Monthly Archives: June 2017

The Scottish Tour Part 1. Oban to Ullapool

We stayed overnight at a B&B just outside Oban. In the morning before we left we posed for a picture – in the rain. I was very excited! It was 3 km down to the ferry (ever mindful that we had this 3 km and 171m of elevation to ride on our return).

Leaving our B&B in Oban

We were the only cyclists waiting in the rain at Oban as we watched the incoming ferry dock.

The Oban to Mull ferry

It was still raining heavily when we got off the ferry on Mull at Craignure. We cycled the 18km to Salen, where we stopped for our first coffee and cake. We prolonged our visit long enough for the rain to ease off. On again around the West coast of Mull. This is a scenic route with a few hills and a wonderful waterfall.

Eas Fors on the west coast of Mull

The views out to Ulva and the Trenish Isles were fantastic and distracted us from the hills.

Looking south across Loch na Keal to Ben More

What goes up must come down and we had a glorious descent down to Calgary Bay.

Empty road descending to Calgary bay – blue skies and sunshine

When we were planning this trip we ensured the schedule allowed time for relaxation off the bikes and time to explore.

Relaxing at Trenish Point. Just beautiful.

We arrived at Mornish school house our overnight stop about 1500 so we had time to visit Langamull beach before dinner.

As we left Mornish the following morning it was quite dull and it rained a little on the undulating ride to Tobermory.

Tobermory

Tobermory was built as a fishing port in the late 18th century and is now the main town on Mull. It is a picture-postcard of a place with the brightly painted buildings along the main street to the pier.

We were there in plenty of time for our second Calmac trip across to Ardnamurchan.

Calmac are vital to the economy of the Highlands and islands of Scotland

Calmac operate throughout Scotland’s Hebridean and Clyde islands, stretching from Arran in the south to Lewis in the north. Operating 475 sailings per day in summer and around 350 per day in winter, they carry in excess of 4.9 million passengers per annum.

We landed at Kilchoan and made quite a long, planned detour to visit Ardnamurchan Point which lies at the Western end of the Ardnamurchan peninsula. It is the most Westerly point on the British Mainland.

Ardnamurchan lighthouse

Ardnamurchan Lighthouse has been guiding ships safely through the waters off Scotland’s west coast since 1849.

We were ready for our second cake stop by the time we got back to Kilchoan but Sunday closing denied us this. We slogged up the B8007 (not feeling much like James Bond) in ever increasing humidity before a quick descent to sea level at Loch Sunart. The Nadurra Visitor Centre was open and we welcomed an opportunity to escape indoors with tea and scones in front of their fire. We dripped in there for as long as possible and then completed our day with a splendid ride through Glenborrodale to the Salen Hotel.

Humidity was still high as we began day 3. Facilities for cake shopping and cafes are abundant at Acharacle but this was too early in the day even for us. We continued along the A861 undulating all the way with splendid views until we reached a flat kilometre of road along Loch Moidart. Here we discovered the first of many references in the local culture to Bonnie Prince Charlie. The seven companions who accompanied Bonnie Prince Charlie aboard Du Teillay on his voyage from France to Scotland in 1745 came from here. Our thoughts were drawn to the huge hill ahead of us that would take us into a new landscape. Through the drizzle at the crest of the hill we could admire the wonderful Sound of Arisaig ahead of us. We had to continue all the way to Arisaig before finding a cafe for coffee and cake.

We bumbled along the coast road at Arisaig admiring the wonderful beaches

We arrived at Mallaig with plenty of time to do our shopping at the Co-op. Our overnight stop at the Flora MacDonald hostel on Skye required us to self cater! The beer weighed heavy in my panniers but it wasn’t very far to ride.

Mallaig ferry terminal. Note the shadows

We delayed our start on day 4 due to the torrential rain. Knoydart was across the Sound of Sleat but it was obscured in the low cloud. At 1000 we ventured out and were immediately soaked.

Ian on the Skye Bridge. Wet wet wet

Kyle of Lochalsh provided us with Hectors Bothy and we dripped in there until the rain stopped and the sun came out. Our route wiggled its way through lovely forested, quiet lanes with glimpses of Loch Carron before emerging onto the A890 at Achmore.

The sign post at Achmore. Well up north now.

Grinding slowly up the hill at Stromeferry (no ferry) we suffered our first midge attack and stopped to retaliate with our Avon ‘Skin So Soft’ spray. It seemed to work but they couldn’t keep up anyway once we were descending along Loch Carron to our overnight stop at Strathcarron.

The sun was shining as we cycled along Loch Carron to start Day 5. The first hill took us up and over to Loch Kishorn.

North Coast 500. A stream of Westfields, it was quite fun to have them all wait in passing places while we cycled past!

We were now on the North Coast 500 – Scotland’s answer to Route 66.The route runs to and from Inverness, up the West Coast and back via the rugged north coast. The route is proving very popular with motorists of all types. There were fleets of classic cars, streams of motorbikes and the dreaded camper vans. Although the route has brought much needed revenue to the Highlands it has mixed blessings. Complaints that the motorhomes do not contribute anything positive were frequent from local business. We had no intention of going over Bealach na Ba but cyclists are experiencing congested roads and the beautiful village of Applecross ‘wrecked’ since NC 500 has become popular.

Our onward route was beautiful and secluded as all the traffic was going around the coast, so we enjoyed the ride though Glensheildaig Forest to Sheildaig. Nanny’s cafe at Sheildaig on the shores of Glen Torridon was most enjoyable. Superb cake!

We ascended to the viewpoint above Loch Torridon.

The viewpoint above Loch Torridon

Once around the head of Loch Torridon at Annat the next 30km to Kinlochewe through Glen Torridon were fantastic. The weather was perfect and we enjoyed the beautiful scenery.

Beautiful remote wild scenery through Glen Torridon

Our overnight stop was at the Loch Maree Hotel.

Loch Maree Hotel

The views from the Hotel are fantastic.

We braved the midges to walk along the Loch.

Loch Maree

One of the highlights for Ian was feeding vegetable peelings to wild deer that turn up at 1600 every day for their treat.

Daily visitors at the Loch Maree hotel

We had the inevitable morning shower to wake us up as we continued our journey to Gairloch. The well placed Coast Coffee Company on the pier provided a refuge for us to drip in.

The scenery was excellent as we continued our way along the North West coast of Scotland.

Gairloch

Our route for the day allowed for a visit to the superb National Trust Gardens at Inverewe.

Inverewe Gardens

Our overnight stop was at Laide and we left our bags there and rode out to Mellon Udrigle beach.

Mellon Udrigle is a stunning white sandy beach offering unparalleled views of some of the spectacular Highland mountains.

Backed by dunes and framed by rocky promontories, Mellon Udrigle is one of the most attractive pieces of coastline in Wester Ross. With clear, turquoise water and clean white sand, the beach is spectacular in itself without its stunning location. However what makes the beach really special is a distant mountain vista possibly unequalled from any low level viewpoint in Scotland. To the north east the views include the distinctive profile of Suilven, near Lochinver, taking in the mountains of Coigach, including a glimpse of the top of Stac Pollaidh. To the south east the views conclude with a glimpse of An Teallach.

Mellon Udrigle beach with fantastic mountain backdrop

Our last day of riding on the Scottish mainland took us along Gruinard Bay passing Gruinard Island infamous for anthrax testing in World War 2.

Our first climb of the day gave us a fantastic view over Little Loch Broom.

Little Loch Broom

The following 15km to Dundonnell hardly required a turn of the pedals as it was predominantly downhill.

The next 26 km to Braemore junction had an ascent of 430 metres with a maximum elevation of 340 m. It was superb riding across the bleak, remote moor once we got up there.

The high point of the tour. 340 metres above sea level! (This is not the Alps!)

Another long, speeding descent brought us to Corrieshalloch Gorge for a planned exploration stop.

Corrieshalloch Gorge

After a testing walk (I’m not keen on high bridges) we enjoyed coffee and Malteser cake from the Gorge refreshment van and finished our mainland riding with 20km down the A835 into Ullapool.

Ullapool looking serene in the evening sun

GPX Files

Day 1: Craignure to Moornish Schoolhouse

Day 2: Moornish Schoolhouse to Salen

Day 3: Salen to Mallaig | Armadale to Flora McDonald Hostel

Day 4: Flora McDonald Hostel to Strathcarron

Day 5: Strathcarron to Loch Maree

Day 6: Loch Maree to Laide

Day 7: Laide to Ullapool

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The Reluctant Cyclist

I love riding my bike, but my husband Ian does not share my passion. He has always supported my sporting endeavours without breaking into a sweat himself. He maintains and services my bikes. He even cleans them for me. He pretends to take an interest when I am wittering on about Strava segments. He takes me to events and stands around for ages supporting me and says ‘well done dear’ or ‘never mind dear’ in the appropriate places. He even comes out to rescue me in the team car when necessary. But he’s always avoided actually riding a bike. Getting out of breath, getting sweaty, and having aching legs was never going to happen.

This changed in the summer of 2016 when he decided to have a go at mountain biking. I’m still not really sure why he did this but I think there was an element of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them.’ The whole idea was that it would be something we could do together.

Early outing on the new mountain bikes

It took a couple of months for him to get used to the sweaty, out of breath, aching legs element of the sport and it became a familiar sight to see him bent over the bars at the top of a hill cursing and swearing to himself.

‘You’ll enjoy it’ she said…

However, he has gradually got used to it and he has got pretty good and although I can’t say he is avid, he has come to enjoy it mostly.

A rare cycling smile

In the year since he began riding he has become much fitter and now weighs the same as he did when he was 19! Not quite the same shape though and less hair!

He was persuaded – albeit very reluctantly – to ride the Dawes Galaxy that I used for LeJog in 2013.

The £150 ebay Dawes Galaxy

He was not keen and thought road riding ‘boring.’ However, he has gradually come round to the idea that a touring holiday, on his terms, was a possibility. He is still quite reticent about this – and we start our Scottish Highlands and Islands tour very soon. All the accommodation is booked. We are going!

All smiles ready for our tour of the Scottish Highlands and Islands

The Western Isles have been on my bucket list since I was a student in Edinburgh in the 1970’s. I have never been there. On my LeJog adventure I really enjoyed the West Coast of Scotland so we have devised a round trip from Oban. We ride North to Ullapool where we get the ferry to Stornoway and then we ride up to the Butt of Lewis and then all the way down to Vatersay.

Ian’s T and C’s are that there will be no rain, no midges, and no hills! T and C’s that we can control and are more realistic include daily distances and elevation that are manageable without it being too arduous. In practice this means the maximum distance is 80km in a day with less than 1000m of elevation. Total distance will be about 750km which is getting on for 500 miles in 14 cycling days with about 10,000m of elevation. There are a couple of short days which I call rest days! Accommodation is comfortable and requires minimum effort. In practice this means nice hotels with good food. There is one night in a hostel (private room with en suite) where we will have to self cater. He can cope.

Other equipment that has been deemed necessary for the tour includes:
Gortex waterproof boots.

Warm, dry feet…tick

Nice shiny new panniers.

Waterproof panniers…tick

Plenty of this…

Commercial quantities of midge repellent…tick

And a little bit of this.

Completely superfluous sunscreen…tick

It’ll be fun. I really really want him to have a nice time. Much will depend on the weather so I’m hoping it will not pour with rain and blow a gale all the time.

The Long Walk continues in the Lake District

We had had fine dry weather for the first four days of our Long Walk. The 5th day it became a bit wet as we entered the Lake District National Park. The 6th day it was definitely raining with low cloud. We had to get from Haweswater to Ambleside and had planned to go over High Street and Thornthwaite Crag. We decided to take a lower, though longer route and avoid the high fells in the wind, rain and poor visibility.

We walked beside Haweswater to the car park at the end and then set off up towards the Gatesgarth Pass. It’s one of those off road roads which are not that nice to walk on but we gained elevation steadily and soon left the valley behind. At 570m on the pass we were in thick cloud with horizontal rain being driven at us by the strong wind. This verified our decision to stay relatively low. The bad decision was to wear shorts – rather chilly!

We hastened on down into Longsleddale. At Sadgill we took the path over to Kentmere.

On the way to Kentmere

It was great to get off the ‘road’ and we took a footpath over the side of the fell down into Kentmere. The drought which the Lake District had been enjoying in early spring was now over and the fells were once more wet and soggy with water running everywhere.

Kentmere is a small village in the South of the Lake District. It has a population of 160 and is a popular place to start many walks as it is at the end of the tarmac road and gives good access onto the fells. Our onward route towards Ambleside took us over the Garburn Pass which is a restricted by-way. Another off road road but one that no longer allows motorised vehicles. The pass brought us down into Troutbeck and after a precipitous walk up to Townend we found that the Old Post Office cafe was still open. A very welcome break in front of their real fire.

The remaining 5km to Ambleside was along Robin Lane and then through Skelghyll Woods. This is a well constructed path which is a very popular, easy walk between Troutbeck and Ambleside. It was a pleasant end to a long day and it had stopped raining!

The next day was dry and bright so we were able to continue with the Long Walk as planned. The plan started with a ride on a bus to Grasmere where we once again picked up the Coast to Coast route up from Mill Bridge to Grisedale Tarn.

Archie at Grisedale Tarn

We walked round the West side of the tarn and up the pitched path to Dollywagon Pike. The path is mostly 10 – 15 years old now and receives heavy use. The hillside it sits on is unstable and needs constant maintenance to re-do and lengthen drains and repitch sections that have moved. It is a fine path to gain elevation and we were soon up to 850m. Another kilometre on the ridge brought us to Nethermost Pike. There was a keen wind blowing and I made use of a small stone shelter to change my clothes as conditions had quite suddenly become very cold. Fortunately, despite carrying as little as possible I had included enough warm clothes to be comfortable and safe on the mountains. We continued to Helvellyn.

Helvellyn summit

After a quick photo shoot we continued to the North, leaving the crowds behind. We continued over Lower Man and up onto Raise.

The summit of Raise

We continued walking north crossing the Sticks Pass which connects Thirlmere with Ulswater. Then followed Stybarrow Dodd, Watsons Dodd and Great Dodd and continued to the Northerly end of the ridge at Clough Head.

Clough Head

It was then a simple matter of making a beeline for Threlkeld where we were staying for the night. I haven’t said much about our overnight billets and they were mostly very good. However, – do yourself a favour and NEVER stay at the Horse and Farrier at Threlkeld!

The next day was very wet. We had planned to go up Skiddaw but instead we walked directly to Keswick. Following the floods in December 2015 the Keswick to Threlkeld Railway path suffered serious damage. Two of the railway bridges that cross the River Greta and around 200 metres of the path surface were washed away and Rawsome Bridge was left in danger of collapse. The cost to repair the path is estimated at £5m and there is still extensive work to be done. In the mean time there is an alternative route and this is what we followed. We spent some time in Keswick with the attractions of shopping and cafes but these were quickly exhausted. Our next mode of transport was by motorised launch from Keswick to Hawes End.

On the boat in horizontal rain

The weather had not improved and we were soaked to the skin when we arrived at Littletown Farm for our overnight stay. This was a mere 2km walk along the valley from Hawes End. At one point I was lifted off my feet by the wind.

After a very comfortable night in the Newlands Valley at Littletown we woke to find the rain was still pouring and the wind was still blowing around 20mph in the valley. Once again we had to modify our plan. We had to get to Wasdale Head. The plan had been to go over the high fells at the head of the Newlands Valley, over the Honister Pass and visit Great Gable. It was still a long walk to get to Wasdale and our safest route was to cross over Maiden Moor and drop down into Borrowdale at Manesty. There had been so much rain that the roads were now flooded and all the streams were roaring.

Wet, wet, wet

We continued on the bridleway passing Castle Crag to Seatoller.

It was decision time.

At Seatoller

The shortest way to Wasdale Head was over Sty Head Pass at 488m. In the present conditions we were heading directly into a very strong wind – steady at 25mph – gusting over 30mph with driving rain. We were already soaked to the skin despite being clothed top to toe in gortex and poor Archie was also looking fairly bedraggled. The alternative was a very expensive taxi back to Keswick and on to Wasdale via Cockermouth, Whitehaven and Gosforth. We decided to have a go but were not sure if we would make it over the pass.

It was very noisy. The wind was roaring and everywhere water was thundering down off the fells. We crossed Grains Gill at Stockley Bridge.

Stockley Bridge – library pic . It was massive when we were there

This is a library picture. The conditions were too wild to get any pictures of our own. We then had to cross several small streams – cascading down the hill. I was worried Archie would get washed away but he had no problems.  We made our way to the banks of Styhead Gill which we then followed upwards. We met 2 parties of walkers who had abandoned their attempts to get any further due to the strength of the wind! Ian was starting to flag – he hates the wind – and it was all starting to get a bit sketchy. Archie was game though and he stoically continued to make forwards progress.

Thankfully there is a footbridge across Styhead Gill. The rain stopped for about 10 minutes and this brief respite enabled us to get across the bridge and soon after Sty Head Tarn came into view. Ian commented that the sea state on the tarn was suitable for BCU 4* sea assessment! We  only had about another 500m and we would be at the pass. It wasn’t until we got to this point that I began to believe we would make it. Once we were at the pass we could immediately begin to descend into Wasdale.

The path from Wasdale was an old packhorse trail. At the highest point is the confluence of paths from Wasdale, Eskdale, Borrowdale and Great Langdale. We were coming up from Borrowdale.

Sty Head forms an important navigational and safety point between Great Gable and Scafell Pike, and there is a Mountain Rescue Stretch Box at the pass. We briefly cowered in the shelter of the stretcher box and checked the map and GPS to make absolutely certain that we were dropping down into Wasdale. A mistake at this point would have been bad. Archie led the way doing his mountain goat impersonation down the steep sections of the path. The wind affected him much less as he is so low to the ground. For a 10 year old little terrier he was very impressive. The conditions were really harsh and Archie just got on with it. This is a dog who can ‘man up’.

After what seemed like too long we caught a glimpse through the cloud of Wasdale opening up ahead of us. We were saved! It was all going to work out well. The amount of water thundering off the hill was really impressive and very noisy. As we lost height the world became a better place and we made our walk thankfully to the Hotel where we had a room booked. It was that £30 deposit we had paid that drove the day!

It was worth it though. The staff made a great fuss of Archie: towelled him down and gave him biscuits. We were shown our room with a hot radiator and a hot shower and an adjacent drying room. Our room quickly resembled a sauna and we had to prop the sash window open with the Good News Bible!

Broken sash window fixed.

There was beer and food in the Ritsons bar. There was even a dry calm weather forecast for the following day.

What a difference a day makes. The following morning we walked back up to the stretcher box at Sty Head. It was dry with a gentle breeze! Sty Head looked very calm.

A much calmer day – at Sprinkling Tarn

We walked along the bridleway passing Sprinkling Tarn to Esk Hause. At this point most folk go up to Scafell Pike but we continued onto Esk Pike down to Ire Gap and then onto Bowfell. The path then drops steeply down to Three Tarns and then up onto Crinkle Crags. Crinkle Crags is much too good to be missed. It is a rough rocky mile of craggy slopes with many ins and outs as well as ups and downs. The ridge is a delight with the scenery constantly changing. Our first top was the Shelter Crags and after that there are five tops of Crinkles all above 750m. Wainwright describes it as Lakeland’s best ridge-mile. Archie agreed and he very obviously enjoyed our traverse of Crinkle Crags.

Crinkle Crags

We dropped of the crags and walked down to the pass near Red Tarn. We were having a really good day so we decided that an ascent of Pike o Blisco as an extra peak was in order. We had great views of the Langdales from the top and enjoyed the long descent down to the Blea Tarn Road. From there we had planned to go over Lingmoor Fell to get to our overnight stop at Elterwater. It now looked enormous so we backed out and walked along Greater Langdale instead. This was an easy if rather long winded alternative!

The Britannia Inn had food, beer and a comfortable room. Our last day dawned dry and bright so we decided to do our ‘half-day’ walk as planned. Little Langdale is much more picturesque than Great Langdale. We continued past Little Langdale Tarn and walked up a long grassy ride towards Swirl Howe. On the walk to Swirl Howe at Great Carrs the path passes a memorial.
This is the site of a wartime air crash and bears the sad remains of a Royal Canadian Air Force Handley Page Halifax bomber.

Memorial on Great Carrs

The undercarriage, together with a wooden cross and memorial cairn lies on the top of the ridge with the rest of the wreckage spread down Broad Slack.

Summit of Swirl Howe

It looked like a very long way from Swirl Howe to the summit of The Old Man of Coniston but it is less than 3km with outstanding views all around. We had seen nobody on our walk thus far but as we approached the Old Man of Coniston we could see crowds of people at the summit. This is a very popular fell. Many people who would not consider themselves regular hill walkers walk up there from Coniston. It was a lovely day and it was good to see so many inappropriately dressed people enjoying the fells.

Our last summit – Old Man of Coniston

For us all that remained was to wander down the well-worn path into Coniston. There was time for a celebratory ice cream while we waited for the bus back to reality.

Celebratory ice cream

The Long Walk

The gpx file for this section can be found here.

Day 5: Brownber Hall near Newbiggin on Lune to the Haweswater Hotel.

After walking from Skipton to Newbiggin on Lune over 4 days we turned left on the 5th day and headed west towards Shap and the Lake District.

The route we followed was familiar as it was the Coast to Coast route we had walked in 2016. This year we were going the other way. It soon became clear that we were going the ‘wrong’ way as a steady procession of C2C walkers were heading West to East.

Deja vu

We walked up onto Sunbiggin moor to the magically named Sunbiggin Tarn which is a mecca for bird watchers. We were on a mission with 34 kilometres ahead of us so we bounded on our way enjoying the grassy surface. It had been an unusually dry spring in the North of England and there were fire hazard signs on the moor. We crossed the B6260 above Orton and now, still in the Yorkshire Dales National Park thanks to the 2016 boundary change, we walked across the Crosby Ravensworth Moor.

The Crosby Ravensworth moor contains a number of interesting historical features. There is a Roman Road near to the Black Dub monument. This records a stopping place of King Charles II and his invading army from Scotland in 1651. A number of bields and ancient cairns are dotted about and on White Hags there is a stone circle made up of granite boulders.

Is this the Roman Road?

The presence of granite is another of the fell’s points of interest. Although the main underlying rock is limestone the area is also notable for a number of erratic granite boulders. In a couple of places in the Orton Fells these granite erratics are called thunder stones. The most impressive boulder is right on the C2C path. It sits on a heavily crushed plinth of limestone.

A granite erratic

Oddendale is a small settlement east of Shap and from there the route is close by the M6. It is very odd to be out on a long walk with car whizzing by at 70 mph. How wonderful it was to be one of those out walking and not sitting in the car going somewhere else.

So far on our Long Walk we had enjoyed dry, warm, sunny weather. As we approached the M6 it became increasingly cloudy. We left the Yorkshire Dales National Park behind as we crossed the M6 to Shap. Heading West from Shap we entered the Lake District National Park and guess what – it started to rain!

Still smiling…

Our route from Shap went through the hamlet of Keld and then across the moor down in to the beautiful remote valley of Swindale.

We looked down into the valley and could clearly see the result of work which was carried out in 2016.

The original straight channel and the new bendy river

A couple of hundred years ago the beck was straightened out in an attempt to create more farm land – however, this turned out not to be the best solution for helping wildlife to thrive or for managing flooding.

So, in an exciting project that benefits both people and wildlife, Natural England, the RSPB, the Environment Agency and United Utilities have worked together to put the beck back to something like its original, bendy course.

The Swindale Beck work is part of wider efforts to restore rivers in the UK so that natural processes help manage flood risk and benefit people and wildlife.

There were also hundreds of very new lambs in this valley and we saw our first Herdwicks.

Herdwick sheep

There was yet another short climb out of Swindale and over the moor – passing through a field of just born lambs and down to Naddle Farm and on to the Haweswater Dam.

Haweswater is a reservoir built in the Mardale Valley. The controversial construction of the Haweswater dam started in 1929, after Parliament passed an Act giving the Manchester Corporation permission to build the reservoir to supply water for Manchester. The decision caused public outcry, since the farming villages of Measand and Mardale Green would be flooded, with their inhabitants needing to be relocated. The original natural lake was raised by 29 metres.

Manchester Corporation built a new road along the eastern side of the lake to replace the flooded highway lower in the valley, and the Haweswater Hotel was constructed midway down the length of the reservoir as a replacement for the Dun Bull. The road continues to the western end of Haweswater, to a car park,

It was along this road that we now briskly walked in the drizzle towards the Haweswater Hotel which was to be our billet for the night.

Haweswater in the drizzle with low cloud base (still beautiful)

The gpx file for day 5 can be found here.