Last night we started our ride along the Badger Divide in Inverness. The Badger is a 200 mile off‐road bike‐packing route from Inverness to Glasgow along heritage paths, long distance trails, estate and forestry roads, and well‐established rights of way, ideal for gravel bikes.
I’m not sure who came up with the route, or the name, but I think it was a group of Scots having a bit of a piss‐take at the bigger, longer, famous bike‐packing routes like the Tour Divide (which runs from Canada to Mexico). Anyway, I’d added it to my mental “I’d like to do that one day” list as soon as I’d heard about it. Turns out the others had had similar ideas, and a plan had been formulated by Rach and Oli late last year, and evolved into the motley crew we were today. We even had a mascot, Barry, and a theme tune (more on that in a second...), but much to Rach’s disappointment, we’d vetoed Tom’s idea of matching Badger onesie outfits...thankfully.
Yesterday had started early, with a 5 am alarm and a drive to the Hope Factory to assemble the team. A quick van swap and then we were on the way North to Glasgow, via a compulsory stop at Tebay services for coffee, bacon butties, cakes and pies. Is it even possible to drive past here without stopping in for goodies?! The bank holiday traffic was, well, non‐existent actually, and we felt smug heading away from honey‐pot areas like the Lake District, sure to soon be teeming with people enjoying 3 days of sunny warm weather.
Sam had found the theme tune, and it was a bit of an earworm, a song that repeats endlessly in your head all day once you’ve heard it’s simple but catchy sound, driving you to distraction. But the excitement of setting out on an adventure meant no‐one was at that point, and the four words that made up the song were shouted out cheerfully through the van over and over again. When they
weren’t being spoken out loud, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was singing them in my head. I realise now this was probably pretty annoying at 6am in the morning for Rach who was driving!
Badger, Badger, Badger, Badger, Mushroom, Mushroom, Argh! Snake!
(Sorry...don’t Google it, you’ll hate me forever!)
The ease with which the journey had started didn’t last though. One of the downsides of travelling on a bank holiday is that there are reduced train services, something we were reliant on to get us from Glasgow (where we’d conveniently leave the van so as to be able to ride back to it), to the route start in Inverness. One of the downsides of living in the UK is that taking a bike on a train is stressful at any time, and way more difficult than it should be, even more so on a bank holiday. Despite the benefits that could be made to the health of the nation, not to mention the reduction in environmental impact by having less cars on the road, our transport ministers have decided to make it as difficult as possible to use a combination of bikes and trains (or any public transport) to get anywhere. But let’s not go there right now, there isn’t the time for me to rant! To put in plainly, it simply wasn’t possible to get all of us on the same train.
So with 2 of us on one train, and 3 more on the next train 3 hours later, the badgers were literally divided (see what I did there?!). At least we were all eventually going to get there though.
Slightly worryingly we had sent Sam and Tom on ahead to buy supplies for dinner and breakfast, it’s not that we didn’t trust them not to just buy beer and crisps, but we didn’t trust them.
By the time Rach, Oli and I arrived in Inverness it was almost 7pm, and after quickly loading bikes up with food at the train station, it was time to get pedalling and cover some miles before it got dark. It had been a scorching hot day (for Scotland), and was now turning into a beautiful warm evening, with a light breeze and a temperature perfect for riding, a great way to start the trip.
We took time to snap a few obligatory photos at the official start point of the ride outside Inverness Castle and then we were on our way, Rach kindly reminding us from her Garmin each time we ticked a kilometer off that we still had 330, 329, 328 to go, i.e a long way! We quickly left the city and found ourselves climbing into woodland, following the Great Glen way. The trails were dry and fast rolling, and despite a few adjustments of bags and settling into comfortable riding positions, we were ticking along nicely.
Dry, dusty trails lined with coconut‐scented gorse made it feel like a perfect summer evening to be outside. It was 8pm and we were riding in t‐shirts and shorts, setting out on an adventure whilst those in the city were heading back to their homes for the night. It was hard not to smile and feel very lucky about that.
A comfortable pace was soon adopted and as usual, Rach and I used the time to chatter away about this, that and everything as the miles ticked by, the boys choosing to be just far enough in front presumably to get some peace and quiet. The views were opening up, and it was remarkable how within a short space of time we had left the city behind and begun to feel like we were out in the wilds. The sun began to drop lower in the sky as sunset approached, turning the horizon into a giant paint palette of colour. I love how taking trips like this means that you are often outside at the most magical times of the day, and get to be in places and see things from a perspective you don’t normally have.
Ainsley Harriot, all‐time hero of bike‐packers, provided the main course of a quick dinner that night with his legendary cous‐cous packets. Throw in some cheese and chorizo and it’s a mini feast in a bag, no washing up needed either! Oatcakes and more cheese, beers, and chocolate finished the meal off nicely, the boys had done good after all. We crawled into sleeping bags and bivi bags and settled down for a night outdoors under a full moon, the repetitive beat of a tune like a metronome sending me to sleep...
Badger, Badger, Badger, Badger, Mushroom, mushroom....