Sunshine, Smiles and Superb Cycling

or  Have Travelling Rug, will faff.  

Well that was a weekend and a half writes Fiona Wallace.

You could have been forgiven for thinking a party of excited schoolkids was setting off on an outing had you been at Queen Street Station early on Saturday Morning such was the level of giggling, fidgeting and faffing.

Instead, it was seven stalwarts of Walkers Cycling Club as we set off on the first leg of a two-day cycling adventure across one of Scotland’s most iconic routes, the Caledonia Way – a 112 mile route that takes riders from Oban to Fort William and then right across Scotland to Inverness.

The spectacular route follows the west coast up to Fort William and then picks up the Great Glen Way along the shores of Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and Loch Ness, taking in four sections of the Caledonian Canal as it goes.

The Magnificent Seven headed for Oban where we were met by the support vehicle containing our bikes. At this point we were also joined by two further riders who had opted for an additional 90 miles from Ardrossan the previous day.  Refuelled after an intake of erm “health food and refreshments, the Terrible Twosome made the Magnificent Seven up to the Normal for North  Ayrshire Nine.

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The Normal for North Ayrshire Nine

The full group set off across the Connel Bridge, following the NCR78 route. With most of this route now being off-road, we made excellent time, enjoying the excellent scenery of Loch Creran, Castle Stalker and the Sound of Shuna along the way – all to the accompaniment of some splendid spring sunshine.

The plan was to get to the Corran Ferry by 3pm to allow for a ride along the north side of Loch Linnhe, thus avoiding the busy stretch of the A82.  This took us past some splendid scenery including the Island of Shuna and Castle Stalker.

Castle StalkerStalking past Stalker

Some good group riding (even by me) and an almost complete lack of headwind meant that an earlier ferry was taken, and the party was able to enjoy a fairly leisurely ride along to the Camusnagaul ferry some ten mile further along the lochside.

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Doing the boat dance waiting for the boat

Now, it should be said at this point that there was a little confusion as to how the large ferry the group could see in the bay was going to fit alongside the somewhat less than large and a tad rickety-looking slipway.  And when the even more somewhat less than large and a tad rickety-looking ferry eventually arrived,  the group were just a little sceptical about my ride organisation skills and my claim that the ferrymaster had promised he could take up to twelve bikes.

But manage it he did and with the bikes precariously perched along the sides of the vessel, the group headed across the loch to Fort William for a well-earned meal break.   And yet again I find myself saying “now at this point” for the simple reason that at this point several members of the group decided that the lovely red tartan travel rugs provided by the ferrymaster presumably for more inclement weather, just had to be pressed into service despite the scorching (well, it was for May) sunshine.  There then ensued an episode resembling an outing composed of Fran and Anna, the Alexander Brothers with a hint of a care home day oot thrown in for good measure. It was one of those classic “you had to be there moments” although I suspect that the couple of tourists who’d had no choice other than to catch this, the last ferry, were rather wishing they in fact hadn’t been there.

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FranJan and Anna; Gavin and Russell Alexander and Catherine “Moira Anderson” Log.
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Offloading from the HUGE ferry

After the first of the weekend’s two “Walkers Does Wetherspoon’s” sessions, the evening leg of the tour was a twelve-mile journey up the first section of the Caledonian Canal – but not before  Frazer, wearing Dame Edna Everage’s specs,  got a chance to try his hand at a touring bike.

Edna

While we were lucky to get the last of the nice evening sunshine, there was a bit of an annoying headwind which made it seem a lot colder.  This was  followed by a short but energy-sapping (well, it was for me) climb up to the Commando Memorial above Achnacarry,  and then a drop back down to the overnight accommodation at Spean Bridge.

commando memorial

Day Two started off a little on the cool side, but the climb back up out of Spean Bridge soon put paid to any feelings of cold – for those who did it, that is, as opposed to those of us who “had to take the pictures” 🙂    The second stretch of the day was a hilly forest path which took the riders up to the high ground about Loch Lochy where the spectacular view compensated for any tired legs  (that’ll be me again, then).

above Loch Lochy

After dropping back down to sea level, the next stage was along the second canal section from Laggan locks.  A relatively newly-renovated  section of the route then took the us on the old railway line path up the side of Loch Oich to rejoin the canal.

With the wind behind us for the first time, the run into Fort Augustus was achieved well ahead of schedule allowing us an early and far more relaxed lunch break.

The new design of the route meant that at this point the group was faced with by far the steepest climb of the tour up from Fort Augustus to Carn an-t-Suidhe.

One rider (oh that may have been me again) decided to take advantage of a lift to Lochend since the route for me, oops sorry, her was about canals. From there she picked up the fourth stretch of the Caledonian Canal right to its end where it decants into the Beauly Firth.

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Journey’s end – the Caledonian Canal decants into the Beauly Firth

Meanwhile, with the route profile resembling a very high peak on an electrocardiograph diagram, the more hardy (short for foolhardy) riders probably felt they were producing something fairly similar as they pumped their way up the hill from Fort Augustus.  However, their pain was rewarded by a fast descent down to Foyers. A far more gentle twenty mile stretch then delivered them safely into Inverness to the awaiting support vehicle and a somnolent Frazer.  Having beaten the deadline for catching the train by a good hour and a half, from there it was a quick trip to the second Wetherspoon’s of the weekend for some sustenance for the long  train ride home.

All in all this proved to be a very special weekend trip away where everything came together at exactly the right time, what with its combination of great weather and a great route. And moreover, as William, Sweet William the poor trolley man on the 1624 from Inverness will testify to,  there was an even greater feeling of camaraderie which means that this trip will be remembered fondly by all the participants.

 

When’s the next one then, organiser?  Oh wait; that’ll be me again.