Georgia – mountains, dogs and chacha

“Where are you going on holiday?”
“Georgia USA?”
“No the other one, the country.”
“Oh right. Where’s that exactly?”

We arrived in Tbilisi airport and got our bikes assembled not knowing where to sleep. A short cycle under the cover of darkness, we opted for a romantic field between a highway, machinery depot and slaughterhouse, ready for 2 weeks of chacha (strong home-made “Georgian wine vodka”), friendly locals, dogs barking, fantastic roads and a bit of handlebar chewing.

We headed west by train and had a few days on a track from Kashuri to Zestafoni, this was our first experience of the dogs we had been warned about. Other than one dog that needed a boot in the nose, the stray dogs were super friendly and just wanted some water, a biscuit and affection. In Zestafoni, I observed in foreign-bemusement as my “Russian translator” negotiated our options to get to Zugdidi – the start of our mountain circuit in the Svaneti area bordering Russia. Bus times, taxi prices and the back of a fat man’s van were discussed at great length.

“How much dd the taxi driver suggest?”
“60 Lari I think, but it might be 70 or 170.”

The (clockwise) Svaneti loop begins up a beautiful smooth road. 7 hours of pure up (3600m ascent over 86km). Further round the loop the road would turn to gravel, mud, track, river. We decided to take our time once past Ushguli, savouring the remote roads, cracking views and various surprises, such as:

  • “Ferocious” stray dogs that are just friendly and cute
  • Drunk driver at night desperate to party with us in the middle of nowhere
  • BMW 3 Series saloon making it through thick mud uphill to Ushguli
  • Pigs running loose in villages with wood around neck (apparently this stops them from pokingthrough fences
  • Brand new road surface for 100m, for no apparent reason, along miles of rough track
  • forgetting to put a film in my 35mm camera
  • Another hill…

Strathyre SUP

Calm day on Loch Lubnaig to complete ASI SUP instructor course. Photo and kit by Strathyre Adventure

Purple (cairngorm) loop

Heather season by lucile verrot on

Looking North over Loch Builg. Heather Season by Lucile Verrot on 500px

With an optimistic forecast and a free weekend, we set off on a long-anticipated loop around the Cairngorms by MTB. Being relatively new to bikepacking, I figured it would be a good trip without too much ascent. Despite also appearing relatively easy distance-wise, a few wrong turns and some tracks eroded into the the river made for a great wee adventure. Glen Feshie scenery more than made up for being swamped by midges. The path heading back over to Braemar on the anti-clockwise loop was almost unusable in places, so with some river crossings we made it back in good time on Sunday.

Lower on the mountain, on all slopes and shoulders and ridges and on the moors below, the characteristic growth is heather. And this too is integral to the mountain… But it is the August-blooming ling that covers the hills with amethyst. Now they look gracious and benign. For many many miles there is nothing but this soft radiance. Walk over it in a hot sun, preferably not on a path (‘I like the unpath best,’ one of my small friends said when her father had called her to heel), and the scent rises in a heady cloud. Just as one walks on a hot day surrounded by one’s own aura of flies, so one walks surrounded by one’s own aura of heather scent

  • – Nan Shepherd’s THE LIVING MOUNTAIN

Since that trip I have bought a mosquito head net and packed my compass with cycling gear – never again will I be in a Scottish bog using an iPhone as a compass in air thick with midges!

OS Map Cairngorm Loop

Route on OSMaps


Surly on the rocks
My Surly LHT showing off it’s bare racks and glimmeringly dull “cakipants” coated steel. This was on a tour around Shetland during a surprisingly good-weathered weekend north.

Blur Rock

blur landscape 6
When a photo feels like a painting.