DAY 3: Camping in the Cairngorms: Cycling from the Ocean to Loch MorliCH
Up at the crack of dawn, the cyclist set off early to make a start on their 150km trip through the Cairngorms! The Cairngorms is the largest national park in the UK, stretching across 4,500 square kilometres of mountain ranges and lochs. As you can imagine, the mountain route was full of natural beauty… but it also meant the elevation was about to get a lot harder.
Before reaching the national park, the team headed south along the NC500 and into Inverness. Along the way we cut through various woodland and wildlife trust sites, including the Talich Wildlife Reserve, highlighted online for its bird and orchid populations. Although we were close to Loch Ness, the impending interviews and planned route took us away from the legendary spot. Whether you believe in Nessy or not, maybe it’s a good thing our cyclists didn’t steer too close to her home!
Arriving in Inverness, the team decided to stop off at Velocity Bike Cafe and Workshop. The small cafe in the heart of Inverness works as a stop off site for cyclists to fix any problems while chomping down on a hearty meal to fuel their journeys. Our cyclists did exactly this, loading up on coffee and food to keep their legs pedalling. The early morning starts really got the better of the cyclists at this stop, but there was no slacking as they moved onto Glenmore Nature Reserve in the Cairngorms.
Every corner was met by new beautiful scenery at the Glenmore Nature Reserve. One particularly eye-catching landmark was the Old Pack Horse Bridge in Carrbridge. The bridge dates back to 1717! (how on earth is it still standing?) and was originally commissioned by Brigadier-General Alexander Grant of Grant, who paid just £100 to mason John Niccelsone to build it. Also known as ‘the coffin bridge’ down to its uses by Duthil Church to enable funeral processions to cross the river Dulnain, it is one of the most spectacular and most recognisable landmarks in the whole of Cairngorms National Park – to miss incredible photo opportunity would have been idiotic, and so of course, the team took a brief second to enjoy the characteristic view along their journey (the bridge looked just as tired but still full of life – much like the team!). By this point the team were about 20 miles out of the wild camping spot, so after a few unmissable bridge pics they set off on the final stretch.
Given the freedom to wild camp in Scotland, it would have been rude not to use this opportunity during the expedition. Our wild camp in Orkney had been blessed by good weather and sea views, so the Cairngorms had a lot to live up to! Safe to say our camp on the edge of Loch Morlich blew the whole crew away, revealing an untouched landscape at the foot of Ben Macdui. Ben Macdui (also named Mac Duff’s Hill) is the second highest mountain in Scotland, with its parenting peak being Ben Nevis, but is also the highest mountain in the wider Cairngorms National Park. with an elevation of 1,309 metres, it sits comfortably between the borders of the historic counties of Aberdeenshire and Banffshire. Ben Macdui is so sublime, that even Queen Victoria herself took a hike to the summit in 1859!! It definitely offers one of the best views in the Cairngorms National Park, and the team were extremely impressed and excited to have the opportunity to camp so close to such a stunning location.
Here we met with Alan Smith, the Cairngorms National Park ranger. He spoke to our team about the handling of tourism within the national park and the fine balance between attracting visitors and conserving the landscape. He spoke about the community around the Cairngorms and their investment in its protection, even putting up cameras on the beaches to spot misbehaving tourists. Luckily for us, Alan showed us the best location to set up camp on the Loch which minimised our interference.
As you can see from the photograph the location was breathtaking. The spot made a tricky day of cycling seem worth it and even the swamps of midges weren’t enough to put us off! Now, it’s time for a decent night’s sleep ready to triumph the day ahead.
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