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Scotland: Coast to Coast

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Here are some images and thoughts from a 'holiday' in Scotland. The trip was the 'Coast to Coast' tour as invented and operated by Wildcat Bike Tours. It basically involved cycling from the Atlantic Ocean on the west coast to the North Sea on the east, taking in lots of mud, mountains and some of the most stunning scenery to be found.

The tour started at the Wildcat office in Stirling at 1pm on a Saturday. Unfortunately, I had to get the train up there and there was no chance of getting from London to Stirling by lunchtime! So I went up on Friday and stayed over in a rather unusual B&B, XI Victoria Square.

The room I had was made up as per a design by Charles Rennie Mackintosh! As you can see, it was very well done.
And Stirling Jail could be seen from the balcony.
Whilst in Stirling, I had to go see the castle. The guided tour is definitely worth doing. Having been the seat of power in Scotland for quite a lot of its past, Stirling has a fair bit of interesting history to be discovered. And that's before you get to all the battles which were fought in the surrounding area!
As seen from the car park.
Time for a feast?
Unfortunately, I didn't have time to stay for the bird show.
It looked like being quite impressive though.
The view northward.
Looking east to the Wallace Monument

After the castle, it was time to head off to the Wildcat office to find out what the week had in store and who it would be shared with. As it turned out, there were six of us on the trip, four guys, two gals. And a very diverse bunch we were too - one had taken up cycling six months ago, one had his 66th birthday that week and one had broken his thumb a few days before and couldn't ride! All complete strangers but all friendly and just looking to enjoy ourselves.

To lead us onward in our Great Scottish Adventure, there were two guides. John, who owned and ran the company, and Bridgette. Plus a minibus with trailer to cart our luggage and bikes around. The basic idea being that we would ride from one B&B to the next B&B heading east. Either John or Bridgette would be leading us from the saddle, while the other went on ahead in the minibus carrying all our luggage for us.

After the introductions were made, our gear was stowed and off we went. Heading north-west up to Invergarry where we stayed the night.

The next morning, we set off bright and early for Kinloch Hourn, a sea loch on the Atlantic Coast where our little adventure began. The minibus let us off at the end of Loch Quoich and we rode down the hill to Kinloch Hourn.
Meanwhile, Mike (the one with the broken thumb) set off walking up, around and over the north side of Kinloch Hourn. Fortunately, he was no stranger to orienteering. So each day, John would mark out a suitable walking route on a map and set Mike going. Generally, he would walk the more interesting bits of our day's ride and we'd sometimes bump into him somewhere in the middle.

Back on the bikes, we realised that hurtling down the hill meant that we had to ride back up the rather long, steep stretch of tarmac to start our journey eastward. But the weather was okay and the climb certainly warmed us up.

After that it was a nice easy ride along the shore of Loch Quoich, enjoying the scenery and the fresh air. We stopped at a pub along the way for lunch.

Then it was off through the countryside again finishing with a great bit of single track. A mountain biking term for a dirt trail barely a foot wide if you're lucky, and probably overgrown with bushes, dotted with fallen trees and liable to run into a bog or stream at any point :-).

That brought us back to the B&B in Invergarry where we cleaned up before going down to the local pub for dinner and a few drinks. Of course, what they didn't tell us was that the walk back from the pub was along an unlit road with no moon or stars to guide our drunken path!

The next morning we set of from Invergarry to join the Great Glen Cycle Route.

Looking down from the south ridge of the end of Glen Garry. Below us is Loch Oich and in the distance, Loch Ness is just about visible.

From there it was a leisurely ride along the side of Loch Lochy (imaginative name!). Enjoying the gorgeous sunny day and watching the ships go past.

One of the many lovely little spots we passed en route. We took a brief interlude when we reached Fort William - the sports shop at the end of town has a little cafe which serves pretty good hot chocolate and muffins :-).

Then it was off again riding around the forests at the foot of Ben Nevis before heading back north again...

To Spean Bridge where we crashed out for the night. This B&B had birdies in the garden and views of Ben Nevis out of the bedroom window.

Leaving Spean Bridge the next morning was probably the worst part of the trip (for me at least). By this point my knees were starting to feel the 65 miles we'd ridden. The weather was dull and damp. And it was a long, uphill slog along the road, trying not to be squished by the coaches and lorries zooming past us :-(.

A bit of a dull day.
The view from Laggan Dam.
A midge infested lay by.

Once we reached Laggan Dam, the going wasn't so bad. At least we were getting interesting scenery again. And when we stopped for a rest and to prepare lunch at lay by between the reservoir and Loch Laggan, things were definitely looking up (including the midge count!).

Then it was off the tarmac and following a trail around Binnein Shuas (which John apparently once camped on the side of to get away from the midges!).

It's picnic time!
By the time we reached the southern end of Lochan na h-Earbe, the sun was out and I was thoroughly enjoying myself again. And what a gorgeous little sandy beach it was on the shore.

We parked up for lunch, and then just sat and chatted for a good three quarters of an hour. That place alone made the whole morning worth enduring!

Another guest arriving
Looking back.
Smile!

When we finally got moving, it was along the loch shore following a fairly rough track. Good fun, but made it difficult to watch the scenery going past!

After that, it was off into the forest for more rocky mayhem, including a long, fast descent to Ardverikie Castle (anyone recognise it?).

To finish off, we had a brisk trot along the tarmac to Kingussie. There we had to split up as the main B&B was busy. So some of us (myself included) stayed a little further down the road. A nice enough place but I was in the attic and had to be careful not to clunk my head on the sloped ceiling!

We all met up again for dinner though. And wow but it was a good spread - three course meal plus whisky to finish :-). The chef at Arden House really knows how to cook.

Next morning, we had a little excursion to the Ruthven Barracks just outside of town (although we cheated and took the minibus!).

Then it was heading off on our bikes out of Kingussie heading north east. I not sure exactly where we went (or even if all the trails we used were large enough to be listed on any maps!). Wherever it was, I do know it was immensely good fun - lots of forest tracks, mud, heather, splashing through streams and generally doing the whole cross country thing in what can only be described as true Scottish Highland wilderness :-).

At some point, we stopped at the local visitor's centre for a rest and a bite to eat. There were a couple of bird feeders hung outside and they were swarming with winged things (can you tell I'm no ornithologist!).

The fourth night, we were spread across three B&B's in Tomintoul. Two of which were farms with the B&B added on the side. This again meant walk a home in the dark after dinner in town. But when we first arrived the lady of the house offered us freshly baked scones and biscuits with a hot cup of tea (which was just wonderful after a soggy day of stream hopping). So we can't complain :-).

The mountain biker's morning ritual:

Making sure that all the bits are still attached. And that the parts that are meant to move still do and that parts which aren't still don't!

And then it was right back into the wilderness. Annoyingly, we had to fight a head wind all the way up this glen - you're not supposed to have to pedal just to go down a slope! But when the scenery is this good, who cares!
We found a nice sheltered spot between two ridges for lunch. By which time it was single track heather hopping and we were having too much fun avoiding the bogs, mud traps, rocks and similar to notice any wind :-).

After lunch, we were offered a choice of a nice easy route or a killer climb. Of course picked the latter. There was some promise about a really good descent on the other side you see. It was delivered too :-). Although we were nearly lost in the clouds at the top of the ridge!

By the time we hit Balleter, we'd done two days of riding through almost nothing but streams, bogs, 'crocodile' mud traps and I don't want to know what other varieties of gunk and gunge! So the bikes were in need of a good hosing down.

Ballater itself was easily the largest town we stayed in yet. Not only did we all fit in the huge B&B (including a bunch of Americans on the wussy road version of the tour :), but it even had a gothic church, a town square and (most importantly) multiple pubs!

Stood at the foot of Mount Keen, admiring the view and worrying about the climb!

Halfway up, it's a good view but I'm wondering if I'm going to be dead by the time we reach the top! The trail was just so steep and so rough that it was truly impossible to ride past the first few feet and we had to push our bikes all the way :-(.

Except for Super Bridgette, who just shouldered her bike at the bottom and marched all the way up as if it were a Sunday stroll in the park! Titanium frame or not, that was impressive.

It was a stunning view from the top. We could see for miles.

The proof we were up there - the gang sheltering in a grouse butt from the minor gale blowing across the ridge. With the summit before us.

Of course, once you reach the top, the only place to go is down. In this particular case, 1500ft vertically and not a whole lot horizontally :-). It was however a little rough as can be seen. The longest, fastest bone shaker I've ever been on. Wow, but it was fun :-))).

All too soon, we had reached the bottom (I topped out at 33˝mph - I was taking it slow 'cos of the rough terrain and two foot high banks :-). From where it was a nice easy ride to a car park a couple of miles away. One of the oddities we passed en-route was the Queen's Well.

Although when we got to the car park, the minibus wasn't there to meet us. John reckoned we would have taken another hour to get there! We were quite happy to just crash out on the grass and enjoy the countryside though.

After checking in with the minibus, there was the standard five to ten miles of scenic tarmac to get to the night's accommodation. This time in Edzell, another town with impressive and curious bits of architecture.

Edzell was also another hotel rather than a humble B&B. Nothing but the best would do for the last night's festivities. We weren't the only party that night either - there was a joint 21st & 18th in the main room and a wedding down the road!

Next morning it was off through the arch for a nice easy tarmac run to take us to the coast. We were given an estimate of around an hour, so of course, we did it in 55 minutes :-). All too soon we hit Montrose, came around a sand dune and suddenly there it was. The North Sea, Scotland's east coast...

The End.

Tired but happy, we had made it. Across 240 miles of the Scottish highlands, much of it off-road. Spending 21 hours in the saddle spread across six days. Luckily, the rain had managed to pass us (but not the wind!). We had ridden over some seriously fun single track. And ridden through some of the most astounding countryside in the UK. A random assortment of strangers at the beginning, a posse of good friends at the end. All in all, a really great holiday (even if I could have done with another week off work to recover from it!).

After dipping our fingers in the North Sea at Montrose, we loaded the bikes back on to the minibus and Bridgette drove us back to Stirling. A few of us were staying over night (to catch trains and planes in the morning) so we went out for a meal and far too many drinks down the 'Droothy Neebor' :-)


I still had the next morning to waste as my train wasn't until early afternoon. So I did a bit more sight seeing. Unfortunately, the rain we had been missing all week finally caught up (which ever one of us was a weather god, it wasn't me!).

Stirling Bridge. Site of the battle in which William Wallace routed the English through good tactics and English stupidity!

The Wallace Monument, erected by the people of Scotland to commemorate one of their greatest heroes. It is a fairly large tower standing on a fairly large outcrop of rock. So after climbing the two or three hundred narrow winding steps, you get a pretty good view of the area.

Stirling and its rain from the Wallace Monument...

Each floor inside the tower has an exhibition on it. One is of Wallace himself - who he was and what he achieved. The second is a Scottish heroes hall of fame, the third a wall to wall map of what you can see from the top. The Wallace exhibition also includes his huge sword - five foot long including the hilt. The man himself must have been pretty hefty to wield that thing!

Looking up at the monument and the statue of Wallace from just outside.
And what Scottish memorial would be complete with a thistle!

And that concludes my Great Scottish Adventure of 2002. I hope that you enjoyed it 'cos I most certainly did :-).

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