Ever since I got into cycling as a teenager combined with my life long love affair with the Scottish Highlands, has meant that I wanted to cycle up the Bealach Na Ba. It’s a fearsome challenge, starting at sea level it wends its way up above Loch Carron and the drops back down into Applecross, with great views accross to the Isle of Skye. 626 metres of climbing over a distance of almost seven miles.
Well today was the day I finally met that challenge. I was very unsure of my ability to make it all the way up without walking, and there was one point on the ride where I thought I might not make it, but stubborness won out, the legs kept turning and I made it to the top.
The view from the top was spectacular enjoyed with my family who had driven to the top to wait for me taking photos as I ascended. The descent into Applecross was pretty exciting too, the rims and tyres were hot from braking on the way down.
Enjoying lunch at the Applecross Inn, I then left my family to potter around Applecross, while I headed off round the peninsula, no climbs as long as the one I had just come over but several as steep. While climbing one a red dear stag stared at me from the side of the road, with great antlers, staying around long enough for me to grab a few photos.
A couple from the Netherlands kept passing me in their car and I would pass them back as they stopped to take photos. I had seen them when making the intial climb and at one point they pulled alongside me and asked if I was a professional cyclist, so that was good for the ego!
Round the other side of the Peninsular, just before I would rejoin the A-road, I was picked up by my “support car”, feeling very satisfied with achieving a long held ambition and feeling that I was starting to regain some of the cycling ability I had when I was younger. What will be my next challenge?
Thanks to all those who have supported Dad and myself in this coastal rider challenge. I welcome suggestions on where we could go next, which bit of UK coastline should we test our mettle against next?
Full details to come later but am feeling quite pleased that I managed to keep the pedals turning all the way to the top of the 626 metre climb up the Bealach Na Ba, I didn’t have to get off and walk once! I also cycled round the Apple Cross Peninsular which had great views across to Skye and out to sea. Now about to go and enjoy a good meal, I’ll sort through the photos later.
Today’s the day to climb the big one, bike’s loaded on the car and we’re on our way to Loch Carron, where I’ll be getting back in the saddle to climb from sea level to 626m, up the Bealch Na Ba. Not sure if I’ll be turning the pedals all the way to the top but I will get there!
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Started: 14 Jun 2010 09:49:52
Ride Time: 4:23:58
Stopped Time: 2:30:04
Distance: 48.85 miles
Average: 11.10 miles/hr
Fastest Speed: 30.06 miles/hr
Climb: 1496 feet
And we finished (well sort of), today was the last leg of our main coastal tour round the North of Scotland. 49 miles of easier, rolling riding through countryside much more like ours in Warwickshire, with fields of crops, hedges and dry stone walling. The mountains in the background, however, and the sea by our side, ensured we didn’t forget where we were.
Cycling through Dornoch and Tain, I could almost have been in the Cotswolds, the buildings had a similar architectural style and the stones had that honey coloured hue. Out to sea, however, was something we would never see in Chipping Norton, on the skyline were the unmistakable shapes of oil rigs.
Cycling on the A9 was an experience, which we tried our best to avoid, the larger lorries had a tendency to spatter you with gravel kicked up by their slipstream, and you were frequently buffeted by the air stream of all sizes and shapes of vehicles cutting close and fast. So, wherever possible, we tried to detour onto minor roads running parallel to the A9.
Finally we were on the last few miles from Dingwell to Strathpeffer, looking forward to the finish and the obligatory cuppa and cake at the old station cafe. We put our heads down and eat up the intervening four miles, as we entered Strathpeffer we spotted Ruth and Mum waiting with camera poised ready to capture our arrival.
Now for a couple of days rest, back in the village of Gairloch, were we have been greeted by a spectacular sunset. Then, all being well, I will tackle the challenge of the Bealach na Ba, rising from the side of Loch Carron to 626 metres above sea level with 20% gradients. The question – have my legs got it in them? We shall see . . . . . !
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Started: 13 Jun 2010 09:57:51
Ride Time: 5:13:39
Stopped Time: 52:45
Distance: 53.23 miles
Average: 10.18 miles/hr
Fastest Speed: 38.46 miles/hr
Climb: 1972 feet
View the days photos on flickr.
It seemed a gentler day’s ride to begin with, hardly any wind and the gradient not too severe. But that all changed when we got to Berriedale, a steep drop down, with some very battered looking barricades where a local coach only just avoided dropping 15 metres into the river the week before! Then it was a long steep climb back out, pushing legs and lungs to the limit, I just managed to keep the pedals turning all the way to the top.
Today’s riding has been punctuated by classic cars heading up to a show at John O Groats, and merry hellos from the many other cyclists we saw heading up to finish the LEJOG. We even saw a few walkers, who will have been walking for two or three months!
After that tough climb we enjoyed a long descent into Helmsdale, from then on the hills flattened out, in fact for a while we were following the rail tracks. But our legs were tired from the big climb and even the gentler inclines pulled us back.
As we cycled into Golspie we had a great view of Dunrobin Castle an almost fairy tale looking building which reminded me of Cair Paraval from the Narnia Books.
Stopping the night at the Stags head, our bikes are going to boogie the night away, they’ve been put in the dance hall!
BBC’s weather forecast seemed to slightly overstate things again, we had a couple of light showers but certainly not the heavy rain forecast, much to our relief.
Just one more day of riding ahead, over what should be fairly gentle terrain, to finish at the Old Station Cafe in Strathpeffer, where hopefully Ruth and my Mum will be waiting with the car to take us back to Gairloch.
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Started: 12 Jun 2010 09:45:15
Ride Time: 4:26:11
Stopped Time: 2:13:34
Distance: 51.36 miles
Average: 11.58 miles/hr
Fastest Speed: 35.66 miles/hr
Climb: 1473 feet
Starting with the view over to Doonreay reactor on our left, we set off towards John O Groats. Coming the other way were the many cyclists taking part in the ride accross Britain, they may be having to ride over 100miles a day, but they had it easy in one respect, all their kit was being carried in support vehicles! Not in panniers that make your bike almost too heavy to lift.
The wind at our backs again and over terrain that was not quite as hilly meant our average speed was noticeably higher today. And the wet weather forcast by the BBC failed to make an appearance in fact we enjoyed the warm glow of sunshine on our afternoon’s riding.
Cycling through Thurso we discovered that it claims the honour of being the birth place of the founder of the Boys Brigade.
A flyer I’d spotted at the previous day’s B&B led us to “The Tea cosy” for our lunch, just 500m off the main road, we enjoyed coffee and tea in traditional bone china cups. They’re even on Facebook!
Arriving at John O Groats we took the obligatory photo by the sign post, before setting off to what is actually the point further North East, Duncansby Head.
Cycling back down the East coat to Wick the landscape started to change, rather than wild moorland we actually had fields of barley on either side of us at one point.
And so we arrived at Wick, our B&B, “The Bank”, we discovered was aptly named, it’s located above the Clydesdale bank! Very much a family run B&B, their toddler daughter tried to open the door for us before her dad could get there.
Photos are on Flickr.
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Started: 11 Jun 2010 10:13:14
Ride Time: 5:29:52
Stopped Time: 1:37:25
Distance: 53.41 miles
Average: 9.71 miles/hr
Fastest Speed: 41.29 miles/hr
Climb: 3491 feet
When we first woke up this morning, our hearts dropped. The wind was literaly howling round the B&B, and the cloud was right down low over Loch Eriboll, the mountains had disappeared from view!
But the ride had to go on. An excellent breakfast, we can highly recommend the B&B, was enjoyed before we set off. We set off with all the weather proofs on, the wind and rain in our faces as we headed on down Loch Eriboll. My Dad has decided I’m quite mad, as I found a certain peverse joy in battling the elements and enjoying the full wildness that you only find in the North Scotland.
As soon as we turned the corner at the end of the Loch, however, the experience changed. The wind was now at our backs and continued to be for most of the rest of the ride. Unfortunately, this made no difference to the gradient of the hills, and shortly after leaving Loch Eriboll, we started up a 1 in 6 gradient in parts for almost 5 miles of climbing. I was quite pleased that I managed to keep pedalling all the way up.
The scenery today has continued to be spectacular with wild moorlands, a view of deer again at the side of the road, and crossing the causeway at Tongue.
We’ve finished up our ride at Reay, famous for the fast breeder reactor. Another great little B&B find, the Linkside, who even rustled us up some tea as there was nowhere in the village to eat.
Tomorrow we ride to John O Groats, and then on “round the corner” to Wick the start of the last leg of our journey down the East coast. We may well be passed by a large number of cyclists heading in the other direction doing the Deloitte Ride Accross Britain. It will make a change from today, when we haven’t seen any other cyclists.
Note: Edited milage/time as cyclemeter played up.
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Started: 10 Jun 2010 10:03:04
Ride Time: 3:57:38
Stopped Time: 2:48:05
Distance: 37.45 miles
Average: 9.46 miles/hr
Fastest Speed: 25.74 miles/hr
Climb: 1493 feet
An easier day’s ride with only a couple of steep climbs and a pleasant gentle descent down into Durness, we even finally enjoyed the wind behind us as we turned back away from the North Coast to go down the side of Loch Eriboll to Glenaladale B&b in Laid were we finished our ride. We’ve now completed 138miles
So what have we enjoyed enroute?
The first part of the ride again took us through some wild and desolate terrain. But that doesn’t stop it being useful as at several points we saw peats cut and stacked to be used by locals for fuel.
Durness was a welcome sight, the poin at which we “turned the corner” to travel accross the top of Scotland to John O Groats, which according to google map is now 82 miles away.
We made the slight detour to Durness Craft Village to partake of the delights of a “the best mocha and hot chocolate in the world”, which we have to say were pretty good, and the croissant with white choc and toffee wasn’t bad either! The craft village itself was interesting, it uses old military buildings which we heard were to be part of an early warning centre in the cold war, but never completed.
A quick stop had to be made to look into some very deep holes that make up part of Smoo caves. Then it was onto Loch Eriboll, which we discovered has the honour of being the place where the German U-boats surrendered at the end of the second world war.
And I’m finishing the day by having a jam with the owners of the B&B who seem to have all and every type of musical instrument going except a flute so I’m going to be on the recorder.
Check out the Flickr stream for today’s photos.
Report from Cyclemeter
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Started: 9 Jun 2010 10:16:39
Ride Time: 5:04:13
Stopped Time: 2:41:22
Distance: 42.34 miles
Average: 8.35 miles/hr
Fastest Speed: 38.29 miles/hr
Climb: 2828 feet
The landscape we were cycling through was wild and desolate with some impressive mountains surrounding us. We spotted a herd of deer at one point on the hill side and later, by Kylesku bridge two deer just stood at the side of the road and looked at us from just a few feet away.
A couple of good coffee and cake stops kept the engines burning, we can especially recommend the one in Elphin which was a very welcome sight. The second in Unapool joined a museum of childhood, but we needed to press on and had no time to browse.
Also of note on route was the ruined castle at Loch Assynt. The ancestral home of the Macleods, it has a torrid history of clan feuds, finally being destroyed by lightning, while a house built just up the road, as a replacement by the Macelods, bankrupted them, and was burnt down ten years later in another clan feud!
Finally, with aching legs and weary bodies we made it to Scourie. Spindrift, our B&B is lovely and we highly recommend the Fish and Chip bar in the village, fresh haddock and chips, cooked to order in the nicest batter I’ve ever tasted.
And so to bed . . . . here’s to easier hills and gentler winds tomorrow as we cycle on up the coast to Durness and then round to a B&B by Loch Eriboll. Maybe with a stop en-route at Cocoa Mountain where they make chocolate truffles. Mmmmm.
The plan today is to cycle from Ullapool to Scourie (view route) about 43 miles. The orginal plan was to follow the coast road which would have meant stopping sooner but a lack of B&Bs in the area we needed to stop means we need to press on further North so a more direct route was required.