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Journey along the A9 offers adventures if you escape the beaten track

By Ben MacGregor

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OUT AND ABOUT WITH RALPH: Breaking up the journey can provide hours of fun and fantastic places to explore

Looking down to Speyside from the ‘Burma Road’.
Looking down to Speyside from the ‘Burma Road’.

The A9 is an amazing road, I can’t think of another like it. Stop almost anywhere and a host of explorations on foot or by bike, or even by boat, present themselves.

The whole journey is through magnificent country and it’s such a shame just to drive without stopping other than for food or fuel, although you sometimes have to.

This time I had the bike with me and had planned a route from Bruar, up into the hills to the Allt Scheicheachan bothy then down the Bruar Water. It would take perhaps three hours and break my journey nicely before continuing to Fife and Edinburgh.

But it was hot and sultry, threatening black clouds were building. The first rumble of thunder would not be long. I’d already stopped at Bruar and taken the bike down from the roof but decided to put it back for Plan B.

I turned south just ahead an approaching wall of torrential rain.

At Dunkeld, a downpour had just gone through and sun was emerging. The town was full, as busy as I’ve ever seen it, and I found a parking spot in Birnam.

Dowally Loch on the ride from Dunkeld.
Dowally Loch on the ride from Dunkeld.

The map showed intriguing tracks heading up into the hills from Dunkeld towards Loch Ordie. If I hadn’t already wasted too much time, there looked to be a good round route returning by Loch of Lowes.

Beyond the crowds I was soon cycling up an estate road, noting for next time a good car park at Cally. In just a few minutes I was into entirely peaceful country, tall spruce and open moorland, climbing slowly on a good track.

Sun gleamed, trees dripped from the last shower. It’s such a great thing about Scotland that you can so quickly and easily get away from the tourist bustle and have wonderful country almost entirely to yourself. In two hours I met just a couple of cyclists and walkers.

Somewhere else cars and camper vans and lorries were bunching up on the A9. I cycled slowly up accompanied by songbirds and the cry of the osprey. Here was heather, and scabious, and lochans with rushes and white water-lilies.

I stopped by the shore of Dowally Loch for a late lunch, watching a couple of anglers out in boats. I don’t know where the midges had gone but I wasn’t complaining!

On the trails above Dunkeld.
On the trails above Dunkeld.

Big clouds threatened but the rain kept off. I needed to get through Dundee ahead of the afternoon rush so regrettably had to turn back, enjoying an easy ride down all the hills to Birnam.

Heading back north two days later I’d chosen from the map a route from near Aviemore, climbing to a high pass with a short walk up to an 800-metre Monadhliath top. This, I discovered later, was a well-known mountain-bike route known as the ‘Burma Road’ and quite a few other cyclists passed as I walked slowly up the steep sections, some of them helped by electricity!

The route initially passes Allt na Criche, the Scripture Union children’s adventure centre, and it was sad to see what should have been a hive of activity so quiet as a result of Covid-19. Let’s hope that those children who so need a break in a place like this can soon return.

It was great to leave that busy A9 and the tourist crowds far below, climbing up through the purple heather on a bright morning of bracing wind. A young lady arrived at the top of the pass shortly after me, hardly out of breath she’d cycled the whole way up. Her bike had lower gears than mine, perhaps that had made the difference…

Leaving the bike to head up Geal-charn Mor.
Leaving the bike to head up Geal-charn Mor.

The top of Geal-charn Mor was bracing indeed, especially in shorts, and my numb fingers didn’t warm up till back at the car. I enjoyed the descent though, the track which had taken me well over an hour to climb took me about 10 minutes to ride down.

These are just two of many, many possibilities to explore which simply leap off the map when you look.

It’s like life, sometimes you have just no alternative but to plod on in a queue of traffic but so often you can choose to do something different and at least mildly adventurous.

So make the most of your next A9 journey, as well as your journey through life!

Geal-charn Mor.
Geal-charn Mor.

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