Juliana Bicycles
 

A Ride on the Sleeper Train

January 10 — 2020 | Surrey, England

Words by: Rachael Walker & Julia Hobson

 

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Roo Fowler

I recently moved to Surrey in the South of England, partly to be with my partner and partly for the incredible riding the Surrey Hills has to offer. The network of trails stretches over a range of connecting hills where you can easily get lost in hours of loamy goodness. Since moving south I’d been keen to show Julia the trails, particularly as they are so different to the north. This sparked an idea… In one trip it would be amazing to experience some of the most southerly trails in the UK, the Surrey Hills, and those much further north in Scotland. Always on the hunt for something a little different, we opted to start our journey with trails in the Surrey Hills, moving onto an urban adventure into central London travel where we then boarded the Caledonian Sleeper train to Scotland for part 2.

Leaving the leafy lanes and pretty villages of Surrey, we pedalled our way into London, tarmac and high rise buildings quickly replacing trees and fields. What has always been a stressful journey by car felt way more fun and carefree by bike. Obligatory tourist photos in front of famous landmarks (Houses of Parliament) saw us getting some confused looks from passers-by. I guess it’s not everyday you see full suspension mountain bikes and muddy riders in the centre of London. 

Our urban adventure was perhaps a little longer than we anticipated. The last part of our 75km journey was probably the most intense. Working our way through central London to the train station felt like we were in a computer game, dodging commuters, buses and cars, with horns and general noise coming from every direction. Arriving at the train station was relief but at the same time we were excited for the next part of the journey and what lay ahead.

The Caledonian Sleeper train whisks travellers through the night from central London to the north of Scotland, and we were about to board for a 3 day escape from the city and adventure in the Highlands. It’s a truly magical way to travel, falling asleep to the hypnotic sound of the train on the tracks, nestled in a cosy bunk. You wake to an entirely different world from the busy, bustling city that you left. Mountains, wild empty scenery, and quiet stillness. 

We left the Caledonian Sleeper at Aviemore in what felt like the middle of the night, but it was actually 7.30am. With everything we needed for the next few days on our backs we headed for the local trails. We’d both ridden in this area before but didn’t know it well. We weren’t disappointed with the singletrack Trailforks led us to.

Our Juliana Mavericks were the perfect bike for the trip. Capable of comfortably covering long distances, easy to climb on, light enough to carry when necessary, and ridiculously fun on every kind of descent we came across. From fast flowy berms, jumps and drops in the Surrey hills, to steep slippery woodland trails, and the super-technical rock-gardens of the higher Cairngorm mountains, we both fell just a little bit more in love with our bikes on this trip.

Day 1 finished with us riding on open fire roads towards Glenmore Lodge, our base for the night, with views of the mountains we’d be climbing up the next day. We couldn’t help but wonder whether Mother Nature would be kind to us, she often isn’t.

Our route for the second day carried us up high over several of Scotland’s highest mountains. As we climbed the wind grew colder and stronger, making it almost impossible to stand at the summit, let alone ride. Somehow the two of us seem to be a beacon for bad weather on our trips. 

The raging wind meant many sections were unrideable. The sections we could ride were a refreshing break from pushing. We did have the bonus of having light packs due to the copious amounts of clothing we were wearing. I think Julia almost equalled my tally of 6 layers that day.

By the time we’d crossed the Cairngorm plateau the mist had descended. Navigation became tricky as the descent path was a barely visible line through a sea of boulders. Big wheels came into their own on this terrain, as well as having the confidence to keep up speed and let the bikes roll through the technical sections. It was engaging and hugely fun riding though, just the kind the two of us love best. 

After a relentless day of wind, it’s fair to say we were pretty tired, mentally and physically. On trips like this where you’re wearing the same kit each day and you’re out for most of the day in the elements, small things become huge luxuries. A shower. Warm food. Wine. A fire. Bliss.

Day 3 took us south down the beautiful Glen Tilt, and through a few river crossings, Rachael’s favourite. (I might have kept these quiet until the last possible moment so as not to put her off.) With another long day of pedalling, the desire to keep our feet dry as long as possible led to some interesting and unintentional riding shapes as we tried to power through slimy rocks to the opposite bank of the river….mostly unsuccessfully.

Mother nature decided to play out again today. Our path on this day skirted the river all the way to Blair Atholl with constant undulations. Whilst we never ventured particularly high the constant headwind sure made it feel like one of the hardest days of the trip. Thankfully the route Julia had plotted was beautiful and the hot chocolate waiting at the end of the ride was even better.

And just like that, it was over. An epic few days of Highland wilderness riding and a brilliant, slightly surreal adventure from city, to mountain, to city again via a blissful, easy and stress-free way to travel. The riding was tough, but we were returning feeling refreshed and with a sense of calm that can only be found from time spent in the mountains.

 

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