Not everyone is a fan of the snow but there’s no denying its transformational properties in the Highland landscape, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the Aviemore area.
The trails around Glenmore and Abernethy are always enticing and a covering of the white stuff only made an escape to the area all the more appealing over the Christmas holidays.
My brother Iain had come to visit, along with his family, and wanted to fit in a long run in preparation for an ultra marathon he has in his diary later this year.
He’s walked the route up to the ‘Green Lochan’ and Ryvoan bothy before but fancied carrying on over the pass to Nethy Bridge. It’s a route I’ve done a good few times so I was keen to join him, despite the fact my running had dropped off somewhat since last year’s Glencoe Marathon.
In the end I decided I would accompany him from the relative comfort of my mountain bike saddle – generally an easier option but that would depend on the snow and ice conditions.
We were blessed with a perfect combination of a windless day with fresh snow to crunch our shoes and tyres through, giving good grip even without specialist winter spikes.
We met at the woodland car park at Inverdruie and followed the cycle route towards Coylumbridge, joining the Old Logging Way off-road path which winds its way delightfully through the forest past Loch Morlich to Glenmore.
Iain commented on how different life would be if paths like this existed between villages up and down the country, making walking and cycling not only a feasible everyday option for many more people but also a much more pleasant one.
There was only a dusting of snow on most of this early part of the route but that soon changed as we passed the reindeer paddock and headed out to Glenmore Lodge, where the road ends and the pass to Nethy Bridge is signposted.
As we got gradually higher the snow started to fall, and I was riding straight into the mass of flakes with a big grin on my face. Going at running pace made for a gentle bike ride and I was able to take in the beauty of the winter landscape.
In the summer I’d run up this path myself as part of a 20-mile Cairngorms circuit in the sweltering heat of a cloudless day; now it was sub-zero and the mountains were topped with cloud that blended into the snow-white covering below.
I was surprised how many people were out doing the walk to An Lochan Uaine or up to Ryvoan, and it was great to see kids on balance bikes among them! After pausing briefly at the viewpoint at the lochan, Iain continued up to the bothy ahead of me and I couldn’t catch up with him until that point as the track becomes rougher from this point, with some steep sections that are trickier to ride at the best of times.
The number of footprints in the snow dwindled to practically none as we continued along the track from the bothy, now heading through a good few inches of snow with more still falling.
We detoured to visit the memorial in the woods to James Hamilton Maxwell, a World War I soldier who died in the trenches near Ypres in 1915, aged just 22.
At a track junction ahead we ignored the left turn to Rynettin then kept left at a fork to head north towards Forest Lodge. After a diagonal crossroads, the route goes left onto a wide vehicle track then takes the first right past a gate on a track that leads past Dell Lodge into Nethy Bridge.
The sun made a brief appearance as we made our way down the hill towards Iain’s goal for the day – he was meeting his family in Nethy while I would follow the Speyside Way back to Aviemore then Inverdruie.
His legs were starting to suffer for that last mile but he stuck to it and completed more than 15 miles through the snow over some tough terrain.
I munched a piece of Christmas cake and had a swig of tea from my new bike flask then said my goodbyes before taking the Speyside Way towards Boat of Garten. It’s possible to follow the road initially but I decided to stick to the off-road route the whole way, following it to where it emerges at a forest car park on the B970.
After crossing the Spey on the road then heading through the village, the off-road route to Aviemore is signposted left opposite the village shop. This is another great little link and thanks to the fresh snow it was also perfect to ride on. Clouds rolled over the mountains ahead as I enjoyed this final leg of my journey, the pure white path snaking its way over the heather-clad moor.
I followed the path through the woods as the sun came out again, passing the golf course before following residential streets at Dalfaber to emerge on the back road alongside the steam railway.
Just after the pub, the cycle route uses the old Spey bridge to cross the river and follow a traffic-free trail back to Inverdruie.
The network of trails here is an inspiration at any time, but in winter it really can offer a magical experience for anybody ready to get out there.
Glenmore Nethy Bridge loop
Distance 27 miles / 44km
Terrain Snow-covered paths and tracks, some through fairly remote country
Start/finish Inverdruie, near Aviemore
Maps OS Explorer OL57; OS Landranger 36
Riding through fresh snow on a stunning circuit in the Cairngorms