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chasm

Scotland tour

In the first complete week of August, starting Monday 6th, I'm taking a tour of Scotland. Nothing too strenuous in terms of distance - about 310 miles in 5 days - but with some serious climbing, especially in the Cairngorms.

The route goes like this:

Day 1. Train from Newcastle to Perth, then about 50 miles on the bike from Perth to Braemar, home of the Highland Games. In the unlikely event that it isn't raining it should be a beautiful ride.

Day 2. Braemar to Grantown-on-Spey. Only 45 miles today, but it includes a couple of long, winding 20% ascents that the AA website sees fit to warn car drivers about! No joke when hauling a week's worth of gear, but the granny gears on my tourer should see me alright. And the mountains are fantastic.

Day 3. Grantown to Achnasheen in the West Highlands. 73 miles through some of the most superb countryside you can imagine. Achnasheen has memories for me. When I was about 12 my parents took me there as part of a Scottish holiday. It was August, but the rain and wind were so severe we could barely open the car door.

Day 4. Achnasheen to Invergarry via Kyle. 77 miles, pretty hilly if not quite as serious as days 1 and 2. The Invergarry Hotel has a pretty good reputation for food so I might manage to get the protein I need for recovery.

Day 5. Invergarry to Bridge of Orchy via Fort William. 64 miles. Another beautiful route, through Glencoe and numerous other scenic locations. Meeting "her indoors" at Bridge of O and staying a couple of days to do some walking.

Should be fun, I think. I'm looking forward to it. I'll take a picture or two and post them if anyone has a yen for highland scenery.
berck

Sounds like fun. I spent three weeks in the Edzell area once. It didn't rain for 10 days during the trip. Beautiful sunshine. I asked if it was like that alot in May, the person responded with a laugh.

I wish you luck, and look forward to the pictures.
crash48

Its sounds like a good trip.

What I have found good about cycling in Scotland-north of Inverness and surrounds-was the lack of cars.

I was surprised at the amount of longish gradual climbs as well. We got a bit of rain (in April) but mostly drizzle.
MAILLOT JAUNE

chasm, that sounds like a great route.

I love Achnasheen - stayed at the Best Western Hotel there.

Are you going to do the Applecross pass ?(http://www.applecross.uk.com/getting_here.htm)
Slapshot

Fantastic!!!!!

Sure you will have a fantastic time!!!!!!! You know that you have the obligation to write everyday stage report, etc... Wink
marco uk

Excellent tour. You will definately enjoying going up Glencoe and all the way to Bridge of Orchy (and if you go hillwalking, Beinn Dorain is a easy-sh walk from the Hotel). Hope for you the weather is going to be good (yesterday I did Glasgow to Edinburgh via the Canals and got completely soaked!)
chasm

MAILLOT JAUNE wrote:
chasm, that sounds like a great route.

I love Achnasheen - stayed at the Best Western Hotel there.

Are you going to do the Applecross pass ?(http://www.applecross.uk.com/getting_here.htm)


MJ, that isn't at all a bad idea. I've always wanted to do the bealach na ba and if I wanted to extend day 4 (and make it a very serious day indeed) I might just about be able to take it in. It would make it about 120 miles, though, and conditions up there can be severe, even in summer, if the wind's blowing; so I'll see what the weather's like and decide if I'm feeling strong.

Berg, I won't be posting each day: the laptop is more than I want to carry, and anyway part of the point, for me, is to cut myself off for a while. But on my return I'll post an illustrated report, if you like. Anyway, plenty of time to go yet.
Slapshot

I wanted to do the bealach na ba Challenge, (http://bealach-na-ba.co.uk/bealach-na-ba/event_BNB.htm) but they werenīt any places availeable!!!!

Donīt worry about the posting, noone is obliged to do anything in this forum!!!!
kellyrocheearly

that looks like a beautiful few days on the bike. Hope the unpredictable Scottish weather holds out for you
chasm

OK, tour over. I can't post any pics until the end of the week because I've left my camera's USB connector somewhere and it'll take me a few days to retrieve it. In the meantime here's the written record:

Day 1: Home to Newcastle, 13 miles. Perth to Braemar, 50 miles.

Up early for the 13 mile ride to Newcastle station, then train to Perth, via Edinburgh. Set off from Perth station at exactly 1pm, with a gentle climb out of town followed by 15 easy and fairly uninteresting miles to Blairgowrie. Nothing to get me onto the small cog of my triple, but I'm confident that will soon change.

The climbing starts immediately out of Blairgowrie. Nothing dramatic, just 5% or 6% gradients leading into the Grampians. Longish, steady climbs followed by gentle descents, never losing as much height as I've gained so that almost before I know it I'm in the highlands. It's a damp overcast day with intermittent showers. It doesn't matter, though, because this is a beautiful place. I'm especially impressed by the fact that although this is an A road in August, there is very little traffic. At times all I can hear is my own breathing and the hiss of my tyres on the road.

The route's getting increasingly choppy now, and about 20 miles short of Braemar I meet the first big hill. 12% according to the roadsigns, and relentless for between 2 and 3 miles. I'm feeling my legs now and cursing the 80-odd mile warm-up I did yesterday; and my joy is unconfined when, about half-way up, it starts raining heavily. But I make it to the top, which happens to be the entrance to the Cairngorm National Park, and bliss! An exhilarating descent for about 3 miles followed by a fast level stretch alongside the river Dee and I'm at Braemar. Even better, my B&B is almost the first house I see.

Day 2: Braemar to Grantown-on-Spey, 45 miles.

They say the Cairngorms are a little slice of the Arctic transplanted to 58 degrees latitude and I can believe it on a day like today, with the wind whipping in from the North-West and making it feel more like early November than August on the hilltops.

Today is a day for the serious climber. After a fast 10 miles along Deeside I turn north at Balmoral and start to ascend. Heavy going, with the manageable average gradients disguising short sharp sections that have me maxed out and in my lowest gear. But the place is terrifically beautiful and amazingly empty. At the top of the climb out of Garnsheil I look west and I know from the map that there is nothing but mountains - not a road, not even a decent track - for 30 miles.

I press on, making slow but steady progress and feeling that I'm coping pretty well with the hills. Hubris. From Cock Bridge I start to climb the Lecht Road. The first section is signposted at 20% and I'm out of the saddle not just to get more leverage but because it's so steep that when seated I'm lifting the front wheel off the ground with each turn of the pedals. (Note to self; get front panniers!) A few hundred metres of this is enough to cure me of any fantasy that I could climb the Bealach-na-ba on a heavy touring bike toting 20lbs of luggage. Sorry Maillot Jaune; it was a nice idea. Maybe next time.

After the first half-mile or so the Lecht Road eases off to a mere 12% average touching 15% in parts, and keeps going for another 2 or 3 miles. Near the top I'm off the bike, not because of the gradient (heartbreaking though that is) but because on the most exposed section the crosswind is so severe that each gust has me lurching across the road. I'm forced to walk a couple of hundred metres until I'm in the lee of another hilltop and it's safe to continue.

A very rapid and moderately technical descent on the far side is enlivened when a sheep jumps into the road in front of me. I'm doing at least 40mph/65kph. I have no chance of stopping, barely enough time to reach for the brakes, and all I can do is lean away from the woolly assassin. Amazingly the beast comes to its senses and has better brakes than I. It digs its hooves in and bounces out of my path at the last nanosecond. I remain impressively continent, but it's a close thing.

A couple more serious, but marginally less intimidating hills and it's down to Grantown on Spey. I'd like to have another go at this route. On the road bike, unencumbered and in good weather it might be less like hard work. Under today's circumstances I can't remember a tougher 45 miles.

Incidentally, Grantown on Spey is a charming late Georgian/early Victorian town and a very pleasant stop. This in marked contrast to Braemar, which is the embodiment of the Victorian fantasy of Scotland: all tartan and shortbread.

Day3: Grantown on Spey to Achnasheen, about 82 miles including an inadvertent detour!

The unpredictable Scottish weather does me a favour. Today is a perfect Summer's day, with barely a cloud in the sky and just enough breeze to keep me cool. And while nowhere in the highlands is exactly flat, there is nothing that (after yesterday) I would dignify with the title "hill". More a series of rolling undulations.

I've pretty much got my legs now, and I'm eating up the miles through beautiful countryside with the sun on my back. About 2pm I find I'm singing "Perfect Day" to myself without any idea of how long I've been doing it. Magic.

Day 4: Achnasheen to Invergarry, 77 miles.

Superb cycling weather; sunny, 20 degrees, light breeze. And today's route is exquisitely beautiful from start to finish. From Achnasheen down towards the sea the trend is gently downhill, so for the first 18 miles I'm spinning along at great pace. At Strathcarron the hard work starts, with long, tough climbs out from Loch Carron and over to Loch Alsh. Looking west I can see the Cuillin Hills on the Isle of Skye, grey blue against the blue of the sky itself. I stop at Dornie for lunch, in view of the iconic Eilean Donan castle (pic to follow). Then on, past Loch Duish, through Glen Shiel under the brooding gaze of the five sisters, past Loch Cluanie before the final long climb over to Glen Garry. At the top I'm starting to tire; this is my second successive day of c.80 miles and including my 80-plus mile sportive at the weekend I've now done almost exactly 350 miles in 5 days. So I welcome the fact that the last 8 miles into Invergarry consists of an almost uninterrupted, untechnical descent.

Day 5: Invergarry to Bridge of Orchy, 64 miles.

Back to traditional highland weather, cloudy, colder, intermittently wet. On the road before 9 and in Fort William before 1130. Ben Nevis completely obscured by cloud, so no photo opportunity. Then about 12 miles from Fort William to Ballachulish, and the Glencoe. Not the best day to see it, with dark clouds spoiling the views, so the pics won't be up to much. However, for me this is a place that never disappoints. These old hills have a presence that explains in an instant why ancient people thought that Gods lived in the mountains. There aren't many places where I feel more connected to the physical world.

The climb through Glencoe is gradual, and leaves plenty of energy to spare to admire my surroundings. Then I continue past the western edge of Rannoch Moor, surely the most desolate place in Britain (and looking pretty inhospitable today) before descending to Glen Orchy, and the cracking little hotel that is my final stop on this trip. The first two pints barely touch the sides...

Pictures at the end of the week, as promised. For those who haven't cycled in Scotland, I recommend it unreservedly. The weather isn't reliable, it's true, but it's a great experience.
bbnaz

chasm -- what a great journey. i can hardly wait to see the photos as your illustrative narrative has painted some fantastic pictures in my head.

particularly the sheep Laughing
headwind

awesome! pix hurry
Dr.Wierd

Sounds great, good job! Look forward to the pics. Was it Orchy back to Perth for the train?
chasm

Dr.Wierd wrote:
Sounds great, good job! Look forward to the pics. Was it Orchy back to Perth for the train?


No, I met she-who-must-be-obeyed in Orchy for a couple of days walking in the hills, so the bike and I got a lift back to civilisation. The west highland railway connects Orchy with Glasgow, though, so returning by train, car or bike are all equally feasible.
sheeponabike

Nice writing chasm. Looking forward to the pics!
chasm

OK, with apologies for the delay, here are a few pics. They probably don't do justice to the scenery but they'll give an idea of what it was like.

http://chasm.myphotoalbum.com/view_album.php?set_albumName=album03#
sheeponabike

Some breathtaking shots there chasm. I love the "empty road" ones. I've visited Scotland many times, my grandmother being scottish, but it's ages since the last time. Have to go back - preferably with the bike!
CapeRoadie

chasm wrote:
OK, with apologies for the delay, here are a few pics. They probably don't do justice to the scenery but they'll give an idea of what it was like.

http://chasm.myphotoalbum.com/view_album.php?set_albumName=album03#


Nice shots and great story, chasm! My wife, then fiancee, went through Glencoe and Rannoch Moor on our way back to Edinburgh from our northern Scotland trip in 1997. We cloimbed in Glencoe and went through the Lost Vally of the MacDonalds. Stopped by to see Rob Roy's grave on the way back. Glencoe and the Hebrides Islands were some of the most beautiful places we've ever been.

Sounds like you had a great trip! Thanks for the photos.
kellyrocheearly

Wow!!
Dr.Wierd

Great pics. Scotland for scenery, ranks right up there. The annoying thing, if you can call it that, is that there are too many opportunities for pictures. Drive over a crest, must stop for a pic. Drive off over another crest, must stop for another pic, and it keeps going.

chasm, really jealous that you got a pic of Eileen Donnan, when my fiance and I were over there it was raining and too much out of the way for the time we had. Oh well, your pics and memories are something to be proud of. Good going.
bbnaz

DrW you are too funny.

Chasm -- brilliant photos! Must get there one day. Sooner rather than later too.
chasm

Dr.Wierd wrote:
Great pics. Scotland for scenery, ranks right up there. The annoying thing, if you can call it that, is that there are too many opportunities for pictures. Drive over a crest, must stop for a pic. Drive off over another crest, must stop for another pic, and it keeps going.


That's true. I learned long ago not to keep stopping because the beautiful view you're looking at will be equalled or surpassed round the next bend. As long as the cloud isn't at zero feet, that is...
CapeRoadie

chasm wrote:
Dr.Wierd wrote:
Great pics. Scotland for scenery, ranks right up there. The annoying thing, if you can call it that, is that there are too many opportunities for pictures. Drive over a crest, must stop for a pic. Drive off over another crest, must stop for another pic, and it keeps going.


That's true. I learned long ago not to keep stopping because the beautiful view you're looking at will be equalled or surpassed round the next bend. As long as the cloud isn't at zero feet, that is...


Very Happy "Cloud at zero feet"! We call that "fog" here.

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