Gentleman Cyclist

April 19, 2010

Speed bonnie bike … day 11

Filed under: Cycling,Scotland — admin @ 11:37 pm

Thursday 15th April

We left Mallaig at 9.52 and began the longest ride of the holiday: over 40 miles to Fort William.

The Road to the Isles is one of the classic rides, although doubtless less spectacular now than it used to be when it was single track road all the way. Even though it’s a fast, two-lane A-road, there are still climbs and of course all the mountains are still in place, but on the last day of a long holiday it takes more determine cyclists than us to stick religiously to the old road, where it still exists.

We slogged along, often in low gear, but every so often there would be a long sweeping descent and a few times we exceeded 35 mph. We stopped for lunch at the Lochailort Hotel, but there was neither cake nor bacon butties. We bought tea and sat outside, smearing peanut butter on the rolls we had bought at the Mallaig Co-op.

Fortified, we carried on towards Glenfinnan, stopping briefly for a photograph of our first glimpse of Ben Nevis.

Glenfinnan, at the head of Loch Shiel, has an elevated statue of Bonnie Prince Charlie, commemorating the 1745 Gathering of the Clans. After Glenfinnan there is one more climb, quite gentle, and a rapid descent to Loch Eil.

From this point the road follows the lochside and there is no more climbing to speak of, so our speed kept up around 15 mph for long stretches. Every so often we would stop to take a picture of the monstrous mountain.

Once we were in Fort William, it did not take us long to find the station. Just before we did so, we passed a young couple who seemed to be struggling rather.

“Have you been up the Ben?” I enquired.

“Yes,” came the reply.

“Well done!” said I, “I could tell by the way you were walking!”

And that, really, was about that. We had a good meal and some beer in the Grog & Gruel, which I think is the only decent pub in Fort William, and then found the station. The train ride from Fort William is quite magnificent and I took a load more photos, after which we found our berth and had a bit of kip before getting up at 1 a.m in Edinburgh in order to transfer the tandem, in two pieces, from one guard’s van to another as our train joined up with two others. The next thing I knew we were in Rugby and we were in Liverpool Street in time to catch the 8.55 train to Southend.

All in all, not a bad little holiday.

Speed bonnie b ike … day 10

Filed under: Cycling,Scotland — admin @ 11:35 pm

Wednesday 14th April

On leaving Rowan Cottage, we had been advised that we would immediately head north and not retrace our steps from yesterday. This would take us to a rocky path which, although less than a mile long, would save about 3 of the previous day’s hilliest miles. We would rejoin the metalled road at Drinan, then straight back onto the B road towards Torrin. This proved to be excellent advice and saved us at least an hour of struggling.

Again the weather was stunning and we took some memorable photographs towards Sleat.

At one point we saw something disturbing the otherwise mirror-like surface of the loch below. I trained the binoculars onto whatever it was and was delighted to see a school or porpoises surfacing and diving.

We made good time and having started cycling around 10, we were in Broadford about 12. We were still armed with peanut butter rolls (prepared in rather more civilised circumstances, using youth hostel cutlery), fig rolls and flapjack so we pressed on and stopped at about 1 p.m. for lunch on the Armadale road. Just as we turned off the A87, who should we see coming the other way but Gwyneth & Steve, our host and hostess of the night before.

Once again we were rewarded with unbroken sunshine and on this southbound stretch we had the sun in our faces and the wind at our backs. We arrived at the Armadale jetty with almost an hour to wait for the 3.50 ferry, so we celebrated with an ice cream and a conversation with an antipodean visitor who wanted a picture of a typical pom couple on their quaint half-timbered bike.

Speed bonnie bike – day 9

Filed under: Cycling,Scotland — admin @ 11:32 pm

Tuesday 13th April

I slept surprisingly well, considering that I was ensconced with a dozen or so strange blokes in a dormitory. I was quite impressed by the advanced age of the youths who frequented the Glenbrittle Youth Hostel, although to be fair later on some more youthful chaps & chapesses did arrive.

We had sausage butties and porridge for breakfast and were away shortly after 9, having discussed with the warden the midge-infested nature of Glenbrittle when the summer arrives. The first hour yielded only 3 miles as we pushed the tandem a good way up the enormous hill. Once over the other side, we kept up a good speed, but again had a bit of a slog just before we reached the A-road.

There was another climb over the top to Sligachan but it was long rather than steep. We stopped at the Sligachan Hotel for midday bacon butties and tea, and reached Sconser in time to see the 1 p.m. ferry waiting to depart for Raasay. I was quite concerned about our progress: this was to be a 46-mile or more day, at least 10 miles more than we had done on any other day, and I knew there would be large hills. The Glenbrittle hill was probably the highest of the day, but there were other close rivals, particularly as we approached our destination near Elgol.

It did not help that the A87 was the subject of major road works and a convoy system was in operation. We found oursleves stopped for some time behind a white van and a plan began to form.

“Shall I tap on the window and see if we can scrounge a lift?”

“No! You mustn’t!”

“Why not? He’s bound to be heading for the Kyle Bridge. He could drop us in Broadford and that would save us about 16 miles of nasty, busy road.”

“No, you mustn’t!”

Half an hour later we lifted the tandem out of the back of the van, I gave the driver a tenner and we freewheeled the few yards down to the same café where we had eaten our lunch a few days previously. When we finished our proper lunch we visited the wool shop again where Jan bought her fix of something colourful to play with when we get home.

After that we set off along the B-road towards Elgol. Initially it was easy going – not much climbing and lovely views, a low-level lochside road. But the last 5 or 6 miles were very hard work indeed, each big climb being followed by a steep descent and another big climb. I think the 25% descent into Elgol was possibly the steepest road we have ever ridden down.

We reached Rowan Cottage around 6 p.m but that would have been at least 9 o’clock without our lift from the White Van Man.

We dined at the Coruisk seafood restaurant where Jan had the decidedly unaquatic lamb cutlets. I went the whole crustacean and had squatties for starters. These poor little creatures are unfortunate to taste absolutely delicious, even though they bear a strong resemblance to a woodlouse, albeit about two inches long and in a delightful shade of pink. Just like woodlice, they arrive curled up into a ball. In order to remove the tasty bit from the carapace you have to uncurl the ball and then push edible flesh upwards with your thumbnail.

For my main course I had mussels and an “Elgol Mess” for afters. We finished off with coffee and a malt whisky (“The Ileach”) for me.

Speed bonnie bike … day 8

Filed under: Cycling,Scotland — admin @ 11:29 pm

Monday 12th April

More sunshine this morning, but more hazy than yesterday and with little wind. We made good time and removed the need for a trip to Dunvegan by phoning the youth hostel warden, who offered to do some shopping or us.

We were on the road by 10, and our progress seemed much more rapid than yesterday’s. We had late 11ses at the same picnic table at which we had eaten our lunch the day before.

After Bracadale we were breaking new ground and we followed the coast for a while before climbing into some seemingly deserted hills. There were no villages and few dwellings on the road towards Carbost, and we hurtled down the hill towards the junction only to find ourselves climbing again before the village.

We stopped at the pub or food, and their casserole of beef cheek was excellent. Jan had the fish and chips. Their bottled beer (locally brewed) was only £2.90 a pint, which I thought was pretty good. There was a noisy altercation between two dogs, the pub dog and an interloper, while we were eating. The interloper was banished to a car.

There was a marked change in the weather while we were in the pub: we emerged into much fresher, cooler air, the haze had gone and the wind had strengthened.

This was unhelpful a we climbed towards Glenbrittle but eventually we hurtled down the other side, reaching 43.8 mph in the process.

Staying in a youth hostel was a bit of a shock after being pampered by a succession of B & Bs. We showered, washed some clothes, put duvet covers on duvets and cooked ourselves some sausages. I helped a young chap armed with a steel-rimmed Dawes put a new tyre on his front wheel. My payment was a small portion of apple crumble covered in thin custard and a hard-boiled egg. This fellow was part of a trio who gave us advanced warning of potential problems with the sleeper trains as a result of industrial action. I had this terrible feeling of déjà vu.

Speed bonnie bike … day 7

Filed under: Cycling,Scotland — admin @ 11:00 pm

Sunday 11th April

The highest priority today was shopping: it was fortuitous that we had chosen Portree for our starting point on the Sunday: religious fundamentalism forces the closing of pretty well every shop on the island except for Somerfields (now owned by the Co-op, gawd bless ’em) and the Co-op itself. We bought food and, too early in the season for Somerfields to stock it and for the Co-op to put it on display, sun tan lotion.

We left along the B885, towards Bracadale, unable to believe our luck that the weather, if anything, was even better than yesterday as the wind had dropped. We climbed again, but there was only one stretch in which we felt obliged to walk. This was just after we had stopped to photograph a wonderful view along the Snizort river, the Cuillins framed perfectly above.

A few minutes later we stopped again, for a very good view of what we thought at the time was a sea eagle, but in fact was a juvenile golden eagle (it was the white tail which fooled us).

The second photo is from Wikipedia, but ours looked just like that through the binoculars.

A while later, in Struan, we ate our lunch at a picnic table – rolls with finger-applied peanut butter.

We conversed with a motor cyclist with a Black Country accent (Jan had him coming from Cumbria). He had ridden up from the Lake District and bore useful information about the pub in Carbost.

We found an isolated hotel where we bought tea. The landlady advised us that Dunvegan would be the best place to buy provisions for the youth hostel at Glenbrittle the following night, and that the Old Inn in Carbost serves food all day in the summer months. This sort of information is vital when cycling in remote areas.

Gradually we inched our way towards Glendale, stopping every so often to take photographs – it’s much too easy to run out of superlatives when describing highland scenery in the sunshine.

After a very steep ascent out of Colbost, during which we read of The Crofters’ Struggle in the late 19th century, we hurtled down the other side and arrived at The Byre, a lovely little B & B looking down the valley towards Loch Pooltiel.

Julian & Diane supplied us with a very good dinner consisting of cullen skink, roast beef etc. and apple crumble, after which I rode solo down to the loch to have a look around, returning just in time to watch a spectacular sunset.

Speed bonnie bike … day 6

Filed under: Cycling,Scotland — admin @ 10:51 pm

Saturday 10th April

Today’s was one of the most marvellous day’s riding it is possible to have. The scenery was as spectacularly beautiful as you would be likely to see anywhere, and being bathed in unbroken glorious spring sunshine was a bonus indeed.

We climbed from Harris Cottage to about 300′ and watched the ferry leave, bound for Harris. We could see the Western Isles quite clearly even though they were 1 hour and 40 minutes sail away.

We visited the Museum of Island Life, where a collection of crofts housed artefacts from farming and the local wool industry. Flora McDonald’s monument was in a graveyard up the hill, so we couldn’t be bothered to look at that.

When we rounded the northernmost point of the Trotternish peninsula, we had a wonderful view of a whole series of snow-capped Munroes, the most obviously identifiable of which was Slioch. We had viewed this in 2006 from the northern slopes of Beinn Eighe.

From right to left (I think): Beinn Eighe, Slioch, Mullach Coire and An Teallach (has the most snow). We climbed the last of these on our 2006 holiday, and I also drank a lot of the beer produced by a brewery of the same name.

The ride south to Portree was hampered by a strong headwind, which meant that although we climbed to over 600′ in places, more often than not we had to pedal on the descents. We visited Kilt Rock,

where a coach driver / guide was explaining the origins of this rock.

Coach driver’s spiel (adapted)

It is well known that there was to have been a right old pagga between Finn McCool, who built the Giant’s Causeway, and Fingal, who was in the habit of humming Mendelssohn to himself whilst sitting in his cave. But Fingal was a small giant compared to Finn McCool and was going to be breakfast if ever the two fought. However, Mrs. Fingal was sitting at home one day darning Fingal’s socks when Finn arrived and kicked the door in, looking for her husband. It so happened that Fingal was out hunting at the time, and Mrs. F told the Irishman “He’s not here at the moment but if you come back later I’m sure he’ll be delighted to fight you.”

Finn McCool thundered off, vowing to return.

When Fingal returned, with a brace of red deer hanging out of his sporran, his good lady told him that Finn had been to visit.

“He’s much bigger than you are and the problem is that he wants to fight you. You wouldn’t stand a chance!”

“Oh my dear wife!” cried Fingal, who really wanted a quiet life listening to Radio 3, “What am I to do?”

“Go up to the bathroom and fetch my Ladyshave Razor,” replied his spouse.

“What on earth for?” asked Fingal, who was not into depilation.

“You’ll see!”

He did as he was told and Mrs. F stripped him naked and shaved every hair off his body.

“Now, when Finn McCool arrives, go upstairs to the nursery and squeeze yourself into the baby’s crib.”

No sooner had the words left her lips and the door was kicked in again.

“Fee fie foe fum!” thundered Finn “wait a tick… where are we?… oh bugger! Anyway, where’s that puny husband of yours?”

“Still hunting I’m afraid, Mr. McCool.”

At that point a lot of galumphing could be heard from upstairs.

“He’s not hunting, he’s hiding, that’s what he’s doing!” cried Finn and he stormed up the stairs to find his foe.

In a trice he was storming down them again and out the door.

“If that’s the size of his fucking baby, then I’m staying in Ireland!”


Anyway, the point of all this nonsense is that Kilt Rock is where Fingal hung his kilt when his wife was shaving him.

We saw Lealt Waterfall, which hurtled down a deep ravine

and the Old Man of Storr

who looked as though there was still plenty of lead in his pencil.

Finally we arrived in Portree and found our B & B, from which we had an excellent view of the Cuillins.

After some faffage, some laundry and an excellent meal from The Lower Deck, we retired for the night.

Speed bonnie bike … day 5

Filed under: Cycling,Scotland — admin @ 10:49 pm

Friday 9th April

Our would-be efficient Maître d’ spent a great deal of time faffing with a computer and a calculator before charging us almost £140 for the privilege of a night’s stay at a not-very-spectacular establishment. Eventually we got away and managed to catch the ferry.

Jan was not feeling well and we had a number of stops on the way to Portree. Fortunately the climb was not difficult and it seemed that the downhill reward was out of all proportion to our earlier efforts. We dropped into a café in Portree’s main square for late 11ses and eventually trundled away, dropping into the Co-op for more supplies.

The weather was cloudy and mild and we were mostly wind-assisted. Lunch was a home-made affair eaten whilst sitting in a bus shelter, but my dear wife ate only an extra strong mint. Finally we arrived in Uig, which is approached from what would have been a 40+ mph descent had it not been for the need to avoid a trio of sheep which had decided to occupy a good deal of the road and forced me into using the brakes.

We found Harris Cottage and Jan slept whilst I read. A young family arrived, having driven from the Edinburgh area en route for Harris. Their ferry left Uig at 9.30 the following morning. We chatted for a while and soon after 7 I woke Jan and we walked down to the Ferry Inn for dinner. On the way back we phoned Dez from a call box, Uig having yet to realise the delights of a mobile phone signal.

Speed Bonnie Bike … day 4

Filed under: Cycling,Scotland — admin @ 10:46 pm

Thursday 8th April

We headed north out of Broadford along the A87. The plan was to catch the 11.30 ferry, but that proved too ambitious. We took the old road (my 1″ map showed no other route) because it was much flatter than the “new” A87, which climbs to well over 400′.

The A87 is an innovation, renumbered since the Skye Bridge was opened and allowed lorries from the Western Isles simply to use Skye as a stepping stone to the mainland. The crossing from Stornoway to Ullapool is a 6-hour crossing and involves a much longer drive than the ferry to Uig and the drive across Skye. The old road now serves nothing more than a couple of salmon farms. There was a sign to Moll, 3 miles away, but we didn’t notice it as we stormed through. Indeed, I thought we were going to manage the entire 7-mile stretch of road without seeing another vehicle, but in the last mile or so were overtaken by a convoy of 8 vehicles, mostly Audis, BMWs and a Range Rover.

We missed the 11.30 ferry by a few minutes so we sat in the heated shelter provided for the use of ferry foot passengers and while we did so we ate some dried fruit and a bagel or two. Eventually the ferry arrived and we boarded, along with a couple of cars. As we approached Raasay a couple of very large birds appeared – I’m sure they were eagles – and they soared around for a while. They had disappeared by the time we were on dry land.

A rather annoying young man named Tim greeted us when we arrived at the Raasay Hotel. All smarm and training, he told us that he had only been there a week and that he had 1001 things to do. He doubled up as receptionist and bar staff and probably concierge as well, but we carried our own luggage up to the room.

Once we had settled in we explored the island, heading north to Arnish. We didn’t get that far, deciding to cut the ride short and have a relatively early dinner, after which we contemplated a stroll. We met a young couple on ancient bikes but soon after we decided to head back we met the girl again, with a deflated rear tyre. I tried, unsuccessfully, to mend the puncture. She found the hole quickly enough and we patched it but by the time we got the wheel back on the bike the tyre was going soft again. She had enough pressure to get her most of the way home, but it was irksome not to have sorted her problem out properly.

We ate in the dining room and while we were eating a couple we had met in Glenelg arrived. We started chatting and spent a pleasant evening in the company of Simon & Frances: he’s a surgeon in Edinburgh and she’s a manager, having previously been a nurse. When we had finished eating we all went for a walk around the Balfour Beattie building site, which will eventually become a large and impressive jetty.

Speed bonnie bike… day 3

Filed under: Cycling,Scotland — admin @ 10:43 pm

Wednesday 7th April

We awoke to a very pleasant morning – little wind and a fair bit of blue sky. After a good breakfast we made our way back to the ferry, playing leapfrog with the dustcart as we went. once again, we arrived at the jetty to see the ferry on the far side. We spent a few minutes with a collie whose party piece was to round up stones. She brought them to us, we threw them away, and she brought them back unless we had thrown them into the water, in which case she just found another stone.

When we left the ferry, which we had shared with a family of cyclists, we made our way towards the “Otter Haven”. This is a stretch of beach above which someone has built a large and snug hide. No doubt that there are otters there from time to time, but our observations were limited to a pair of herons, two geese and a mallard as well as a pair of long-tailed tits. As we were leaving I caught a glimpse of what may have been an eagle, suddenly appearing over the mountain top but disappearing again before I could train the binoculars on it.

Then the long climb began. We succeeded in staying on the bike until over the 700′ mark, but that was where the 20% gradient began so we stopped for a bagel and some dried fruit.

Once at the top we had a lovely 5-mile romp towards Broadford. We were due in Scorrybreac B & B, but not yet, so went to visit the hand spinner’s wool shop to get Mrs. Wow’s fix. After that we dropped in to Beinn na Caillich where we experimented with different types of cake. Thereafter, we ventured to Scorrybreac where we were admitted and we made ourselves at home.

Speed Bonnie Bike – day 2

Filed under: Cycling,Scotland — admin @ 10:39 pm

Tuesday 6th April

Last night’s gales had abated by morning, which ushered in a strong breeze bearing plenty of near-horizontal rain. After a good breakfast we said goodbye to Dorothy MacLeod and headed for the Kylerhea ferry. The wind had dropped considerably by the time we reached the ferry road, and what was mostly a deserted road was punctuated by the occasional convoy of two or three cars, an indication that the ferry was running.

It was a long, grinding climb to the summit, over 900′ above sea level, but when we plummeted to the other side, we could see the ferry on the far bank. It took only a couple of minutes for it to cross the water and it was most impressive to see the turntable bearing thee cars and their passengers being swivelled by just two men pushing and pulling in the right places.

While we were waiting we practised a little tai chi.

When all the motorists had disembarked, we had the ferry to ourselves. £4 for a return trip seemed pretty cheap, so I gave them an extra quid: this is a community-run project and the ferry had spent the winter in Stornoway being refurbished.

We were ready for lunch when we reached the Glenelg Inn, as well as being soaked, so we disrobed as much as we dared, but it was most disappointing to see how reluctant the fire was to yield any heat. However,  the tomato soup was hot and we had some coffee to complete the warming process.

At about 2 p.m. we were ready to introduce ourselves to Mrs. Catriona Davidson and we found her house at the second attempt. She fed us tea and cake and soon the rain stopped so we prepared to cycle, unladen, to Corran.

It was a stunningly beautiful route and we kept our eyes open for otters, pine martens and eagles, all of which can be seen, but apart from the first house martin of the summer, there was not a great deal to report until we reached Arnisdale, where half a dozen red deer were grazing in someone’s garden. They were not terribly troubled by our presence.

After a lot more effort we reached Sheena’s tea hut, the most southerly extent of civilisation on that particular peninsula, and since Knoydart was the next one, pretty much until Mallaig miles to the south. We had tea and I enjoyed a delicacy known as a “clootie dumpling”.

Sheena was probably a little older than us and although pleasant and chatty, spoke of little but disease, dementia and death. She did tell us that when she was a young mother in the area they had neither electricity nor running water and she had to wash her babies’ nappies in the burn. We were, however, glad to get away because it seemed that anyone who spent too much time in her presence was doomed.

We seemed to make better time on the return trip and arrived at the pub about twenty minutes before the time at which I had booked the table. The food was pretty good, but when the bill arrived it was about £10 more than total on the mental tally I had kept. I spotted that two items had been seriously overpriced and they were put right, but it was not until we were back in our room that I realised that we had still overpaid by the price of an extra dessert, which we had not had. I couldn’t help thinking that those “mistakes” were deliberate.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress