Do you want to ride across the North of Scotland? I was kindly asked if I wanted to join a group of 5 London-based cyclists and friends who had a plan to ride a circuitous route from Aberdeen to Inverness. Absolutely, I’d love to come. Three of the group I’d completed the hugely enjoyable Rapha Prestige 100 with last September so there was no need to think about it.

As it turned out the hardest part was getting there. The lasses were starting Friday morning from Aberdeen. With limited holidays I wasn’t able to take the Friday off so it’s was real planes, trains and automobiles to get me from Manchester dinner time to Ballater (the Friday night stop) for Saturday morning. I achieved this by cycling to work, cycling to the train station, two different rattler trains, dashing across platforms with a fully loaded bike to eventually being picked up, and kindly put up, by Jon in Lumphanan on the Friday night. I then got up early and had to bomb it along a section of 15 miles to Ballater early the next morning to meet the crew for breakfast.

The views along the Dee were glorious, even though it was head down. It’s a very picturesque part of the world and I’d never been up that way. When I at last arrived the ladies were all looking resplendent in their @Rapha kit, sitting at little pavement tables, sipping coffee in the sunshine and eating breakfast. It could easily have been the scene from a French village rather than Northern Scotland. Marvelous, I had time to have a coffee too! Having said all our hellos and general caught up we geared ourselves up and headed off. For most of the group this was the first touring ride, i.e. carrying your own gear for a multi-day cycle. Although I used my @Apidura bags before, it had been off-road and bivvying, so the gear you bring is quite different than when there is a hotel and shower available in the evenings.

The Saturday weather was dry and warm, perfect. I don’t want to fall into the usual stereotyping but my goodness how the miles fly by when you are chatting and getting to know folk. The route that had been planned was to avoid as many main roads as possible. It was very successful and for most of our riding we were able to cycle at least two abreast with little worry of vehicle collisions. In this manner we rolled over the Cairngorms, photographing the amazon scenery, photographing each other in that amazing scenery, cups of tea/coffee, toasties, beer, wine, food and generally laughing ALOT. The odd deer was spotted and many birds of prey hovering over fields. All that extra weight of course makes climbing hills harder. There is less getting out of the saddle and more just grinding it out. The upside for me is the downhills. It’s normally pretty twitchy if there is any wind as my front wheel gets taken away but, as I mentioned in blogs before, the solidity of the wheel on the road allows me far greater confidence I’m not going anywhere and can fly down. The landscape was surprisingly varied considering we were only travelling 200/260K. We mirrored a fair bit of the Whisky Trail with it’s peaty dark rivers and lush surroundings but also climbed up onto barren moorlands, made all the more dramatic by gathering rain clouds. Saturday’s glorious weather had slowly changed into Sunday’s gradually developing into rain showers. The road surfaces were also for the most part in good condition, compared to Manchester anyway.

Highlights of the scenery were…to be honest all of it. Whatever the landscape, little villages, expansive valleys and forests, the Cairngorm Munro’s always provided a dramatic backdrop.

With sadness we arrived at Inverness station marking the end of our trip of about 230km for myself and about 270 for the others. We passed our bikes to the courier taking them south and headed for showers and pizza to be ready for our train journey home. This type of touring is such a fantastic way of spending time with folk, getting good hours in on the bike and seeing views not chosen by most car drivers or by being on a train. We cyclists are very lucky.

Big thanks to Jo, as the main organiser, and Katie too, as the pair who got it all together. Also thanks to Laura, Michaela and Teresa as the fellow tourers who were all so positive, and able to find humour in everything. I couldn’t have asked for a better group to take on this adventure with and we had so many belly laughs in such a short space of time. Big thanks. Fort William next year? I’ve packed my bag already  #teamjmc #apidura #trek