Team Wideopenmag’s Christo Gallagher heads into the wilds of the southern Cairngorms for a bothy mission on his Nukeproof digger.
Follow our man Christo as he and his pal Scott take a ride through the southern Cairngorms with an overnight stop in the middle.
It all started with my friend Scott asking if I wanted to go on a bike packing ride on my new Nukeproof Digger. Obviously, I said yes. I’d been keen to go on a bit of mission on the Digger since I got it and realised how capable it was.
I’ll first introduce Scott. Scott is a bit of a bike packer. Completing the Highland Trail 550 race (550 miles around the north of Scotland, off-road and self-supported) in under 5 days, needless to say he knows what he is doing on a bike packing ride.
Scott leant me some bike packing bags and I fitted them to the Digger and was ready to go.
We left Edinburgh early on the Saturday morning, headed to Blair Atholl, where our ride would begin. Of course we stopped off at the Arran Bakery in Dunkeld on the way for some pre-ride snacks and a coffee.
Upon arriving in Blair Atholl, we quickly unloaded the bikes, loaded up the Garmins and off into the hills we went. The route followed the old A9 for the first bit and then we eventually moved onto some forestry tracks in the trees and open hillside. With a glorious tailwind, progress was fast. However, the warm temperatures was giving cause for concern for a few of the river crossings.
After navigating some pretty tricky rivers, we found ourselves back on the road again for an amazing downhill with a tailwind still. Our aim for the day was to reach the bothy at Glenfeshie and hope it wasn’t full. As it was such a nice weekend it could easily be full. Fortunately after some more rivers and some treacherous, but rideable terrain on the Digger we made it to the bothy.
What an awesome bothy. My first time staying in a bothy and it is well nice one. It even has toilets. Scott and I got unpacked and changed. It was a relief to be changing out of the wet clothes from the day.
Scott being the experienced bike packer has his light weight set up dialled, and this extends to his food choice too. A nice bowl of instant mashed potatoes, vegetables and cheese awaited Scott, whilst I settled for a cold bag of microwave rice…
The rest of the evening was spent frittering away time in the bothy listening to music, drinking tea, eating cake, chatting and just lying face down on the wooden floor.
Morning came after a good night’s sleep and I was back on the rice, this time a bag of Uncle Ben’s and I’d worked out a marginally better way of trying to heat it, so that made it a bit better. Although Scott had brought the coffee and had a nice bowl of porridge, I was pretty envious.
We got ourselves ready to leave the bothy and then headed off about 9.30. With the previous day being a tailwind all the way and rain in the forecast for today, we knew we were in for something a bit grim. Not only that, but this is where the terrain became much more of a mountain bike ride and not a cross bike ride and given the amount of bogs, I finally understand why you might want a fat bike.
The Digger marched on valiantly though. Basically the whole ride was like slow speed trials on the bike trying to avoid sharp rocks and big wheel-eating holes. It was pretty epic to be honest, but it was definitely tiring me out.
After an arduous slog through a few more rivers, into a headwind and a lot of climbing, we finally reached the top of Glen Tilt. For those that don’t know, Glen Tilt is a classic out and back mountain bike ride and I was about to attempt it on the cross bike. I won’t lie. The Digger was a touch out of its depth here, but it handled most of it exceptionally well, given that it’s a technical mountain bike descent. I was well impressed.
So after riding downhill, for what felt like 2 hours in the tipping rain, we finally arrived back at Blair Atholl for the sun to come out. All in all, it was a pretty epic trip. Gravel bikes are awesome and can take you so many places. Just need to plan the next trip now.