A record of my cycling trips in Britain and abroad


To Glen Nevis, and (nearly) the end

Day 8
Cycling distance: 125 km

day8map.jpg I woke up late this morning to soft sunlight streaming into the tent, with shimmering reflections from the loch to the East filtered by the intervening trees. I had a bit of time to kill before Polly and Simon would arrive. I had breakfast and wandered - on foot - into the village, to the shop I’d passed the night before.campsite.JPG I stocked up on food and sent a few postcards, then walked back to the campsite. The bright morning sun had driven the midges away and I could already feel the heat in the air. An impulse drew me down to the shingle beach. I knew I had plenty of time on my hands before the other two arrived since I’d been up and breakfasted well before they could have been (times are all relative, and my ‘late’ lie in was till about 7 - definitely late when you’re camping in Scotland in summer - while they’d spent the night in a bed and breakfast). I looked across to the far shore of the lake; it didn’t look far, maybe a mile at most, and I had at least an hour and a half. I threw my top across a nearby branch and waded in, feeling the round pebbles under my toes and the cold, clear water between them. I swam out strongly, relishing the cool water supporting my body. Although I hadn’t noticed it before, my legs were feeling heavy with the past week’s miles, and a swim was the perfect way to let them relax. I turned onto my back and dived, blowing bubbles towards the surface. LochLomond2.JPG LochLomond1.jpg I came up and looked at the shore behind me, and the trees looked pleasingly distant. I turned to look at the far shore and frowned - it still looked just as far away as before. Hmm. I swam on for another 10 minutes, yet still it didn’t seem to come any closer. I had set myself the challenge of reaching it and was loathe to give up, yet I had been swimming for at least half an hour without reaching the halfway point, and I would still have to swim back even if I made it across. I turned back, half-pretending to myself that I was disappointed, but really enjoying the feeling of the water too much to care. I dried off sitting on the beach in the sun. I returned to my tent, and as I was packing up I checked the map - it turned out Loch Lomond was rather more than a mile across at that point, so I hadn’t done too badly after all!

DSCF2371.JPGI left the tent up so the dew would be driven off by the morning sun and packed the rest of my things away ready for the day’s riding. I’d just finished when Simon and Polly rolled up. Soon on our way, the route alternated between the old road and the current one along the shore of Loch Lomond. This was a lovely (and flat!) stretch of riding, apart from the heavy traffic when we were on the current road. DSCF2375.JPG Plenty of cars overtook us - only for us to come sailing past them as they waited at traffic lights, where the road narrows to a single track sandwiched between the loch and a cliff. We left the lake shore behind us and, with it, the last section of flat road; the road rose from the head of the loch to Crianlarich, where we stopped for lunch, and to replenish our supplies. From here on we were into the highlands.

DSCF2376.JPGAfter lunch, Polly and Simon set off at a fast pace at the front and I was content to follow along; the sun was still shining brightly, and we had a fantastic view across the plain of the Bridge of Orchy. The hill that would lead us onto Rannoch Moor rose up sharply from the plain ahead of us, apart from the sunshine looking like the gates of Mordor - and this was how I imagined it would feel climbing it, a series of steep switchbacks climbing up to the pass. At the bottom I caught up with the other two mending a puncture. Once mended, we started the climb, with Simon setting of at a very fast pace ahead of me and Polly - too fast, as we overtook him soon after the first bend.

From the top, we had a great view back across the plain behind us, but we didn’t stop for more than a few minutes for a breather before setting off across Rannoch Moor. Fortunately it was warm and sunny, I’ve been across Rannoch before - by car - and it can feel pretty bleak at times! It’s an open, exposed upland moor of heather and bog with a few, stunted trees and little in the way of shelter from the elements. Bizarrely - in this barren place - we were brought up short as we came up to a traffic jam, DSCF2393.JPGstopped by a red light. Starting off from the traffic lights was the last pedalling we had to do for a stretch, as the road from here heads into Glencoe, and drops 350m over the next two miles down to sea level. DSCF2389.JPG We had the wind on our backs, the sun behind us and we were cruising down the road at a comfortable 40 km/h with very little effort, taking in the glorious, dramatic scenery where the mountains fold in on either side.
The problem with going fast is that it makes the nice bits go too quickly, and we were soon down to Loch Leven and Ballachulish bridge. Reaching this point, for me at least, really felt like a big DSCF2392.JPG achievement; we were within touching distance of the end, having come all the way from Shrewsbury powered by nothing more than rice and cereal bars. After pausing for photos we carried straight on after the bridge - passing the last turning before Fort William - and followed the gently undulating road for the final few miles.

We arrived in Fort William late afternoon, and pitched our tents in a campsite at the foot of Ben Nevis in preparation for the climb of the three peaks. We headed back down to the town, on foot, partly for a well-deserved pint, and partly to escape the midges!