Three Days, Three Glens...
1. Glen Shira
We had risked doing some washing so keeping our fingers crossed that it would stay fine we left Bella, our small motor home, and turned right from the campsite into the narrow road in Glen Truim just off the A9 not far from Newtonmore.
Our first stop was at the newish looking memorial to Cluny McPherson, one of Bonnie Prince Charlie's followers and the last to flee to France after the battle of Culloden. McPhersons from all over the world had contributed small pieces of stone to make the memorial, which looked out over Strathspey.
In spite of the late start we had an early coffee stop at the cafe cum bunkhouse and pottery just after turning onto the A889. Fortified by the excellent scones we made it as far as Laggan Bridge where an information board gave us enlightening news about the tracks in the area. It seemed that the way we proposed to go had been the Pedlar's Way and was now the Maria Mahria Gate and we thought that we were going down Glen Shira.
So who was Maria Mahria? She did not sound very Scottish, also the information board indicated that the way was steep and advised mountaineering equipment, perhaps this was not too good an idea for two pensioners. I moved on to the details on the Corrieyairack and felt much happier, apparently this was even harder but as I had already crossed three times previously, once with a tandem, then with three children, the youngest eleven and lastly loaded with camping gear perhaps they were erring on the safety side.
We turned up the Spey and passed the Spey dam to where the road crossed over the outflow from Loch Crunachdan. Our track left the tarmac just before the bridge by Glenshero Lodge and alongside trees to a high gate, this had a new padlock with the original hasp still in place. A purple arrow with the Maria Mahria sign and also the Scottish Rights of Way sign had pointed up here so we were definitely on the correct track.
On the other side of the fence adjacent to the gate was a high stile so it was back to the start of the track and up the other side of the fence to remove the saddlebags and tackle the stile. The bikes went over one at a time with me on the receiving side, we could have done with Fred being six inches taller as it was a very high stile, but they don't make diamonds the size of bricks and he did an excellent job.
From here a good ridable two line track leading not too steeply upwards and after a short stretch it divided and the better path went down to the right towards some sheds which looked to belong to the electricity board as there were pylons going down the glen. Our track continued upwards as two ruts with heather between to a gate which was unlocked and it was mostly ridable from here apart from one or two wet patches.
The views were extensive looking across the valley towards Carn Dubh at 767 metres. After contouring round we were soon dropping steeply to the A86 by Loch Laggan, still ridable with care. There was a shed just before a gate similar to ones we had seen elsewhere put up by the electricity board as shelters. The gate was unlocked but it needed both of us to lift it back up to the latch.
It had taken us an hour for the three miles of track and we didn't need any mountaineering equipment. On the way back to the campsite we stopped off to look at the new mountain bike centre on the A86 to leave a copy of the Journal in the shop. There is also a café.
The maps used were OS 35 and OS 42 needed to see where the track meets the A86
2. Glen Fernisdale
The next day we took the cycle path which follows the A9 south towards Dalwhinnie. Arriving at the turn off for Grubenber we consulted the map and realised that where we needed to cross the A9 it was dual carriageway with no way to the other side. A friendly farmer told us to retrace to where there was a gap in the hedge used by quad bikes. This seemed a good chance to ask about Maria Mahria, he did not know much about her but thought she had been a single lady who gave overnight accommodation to the pedlars when it was the Pedlar's Way, but he had no idea about where she had lived or what period in time.
Incidentally the Tourist Office in Kingussie had no idea who she was but someone must know to name the track in Glen Shira after her so perhaps some of our Scottish members could investigate. Back down the cycle path to find that the break in the hedge corresponded with a gap in the dual carriageway and there across the road was the welcome green sign of the Scottish Rights of Way Society informing us that this was the start of Wades Road to Ruthven.
Safely across we turned down the track by a cottage to the farm of Etteridge and onto a good solid based track past Loch Etteridge. At Phones the way divided with the left fork going past a cottage to join the A9. Phones proved to be a large fairly modern version of a Victorian hunting lodge. I wonder if when it was named they would realise that in the future they would have no reception on their mobile phones. Outside a crowd of the green wellie and Barbour jacket brigade, mostly foreigners, were sorting themselves out into who was going fishing or shooting. Our track passed the house and veered left so we followed the land rover with the fishing rods until it turned aside towards another small Loch and we entered a wood with young pheasants panicking at our approach.
The track was easy riding with two ruts and heather between and the couple of gates all unlocked. As we emerged onto the open moorland we passed a stone with a metal plate, it being a memorial to Alister MacIntosh who had been a much appreciated gamekeeper following his father and grandfather who had also been gamekeepers.
Someone had been doing their bit for the environment by planting a few scattered young siver birch and rowan trees with cages round to keep off the deer.
A perfect Wades bridge crossed the stream from Loch An Dabhaich. I had Fred poised in position on the bridge when the battery in my camera packed in with the shutter half open. Needless to say the spare battery I had been carrying around for years proved to be a dud and with all the faffing around I managed to drop my camera case so that has joined the trail of biros, bike pumps and mars bars that has marked our passage over the years. We kept on past Lochan Oahar where the better track went off to the left back down to the A9 but we went straight on keeping to the military road. A good track went off to the right to the bothy of Luibleathan but the sky was looking rather ominous so we did not divert.
General Wade let us down at the Milton Burn as it was deep and fast flowing but fortunately a plank bridge was provided a little further up stream and we crossed dry footed.
It was decision time at Milshouse of Nuide where we could have turned to join the A9 but being true roughstuffers we kept straight on through a gate alongside a wood and eventually did join the A9 at a second Rights of Way sign, "Wades Road to Etteridge" we had managed to stay on the correct route all the way. We reckoned that it was about seven miles from start to finish and all rideable. Luckily I managed to get a new battery at the electricians in Kingussie.
OS map 35 covers the route.
3. Glen Pattack
On the third day of our stay we decided that at last we would manage to take the track alongside Loch Ericht and on to Loch Laggan, the weather having thwarted us several times in the past. It would not be the same as starting from Loch Rannoch, but with years passing we are lucky to be able to do our planned route at all.
It was back up the cycle path beside the A9 to take the old road to Dalwhinnie. The distillery being café-less we kept on up to the village. Unfortunately the transport cafe is no more so it was tea and toast at the hotel served by a lad wearing a T-shirt with Dalwhinnie twinned with Las Vegas. I can remember stopping at the transport cafe years ago with the family with eleven year Duncan suffering badly from the knock after crossing the Corrieyairick the previous day from Loch Ness hostel to Kingussie hostel. He still has happy memories of the huge fried breakfast, no worries about cholesterol in those days. As we got further on in the holiday, covering much of the ground we did on that holiday, it is a wonder the three of them are still cycling.
We retraced to the station and crossed the line by the private crossing and followed the excellent metalled track alongside Loch Ericht passing a very ornate house. There was a crane working on the shore where there had been a landing stage, and further on another by Ben Alder Lodge, it hardly seems feasible but perhaps they are going to start running boat trips.
A man came trudging towards us head down pushing a mountain bike with a rucksack on his back and looking absolutely shattered. He had come from Corrour having climbed four Monroes on the way and still had to get to Newtownmore.
It took us three quarters of an hour to ride the five miles to Ben Alder Lodge, a large house with the main track disappearing through an archway between the buildings. Our track kept to the right up a gradual climb ridable in bottom gear. A little further on a path went off to the left across a foot bridge and was the one which would have brought us to Loch Rannoch. We kept straight on and were able to ride it all and could see Loch Pattack ahead lying in a basin surrounded by hills. There looked to be excellent tracks going off towards Cultra bothy and further into the hills but our way was straight ahead, now on a poorer surface but still ridable with two ruts and grass between. One o'clock and lunch time so we stopped at a convenient log beside the loch with the remains of two camp fires showing that we were not the first. It was a very short stop as the midges were active.
At the end of the loch where the trees finished there were two very substantial gate posts but oddly no fittings for a gate. From here the track was raised up alongside the River Pattack and very boggy having been churned up by people trying to ride through the soggy morass so we ended up walking to where a once substantial bridge crossed the river.
The next bridge, which crossed a tributary, was more stable. A bothy was marked on our map in a small wood but only the outline in stones marked where it had been.
From here it was a magical ride alongside the river on a good track, keeping straight on where it divided near a wood. A gradual descent took us to a bridge built by the army.
A stretch before the Falls of Pattack was hard going due to the soft sand which had the front wheels skidding but once back amongst the trees it was easy riding. Beyond the Falls of Pattack we encountered a high padlocked metal gate with an even higher ladder stile alongside. We took the bags off and managed to get.one bike over the stile and the decided the gate would be easier. It wasn't.
As we came out of the woods by Callovie the gate here was open and we were soon riding down to join the A86. Altogether the fifteen miles off road had taken three and a half hours including the lunch stop.
Map used was OS 42