We all have our regular routes and places that we get to ride frequently, ocassionally and infrequently. I’m fortunate in that I have a job that requires me to travel and I also have a car big enough to carry my bikes. So I get to ride in lots of different parts of the UK. Aberdeen however is not a common haunt even for me. So when I got the chance to go there this week and I found myself with enough time to squeeze in a ride, I couldn’t resist.
As with all the best rides, a little bit of planning ahead makes a big difference and so over the weekend I had planned a route near Aberdeen just in case I did actually get the opportunity. This involved parking up in a village called Auchenblae and then riding over a huge hill towards Banchory, before heading east towards Stonehaven and finally looping back around to the start.
I parked up at the roadside and prepped my bike and kit as usual but this time I was greeted by a local resident who rather than telling me that I couldn’t park there or such like, was instead interested in where I was heading off to and advised me that it was going to be a cold day and that I should wrap up well. They’re friendly up here in these parts!
So off I headed out of Auchenblae and along the road that runs past Drumtochty castle and meets the B974. This is a really nice warm up for the big hill that is to come and knowing what was in store I span a relatively low gear along here enjoying the scenery and warming up the legs (and the rest of me, it was 9 AM and 4ºC after all).
This first section of my ride was mostly through forest with a nice church and a few quaint houses; you can’t see the castle from the road. Then I reached a sudden short descent, signposted as 12 %, which took me down to a T-juction and my first view of the big hill.
So I took the right turn and dropped down a whole load of gears, accepting that I’d be in my small chainring and my 28T sprocket for the next 3.3 km. This is a busier road than the last, so I did get a few cars passing both from behind and from ahead but not enough to cause any concern. This one is a really tough climb, 3.3 km of continual accent and an average of 10 % gradient; there are sections where you can get a breather as the gradient shallows, but even these parts are uphill. And after about 20 minutes of pushing my lowest gear around, one revolution after the next I finally had sight of the summit.
Just before the top there’s a car park off to the left and a bend to the right, before a final ramp to the very top. The views from the bend were outstanding and so torn between stopping for photos and completing the hill, the cyclist in me quietened the photographer and I carried on to the summit. Then not wanting to miss out, I rolled back down to the car park for my photos, accepting that I’d have to turn back again and re-ride that final steep section. Unfortunately with the low sun shining directly down my lens the photos I got in that direction don’t come anywhere near close to the reality.
Once past the summit though and with the sun behind, the descent sprawled out in front of me, snaking away far into the distance was truly something to behold. The fast flowing descent, big ring, small sprocket, in the drops, head down, air rushing past, lived up to the visual promise too. From here on for the next 10 km the ride was mostly downhill, with a few short ups that could be powered over before the beginning of the next descent. And plenty of opportunity to hit 60-70 km/h.
Down at the bottom is the town of Banchory and on a more relaxed day of riding this would probably have been a good coffee stop location; somewhere to relive the killer hill climb and the mad fast descent with fellow riders. But on my own with minimal time to spare I headed off right before reaching Banchory down a minor road that connects up with the A957 to Stonehaven. It runs just south of both Knock Wood and Mulloch Wood, is generally undulating and provides a good view across Knockburn Loch too.
Once on to the A957 I was able to let fly and munch through the miles on my way down to Stonehaven. This is almost entirely downhill and the scenery is far less captivating than the early part of the ride, so I got down into the drops and picked up the pace. A little too much unfortunately as I passed my intended turn off and ended up in Stonehaven. I did actually see the turn off, it’s signposted ‘Swanley’, but unfortunately that didn’t ring a bell and I just didn’t fancy scrubbing off the speed I’d gathered when I wasn’t sure it was the turn I wanted. Checking back on Google Streetview it looks like I missed a really good cut through too, a nice twisty, wooded quiet narrow road; ah well, it happens.
So into Stonehaven I went and then back out again on the road to Auchenblae. Initially this was an energy sapping slog along a slightly uphill road, exposed to the wind between fields and farms but as I neared Auchenblae the road became a little fairer with some downs to compliment the ups and there was the occasional wooded section to provide some shelter.
And so I rolled back into Auchenblae, once again greeted by my faithful car, waiting patiently for me on the roadside and signalling the end to another great ride.