Saturday, 20 December 2014

A Mountain and A Ferry to Paradise (#ScotTour Day 8)

Today was sad: our last day on Skye and so it felt the "beginning of the end" of our cycling holiday. However, today's itinerary would see us cover nearly the full length of the Misty Isle and see a corner of it that's well off the beaten track. Lots still to look forward to, then!

We were really fortunate with our B&B in Portree, where the landlady was very happy to let us keep our bicycles looked in the rear 'service' yard, out of sight from the street (behind the blue gate). Adam fixed that gate the day we arrived so we were in her "good books" right from the start! 

Last minute fettling before leaving Portree

Setting off from our B&B: starting with a steep bit!
Be careful not to go flying over that wall into the harbour below!

As on Day 5 of our tour when we visited the Talisker Distillery, we left Portree southbound on the A87. Although our bikes were fully loaded this time, again I found this hill not to be the hardship I had originally expected it to be.

A pause to look back towards Portree and the Trotternish Ridge
- the Old Man of Storr on the right

Still climbing on the A87 towards Sligachan, looking at the 'back' of the Black Cuillin

Two major peaks of the Red Cuillin (Glamaig on the left, with its crown of loose scree
 and Marsco the haystack-shaped peak),  with the dark jagged peaks of
the Black Cuillin to the right (Sgurr nan Gillean and Bruach na Frìthe)




Marsco towers beyond the Sligachan Hotel

We cycled past the Cal-Mac ferry terminal at Sconser, with its connections to the Isle of Raasay.


On the other (eastern) side of Glamaig, we stopped again as Adam was keen to "meet" some Highland cattle.

(I believe the twin-summit peaks are Beinn Dearg Mheadhonach and Beinn Dearg Mhor)

These two cows had no difficulty ignoring him. 




The A87 from here is a long steady gradient (a "long slog") of exactly the kind that saps my strength and my will. My speed gradually dropped and Adam disappeared from view off ahead of me. I've learned not to let this get me down. I stop, sip from my bottle and admire the scenery for a few minutes, then get back on and start pedalling. This climb is not particularly difficult but I think the fact that the road bed was re-graded a few years ago to make it 'easier' for trucks didn't do a thing to help cycle tourists:  the road is fairly straight and wide (relatively speaking for Skye) but this does mean what traffic there is passes at speed, which I find gradually demoralising. 

Nonetheless, it didn't take too long to reach the summit and then descend through several rocky cuttings, swooping around the head of Loch Ainort and finally back to loch/sea level. 


Soon we were in Broadford and once again having a picnic in the park looking across to the Isle of Pabay and up Loch Carron with Applecross on the mainland to the north and Kyle of Lochalsh down the coast towards the south.  




Leaving Broadford, we felt quite nostalgic to be leaving and stopped several times for our last views of the Cuillin, both Red and Black. 


blurry shot with my mobile phone = surreal slightly impressionist effect!

We headed for the coast, pointing our bicycles towards the big climb of the day: 12km from turning off the A87 to the coast, on an uncategorised road up and around the southern flank of Sgurr na Coinnich. The ascent is 7.4km of short, steep ups and downs that really wear on you. I walked a few of these. I reached the crest of one particularly steep section to find Adam waiting for me. For the first time on our tour, he said he'd actually found "that bit a bit difficult". Phew! 

Adam reached the summit -- with its spectacular views of the mainland -- long before I did. When I arrived, he had been chatting with a walking group and was ready to tackle the descent. 


I had driven this road in 2008 travelling in the other direction. Today, I found that my memory of the route up from Broadford (which had been a descent in the car) had been largely accurate -- which always helps when you're trying to "manage your expectations". However, that meant that my memories of the ascent up this side (in a 0.6L Citroen Dyane) were possibly also equally accurate... which meant I was frankly terrified of going down it now, on a bicycle! 

Adam set off. 


I didn't follow right away. I told myself I was still catching my breath... admiring the views... but the truth was, I was not looking forward to this. Not one little bit. 


I followed Adam's progress down the mountain, as he appeared and disappeared around the bends. 





Finally, there were no excuses. I gently pushed off and then... at the first slight bend on the shoulder of the mountain...

the road simply dropped out of sight in front of me. 

I admit it: I stopped dead. My shoes skittered and slid a little when I dismounted. My hands started to ache already in anticipation of the forearm strength it would take to keep my speed at a manageable level, descending down the narrow rough single track with all its blind bends as it curled round the slopes of the mountain. 

For about 15 seconds, I seriously thought about just not doing this. What, go back?? The only other route to Glenelg over there on the mainland -- a  much desired destination -- involved going back the way we had come, turning right back onto the A87 and going across the Skye Bridge to Kyle of Lochalsh, along Loch Alsh and Loch Duish and then.... up over the hairpin (switchback) pass of Mam Ratagan which takes the route of the Old Military Road.

I drove up Mam Ratagan, too, in my Dyane in 2008 and knew that that ascent -- 20% in places -- was without a doubt impossible for me on a loaded touring bicycle with road cleats. 

I had no option really. There was only one way from here to there. And I could almost -- literally -- see tonight's destination on that beach on the mainland. 

So I took a deep breath, re-mounted my bicycle, flexed my fingers experimentally on the brake levers -- seeking reassurance -- and rode to meet my fate. 


A few places were nearly as bad as I had feared but once you're moving, there's no going back. 

And then the gradient began to ease.... and the sightlines improved.... so I simply let go, flying down the mountain with my (hedgehog) hair metaphorically streaming behind me. I scrubbed my speed going through the hamlet at the foot of the mountain and heaved a huge sigh of relief (I may have been holding my breath) when the ferry ramp came into view. I had made it down the mountain! Intact! With clean shorts!












(Waiting for the ferry seemed a good time to shoot some "bike porn".)

You may be wondering why we chose this route. Surely the Skye Bridge and the roads alongside Loch Alsh, Loch Duich, through Dornie and past the achingly romantic Eilean Donan Castle would have been just as rewarding. 

Well, yes, perhaps. But there's this small matter of the Glenelg-Skye Ferry. One of the last of its kind in the world, operated by local residents as a community service. Not to be missed. 








Because, you see, it's a turntable ferry!!






I find it difficult to put into words just why I adore this thing. I'm not particularly into boats but I do enjoy ferries and this one in particular just captured my heart back in 2008. I only discovered it thanks to my sister, who had planned much of our tour of Scotland around various books that we had read when we were growing up. The Glenelg Ferry was described in one of the Nancy Drew Mysteries (as were many other local sights and sites, which she and I visited and which Adam and I would visit again in the coming two days). 















Back on land -- now the mainland -- it was an easy, flat 5km round the curve of the Kyle Rhea (river) to the B&B which would be our base for two nights. 






the Bernera Barracks, on our "Must See" list for the next day


We stopped briefly at the village shop. 





And so onwards along the shore to the very last house at the southern tip of Glenelg: our B&B, with rooms overlooking the rocky beach, the river and Skye. Our landlady hails from Lewis, with a dry sense of humour like none we've encountered before -- as well as an almost indecipherable accent! 

An hour or so later, showered and refreshed, we retraced our path back back to the Glenelg Inn for dinner. This is a little corner of paradise. The gardens, the views and the food are all stunning. (Next time -- next time?! -- we'll stay here if we can!)





Today's travels involved 64.6 km of cycling with 882 metres of climbing, covered in 4 hours 1 minute 23 seconds (!) at an average moving speed of 16.06 km/hour. I was exhausted but "well chuffed" as the English say!


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