I’ve started to write this from inside my tent, on a rainy and blustery evening in Annan, which is a few miles from the border with England. I’m a bit behind on my blog, having been busy putting in some long legs, or meeting people, or finding other more interesting things to do which I’ll write about later. Figure it’s more important to see and do as much as possible, over blog writing. So even though I’ll be in England soon I suspect my blog will remain in Scotland for at least two more weeks.
12 June 2013
I awoke feeling itchy again. Either the midge bites from Kilchoan were still playing up or I’d got new ones last night. I suspected the latter. I had a quick breakfast and shower, before a rapid pack up due to rain. Shaking the water off my tent gave me my second shower of the day.
Leaving the campsite post paying up and checking the weather forecast, which wasn’t brilliant, I cycled down the road to the car park where one of the trails up Ben Nevis starts. The mountain was shrouded in cloud but there were still several groups of brave, or perhaps foolhardy walkers about to begin making their way up. I’d climbed Ben Nevis several years before doing the Three Peaks Challenge, in better weather, and it had still been below freezing at the top. You wouldn’t have been able to see much today, and whilst the trail is very well marked there a few bits you could go wrong on. Hopefully there wouldn’t be any mountain rescue interventions required.
After reminding myself of at least what the bottom of Ben Nevis looks like, I rode around to Neptune’s Staircase, with the sun starting to come out, a bit anyway. I counted 13 lochs, although there may have been more. A couple of boats were making their way down from the Caledonian Canal, a process which must take a few hours by the looks of it.
Leaving the lochs behind, and studiously avoiding cycle paths, I made my way down the road to Inverlochy, where I knew there was a decent bike shop. Nevis Cycles didn’t have a suitable replacement wheel, but reckoned their sister shop in Oban might, and they’d be able to replace my rear cassette which was getting pretty worn and causing my chain to skip. You need to replace your rear cassette every 2000 miles or so really, and the chain more often than that as it stretches. I’d need to get another new chain before I got back to Norwich, but hoped one more cassette would see me through.
On my way south I stopped in Fort William again, and dropped in to Alpine Bikes who did have a new wheel that would fit. I found our later it was a 130mm hub rather than a 135mm which my bike fits, but the steel frame can accommodate a smaller size without any problems. The rim was far more suitable, even if it was a Mavic again, having 32 spokes and being a lot stronger. Cost me £80.00 but figured it was worth it, and I bid adios to the current incumbent, which looked in a bit of a sorry state. Wheel number 3 fitted I was ready to go. Hopefully that would be the last one I’d need to buy on this tour!
Whilst I was waiting for the wheel to be be changed over I had a wander about Fort William. I dropped into Cotswolds first to see if they had a replacement cable for my Power Monkey, however unfortunately they don’t sell just the cable and would need to send the whole unit back. This just wouldn’t have been practical given I was still very much using the rechargeable battery pack, and wouldn’t be in the area to pick up a new unit. Irritating however I’d survive, and maybe order just the cable off the Internet and get it delivered somewhere on route. After perusing a few outdoor shops and deciding their stuff was mostly overpriced and not that good, I dropped into a bakery and picked up a venison pie, which was pretty scrumptious. Scrumptious is a good word.
Wheel changed and panniers reloaded, I pedalled south from Fort William as the rain started, around midday. The weather being a bit grim I just kept my head down and got on with it, riding down the A82. It’s a busy road and wasn’t very pleasant with lorries kicking up spray everywhere, leaving me somewhat grimy and wetter. I stopped in Corran for a loo break and looked across to where I’d been yesterday; the other side of the Loch had been a lot pleasanter at the time, but the weather had closed in now.
Not really concentrating, thinking about cycling somewhere dry and warm, I crossed the bridge at Ballachulish only realising about a mile later, after glancing at the map, that I’d intended on cycling around Loch Leven. Oh well, I’d only missed out a few miles, and it was touch and go whether that was true coast or semi coast anyway. Given the weather I wasn’t overly concerned, especially as my legs were felling tired post yesterday’s efforts.
I rode on down the A828, again just mostly keeping my head down, before reaching Appin and turning off the main road to do the loop through Port Appin and North Shian. I passed Castle Stalker which looked pretty impressive, standing alone out on the rocks.
The castle was built when there weren’t any connecting roads in the area, in the 1400s by Clan Macdougal, and most traffic and travellers came in by sea. It therefore commanded quite a strategic position at the time.
James IV used to visit the castle frequently on hunting trips, having connections with the Stewart family. The castle was in the Stewart family until Mac Ian Stewart gave it away in a moment of drunken folly, swapping it for a boat. Oops, I wonder how he felt the morning. I’ve woken up before thinking, ‘oh no, I didn’t did I?’, but nothing that bad. Reckon he never lived that one down.
The weather improved slightly with the rain easing off. I was feeling a bit drained after the Appin loop, which had a few unexpected hills, so I stopped at the well known Creegan Inn for a bite to eat and to dry off a bit. Great plate of chilli beef and bean stew, which warmed me up nicely for the next session. I pressed on to Barcaldine and down to Connel, over the bridge again as there’s no road around Loch Etive.
From there it was only a short ride down to Oban, although I foolishly took a couple of cycle paths which led me somewhat astray, and meant I had to negotiate a couple of swing gates with my heavy bike again. The scenery had been good today, despite the rain, with lots of Rhodedendrons which as mentioned before are evil but look nice. They need to be be cut back significantly, if not removed completely really.
I arrived in Oban about 18.00 and stumbled upon a backpackers plus hostel. I had been intending to camp just south of Oban, but as I had a lot of damp kit, needed to recharge stuff, and felt like avoiding midges, I thought why not? It was only just over £20 for my own room, or £17 to bunk in the dorm; I opted for my own room which felt a bit extravagant but after several weeks under canvas I thought I’d earned it. Breakfast included in the price. They also have a large lounge area you can just chill out in, and chat to other travellers stopping by, with free wifi which is always a bonus.
I washed some clothes, that really needed washing; they were about to run off to pastures new. The shower was bliss, best I’d had in ages, and there was a real bed! I nearly fell asleep there and then but hunger drove me downstairs. There was a large group of Italian girls in residence, and I felt obliged to assist them with the washing machine, and translating its various functions. They were most appreciative of my help, but didn’t offer dinner, so I was forced to head out onto the mean streets of Oban. I ‘hoped’ I’d told them the right programme and hadn’t shrunk all their clothes.
Walking around Oban I heard the distant drone of bagpipers getting closer, discovering at least 3 pipe bands down by the harbour entertaining tourists. I think they were school bands, and they were quite good, but I’d almost had enough of the pipes by this stage – they are in every even vaguely tourist place in Scotland.
I opted for a Chinese meal, craving something different, and had some excellent steamed dumplings, followed by crispy shredded chilli beef. Yum. Post a pint in an Irish bar I headed back to the hostel feeling rather full. Unfortunately none of the Italian girls were in, so no massages were on offer, dammit, so I opted for an early night instead. I tried to type a blog post but kept falling asleep, and then the app crashed and I lost two draft posts. Calling it a night I dozed off. The bed felt a bit weird, I preferred a more natural substrate by this stage.