Coming close to my extended time away munro bagging it was time to complete some full areas on my tick map. The plan for later in the year is to venture into regions I haven’t even touched yet such as Torridon and Ben Alder. Before then I had two mountain summits remaining in the Southern Cairngorms. During my long weekend visit I stopped off to explore Scotland’s answer to the great Pyramid of Egypt and mountain bike amongst kings and queens.
Scotlands own pyramid scheme
Weather for the weekend looked wet so I chose to explore nearby areas close to the Southern Cairngorms. Balmoral is the home of Queen Elizabeths country residence in the Scottish highlands. Back before her reign, Queen Victoria also spent plenty of time in and around Scotland. In a previous munro trip I visited Mount Keen and the Queen’s well. A monument to one of her rides on horse back while meeting with local royalty.
The pyramid itself is a tribute from Queen Victoria to her husband Prince Albert on his death. Standing around ten meters tall and covering the size of a small house its an impressive sight to visit. On the same estate there are various other monuments to significant people in the Queen’s life but none as impressive as the pyramid for Albert. More stone cairn than pyramid they are still an interesting bit of history to explore while there.
Balmoral was a lovely place for sight seeing and also camper van friendly. Free parking is available close to the visitors centre. There is a small cafe and information service, which houses toilets and free drinking water to top up supplies with. Its an ideal spot for chilling out with a coffee and planning your next stop.
From there, Balmoral estate is about a five minute cycle along the road. The Balmoral estate is also free and has open access to the general public. On my particular visit there were more police around than usual but they were friendly and happy to allow tourists through to the pyramid. It would be possible to walk the route should you not have a bicycle but would make for a longer day out. The pyramid sits on high ground a mile or so into the estate and provides fantastic views over the surrounding area on a clear day.
Egypt on the cheap
A visit to Balmoral is recommended for an almost cost free day out. Its ideally situated in the highlands so makes a great drop off place for stretching your legs on a longer journey such as the north coast 500. Roads are nice and wide even for larger motorhomes and the grounds are well maintained to accommodate all levels of walker. Compared to my visit to Iceland this was an equally scenic but far less costly trip. If you don’t have the funds to fly all the way to Egypt, why not consider visiting one closer to home?
Completing the Southern Cairngorms
The following day the weather had improved allowing for a journey by mountain bike into the wilds. The munro summits of Beinn Lutheran Mhor and Carn Bhac made up my final peaks in this region. Covering a distance of 32km this could make for very long day without the use of two wheels. Fortunately I had the use of my, ‘Beast of the East’ to make short work of the approach tracks.
Paths into the area start near Linn of Dee and go on for approximately 10km to a deserted hunting lodge. The 20km by bike leaves around 12km worth of hiking that is fairly straight forward apart from steep ground between the two munros approaching the last summit. I would recommend avoiding the area in winter due to the high risk of avalanche on the steep slope. Be sure to equip a reasonable quality off road tyre to avoid puncture from small sharp rocks. Road bikes would not be able to make the distance and the lack of suspension wouldn’t be very comfortable.
Closing in on 100 munro summits remaining
The full trip took around seven hours to complete with plenty of breaks along the way. Cycling on the way in as an easy one hour ride and half that on the return leg due to going down hill. Dry weather managed to hold out for me throughout the day until the cycle back resulting in a good soaking. Returning to Harvey the RV was a welcome sight to get dried off and into warmer clothes.
After a break of a few weeks from munro bagging I really enjoyed my day out in the lands of Queen Elizabeth. The cycle in and out helped to break up the hike and felt like it gave a rest to tired legs. Psychologically the positive effect of reaching the mountain bike always helps to improve the mood no matter how far away the ride home is. With the majority of days out munro bagging in the Northern Cairngorms using bicycle, this bodes well.
Protect your bike from Scotland
Midges aren’t the only thing to attack you in Scotland. The weather can be pretty lethal sometimes, particularly to anything metal like a bike. After replacing a recently rusted chain I’d recommend trying wet lube to give you an extra level of protection. Normal chain lubes don’t disperse or repel water so switching to a wet lube the one available by Muc Off can help. Remember to give your frame and drive train a good wipe down after any ride in the rain to guard against rust.
On two occasions now my planned trip to the island of Ailsa Craig has been cancelled. Rain and strong winds it would seem don’t mix well with small privately chartered boats. To fill the gap before resuming more aggressive munro bagging I’m considering other options. These include plane wrecks and kayaking days out in the Scottish wilderness. Be sure to check back and see where I end up.