For quite a while now I’ve been conscious that I wanted to put something back into the MBA, and idly thought I’d end up on a work party sooner or later. More recently I realised that maybe now was the time to actually step up and make a full commitment to being a maintenance officer, so I’ve been scanning the quarterly newsletters to see what posts were being advertised. Not having a car is quite a restriction – strapping a bag of cement to the bike rack is hardly a practical reality – but in December I saw that the position at Dibidil on the south coast of Rum was available, and in a moment of unnerving clarity thought this was the opportunity I was waiting for. No need for a motor when there is barely a kilometre of publicly accessible track on the island. An email exchange with the organisation confirmed that the post was still free, the only seemingly straight forward stipulation was attendance at the next area meeting. No problem I enthused I’ll be there.
Inevitably, there was a snag to proceedings because when I hastily opened the spring issue of the newsletter, the agreed location of the gathering was at Suardalan bothy, south of Shiel Bridge. I winced thinking about the logistics, as not only would this mean coming in from the west to avoid a hideous cycle along the stretch of the A87 from Invergarry, but there was also the small matter of the Mam Ratagan pass to negotiate, if I came in from Plockton or Kyle of Lochlash. This classic cycling test piece tops out at a hard earned 388m, and although I’d sweated up it three years ago while staying at Letterfearn, that was without the dead weight of my panniers.
Later that evening, having looked at the Scotrail timetable and taken account of the rather expensive advance fare prices, I hit upon a cunning plan. The alternative to the Mam Ratagan is heading over to Glenelg via the Kylerhea ferry, so I thought with a couple of extra days in hand I could take the Mallaig train and cycle through Skye, taking in a couple of bothy visits on the way. I wanted to get a shot of the train from Essan bothy between Glenfinnan and Lochailort, and also visit the recently openly new build at Camasunary. Done.
The reality was a hit and miss tale of happiness and woe, though this is of course, what I have come to expect. After a partially successful afternoon shoot, I slept in and missed the first train out to Mallaig. Not too much of a problem as I had already steeled myself for the cycle, though it did add twenty miles to my day. More frustratingly three sailings over to Armadale were cancelled due to unusually low neap tides, so I didn’t start off up the Sleat peninsula until after four. The rain had predictably set in by then, and I only got to Camasunary just before dark, replaying the decision to just turn over and have a snooze twelve hours earlier, as I slogged up the final step stretch on the north side of Loch Slappin. After a welcome morning chat with a laid back German guy walking the Skye Trail, I took some brooding shots of the Cuillin, and very efficiently made my way back to Broadford with plenty of time to spare. Here I took a closer inspection of the map and with typical blindness to elevation, realised that the pass over Glen Arroch and down to Kyle Rhea was only 50m lower than the Mam Ratagan! Psyched I took on the challenge in reasonable style, and even had an hour in hand to pop round to Glen Beag and take a couple of pictures of Dun Telve, an impressive broch which has withstood the passage of 3000 years since it was built in the Neolithic. A quick half in the Glenelg Inn and it was on to Suardalan and the Area Meeting, where I passed the secretive initiation and now have the proud title of probationary joint maintenance officer of Dibidil, Rum. I’m sharing my duties until I get an official hand over, and my new associate Dave gave me a very gratefully received lift back to Spean Bridge, thus avoiding the fearsome looking ascent back over to Broadford and on to the Mallaig ferry. Happy to put my feet up yesterday…