Monday, August 26, 2013

The Teeth of the Shark: Braemar to Grantown-on-Spey

Saturday 22 June, 2013

Braemar breakfast chit chat – the teeth of the shark – her Majesty's not at home – the bridge where buses scrape their bottoms – Lecht Pass - one more hill to climb – Grantown-on-Spey and back to Tomintoul

Braemar breakfast chit chat

Hostess: And where are you headed today?
Me: Aaaaah.... Spraytown, I think it's called.
David: Not Spraytown. It's called Grantown-on-Spey.
Hostess: Ooooh! That road's so hilly. That'll be challenging. Very character building.
David: Well, his character needs some building.
Hostess and 2 female guests: Ha ha ha. Giggle, giggle, giggle. Te he te he.

I excused myself to go pump up my tyres and my deflated ego.

The teeth of the shark

Arguably the hardest day day of the lot, the ride through the heart of the gorgeous Grampians involves seven big hills, three of them monsters. The elevation chart for this section of the ride looks like a set of shark's teeth giving you some indication of what you're in for.”
    - Lonely Planet Guide.

Seven big hills make up the teeth of the shark.

Her Majesty's not at home

By 8 I was riding down the main street of the little village of Braemar and through dampness somewhere between mist and drizzle. Downhill, lightly, for the first 14 kms along the River Dee, a lovely glide, always twisting, a forest of pines on each bank.

Balmoral Castle, the Royal Summer Residence, is close but screened by woodlands, except for a glimpse of the tip of a tower. The royals love their privacy – this place is remote and isolated even from this traffic-sparse road. I pass without stopping. Anyway, the Royals are in London, waiting for a new king or queen to be born.

I turn left onto the single lane B 276 and immediately start the first climb of this up and down day.

After the first hill. We'd climbed from a wooded river valley, uphill
 through thinning vegetation and now are on a moorland with much more climbing to do. 

The bridge where buses scrape their bottoms

The first hills were steady climbing and the countryside was terrific. Bush at first but as the route climbed, heather and grass.

Gairnshiel Lodge, looking ahead to the second big hill. Truly delightful country for a bike ride.

There is a bridge at Gairnshiel Lodge that is much discussed in this region. It is high and arching and the top of the roadway is peaked. It happens that heavily laden buses can get grounded on this peak so that passengers have to get off to lighten the load and free the bus from its embarrassing stranding. I hung around but no buses arrived.

The bridge where a heavily laden bus can  scrape its bottom.

Lecht Pass

The gradients on most of the slopes were rideable.. Not so the road up to the Lecht Ski-fields.

Corgraff Castle on the left, and in the centre, the start of the road zig-zagging up towards Lecht Pass, several ridges over.

I came to Cock Bridge, passed Corgraff Castle which, in the mist and drizzle, I mistook for an eccentric bungalow, crossed the Don River and came to a slope which, just like the Great Knoutberry Hill in Dentdale, got me laughing at its angle of climb. This time my opinion was shared by the guide-book

Take consolation in the road-side footprints and wheel marks of cyclists who've walked before you.”

Cock Bridge over the Don and the start of the climb to Lecht. Around the corner, the road steepens to a 12 % gradients. The man in  the photo was up here for the wedding of his niece that afternoon. He would live here if he could get work.

I pushed, and pushed, then, as the rain fell and the bones got cold and the slope relaxed, I was able to ride right up to the ski lodge at the summit.

The Lecht Pass, in Winter. I climbed from the right, had lunch in the lodge
 and descended at speed on the road to the left.

Three riders from Vermont

In the car-park, I met three guys with drawn faces and moist candles dripping from their noses. They were from Vermont, on a 7 day tour of the Cairngorm National Park, surprised at the icy air.

' Well, you are up 2100 feet.” I mentioned.

Yeah, we sure know that. We've just climbed up the other side and every inch against the wind.”

We drank coffees and ate haggis pie. I lingered much longer in the warm than I should have but through the window I could see rain driving over patches of snow. Besides, they were excellent company.

On more hill to climb

The descent from Lecht was steep and at the bottom I cursed my stupidity for not thinking to take photos of the slope. Should I go back up? Don't think for one second that this thought got serious consideration.

The photo I should have taken of the descent from the Lecht Pass. It was a steep 10 km brake burner.
 When I was here, there were only patches of snow, nothing like the drifts  in this shot.

Downhill from Lecht was a brake-burner, like the slope down to the Bridge of Brown before the final climb of the day. I remember a wet, abrupt gradient round a sharp right- hander, demanding a hard, steady pull on both brakes.

Granton on Sprey and back to Tomintoul

I met a slightly disconsolate David in the main street of G on S.

Can't get a place anywhere here. They all say there are weddings on..” And in fact this morning I met a man from Edinburgh at the Don River who was here for his niece's wedding that afternoon.

Anyway, looks like we'll have to go back to Tomintoul ( at the bottom of the Lecht Hill). One of the old hotels there has room for us.”

I wonder what story I would be telling about this evening's board and lodging had I been without David's organisation and his vehicle.

I didn't wonder for long, though. We settled into the two star Richmond Hotel and before a pub dinner, had time to walk the little town, talk to pig farmers and absorb two pints each for medicinal reasons ( in my case, cider for dehydration).

Tomintoul's a place of charm and calm and well worth spending time in.

 Distance Today Average Speed Max Speed Riding Time Trip Odometer
73.66 14.8 58.8 4h 56m 1322

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