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Feshie obstacles provide stern test

By John Davidson

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Crossing the Eidart Bridge to access Upper Glen Feshie.
Crossing the Eidart Bridge to access Upper Glen Feshie.

After riding through Glen Tilt and over the Bedford Bridge at the Falls of Tarf in last week’s Active Outdoors, John Davidson continues his biking expedition as he battles to reach Feshiebridge before nightfall

The crossing of the Geldie Burn, in the remote depths of the Cairngorms, had left me cold so, after a short lunch break, I was eager to get moving again.

There would be limited daylight and I had a long way to go on the bike to reach Feshiebridge before sunset, and I was conscious a large stretch would have to be walked.

My route took me left after the crossing, riding past Red House and west towards Glen Feshie, though now into a headwind on a rough track, making for slow progress but progress nonetheless.

There are a seemingly endless number of burns to cross as you head towards the ruined Geldie Lodge, taking a right fork in the track on a welcome descent before reaching the lodge. This soon turns to a path, only rideable in very short, intermittent patches.

I was enjoying occasional glimpses of sunshine now, which lit up this wild area magnificently. This was the longer of the walking sections and I just tried to keep moving, accepting there was no way to cycle until I reached the next vehicle track.

First I had to cross Eidart Bridge – at my own risk, as the sign warned – above a magnificent waterfall. The boggy path goes very close to the edge of the steep gorge so extreme care was needed to manoeuvre myself and the bike until the path finally moved away from the edge and down towards the River Feshie.

I soon picked up a vehicle track of sorts but it was so boggy the wheel would get stuck, so I followed what must once have been a glorious footpath through the heather. It was intermittent but I was able to ride some of the way now if I picked my route carefully. I knew the track on the map was getting nearer and I foolishly figured that would be the end of the difficulties.

A rare stretch of rideable track in the beautiful Glen Feshie.
A rare stretch of rideable track in the beautiful Glen Feshie.

The track is picked up after a ford of the Allt Coire Bhlair, but it’s steep and very rough at first. After a bit of respite in a steep descent, it seemed to be improving – but then the track went straight on into the Feshie at a wide, deep crossing. This made the Geldie crossing look like a mere puddle!

The OS map showed the track staying on the right-hand side of the river and I remembered Peter saying there had been landslides in the area a few years ago, so I went in search of the remains of a route that didn’t involve crossing the river.

Thankfully it wasn’t difficult to find a path, though it was certainly not rideable as it crossed gullies of loose rock and earth – rebuilt into a good walkers’ path by the looks of it but not easy to negotiate certain parts with a 21-inch mountain bike in tow!

Then it was back in the saddle for some fine singletrack riding leading down to the decent vehicle track, going right at a fork ahead on an older looking track through the trees. After another minor ford it becomes a narrow path again, forcing me to walk a little more before riding again. Soon the impressive Glenfeshie Lodge comes into view and you keep left at a fork where a small house sits ahead.

I’d hoped to be able to cross the River Feshie at a bridge marked on the map but which I discovered had been washed away in 2009. Piles of wood lie beside the river just waiting to be built into the replacement Carnachuin Bridge by Glenfeshie Estate – though I understand planning issues have delayed its construction. A polite notice advises there is an alternative crossing 2.5km downstream but that is so close to the end of the public road at Auchlean I decided to go that way to Feshiebridge instead of my planned route via the west bank of the river.

A new vehicle track parallel to the river led me to another big ford, so I followed a vague path through the heather and grass until it emerged onto a track again, and went left to follow it north. Sticking to this new track until it ended where a new path struck left, I headed straight on following an old forestry track until it emerged at a complex junction of new and old paths and tracks. Hazarding a guess at the right direction, I went left then immediately right onto a new path which soon led down some steep steps to cross the Allt Garbhlach, climbing up even more steps the other side. Had I made a poor choice?

Heading along new paths towards Auchlean at the end of a long day's mountain biking.
Heading along new paths towards Auchlean at the end of a long day's mountain biking.

It turned out not – after a few cross-drains I was back on the bike using this excellent newly-laid path to whizz along to the edge of the forest, over a burn and through a gate that marked the edge of the Glenfeshie Estate. The decent path continued through heather the other side – after a small climb – and in no time I was at the road end. And before darkness had fallen, too!

The joy of hitting tarmac at the end of a day like this is something you can only comprehend if you’ve felt it. The adrenaline buzz lasted most of the five miles or so from Auchlean to Feshiebridge and I’m sure some of the people I saw along the road heard my yelps of joy as I rode along at a giddy 18mph.

After more than eight hours on the go, I’d completed one of the toughest and most testing mountain bike days I’ve known, and visited some of the lesser-known corners of the Cairngorms.

Back at Feshiebridge, Peter was waiting, having driven my car back up from Blair Atholl. I skidded into the car park, satisfied that this had been one of the most interesting bike routes I’d done – because, like Harry Henniker’s assertion, it was barely manageable on a bike.

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