Wednesday 18 April 2012

LEJOG (End to End) Day 8 - Through the Great Glen

LEJOG Leg 8 - Fort William to Strathpeffer

This was another great day on the bike in Scotland.  We arose after our night in the room with the very elevated temperatures, thanks to our kit drying antics and readied ourselves for breakfast and the days riding.  It was back off to the other end of the hotel for the big breakfast and this had to include the option of the Scottish style porridge outs.  A great delicacy and great, so we’re told, ‘slow release energy’ for the coming efforts on the road.  Fortunately, everything was pretty much dry now, so we packed everything up, checked out and we once again on our trek ever Northwards.  We enjoyed the views from the car park, checked the views round and about and got on our way.  Luckily the rained had passed over not too long after we’d got settled at the hotel the night before and hadn’t returned, so we set off on dry roads.

Leaving the Clan MacDuff Hotel in the Sunshine
As we’d had problems with the rain it was even more important that we kept our phones and camera dry.  I’d not brought anything other than the wallets and pouches that I normally used, so extra care was needed to keep the cold and wet out.  We’d really be stuck without the phones and it would be a shame to get the camera wet and miss all the great photo opportunities.  I improvised with a few sanitary towel disposal bags taken from the hotels along the way!

Sanitary Bags for Dryness - We'd be in Trouble with Wet Phones 

The first port of call was the town of Fort William, which was on the North end of Loch Linnhe and just up the road from where we had been staying.  I hung around in a car park near the water’s edge, at the south end of the town and took a few more photographs for the scrapbook.  Paul ventured into town to see if he could find a bike shop and get some more air into his under inflated tyre.  I’m not sure where he ended up, but he did get his hands on a superior pump, so bikes back up to scratch we set off proper.  He wasn’t gone long, and he said it was around the corner, so I can only assume that he ended up at (Alpine Bikes -  The day was going to consist of us following an important natural feature (The Great Glen), that would not only take us further North, but push us from the West to the East of Scotland, so that we’d eventually be on the right side for our final destination.

Again, the route for most of the day was going to take us along the A82, until we came off it before Inverness to head for the planned accommodation in Strathpeffer.  No too far up the road and not taking us off our plotted course was Spean Bridge.  This was not only a necessary bridging point, but also it was the location of a significant military monument.  The Commando Monument in Scotland was just off the A82 about a mile beyond the crossing at Spean Bridge.  Paul had been in the army in his younger days, and we keen for us to pay it a visit and pay our respects.  I didn't know much about it before, but the Commando Memorial is dedicated to the men of the original British Commando Forces raised during World War II.  It overlooks the training areas of the Commando Training Depot established in 1942 at Achnacarry Castle.  It has become one of Scotland's best-known monuments, both as a war memorial and as a tourist attraction offering views of Ben Nevis and Aonach Mòr.

Views from the Spean Bridge

Commando Memorial - dedicated to the Men of the British Commando Forces

We paid our respects at the monument, once again admired the views offered by the stunning scenery and got back on the A82 again to follow the course of the Lochs of the Great Glen.  The road undulated a bit, but nothing too dramatic, we were rarely to far above sea level and it often switched back and forth between the left and right sides of the water ways.  We followed Loch Lochy along it’s right shore travelling North-Eastwards and soon reach a car park about half way up the loch.  We stopped for a bit of maintenance.  Now it was my turn to have a bit of shoe plate trouble.  Unlike Paul, I use the three bolt ’Look’ type plates (Old ones, not Keo, on this particular bike).  However, I hadn’t been checking them and my foot seemed to be twisting about more than usual.  The plates are designed to allow you heel some degree of freedom, about six degrees of swivel left to right from the toe, but not as much as I’d been feeling.  On closer inspection, one of the bolts had come out and I didn’t have a spare (something I would definitely carry on future trips).  We surveyed the damage and moved one of the remaining bolts and ensured that they we all (including the other shoe) fully tightened.  I’d recommend fitting a shoe plate inspection into you daily routine when riding long distance day after, as well as carrying spare bolts, as both Paul and I had issues on this trip.

Pebbled Beach on the Shores of Loch Lochy

After Loch Lochy, we followed the course of Loch Oich until we crossed over the swing bridge at the start of the Caledonian Canal.  We had a short break here (for personal reasons) and to have a look around.  The shoe (plate) seemed OK now and Paul’s tyre was holding the air OK.  It was still a lovely, if not pretty cold, day.  There was always a reminder that Winter wasn’t too far gone away up here as we surveyed the snow on the peaks.  Funnily enough, about a month before our arrival, they were experiencing unseasonably high temperatures North of the border and I believe it got up to about 23° C at he back end of March.  I’d been out on a training ride wearing just my shorts and a racing jersey on the same day around the hills near Rochdale.

A Quick Break Before Crossing the Swing Bridge on Loch Oich

Still on the A82, we headed up towards our next stop at Fort Augustus on the banks of Loch Ness.  Compared to everywhere else we’d been since Glasgow, it was busy again.  There were plenty of tourists about this infamous location.  We got some refreshments and had a look around.  We didn’t see the fabled ‘Loch Ness Monster’ in the flesh, but we did see the sculpture of it by the locks.  At least we had a picture of something to send back to the Facebook and Twitter followers.  We sat down with our coffees near the locks and watched the world go by.  Whilst there we met a fellow cyclist and as it transpired he was only from a town about 20 miles from where we lived (Bolton).  We got chatting to him about our long distance bike ride and he explained that he’d travelled up un the train for the day and was enjoying riding on the roads around the Lochs.  It seemed like a great plan, not having to cycle the entire distance and taking several days to experience this glorious scenery, most of it just by the roadside.  He got up early and was going to be back home the same day after his ride.  It’s something I hope to do myself at some point in the future.

A Sculpture of the 'Loch Ness Monster' in Fort Augustus

Paul Chats to a Fellow Cyclist from Bolton (near Home)
As we prepared to set off again we could see that the weather was closing in at it was looking likely that we’d get a repeat of the previous days experience and see rain in the latter part of the afternoon.  As we progressed up the road at the side of Loch Ness, the rain started.  We passed Castle Urquhart but, as the weather was deteriorating, we didn’t contemplate stopping too long.  We stayed just long enough to get a few photographs from outside the castle grounds, and then we were on our way again.  The rain was heavy on the next section, but perhaps not as bad as the day before, and it did seem brighter again in the distance.  The Road switched back around a junction near Invermoriston and I became totally confused and disorientated about which way we were heading.  We weren’t lost and we were definitely on the correct road, but it felt like we were heading in completely the wrong direction.  Looking on the map afterwards, I could see how the road headed away from the Loch and almost came straight back on itself, which explained my confusion.

Castle Urquhart by Loch Ness - The Rain Started Here

We didn’t get to travel the whole of the length of Loch Ness as we were going to leave the A82 and avoid going as far as Inverness.  Again the road pulled away from the Loch’s edge, but this time we were going to head in a different direction.  We passed Drumnadrochit and joined the A831.  We had a few alternative routes here.  Paul decided to pull in a car service station and call on some local knowledge.  They suggested pulling of to the right just further up the road and take the A833, this seemed to provide us with a shorter route to Strathpeffer.  Maybe it did, but they did not mention the climb we have to negotiate by taking that road.  On the entire trip so far, we had climbed a fair bit, but nothing was ever steep.  We had compact chain sets, but when you’ve got more than twenty extra pounds compared to what you are used to, steep climbs should be avoided.  A can’t remember the severity of the gradient, or whether it was even indicated, but we certainly felt it.  I optimistically fiddled with my rear mech indexing in the hope of finding just one more gear.  I got up there slightly quicker than Paul and we regrouped at the top.  We came to the conclusion that maybe the ‘long way round’ would have been better, but it was too late now.  It was still raining, but not heavily, and we carried on grinding out the miles.  We passed all the scenery and landmarks, the camera was well and truly packed away for the day and we just wanted to get to the hotel.

We were tired now, both from the day’s riding and the journey as a whole.  We’d chosen a hotel in Strathpeffer for the night, using the now usual app, to avoid having to go into Inverness.  There seemed to be quite few twists and turns on the run-in and the final section was yet again uphill.  We seemed to be damp all the time now and it was quite a cold day.  There also seemed to be quite a few stops to consult the smart phone and check Google maps.  To add insult to injury, the post code was showing up in the wrong place on the Google Maps and we rode through Strathpeffer and down a hill on the other side only to have to come back again.  D’oh!

In reality, I think this was the shortest leg of the entire tour, but with seven or eight hundred miles already in the legs, it felt like more.  I don’t suppose the cold was helping any!  We were still enjoying it though.  In masochistic sort of way.  It was just a nice sight to see the hotel and the end of a hard day’s riding.  We’d booked in to the Mackays (Spa Lodge) Hotel.  We found another, round the back, location to hide the bikes for the night, and got to the room for a welcomed shower and to get the wet stuff off and drying again.  It was the same script as the night before.  Heating on and windows ajar to try and dissipate some of the moisture.  We had wet stuff hung up all over the place.

The Hotel Bedroom - A Chinese Laundry!

It was going to be a bit of a rush to get sorted (with the extra drying work) in time to go out and dine formally, and there didn’t seem to be too much in the way of takeaways in the vicinity, so we opted for a bedroom picnic.  We went over to the local convenience store to pick up ingredients, after that we planned to sneak in couple of bevies in the Hotel bar.  Whilst at the shop, we hit on the bright idea of purchasing some bin bags (bin liners) in an attempt to try and keep things dry the following day.  Yet again, much of the contents of the pannier bags were pretty wet.  Our plan was to get everything dry and then line the pannier bags with a bin bag, insert the gear and tie it at the top.  Hopefully that would give us something a little more waterproof.

Paul and Ash in Fort Augustus near Loch Ness

Suitably fed, we head to the hotel bar as we’d planned.  We got a table and sat ourselves in view of the hotel’s entertainment for the night.  They had a guy doing a bit of country music on the guitar.  It’s not my ’cup of tea’, to be honest, but it was still quite enjoyable.  We went to get the drinks in from another room where the bar itself was situated.  It was very busy for this time of year.  Maybe the music act dragged them in from far and wide?  I order a pint of the local larger for Paul and a pint of bitter for me (probably Tennant’s and Stones respectively).  To my dismay the barkeep asked me for three pounds in return.  We went to sit back down and tried to figure out why it was so cheap.  Another visitor heard our debate and chipped in saying that it was some kind of promotion and all pints were £1.50.

Result!  However, we were slightly gutted that this wasn’t the last night, as we could have had a major celebration at that price.  As it transpired, we were yet again pretty sensible and only had one or two.  We had another long ride tomorrow (maybe the last one) and looking at the weather reports it was likely we’d be pushing a headwind all day!

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