Getting to grips with these hills now, or so I thought. Check out the route here and the elevation changes – http://connect.garmin.com/course/3779409
02 June 2013
Ferreting around in my panniers I realised I needed to buy more breakfast stuff, but it was Sunday and all the shops were closed in Scourie; I keep forgetting most shops close in Scotland on Sundays, or are only open for a couple of hours, but I kind of like that. Luckily I still had some cheese and flapjack left which was more than adequate and set me up nicely for a morning’s pedalling.
Feeling a lot more buoyant than yesterday I gave the bike the once over, and finding no further faults I hit the road about 10.00. I knew today was going to be a tough day, with some big hills on the coast road, but also some fantastic scenery which would hopefully help distract from the leg pain and straining lungs.
From Scourie I rode down the A894 to Unapool, accompanied along the way by the sound of cuckoos. I think there must have been some kind of cuckoo-off going on. I’ve never heard as many cuckoos as I have on the West coast of Scotland, where they are certainly not rare. It was nice riding along more forested roads (Duartmore Forest) of pine and birch, especially in the sunshine which brought everything to life.
Just before Unapool I passed out of Mackay country and over a large bridge between two lochs.
I stopped in Unapool for a break at a roadside cafe/gift shop where I had a pot of peppermint tea and a fruit scone, very civilised. Chatted to a couple of other touring cyclists on their way North, as well as the elderly owner; the latter spoke rather quickly and a lot, so much so it was hard to get a word in edge ways, but she was lovely and we agreed that the roadworks in Inverness were challenging. I think we agreed that anyway.
Post Unapool I turned right on to the B869, where the hills really started, and judging from the little chevrons on the map they were going to persist. Still, at least there was no headwind to speak of so all good in my books. I have a theory that the terrain and hills in particular are honest, even if they are haggis humping humongous hills, whilst the weather is dishonest, the wind changing direction all the time and more often than being in your face. The weather in Scotland can also change quickly, in the mornings being all sunshine and smiles, but by the afternoon the clouds have rolled in bringing the rain and a chill.
After a feisty 8 or 9 miles I arrived in Drumbeg, having ridden over some fairly dramatic hills that even the touring motorbikes were straining on. I was glad I cycled down the 25% hill.
I stopped in Drumbeg at a tea shop that doubled as a pottery and soap shop. It smelt lovely and I realised I probably didn’t. I chilled out in the tiny but completely sheltered garden for 20 mins, enjoying a hot chocolate and slice of carrot and passion fruit cake – got to keep the carb loading going. The garden, scented by the lavender bushes, was tranquil and warm, and I could have sat there for ages reading a book, or playing with the cat that turned up expectantly. If felt like summer had finally arrived in that garden, after the cold weather of previous weeks, with bees busy buzzing around the flowers.
Dragging myself away from the garden I rode through the rest of the village, stopping at the general store/deli to buy a baguette, some Crowdie soft cheese, and a packet of dried bananas for emergency energy boosts. Post eating the whole baguette and most of the cheese I rode on, stopping at the viewpoint where I briefly chatted to a couple touring by car; I’d see them several more times during the day.
I rode on past Oldany Island to Stoer, with the worst of the hills done, then around to Clachtoll, past numerous sandy beaches, inland lochs and sheep. The terrain was by no means flat, but at least I didn’t have any more 15% or 20% leg breaking hills to pedal up in the immediate future, or so I hoped. This was truly the hilliest leg I’d done to date. Coupled with that there were sheep and lambs strewn across the road at times, often just lying there enjoying the sunshine, and frequently nearly causing accidents. Despite shouting at them long before I got close they often refused to move until the last minute, and then were completely random in the direction they’d choose. “Stupid animals” I thought, not for the first time.
I stopped around Rhicarn at the viewpoint to check on my spokes, and for a break. A couple more spokes needed tightening, confirming my theory this was going to be a bit of a constant job. I was going to have to be careful not to over-tighten them though, and screw the wheel. It looked like it was likely to buckle anyway and I’d need to find a bike shop and a replace it at some point; it’s too lightweight for touring. There were a couple of German cycle tourers at the viewpoint who I had a brief conversation with, although their English was limited and my German worse. They had trailers which I admired them for, heading as they were the other way towards the hills I’d struggled up earlier. They waved me off and I wished them good luck.
I careered down from the viewpoint waving to a group of cyclists pedalling up it from the other direction, that I thought I recognised from some other stop on the tour. They seemed to recognise me anyway saying “hello again” from their sleek and unloaded road bikes, although I noted that they were struggling slightly up the hill; the disadvantage of only using your bike for short day trips and transporting it around on the back of your camper van the rest of the time, less stamina. It was a nice ride down to Lochinver along the windy road, through patches of trees and moorland. As I was riding alongside the harbour I heard a car horn beep and waved to the couple who I’d been running into all day again, think they might have been stalking me.
Despite there being a few attractive looking eateries in Lochinver I pressed on, still having quite a distance to ride to Ullapool. The hills started again as I pedalled over to Inverkerkaig, with its wide shingle bay. I stopped to admire the view and eat some Tangfastics to get some energy back – still slightly addicted! Had to tighten yet another spoke too.
The one track minor roads continued, complete with oblivious sheep, as I rode through lots of scrubby silver birch, past lochs and alongside mountain streams carving their way through the landscape. It felt like a remote and wild location to be cycling through, and I was slightly nervous my rear wheel was going to break leaving me stranded and having to walk out. There were a few people out wild camping with their kayaks so I could have just hooked up with them for the evening, and probably had a great time, however the wheel continued to hold out.
A one point a small herd of red deer ran out in front of me, crossing the road and leaping the fence on the other side. I think we startled each other and they soon disappeared up the mountain. Passing close to Lock Sionasgaig, and up another big ascent, I then free wheeled down to Loch Bad a’ Ghaill, where I turned left back towards the main road that would take me to Ullapool. I was tempted to turn right and go up to Rubha Mor and Reiff, with the Summer Isles off the coast, but it was effectively a dead end, and whilst wild camping would have been great up there I was still worried about the bike. I’d probably get to see the Summer Isles from the ferry to the Outer Hebrides if I decided to go that way, depending on time available.
I pedalled alongside the loch, under the looming presence of the Stac Pollaidh mountain, stopping at Loch Lurgainn for another Haribos break where I chatted to a couple visiting from Lanarkshire. He was thinking of climbing Stac Pollaidh, which he’d painted a few years back, and we spoke for a while about places visited and still to see. You meet some great people on the road.
There were a few people wild camping alongside the loch again, with small campfires and the enticing smell of barbecues. It looks like a great spot to spend the night. It’s such a shame you can’t legally wild camp in England, but I guess it would result in parts of the countryside being ruined by irresponsible individuals; mind you such individuals shouldn’t spoil it for everyone else. England should have the same right to roam rules as Scotland.
With my sights set on Ullapool I pedalled on, turning right on to the A835. On tired legs I rode down to Ardmair, and then on to Ullapool, with a couple of large hills that nearly finished me off. I’d have climbed them easily earlier in the day, but both my bike and I were creaking by this point, and you can only go so far on Haribos.
The final descent down into Ullapool was a welcome sight, and I gently free wheeled down resting my limbs. I passed a really helpful sign at the bottom of the hill, which in my tied state started me giggling. It wasn’t going to help me find the campsite but a considerate passerby pointed me in the right direction, obviously slightly concerned at my apparent hysteria.
I arrived at the Broomfields campsite, where reception was closed but I’d settle up in the morning. They’re often closed by the time I arrive. It’s another nice campsite with views out over the bay, and was quite busy, I guess because of the ferry over to Stornaway.
After setting up my tent I checked my bike and noticed another loose spoke, where the nipple had disappeared inside the rim. After a small amount of cursing I made the strategic decision to mend it the morning, requiring food above anything else right at that moment. I had a wander round Ullapool, along the seafront, where there are several pubs and restaurants to choose from. I ended up at the Seaforth Inn as it was the most convenient and looked busy, always a good sign. It was also boasting award winning seafood. I had the soup followed by smoked haddock and black pudding risotto, which was delicious. I felt slightly guilty for not cooking again, I dare say I could of but felt knackered, and with such fine cuisine and ale nearby couldn’t resist. I was briefly joined at my table by a couple of students studying geology up here – good place for it. We chatted for a bit, them ordering the cheap but tasty burger option – student budget and all that.
Post dinner I adjourned to the Arch Inn to write up my journal, plus I really had to get a blog update done and needed to find a wifi outlet to transfer the photos from my phone to my iPad. The Arch Inn was fairly lively, showing the England versus Brazil game which I think ended up a draw, a decent result. I was somewhat distracted having bumped into a group of Irish gentlemen, out hill walking from Dublin for a few days. Whisky ensued.
Somewhat unsteadily I made it back to my tent after a challenging but great day’s ride. I was satisfied I’d made it up all those hills without having to push, and covered around 65 miles, but annoyed about my back wheel. I’d check it in the morning and then make a decision about the Outer Hebrides.