My sleep that night was not ideal, I woke at some point to register the fact that my sleep mat had deflated and there was a rock sticking into the base of my spine. I shuffled away from it slightly and passed out again. Eventually, I raised the energy to check the time, just in case, 0650 – shit! I got up and quickly stuffed my gear away – the other riders were long gone, but no-one was stirring in the busy bothy. I headed off up the track to Corriemulzie Lodge, but stopped once I was away from the bothy to sort myself out properly and have a snack away from the midges. I had saved a pear, almond and chocolate pie from Lochinver and it did a great job of lifting my spirits, which were pretty broken at this point.
Suitably refreshed and lubed up, I gingerly got back aboard and made the most of the easy going along Strath Mulzie. I was interested to see how this route differed from the option to the North, which passes Knockdamph bothy, as I’d always taken that option in the past.
The track began to climb more noticeably and as I whizzed down a sudden drop I got the feeling something was amiss. Sure enough, I’d missed my turn off to the right. I cursed my way back up the hill to take the rough track that had kindly been signposted but ignored by me.
Although the going was a bit harder, I was beginning to snap out of my funk and actually enjoy the riding. First over some undulating moorland, then contouring round the hillside high above a grassy gorge. There were even some wet and muddy bits of track, which was now a novelty!
Soon, the path left the hillside and dropped down to Loch an Daimh, crossing at the head of the Loch, before climbing up to the main track through Glen Achall. The track then dropped steeply to farmland by East Rhidorroch Lodge, where I weaved my way through the sheep poo, speeding towards Loch Achall.
As always on the bits of the route I already knew, I was going along on autopilot, flying towards Ullapool for a morning resupply when I realised I was off route again. I should have know that flying down an estate track to town was not on the cards when I could be climbing up a rough track above the glen and over a hill to get some nice views of Loch Broom below. I doubled back again and started up the correct route after navigating a broken gate/fence combination at the start.
I had hoped to be in Ullapool for breakfast before the previous night’s somnambulant fumblings and this was pushing me back even further. As I dropped into the outskirts of town I reached a tall kissing gate that was in no way going to let me wheelie the bike through. With much grunting and straining, I hefted the bike over the 6 foot fence and just about lowered it on the far side without dropping the whole lot. On following it through the gate, I glanced at the fence as I remounted and spotted hinges and an unlocked bolt which had been hidden from the other side! I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I went to Tesco instead.
I needed to recharge my batteries and replenish my food supplies, so I went for the buying one of everything approach. The highlight was a huge bag of fresh sliced pineapple from a fridge, which I sat munching outside in the shade. I’d definitely bought too much, so I kept eating and drinking until I could realistically fit the remainder in my bags. There was plenty of sliced edam and chorizo with tiger rolls that should leave me well stocked for the next day or so without getting as dubious as the prepared sandwiches seemed to be in the hot weather. When the food mountain had shrunk to a packable level, I emergd back into the burning sun and started up along the main road. This unavoidable stretch of busy tarmac was one of the more unpleasant bits of the ride, but having lots of uphill made it hard to dispatch quickly. Finally I reached the turn off for the apparent sanctuary of the Coffin Road. I’d been hoping to do this climb before the day’s heat got going. It was 1200.
I crossed the field and went through the gate to the start of the climb proper. I knew I’d be kidding myself by attempting to ride much of this one, so I jumped off and started walking as soon as I felt the strain. The pitch was pretty relentless without getting ridiculous, so it was a matter of plodding on as best I could and pausing to take on liquid when appropriate. Not long into the climb, the flies started to become an issue – horrible yellow looking things that would leave you alone until they’d got into an orifice or found a nice sweaty patch of skin to bathe in. I did my usual flailing and whimpering whilst trying fruitlessly to speed up the hill and escape them. The air was stifling and the sun was beating down harder than ever, so any slight breath of wind felt like a cooling shower as I finally climbed out of reach of the yellow demons.
My mouth felt dry as a bone, but the cold apple and raspberry juice that I had watered down in the Tesco carpark was now warm and sticky and too sweet. It seemed to be making the thirst worse, but I was stuck with it until I found a water source I trusted higher up. The worst of the climbing done, I skirted past Loch Tiompain and started descending towards Dundonnell, with An Teallach rearing up ahead.
On the way down I was debating my options in my head. I had a real hankering for a pint of orange juice and lemonade as well as a chance to visit a civilised toilet before heading into the Fisherfield wilderness, which could be had at the Dundonnell Hotel. As I reached the road and started rolling down the hill that way, I had a change of heart and decided that adding an extra 5km onto the route for a posh poo was not worth the effort – I did a u-turn and got on with the job at hand, going up a bumpy hill.
With some riding effort and the odd push, I was up at the high point and able to get a sense of my surroundings. My route stretched ahead of me and would eventually drop me into Strath na Sealga.
Once at the bottom, I doubled back on myself to make my way towards Shenavall, a spot I’d been wanting to visit ever since climbing An Teallach on a hot day like this and looking down into the glen below.
As I made my way up to the bothy, my Garmin took the opportunity to die – looked like the cache battery had run out of juice at some point. As I stood rooting through my gear to get my backup, I could feel eyes boring into me from a couple of blokes relaxing outside. I got a definite feeling they were giving me the “We don’t need any extra people in the bothy tonight” look that you sometimes get from people. I had absolutely no plans to stop here, but I said good evening and went in for a quick look around, mainly to annoy them. The path deteriorated after the bothy and I followed its faint traces through increasingly sodden ground towards the loch, which took a while longer to reach then expected. Once on its shore, progress was straightforward and I finally reached the fabled crossing point of the Abhainn Srath na Sealga. This point had been weighing on my mind since the first night, when Sarah had mentioned a storm was coming in midweek. The last thing I wanted was for my attempt to be curtailed by a river crossing, especially after the mental crossing of the Fords of Avon last year on the Cairngorms Loop.
Today was not going to be an issue and the rumoured storm never appeared. I took off my shoes and paddled across the freakishly warm water, realising that I could have just cycled straight over and still had dry shoes at the end.
As I air dried my feet and ate a sandwich on the far side, I wondered if anyone was close behind. I hadn’t seen a soul all day, not even Le Shadow, but I figured it was just a matter of time. Speak of the devil, as I got going again I saw not one but two cyclists making their way along the boggy ground to the loch. The chase was on!
I made my way over the rough ground in the direction of Larachantivore and had a look at the buildings there – a traditional stone cottage type and a wooden cabin with veranda. Both were locked, but I imagine the veranda would make a decent bivy spot on another night.
The route followed the banks of the Abhainn Glean na Muice and was quite an enjoyable ride in a lovely area that would be nice to camp out in some time. As I made my way up the pleasantly shady glen, I ran into three French teenagers on their way down, who asked me where the bothy was, I think! I directed them to cross the river and head for Shenavall, which hopefully got through. They had small day packs and were casually dressed, but looked pretty fresh considering they must have come a long way to reach this point. I’d love to know who had thought it was appropriate to point them off in this direction!
Soon enough, the route took a turn to the right and began to climb more seriously up the Gleann na Muice Beag. As jumped off the push up the final steep section, I started getting paranoid that my pursuers must be gaining on me and kept looking back for sign of them. No-one appeared in the distance as I emerged into the sun at the top of the bealach.
Once up, I followed a decent narrow track across the moor, headed for the pass that would drop me down to Carnmore. This was another spot I’d been looking forward to, after seeing so many other people’s pictures of the causeway at the end of the Dubh Loch. The sun was below my horizon, but the hills all around were bathed in a warm glow and hard to take my eyes off.
As I breached the edge of the plateau, I finally got the view I craved – the track dropped away sharply and to my right The two lochs lay, split by the narrow causeway. I had this spot in mind as a bivy location purely for the view, but it was feeling a bit brisk in the shade with a strong wind now blowing, so I figured continuing to Carnmore made sense, to try and get a better night’s sleep in the bothy.
The descent was mostly ridden, apart from a couple of far too steep and/or loose sections – I was beyond the point of bothering to lower my saddle and also paranoid I’d never get it back to the right height. As I got nearer the peninsula, I was still debating the merits of stopping early over making up for lost time. With all the dire warnings about how rough the Postman’s Path was going to be, I figured attempting it in the dark wasn’t wise. Not wanting to end up in a mess like last night through indecision, I decided the bothy was the way forward.
As I made my way across, I had to pass a remote estate house, which surprisingly was occupied. The residents were out on the lawn enjoying the sunset with a glass of wine so I stopped for a natter. It turned out they had used the bothy themselves several times over the years and were going for the luxury option this time for a ladies’ getaway. After exchanging a bit of banter, I was told if I needed anything to just let them know, anything! Rather than get into some kind of innuendo battle, I bid them good evening and slinked off to my grubby cowshed, wondering if anything would have covered a shower and a glass of wine!
I was expecting a busy building when I saw the tents outside, but there was only one resident on arrival. I said hi to the young dutch girl who was just getting set up in one of the camp beds and went over to the ropey looking bed divan in the opposite end of the room, rather than freak her out by using the other comfy-looking adjacent camp bed. Out of the blue she called over: “You don’t snore, do you?” – “I don’t think so”, I lied. “Okay, goodnight”. I sat in the gloom, trying to silently make and eat a sandwich before getting my head down. Suddenly, the door burst open, Le Shadow had arrived! In he strode, for a quick high five and to hand me my sunglasses, which I had misplaced at some point during my fevered climb of the Coffin Road. As he stumbled about getting himself sorted for a sleep in the empty camp bed, the original inhabitant asked if we were going to be cooking and stuff before bed or there would be others. “There might be?” was all I could say really. With that, she leapt out of bed, gathered her kit and stomped out in a huff. Obviously, this bothying lark was new to her if she expected lights out at 10pm! Her departure left a space for another late arrival, a chap of few words that I hadn’t met before, who looked highly unimpressed when Le Shadow tried to spark up conversation whilst blinding him with his headtorch.
Eventually, everyone got settled, especially the two comfy camp bed dwellers and I set my alarm for 0400 – about time I got an early start!
Distance: 49 miles
Temperature: Max 34°, Avg 24°