Sunday, 19 May 2013

The General's Great North Road

The great North Road - Slochd pass
Today was a shock to the system with the temperature climbing to the dizzy heights of 19oC. Phew....
The only answer was to unearth the shorts, kick the tyres and hit the trails. 
Back in January, we walked a section of General Wade's Military Road from Kinveachy on the A9 to Tomatin. It left an impression and I wanted to go back, do it in daylight and continue to Aviemore. Various logistical problems were overcome by the family's weekend plans which left a car at Aviemore and me and the Bike at the road junction at Tomatin. Happy days......I just hoped I still had the car keys. 
The route heads under the high rail and road bridges which bisect the village of Tomatin, crosses the Findhorn and then turns left to parallel the A9 up to the Slochd. It is an easy angled climb on a fine track with the big brown swell of the Slochd hills filling the skyline ahead. Today, cuckoos were calling and lapwings were squealing in the hazy sunshine and it was a good place to be.
Living in Inverness with family in the central belt and an unhealthy attachment to the Cairngorms not a month goes by without a trip over the Slochd on the 'new' road so it was strange to approach the pass from a different direction. The top of the military road is marked by a large stone where the flowers suggest some ashes are scattered and a another memorial to two shepherds (I hope) who died on the A9. All this is in sight of and ignored by the hurtling traffic at the pass. 
I crossed the A9 ( the new road) and headed down through the Slochd on the old A9 ( the old road) before picking up the Old (Military) Road again and heading up over the railway (the iron road). Are you still following this?
After this the OMR and the A9 part company for nearly 15 miles as Wade took the road the other side of Inverlaidnan Hill and down to the Sluggan Bridge. This is a fine area of scattered pine woods and open views which I know well from cross country ski-ing and it is a grand route for the bike. I joined National Cycle Route 7 for a few miles down to Sluggan where I stopped and took in the peace and quiet next to Wade's fine arched bridge.

From Sluggan the route crosses a tarred road down to Carrbridge and runs out into the woods of the Kinveachy Estate. Watch out for the river crossing - it's half way up your shins on a good day and it is not warm. 
Parts of this route are just sublime as you travel through ancient pine woods on a cracking surface down to Kinveachy where the A9 thunders back into view.  Just after the lodge I went a bit wrong and took a path just to the side of the main road which was muddy and fouled by cattle but in the end it ran back up into the woods to finish with a coast down to Aviemore through sun dappled forestry. 
I have not had a bike ride in warm sunshine since August's Feshie expedition so I thoroughly enjoyed this route.   

Wade was an interesting bloke and he certainly made a mark on the Highlands. This road  was built by the British Army to speed up troop deployment after the 1715 and 1719 Jacobite uprisings. Wade created the first usable transport system north of Perth and was followed by Major Caulfield who in turn was followed by Thomas Telford who completed the job of connecting the Highlands to the outside world.
Wade rose to the rank of Field Marshal but was sacked by the Army after failing to prevent the Jacobites entering England and advancing to Derby during the '45. Ironically, he was taken unawares by the speed of Charlie's advance from Glenfinnan which was made possible by the hundreds of miles of lovely new roads he had built for the ungrateful Teuchters. 

You can't help but think that he should have a bit more recognition in the Highlands but while he waits for a statue I recommend you seek out the spidery lines of his real monuments by bike or by foot.

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