Spine of Scotland: the first Roam Scotland Rally, 2019

Snow

We awoke in Killin to snow on the hills. The Goddess’s cold-wet-windy Scottish weather rule: two out of three doable, all three = stay in the warm. Thankfully the wind was light. In fact over the high passes between Glen Lochay, Glen Lyon and Loch Rannoch, we experienced that lovely dampened peacefulness that a light tail wind and a dusting of snow can give you. Our companions that morning didn’t seem that troubled by the unexpected chill, riding on appreciating the added element in the landscape.

However by the time we reached Kinloch Rannoch for a late lunch, we were cold and damp, with much riding still to do. Spirits were waning. Step up the tough guys.

Glen Lyon & Snow. Steve Grace
[Glen Lyon & Snow. Steve Grace]

Companions

I was a little nervous. Who was I to think I could make a decent bike-packing route, never mind subject other folk to my map meanderings? Thirty-four riders pitched up at Castello Coffee for last minute fuel before trundling out of Edinburgh along the Union canal tow path. The cheerfulness among the group eased my nerves, but I was still glad to get to the Forth Bridge with no reports of unscheduled dips in the canal.

Old companions were there too. I’d climbed Highland hills with Robin and explored Europe on bikes with Col. They escaped London with their virginal bike-packing kit, intrigued to dip their toes in this new scene. I remember two twenty year olds on a hill top overlooking Köln making excited vows to ride around the world. There’s still time Col! Great to be making new memories and galvanising our bonds

Round the world?, Robert Mundell
[Round the world?, Robert Mundell]

‘Brutiful’

I reached the final weekend of testing in late March in the company of the Goddess and two club-mates. Patrick and Hamish joined us on a joyful rampage up Strath Vaich and into Glen Cuilleanach on a crisp bright day.

A short way up Glen Cuilleanach, needing a wee pick-me-up, we concocted a new tradition. I collected the highland stream water, Patrick brewed up the coffee, the goddess tipped in a good slug of Highland Park, Hamish cracked out the dark chocolate and the weather gods played along with a patch of sunshine. A Cuilleanach coffee – highly recommended.

[Cuilleanach coffee brewing, Tobias Koepplinger]
The next day was a return journey to my parents’ house that was more unpleasant than we’d bargained for, lashed by a 60mile/hour side-wind laced with sleat and snow. Numb bodies and minds, we eventually stumbled into the house, totally drookit. Revived by a large whisky from my dad and a good feed from my mum, Hamish succinctly captured our weekends’ experience – ‘brutiful’. Such vagaries of the Scottish weather were, unfortunately, to become familiar to the RSR riders.

Idea

A momentary idea on the Torino-Nice Rally kept on coming back to me for more attention. But an idea is a flimsy thing on its own, it needed some substance. Bike? Check – the Shand Stooshie. ‘Spare’ time? Hmmm, check. Functional body? Well, sometimes, check’ish. Commitment to map obsessing. Oh yes, double check! Imagining a route up the centre of Scotland from my home in Edinburgh to my childhood home near Inverness, the spine of Scotland began to emerge, a foundation and a scaffold around which to build.

I set to work in late September, enticing others to join me or setting off solo. I traumatised Andy P on some 20%+ inclines up grouse shooting tracks in Perthshire; I froze with Gavin on a bright but ice encrusted foray into the Ochils; and I press-ganged the Goddess into some Christmas reccies up North.

There were new wind farm access roads with solid foundations and slick surfaces. Old drove roads and estate tracks, sometimes crude and lumpy, but layered with the history of hooves, boots and tyres. Occasional encounters with others pursuing their rural livelihoods – foresting, game-keeping, or in hospitality, providing welcome warmth, food and fluids. Contrasting landscapes and people brought flesh to the bones of a route.

Contrasts, Alex Heinmann
[Contrasts, Alex Heinmann]