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 !!!