Day 10: Loch Lochy to Evanton – approx. 58 miles

Day 10 - Loch Lochy to Brora

A shorter day today – bit merciful as we have one of the big climbs up the ‘Drum’ to complete however this creates a longer run tomorrow. Im looking forward to the long ride along the banks of Loch Ness today and seeing the locks of the Caledonian Canal.  Its officially the furthest North I’ve been in Scotland and Castle Urquart is apparently well worth seeing against the Loch.

Hopefully the banks of Ness should be a comfortable start before we hit one of the notable climbs of the whole tour.  We’ll heading up the Drum (Drumnadrochit, no I don’t know how it’s pronounced either) after the first tea stop.  Most reports state its as hard as the big climb on day 2 up to Dartmoor however the views are apparently worth it!

Discover Adventure website here

Wednesday 20th June – Day Nine

What an amazing day! Never seen any thing so lovely…I’ve never been to the highlands before and it was fabulous!

Here is a picture of me at the start – I’m wearing a Elliot Wood cycling shirt – some lovely friends of mine and a very generous sponsor. See their website here, if you need a top structural engineering solution these are the boys for you!

The day was low cloud but the wind was blowing and we set off in beautiful fresh weather.

Heartbreak hill turned out to be more ‘She-stood-me-up-outside-the-Knutsford-Civic-Hall-but-I-didn’t-like-her-very-much-anyway-slope…it was a worrying start but the gradient settled down and it was a lovely gentle climb up to views over the glen (the low cloud got blown away but Lordy it was cold, you could see your breath on the air and I was wearing what I would normally wear in October..

On the other side we had amazing views of Ben Cruachan. I had seen this last year when James, Fergy, Chris and I had climbed from Loch Awe to Inveraray. Ben Cruachan is a looming mountain with a dam that provides hydro electric power.

Of greater interest is the position Ben Cruachan provides as a symbol of the Campbell homelands…

“Cruachan!”

is the battle cry of the Campbells – the mountain dominates their birthplace.

Ben Cruachan is a very striking mountain which is even more impressive when you realise they hollowed it out to create a turbine hall for the hydroelectric power station powered by the Cruachan Dam.  Thirty-six men died in its construction (fifteen when the roof of the turbine hall roof collapsed) – unthinkable today.

Shock and awe – it was Loch Awe! Stunning!

We stopped for a cup of tea at the visitor centre (tea is awesome! It powers good cycling…) It was also time to mark another century off – 700 miles!we are getting close to the end…

The scenery changed all the time, fantastic mountains, fast straight Loch side roads…the riding was easy and the weather was dry…we were very lucky with the views we had and the marvellous changing scenery without getting wet.

We rolled over the Connell bridge – just lovely. We saw highland cattle! After a water stop pushed on towards Fort William.

We took the Cycle path and had a fantastic view of castle Stalker – dates back to 1200s and is typical of a sea castle created because land routes were few and far between. Very Game of Thrones…

We did not get a chance to detour to Glencoe – we had 90 odd miles to go today and the extra time was just not available, a fact I’m now rather glad of.

It is the location of an infamous massacre of men women and children of Clan MacDonald in 1692 by the Campbells.  The Campbells behaved particularly badly by betraying the tradition of highland hospitality.  Thirty-eight men were killed by soldiers billeted amongst the clan, and another forty women and children died of exposure after their houses were burned down in the middle of winter (the shame of it!).

Regardless of its sad history and being most famous for the massacre there, Glencoe is said to be one of the most stunning pieces of scenery in the highlands. Our route and timetable just didn’t allow us the opportunity to visit so definitely one to stick on the bucket list for the future.

(Glencoe above, not my picture!)

We stopped outside Fort William for lunch but were delayed – incidents and logistics! It actually let the rain pass over, we were very lucky!

We stopped at Fort William to pick up wine – no bar at tonight’s accommodation.

Ben Nevis dominates Fort William but to get a good view you need to pass through and look back, truly stunning! Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the UK. Its 4,411 ft above sea level.

The summit is actually the collapsed dome of an ancient volcano. Apparently, there is fog on the summit 55% of the time this time of the year – true from my views of it!

In 2006 a piano was discovered buried on the summit…its believed that it was carried up as a charity stunt by removal men from Dundee in the 1980’s (those crazy Dundonians!).

Fort William is the second largest town in the Highlands, Inverness (where the virgins came down from) is the largest.

Fort William is named firstly after William of Orange who ordered the original fort to be built to pacify the Clans and then after William Duke of Cumberland. The Duke was also known as ‘Butcher Cumberland’ (they occasionally suggest changing the name of the town because he was a rank bad hat).

Close by is the Glenfinnan Viaduct which is famous as the Harry Potter viaduct – featuring in the films.  Sadly our route does not take us past it…

(Again not my photo!)

We did pass the Ben Nevis distillery though…it’s one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland…we didn’t stop in, we are off to Dalmore tomorrow.

We had a great route out of Fort William…over the Caledonian Canal and up the valley overlooking the Great Glen and the canal – just beautiful!

The waterstop was by the canal and was awesome! We did not tarry long, it had been a long day and the hostel was close… on route however was the commando memorial.

The commando memorial is a mile north of Spean Bridge village and overlooks the training areas of the WEII Commandos.

The Commando Training Depot was established in 1942 at Achnacarry Castle.  The statue is 17 feet high made of bronze and listed. It’s a famous tourist destination but when you see it there you see why.

It stands overlooking the wild highlands and you get a sense of how hard the training was to become a WWII commando, even in summer the landscape dominates all.

The site was chosen because it was on the route from Spean Bridge railway station to Achnacarry Castle.  Prospective Commandos would disembark after a 14 hour rail journey, load their kit bags onto waiting trucks and then have to speed march the seven miles to the castle in full kit which weighed thirty six pounds.  Anyone not completing this feat in 60 minutes were immediately failed and returned to their unit (they were hard men in those days).

It wa then a fast and easy descent to Laggan…

Laggan’s main claim to fame is that the TV show Monarch of the Glen was filmed here.

The ‘battle of the shirts’ was fought at Laggan between Clan Macdonald and Clan Fraser assisted by the Cameron’s and the Grants respectively (pick a side!). It was 500 Macdonald’s versus 300 Frazer’s with only eight Macdonalds and five Frazer’s surviving! Not sure who could claim to win that battle (the Macdonald’s did).

Traditionally the name of the battle is said to have come about because the day was so hot that the boys threw off their tartan plaids and fought in their shirts (jumpers for goalposts?) It’s probably more likely a mistranslation of the Gaelic and should be titled the Battle of the Swampy meadow.

Apparently the Chiefship of the Macdonalds was in dispute and this, coupled with what Angus said about Morag at Christmas led to the battle and the death of nearly 800 men…

Laggan is at one end of Loch Lochy (not to be confused with Loch Loch which is elsewhere and named by someone with real imagination!). Loch Lochy is the third deepest Loch in Scotland.

Folklore tales mention ‘a supernatural being’ called the River Horse (affectionately christened Lizzie) which was said to emerge from the lake and assume a horse’s shape before feeding on the loch’s banks.

The River Horse was also known as the Lord Of The Lake and the Water King and would overturn boats and ‘entice mares from their pastures’. Spooky!

Accommodation was in the Great Glen Hostel…a bit of a change from the Loch Fyne Hotel. DA did a blinder of a meal (however curry was a brave choice when all were sleeping in rooms of six middle aged men in bunk beds…)

L’Outil D’Or was won by Maurice and William who took three goes to find the road out of Inveraray… mind you I took two goes and I’d been there before!

The glasses of awesomeness were won by Jono who entertained us at the lunch stop with his fabulous piano talent…

A great day…sadly the trip draws to a close….


Enjoying the blog?  Please take time out and sponsor us!  Maurice and I are riding in support of Fresh Start – new beginnings, a treatment service for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  My just giving page can be found here and all donations go straight to the charity (my ride is 100% self funded).

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Day 9: Inveraray to Loch Lochy – approx. 95 miles

Day 9 - Inveraray to Loch Lochy

Today is all about the Campbells as we start riding through traditionally Campbell country from Inveraray (home of Duke of Argyll, Chief of Clan Campbell).  The day starts with a memorable category 3 climb up and over to Loch Awe and Claddich.  Last year we had a wonderful day cycling around the Mull of Kintyre in glorious sunshine which ended after 80 miles with a long descent into Inveraray, spoilt only by the weather turning very wet.  We have to climb that first thing (not looking forward to it) and I’m hoping the weather will be kinder…

I’m also hoping to do a minor detour to see Glencoe – not the most politic place to be as a Campbell so I may need an appropriate pseudonym…

campbells-sign

 

We also pass Ben Cruachan, ‘Cruachan!’ is the Campbells war cry so I expect to be inspired as we push onto Ben Nevis past Glencoe.  My Uncle’s farm in New Zealand is named Cruachan – I have very fond memories of my visit there so always feel good when I see the Mountain.

The sights don’t stop as we also pass Spean Bridge with its famous Command memorial.

 

Discover Adventure website here

The Ballad of Inveraray Gaol

“I never travel without Jim Campbell’s blog. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.” – (appropriate apologies to Oscar Wilde)

Inveraray Jail was built in 1819 and was a courthouse and prison which was used from 1820 to 1889. It had a capacity of 12 prisoners who were not allowed to fraternise, the idea that they could reflect upon their crimes in solitary conditions.

Apparently it’s now a very jolly living museum with actors acting out the trials and lives of the prisoners that were incarcerated there…

Shame we don’t have longer to be able to visit!

Tuesday 19th June – Day Eight

We started from Kilmarnock fairly early today, although the day was a bit shorter it was still 80 miles and rain was forecast for the afternoon. It was warm in the Car Park of the Park Hotel (very spiffy hotel next to the footy ground) but I was not fooled, was going to be a chilly day.

We had haggis on toast for breakfast which was great – very lovely!l

As I said I had looked at the temperatures for today (which were decidedly cool) and went for long trousers, undershirt, thermal winter shirt, gilet and full finger gloves…and I was not wrong, it was decidedly chilly once you you’ll out of the shelter of the car park and rode into the wind towards the coast.

Some of the more optimistic brethren were riding shorts and shirts with no under layers – brrrr! Not for me!

Almost immediately we rode through the 600 miles milestone! Some clever artwork was called for…

Joe had been promised ice cream yesterday and had been bitterly disappointed by the fact that the water stop was billed as an ice cream parlour but actually was on the A76 in a lay-by with views across the field of the ice cream place!

The first rest stop today was next to a famous ice cream parlour which hopefully allowed her to scratch that itch!

After a bit of riding we reached the coast at Ardrossan and we turned up the road to Lairgs with the sea to our right and the wind a manageable cross wind – much more preferable to yesterday.

The ride up the coast was great! We had lovely views of Arran to our left, although it was a bit misty you had a real sense the landscape was finally changing to the spectacular.

We regrouped at Lairgs, the ferry terminal was apparently windswept and cold and not a good place to wait! (Mind you Phil the organiser was dressed in t shirt shorts and flip flops, no wonder he was cold! Get some clothes on!)

There were some jolly photo ops at Lairgs…

Phil eventually allowed the first group of ten cyclists to head up to the ferry terminal, we had to cross in groups of about ten, and we all enjoyed the Callimac experience.

Simon Fisher is on our ride and we believe this is just a pseudonym – he’s clearly Phill Tuffnall!

I took the opportunity to have a couple of protein shots…

Then a few pics while we crossed the loch…

Mark Haggerty is too tall!

We rolled off the other side and the change in pace and scenery was fantastic! Quiet roads, beautiful tree lined riding on sheltered roads – all was amazing, suddenly we felt like we were in Scotland!

Sadly we didn’t get to see Dunoon, it’s a well known place for most Glaswegians and has a memorial to the Dunoon Massacre that I would have liked to see (it was unfortunately a three mile detour and we were close to lunch).

The history of Dunoon is dominated by two Clans – Clan Campbell and Clan Lamont. The Earls of Argyll (Campbells) were hereditary keepers of Dunoon Castle paying the exorbitant rent of a single red rose to the sovereign annually.

In 1646 Clan Campbell massacred members of Clan Lamont in the Dunoon massacre.

The Campbells seem to make a habit of massacring people and I’m not sure I approve – we will pass Glencoe in a few days and that is another shameful family incident!  Will have to keep my head down and my identity quiet.

Dunoon used to be a destination of the Clyde steamers which brought Glaswegian holidaymakers to Dunoon – a journey known as going:

“doon the watter”

Billy Connolly once said:

“…there was a competition in a Glasgow newspaper, the first prize was a week in Dunoon, and the second prize was a fortnight in Dunoon.”

The Rev Dr Donald Currie Caskie was a notable Dunoon denizen.  During WWII he helped an estimated 2,000 Allied sailor’s soldiers and airmen escape from Occupied France.  He became known as the Tartan Pimpernel (what a top fellow).

All I know was that the riding was good, the weather clement and everyone relaxed after the previous stressful day.

Lunch (as usual very awesome, tomato soup and munificent spread provided by Ed and Larcen) was great and served in a barn in the Botanical gardens. Forecast was threatening rain but all kept dry and we rolled along the banks of Loch Fyne with stunning views over the water.

Interestingly at one point we were two kilometres from our hotel however this would have involved swimming the Loch! It was a 32km ride around the loch to get there…we chalked this fact on the road to advise the others!

James and I had promised ourselves we would have some oysters when we arrived at Inveraray, so we stopped at Loch Fyne where, with views of the Loch, a half doz n each was the order of the day…

They were awesome!!! Delicious, I know oysters generally only taste of what you pop on them but they were really nice. We were going to have a glass of fizzy wine with them but sadly eating oysters in the restaurant, which was licensed, was a lot more…so a glass of lemonade and oysters in the deli was what happened…it’s two feet from the posh bit!

He is enjoying them honest!

We then finished the last 8 miles into Inveraray, rain was due and we timed it perfectly arriving just as the rain started.

Inveraray means the ‘Mouth of the Aray’ (imaginative!). It’s the ancestral home of the Duke of Argyl who is the head of Clan Campbell. I’d normally be delighted about this but having read up about the Dunoon and Glencoe Massacres I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable with the Campbell Clan history.

The town’s motto is (bizarrely):

 ‘May a herring always hang to thee’.

The castles a bit special, it’s really a big Georgian Mansion House and played host to Queen Victoria and other Royalty.  It looks just like a Scottish castle should with the beautiful circular turrets topped with conical slate roofs. There is a fabulous view of it as you cycle over the bridge before you arrive in town.

The Duke rebuilt the town too, some of which (Inveraray Inn and the Argyll hotel amongst others) was designed by John Adam. The town, to the Campbells credit, became an attractive and prosperous place with accommodation for estate workers, a woollen mill and a pier to export herring.

Loch Fyne means Loch of the Wine (they must have known I was coming) is the longest of the sea lochs and is a sight to be seen in fine weather.  Loch Fyne kippers are big deal so we will look out for them at breakfast…

All in all a great day! Really made up for the horrid day previously…looking forward to the Great Glen and Fort William tomorrow. First climb is a horror though!

A fabulous dip in the pool and jacuzzi in the (rather posh) Loch Fyne Hotel finished the day before dinner. Dinner was very special -smoked mackerel, fish bouillabaisse and cheese! Score!

Mark won the spectacles of awesomeness for taking a dip in the Loch (he wasn’t about so Phil, who also swam, took them in his absence).

The Outil D’Or was taken home by Joe who carefully filled her water bottles then popped them in her rucksack which promptly disappeared off to lunch!


Enjoying the blog?  Please take time out and sponsor us!  Maurice and I are riding in support of Fresh Start – new beginnings, a treatment service for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  My just giving page can be found here and all donations go straight to the charity (my ride is 100% self funded).

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Today’s inspirational quotation…

“Living easy, living free
Season ticket on a one-way ride
Asking nothing, leave me be
Taking everything in my stride
Don’t need reason, don’t need rhyme
Ain’t nothing I would rather do…

…No stop signs, speed limit
Nobody’s gonna slow me down
Like a wheel, gonna spin it
Nobody’s gonna mess me around” – Highway to Hell AC/DC

Today’s quote is dedicated to the A76, a horrible road to cycle and one which put a dampener on everyone’s day yesterday.

Some of the team witnessed a fatal accident as they arrived in Kilmarnock and arrived very shocked, others like me struggled with the wind and the road surface.

Still that was yesterday and today is different we passed 600 miles just after leaving!

Day 8: Kilmarnock to Inveraray – approx. 80 miles

Day 8 - Kilmarnock to Inveraray

Today is mostly coastal riding and a jolly boat ride across the strait to Dunoon (no its not cheating!).  Last time I was here we had what I thought was quite a wet ride until we rode out of Inveraray two days later – now that was rain.

It all looks mercifully flat apart from the double climb at the end of the day. We cycled out of Inveraray last year in the opposite direction and up to the ‘Rest and be Thankful’ waypoint.  This was a horror of a climb in shockingly wet conditions.  Our route fortunately only joins it halfway up before descending into Inverary.  Inveraray is a lovely little town, very picturesque, with a castle (home of the Campbells-Yay!), Victorian jail and some nice pubs.  Seem to remember the curry house had shocking reviews on tripadvisor so will remember to give that a miss…

Inveraray is on the shore of Loch Fyne so should be a hot bed of smoked fish…like all these things its at a premium so I won’t expect any for tea.  We are in Scotland so hopefully there will be Glasgow salad (chips) and Irn Bru to sustain us.

Discover Adventure website here

Monday 18th June – Day Seven

Today started well with everyone up and looking forward to a ‘flat day’. Weather was cool but fairly bright with a stiff breeze.

Will all headed off to cross the border into Scotland. A lovely lady I met told me it’s traditional to sing Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond as you cross, turns out none of us know more than two lines….

Will Notcutt turned out to wish us well and spent his morning leapfrogging us and providing moral support – I am so lucky to have such lovely friends!

Gretna is one of the most popular wedding destinations in the world, who knew it gives Las Vegas a run for its money?

The blacksmiths were able to perform marriage ceremonies under Scottish law and as such became ‘Anvil Priests’.  Richard Rennison apparently performed 5,147 ceremonies.  The Old Blacksmith’s shop built in 1712 has been a visitor attraction since 1887.

We toasted entering Scotland with a wee dram…9am was not early but we are warriors!

Douglas Adams defined Gretna Green as:

“A shade of green which makes you wish you’d painted whatever it was a different colour.”

we pushed on and came across a rather worrying sign!

Apparently it was the site of a nine mile munitions factory in WWI that got its name from the highly explosive mixture that the young girls used to mix up to make cordite for shells.

We rolled on and passed several sign for Dumfries.

Dumfries is known as The Queen of the South! People from Dumfries are known as

“Doonhamers”

Apparently in 2017 Dumfries was named the happiest place in Scotland. Dumfries is a Roman town – probably of some note as apparently digging anywhere turns up Roman artifacts, a problem for any local developer in my experience as this immediately stops the job and a load of work-shy history loving hippies move in for nine months to excavate the site with a teaspoon and toothbrush (actually I would defend to the death the archeologists but it has no comic potential publicly admitting this!)

In Chester I heard that a local construction company employs a special foreman to evaluate any potential roman remains unearthed…he apparently turns up, takes one look, pronounces it not Roman and immediately horses onto the area two tonnes of ready mix concrete!

King Arthur is reputed to have fought a battle here (local historians claim this, ie they made it up!)

In 1659 ten women were accused of diverse acts of witchcraft by Dumfries Kirk Session. The Justiciary Court found them guilty of the several articles of witchcraft and on 13 April between 2 pm and 4 pm they were taken to the Whitesands, strangled at stakes and their bodies burnt to ashes…witch hunting seems popular in the North of England (Lancaster hosted the Pendle witch trials, see note in yesterday’s blog).

Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed in Dumfries for three days, one of the hotels has a Bonnie Prince Charlie room with tartan carpets. Charlie demanded £2000 and 1000 pairs of brogues when he stayed here, rather puts you off hosting royalty really.

A rumour that the Duke of Cumberland was on his way made the young pretender leg it to safer places taking only £1000 and 255 pairs of shoes for his kilted Jacobite rebel army…

John Laurie came from Dumfries- he was Private Fraser in Dads Army

“We’re Doomed!”

The cartoonist who drew Fred Bassett is from Dumfries, other notable people include Bill Drummond of the KLF.

I have lots of other useful factoids about Dumfries but unfortunately our route was A76 for the whole day and it avoided Dumfries altogether! Shocker! Imagine having all that good useful information about a place and then not riding through it!

The A76 is a horrid road, it’s a triple threat – poor surface, lots of lorries and other traffic and the worst kind of agricultural smells along its whole length. We had a miserable ride, I kept asking myself that surely there was a quieter, less smelly and better surfaced route available. It was Warrington to Preston all over again.

We saw a jolly roadside tableau and, after propping our bikes in there, had a realistic representation of us! We are obviously well thin now…

To cap it all we were huffing into a headwind all day! James and I pushed on through to Sanquhar with the minimum of fuss – we were feeling strong!

On the way we had a jolly rest stop with the others and saw Will again….

Sanquhar claims to have the oldest working post office in the world. It was established in 1712. Sadly we didn’t see it! No idea where it was…maybe it’s shut?

We had to stop to let James express his allegiance to the Covenanters…

The Covenanters signed their renunciation of their allegiance to the King in Sanquhar – they opposed the Episcopaliastion of the Church (something to do with it being governed by the Bishops – I think!) which is memorialised in the high street.

I think he thought episcopaliastion was something to do with fishing rights, still he looked happy…

The toll booth in the centre of town is the only surviving one of its type. It was designed by William Adam, a noted Scottish architect.

My rear wheel had been making very worrying noises for the last 24 hours…Uncle Phil, the tour leader, had looked at it and advised me to get it checked on a jig at a bike shop.

I looked up bike shops in Kilmarnock and phoned them to see if a mechanic was available, one was so the horror began. Any interest in photography ended at this moment.

We worked out that if we took 30 mins, no more, no less, we could make it to the bike shop for the mechanic to review and carry out any work necessary before they shut.

The wind had picked up, we rode and rode – after I had pedalled for an hour I was done! The wind was in our face the whole way and I was fading badly. I had led James most days up til now but seriously without home looking after me I would have been found a week from now rocking under a hedge!

James nursed me to Kilmarnock then led me to the bike shop where a lovely mechanic popped my rear wheel onto a jig and did the best he could with it. Unfortunately I think it needs a rebuild, that said, after he had worked his magic, he informed me that it would likely last the remaining distance!

He then refused to charge me! What a guy!

For the record the bike shop is Sprockets in Kilmarnock and their website can be found here… lovely people and a tasty showroom full of nice bicycles – great service guys many thanks!

We rocked on to the hotel, I would have liked to see more of Kilmarnock but I was finished!

Kilmarnock is mostly known as the home of Johnnie Walker Whisky, Johnnie Walker was a Grocer in Ayreshire (presumably before he started presenting Sounds of the Seventies on Radio 2) and started selling his own brand of blended whisky. The bottling plant was moved by its new owners Diageo in 2012 amid howls of protest.

There is a famous museum in the Town called The Dick Institute. That’s all I’m saying about that (*snigger*). The building is listed but sadly our route does not take us past it…

Kilmarnock was immortalised by two of the most important poets in Scotland (The Proclaimers) they titled a song “The Joyful Kilmarnock Blues”, (no I’ve not heard it).

The Sweet, a ’70s Glam Rock Band, were bottled off stage in 1973 in Kilmarnock.  This inspired their song The Ballroom Blitz.

Once ensconced at the hotel I had a hot bath and slowly started to feel better. The phone rang and Derek Hamilton, a highly esteemed and jolly decent Ex-colleague had arrived! Was great to see the man again. What a guy!

The dinner was a bit subdued – others had had accidents and also had witnessed a road accident on route…

Speed rebel won the Outil D’Or, he had ridden into a pigeon which had rather horrifically bounced into Roly’s wheel….right in front of a bus stop full of school children. He’s starting work with the RSPB when he gets back…

James won the spectacles of awesomeness for looking after me…what a guy!



Enjoying the blog?  Please take time out and sponsor us!  Maurice and I are riding in support of Fresh Start – new beginnings, a treatment service for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  My just giving page can be found here and all donations go straight to the charity (my ride is 100% self funded).

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