Category Archives: pedal to the metal

the final push

In the focused tunnel vision of the last few weeks I’ve had little time to do much more than eat, sleep and write in a metronomic rhythm which has finally paid dividends. The precious manuscript has been sent off for copy editing, and I’ve just been out for the last ten days tying up a few loose ends. Well a lot of loose ends as it turned out. The list of bothies that needed revisiting grew as I realised how much fact checking I needed, and there were a couple of last minute photo shoots which had been put off, the headliner, visiting the Eagle’s Nest at Mangarstadh on the west coast of Lewis . And again, with the time pressure so tight there was no other option than to hire a car, stick the bike in the back, and bullet up the A9.

First stop Hutchinson, with a quick nod to Bob Scott’s as I cycled by, and then onto the Fords of Avon. Bike parked at Derry Lodge, but following a recent theme, its straight forward to cycle – to the Hutchie at least – with a few obstacles to negotiate. Then it was on to north west, where I had planned to walk in to Craig or Coire Fionnaraich but in the end decide to car camp at the free site by the Youth Hostel in Torridon. Its so easy! Popped into Leckie and Lochivroan the next day (both have a little side entry), and then I had to get my head around the most luxurious overnight of the whole damn business of the book, a single room in the Ceilidh Place in Ullapool. Alleluia for my finishing milestone advance! I got quite emotional thinking about how much effort has gone into the project, very much aware that at an earlier stage I’d have been cooking noodles on the campsite, and cycling across Lewis over three or four days. But hey, I knew I deserved a treat, and the Cullen Skink was superb!

There wasn’t any time to really soak up any sense of the intangible Hebredian magic on the schedule, a blustery night in the bothy was shaken off by a quick morning stroll along the strand at Traigh Uige, and there was just enough leeway for a quiet moment at Callanish before heading back to Stornoway. I felt a twinge of regret that I couldn’t contribute to the survivor stories of a battered troop of cyclists that had made it over moors from Tarbet, but in my heart of hearts I knew I would just have cried battling across the island in the merciless westerlies of the day before, thankful that for once I could just motor through it.

The next leg was the real meat in the sandwich, four days fact checking round the bothies of a loose Highland 500, retracing the route of my first cycle trip in the blog back in June 2012. Vivid memories flooded back as flattened the humps and bumps that seemed so epic at the time, I hardly blinked as I reached the bealach under Quinag which had been one almighty effort four summers before, and the steep us and downs before Scourie and after Laxford Bridge passed in an unremarkable blur. Glendhu, Suileag, Strabeg, Achnanclach and The Schoolhouse all received a visit, and the final stop on the loop was one night at Shenavall, walking in with the standard 10 kgs of coal, red wine and a couple of celebratory beers.

Only one more objective left before heading home, finding out what is going on at Ruigh Aiteachain. After crashing with master photographer Paul in Inverness, I made it to Auchlean before nine hoping for some seductive morning light, but the clouds rolled in and I was left with the prosiac task of tip toeing past the eroded moraine undercut by the Feshie in last years biblical floods, and a quick natter with two stone masons on site at the bothy. The north side extension is slowly taking shape, but the guys bemoaned the late start to the build, and thought it wouldn’t be finished before next summer….

the running order in sequence…

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Bob Scott’s

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Hutchie

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view back to Coire Etchachan

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Ford of Avon – my last Scottish MBA… counts as a refuge before anyone takes umbrage about last December’s final  bothy outing…

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Leckie

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an old school bothy with fixtures still intact

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Lochivroan: last bothy visit for the book

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posh but not posh

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Eagle’s Nest, Mangurstadh, Lewis

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first look inside

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cosy

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five steps from the door

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blowy morning

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bright and early into Suileag

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the bothy

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view over to Suilven

The Scottish Bothy Bible

pony track into Glendhu

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bike and bothy

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Strabeg

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I have an out of focus shot of this sink from the first cycle tour in 2012 so had to return (well sort of )

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Achnanclach

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The Schoolhouse

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with classroom

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a no brainer…equation courtesy of Phillip who I met in Inchnandamph and mined for information about his journey north on the Cape Wrath Trail…thanks mate!

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feeling confident that the plan was coming together

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a night in Shenavall

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happy hangout

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a very lucky shot of Shenavall, though I was out for 45 minutes before the sun finally fell over the bothy roof…

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trying not to look like a psycho on the walk out

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impressive erosion on the path into Ruigh Aiteachain

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another fluvial assault course

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stone masons at the bothy fearful for the first frost

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time’s pressing


Hoping to start writing in earnest this week, and have spent some considerable time assessing what I have left to do my publishing deadline at the end of September. A lot of words certainly, but also a few trips which I have to shoehorn in somewhere. I’ve still got to get to Orkney and Lewis, plus a few more outliers, and realised that I’ve days of time rich travel are over for the moment. The solution? Car hire. Now I know this breaks the guiding philosophy of the blog but needs must, and in my defence, it is the first time in however long that I’ve personally resorted to the evil combustion engine. Even so, scrabbling the money together has not been without its stresses, but this is the culmination of all my endeavours, and I’m not about to blow the time-frame I’ve sign up to just on the point of principle.

So to the weekend past. I’d been invited to a house warming at Cuil Bay, off the Oban road from Ballachulish which would in now circumstances involve a train to Connel Bridge, and then a cycle up the fantastic Sustrans Route 78, part of the Caledonian Way. But with a car as a option, my mind started racing. How much could I squeeze in over the course of 48 hours? Where had I got to get to? Jez this is just so easy! I calmed down after a breathless half an hour, and settled for Doune Byre, Carron, and Taigh Seumas a’Ghlinne in Glen Duror. Neat as it was so close to the party.  And if I had time a visit to a well kept place with a yellow door, which I had agreed with its maintenance crew wouldn’t be an entry in the book. Still ambitious, because I needed to check out three of the routes into Carron, but still doable.

In the end Saturday turned out to be quite a crazy day. Too embarrassed to say quite how I ended up fifteen feet above some tree stumps in the plantation east of Carron, balancing precariously on a windblown conifer trunk, I got the photos in the bag, and made it round to Meoble and Kilraus to suss out the walk in’s to the north and south. Earlier in the day Doune Byre had proved a breeze, though another ‘not suitable for cycling’ like its sister bothy Rowchoich. Parked up after less than 500 yards having learnt my lesson a fortnight ago. Taigh Seumas a’Ghlinne was saved til Sunday morning, and a second excursion up beyond The Bill to took up most of the afternoon.

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Doune Byre

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view south down Loch Lomondside

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shade at Carron Bothy

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quick nip up to Taigh Seumas a’Ghlinne

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up to Glen Sulaig before returning home…