Retracing my steps.. and beyond..

20 Oct

Arrochar & Loch Lomond (4)Once upon a time, long long ago, I used to work on a salmon farm on the west coast of Scotland. I had developed a computer system that the fishermen could use to weigh their salmon so they could decide which to keep back and which to move on. (Fun fact – did you know that they brand salmon, like they do cattle, using a nitrogen cold brand to identify them?). Anyway, that’s not really the point… but I did regularly get the overnight sleeper from Rugby to Glasgow, and then the train out past Fort William to Lochailort on the banks of (oddly enough) Loch Ailort. The hotel was the one featured in the movie ‘Local Hero’ – the host had a video recorder and one video: ‘Local Hero’.

That wasn’t the point either. But I did fall in love with the train journey – it was just mile after mile of astonishing beauty heaped on glorious wonder. And I always promised myself that I would go back one day.

Arrochar & Loch Lomond (56)So on a glorious October morning I pitched out of bed and cycled down to the station to hop a train to Glasgow and points west. It was raining by the time we left Glasgow but the scenery was unbelievable as we travelled up the side of the Clyde estuary and into the Trossachs. That took the best part of the day, so I stopped for a couple of nights in Arrochar on the banks of Loch Long (a sea loch) and a hop, skip and a jump from Loch Lomond.

Arrochar & Loch Lomond (33)And that meant I could do a bit of a bike tour while I was there. I checked trusty Komoot for local tours, and found a six hour tour that I could manage. Setting off up the banks of Loch Lomond, I was still in a state of complete awe at just how incredibly lovely it all was. The rain overnight had left rivulets of water pouring onto the road, while waterfalls had been filled and were cascading over rocky slopes. The heather and moss seemed newly fresh and vibrant, and the fact that I was cycling alongside the loch made for easy and rapid progress.

Until I hit the first hurdle. The ferry that I planned on taking across the loch to continue the journey wasn’t running. No problem, I thought. I’ll just cycle on and cross the loch higher up – when it’s just the Falloch River. It took me a good while to find that crossing, although I did manage to stop off at the falls of Falloch for a photo opportunity.

It was at this point that I realised WHY nothing crossed the river. Although I had read the map and was convinced that cycle route 7 lay on the other side of the river, it turns out that I cannot read maps properly. The other side of the river lay the mountains, Ben Lomond included, and the gravel path I found soon petered out in the West Highland trail.. rocks, peat and tiny burns running down the side of the mountain. The few hikers I met were rather surprised to see a man carrying a bicycle across a hillside, but nodded a cheery ‘hello’ – not once did I hear someone mutter ‘idiot Sassenach’ but I suspect they thought it.

I gave it my best shot, I really did – but eventually I had to surrender to the inevitable. I retraced my steps and fled across a camp site back to the west shore of the loch.

Arrochar & Loch Lomond (49)But that meant I had time to do another route that I had planned for a breakfast ride. This loop went according to plan the old road by the loch has been left for walkers and cyclists, keeping me away from the A82 and into lochside tranquillity. A tough climb into the hills led to me a gradual descent into Loch Long and back to the hotel – fighting hard to keep up with another cyclist who had rocketed past me.

Not bad for the day – 80km of riding in some of the most beautiful scenery ever. And some work on the upper body carrying the bike. I retired to the bar with a pint of Caffreys.. and slept soundly. Not in the bar, of course.

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