Here's a list of things I've found useful or wish that I'd know about earlier for bikepacking, camping and bike touring trips.
Maps.me : My go-to phone app used both as a backup to my dedicated bike GPS and also for zooming out and getting map context. Much better than doing same on dedicated GPS. Allows you to add GPS tracks in KML format to the map. And uses the excellent open street map layers. Crucially it lets you download the maps and use offline! All for free.
Refill.org.uk : A great app which lists public places to refill your water while out on a ride, as well as friendly shops/petrol stations etc who will let you refill for free!
Riding the Second City Divide gravel route: 600km from Manchester to Glasgow. Amazing ride. First proper outing since Covid lockdowns. I forgot to take a camera charger so I only have sparing video of the first half....I'll just have to do it again sometime.
It was Twitter that alerted me to the existence of an off road route from Inverness to Glasgow. It was called the BadgerDivide in a slight Scottish piss-take of the divide routes in other countries. This all started with the TourDivide, a 3500km route down the continental divide of North America, and one of the most well know adventure routes in mountain biking.
The BadgerDivide was slightly shorter at a mere 350km, but that just meant it could potentially be ridden in a few days rather than needing a long break from work and a load of organising.
I read a little about the route on the few web pages I could find. It seemed to be a new route, put together by Stuart Allen. It looked like it was possible to do it in 2 days. A weekend ride looked possible.
Here's a few updates for the routes in my route guidebook for mountain biking in Scotland. There's only one small diversion that I know of; Route 16 in the Pentlands near Edinburgh (see below). The rest of the routes described in the book are all good as far as I'm aware.
I do, however, also have a few interesting alternatives/improvements to a couple of the routes that I've found since it was published:
Route 1 : The Three Brethren
Notes: You can extend this route by riding through Bowhill house and following the track to the top of the hill where you follow the Queens Drive back down to near Yarrowford. It a great track with awesome views along the way.
Click here to view
I'd been keeping an eye on the Deeside Trail website and group since it's inception over a year ago. Since then there have been 2 group rides and various people doing it as an individual time trial (ITT) using GPS data to prove times and routes.
I wanted to join them. Looking at the route on the website I could see it stretched westwards from it's start point in Banchory, into the Cairngorm National Park past the market town of Ballater and then into the mountains around Braemar. It then looped back around northwards taking in more remote mountain passes before some of the steepest and longest climbs in the last third as it headed back to Banchory again. It looked a challenging route. Others who'd done it already didn't disagree.
I found myself signed up for the 3rd time to join the group ride of the Capital Trail, a 250km, 5000m of ascent, bikepacking trail. The route takes riders from the beach (literally....it starts on the sand!) at Portobello, Edinburgh around a big loop which encompasses some of the best riding and trails in Scotland. Although never too far from the nearest town, the route at times feels remote, and the high open hill tops certainly need to be respected, especially in bad weather.
It's a tough ride, the climbing would be hard enough without the added weight of overnight gear that most people carry. The inclement Scottish weather also means riders need to be prepared for the worst it can thrown at you, adding even more to the bike weight.
Early in the year, I signed up again for the 2nd Dirty Reiver event, a 200km gravel race ( I rode the first one, which you can read about in my book). This is not really my normal type of ride, but I enjoyed it last time (funny how memory gets skewed over time) so thought I'd give it another go.
The date of the event was almost upon me as I realised I probably hadn't been doing enough riding. I also had a bit of a bug and wasn't exactly feeling brilliant. Still, this was no time to be mouping around, I checked my 29 hardtail bike over, oiled it up and drove myself over the hills down to the remote village of Kielder where I'd booked myself a spot in the camp-site for a couple of nights.
Went for a great overnight adventure in the Lammermuir hills at the weekend with Jay and Markus (from bikepackingscotland.com). We were planning on heading further afield, but a broken down van scuppered that idea. Instead we headed south, riding from my front door.
Click below to read more
After drinking a couple of my more potent than intended home-brewed American IPAs one evening, I found myself signed up for yet another bike race, the 'Kielder chiller'. This one looked to be tougher than most. For starters it was 24 hours long, consisting of a roughly 10km loop with the winner completing the most laps. It was also in February, the depths of winter, at a time when the long northern darkness lasts for 14 hours and the weather is potentially at it's worst. Held on the high and remote hills of Northumberland in the very north of England, with the start/finish at Kielder castle, it promised to be one of the harder challenges of the year.
The weather was awful. A bit of rain, but mostly wind. Crazy wind. It was a few days until the start of the second Capital Trail bikepack adventure...or race…depending on your personal disposition. I'd already signed up and was now slowly getting my stuff together in my kitchen.
Below is a list of the stuff I take bikepacking (mostly to remind me, but I thought I may as well share it).
I'd been meaning to ride the Fife coastline for years. Somehow I'd never done it. There was always a better plan. Always something which sounded more fun. I remember reading about it in an old mountain bike guide book. The route was described as a must do for every mountain biker seeking adventure.
I could never correlate that description with what I knew of the coastline from weekend outings in the car. Sure, it was nice and had some nice sandy beaches, but it always seemed a bit busy, both with people, houses and industry. How could this possibly be at the top of any mountain biker's to-do list?
Half way though a busy and stressful week at work, I decided I needed a weekend away. I wanted nothing more than to have a break from normal life and enjoy the freedom that comes from cycling with a lightweight tent and a rough plan. I also didn't want to have to drive far and at first thought I'd go for a ride straight from my house to the hills to the south or west of Edinburgh. But, I'd done that many times before. Instead, I choose to ride straight from my house north. I asked a couple of reliable friends if they'd be up for joining me.
Unfortunately, it was too late in the week, they already had plans.
There is a Fife coast cycle route, but this wasn't what I planned to ride. I was going to try the walking route. A quick trip to shop to buy the relevant OS map and I spent a happy hour examining the paths. The walking route appeared to consist of paths and track-roads following the very edge of the coastline for almost it's entire length. The cycling route mostly follows roads, slightly inland. The walking route looked like it'd be far more challenging, interesting and fun.
I've written an awesome book! It's a collection of short stories about cycling adventures in Scotland. Starting with a crash, then crossing the country from coast to coast, visiting the islands and west coast, and ending with some bike-packing, a haunted bothy and a race.
Below you can find some extra related photos and videos.