Scottish Spin, May 2016

I have got the bug and I need to do some miles with panniers, anyone interested?

This was a call I put out to Neil and Gordon, and as I had not been to the North of Scotland, let alone ridden it on as bike, I thought it was something I should do.

They say May and August are the best months for weather in Scotland, so May it was. If we used the first bank holiday we might be lucky with the weather and trafic. We looked at the options for some “light touring”, i.e., without camping, and it was more cost effective to find a base for the week, then find a couple of one night stop overs. This meant we could park the cars when we arrive, pile everything in to a base, then carry only what we need for the one night stop over.

We wanted to go up the Caledonia Way (Sustrans route 78), at least from Fort William, and we also wanted to ride to Mallaig, as this area was supposed to be beautiful and there were some cycle paths that needed investigation.

I drove up to the Lakes for an overnight stay, then we threw all the gear in to two cars and continued North for a further five hours. Once North of Glasgow we travelled through some amazing terrain before landing at our cabin, just North of Fort William at Invergloy. The cabin we had for the week was really comfy and there was a nice walk down to the waters edge of Loch Lochy.

On Sunday morning we rise to a bit of a grey day, a touch moist, but we were excited to get out on the road. All the bike checks done, panniers packed and route planned, we set off up the A82, which despite being a major road, has a wide shoulder and very little traffic on it.

We keep the Loch to our left until we reach Laggan Locks, where we cross over to Caledonian Way cycle trail and in to the trees. At this point to our left we now have the canal that links Loch Lochy to Loch Oich. This is lovely stretch of the trail, well surfaced and easy to ride. Once we reach the end of this section, we cross the A82 again, and through the gates on to the next part of the trail, to the East of Loch Oich. This trail starts to climb and takes you high up on to the old railway line, looking down on to the loch. We have great views all the way along this section as the surrounding peaks come in to view.

As we drop back down to the Loch, we cross the A82 again, this time it is just where the Loch meets the Caledonian Canal again, on its way to Loch Ness. From here we roll on well compacted, white stone all the way along the canal, crossing a couple of locks as we work our way to Fort Augustus. Just before the town we arrive at the top of the five locks, which drop the canal down to the level of Lock Ness. Time for a brew I think. We find a weird cafe/fish shop that do a nice brew, which helps us warm through a bit, as it has not really warmed up yet.

Warmed up and full of tea we hit the road, the B862 to be exact. This road should take us through for a few miles, until we cross the River Gourag. We turn right, through Fort Augustus, then straight up, for 10Km, with peaks of up to 15%, which prove to be a good pull loaded and with only a 36 x 30 gear to fall back on. Still we roll over it and stop at a sign which marks a viewpoint. Apparently out there in the think grey mist is some lovely countryside and some nice peaks. We reach the turn for the B852, heading for Foyers, where we aim to have lunch.

From this turn the road takes a downward flow toward Loch Ness. However, just before we head down we notice some fallen trees in the woods to the side of the road. The roots are huge, easily 4 meters across.

When we arrive at Foyers we spot a little cafe and jump off. I notice a sign for Falls of Foyers, so set off for a quick hike, while the guys go and arrange their lunch. It was worth the walk.

We have lunch and there are breaks appearing in the sky. We might just see some sun before the day is out. We finish the drop down to the loch and roll up and down along the edge, through Inverfarigaig and on towards Dores, and our stop over for the night.

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The guesthouse, Balachladaich B&B is beautiful, a new build, based on an old barn, right on the edge of Loch Ness. We unload the bags, check out our rooms and decide to have a quick spin in the area, without the bags. Just as well, as the road went vertical for a while and took us through some beautiful wooded lanes before we dropped back to the shoreline and headed back to the base.

When we got back to the guesthouse from the pub later that evening, the sun was out and setting, The sky was awesome. I spent quite a while just sat on the edge of the lock, taking photos, one of which is the cover shot for this page.

The next morning we wake up to a bit of a mist in the air, but much lighter than yesterday. Today we intend to retrace our steps from yesterday, seeing the views we had missed behind us and in the mist.

Just outside Foyers we found a great little cafe, The Camerons Tea Rooms, and dropped in for a quick snack and a brew. It was great place, with a friendly host, but while in there, the outside world changed. We came back out to sun, heat and blue skies. We had to take a layer off.

We continue the climb back up to the junction with the B862, and what a difference a day can make. The weather is now great and the views beautiful as we head past Whitebridge, Loch Tarff and up to the viewpoint we stopped at yesterday. I see now why the sign is there, just stunning. Time to drop down the big hill in to Fort Augustus again.

We jump back on to the cycle path beside the locks and head on alongside the canal. The views today have just opened up to us. When we reach the junction where the canal meets Loch Lochy we notice that there is boat/pub moored up against the bank, so we stop for a coffee and something to eat, while sitting in the sun. This is the life!

We consider a detour and start to head down the West side of Loch Lochy, but the road is very loose and rocky. There are a couple of “moments” and we make the call to go back to the original route before it ends in tears.

We get back to the cabin where we wash some kit out, check the bikes and get them ready for tomorrow. We nip in to town for some food and then it’s a relaxing evening watching the sun go down.

We wake up to another clear, sunny day. It’s at this point I realise I have packed for what I know about Scotland and only have long legs and long sleeves, so its going to be a warm one as we set off to Mallaig.

We drop down to Spean Bridge and take a right to Gairlochy at the monument to the first commandos, who were trained in this area.

At Gairlochy we pick up the cycle path, heading South in the direction of Fort William, which we take as far as the locks at Banavie. We arrive at the locks just to see the Jacobite steam train head through the level crossing on its way to Mallaig. We have that trip to look forward to on Thursday.

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We pick up the A830 and turn West for Mallaig. Despite being the main road out, it is still relatively quiet, a few big logging trucks, but nothing to spoil the journey along the edge of Loch Eil. This section from Gairlochy to Glenfinnan has been flattish, just rolling up and down, but from here we face a good climb over the top of around 6Km and ramps up to 10%, but the views take your mind off it.

As we drop out of Glenfinnan we pass the railway station, and the viaduct that is used in the Harry Potter movies. We grab a quick brew and a bite to eat at the busy visitors centre and quickly head on out.

The road now runs along the side of Loch Eilt, with signs of the railway line at the far side, both heading to the coast. We stay in the valley for 30Km, until we pass through the town of Lochailort. From here we hit a few small climbs, each one revealing another stunning view.

We eventually drop to the shores of Loch Nan Uamh, where there is a cairn to mark the spot where Prince Charles Edward Stuart left Scotland, bound for France in 1746. It is such a beautiful bay and just appears in front of you as you ride under the rail bridge and turn on to the Loch edge.

There is a sharp turn in the road and it climbs 100m in 1.2Km, so just under 10%, which hits the legs. Along side this section you can see the railway line also climbing, but not quite as steep.

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We roll on a bit further, then drop in to the amazing little town of Arisaig. There we pop in to a convenience store and get some lunch and fresh water. It’s another warm one and I am beginning to wish I had packed shorts and short sleeved jerseys for this trip.

Next stop Mallaig, and only another 20Km, so we hit the road again, this time dropping off the main road and on to the B8008, the scenic coastal road. That was such a good idea, as it is a breathtaking route. We see Skye to our left as we head up to Morar. Once back on the A830, it’s not long before we hit Mallaig and look for the guest house.

When we arrive we are greeted by the owner, who tells us that, if we had been there a week earlier we would not have got up the road to this point, due to 15cm of snow. Hard to believe, as we sit watching the BBC news that night to find that Skye is the warmest place in the UK, at 30 degrees, while looking out of our room at Skye.

Having watched to sun set over Skye, and enjoyed a good nights sleep, we load back up and retrace our steps. Things look so different when you head the other way. We drop on to the coast road again at Morar, and the position of the sun gives us a great view of the bay and Skye.

We retrace or steps back to our cabin, but stop at a few places along the way. One such stop is the railway station at Glenfinnan, a much better choice than the visitors centre. Really nice people and great food.

Once stocked up, we leave the station behind, knowing we will pass through again on the train tomorrow. We have another stop at the locks near Brenavie, as it has been a head wind all the way home and we were burning through the calories. A short ride along the cycle path, now full on, in to the wind, and then on to the cabin.

The following day we drive down to Fort William early, ready to catch the Jacobite. This is a great train journey and I would recommend to anyone in the area. You get amazing views of the lochs and mountains, plus it’s great fun. Make sure you are on the steam train though, as the do run diesels and steam is the only way to travel.

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