Friday 12th of April wasn't supposed to be wet, but a constant 'scotch mist' accompanied my 4 riding companions and myself on the first day of our 3 day self supported ride on the WHW. Robin and Des, my usual riding buddies, were accompanied by Gavin and his mate Dugald, who I had only ridden with once previously, leaving the milngavie starting point around half past ten that morning.
|Des staring, Robin reaches for the laxative..|
The first 12 or so miles to Drymen were dispatched quick sharp, and after a diversion around conic hill, we arrived in Balmaha in perfect time to grab a break from the drizzle in the oak tree inn, haggis and mozzarella panini was just what I was after. Between Balmaha and Rowardennan, there is some cracking undulating singletrack, with only the odd section proving too much for our fully laden mountain bikes. After rowardennan, the trail becomes a lot more technical, with lots of step ups and downs, and they get higher and more frequent as the trail goes on.
|An unusual break from the drizzle|
There is a section of the way which can make or break a ride, stretching from the inversnaid hotel to just before done bothy at the north end of the loch, and we were aware it was approaching. My intention at leading up to this was to do this section, despite it being a 3 hour plus push and carry, even with an extra 20 kilos on the bike, I was up for it. But, by the time we accelerated past a huge group of MTBers a few miles from inversnaid, I was beginning to wonder.
The last ferry across the loch is 4.30pm, and I made my mind up that I was going to be on it, and I knew I wouldn't get any argument from the boys. We knew in the back of our minds that to carry on along the loch would mean not getting to the campsite at inverarnan around 9pm, and no one wanted to pitch tents, or bivvy tarps, in the dark. The group we had passed had said that they were going for the ferry, but when I pulled up to the jetty, it was obvious that there was no room for ours and their group. Snooze you lose....
|The boat of shame....|
The down side of the ferry is that it heads away in the opposite direction that those tackling the way wish to go, taking us to the marina at tarbet. This meant a 10 mile road ride up the busy, tight and twist A82. Myself, Des and Robin formed a bit of a road train, team sky style, and rolled into the Drovers inn just after 6pm. Needless to say, a beer was most enjoyable. Total distance - 44 miles.
After a reasonably good sleep in the bivvy bag, I awoke to a wee companion - a sizeable frog next to my pillow!
|Soul fully loaded at Beinglas campsite.|
Next morning, after some gruel-like instant porridge, we set off, heading for the bright lights of Tyndrum. The trail starts off quite well, climbing up toward the falls of falloch, but soon turns into another pushing and clambering up and under the main road and railway line. After spinning up the climb of kirk craig, there was a sweet, sweeping descent down through ewich forest, which was even better due to the whooping and cheering of a lady walker who appreciated our efforts!. The spin along the river fillan was pleasant enough, but the by this point we were all looking forward to some deep fried delights at the real food cafe. Battered Stornaway black pudding was devoured, but I was aware that I would be tasting its gaseous remains for the rest of the cycle!.
|Climbing north out of Tyndrum, Beinn dorainn behind.|
|Steeper than it looks!|
|Lots of bike lifting again...|
A belly full of Hebridean blood sausage is not an ideal way to star the long grind out of the town of Tyndrum, but we reached the summit of the section between there and Bridge of Orchy quickly enough, and there was another really good descent, this time a little rockier, down and into the valley, before another slight climb, and then dropping down below the west highland line to the hotel. There seemed to be a lot of building going on behind the hotel, and the waiter proudly informed us that it was some new 'luxury' barn style accommodation, priced at £120 - £180 for a double room. Best of luck with that!....
What followed was a mix a climb up mam carraigh behind the hotel, and then a smashing rocky drop down to inveroran.
Then a right slog up and over the black mount, before descending down toward the kingshouse hotel at the head of Glencoe. All weather reports indicated that we were in for gales and rain that would last the whole night, so we decided to see if there was any of the new hobbit holes available at the Glencoe ski centre. Hurrah! There were 2, ideal. We had been looking forward to the fine ales and log fire of the kingshouse, but it was over 2 miles away, and none of us fancied cycling backup that steep hill with a belly full, so when we heard that the ski centre had a bar that was open til after 10, we decided to take cover in there instead. Just over 30 miles all in.
The view from the ski centre bar is a fantastic vista of an iconic Scottish mountain, buachaille etive mor - the great herdsman of the glen, behind a wood burner and framed by a large window wall. Pity this was spoiled by the only beer being miller or fosters gold. Cooking lager. The bar is ran by a rather eccentric Eastern European couple, the girl being a very friendly girl-with-a-dragon-tattoo-alike, her partner just plain mental!. 'Full suspension bikes are for girls' and laughing creepily whilst telling us we were going to get drenched the following day being some of his more memorable tomes. A real life Borat in a bunnet.
|Glencoe hobbit holes|
That night, we were very glad we had paid the twenty quid each, as it was torrential most of the night, and I for one wouldn't have fancied packing up all that wet gear in the morning. After another bag of slurry, sorry, porridge, we headed down the wee rocky path to the hotel in the rain. I went a bit too quick, overtaking Gavin, the fastest man on two wheels, and paid the price with a puncture. To be fair, this was our first issue of the three days, not bad really.
Torn side wall was repaired with a compede blister plaster, and we were off again along the side of Glencoe, which after the nights rain had turned into a river. I could feel my brake pads wearing down rapidly, with all the water and granite grit, and by the time we were at the top of the devils staircase, I was aware I had no front brake, and the back was close to gone as well, but it was chucking it down and I had no desire to start fitting new pads up there, as it was wild. The descent down toward kinlochleven was something I had been looking forward to for over a fortnight, but with perhaps 30% braking power and an already torn tyre, I took the foot off the gas a bit, which is a shame, as it is a fantastic big, wide rocky monster of a trail. Just means we'll need to go back soon, with the bikes a bit lighter. I changed the pads at kinlochleven, and then had a warming bowl of soup at the ice factor, and despite us leaving the wee lounge like a swimming pool, the wee waiter fella kept smiling.
The climb out of kinlochleven is a straight push up, so we decided to take the longer but more cycleable road up to mamore lodge, where we met a party of soldiers just heading out on a 6 day exercise, but they looked like they didn't have much more kit than us!. A little further on, a small group of the camouflaged squaddies were hiding in behind a sub station, and Dugald inexplicably decided it would be a good idea to ask them to take our picture. The look of disdain on there faces mixed with the silence gave him his answer!.
The view from here over to the Pap of Glencoe is truly stunning, my camera skills can't capture majesty at all.
|Faffing, and it's not Robin!|
The quad track westward and then northward from here is a grand, wide, rocky trail, which gives enough short, sharp climbs to keep the legs honest, and rewards you with some long, fast mile munching, especially when the wind swirled from our faces to assist us along the glen toward Ben Nevis. I've never experienced such a swirling wind, going from 50mph gusts right into our faces, to the complete opposite, bowling us along. Dugald then had the only other puncture of the weekend, before we rolled into Fort William, and the end of our ride. Pizzas and other calorific goodness devoured, we headed to the station for a near 4 hour train journey home, on what must rank as the finest view from any train in the UK. The last day was just over 28 miles, and felt every bit of it.
So, some observations...
With all that added weight, I was astounded how stable the bike was, absolutely ploughs through rocky descents, and the extra weight gives so much more traction on even gravelly climbs.
Everyone always says you carry too much gear on your first multi day trip, which is so true!. I shall take much less in the way of clothing next time.
My plan to cook dehydrated food, like cous cous, in the pour and store bags worked an absolute treat, even the porridge worked well, but instant porridge pales in comparison to the real stuff.
Do not, ever, rely on Scottish weather, even after a 3 week dry spell.
People who drink tennents lager at 8am in a campsite are as annoying as they are thick. And their dogs are worse.
Assos chamois creme, also known as minty arse lard, is worth it's weight in gold.
There was so many more things that came into my head on the trip, as you tend to get quite a lot of solo ride time on these rides, but I've forgotten them, and they probably only made sense to me anyway!. Would I do it again? Probably not, but not because it wasn't good, as there is some awesome riding in the 95 miles, truly there is. No, the reason being I like heading to different places, that's all.