Bike and Hike

"It was a shame that for all the beauty of the scenery that the top of the mountain was covered in mist."

Ben Alder and Ben Bheoil 

These two Munros stand south of Dalwhinnie in a remote part of Scotland. The best way of getting to them is to cycle out to Culra bothy, some 17km, which, I suppose is one way of warming up before a lengthy hike. These hills were not even on my radar for possible hills to visit but something happened that changed all that.

I have had a mountain bike for over 20 years now, for over 15 years it has been covered up, sitting, rusting out the back. A few years ago I did replace the main gear cassette and chain however frustrated at not getting the gears working properly I gave up and left it. That was until the start of the summer. I had decided on not worrying about gears, all I wanted to do is to cycle and to have a bike that would be a low maintenance as possible. With that in mind I took the gear shifters off, pushed the rear mech back and fixed the chain to run on the 18 tooth gear. Sure it would be great on the flat and I would fly downhill, but I realised I would have to work more to get uphill, but who cares.  Once I had tested out the bike and to my surprised it worked, a plan started to form. One that could include both cycling and hiking. 

Starting Point

The start of the walk is at Dalwhinnie, which is located just off the A9 heading towards Inverness. Actually, the location is between Pitlochry and Aviemore, and is easily spotted by the distillery that pokes out of the ground between the hills and lochs. The structure look nice but at odds to the rest of nature surrounding it. There is a hill walkers car park which is at the end of Ben Alder road, it is easiest to follow the signs for the train station to find it. there are spaces for about 10 cars here, it would be best to get here early on a busy weekend day in the summer. An alternative way to travel would be to get the train to the station at Dalwhinnie, or the Inverness bus from Glasgow that would stop off at the side of the A9. There is a hostel that can be pre-booked to stay at. 


Location

Bike Route

I started at the hill walkers car park which should give you easy access across the railway line to the start of Loch Ericht. Unfortunately the gate across the railway was locked at the time I was there (8th August 2022) so I followed the marked detour. It took only about 5 minutes to cover the distance to the bridge under the railway line to get to the start of Loch Ericht. 

Bike route

The first 10km (6 miles) heads south by the side of Loch Ericht. This is a decent smooth track that is easy to cycle. Head past Ben Alder lodge, there is a right of way path by the side of the lodge and continue down to the Loch Ericht estate.

Ben Alder lodge

Loch Ericht

Track

Loch Ericht Estate

Follow the track to the right at the estate house and continue over the wooden bridge. The track does start to ascend more as it winds its way towards Loch Pattack. 

Wooden bridge

Loch Pattack

There is a tricky rope bridge to cross here, made even more difficult hoisting a bike over it. The last 3.5km after the Loch ascends again along a rougher track towards Culra bothy. This is the most tricky and time consuming part of the bike ride but its worth it when the bothy comes into view. 

Culra bothy

The bothy is now shut due to asbestos but it is still unlocked. 

Walking Route

From the bothy, I headed back down the track about 500m and crossed the bridge. From there I followed the track south towards the Loch a' Bhealaich Bheithe. At the cairn marker I should have continued the track left, however, I followed the river upstream for another 2km. Having realised I had missed the start of the shoulder of Ben Bheoil I made the decision to ascend to the ridge before getting to the Loch. It was a shame that for all the beauty of the scenery that the top of the mountain was covered in mist.  Once on the ridge, the walk was straightforward to the summit of the Munro at 1019m, 2 hours 32 mins from Culra bothy covering 7.5 km. 



Walking route

Starting to ascend

Into the mist

Summit of Ben Bheoil


From Ben Bheoil, I continued along and down the ridge on the other side. Walking was slow going by constantly checking the map to make sure I wasn't off track. The idea was to continue further south west before turning west towards Ben Alder. I was particularly wary of the cliff edge that runs along the shoulder of the Munro. With no track to follow I made my own decision on when to ascend the 200m to the ridge. Looking back, I probably started my ascent too early and I could have moved further south first. Picking my way through the rocks and rough grass I made it to the main shoulder of the Munro. Slowly walking and checking the map I made it to a cairn. I almost thought I had made it to the top but it was only a marker cairn. Spotting the cliff edge I followed a rough track along this for over 30 mins and the track, by this time was turning north west. Then the terrain turned from rocks and stone to a carpet of lush green grass and moss. It covered the entire flank of the mountain and looked out of place from the ground covering I had seen during my entire trip. The other worldly like surface disappeared and the chunky rocks returned, and in the distance, the mist was swirling around a larger stone structure. I had started to believe I would never reach the top and there in the distance, was the trig point. I am always glad to see the top of a mountain and in this instance I was really happy to see this one. 
Typical Scottish scenery

Getting near the top

Summits up

The walk from Ben Bheoil took 2 hours 30 mins and covered 6km. The total time for the 2 Munros took just over 5 hours. From Ben Alder I headed off the back of the Munro and descended down to the main walking track which leads back to Culra bothy. The mist cleared at just under 800 m and the walk back to the bike took 2 hours and 6 mins covering 8.5 km. 

The main stats of trip were:

Final Stats







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