When the weatherman tells you the last day of summer is coming, then this is something that has to be taken very seriously in Scotland. One more day to stock-up on vitamin-D before the long, dark winter. It was also one last opportunity to head to Ballater and do our long talked about family cycle. The plan was simple; hire a couple of mountain bikes, stick the kids in a trailer for the first time and cycle out following the River Dee on the Deeside Cycle path.
Ballater is a charming little village around forty miles west of Aberdeen and lies right on the edge of the Cairngorms. Being close to the Queen’s summer holiday home in Balmoral there is always a steady stream of tourists from all over the world. When I say holiday home I mean castle. She is the Queen after all.
We hired bikes and trailer from the Bike Station (https://www.bikestationballater.co.uk/) which is at the northern end of the village and close to the old railway station that has been renovated after a recent fire. Although there was a steady stream of people looking to hire bikes, the service was pretty efficient and friendly and ten minutes and forty quid later we had the bikes and the trailer. I even got the last parking space outside of the shop so I already knew that it was going to be a great day.
A decent mountain bike and a the trailer for the two kids.
With the kids strapped into the trailer we hit the road. Well the trail. The trail starts right by the bike shop, just behind the tourist information centre and then follows the north shore of the River Dee all the way back to Aberdeen from whence we came. Obviously today we would not be that ambitious and the plan was simple; cycle to Dinnet, have a pint and some lunch with the kids and then turn around and head back to Ballater.
The path out of Ballater is quite narrow, especially when towing a two-person trailer and there could be congestion at times with other cyclists and walkers. My eldest son (four and a half years old) was having a great time in the trailer but my youngest son (almost two years old) was a little bit more apprehensive about the whole experience and took a little persuasion, i.e. a phone with YouTube videos, for him to relax. He can be like this on the regular bike seat sometimes and he just takes a while to settle into things. His big brother looked out for him and made sure all was good. Drive an hour to some beautiful country and get out the smartphones. Modern parenting is great, right?
I found towing the trailer pretty easy once you get used to the experience of sometimes pulling it along and it sometimes pushing you. Obviously I could tell I was pulling two kids and all their flotsam but it was not overly taxing, especially as the route was as flat as a pancake.
When the YouTube videos were no longer entertaining we stopped for a quick snack at the suspension bridge (closed now due to recent flooding). One of the kids stuck both their feet in the river in an ill-thought out move to cross some stepping stones. At least in the luxury of the trailer you can go bare feet.
Not a bad spot for a picnic!
We pressed on to Dinnet with both kids accepting their fate in the trainer. The path was now wider and meant that my partner and i could cycle beside each other and have a chat whilst the kids entertained themselves with stories of the Gruffalo that may or may not live in the woods beside the path.
We made it to the Loch Kincord pub in Dinnet (around 12km cycle from Ballater), parked the bikes and wrestled the kids out of the trailer on the promise of some nice chips only to find out that the place was closed for a wedding. I don’t know who was more disappointed; the kids upon learning that chips would have to wait or my partner suffering the disappointment of not getting a nice, cool pint of beer.
Back we cycled to Ballater. The kids fell asleep to the gentle rocking of the trailer and we made good time back to Ballater along the same route we came. The cycle was punctuated by my partner grabbing a fist of front brake and hitting the deck. Luckily the damage was mostly emotional.
The cycle path was mostly loose gravel the whole way and secluded among beautiful heather and birch trees. Peering up through the trees, you can sometimes spot eagles soaring.
Must be a lot of hard work sitting the trailer. The two brothers sleeping on the way from Dinnet back to Ballater.
We dropped the bikes and trailer back off at the shop and sought out some much needed food for the kids. It was chips or nothing.
Although it was slightly less than my usual cycling speeds truth be told it was far more enjoyable and memorable. Not a bad way to end the summer at all.
It proved pretty challenging to wake them up. Of course the promise of chips whispered in their ears did the trick.
Be careful when the path crosses the busy A93 on a blind corner!