An Invaluable Munroing Companion

6 04 2015

Most people who read my blog probably know by now that I do most of my Scottish hillwalking on my own – that was true for more than half of the Munros and nearly all the Munro Tops. This isn’t because I’m anti-social but more due to my nature which is that of an out-and-out bagger.

There are days when most people wouldn’t go near a 3000 foot Scottish hill as the weather is dire, there’s not going to be a view etc. However, I was always too obsessed for that approach to be taken – that and it costs me a lot in time and money for all my Scottish trips so I always feel I have to make the most of as many days as possbile when I’m up there. Dire days have generally led to the refusal of others to accompany me so I’ve just gone ahead on my own.

Walking companions have come and gone – indeed, many have simply worn out. But I couldn’t have done the Munros without the one in this post…

Often, when I told people I was a Munro-bagger, they would ask me if that involved having to camp a lot for the more remote ones. While I’m partial to a bothy or two, I’ve been more interested in visiting a certain bothy than including a Munro. If there’s been one nearby, I’ve generally included it but the lack of one wouldn’t stop me visiting a bothy either alone or with friends.

I have to admit to hardly ever really camping as, much as I enjoy the thought, I’m pretty sure I’d never combine camping with a large Scottish hill. There are several reasons for this. I’ve only ever found one pair of Munros where I actually needed a night away and that was Lurg Mhor and Bidean a’ Choire Sheasgaich – two famously hard-to-get-to Munros. For those I stayed one night at the lovely Bendronaig bothy as I didn’t fancy the other (daunting) side of Sheasgaich – nor did I fancy having to cross another large hill to get to the two Munros.

Another reason I won’t camp to do a hill is because I get pretty exhausted at the end of a typical ‘remote Munro’ day and often cold and wet. The last thing I want to do in those circumstances is remain cold and wet and cramped up in a tent afterwards, thereby worsening my exhaustion and extending recovery time. Bothies are fine as you can light a fire, get your clothes dry and wander around to prevent stiffness but, with a tent, you have to put your wet stuff on again in the morning – ugh! Another reason is that I’m hopeless at carrying heavy loads and certainly couldn’t carry one up a large hill!

So, who is my best Munro companion? my enabler? Well, it’s a bike. But not, as you might expect, a mountain bike (tried one for a year, didn’t like it). My hill-approach bike is a cheap, small-wheeled, fold-up bike. Other hill-baggers are always really surprised to see it a long way up a remote glen!

Very many Munros can be reached by a long cycle up a glen if you study the books and maps. Even though my bike isn’t supposed to be suitable to take off-road, it is fine along the long land-rover estate tracks. Obviously I can only go slowly and have no suspension and only 3 gears but it’s still faster than walking and gives my legs a rest while I use different muscles and get a nice sit-down.

The only time I took my bike on a track it wasn’t really suitable for was for Bendronaig Bothy. This track goes steeply uphill, sometimes on very loose gravel, for over 1000 feet and quite a few miles on the way into the bothy. I ended up having to walk the whole way up the hill on the way in and the other side of it on the way out (although a better cyclist could probably have managed the return climb). To make things even sillier, the descent back to my car at Attadale was far too steep to safely descend on such a machine, loaded as it was with full bothying gear in panniers, so I walked most of the eight miles out from the bothy.

The bike did at least mean I didn’t have to carry all my stuff though – much easier to push it than carry it πŸ˜‰ In fact, cycles used to be regularly used in the 1940s to push camping gear up to the top of Lakeland passes and the like (non-surfaced ones). Recently, my parents sent their two very old road bikes to Africa as that’s just what they’re used for over there – pushing along heavy sacks of meal and the like – bet they were glad to go to a nice, dry, sunny home!

The tracks I’ve cycled so far on the little fold-up are: South Glen Affric to Athnamulloch (a bit rocky and rough), Linn O’ Dee to Derry Lodge (many times), Glen Elchaig (quite a few times and a beautiful glen – the Elchaig herd of Highland cattle laughed at me though), Loch Muick-side to Glas Allt Shiel House (superb), Glen Avon from Tomintoul to Inchrory Lodge (mostly tarmacked now), the White Bridge route to the Geldie Ruin (or just short of), the Loch Corrour track, Strathan to Upper Glen Dessary, the Heights of Kinlochewe track to the high point of the hill track to Lochan Fada, Dalrigh to Cononish Farm for Ben Lui, and along Loch Erichtside to Loch Pattack (another great, smooth track). This year, in addition to cycling the Derry Lodge track again, I also plan to cycle the southern route from near Elphin to reach the south top of Ben More Assynt.

A bit about the bike and why it’s so convenient… Firstly, as it’s a fold-up, it can just go in the car boot or on the back seat – no more horrible bike racks – the last one started to pull my back bumper off my poor old, long-suffering Nissan Sunny. Carrying bikes on the back of my cars was found to be a drag – literally – it’s amazing how much wind resistance a bike rack adds to your car and it really affects performance and fuel consumption. I also lived in fear of the bikes clattering to the ground behind the car and killing following motorists, or me clobbering an oncoming motorist on the narrower main roads with the sticking-out bits.

I feel much more secure having the bike in the car instead of merely strapped to the back of it, although I suppose it might just tempt someone to break the car windows to get at it. Having said that, the bike was only Β£80 so hardly worth the trouble really – and it’s always cabled up inside the car anyway.

I also found the bike rack was a bloody pain when you wanted to get into the boot – many times we just dropped the back seat in preference to trying to remove the bike rack. The bike rack strap ends also used to beat the car senseless during a journey and we had to tape bits of the car to stop paint damage.

Having just three bike gears is, to me, a joy! I used to hate riding the 18 gear mountain bike and seemed to spend my whole time changing gear (Richard, when he came out with me, thought the same). Now, the gear changes, being just a twist grip, are so easy I can change automatically while still admiring the scenery – definitely wasn’t the case before with the complicated set up. The gears never ‘miss’ either as they often did on the mountain bike.

I insisted on internal ‘hub gears’ when I bought my bike as that means that dirt cannot ingress into the cogs as they do on externally mounted gears. I thought that was important for some of the tracks I’d be riding up. The Glen Elchaig one was particularly sandy in places so that has saved me quite some trouble I think.

A very important point was that, as my bike is a folding one, it isn’t classed as a ‘bike’ on the train when folded – just luggage. This means there are no restrictions whatsoever on taking my bike wherever I want on the train. This turned out to be very useful for Corrour.

Another useful feature on the bikes is that there is a little side stand. I know a lot of purists will say that adds to the weight but I’m such a cr*p cyclist anyway, that makes no difference. The bike in general is pretty light though.

The wheels and tyres are quite chunky which I find very comforting on rough tracks. I haven’t had a puncture yet but I’m sure one will come along sometime – probably 8 miles down a long, remote glen. As I’m also cr*p at mending punctures (or at least getting the tyre on and off), I carry a pump and will just have to wheel the bike and keep pumping up the tyre.

Some people will think that three gears isn’t enough to get up steep hills. They’re right – it isn’t. However, when I’m in for a very long and hard hill-walking day, I find it a complete waste of effort to cycle up long or steep hills so I just hop off and walk that bit. I often do when road-cycling too as I find that I then arrive at the top of the hill completely fresh and can leap on and continue without being out of breath or tiring my legs unnecessarily.

Anyway, here are a couple of photos of my ‘best Scottish hill-walking companion’ πŸ™‚ (It’s a Raleigh Parkway for those who are interested)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bendronaig Bothy & Brave bike

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18 responses

3 05 2015
fedup

Handy little companion πŸ™‚ I did buy one of those trailers used for taking young children on bike rides, for the dog. Unfortunately he wasn’t keen so any of the longer routes will have to wait until he is too old to accompany me.

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4 05 2015
mountaincoward

LOL – I’ve seen dogs in those little trailers and they always look like they’re enjoying themselves and sit there like Lord Muck being chauffered around.

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23 04 2015
Caroline

The first time I met you in Glen Affric, you where coming downhill towards me on yon bike. Now I use my mountain bike even for quite short distances. I’ve found lifts my spirits to know that instead of a weary tramp along a hard estate track I can trundle the last part on my bike, plus I’m sitting down.πŸ‘ Shashing the bike at the end of a route also helps me to do more linear walks. On occasion I’ll do this the night before and drive on to the start in the van, works for me.πŸ˜ƒ

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24 04 2015
mountaincoward

it’s even better if you have to cycle out against the wind (which I did in Glen Affric) – as you then know you’re not even going to have to pedal on the way back (apart from the uphill bits) πŸ™‚

That must have been my An Socach trip as that was the only time I cycled the Affric track as I found it too rough.
Carol.

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11 04 2015
McEff

What a great idea. It looks a deal lighter than the chunky mountain bike I bought second-hand last year.
Alen

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12 04 2015
mountaincoward

It probably isn’t lighter but is much handier. The only problem I’ve found with it is that the ground clearance isn’t great when you have one of those tracks with a high strip of grass running down the middle – you have to watch you don’t catch your foot and tip yourself off!

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12 04 2015
McEff

That happens with mountain bikes, too. I use my bike for the remote Munros, and I didn’t realise how uncomfortable and painful mountain biking can be until I cycled along some of those rocky Highland tracks.

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17 04 2015
mountaincoward

I have to say that bumpiness doesn’t affect women quite so much that way! πŸ˜‰

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9 04 2015
Simon Howlett

Great mode of transport, Carol. I must dust my bike off and make more use of it … would certainly help me when lugging cameras around all day! Cycled to the Uffington White Horse many times when I was a kid … always a fantastic adventure. More recently I’ve enjoyed exploring the country lanes here in Cumbria.

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9 04 2015
mountaincoward

I’ve been to the Uffington White Horse when I used to do my annual ‘tour of the south’ kipping in the car all week. Might go back to that one day πŸ™‚

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9 04 2015
Simon Howlett

I hope you visit Uffington again one day, Carol. A remarkable place which I’ve always loved to visit. I’ll head there again sometime and photograph the White Horse, Dragon Hill and Wayland’s Smithy long barrow. Legend has it St George slew the dragon on Dragon Hill and no grass will grow where the dragon’s blood was spilt. You’ll have to cycle to the top which is hard work but a lot of fun coming back down!

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9 04 2015
mountaincoward

I’m a bit of a cycling coward too – I tend to get off really steep, slippery or loose downhills!

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8 04 2015
tessapark1969

Interesting post. I’d be sold on a fold up if it wasn’t for the fact I can’t ride a bike. Never learned as a kid – have zero sense of balance and gave up after falling off constantly. A recent attempt to learn on a boris bike had same effect, so we are looking at some very long walks in 😦

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8 04 2015
mountaincoward

You can get a tricycle πŸ™‚ I think you can even get offroad ones – expensive though

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7 04 2015
razzah

I love the pictures! I am almost convinced of the benefits of a foldup – mainly because of the convenience of travelling with one. Ralph MacGregor also wrote about the benefits of a foldup because he uses trains a lot and it is becoming more of a hassle with a regular bike. My campervan has a bike rack attached though, so now it is so much easier to just sling my bike across it than it used to be faffing about putting on my bike rack on the car. I have an old sort of trail bike (I don’t know how to classify it – it’s not a mountain bike, has no suspension but knobbly tyres) that I use for long trails which seems fine, but it is fairly heavy. I have cycled up most of the Cairngorm tracks you list on it. Maybe if I upgrade it I will get a foldup. I’m not convinced with a mountain bike either – they seem like an awful lot of money for what I want them for.
.

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7 04 2015
mountaincoward

Have both πŸ™‚ I’ve still kept my old road bike (it’s a 1955 one actually)

The mountain bikes we had were only Β£120 each – they didn’t seem any heavier or any less good than more expensive ones. We also didn’t want to spend a lot to leave them in the heather regularly!

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6 04 2015
bob

I’ve always admired your determination and distance covered on your travels.Sadly,only a handful of bothies are situated in areas that make the Munros easier from them but a bike is a big asset. I’m the opposite. I find it hard to get companions who are multi- sport enthusiasts like me as most have always been list driven. Munros, Corbetts.. etc.
Tina Turner always wore out her backing dancers after a few years on stage……

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7 04 2015
mountaincoward

You’ve got to be very determined to be a list-bagger to be honest otherwise your list just goes on forever. Without lists, I probably wouldn’t do anything except go to the Lakes though…

Tina Turner still looks pretty energetic!

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