The friendly way to enjoy winter by bike and on foot
What do you do when the winter weather looks vile outdoors? Stay indoors and read a book or watch a film? No! Go outdoors and embrace the wet, snowy, windy and chilly conditions instead.
Knowing that motivation can be the hardest part of winter outdoors activities I normally try to arrange to meet up with friends. Luckily, in my mad outdoors world, I have plenty of volunteers.
Mountain biking on a wild winter’s day
The plan was a forestry trail centre in southern Scotland so as to avoid the worst of the wild weather. Ae MTB Trail Centre, which is one of the Forestry Commission’s 7stanes trail centres, was chosen because a number of keen riders had not ridden the routes before.
As we drove the M74 south on one of the days just after New Year, the weather conditions seemed bonkers. Numerous cars had skidded off the motorway or into each other and we wondered if the trails would be unrideable.
Fortunately, the shelter of the forest meant that most of the red 19km Phoenix Trail was perfectly fine to ride. There were some open sections and when these coincided with a huge weather squall – think swirling winds, sleet and hailstones – it felt pretty unpleasant to be out on a bike. But, as I said, most of the time the riding was fine and sheltered.
The Phoenix Trail offers some great riding with a mix of Alpine-style ups, fast-flowing single track, rocky steps, berms, forest trail and fun tabletops. I am not an adept mountain biker but I could ride most of this route.
With six lads and two dogs in the group – plus me – I found myself mostly trailing the pack. It didn’t seem to matter too much, however, as the rest appeared happy enough to enjoy a recovery breather as they waited for me at convenient end-section points.
And the camaraderie was great. We laughed, chatted, enjoyed the riding and finished with a warm and welcoming lunch stop at Ae café afterwards.
I know that if I’d woken up to the day’s weather and tried to make myself go out for a solo ride I would never have bothered. Going with a group made a big difference to the outcome of the day.
Walking on a surprisingly fabulous winter’s day
It seemed like there would be more of the same weather for days to come so when I arranged, the next day, to meet a group of Munro walkers (via my Facebook group, Munroaming), I imagined high winds, snow or sleet and generally tough conditions.
I doubt I would have bothered to get up and get out at 7am if it hadn’t have been for the encouragement of the other walkers, Ellen, Leslarrr, the Munro Moonwalker, Colin and Iain.
But, amazingly, we were treated to one of those fabulously gorgeous Scottish winter days as we walked Carn a’Chlamain, from Blair Atholl, with a bright blue sky, crisp and crunchy snow underfoot and stunning scenery. It was cold – and the head wind on the return walk did blast my bare face skin – but on the whole we enjoyed glorious conditions.
While we walked and admired the views, we talked and enjoyed the company of people we already knew, others we had not seen for years and new Munroamers.
I am looking forward to more of the same outings in 2015 as groups of Munroamers arrange to meet up and climb a few mountains.
Carn a’Chlamain is a great Munro for an easy-ish day’s hike. It’s fairly long – and I swear the walk out was twice as long as the walk in – but the ascent is gentle and the summit is easily navigable in clear conditions. That’s 172 Munros that I have bagged in total if you’re interested!
Mountain biking on another wild winter’s day
With everyone back at work, the weather still continued to rage around us. Instead of snow, the central belt has been drowned in torrential rains and blasted by high winds.
A group of friends from Glasgow Triathlon Club decided that they would not be beaten by the conditions and gathered together for a Saturday morning mountain bike ride. While many triathletes would normally road cycle, our mountain bikes seemed a safer option.
Again, I know I would not have left the house at 9am if it hadn’t have been for the agreement to meet friends.
The weather did prove to be wild. It rained, sleeted, snowed and generally blew up around us. I felt painful pins of hail and snow in my eyes and as the ride progressed I became colder and colder to my core.
The half hour was a battle of will as I dealt with cold, numb and painful hands and increasingly crappy weather.
But we still had fun. As we rode a familiar route through Mugdock, along the West Highland Way and back through Strathblane and then Mugdock again, we chatted and laughed and somehow enjoyed the challenging conditions.
It took a few hours to properly thaw after returning home but I relished the challenge and company of mountain biking with my friends.