Friday, 28 March 2014

Inspiration, or copying other people's bad ideas.

I have already stressed the importance, and the fun, of planning your own routes, but where should you get your ideas from?

Merely wishing to subject your expensive and fragile pride and joy to that special blend of acidic gritty mud that makes up most Highland singletrack is not enough, you need something to ride TO (unless you're also a building services engineer, in which case you already have sufficient FROM).

Here I provide a handy reference guide to some of the inspirations for my best or most misguided forays into the hills.

Dead People

The Glens of Argyll - Peter D Koch-Osborne

Possibly my first guidebook, which I unfortunately received about 8 years too early when I was fixated on downhill mountain biking and not of a mind to explore the glens with a 35lb downhill bike. This book introduced me to some of the more historic trails in surrounding my village, which I would later return to on various camping trips. The most interesting trails were the Coffin Trails, which held the necessary air of morbid intrigue which had me fascinated. In particular the Ballinoe Coffin Trail and the String of Lorne.

Lost Roads

Bike Scotland Trails Guide - Richard Moore and Andy McCandlish

When I worked in Edinburgh Bicycle Co-op this was our default guidebook to thumb through on quiet rainy Tuesday afternoons, or whenever the manager wasn't looking. I didn't understand the inclusion of some of the endless forest road loops, but then I never rode them so I probably missed out on some amazing scenery.

However, the 'Queen's Road' loop around Loch Ordie near Dunkeld was my first overnight experience, and as luck would have it, my first bothy also. I was drawn back to the area by the promise of a 'Lost Road' leading north from Lochan Oisinneach Beag (translation: small loch of the Oisinneachs) to Kirkmichael. I eventually visited the area and found most of the lost road, which unsurprisingly was largely unrideable, but the excitement of finding lost or forgotten trails has not left me.

Old Scotland

As I knew little of mountain literature at the time, I did not know of Alfred Wainwright. I still don't know much else but this book, but this was all I needed. Written back when a simple family drive to the Northwest Highlands was an adventure in itself, the book formed the basis of my longest trip to date, a 16 day limp north with my bike and a rucsac full of camping gear.

Wainwright's writing introduced me to highlights such as The Falls of Glomach, Eas a'coul Aluin, Suilven ('like an inquisitive thimble'), The Bone Caves of Inchnadamph, the Wee Mad Road of Inverpollaidh, 'The last great wilderness walk in Scotland', Stac Pollaidh ('like a porcupine in a state of extreme irascibility') Sandwood Bay and Durness.

A greater adventure may be to try and find a copy of the book in a second hand book store somewhere, I tried and failed and had to resort to Amazon when trying to find a copy for my friend Ann, but I enjoyed looking through some dusty shelves for the distinct cover I remembered from my parent's copy.


The bible.

I forget who told me about this book, I think it was my friend Matt who introduced me to the concept of bothies while we stood at the doorstep of one, north of Dunkeld.

The book is so much more than just a list of bothies (which is not hard to find, if you look) but a history of people getting out into the hills every weekend just for the sake of it. The history of the bothies, and the mysteries and secrecy still (barely) surrounding one or two of them left me tantalised, and any time I saw a small pink square with a funny looking name on my OS maps, I would quickly investigate and attempt to divert my route to incorporate a quick visit.

My greatest shame (for both taking part and for losing...) was a 'bothy-off' in the pub in Knoydart, where I was narrowly beaten on a count of 'nights spent' vs. 'quick brews had in'...

Bothy stories are typically quick snapshots of trips gone well or gone wrong, from Fisherfield sunsets outside Shenaval whilst watching the Snipe drum, cold nights too tired and demoralised to light a fire and with only a Mars bar for dinner in Meananach or farcical 2am efforts to locate the Geldie bothy while crossing the same river three times in the confusion.

The beauty of bothies is that they are almost always located remotely enough that they make a worthy objective in themselves, or a welcome and unexpected haven from the rain and midgies.


Crowd sourced photographic inspiration

Danger! Geograph is both highly addictive and highly misleading. Effectively an interactive map where people (yes, including yours truly) post photographs linked to exact locations on the map, Geograph is an excellent planning/daydreaming tool, if used wisely.

The important things to remember are:
If a trail looks good on Geograph, it probably isn't.
If someone says a trail is good on Geograph, it probably isn't.
If someone says a trail is bad on Geograph, or it looks bad, then on the ground it will be even worse, or possibly even littered with bear traps or land mines.

Not to labour the point, but be VERY VERY careful if you choose to follow a trail on the basis of Geograph pictures. Much like how Google Streetview cars only go out in the sunshine, I think people only post pictures of the good sections of trail on Geograph, even if they fought through 12km of peat hags and tussocks to get there.

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