I ate quite a lot today, grazing frequently on the contents of my panniers, and hence going though nearly all my chocolate, a bag of Haribos, two apples, a banana, pork pies, and other assorted food stuffs. It was a long day with 109 miles of pedalling!
11 June 2013
I roused myself out of my tent about 7.30, to an overcast and breezy day. I had breakfast and packed up quick. With no showers available I was only able to cover basic ministrations, so I was on the road in good time. I kept an eye out for the Sea Eagles but couldn’t see any; maybe they were up having a lie in.
Leaving Killiechronan about 09.15, there followed a pleasant ride around the coastline, with hardly anyone else about. I passed quite few small herds of cows with calves, and one group of bulls, all not fenced in which made me slightly worried. At one point I approached a rather large bull walking ponderously down the road to join its mates a bit further on. I decided not to antagonise it, and let it finish its short road journey before passing by; it stopped to give me the once over but decided I wasn’t very interesting. There were also a lot of sheep about, being their usual stupid selves and either sitting in the road blocking the way until I got really close, then bolting in a random direction which might be in front of my front wheel, or running off in a group in front of me for several hundred feet down the road before realising I wasn’t going to stop following them and finally turning off into the field. I’ve unintentionally herded quite a few groups of sheep about on my bike; could do with that lance Nigel suggested to assist with the process and maybe score some roast lamb dinner. I did see one ewe wearing its lamb as a scarf, which was pretty cute. They both looked pretty comfortable with the arrangement, unfortunately I didn’t have my camera handy as could have been worth a few quid as a photo.
I was in a good mood as I pedalled along, greeting one cyclist going the other way exuberantly; he looked a little tired and damp which should really have rung alarm bells. I passed the small island of Eorsa, which sounds like another Norse name, singing some old Monty Python songs I’d had stuck in my head all morning.
Shortly after passing Eorsa I turned inland, still on the B8035, up the pass between Ben More and Bein na Steine, whereupon things turned nasty. The wind got stronger and it started to rain, making it tough going on the ascent, and having to use a very low gear. I passed through some forest, and a signpost for guided Eagle tours, but it really wasn’t the weather for it.
I eventually crested the pass and coasted down through forest to Loch Scridain, the scenery reminding me of the film Dog Soldiers. I didn’t see any werewolves but there were creatures in those woods…deer most likely…probably. It was a bit of a ‘bone’ day in any case.
The next bit of the ride wasn’t too pleasant either, with the rain continuing, and the wind seeming to change direction to always be in my face. I was coming to the conclusion I needed to make a sacrifice to Odin or Thor, or more likely Loki, to try and appease them, either that or the wind just flows down off the hills so will often be in your face, and not following the prevailing wind direction.
There followed a gruelling passage through Glen More, passing another cycle tourer going the other way, equipped with the same Ortlieb panniers which were proving their worth in this weather. He looked equally bredraggled and we gave each other encouraging waves as we pedalled on. There was a bit too much traffic on this road (A849), especially in the rain, with spray being kicked up by cars, camper vans, coaches and lorries in abundance. The Tourist Information had claimed Mull’s roads were mostly quiet and traffic free, which isn’t always the case apparently. Most of it was probably on its way down to Fionport to get the ferry overly to Iona, to visit amongst other things the remains of the monastery, sacked by Vikings on numerous occasions – they’ve got a bit of a rep for that kind of thing. I’d opted not to do that bit of Mull, especially given the weather, as it was a long way out of my way, a dead end, and not as interesting as the rest of Mull. I’d have to come back and do the various islands around Mull another time.
Post a hilly and wet passage through the glen, and feeling a little bit pissed off due to water infiltrating my nether regions, I passed the turning to Lochbuie with a friend’s (Mac) family motto going round my head; Conquer or Die. His clan seat is Lochbuie and the phrase seemed apt for the day. I pedalled on deciding against a 16 mile detour in this particular instance, to Lochdon and Duart Bay, passing Duart Castle, the site of another friend’s ancestral clan seat; Ron – do you ever break out the family tartan and do bit of a highland fling incidentally?
I arrived in Craignure as the ferry to Oban was loading, and was half tempted to hop on board, it being my destination in a couple of days time. It would however have meant missing a large chunk of coast out which I wasn’t up for sacrificing. Instead I stopped at a local cafe and had their soup and a sandwich meal deal, and a decaf coffee to warm up. The leek and potato soup plus BLT tasted pretty darned good after the morning’s endeavours. I noticed I was dripping everywhere, puddles of water collecting around me, so I retreated to the bathroom to ring a few items of clothing out. My sleeves were sodden despite wearing a waterproof, the wind having driven the rain in. I must have looked a bit if a state.
Despite my appearance, or perhaps it was because the only seats left in the cafe were at my table, I was joined by a couple on holiday in Mull, staying in Tobermory. They were doing some hill walking, otter watching, and planned on visiting a few of the islands including Staffa. It was good to have a nice chat after the less than pleasant morning; she’d done a fair bit of wild camping on Mull and in Scotland, including close encounters with sheep in the night!
Feeling re-invigorated, if still damp, I rode around to Fishnish to get the ferry back to the mainland. I bought a can of fanta and a cake from the cafe next to the slipway, whilst waiting for the ferry, attempting to have a conversation with the jolly owner, however his accent was a little to thick to follow at times – I think I laughed at the right moments. At least the rain had stopped for a bit, even if it was still windy.
I rode on to the ferry and retreated to the cabin area once bike was stashed, to get out of the wind for a bit. The ferry was really busy, packed with cars and camper vans, but they mostly stayed in their vehicles for the short crossing. It only cost me £3.50, and took about 25 minutes. I chatted to one of the ferry attendants on the crossing, who’s also a keen cyclist. He described the route to Fort William, pointing out the long ascent to begin with, over 12 miles, and the ferry I could take at Ardgar (Corran Ferry) if I wanted to cut off about 30 miles. There were a couple of options route wise, and I decided to take the one closer to the coast, both were allegedly equally attractive with nice long descents to enjoy.
Leaving the ferry behind, and in slightly improved weather, I pedalled up the long hill out of Lochaline on the A884. The road is mostly single track, passing through forest and fen, and wasn’t too busy so was a pleasant ride. I did however encounter a lot of sheep again, either on or around the road, who did their usual panic at the last moment routine. I unintentionally ended up herding a few large groups down the road to pastures new. Cars don’t don’t seem to bother them, but me on a bike is a different story, even if I give them lots of warning I’m coming.
The hilly road continued up Gleann Geal and beyond, before I turned on to the B8043 towards the coast rather than continue up to Strontian. The rain had started again, but it wasn’t hard and the wind had dropped, so it was a fun descent all the way down to Loch Linnhe. The road twists, turns and undulates, through moorland and forest, and there was very little traffic when I was going down it at some speed. In fact I think I counted about 3 cars all the way back to the main road. The scenery looked slightly eldritch in the light rain and low cloud, with water trickling down everywhere, and hanging off fern fronds and trees. I half expected to see pixies and maybe the occasional gnome ambling about.
I had to keep an eye on the road surface, which was a bit ropey in places with loose gravel and potholes that could have seriously thwarted my descent had I hit them wrong. At the bottom I turned up along the coast, along the mostly flat single track road, which was still pretty bumpy and jarred my wrists somewhat.
At Inversanda I joined the A861, riding up to Ardgar having done about 31 miles since getting off the ferry. I knew this because of handy milestone markers along the roads which I’d been trying to keep track of and add up. It was about 17.00 and I was tempted to get the ferry over to Corran, which runs back and forth continually until around 21.00. Going round the rest of Loch Linnhe, then Loch Eil to Fort William was another 30 miles, as opposed to 10 on the other side. In the end I opted not to take the ferry deciding it would be cheating. I had a pork pie and snickers to celebrate my willpower holding out.
On slightly tired legs I pressed on, up past Conaglen House, along roads lined with Rhododendron, which made the biologist in me concerned about soil acidity and other plant species being snuffed out, but they looked nice.
The road around the lochs is mostly flat, so I made good progress, partly motivated by not wanting to stop due to clouds of midges. I passed through several small villages, and could see Fort William on the other side of Loch Linnhe.
Eventually I made it around to the A830, and powered by Haribos rode on to Fort William arriving at about 20.30, feeling pretty hungry. I made the mistake of taking a cycle path for the last bit, thinking that would be nice, however I had to manoeuvre through several swing gates, and over a railway crossing with yet more gates, which left me cursing somewhat. Tricky with a heavy bike, at the end of a long day, and probably took twice as long as the road route. Must remember just to stick to the road in future! I came out at Neptune’s staircase, a series of lochs up to the Caledonian canal which I thought I’d visit tomorrow.
Before heading to the campsite I nipped into town and bought some fish and chips, which didn’t last long. It felt a bit odd being in a big town again, with lots of shops and ‘normal’ people about, including multitudes of tourists, locals out for a drink, and the odd big issue salesperson looking hopeful. I noticed a Cotswolds outlet which I’d visit tomorrow to see if I could get a replacement Power Monkey cable.
Post dinner I rode up to Glen Nevis, in the shadow of a cloud covered Ben Nevis, and pitched up at the campsite there. I met a friendly police dog and its handler on the way in, out for a stroll. The collie dog had a liking for bike tyres and stalked me for a bit before being called off. Reception was closed so it would be the ‘pay in the morning’ routine again. Good facilities at the campsite, but the midges had started to appear so after a wash I retreated pretty quickly to my tent. Damned things.
So despite a poor start, and it raining nearly all day, it had ended up being a great ride covering 111 miles, two of which had been on the ferry from Mull. It wasn’t far down to Oban where I planned to ride to the next day, post doing a few things around Fort William – bike shops, Cotswolds, Neptune’s Staircase. My back wheel was doing well but I was constantly having to tighten or adjust the spokes, and it was only a matter of time before it suffered a critical failure, so I needed to replace it…again.
After arranging damp kit to hopefully dry a bit, including a couple of bits in my warm sleeping bag, I fell asleep pretty swifty after a 13 hour day in the office.