The Great Glen Way and Corrieyairack Pass

Retro ride: 16th May 2004

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Having been obsessing over offroad touring after my Cairngorms adventure, I was itching for another ride. After much internet research with what little information was available, I decided I wanted to tackle the legendary Corrieyairack Pass. It is an ancient road, built by the industrious General Wade in 1731 to allow for efficient movement of troops around the country for the purpose of crushing rebellion. Ironically, the best recent information I could dig up was 4×4 enthusiast forum conversations and a write up from a mountain biker warning he had been turned back by snow drifts and blizzards in June! However, with my trusty Scottish Hill Tracks book, I had all the information I needed. To make it into an overnight ride, I would jump an early train to Inverness, ride the Great Glen Way down to Fort Augustus for my overnight camp and then ride the Corrieyairack the next day before catching a train home from Newtonmore.

After an uneventful train ride, followed by a bit of kit shopping in Millets, I made my way over the bridge and along the river. I was using a black and white print out of the OS maps for the ride at half normal size to minimise paper. I had a decent idea of where I was going, but anything intricate was going to be tricky! This immediately made itself felt as I tried to catch the end of the Great Glen Way in the housing estate below the psychiatric hospital! I manage to find what looked to be just the ticket and followed it up to the hospital before missing a turn somewhere and ending up going downhill. I also managed to let my bundled up gilet fall into my back tyre and wear a hole in its containing pocket. Rather than face the heartache of going back uphill, I decided to push onwards at a lower level across a forest firebreak and rejoin the path further up. At a squint it looked like it would work!

Bluebell forest in the general vicinity of the Great Glen Way
Amazingly, my improvised route actually worked

I got back on track and followed the route along a mixture of forestry tracks and stretches of tarmac road. There was one bit that showed a planned route on the OS map, with no actual path indicated on the ground, so I took a road detour above Abriachan, rather than waste time struggling to find out if there was one. This gave me a phenomenally steep tarmac descent in to Drumnadrochit, during which I still swear my speedo hit 55mph – a speed I have not come close to matching, even on the road bike. Probably a calibration issue with the old Sigma computer, but I wasn’t backing off to be fair!

A rare stretch of level cycling

I was pretty tired and dehydrated by this point, so I hit one of the many tea rooms for tea, Coke and food. I had been so consumed by the idea of climbing the Corrieyairack Pass, that I hadn’t really considered what I was riding beforehand as part of the challenge. After taking on as much liquid as I could consume, I left town and started regaining all the height I’d lost.

Great views when there’s a gap in the trees

I followed the many undulations along, high above the loch, occasionally glimpsing a view when the trees opened out. I was managing to stay on track despite my inadequate map detail, but was goosed and Invermoriston couldn’t come soon enough.

This could go very wrong in the dark
Invermoriston falls

At Invermoriston, I availed myself of the lavish public toilets on offer, shedding some weight and cleaning off the sweat of the day’s exertions. I also made a decision – I was going to skip the last off road section and take the main road into Fort Augustus. Time was getting on and I hadn’t the legs for another climb above loch level. Even so, the steady tarmac incline away from the village felt like hard work at this point. I managed to survive the road stretch without any mishaps and rolled in to town some time after 8pm. After a bit of strolling around the canal to pick a dinner spot, I went in to the Lock Inn, barely making the cutoff for a hot meal. The large pizza went down a treat whilst I watched the football, before reluctantly climbing back on my bike for the mercifully short ride to the campsite.

I was travelling light again with the same army bivy bag, cheap sleeping bag and borrowed Thermarest as last time. I had upgraded my luggage to a Camelbak Transalp pack, imported direct from the USA via eBay at a considerable saving, which was much more suited to cycling and allowed me to carry a bit more kit in it’s many pockets and pouches. I locked my bike to an adjacent picnic bench and settled in for a thankfully mild night in my non-insulating sleep setup. In the morning, I had some fun with hexi-stove cooking of army rations and headed off for what was supposed to be the tough part of this ride with some trepidation after my poor performance yesterday.

Last night’s home

I had a bit of micro navigation to do to get me to the bottom of the pass, but managed okay with just one dodgy crossing of field full of cows.

Fence presumably to keep out the 4x4s
Plenty of warnings of impending doom

Once through the gate, the climbing began in earnest and there was to be little respite until I reached the top. I slowly winched myself up the first steep section, before dropping down to a dip where I crossed the Connachie Burn, before resuming the climbing.

Looking back to the loch
Fixed up the old sign at the burn

Next was climbing, climbing, climbing.

One of the steeper bits
A wee splashy bit
An endless uphill straight

I noted the position of Blackburn bothy for a potential future visit, but couldn’t hang about as I had a train to catch and much more climbing to do. On the long steep drag, I admitted defeat and jumped off to start pushing. No big issue, as my knees and backside were needing the break anyway.

Checking what I’d conquered
This would be a seriously rapid descent
Looking back from the false summit
Great views up here
Can finally see the summit hut with its scenery enhancing pylons

As I finally reached the hut at the top of the pass, a couple of proper mountain bikers out for the day caught me up and stopped for a chat, whilst they waited for the rest of their group. They also obliged me with a rare portrait shot for the memories.

Pure style all the way

Once my lunch was eaten on the doorstep of the hut, I started to head downhill towards the famous zig-zags. Even with the super-advanced elastomer suspension afforded by my Judy TT forks, it was rough going. There were large chunks eroded from the track to drop off, but I was managing okay. Once they were dispatched, the track improved and settled down to a constant rattling. As I ploughed through a ford a little too vigorously, I managed to pickup a hefty snakebite puncture. I began feeling a little anxious about getting to Newtonmore in time for my train.

The Ford of a Thousand Snakebites

Tube patched, I resumed my descent, with my arms getting particularly pumped on the rough cobbles taking me down to Melgarve bothy.

Rattling down towards Melgarve

I passed by without poking my head in, fully focused on making that train. I was back on the tarmac in no time and just needed to get my head down and see how long it would take me to hit Newtonmore.

Still paused for the odd bit of sightseeing

I wasn’t really a road cyclist, so wasn’t sure how much quicker I’d be along the main road when I reached it. Turns out I had nothing to worry about, arriving at the train station with a good 45 minutes to spare before my train back home. A highly pleasant way to spend a weekend and expand my horizons of how far I could travel by bike offroad.

Chilling at the station

HT550 2018 Day 6

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A couple of fitful hour’s sleep on a deflated mat and I awoke to my phone buzzing away. It was lighter now, but still dull and moist feeling without actual precipitation. I hadn’t managed to undress at all, so I sat up in my clammy bib shorts and managed to manoeuvre my ruined legs into my shoes. The midges were still hanging around so I started the usual dance of grabbing things to eat and walking around to prevent them convening in any one spot I inhabited. I tanked my bottle of Irn Bru from Dornie as well as some Ibuprofen to get myself kick-started and packed up my kit. I had the brief pleasure of rolling back down the now massively shortened 700m to the turn off and then had to knuckle down and start uphill again. My body wasn’t happy about this, with pains in all the same areas as last night making themselves known.

I kept going, but I wasn’t able to put any power through the pedals and my backside was screaming – this wasn’t looking good. After climbing in and out of the saddle through the trees, I stopped again to try and sort myself out, as this wasn’t going to work. First job was to go to town on the chamois cream and get friction down to a minimum. Next, I needed to do something about my knee and achilles. I had an idea to add a bit of support and compression by putting on my Nanoflex knee warmers. As I was just fishing them out I heard the rumble of some mountain bike tyres approach over my shoulder. Who could have possibly caught me up this early in the day? Le Shadow, bien sur! In my current state of mind, it should have been the last straw, but seeing his smiley face and proffered high five, I couldn’t help but laugh as he passed.

Now I had something to go after, I got my knees covered and climbed back on board. There was a slight improvement in my condition and I was able to progress to the edge of the forest, gaining slightly on my nemesis. The land opened out as I climbed along the misty power line service track. I had last been this way in 2006 and the conditions were exactly the same then, right down to the droplets of condensation adhering to the hairs on my arms. I reeled in Le Shadow a little more, but had to jump off and push for a slightly steeper bit, as my painkillers hadn’t quite kicked in yet. Normally I would have gradually caught him on a climb like this, but I think he now had the advantage over my broken body, so I let him slip away into the murk.

Next up was a speedy downhill, with a couple of bends that could go quite wrong if you weren’t ready to slow down. This was followed by another climb which I remembered as being the last bit for this section. The cloud cleared but I couldn’t see Le Shadow up ahead, so he must have been going quite well, although I did begin to worry he had shot off the edge on one of those corners.

First pass of the day, nearly done with

More fast downhill took me to the main road at Torgyle Bridge for the briefest dalliance with tarmac before leaving to climb the Old Military Road to Fort Augustus. Luckily, the gradients were gradual so I could ride myself into some kind of health, although the only signs of life I came across were a very large, vocal German Shepherd and its owner.

Old Military Road to Fort Augustus

Just as it felt like I was nearing the top, the track doubled back on itself to climb along the back of the trees on a rougher, narrower surface which eventually emerged onto open moorland. It was pretty pleasant riding and the sun was starting to show through the clouds to warm things up a bit.

Heading for Inchnacardoch Forest

The path eventually dropped to a ford for a rare muddy section, before emerging onto a hard fast dirt road that would take me all the way down to Fort Augustus. Unfortunately, the minute the track got level and easy, I started passing out. After several last minute veers away from roadside ditches, I decided I needed to give myself 5 minutes of power nap time. I stood in the middle of the track, slumped over the handlebars with my eyes shut – I just needed to get going quicker to wake up and reach Fort Augustus for a recharge. Once moving again, the downhill fresh air kept my eyes open, especially on a set of fast grassy switchbacks just before reaching some houses on the edge of the town.

I fancied getting a fry up, but no cafe seemed to be open until 10am, which was disappointing. However the petrol station/supermarket made up for it with a hot food counter, which I raided for bacon rolls whilst stocking up on every food and drink item imaginable. As I stood outside, filling my face, I got chatting to some other friendly bikepackers who were doing various rides in the area whilst staying in a cottage nearby. I couldn’t decide if I was envious or not – I was in quite a state, but when would I ever get a chance to again to do a solo ride through some of the best bits of Scotland in its best weather?

As well as food, I did a bit of admin work. Firstly I went in to the pharmacy to get some cheap elastic bandaging. The knee warmer approach seemed to have helped, but if the achilles started to get bad again, I was going to get some support around them and hope it did the trick. I also made the most of the 4G reception to see what riders were still around me and finally identify Le Shadow, as well as check he hadn’t plunged off a cliff. To my consternation I couldn’t find any Frenchman in front or behind me. This set me onto a worrying train of thought – was he real? The only time I’d seen him talk to another rider, he’d been ignored by our silent bothy companion, yet every time I stopped for too long, there he was with a cheeky grin and a high five. Maybe he was my subconscious pushing me forward? Or maybe his tracker had broken? Maybe I’d never know. Of more concern, I noticed my narcoleptic Belgian friend from a few days back was awake and bearing down on Fort Augustus. Determined not to lose any more places, I got myself organised and set off down the canal path with renewed vigour. I knew I could hammer this whole section to Fort Augustus without straining anything, so I got moving and into an aero tuck with my inward mounted bar ends.

Fast riding on the Great Glen Way

Specially selected aerodynamic baguette

It was a great feeling to be actually making some distance at a decent speed for once, so I put on some tunes to keep me in the zone. The miles flew by and even the odd climb on the forest tracks didn’t seem to cause too much pain.

Rolling by Laggan Locks

Pebble beach on Loch Lochy

All good things must come to an end however and so it was as I reached the outskirts of Fort William. I popped into the Co-op for extra food and drink that should get me to the end and resumed running the gauntlet of impatient drivers. It looked like there was some kind of organised ride going on, as I met multiple riders with number boards, looking at me like I’d gone the wrong way. Soon enough, I reached the roundabout and took the turning up Glen Nevis where I could make my escape from civilisation again. Once on the West Highland Way, the climbing began! The heat was back at the the levels it had been all week, but I was pretty adapted to it by now.

Long drag out of Glen Nevis

After much hot and sweaty climbing, I came over the first crest and saw the Way stretching out ahead of me through the trees. It looked quite inviting, although I expected to be doing a lot of walking. I kept my momentum, hopping off for the bits that were too steep or had steps to navigate.

A nice smooth bit of West Highland Way

Dropping towards Blar a Chaorainn

After Blar a Chaorainn, the track got wider again and quicker going, despite the section being uphill. As i approached the ruin at Lairigmor, my steering started to wander again and I struggled to keep my eyes open. The sun was out and the midges weren’t, so I took a leaf out of Berten’s book, picked a nice comfy spot next to a trackside cairn and passed out.

Easy riding makes for sleepy riding

Passed out just past Lairigmor

I must have dozed for at least 20 minutes before I heard the rumble of mountain bike tyres approach. Surely not? For once, no – it was a young Geordie lass coming the opposite way. I blinked my eyes open to say hello as she looked down on me in a concerned manner. It turned out she was on her first bikepacking trip – she had bought an okay mountain bike from Halfords to ride the West Highland Way on her own and was loving it! I think she was on her fourth day and had just got on with it regardless of the difficulty. She chatted enthusiastically for a while longer before I wished her all the best and got going myself, feeling more energised by the pleasant encounter than the short rest.

Straightforward riding to Kinlochleven

I trundled on through the pass towards Kinlochleven. This was another one of those spots that I had seen a photo of in Ralph Storer’s book and always wanted to ride through. I’d come this way several times since, so it’s more like an old friend nowadays. Normally though, I stick to the land rover track to drop me into the village, whereas the HT550 wanted me to take a more vertical route. I reached the WHW turnoff and began my plummet through the trees, initially riding the steep stuff before coming to my senses and jumping off for anything too dicey after dinging a rim a few times. After receiving a good battering, I popped out onto the road and headed along to the Ice Factor. I headed straight through to the cafe area and performed a final weight shedding and general cleanup exercise in the bathroom. before stocking up on drinks and a Toffee Crisp, which would probably melt in about 5 minutes. During my brief pitstop, I also took the chance to book a room online at the same hotel I’d stayed in before the ride. Surely I’d be finished by about 10 pm? With visions of a pub meal and a pint in my head, I headed up past the bunkhouse to tackle the Devil’s Staircase.

Path renovation wasn’t too much of a hassle

It’s a steep old ride to start with, so I eventually succumbed to the gradient and pushed the steeper bits as usual. As the trail narrowed higher up, it also became easier to ride with just technical things to clear such as the new drainage ditches that have been spaced perfectly to stop a bike wheel dead if you mistime a hop. At least it kept me awake and focused.

One more drop before the final drag to the summit

I wasn’t too worried about this section in advance and it went pretty much as I remembered – even the final slog up to the summit wasn’t too dramatic. I was feeling pretty happy, especially compared to this morning and stopped up top to soak in a great view and send silly pictures to friends.

The end is nigh

Comedy pose for Facebook

Glen Coe beckons

I rolled off, feeling like it was all downhill from here and in many ways I was right, just not in the good way.

Lovely smooth start to the descent

When I came down this way over ten years ago with the lads on one of our coast to coast rides, I’d managed to ride to the bottom with a set of rear panniers on my Inbred. Today I had no chance – the path felt like it had eroded down by a couple of metres in places and just got a bit too tasty for me to risk in various spots. Still, it didn’t take too long to get down, depositing me at the base of Buachaille Etive Mor. Next up was a ride along to the Kings’ House Hotel on the improved track, rather than cheating and using the road like I probably would have done on any other day.

Looking back down Glen Coe from the Old Military Road

I bumped my way along, cursing my lack of energy to attack this bit and get some momentum, as it slowly began to dawn on me that last orders in Tyndrum might be out of reach. I wondered how late the Ski Centre stayed open, but didn’t fancy my chances.

Joining the brief tarmac to Kings House Hotel as the sun sets past Buachaille Etive Mor

I would have been hitting the hotel at the perfect time for some dinner if it hadn’t been in mid refurbishment, though I was more in need of water than food. I had topped up on my way down the Devil’s staircase, but I don’t think I fancied any water sources this low down. Still, the air was cooling and surely I wasn’t that far away now? Once past the hotel, there was a short climb up to the main road before crossing to the ski centre road and then turning off  to continue the West Highland Way. I had a slight bit of reception, so I took the chance to call Yvonne for a quick chat and to let the hotel know I was going to be a late check-in. It was also a good excuse to walk as I talked, rather than raise the effort to ride the climb. Finally, reception ran out and I was forced to cycle again, slowly making my way to the top of this rise.

Heading down to the Black Mount

The surface widened and improved towards the top, letting me get some kind of rhythm going before what looked like a long descent towards the Black Mount opened up before me. I hadn’t really looked at this section in any detail beforehand, so this was a pleasant surprise. I shot down the first stretch, trying to avoid any major protrusions that could wreck a rim, as my tyres were feeling a bit soft. I would have pumped them up, but my hands were so battered from five days without suspension that I needed the cushioning. The further on I went, the more regular the stony surface became and the higher my speed. The tyres were providing just enough suspension to save my hands, but I found myself hugging the verge to maximise smoothness, all the while trying to pick out any potential wheel wreckers in the gathering gloom. In all it was rather exhilarating – no chance of nodding off at this speed! After what seemed an endless descent, I dropped down the last bumpy steep bit before Forest Lodge and rolled along to join the road heading for the Inveroran Hotel.

In previous years, reaching Bridge of Orchy from here would have been a question of whizzing round the corner on tarmac, but Alan had kindly thrown in a bonus hill this year, which was nice. I thought about trying my luck in hotel for a drink, but a desire to get this over and done with made me turn straight off the road and start climbing. Feeling fresh and in the daylight, this would have been a good challenge. Feeling shit in the middle of the night, this was a total pain in the ass.

Rising above Loch Tulla

Landmark tree to make me feel like I was getting somewhere

I expended as much energy as I could before hopping off to push on a loose section and most of the rest of it. As I neared the apex, the gpx forced me to leave the track to climb up to the cairn before immediately dropping back to the track I had left. What the tent dwellers on the summit thought was going on as they heard a clicking freewheel, followed by a barrage of swearing before clicking away, I will never know. I do know that they were in for several repeats before the night was done.

Back on the track, I finally relented and fired up my light for the descent. This was at times technical or awkward, so I was down a lot slower than I’d like. As I clambered over some boulders at the back of the Bridge of Orchy Hotel, I thought it was time to get some liquid on board. Unfortunately, it had obviously been a quiet night as the bar was shut up and the chairs all upturned, so I took the hint and moved on. Up the steep road to the train station and under the underpass, surely just a coast from here? No chance – despite having ridden it all before, nothing looked or felt familiar in the dark. Additionally, every single bit of anticipated downhill appeared to have been removed from the track. I lurched onward, feeling totally defeated by even the slightest bit of gradient against me. This was getting ridiculous – “It’s not even a hill!” I shouted at myself as I struggled along after crossing the Allt Kinglass. Looking at the map, it was, so no idea why I refused to acknowledge it at that point. I felt the movement become easier as I rode over loose stones in what appeared to be a railway yard, but then was kicked in the balls by the realisation I’d breezed past the turnoff for the railway underpass. I sullenly did a u-turn and went downhill to find the locked gate in the blackness to the side of the path, before hefting the bike over the stile and scrambling through the narrow gap and on up to the track proper. This final physical effort complete, I was able to continue on an increasingly downhill trajectory through the sheep farm at speed, before navigating the final gate and rolling triumphantly to the finish at the village hall, cheered on by hundreds of adulating fans. Okay, maybe not – I stopped at the hall to take a selfie under the automatic security light whilst moths fluttered round my head. 0032 was the time, so 5:15:32 was my ride duration.

This is how I look on a good day

As on previous rides of this type, I felt more happy and relieved to have completed under the time limit without embarrassing myself than anything else. I made my way through the dark, quiet village to get my hotel  key before depositing my bike and kit in the car and heading for my room and the most keenly required shower I’ve ever had.

Nope, not tan lines

Distance: 91 miles

Elevation: 2931m

Temperature: Max 28°, Avg 17°

HT550 2018 Day 2

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As usual, I woke a few times before my alarm went off and even when it did, lay there dozing for a few minutes whilst I psyched myself up. I eventually dragged myself up and had a swig of morning Irn Bru to get me going whilst I stuffed my sleeping gear back into the drybag and onto the bike. I was just thinking of going and waking the toilet dwellers, when I saw them wheel their bikes out already locked and loaded. Mick seemed refreshed and raring to go, but Sarah was having serious doubts about her desire to continue. Mick headed off and I chatted to Sarah, who was slowly convincing herself her attempt was over. I suggested she tried to ride today and see how she got on before scratching, but I think the decision was already made, so I gave her directions to the start of the route back down along the Great Glen Way to Fort William. If someone who has done the Tour Divide twice was dropping out, it goes to show the Highland Trail is no easy susbtitute!

As I rolled out of town I checked the time, 0600, not quite the racing 4am start the serious riders go for. Still, my main concern was with finishing more than anything else, so no harm in getting more rest. I headed up into the trees on a steep track, jumping off and pushing for a short section to give my knees time to wake up. It was straightforward riding along the Great Glen Way above Loch Ness and I could see several decent bivy spots at view points that would have done the trick last night. I passed through Invermoriston before anywhere was open and took the main road West for a few km before turning off at Bhlaraidh to start climbing up to the hydro schemes and wind farm.

Slightly oversimplified map pointing me to Loch na Stac

The track started out wide and steep where it shared space with the wind farm dirt road, before turning away toward the first of the three lochs and dams.

A nice cooling mist made climbing easier

Rising to a gap in the cloud cover

Finally, I reached Loch na Stac, where the track petered out near the end of the loch and I had to footer about in the boggy ground to find my way onto the beach where the gpx track was guiding me.

Visibility was minimal

The lochside had nice patches of riding, guiding the bike carefully between rocks to keep the momentum, along with the odd bit of hoicking over the larger stuff.

The spooky house comes into view – is this ever not in the mist?

After passing the old haunted house at the far end of the loch, I got going on a narrow grassy trail, but could see something was amiss up ahead. There looked to be a bike tipped over on the right hand side of the track and what looked like a rucksack on the left hand side. As I got closer, I realised it was actually a person lying in what looked to be the recovery position. Heart racing, I ditched the bike and ran forward to investigate. “Are you okay mate?” I said to the stricken figure. Berten, the narcoleptic Belgian below, opened his eyes in brief surprise, then said “Hey, thanks for waking me man, just needed 15 minutes”.  And with that, he got up, jumped on his bike and buggered off!

Re-invigorated Berten after his power nap.

A bit more grassy/muddy riding eventually deposited us onto a good, super fast track heading towards Corrimony where we rejoined the tarmac. Berten fell back a bit, but I figured he’d be heading for the Cannich campsite cafe, same as me. I’d initially been worried I might arrive too early for its 0900 opening time, but my slovenly sleeping habits meant I was there closer to 10. When I got to the counter, the lady did not look pleased to see me, which was worrying. I hung on politely while she tried not to catch my eye and told her I was just after a breakfast when she eventually enquired. She muttered something about there being nothing left and left me hanging. I should have abandoned ship and gone to the Spar at that point, but I had a can of apple juice in my hand and was thirsty, so I hung on in limbo and eventually managed to persuade her to give me a pot of tea and a cake from the fridge. I drank up as quick as I could, with the sound of the smoke alarm in the kitchen going off as a background accompaniment and paid up whilst Mick was enjoying his breakfast and coffee as a reward for getting there a fair bit earlier than me! On my way out I ran into another rider, who had talked his way into using the shower block, which was a genius idea!

At the Spar they had a hot cabinet, so I grabbed a sausage roll and also a fresh baked baguette with some chorizo to make sandwiches for later. They also did tea and coffee, so I could have saved a fair bit of time by following my first instinct and ditching the cafe. Berten also showed up, having received similar service at the cafe and sat in the sun eating a cold tin of beans.

Straight here next time, I reckon

Leaving Cannich, it was a long stretch of tarmac to follow up Strathglass to Struy, where the climbing began again, eventually ending up high above a deforested glen.

Midday heat

I gathered I was on what would normally have been the well known “Path of a thousand puddles”, however the numbers and depth had been significantly reduced by weeks of dry weather, so it was all relatively pleasant.

The path of several puddles this year, thankfully

Heading towards the windfarm

I rounded the bend and started to head West, getting up speed on the more level terrain as I approached the hydro bothy in the distance. A quick drop and climb brought me to the spot that would have been busy with the quicker riders last night, so I had a look inside and a sit outside, eating some lunch. Ron, from the campsite earlier arrived shortly after as he’d been having a nap in the sun further back, so we had a wee chat before I pushed on.

Hydro infrastructure on the way to the Hydro bothy

A friendly welcome at the Hydro bothy

Just checking my hair

Over the next hill and I dropped down to the first of the big dams and some tarmac. I’d been getting a little worried I might be pushing my luck for Contin Stores on a Sunday if I didn’t speed up, but the smooth surface allowed for an extremely quick return to the public roads, with a pleasant roll along the River Conon, followed by an unpleasant sprint along the A835 into Contin.

Dam 1

Dam 2

The shop was open, so i took the opportunity to go crazy with fizzy drinks and food and worry about how to pack it when I got outside. I figured I’d be needing enough for tonight if I missed out on the pub food and also the following morning and lunch, so I didn’t skimp. Berten came and went as I dithered and Ron turned up as I sneaked into the campsite toilets. He was chilling in the sun as I left – he was going well for someone so relaxed!

The next stretch all the way to Alladale was another that was quite familiar to me, although I’d always done it in full winter conditions, so the lack of ice would make a nice change.

Always pleasant riding through Strathgarve

Dropping out of Longart Forest to cross the River near Inchbae

Leaving the forest in Strath Rannoch

A climb, then a drop to Strath Vaich

Heading for Loch Vaich

Speedy drop to the loch

Into the shade near Deanich Lodge

For all the controversy that surround the plans for Alladale, it is a lovely place to ride through and I had bivied there a few times over the years. This was out of the question today, with hours of light left, so I reluctantly continued after topping up my bottles.

Shady side of Gleann Mor

My aching hands got a bit of relief on the smooth tracks near Alladale Lodge and on the short tarmac stretch round to Croick, where I joined the route towards Ullapool.

Tarmac to Croick

Not going to Ullapool just yet!

I’d done this stretch in reverse 10 years ago, but hardly any of it seemed familiar. The first bit was really fast and easy, getting my hopes up of making the Oykel Bridge Hotel in time for hot food. Unfortunately, the going got a bit rougher further on, so it was looking touch and go. As I slowly made my way up and around to Glen Einig I caught a couple of riders, Fabio and Daniele from Italy, that I recognised from my hotel on Friday night. I paused to say hello and Daniele said something to the effect of “Phew, this is tough!” – can’t argue with that! They followed close behind for a short while on an awkward section and then dropped back just before the top and a some quick descending to the forest and Oykel Bridge.

Heading for Glen Einig

It was half nine when I reached the Oykel Bridge Hotel, so there didn’t seem to be much point going in to enquire about food, especially from reports the previous year. Instead, I kept straight on to the Achness Hotel, which was only a few miles down the road and I’d always fancied popping in to on previous rides but had never had the time. I got there quickly, fantasising about a pot of tea and some crisps, since I figured that was all I’d be able to get. On arrival, it seemed I’d just missed a batch of other riders who’d managed to get a meal, but it was great to get some tea, crisps and biscuits on board anyway.

Caffeine stop at the Achness Hotel

A quick freshen up in the toilets and I felt raring to go again, four cups of tea had done their work! I never normally listen to music whilst riding or running, but I stuck in some earphones and charged my way up Glen Cassley, singing along to Gregory Alan Isakov whilst lit up by an incredibly bright full moon. I didn’t bother with lights apart from my tail light, as I wasn’t expecting any traffic this late and would be off road soon enough. The glen seemed to fly by – it’s weirdly easier to ride up than down for some reason. I thought I would run out of steam by the time I got to the hydro road climb, but the music had really uplifted me, so I carried straight on over the pass, only pausing to say hi to Mark , whose light I’d seen from the bottom and was bedding down before the top. I was aiming for the radio mast on the far side, to give me some phone reception and a good view. It didn’t disappoint, with 4G and a view North to the hills I’d be passing through tomorrow, bathed in the glow of a permanent sunset, thanks to our latitude. I savoured the view for a while and did some internetting, before realising it was 0200 and I really should sleep! Alarm set for 0500 and I arranged my slippy bivy bag as best I could to avoid finding myself at the bottom of the pass when I woke, before passing out surprisingly quickly.

Distance: 128 miles

Elevation: 3208m

Temperature: Max 30°, Avg 15°