Saturday, October 22, 2011

Report on Scottish Highlands coast to coast ! Day 1

O.K I am back and what a trip ! I did manage to cycle across the Highlands from coast to coast in 4 days but it has turned into a Chris route not the official one !

I will tell you what happened ! The train ride up to Inverness was long but fine and according to plan. I had booked a room in the Inverness Youth Hostel and rolled up there about 8p.m ish.
It is interesting because Youth Hostels are rapidly losing their appeal for me. They are becoming quite expensive for what they offer these days and I feel that is a real shame. In Inverness for comparison you will pay about £3 more for a really comfortable B & B.

Cycling Day 1
Set off at 9a.m from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh on the train with an arrival time of 11.28 a.m. Lovely trip and as you get further west you realize how remote and desolate the Highlands are. Beautiful ! Of course it was raining but I was expecting that. Anyway set off from Kyle of Lochalsh at 11.45 a.m. It immediately started to pour with rain which meant adding overshoes ,hat and outer gloves as it was cold.So I was aiming for Ratagan further to the south west and the official start of the ride. 17 miles later and having passed the tourist castle landmark of Eilean Donnan I reached Ratagan.

The first real climb starts here as you cycle up to 390 metres to a view point from where you can see the fantastic 5 sisters ( well known mountains ) if you look west south west.From here it is downhill along the old military road towards Glenelg. Sounds nice but at between 20-30 mph I was met with the first hailstorm of the day and it was bitterly cold but even worse the feeling of many needles being poked in your face as the hailstones hit.

Glenelg in this weather was not pretty but I reckon it would be magical on a lovely summers day with views over Glenelg Bay to the Isle of Skye.Temperature at this point was running consistently at about 32 degrees F which is 0 degrees C so pretty cold .

The route continues past Eilanreach and Sandaig towards Arnisdale. This was the most brutal weather with hail and snowstorms and streams of hail,water and snow cascading down the roads---- it looked rather like melting ice cream really.It was cold even though the body is creating a great deal of heat with the cycling up and down hills.

O.K Arnisdale was the exciting village as here the route heads pretty much west along Glen Arnisdale and the first mountain pass over to Kinloch Hourn. I knocked on someones door to confirm the route and he told me it was 9 miles to Kinloch Hourn and a further 9 miles to Tomdoun where I knew there was a hotel and I was hoping to stay.But -----he said---- you will have to wade a river. No probs I thought as I had already forded a couple of small streams.
Anyway the offroad track seemed fine until it ramped up into a very steep mountain walk really hard to push a bike with two panniers and impossible to ride. This kept on going until eventually you reach the top and by this time you are in the mountains big time with conditions so wet and boggy it is not really possible to cycle consistently for more than a few yards at a time.Soldiering on and looking at the watch 3 hours time will see real darkness ----- (which if you are outside I always reckon is a good hour after darkness in shops and offices.

So pushing on past two tarns I hear a familiar sound ----- a sharp crack as the rear wheel axle snapped and every revolution of the crank sent the tyre against the frame of the bike.I pushed on gently but realized the very soft alloy of this frame would soon be rubbed away by the harshness of a fully pumped up 2.1 tyre.

At this point I saw the pylons which would signal the river crossing and could clearly see the track enticingly on the other side of the river.The only problem was that this was not a ford. It was ( because of the large amounts of rain ) a full on river. I had said to myself before hand not to dither here because I had to get across. So I didn't ------ straight in trying to use the bike as a prop which worked really well until the middle and then ( thigh deep at this point ) the bike was on it's side trying to pull me down stream with it ! Somehow once beyond the centre of the river things calmed down and managed to get out o.k.

Next thing was realizing there was distance still to go with the broken axle----so bike upside down and replaced the axle ( Yes had thought of bringing a spare one ! ). This was not easy with very limited tools and in the cold but soon on the way again. Not pleasant actually as getting dark and no end to this bleak mountain pass.Needed to force myself to eat and drink liquid here as I knew energy was down. Eating and drinking was what I really did not want to do right now. I also know that these sort of reactions are the first signs of potential onset of hypothermia------ so got the food and drink in !

Anyway reached the shooting lodge at Kinloch Hourn at 6.45 p.m in darkness.I knocked on door to enquire if I could stay anywhere but was rather cooly told the only place to stay was Tomdoun 17 miles away------ and, the guy said ,the first 3 miles are uphill.

O.K I didn't fancy this next stage 17 miles in complete darkness in the remote Highlands --- but if you have to do it you have to do it !! Downed a packet of fruit pastilles and felt reenergized after a few minutes. After the uphill slog the run to Tomdoun was almost out of body. Second wind kicked in and at one point I came across 5 Highland cattle in the road, then a stag with antlers and finally a deer who scuttled out of the undergrowth and ran in front of me for half a mile or so. I felt like a skilled herdsman !!

Arrive at Tomdoun hotel at 8.45 p.m and that was welcome !!! They even produced a lovely casserole for me which I washed down with a couple of pints of McEwans.It felt great to be the only customer in this lovely hotel.

So that was day one !!!

Scottish Highlands . Day 2.

Pics show bike in garage at Fort Augustus

Town is Fort Augustus with Caledonian Canal.

Two other shots are on the way

to Inverness.

Great breakfast at Tomdoun Hotel. Nice table for one don't you all think ! Set off about 9a.m with aim of heading to Fort Augustus and then over the Corrieyairack pass towards Glenfeshie. O.K Chris in your dreams !! At this point I really thought this possible ! I think myself as physically invincible you see !!!

Tough ride through wet forest tracks to Invergarry. From here fantastic flat run up the Caledonian Canal to Fort Augustus. All going well. weather at this point closing in again with heavy rain. Right lets get up the Corrieyairack pass which at 2550 ft is the highest point on the ride.Started heading up and at a steep section familiar rub as tyre hits frame. This time axle no. 2 has bent under pressure.

Rethink time. Quick look at map says only thing is cycle back along Loch Ness to Inverness to pick up new axle and move from there. But first down to local garage in Fort Augustus to hopefully scrounge some proper tools and cobble the axle somehow. The guys in the garage were great and lent me the tools I needed to do as best I could with axle n0.2.When I said I would try the pass again they told me there was 2foot of snow up there and that if I tried going up there at this time of day they would physically not let me do it. O.K point taken. back to Inverness but not before a really bad lunch of coke, cake ,crisps , biscuits and coffee. Don't copy that !

The climb up on the B road out of Fort Augustus is long and quite steep reaching to about 300 metres. Then a great run (34miles or so back to Inverness ) This is when I found out how much better value the B&B's were . So had a really comfy night even though the following morning the lady asked me which bed I had slept in. I replied ---the one by the window--- to which she retorted---I had not made that one up-there were no sheets on the bed !! I was comfy anyway.

Scottish Highlands . Day 3.

Pics show me at Carrbridge
arriving at Kingussie
and stopping to look at Dunkeld Cathedral.

Today was unplanned really. I had not expected to be back in Inverness. But I was and therefore had to make the most of it. I then realized I could still achieve my goal of cycling coast to coast across the Highlands. There is a Sustrans route 7 which appeared to follow the course of the A9 south towards Perth. I decided to take this initially as far as Carrbridge . From there I could decide whether to carry on to Tomintoul and join up with the original route or continue on route 7.

The ride along route 7 was an eye opener because the tracks or old roads creating the sustrans route were very much traffic free and I would really recommend it to you as a lovely ride. It was very hilly but although cold the rain held off !

At Carrbridge it was around 0 degrees C and I decided to head down to Aviemore and then onto Kingussie. I had never been to Aviemore before and now was a good opportunity to have a quick look. The mountains surrounding the town were covered in snow already and it looked truly wintery there !

I pushed on to Kingussie in the rain by this time. Rain turned to snow as I arrived in Kingussie and was told it was approx 45 miles to Pitlochry.

At least I thought this would be a good 100 plus mile ride to make up for the fact I was not climbing up the mountains but cruising through them.As I passed through Blair Atholl and Blair Castle it was getting dark and after one more final climb ---the Killiecrankie pass ---I was in Pitlochry where I found yet another lovely B & B.

It had actually been quite a hard day. The Garmin had recorded over 100 miles --I would estimate 107 as I kept forgetting to turn it on, 6286' height gain and 6192 calories burnt on the ride. Average temp. had been 36.1 F just above freezing !!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Scottish Highlands . Day 4.

Pic 1 show typical Sustrans signage on their paths (really excellent).

Pics 2 and 6 are of the Staion Hotel,Carnoustie. The only way I could wheel the bike was with tyre off-it was so buckled---as you can imagine from looking at pic 3.

Pic 4 is of the Discovery at Dundee and pic 5 is of me outside Dunkeld Cathedral !

Waking up after yesterday's ride I felt pretty shattered to be honest. I had another fantastic breakfast at the B&B and was soon on my way. I had no idea to be honest where I would end up at the end of the day.Montrose would be ideal as that is where I was supposed to finish if I had taken the official route. However I figured anywhere on the east coast would be a good result as it would still be a Highlands coast to coast ride!

So I was heading for Perth still on Sustrans route 7. the ride was very pleasant ---cold but clear weather and gently rolling landscape, becoming really pretty as you join and cycle along paths by the river Tay.

The riverside path leads you into Dunkeld and initially you are confronted by the huge Dunkeld Cathedral which really stands out because of it's size and it also has original beautiful lead guttering and downpipes!!

From Dunkeld to Perth was more of the same really ---undulating pleasant landscape but just clocking up the miles to be honest. Approaching Perth the route joins the river Tay again and runs into the pretty city through beautiful parkland with many office workers all out for lunchtime strolls .Time for lunch here and I found a lovely but simple little cafe where I filled up like a dustbin again ---as one does on these rides !

Next stop or next port of call -Dundee. Very steep climb east out of Perth but really enjoyed that. For a few miles up and down hilly terrain and raining now. Hard work and cold now but great really.Suprisingly a few miles west of Dundee the landscape changes completely and there is mile after mile of really flat land . Obviously great farming terrain and the Garmin was for once showing a straight flat line for elevation !

As you approach Dundee the cycle path takes you round the south side along the Firth of Tay and past Scott's famous ship The Discovery and then past the oldest floating warship left in our country- The Unicorn. Huge amount of waterfront development taking place around Dundee--enjoyed seeing it although somewhat briefly !!

Hammering along now towards Broughton Ferry --really pretty old Victorian seaside town just on the eastern outskirts of Dundee. At this point one could say the east coast had been reached --hooray-- but I was just getting my second wind as late afternoon approached and as I started to head north east I was starting to feel the wind on my back. So let's push on.

The eastern coast of Scotland at this point is beautiful. Mile after mile of sandy beach and sand dunes. Really lovely with a special atmosphere.Starting to get dark as I sailed past Carnoustie Golf Course but I had lights ---lets keep going.

Suddenly as I approached a gate to cross the railway line and luckily moving slowly ---Bang---. O.K what now-- wheel is out of true so broken spoke I thought. No probs I had spokes so 15 mins later I would be on my way again. However as I turned the bike over to check which spokes had gone I discovered the wheel had exploded (the rim had split) so game over on this trip !!

Thankfully the Station Inn at Carnoustie was close so I walked the bike there- struck a good deal for B&B and had a lovely meal and relaxing evening before catching the train back to Cambridge the next morning.

Amusingly enough---if I had been continuing it would have been fine as the hotel chef had seen a cheap mountain bike in a skip near his home and would have been willing to bring it in for me---so I would have been on the move again with no probs.Today's distance 70 miles.

Great fun travelling like this !!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Next trip looming !

Life is too short so the next trip looms ahead of me.

This time Coast to Coast across the Scottish Highlands.Trip will go from Kyle of Lochalsh near the Isle of Skye to Montrose on the East coast.

This is an off road trip predominantly and is often voted as one of the best rides in the U.K. So very hard to resist particularly at this time of year when there will be no midges and even more importantly next to no people !!

Distance is approx 250 miles and I am giving myself 4 days to complete it. That seems like a long time when you think that staying on the road is an easy 2 day journey. However there are some serious off road climbs such as the Corriey-Airack Pass and Mt . Keen to cope with so 4 days will be pushing it ---I imagine !!Maybe it will be no problem ---I will let you know !

So anyway from Cambridge train journey up to Inverness arriving 8 p.m.Next morning train journey from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh.

Should set off towards Ratagan about 11.30 a.m on Monday morning and then we are off.

Promise I will give a report on this ride once back !!

By the way I am going on a retro bike. It is a Cannondale from the late 1980's. It is quick and comfortable for me and light . It is great to pull a bike from mothballing into action !!
No suspension and aluminium forks so I will be well pounded at the end !!