Home is where the heart is – a cycle ride back to fitness from Nairn, via Brodie Castle and along the Findhorn
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Life can smack you in the eye sometimes. On Sunday I'm climbing a Munro. Five days later I'm lying in a hospital bed recovering from a heart attack.
But the medics worked their magic and after three nights I was allowed back out into the big wide world with a stent in an artery and a stack of tablets to take.
One thing was for certain, I wasn't about to let this slow me down. The advice was to take it steady but I soon found I could ride a bike for short distances and easy walking wasn't a problem. Time to up the anti and a few weeks later I decided to try a much longer road bike ride.
I have a few favourite circuits which can be done from home in Inverness, but went for one that starts from the Maggot car park in Nairn and uses quiet roads out into the countryside, through Darnaway Forest towards Cawdor.
Leaving the Maggot, the route follows the blue signs of NCN1 past Nairn Dunbar golf club and through Kingsteps to the main entrance to Brodie Castle, ancestral home of the Brodie clan for more than 400 years. It then deserts NCN1 to cross a bridge over the railway and doglegs south across the A96 on another minor road past Tearie Farm.
A right turn at the entrance to Moray Estates Development Company office is followed by a left, signed for Conicavel, and after passing through this little hamlet the road enters Darnaway Forest. Things were going well as I climbed steadily through the trees at first before the view suddenly opened up and there's an enjoyable fast run down to picturesque Daltulich Bridge, crossing the rushing River Findhorn.
Previously I've made the very steep, short ascent to the B9007 at Relugas, then turned south to Burnside and across Dulsie Bridge, heading for Cawdor.
This time I decided to explore the unclassified roads on the north side of the Findhorn, taking me in the same direction. So instead of crossing Daltulich Bridge I turned right on the much more peaceful unclassified road through woodland to the A939. A short dogleg left, then right, and I was on another unclassified road.
In a kilometre or so I detoured to visit the historic monument of Ardclach Bell Tower. This rather odd-looking fortified tower, sitting on a promontory overlooking the surrounding countryside, is thought to have been built by Alexander Brodie in 1655. It would have been a useful watchtower for Brodie who, as a Covenanter and supporter of the Presbyterian cause, had endured attacks on his estate by Royalist forces.
After visiting the tower I backtracked to round a small lochan, riding south-west through Dulsie Wood to a junction. Dulsie Bridge is a couple of kilometres away to the south, but I turned right in the opposite direction along what's marked as an Old Military Road on the map. A kilometre and a half further on I turned right again on a long, mainly downhill stretch, crossing a bridge over the Allt na Leacainn and on to a junction at Achavraat.
Going left here I rode for three kilometres to join NCN1 again at a little triangle of roads. Cawdor lies to the west but I turned right, heading back towards Nairn, passing Mid Urchany and Meikle Urchany to arrive at the B9101.
Here NCN1 goes right along the B road then immediately left. In two-and-a-half kilometres it joins the A939, going along this to join a path beside the River Nairn back to the Maggot.
No feeling of tiredness, no complications along the way – I was delighted that I'd been able to complete this ride just a month after having what's technically called a myocardial infarction. From here on it's all one way, and I'm very much an advocate of the maxim prevention is better than cure!
Darnaway Forest loop
Distance 30 miles / 48km
Terrain Almost entirely quiet, unclassified roads
Start/finish Maggot car park, Nairn
Map OS Landranger 27, Nairn and Forres
Peaceful, scenic riding into Cawdor country