Travellers' tales: Cairngorm wild-camping

A bicycle is propped up against a signpost next to a pitched tent in front of a loch and mountains in the background
Last September, John Phillip managed to pack an adventure into four panniers and five days

Along with limited leave from work, the pandemic complicated plans I had for a cycling trip in 2020. My solution was a five-day wild-camping cycle trip in Scotland when the lockdown lifted. I could pack an adventure into a short, coronavirus-secure break.

I started at Inverness, having arrived by train from York, and cycled out of the city in the afternoon. Riding past the Culloden battlefield towards Nairn, I was soon among gorgeous woodland. My first night’s camp was at Loch Lochindorb, where I was greeted by fabulous views and hungry midges. Repellent was the one thing I had forgotten…

To make the most of the early autumn light, I rose early. A lovely descent to Carrbridge for provisions was followed by a spin along a minor road to Grantown-on-Spey. I followed a quiet main road into the Cairngorms proper, spending my second night at the old Lecht mine workings. At an elevation of 700m, I was mostly out of the reach of the insects. 

From the Lecht ski area next morning, I had a magical view of a temperature inversion. Past Cock Bridge and Corgarff Castle, I followed the lonely military road through grouse moorland towards Balmoral Castle. In the woodland between Ballater and Aboyne I spotted red squirrels. Leaving Deeside, I had a steep climb up towards Cairn O’ Mount. I pitched camp above the river in Glen Dye on a glorious evening.

I was woken by grouse calling – thankfully without answering guns. Another steep climb rewarded me with views across the Howe of the Mearns and all the way to the sea. I descended from the Cairngorms and had a cuppa at a hotel in Glen Cova. As the daytrippers headed home, I began my search for a camping spot. 

My last day took me to Dundee for the train home. I spent around £90 on train fares (advance tickets) plus £50 on camping food and café stops. Wild camping means you get a lot of bang for your buck.