This month we caught up with fellow adventurer and all time great guy Paul Brett (@properadventure) , editor of the epic adventure journal Proper Adventure.
Shackleton Whisky teamed up with Paul and adventure bike company Shand Cycles back in October to create an adventure-inspiring trip Bike Packing the Bothies in The Cairngorms.
Here Paul tells us about magic horses, forest trails, river crossings and highland feasts at candlelight.
Why did you start up Proper Adventure?
Proper Adventure started from an award winning photograph taken on an incredible day of climbing on Ben Nevis. The exposure from this on my social channels sparked an idea... I decided to write a book on my favourite climbs which sold out, and from that, the idea of a follow up morphed into bringing other people’s adventures on board.... Proper Adventure The Journal was born.... ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
How does a place shape your experience?
The epic landscapes and isolation of The Cairngorms with its exposed plateaus and towering mountains allows you to reset, take it all in and escape the day to day stresses. Mountain summit views on a clear day is like home. Emotions you don’t feel or get all the time. Being concentrated on your terrain and prepared for anything out here is a must.
How do you define the word ‘adventure?’
Adventure to me can mean anything, everyone’s adventure is their own and different. For me, taking on a challenge - whether it be hanging off a rope on Curved Ridge in Glen Coe or launching your own magazine! Now that’s an adventure!
What is a Bothy?
A Bothy is a basic shelter, usually left unlocked and available for anyone to use free of charge. Some are closely guarded secrets but most are well known and home from home to many. Always leave them as you find them and never leave your rubbish. Respect the Bothy code. You’ll always get a great conversation with people you meet - arrive as strangers and leave as friends.
What made you excited to be a part of this collaboration?
Having been a keen mountain biker a few years ago before injury ended my racing, I was excited to hit the saddle again. Hitting the wilderness on two wheels instead of foot and the challenge of the Cairngorms got my adrenaline flowing. With the added bonus of staying in Bothies and the people we could meet in them, it was going to be an excellent few days of Proper Adventure.
What does collaboration mean to you?
Joined with friends or strangers with a common goal or aim. A spirit of camaraderie in testing conditions.
How many people did you travel with?
Our team consisted of myself, Paul Brett, Amy Shore, Cat Sutherland and Donald Shearer.
Did you meet anyone else that shaped your journey?
Pete, who trekked in with cooking kit and ingredients to cook us a highland feast on day two. What a legend of a man! Not only did he feed us but made enough for the others in the Bothy. And Nelson the black Labrador, what a nice dog he was!
What was your mode of transport?
Our transport was the amazing, hand built in Scotland, Shand Mountain Bikes (@shandcycles). Quality kit that served us well.
What problems did you have to overcome?
Apart from tired limbs, we had very little in the way of problems apart from a lack of firewood on evening one. I volunteered for the duty of cycling downhill in the pitch black to collect firewood before the climb back up. After a suffer-fest of a climb it was awesome to get the fire going and enjoy our Shackleton Whisky as we settled down for the evening.
Are there any moments from the trip which you won’t forget?
A horse appearing like magic from across the river in Glen Feshie as we debated how to cross was pretty special. Also, settling down on night two with our feast of venison and dumpling stew followed by pancakes in a Shackleton Whisky sauce.
If someone wanted to undertake a trip like this, what would they need to think about?
Plan plan plan. Make sure you are prepared for all weather and have plenty food and water. This is an unforgiving landscape, especially in winter. And don’t forget your camera!
Paul's Diary Entry: Day One
Amy and I collected the bikes from Shand Cycles the previous day. Shand had kindly loaned us their wonderfully named Bahookies and Stooshie bikes. We looked forward to testing them in the Cairngorms’ challenging environment. We had arranged to meet Cat and Donald in Aviemore around midday. We had a nice drive up from Edinburgh, discussing a variety of subjects, including the Beatles, camera settings and catching colds from toddlers.
Once we met up with Cat and Donald, we geared up, set up the bikes and headed for our starting point, Glenmore. It was meant to be a fairly easy loop around the north of the main Cairngorm massif to ease us into the saddle. The plan was to spend the night in Ryvoan Bothy, a single-roomed Bothy with a sleeping platform for four. We were hoping that we would be the only people staying the night.
Ryvoan Bothy was a fairly easy cycle up from Glenmore Lodge, with some steady climbs and downhill sections. It was pretty enjoyable for Amy and me, as we were only getting back in the saddle for the first time in a while. We stopped at the famous Green Lochan for some photos and realised that we had forgotten the fire wood, which wasn’t ideal on a cold October night in the Scottish Highlands. After a brief debate, we decided that we would head to the Bothy anyway and see if there was any wood left by its previous occupants. Unfortunately for me, there wasn’t and after emptying my bag, I had to cycle back in the dark to get the firewood. I must say, cycling downhill with just my headtorch guiding the way was an interesting experience.
The cycle back up to the Bothy was tough, with the climbs feeling longer in the dark and the weight of the wood making it a testing return journey. I was joined by a small herd of deer, keeping me company and randomly crossing my path. I was glad to see the candle light glow from the Bothy window as I finally made it back.
Once back at the Bothy, Donald fueled the fire and we settled in with some hot food and a few drams of Shackleton Whisky. Unfortunately, a couple who had also decided to stay in the Bothy snored so loudly that it kept everyone awake for most of the night. I think the amusing highlight of the night was when Cat sat up at around 4 a.m. and declared: “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to sleep outside!” - and off she went. I also decided that enough was enough and headed outside for a hot cup of tea. Luckily, I got to see the sun rise over the Bothy which definitely made up for the disturbed night.
The door opened and the source of our problems also stepped outside. “Good morning,” he said, “sleep well?” Unsure whether this was a sarcastic or a genuine question, I mumbled something about the weather and headed inside to pack up my kit for the day ahead.
At 7 a.m., I felt energised as we set off for our main day of riding. A herd of deer observed us from the ridge above… My guess is they were probably the same deer that entertained me the night before on my ride back to the Bothy. Slowly, one by one, they disappeared over the ridge.
Paul's Diary Entry: Day Two
After a fairly easy cycle on our first day, day two was looking like a more serious endeavour. Our route would cover a whole load of terrain from tarmac to gnarly single track, through the ancient Scots pines and a few tricky river crossings, only to finish at Feshie Bothy, Ruigh Aiteachain. We would then have a feast prepared by Pete Roobot of FireChef Cookware. All throughout the day, I kept hoping that I’d sent him to our intended Bothy... “Time will tell”, I told myself for the hundredth time.
Once we got off the tarmac track that led us right into Glen Feshie, we could see all the way down the glen. With a heavy flowing river as our only company, I began to wonder about the river crossings ahead. The first one was negotiated with ease as we cycled into the forest, going up and down some lovely trails, marvelling at the ancient giant pines that lined both sides of the trail. When we entered a single track covered by a few roots here and there, Amy put her Endura helmet to the test with a crash that brought her over the handlebars, resulting in a nice dent in the helmet, but thankfully, no serious injury.
The trail suddenly came to an abrupt end with a massive drop down to the river. Donald informed us that a bridge had once stood there, but it was swept away in a storm a few years back. “Some storm,” I thought to myself. On steep and loose ground, we made it down to the river and picked our way across. Our feet were wet, but fortunately, we weren’t too cold as we scrambled to the other side, stopping for a warming dram and some photos.
As we continued down the glen, we could see that the weather was changing. The sweeping belts of rain and angry clouds were now in store for us. We focused on that delicious bowl of warming stew that awaited us at the Bothy as we approached the next obstacle, our old river friend; the third crossing of the day. As we debated on the points of entry and exit, we were greeted with what turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip, a magical white horse. It appeared out of the bushes and stood there watching. As we plunged into the fast flowing, ice cold water, the horse continued to stare. Donald had impressively cycled over the obstacle, but Cat, Amy and myself decided to push through it, using the bikes for balance. As the river hit knee level and the cold water nipped at my exposed skin, I was glad I decided to push - unlike Donald, I would have probably crashed and been seriously soaked. Our horse friend kept a watchful eye on us as we crossed the river and hit another climb up the side of the glen. Thankful for some tarmac as the rain started to fall, we realised that we had unnecessarily crossed the river… Our Bothy was now on the other side of the bank. The fourth crossing of the day lay ahead.
As we searched for a suitable point, Cat commented on seeing “a giant of a man, carrying what looked like a bouldering mat” on the other side of the river. “That must be Pete!” I announced with optimism. But the mystery man had now disappeared from view.
As we were crossing the river one more time, a Land Rover Defender with some happy passengers drove across. I cursed them under my breath, wishing it was me as I eased my sore backside back onto the saddle. However, it wasn’t too long before we arrived at our destination. Another cyclist was outside and asked with curiosity, “are you the guys that the big man is cooking for?” I hurried inside to greet Pete and listen to his story of how he’d carried an incredible amount of ingredients and kit, including a massive cast iron pot, from the same starting location as ourselves.
We selected our sleeping points for the night in what can only be described as the lavish surroundings of the Feshie Bothy, the most comfortable and welcoming Bothy I’d ever been in. I was looking forward to an evening of food and whisky.
However, before such pleasures were to be ours, we needed to do more cycling. In front of us, there was a Munro, Mullach Clach a’Bhlair, the most westerly point in the Cairngorms, looking angry surrounded by clouds and rain. We headed in its direction with the plan of summiting before supper. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. With the weather and time against us, we called it quits on one of the painfully steep climbs and headed back to the Bothy. As it came into view, we could see the smoke billowing out the chimney and as we opened the door, we were greeted with the delightful smell of Pete’s cooking and an excitable welcome from Nelson the dog who had arrived with his humans.
Settled in the darkness with head torches and candles, we eagerly awaited our supper. Oh, was it worth the wait! Venison and dumpling stew with seasonal veg, followed by pancakes with a butterscotch and Shackleton Whisky sauce. What a feast to ease the tired limbs! With the fire roaring and an ample supply of firewood and whisky, we drank, we chatted, we laughed and we listened to music into the early hours of the morning before settling down for a snore free, restful sleep.
Paul's Diary Entry: Day Three
We awoke early the next day feeling refreshed and ready for our final day in the saddle. The plan was to head to the higher ground and attempt to find a shelter in the Cairngorms, the Secret Howff. Remarkably, its location is a closely guarded secret and as such, it is not marked on any map. It was going to be like looking for a needle in a haystack! However, with the weather closing in on us, zero visibility and a heavy frost, we decided to give it a miss and have a low level ride back up Glen Feshie to the warmth of our vans and the long drive back to Edinburgh.
Amy and I said goodbye to Cat and Donald and our Biking the Bothies adventure came to an end. It was an unforgettable experience! We made some amazing memories and we came home with a few bruises, aches and pains as souvenirs. The Cairngorms National Park had provided a unique and challenging environment for our adventure and I can’t wait to get back out there and do it again!
With special thanks to Shand Cycles Mountain Bikes.
Check out the epic locations mentioned by Paul below: