Monday, 10 June 2019

Cycling the Caledonia Way

The weather's dreich. The forecast poor. Dale and I are ensconsed in Agi's Airbnb in Ardrossan, sipping beer, playing pool, contemplating the start of our Caledonian Way adventure tomorrow.

Day 1, 28.2 miles (not including ferries)
In the morning we fuel up on Agi's full Scottish, including haggis and black pudding. A fine start. But we leave for the ferry in full waterproofs. One of Calmac's finest vessels whisks us over to Brodick on Arran and, by 12:30 we're rolling along the road towards Sannox and the start of our first climb of the trip. We battle over to Lochranza, pausing to congratulate ourselves at the head of the pass. Then it's a mad, freewheeling ride down to await our next ferry, over to Claonaig. There's thick fog as we hit Kintyre, the ferry sounding warning blasts on its horn as we approach the dock.

The weather's brightened and we head over the Kintyre peninsula and up to Tarbert for a late coffee and cake. 

Then, doubling back, we follow the quiet road round Knapdale. Spotting an empty field we walk our bikes through a gate to set up camp for the night. The farmer, passing, stops to check us out. We give her lots of northern flannel and she leaves happy...ish.

Opening my kitchen pannier I discover the screw top has popped off the jar of pesto! What a feckin' mess. Fortunately, most remains in the jar and I mop up the oil in the bottom of my pannier with loo roll and wipes before procurring dinner.

Day 2, 32.4 miles
Morning brings damp. Waterproofs again. It's a rolling route round the coast of Knapdale with a decent climb over to the A83 alongside Loch Fyne. Along the way we find a second breakfast at Port Ban's cafe. It begins to rain a little. We cycle into Lochgilphead along the first section of the Crinan Canal and settle into the town's campsite. The Co-op provides good Indian instant meals and a nice bottle of Merlot and we dine splendidly thanks to the campers' room complete with microwave and kettle.

Day 3, 43.7 miles
It's Tuesday and we start the day with bacon butties then onwards along the Crinan Canal again before crossing Moine Mhor to our first cafe stop of the day in Kilmartin. These cafe stops become a feature of our trip and second breakfasts are the norm.

Today is a long day of tough climbing. Four significant hills test us. I resort to pushing at least twice, my fitness, post op, not quite least that's what Dale says. He's kind to me.

It's a tough day as we climb and fall on the road beside Loch Awe, the reward being many beautiful views along the way. We lunch at another cafe in Dalavich before hitting the final climb before Taynuilt, where we resupply for dinner. Our wild camp is in magnificent Glen Lonan.

And yes, there are midges!

Day 4, 39.6 miles
We awake to rain, which lingers ALL day. Our route takes us north to Connel then follows a cycleway shadowing the A828 all the way to Ballachulish, save for just 2 miles on the busy road. Second breakfast today is at Benderloch.

Today's weather is truly foul. I take few pictures. The cycling, thankfully, is easy. We have an excellent lunch at a hotel near Kentallen before heading into the rain again to the Corran ferry and a great wild camp on the north shore of Loch the rain.

Day 5, 20.7 miles
An easy day. But we still set out in rain, off up the loch to the small foot passenger (and cycle) ferry from Camusnagaul. We're early, and quite cold by the time the small boat pulled in. The two locals who join us are as friendly as the ferryman and, in no time at all, we're lunching in a warm cafe in Fort William.

After resupplying in a supermarket we're off to join the Caledonian Canal for the next section of our journey, along the Great Glen Way, to a wonderful wild camp at Gairlochy Locks. We share our dining table with backpackers from Switzerland, Germany and Australia. There's much chat and amusement and the afternoon has seen fine, dry weather.


Day 6, 37 miles
This is the big one. The day dawns with sunshine. The route along the Great Glen Way takes in forest tracks along Loch Lochy and a disused railway by Loch Oich before reaching Fort Augustus. It makes for very enjoyable cycling, though we're glad of the hefty tyres on our touring bikes. Second breakfast is at a small cafe at Laggan Locks.

It's a shame the designer's of these gates along the railway line cycle route didn't consider heavily laden touring bikes!

The big event of the day follows our lunch and resupply in Fort Augustus. NCN route 78, which forms the whole of the Caledonia Way, takes the B862 up the south side of Loch Ness. Sadly this involves a climb of some 1200ft and 5 and a half miles. On my 2015 LEJOG I came this way and it was billed as the hardest climb of the entire route. Dale laps it up but I shove the bike for two or three steep sections. Dale, valiantly keeps me company. Bless him. After about 75 minutes we reach the summit, a milestone on our trip, before a final dash down to our campsite on the shore of Loch Ness at Foyers. We enjoy a celebratory meal of haggis, mash and peas accompanied by some fine ale. We  share our dining table with Rob, an accomplished cycle tourer on a three week tour of the highlands.

Day 7, 22 miles
Our final day is a straightforward route into Inverness where we tuck into pizza and beer before taking the train back to Ardrossan via Glasgow. By evening we're back at Agi's, tired but elated.

A fine trip. 7 days and over 230 miles from the west coast, right through the Great Glen to the east coast of Scotland.

Many thanks to Dale for his good company and tolerance with my "far not fast" pace.

I think my recovery is complete.