04 June 2013
I awoke to a beautiful morning in Big Sand, with the sun chasing away the last of the overnight cloud. It looked like it was going to be a hot one so I made a mental note not to forget to put on sun cream. The cuckoo had kept going practically all night – I’d woken up at 1.30 and it was still being vocal, unless I dreamt it.
The campsite has excellent and fairly new looking facilities which I took a advantage of, having a shower post breakfast, then packing up. There’s also an onsite cafe which served breakfast, but I’d forgotten about that and already eaten by the time I passed it leaving. Before departure I had a quick walk down to the beach again, and checked on my back wheel which seemed fit for purpose.
From the campsite I rode back down the rode to Gairloch, stopping in the village for second breakfast, despite having only done 3 miles – I’d smelled bacon. I met the German biker couple coming out of the village shop armed with bacon rolls, as I went in to purchase the same – said goodbye and wished when well on their trip up North. I munched on a great bacon and egg roll, before going across the road to the Mountain Cafe for a decaf coffee, it was going to be a slow start to the day apparently.
The Mountain Coffee Company, using its proper name, is a great little Indie cafe with a bookshop attached to it. It has lots of interesting nooks and crannies filled with curious books, including some on cycle touring, expeditions etc, as well as lots of Bhuddas dotted around the place. I spent an hour there writing my blog and relaxing, before cycling off down the road to a nearby restaurant which the cafe owner informed me had a wifi hotspot I could use to upload a post.
Post a quick lemonade at the restaurant, I prepared to get back on my bike but realised I was missing a rear brake pad, my temporary fix having broken. I had to cycle back to the the coffee shop scanning the road in an attempt to find it, figuring it had probably fallen out when I manoeuvred my heavy bike in the car park there. I was lucky to find it there, with the help of the keen eyed cafe owner, and duly slotted it back in. It won’t fall out unless I apply the brakes whilst rolling backwards, at which point it slides out because the grub screw is missing; another thing to keep an eye on until I can get a new screw. Whilst reinserting it I did a quick spoke check again, all good.
I finally got on the road properly about 12.30, and cycled down the A832 through Charlestown to Loch Maree, up quite a long climb before a nice flattish ride alongside the loch.
The road alongside the loch stretches on for several miles, ending in the Beinn Eighe National Park. It was a lovely ride through more forest consisting of silver birch, ash, beech, pine and a few oaks, amongst no doubt lots of other species I didn’t identify immediately. As usual the sound of cuckoos accompanied me down the road, and I even spotted one sitting on a telephone line.
I stopped for a break in the National Park and chatted to another cycle tourer who’d been on the road since mid March, after quitting his job. In his early 60’s he was touring around the UK stopping whenever he saw something interesting, sounded like a nice plan, although he’d had some pretty bad weather back in the earlier months. He was averaging about 35 miles a day rather than my 65 so got to see a lot more, but I had to get back to Norwich by the end of July so didn’t have that luxury.
It was a bit strange at the national park, with a coach load of Japanese tourists hovering about, and lots of cars and minibus tours, with people taking pictures. It felt like I was heading back into civilisation and busy roads, and I wasn’t sure I liked it, despite the allure of more shops and pubs! A least the weather was getting warmer which was a good trade off.
I rode on to Kinlochewe where I turned right on to the A896 to Torridon, riding down Glen Torridon and making good time on the gently undulating road. The road runs roughly alongside the river, though some impressive mountains, and is single track for the most part so there was a bit of stop-starting in passing places as camper vans and lorries trundled towards or past me. It was quite a busy road with lots of motorbike tourers again, as well as quite a few hikers and fishermen about. Thankfully drivers were still being careful around me and my wide load; I aught to get a wide load sticker somewhere!
I met a Hungarian cycle tourer riding down to Torridon too. She had a penant flying off the back of her bike which I was slightly jealous of. She was cycling around the Highlands for a couple of weeks raising money for Cancer Research, and we had a quick chat whilst riding along – apparently Hungary is a lot flatter, and she’d covered a lot of the same bits of the North Coast I had so we compared notes before I pushed on to Torridon.
I had a quick look around Torridon and a toilet break, before taking the road to Shieldaig and nearly getting flattened by an impatient delivery truck driver at one point, my first case of dubious driving in a while.
As I rode around the coast to Shieldaig the territory got progressively more hilly and leg taxing, but I’d had a fairly easy day up until then so didn’t feel too tired. Shieldaig is a lovely village and very picturesque. I stopped at the hotel bar for a drink and hopefully some food. They weren’t serving food until 18.00, so I settled for bag of crisps alongside a pint of cider, the warm day making me want something cold to drink.
The bar was being run by a New Zealand medical student on a gap year, touring around Europe. I think it’s a universal constant that wherever you go they’ll generally be a Kiwi bar person in the vicinity. I did a quick mental check to see if I had any injuries I needed advice on, but everything was working correctly, although my shins still looked a bit battered from pedal hits. He’s from Christchurch where an Uncle of Lu’s lives, so we talked about the recent earthquake there, sinking houses and cardboard cathedrals, as well as travelling. He warned me about the danger of ticks, his brother having picked one up the day before in the area – he was touring too but working elsewhere. A couple of Australians turned up shortly after I’d arrived and joined our conversation. They were touring down the West Coast by car, and flying back to Oz via Bangkok in a few days time, which sounded like an attractive proposition. I left after 45 minutes needing to push on, and as the conversation turned to sport, rugby and Aussie rules football, with associated New Zealand v’s Australia rivalry emerging. A nice stop and weird running into more antipodian people than natives in a remote Sottish village.
The road definitely got steeper after Shieldaig, with some challenging hills but fantastic views on the way to Ardheslaig. The Kiwi barman/medical student had told me there were sea eagles in the area so I kept an eye out, but didn’t see any. I broke into song a few times to help get up the hills, mostly Queen tracks today, which are quite vocally challenging incidentally. I’m sure the sheep appreciated my efforts although Barcelona may have left something to be desired, and probably kept the sea eagles away.
With slightly aching legs I rode past Kenmore, Arina and Fearnmore, on a road that wasn’t built until the 1970’s, before turning south and leaving Loch Torridon behind. The gradients got a little less steep as I rode alongside the Inner Sound between the mainland and Raasay and the Isle of Skye, although there were still plenty of ups and downs. The sun came out again giving a great view over to the Inner Hebrides, somewhere I hoped of be in a couple of days time. As I rode, and prompted by the earlier conversation in Shieldaig, I pondered what an adventure it would be to cycle all the way to New Zealand, through Europe, Turkey, the Middle East, India and Asia. I’d have to rent my house out and work out a way to fund it, writing maybe, or sponsorship, or stopping to work along the way, but it would be amazing to cycle all that way through such a diverse range of cultures and landscapes. One to ponder some more; one thing for sure is that I’d need a new back wheel before embarking on such a journey!
I finally turned the corner after one last significant ascent, heading East into Applecross Bay, with Applecross’ white buildings gleaming in the sunshine at its far end. As I rode down the hill towards the village, a large bird of prey flew over and landed in the grass further up the mountain. It had the right wing shape and was the right colour to be a golden eagle, but didn’t look big enough, so I thought it was probably a buzzard. I later learned that there were some juvenile eagles in the area, so maybe that’s what I saw.
I arrived at the campsite at about 19.30, having covered around 67 miles which I was pleased with, and that doesn’t include going backwards and forwards at one point. I’d got into the zone more today, so the miles had seemed to pass more quickly despite some long climbs with fairly steep gradients, thinking about expeditions in foreign climes, books and movies, and wondering what was going on in Norwich, and very briefly at work. The climbs were all good practice for tomorrow and the dreaded Bealach-Na-Ba, which was going to take some effort. I was glad my back wheel had held out, with no more loose spokes I could find, although it was a bit wonky.
Applecross campsite is great, with an on site restaurant called the Flower Tunnel where I had chilli and nachos, followed by a large pizza; I was mega hungry and needed to carb load for tomorrow. The staff are really friendly and helpful, and let me charge up my mobile and Power Monkey battery pack that I still need to get a new lead for, to connect to the solar panel. I planned to order one online and get it delivered to Loch Melfort, where my parents have a time share, although I might just be able to find one in Fort William.
There was no mobile reception to speak of at the campsite, so I decided to try buying Internet access via the Highland wifi network. It’s a bit expensive so not something I want to do very often, but it worked fairly well, despite logging me off the network frequently and then not letting me back on until I reset my browser. It allowed me to catch up on emails and do some planning, as well as have a quick FaceTime call with my brother and sister-in-law, but it wouldn’t let me transfer photos off my phone onto my iPad as I could only have one device logged in at a time – I can see why but it was a bit irritating.
Given the superb weather and location I considered having a day off and resting up. I’d ridden over 2,000 miles so was nearly halfway, and hadn’t had a day of absolutely no cycling since setting off from Norwich over a month ago. I start to feel slightly anxious if I don’t progress even a small way each day, so I put off a decision until the morning, retreating to my tent to get away from the midges which were starting to appear now. I realised I’d have to careful of sunburn as well as insect bites, having noticed a few slightly burned patches on my legs – sock line. Itchy insect bites and sunburn would be a pretty bad combination to endure.
I’d received an email from a friend at work, with a poem I thought I’d include to finish today. As always great to receive encouragement and know that people are finding my blog interesting, or even inspiring to a degree, so thanks Dave.
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.