NOT CANADA, BUT NOT BAD.
When we got the wedding invite through the post for our good friends wedding in Whistler - BC, there was no delay in heading straight onto SkyScanner and booking our flights. We didn't even care the only flight we could get would take 2 changes with long lay overs and many, many Covid-19 restriction hoops to jump through before we were even going to get to the final destination. Whistler.
We were just so happy we were going to Canada and witness our pals getting hitched, leaving the kids at home with their beloved 'Nana & Adey' and in their replace two very clean bikes that needed some riding.
Sounded a perfect plan right?
Well it was apart from the fact Canada had released its travel restrictions: you had to of had your second vaccination at least 14 days prior to entering Canada, and as Sam works away pretty much all the time abroad, the timing for his second vaccination could only be done 5 days before we were to fly. If your a rebel you maybe wondering why we didn't try, well a.) we didn't want to be on 'Banged Up Abroad' and b.) get there and have to quarantine for 14 days.
Mum and Dad were still keen on having the girls for us so we could get some much needed time away together riding bikes - not going to pass on that opportunity - Scotland it was.
Sam recently started his own van hire/conversion company called VanCo and so it was a good opportunity to test out one of his newly/nearly finished VW T6.1. Moving into our new home for the next couple of days we headed up the road. The plan was to head to Dunkeld first which is a lovely little town in Perth and Kinros and home to some tracks I longed to ride. But first stop was a local hot lap followed by fish and chips and getting used to the silence of been temporarily twin-less.
The next day when we reached Dunkled after a short (ish) 3.5 hour journey. It was a bit damp and miserable but that wasn't going to ruin our excitement of riding bikes every day for a week, its the small things.
The ride Sam planned was anything short of boring. The climb up was a bit tough, teeth gritting steep stuff but anyone who knows me well, knows I love a climb. Sometimes I even question myself if I love climbing more then descending haha. Weird, I know. Blame my childhood.
Anyway, this climb was pretty savage and even more so since I haven't done much riding since by big Scottish Coast to Coast back in June.
But it was bloody worth it. The views were pretty amazing, very atmospheric as the low laying cloud just cradled the mountain tops in the distance. The sky was grey but the ground was popping with bright greens matched with a very thin dusting of autumnal coloured leaves but it was warm.
We started on 'Pink Floyd' which is a really fun track, Dunkeld had a recent shower which I think the tracks were grateful for as they were running prime. This track was a bit more like back home in Dalby, bit loamy with some roots in places, but really really fun. The kind of trail where you can just let go and not worry if anything was going to surprise you and launch you over the bars. Another one of those trails I wish it had carried on but ended a lot sooner than I wanted...most trails do though don't they.
Sam then broke the news to me we had 1 mile climb back up the hill but this time it wasn't rideable, it was a carry. I know 1 mile isn't far but despite been married to a hike-a-bike man, haha I hate carrying my bike. Not sure what it is about carrying my bike or if its just the mindset that bikes are for riding - not carrying. Saying that, the views usually make up for it and would allow me to forget the recent uncomfortable and awkward carry I had just put my body through, but I knew there would be no views today. Nowt. Nada.
The cloud was close and the atmosphere had changed somewhat to a scene out of a spooky film. Still, very pretty little woodland decorated with mushrooms and you could smell the recent rain shower in the air. I was very much looking forward to the top when I could inhale a cheeky sugar hit.
Buzzing to reach the top we then started our second trail called 'Rake and Ruin'. Ha now that was so, so good. If the carry up was not as savage I would have done that twice in a row. The start was fun with a couple of nice little technical parts but nothing unrideable and the further down the trail you got the more fun it became. So fun. The trail pops you out just outside Dunkeld then you have a short pedal back in to the town centre for beer and a slice of pizza alongside the river.
That evening we drove a little more and parked up at the the Glenshee ski centre and had ourselves a little picnic tea and watched Silent Witness on the laptop. Living the dream!
The next morning we headed further down the road and it was only a short drive into Braemar - our favourite place in the UK. Braemar is nestled in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park and close to Balmoral castle in Royal Deeside. Braemar has its own community run castle, a Highland Games exhibition centre and the award winning Fife Arms Hotel if thats your bag. Not to mention the riding in and around Braemar is the creme de la creme. The lovely little village is surrounded by stunning mountain scenery, beautiful glens containing ancient pine forests which contain abundant wildlife.
We started the day right with the famous Bothy Breakfast sat outside in the sunshine planning our day. There was just one thing on our mind and that was Mastermind.
Fuelled up we then drove to Ballater which is only 20 minutes down the road from Braemar. Passing The Queen's holiday home Balmoral Castle we then parked up in the square and went and had a right grand day out! Iconic Heartbreak ridge followed by Mastermind. Heartbreak Ridge seems to be a favourite of many riders at the moment and if you ride it you can probably relate. The climb up is easy spinning along 500m climb, a track with views across to Mount Keen to keep you distracted. Once you reach the hut at the top you can let your legs rest then enjoy the undulating terrain traversing along the moorland before reaching the start of Heartbreak ridge.
The trail is just flat out from start to finish and you just don't want it to stop. It reminded me ever so slightly of the Whole Enchilada in Moab. Meaning starting in one kind of environment and finishing in a completely different one. Of course the Whole Enchilada you start in knee deep snow and finish in the desert, Heartbreak ridge you start in open moorland then hitting the grand granite slabs which are just mega because your tyres just grips to them, eventually the track weaves down into a pretty woodland just before popping you out on the road. Around 4km of descent and it is guaranteed to leaving you grinning from ear to ear. Easily a trail you could ride twice in a row because it's so bloody good.
After that, we freewheeled down the road back to Ballater and our van, small refuel before then riding up to Mastermind trail. Not sure how long the ride is up to the start as I didn't track this one, bit of a steep climb in places but totally worth it. Besides, the RC295 loves climbing just as much as I do ha.
Man what a track! One of the best hand built trails in the UK. Steep tech with well built berms. Hats off to the mastermind behind Mastermind.
That evening we met with our friend and had a beer in the square in Ballater and we crashed out early with nicely tired legs. The next day we had a chilled morning and Meg our friend wanted to see what all the fuss was about so we did it all over again. There is so much riding up there but we had to go back for more and it didn't disappoint.
We checked ourselves into a lovely B&B in Ballater that evening, a hot bath was calling, and if you fancy an Indian the Lochnagar is the one to fill your curry needs.
For our final day in The Cairngorms we went to try something new and planned a nice long ride and Sam kept raving about Ben Macdui and it sounded mega. Although when we got to the bottom of Ben Macdui we had left it a little late in the day so had to re-plan and did a really sweet singletrack XC loop around The Linn of Dee.
We live in The Dales but the Grandparents live over in North York Moors, so the next day we decided to drive down the coastal road on the East to Northumberland saying goodbye to The Cairngorms for now. We wanted to drive over to Lindisfarne Castle but the tide wasn't in our favour so instead made camp on a rural track we found.
Great weeks riding, even managed a cheeky Dalby lap in with Dad and the boys before heading back over to the West side the next day. Twas' much needed, a week away on our bikes, not all bad ey and also the silver lining is we have an e-voucher for our flights to Canada to use before the end of next year...We're really grateful to have a hobby which takes us to beautiful parts of the World, an even though it wasn't Canada, it really didn't disappoint. Just proves you don't need to go too far to discover new places.
There's a group of us heading back to The Cairngorms in November for a week, Ben Macdui is high on the list this time, check back to read about some new trails we hope to ride!
Thanks for reading, Soph.