Route and Distance Cycled
Monday 17 July 1995
I left home at 0900 hours in wind and rain but the stretch to Latheron was fairly easy with improving weather. I managed the climb out of Dunbeath without stopping but I had to stop for a rest on the steeper part of the climb out of Berriedale. I stopped for lunch at the Tourist Information car park in Helmsdale in warm sunshine. The road to Brora is generally good but there are some very steep sections. With the temperature rising I decided to stop at Capaldis in Brora for an ice cream.
Between Brora and Golspie I encountered very heavy rain and just after Golspie there was an extremely heavy thunderstorm. As I approached Golspie I met two cyclists travelling fast in the opposite direction. As they passed they advised me to take shelter from the thunderstorm that was chasing them. As I passed the crown of a hill I could see the black clouds approaching and soon after the rain and hailstones hit. The hail was the size of ice cubes and I could see the lightning striking the hills around me. I had to shelter by crouching down against a dry stone wall feeling very exposed.
I arrived at the Trentham Hotel on the A9 near Dornoch at 1700 hours. I had booked a room at the Hotel the day before but from there on I had nothing booked.
I enjoyed a great meal at the hotel and ordered a packed lunch for the next day. The bill for bed, breakfast, evening meal, two beers and a packed lunch was only £33.45; it was excellent.
Tuesday 18 July
After eating a good breakfast I left the hotel at 0945. The weather was partly cloudy but it was dry. Within two hours and after cycling about 20 miles I arrived at Nigg Ferry. The two-car ferry (plus a few passengers) takes about 15 minutes to cross the Cromarty Firth to Cromarty. By this time the clouds had cleared to leave a beautiful sunny day but on the ferry there was a pleasantly cooling breeze. The ferry crossing was £1.50 with the bike free.
I cycled from Cromarty the full length of the Black Isle along its North Coast. The journey was very hot and dry and the road seemed endless. I reached Beauly just as my drinking water ran out but I was able to replenish it with cool bottled water from a shop in the town.
The sky clouded over with occasional light rain in the mid-afternoon but the wind was very light. The road across to Drumnadrochit was very difficult with a long and, at times, steep hill. The last two miles were very steep downhill.
I arrived in Drumnadrochit at 1700 and had difficulty finding accommodation. I eventually booked into a B&B for £30. I went to a nearby Hotel and had a mixed grille for £9 followed by a few beers.
Wednesday 19 July
I left at 0855 in good weather and cycled along the shores of Loch Ness towards Fort William. I arrived at Invergarry feeling tired and hungry but I came across a good café where I had soup and a roll, it was delicious. The rain started just after Invergarry and became extremely heavy about 20 miles from Fort William. I arrived at Fort William in good time at 1530. The heavy traffic was a nuisance. I met many cyclists, in groups, heading in the opposite direction who waved and smiled in spite of the conditions.
I went to the Tourist Information building to book accommodation. After a long wait in a queue of soaked tourists I was offered a room in a private house at £13.50 for b&b. After I had a shower I walked the sodden streets of Fort William and found a hotel restaurant where I had a good evening meal. I have been to Fort William maybe five or six times but each time the weather was exactly like this. Walking back to my accommodation I noticed the streams and rivers were flowing extremely fast.
Thursday 20 July
I left Fort William at 0915 in rain. As the day went on the weather improved but there were still a few showers and low cloud prevented me from seeing much of the beautiful scenery around Loch Linnhe. I crossed the bridge over Loch Leven to North Ballachulish in windy conditions. I saw another lone cyclist crossing the bridge but he took the road to Glen Coe whilst I headed south towards Oban. I stopped at a remote hotel for soup and a roll then continued to Appin, a mountainous region with quite a few peaks over 3000ft.
The road follows the shores of Loch Creran inland but there is a bridge carrying a disused railway line across the loch that is apparently safe for pedestrians. I decided to cycle around the loch. As I did so I passed many tourists stopped at the side of the road using their binoculars or taking photographs of the beautiful scenery. As I passed, many of them waved encouragement.
When I reached North Connel, after cycling 48 miles I spotted a good looking hotel, the Hotel Lochnell, and decided to check it out. I could get a double room for only £22 a night for B&B. There was no comparison with the guest-house at Drumnadrochit. The room had en-suite facilities and offered the chance to wash and dry some clothes. I had a meal in the hotel restaurant and decided that tomorrow I would take a rest day and stay at the hotel for a second night. It is situated on the north shore of Loch Etive that is famed for the Falls of Lora. From my bedroom window I could see the treacherous waters. As the tide comes in there is a strong flow of water inland but when the tide flows out there is a flow in the opposite direction. Its like watching a river flowing in two directions.
Friday 21 July
After breakfast I walked towards Oban. I decided that after cycling 234 miles I would leave the bike at the hotel, rest my backside and spend the day on foot.
The bridge over Loch Etive is single track and the traffic is controlled by traffic lights. I headed toward Oban and came across a farm that sold groceries. I bought apples and an orange drink before continuing on to Oban. The weather was reasonable with only the odd shower. I passed Dunstaffnage Castle that guards the entrance to Loch Etive. When I arrived at Dunbeg I decided to wait for the next bus to Oban. As I disembarked in Oban I noticed an elderly worker from my hotel and he gave me a friendly wave.
Oban, with a population of about seven thousand, is very picturesque. It depends on tourism, fishing and agriculture. The harbour area is busy and there are many interesting shops. I had a full day to explore the offerings of the town and I decided to start in a back street coffee shop. My whole life seems to be dominated by food; but of course there are worse things.
From the coffee shop I walked to the harbour and spent half an hour watching a large ship berthing. I also watched the Craignure ferry, from the Isle of Mull, berth and disgorge many tourists onto mainland Scotland and into the welcoming arms of the many Oban hotel, guest-house and B&B owners.
From the harbour area I looked up to see the famous McCaigs folly. Maybe its not that famous but it is certainly impressive. It seems out of place in this part of Scotland.
There are many stalls on the quayside selling fish. I bought several portions of fresh prawns and enjoyed eating them on a bench overlooking the harbour area. I didnt know it at the time but I was spotted by Robbie Anderson from Dounreay.
I booked a place aboard tomorrows ferry for the short crossing (about 8 miles) to Craignure at £2.80 for myself and £1.00 for my bike.
I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the shops before catching the bus back to North Connel. The old guy from the hotel was on the bus and he asked me if I had enjoyed my day in Oban. He made me feel like I belonged.
I had dinner at the hotel again and enjoyed an evening in the bar reading a book. From Oban, the island of Mull looks impressive with Ben More at 3159ft above sea level. I checked the map for tomorrow and decided to head for Tobermory. I hoped the weather would improve.
Saturday 22 July
The bill at the hotel for dinner, bed and breakfast for two nights was £72.40. The service was good and the quality of the food was excellent. I would recommend the Hotel Lochnell to anyone.
I cycled to Oban and arrived at about 1030 in good time to catch the 1200 ferry to Mull. Before I left Oban I decided to withdraw £100 cash in case I didnt find anywhere to obtain cash in the next few days.
I joined the orderly queue of traffic, along with a few other cyclists, and followed the instructions given by members of the crew. Apart from the little Nigg ferry I had used on Tuesday, this was the first ferry I had been on as a cyclist. The Caledonian MacBrayne ferry was a modern roll-on, roll-off vessel and we started to board as soon as the in-coming passengers had disembarked.
After the motor vehicles had boarded, the cyclists were permitted to embark. There was plenty of room for the bicycles and we had to secure them with ropes to the structural members of the vessel.
I immediately climbed the steps to the top of the ferry to watch as the shore crew released the vessel from the quayside and the powerful engines were allowed to propel us away from dry land.
As we left Oban, my attention was drawn to the busy town. I could see the toy-size traffic moving north and south and climbing the steep hills surrounding the town.
The ferry soon cleared the harbour entrance and made its way to the massive island of Mull.
The journey to Craignure took 40 minutes. The motorised vehicles disembarked first with the cyclists following.
I took the north road to Tobermory and cycled up the eastern coast passing the wonderfully named Fishnish Bay on my way to Salen. I stopped in the village of Salen hoping to buy some food but the two shops were closed for lunch. I decided to wait until 1400 and bought an ice cream and some apples.
The weather was dry, sunny and warm and it was a pleasant journey all the way to Tobermory. After a steep descent to the town I explored the harbour area. It was very picturesque. The sky and sea were blue, the sun was shining strongly and the impression I received was one of peace and tranquillity. The only problem I had was finding accommodation. I decided to take the next ferry out of Tobermory to Kilchoan on the Ardnamurchan peninsula. The western-most point of this peninsula marks the western-most point of mainland Britain at Portuairk.
I checked in at the Kilchoan Hotel where I was charged £27.90 for dinner, bed and breakfast; it was excellent value. The hotel was quite large and comfortable. Most of the other guests in the bar and restaurant were campers from campsites dotted around the peninsula.
Sunday 23 July
I left the Kilchoan Hotel at 1000 and headed for Mallaig in cool blustery conditions with frequent showers (this cannot be July). The first six miles was uphill but at least the wind was behind me. I arrived at another small settlement called Salen and bought a fresh-made and warm, Cornish pasty.
At Loch Moidart I saw five of the beech trees (only four of them still intact) commemorating the Seven Men of Moidart. The trees were planted by local people after the 1745 rebellion to commemorate the seven companions of Bonnie Prince Charlie (one of them English).
I continued cycling north up a long hill. I then made good progress with the wind behind me to Lochailort where I joined the Fort William to Mallaig road, the famous road to the isles.
Conditions now became very difficult with heavy rain, strong headwinds and hilly roads. It was not pleasant. I eventually reached Arisaig where I came upon a small hotel called the Noc-na-faire and decided to stay the night. I was about nine miles short of Mallaig but it was only a short cycle ride to catch the ferry over to Skye in the morning.
Although I was near a beach, the low cloud prevented me from seeing much.
I was charged only £25 for dinner, bed and breakfast.
Monday 24 July
I left the hotel at 0915. It was a beautiful morning with no wind and a cloudless sky. I headed north on a recently modernised road past the shortest river in the UK that joins Loch Morar to the sea, a distance of only a few hundred yards.
I arrived in Mallaig in good time to catch the 1035 ferry to Armadale on Skye. I was charged £2.80 with the bike travelling free. The crossing was fantastic. I could see many offshore islands with steep cliffs. We arrived in Armadale after about 30 minutes.
The island of Skye consists of a number of peninsulas. On this journey I was only cycling to Kyleakin but in the near future I intend to explore more of the island. I cycled to Kyleakin in perfect conditions. When I arrived I got a great view of the almost complete Skye Bridge. Kyleakin is an attractive collection of houses, hotels and shops with a road that seems to be always filled with traffic heading for the ferries that continuously operate between Kyleakin and Kyle of Lochalsh.
I joined the queue and politely allowed the vehicles ahead to get on the small ferry. I quickly realised that I could easily spend the rest of my life in this queue so I just cycled to the front and got on. There was plenty of room for one bicycle. The crossing only took about five minutes. Halfway across we passed the opposite ferry and soon approached the slipway at Kyle of Lochalsh. The two ferries plying their trade across the narrow channel between the Isle of Skye and mainland Scotland created a memorable picture in my mind. I can recall the sound of the powerful engines as they carried holidaymakers and commercial vehicles across the water. I was pleased to find out that foot passengers and bicycles were free.
I entered the first hotel I came upon but I found that it was full. I then went to the Tourist Information Centre and used their accommodation service to book into a hotel or guesthouse. The only local vacancy they had available was back in Kyleakin at the Durringell Hotel. It is an impressive building. The rooms were spotless, the service and food excellent and the price was reasonable. The hotel was unlicensed and there were no televisions. I was told that there was a prayer meeting in the lounge at 1930 so I decided to cycle down into Kyleakin and spend the evening in the first bar I could find.
While I was enjoying a pint a German television station rang the proprietor regarding an ex Nationwide reporter (an old BBC evening news programme) known as the leopard man (due to his head to toe tattoos). He was apparently involved in the rescue of two hill walkers.
A group of oriental tourists entered the bar at 2100 and asked if they could order meals. The barman told them that they would not get a meal anywhere on Skye at this time of night and offered them each a bag of crisps.
The queues for the ferry service stretched back quite a distance long into the evening. The main topic of conversation in the bar was the expected effect of the bridge on life in Kyleakin. Nobody was optimistic and they all expected trade to suffer. I thought Kyleakin would attract visitors whether the bridge was there or not. Time will tell.
I was charged only £30 for bed, breakfast and evening meal.
Tuesday 25 July
It was a beautiful sunny and hot start to the day. I left Kyleakin at about 0915 and crossed to Kyle of Lochalsh aboard an empty ferry. I did not expect to come across many banks between here and Ullapool so I withdrew some cash from a cash machine. I then bought some apples and sandwiches before setting off.
The A87 road had a few short steep sections but it flattened off before I reached the turnoff north along the A890. There is a steep climb up to a car park where I stopped for a break and enjoyed the views back to Kyle. The weather was now hot, sunny and clear. I continued to Loch Carron and after a steep climb near Stromeferry I was rewarded with beautiful views.
As on previous days I saw many low flying jets. As I was climbing the hills my perspiration attracted many flies. There were times when I was surrounded by a swarm of flies that didnt disappear until I achieved a speed of about 13 miles per hour. The road was exceptionally steep in places. On some of the downhill sections I was travelling at about 40 miles per hour.
I eventually reached a restaurant on the northern shore of Loch Carron where I stopped for a drink and a sandwich. The restaurant staff were very helpful and they kindly gave me some water with slices of lemon and ice cubes for my drink bottle. The going was much easier and faster from here on.
I was now on a stretch of quite fast road that climbed higher and higher. Due to the heat my water supply was soon depleted. I had to get water from rivers en route.
From Achnasheen I headed west and after a long hard section I was in even greater need of water. I came across a small gift shop where I stopped and asked if they had any refreshments. The two ladies told me that they didnt have a drop of water on the premises but that Kinlochewe was only a short distance. One of the first buildings I came across was a café where I stopped for a drink and apple pie and cream. It was gorgeous.
It was exceptionally hot at this stage. After a short break I set off towards Gairloch along the shores of Loch Maree. After 9 miles I arrived at Talladale where I came across a nice looking B&B. I was hot, tired and thirsty so it was an easy decision to stay. Dinner, bed and breakfast was £40 but it was by far the best quality yet. The English couple running it insisted on first names and were exceptionally friendly and helpful.
After a hot bath I was given tea. The dinner served at 2000 was also exceptional, the husband was a good chef and the wife was a wine expert. I had marinated prawns with spring onions, celery and apple soup, lamb with kiwi fruit and roasted new potatoes followed by home made ice cream; all washed down with a bucket full of red wine.
There were four other guests, a couple from the English Midlands and an Oriental couple. The water that was served with the meal came from the local burn and looked more like Guiness than water. The Oriental couple complained that it was discoloured and refused to drink it. I dont know why they complained, I drank it and Im perfectly normal.
Coffee was served in an upstairs lounge where I spent a very pleasant evening chatting to my two hosts and the other guests. The lady from the Midlands said that while they were driving along the shores of Loch Carron, they saw a cyclist climbing a steep hill trying to swat a swarm of flies that was making his life difficult. She said it was funny. It was me but I didnt tell her.
The Old Mill Guest House at Talladale, Loch Maree is in a beautiful setting and well worth a visit.
Wednesday 26 July
It was a beautiful sunny day when I left Talladale. The ten-mile cycle to Gairloch was fantastic with some incredible scenery. I saw hardly any traffic the whole way. There were a few hills but nothing too difficult and the views of Loch Maree in the sunshine were worth cycling all this way for.
Gairloch is very picturesque, particularly in good weather.
The road to the north of Gairloch is hilly but the reduction in speed allowed me to appreciate the magnificent scenery. As the road dropped down to Poolewe I saw a fantastic view up the short River Ewe along the length of Loch Maree. I regret not taking a photograph.
I passed Inverewe gardens and continued along Loch Ewe (sea loch). There were exceptional views under the deep blue sky. There were many salmon enclosures in the loch and with the calm sea I could see a lot of fish jumping.
After climbing another steep hill I arrived at Gruinard Bay which was very popular with campers and caravans. I could see little Gruinard Island just offshore and remembered the experiments that were carried out there with the Anthrax spores.
As on previous days flies and clegs were a problem. After some steep climbs and sharp descents I reached Little Loch Broom. From quite a high point the road gradually descended for a few miles to Dundonnell where I got sandwiches and a drink at the hotel.
The climb up along the Dundonnell River was the hardest part of the journey so far. It was very long, steep and hot. I had to take water from the river. The occupants of many of the vehicles waved encouragement as they passed.
The descent to Corrieshalloch Gorge above Loch Broom was welcome. Just before the gorge, I stopped in a lay-by and took a photograph of the view to Loch Broom in the distance. When I returned home, I noticed that the calendar on my kitchen wall had the same image taken from the exact same spot.
I visited the falls at Corrieshalloch and bought an ice cream from a vendor in the car park.
I still had 12 miles to go to Ullapool and it was 1750 hours. The road was mostly downhill but there were still some quite nasty hills. Most of the hotels in Ullapool were full but I eventually found a guesthouse with a vacancy at 1845 hours.
I had food at a nearby hotel then went to a pub and came across a friend and his wife from Halkirk.
The service in all cases in Ullapool was very poor. The whole town has a tacky feel and tourists are endured rather than welcomed. It was such a contrast to Talladale and previous towns.
Today I cycled 70 .55 miles. The straight-line distance from Talladale to Ullapool is only 20 miles. Bed and breakfast for one night was only £13.
Thursday 27 July
As I set off it was another hot, dry and humid day; it was fantastic. To the north of Ullapool there are some very steep but fairly short hills all the way to Ledmore.
I stopped at Elphin, just inside Sutherland, for water and food. There is a good café and a farm showing Highland cattle and other animals.
After Ledmore I arrived at Inchnadamph feeling quite saddle sore. I could see the road ahead climbing steeply between two mountains (Quinag and Glas Bheinn). I hoped that the road that I could see in the distance climbing steeply wasnt on my route but unfortunately it was. The road splits at Skiag Bridge, one going to Lochinver and the other heading up to Durness. At the highest point I saw many people taking advantage of the good weather to dig peat.
I came across a number of other cyclists heading north, all of them foreign.
I managed the climb from Skiag Bridge very well and dropped down to Unapool and Kylestrome.
I left the main road and entered the village of Kylestrome. I soon found Kylestrome Hotel where I had soup and a roll and chatted for a while to two East German cyclists. After a refreshing stop I continued to Scourie. I had to cycle up some very steep but short hills. I came across a male and female cyclist heading north (without luggage unlike me) travelling quite fast. We passed each other a few times before arriving in Scourie.
I checked in at the Scourie Hotel after cycling 46.17 miles and was charged £45 for dinner, bed and breakfast.
The hotel was quite posh. The other guests consisted of southern English tourists and a few couples, most of whom dressed very smartly for dinner. I only had some very creased trousers and a tee shirt.
Friday 28 July
I left the hotel at about 0930 in hot, dry and sunny conditions. The single-track road up to Durness was quiet to begin with but the traffic built up and some of the drivers sounded their horns in frustration as they passed me.
I enjoyed the cycle up to Durness. I got a good view of Foinavon.
Soon after leaving Durness I came across a van selling fish, among other things. I recognised the driver as being the same one who visits Halkirk. I think he is based in Lybster.
The road became very difficult in places. There were many short steep sections dropping down to beautiful beaches then climbing sharply over headlands.
Loch Eribol was fantastic. The weather was excellent but I still felt it was a hell of a long way to cycle around the Loch when I could clearly see my destination across the water. It was less than a mile across the water but it was 13 miles by road. There were many steep sections on the eastern side of the Loch and the climb from Hope over the headland to Tongue was difficult. I was again plagued by flies but as I reached the top it started to rain and they disappeared.
The drop down to Tongue was welcome and I checked in at the Tongue Hotel at 1530 after cycling 58.91 miles. I was charged £28 for a single room for bed and breakfast. After a long soak in the bath I had a bar meal and spent the evening reading in the hotel lounge.
Saturday 29 July
I left Tongue at 0930 in light rain but it soon cleared and the day gradually became sunny and very warm.
I reached Bettyhill by lunchtime and bought food at the roadside store. I got to Isauld by about 1400 and then struggled against a strong headwind to Halkirk. It was very hot and dry and the last few miles seemed endless. As I approached Halkirk I could clearly hear Jim Campbell on the loudspeaker at the Highland Games.
I arrived home after cycling 50.21 miles. The total for the trip was 649.1 miles.