before the final descent into Lochgoilhead.

My plan was to stop in Lochgoilhead and buy lunch before starting the climb up Gleann Mhor back up to the Rest and be Thankful and I'd been looking forward to a nice sandwich from the village shop. Unfortunately the reality was that the shop left a lot to be desired and all I could get was a tin of Macaroni Cheese, a Twix and a bottle of Oasis. Not the end of the world as I had my stove to heat up the Mac/cheese. A picnic in the rain in the car park it was then (and enduring the curious glances of the passing locals).

Suitably refreshed I set off for what I knew was going to be a brutal climb, the first section was easy pedalling on the road but just to add to my discomfort the rain started again. At the foot of Gleann Mhor I turned off onto the forest road and got my head down and twirled away in my lowest gears. As some times is the case I got into a good rhythm and drifted off into my own little world. Sooner than I'd expected the hairpins that mark the top of the Lochgoilhead road came into view and I knew I was nearly there.
Crazed selfie!
A few more pedal strokes and I was back at my starting point, all that remained was to give the bike a quick wash and chuck it in the back of the car for the drive home.
Day one 15.9km, height gain 484m, height loss 742m.
Day two 20.5km, height gain 896m, height loss 610m.

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