80-mile Scot­tish stunner

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week In Mcn -

‘Trees dis­ap­pear as the road un­curls across moor­land hill­sides’

Not many 80-mile rides will change your life, but this two-hour run around the eastern side of the Cairn­gorms Na­tional Park in the Scot­tish High­lands just might – no-one would blame you for sell­ing-up and mov­ing to the re­gion (and not just for the roads, scenery and clear air; plenty of dis­til­leries nearby to savour, too). It’s an un­miss­able north/south al­ter­na­tive to the busy, speed cam­era-tas­tic A9 trunk road to Inverness. And for boxtick­ers, the route also takes in the high­est road in the UK.

The route starts, north to south, just out­side Gran­town-on-spey on the A95. Af­ter cross­ing the Spey, turn left fol­low­ing the A393 for Tom­intoul. The road climbs past shim­mer­ing sil­ver birch, inch­ing to­wards low hills and fir tree plan­ta­tions on your right. It’s not clas­sic tar­mac im­me­di­ately – pock­marked and nar­row – but you get the sense of build­ing to­wards some­thing spe­cial and grad­u­ally the brown and pur­ple Cairn­gorms re­veal them­selves, crowded and bruised, brood­ing like a dis­tant storm on the hori­zon. The trees dis­ap­pear as the road un­curls across moor­land hill­sides, scrawny road­side heather nag­ging in the wind. Hair­pins ap­pear at the Bridge of Brown – don’t ask – and it’s time for a cuppa at the tea-room.

Then on­wards, through more plan­ta­tions, fol­low­ing an old mil­i­tary road first laid in the mid­dle of the eigh­teenth cen­tury – you soon stum­ble sud­denly into Tom­intoul, a rigid noughts-and-crosses grid of houses and streets de­signed by Scot­tish mil­i­tary no­ble­man Alexan­der Gor­don, 4th Duke of Gor­don, in 1775. Re­sist the urge to salute and ride straight through; turn left, stay­ing on the A393, for Brae­mar, then right soon af­ter.

The road sur­face has now im­proved to swirling black­top, even­tu­ally climb­ing steeply to­wards the Lecht ski cen­tre and then, as you drop to­wards Cock Bridge, the mag­nif­i­cent vis­tas are kill-me-now breath-tak­ing. More hair­pins, then hook a left, still on the A939, across even more bristling heather and speck­led Christ­maspud­ding hill­tops. At Gairn­shiel Lodge, swoop left onto the B976 and fol­low the rick­ety road up and over, cut­ting the cor­ner off the main, tourist route (or carry on to the A93 at the Bridge of Gairn). At Bal­moral (say hello to the cor­gis, have a cup of tea at Quee­nie’s), pick up the A93 left, and start the long climb to the Spit­tal of Glen­shee – the high­est road in the UK. Fast, flow­ing, sweep­ing be­tween the hills and moun­tains jostling for po­si­tion to dom­i­nate the road­side, the way is of­ten soak­ing wet and shrouded in low cloud (so be pre­pared!). But, once over the top, it’s a dra­matic roller-coaster romp of switch­backs and blind hillocks run­ning down to Blair­gowrie – pil­lions are ad­vised to hang on.

Fuel is avail­able just over the bridge – but chances are you’ll want a break to catch your breath and silently thank the old sol­diers who paved the way 260 years ago.

Ride safe in the knowl­edge that HGVS have been warned off spoil­ing the fun

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