04:20 and 5°C…
Sixty minutes on very quiet roads.
Quiet at anytime but especially so on a Sunday morning in April. A roe deer startled by my passing slips and scratches on the road surface until it reaches more familiar grass and gravel under its hooves. I feel sorry to have disturbed its morning routine, but I’m sure I’ll soon be forgotten.
A fast descent now and I pass through a short tunnel. The road beyond leads to a small village and I am surprised to see lights on in one of the houses and the familiar smell of a peat fire. I wonder why someone would be up so early on a Sunday morning. I turn right and immediately left and now I’m off the road and onto estate tracks. Fashionably they’re called gravel nowadays but they’re not. They’re Land Rover tracks, built to take estate vehicles into the hills. The surface is mainly sure, but the stones – for that is what they are – are sore on the 700c rims of my old Dawes Galaxy. This isn’t the wonderful gravel that is shown on social media from warmer climes. It’s rideable though and has been since this track was first built after the Second World War. Birch woodland now and Black Grouse predominate. The early sun is warm and the hillside is beautifully illuminated. Roe and Fallow know that the Western slopes catch the early sun. Lying down, they raise their heads but do nothing else and I pass by with a smile.
Much rougher now, with as much pushing as cycling. The centre and sides of the track are deep with heather but I cycle where I can. The bothy roof is visible, but it’s still thirty minutes away. The loch is calm but for the wake of an unidentified duck. Still too cold at 1,500 feet for any brown trout to be rising just yet. The gate in the enclosure surrounding the bothy is bolted. I know the bothy is empty and I’m happy to have the place to myself. I used to meet a very famous Rough Stuffer here, but he died many years ago and I imagine him riding his bike where the sun is always on his face and the wind always at his back. I wonder what he would think of a world where every ride is gnarly and every track is gravelicious. The primus is soon on the roar and I look out over a landscape which on this fine spring day is as good as you could hope for. Cyclists have been visiting this spot for eighty years or more and its remoteness will always attract a different sort. Roe deer liver, onions and potatoes off a plastic plate and I begin to think about collecting firewood, but there’s no rush.
Words and pictures – Calum McRoberts