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So. Many. Hills.

26 Oct

Portree Loop Ride (21)Today was the big one. The day to really push the envelope, and hopefully not push the bike. I’ve been in South Skye so far, but I really wanted to push up to the north, and set my sights on Portree. But just cycling up there would be too easy, wouldn’t it?

So as well as cycling up the coast to Portree on the east coast, I added in an extra loop to the west coast as well. Crazy, I know. Portree is the main town and port on Skye, so it made sense to get up there.. but I was pretty certain there was lots to see and experience on the way!

Portree Loop Ride (13)Portree Loop Ride (6)

The nagging puncture seemed to have calmed down, so I set off north with a spring in my step. When you’re cycling out and back you tend to take note of the hills… ‘that’ll be nice to come back down’ and ‘not looking forward to that on the way back’. You’d think that a coastal path would make life easy, but the geography of Skye had other plans! Northern Skye is volcano territory, long extinct, but the towering caldera pepper the skyline, the clouds sometimes forming a teddy boy’s quiff over the edge, at other times a badly fitting toupee.

Portree Loop Ride (15)I made my way over the first hill, past the desolate island of Scalpay, and over the headland to a welcome descent into Sligachan and the old bridge. Which is where I turned inland, headed for the west coast. Autumn seems a superb time to visit – the summer crowds have disappeared, as have the midges, and the roads are quiet. Autumn colours are vivid browns, with heather holding on to its colour while bracken and fern – and trees – create a stunning palette of browns and oranges. I cross miles of peat, the hedgerows of broom and gorse.

Portree Loop Ride (7)A slow climb leads to a drop into Struan harbour – I am briefly tempted by a trip to the Talisker distillery. Wiay island sits out in the bay but I turn inland, headed for Portree at last. These are narrow lanes, impassable in winter. I find a new hazard – cowpats. Although the cows are relaxed and calm as I pass, the sheep are skittish and can’t be trusted not to run in front of me.

Portree Loop Ride (9)Finally, I drop into Portree. Nothing much to write home about, but time for coffee and a sandwich. I have ridden 60km. A trip to the isle of Raasay (more distilleries) tempts me but it is a bit late now.. and as I ascend the long steep climb out, the nagging puncture finally makes itself known in no uncertain terms. I stop by the side of the road and attempt a repair, but the patches aren’t sticking. I replace the tube, and cycle on.

The hills are calmer now, and I realise that my hostel isn’t quite as far as the route tells me. I cycle gratefully up… my legs ache and I wish I had remembered the padded shorts. I make this 105km. Which I think is my longest single day ride ever.

I have managed so far without incident.. until today. I cycled up on to a pavement in search of dinner, but forgot (come on, I have just cycled 60+ miles) the requisite bunnyhop to hop onto the kerb. Net result, the bike stopped dead, and I toppled gently into the gutter. #novideoeveidence

This is the last day on Skye – tomorrow I must cycle across the bridge… and away.



Skye’s the limit . .

25 Oct

To Broadford (2)I’d suffered from deflating tyres on the way over to Broadford, so I resigned myself to having to fix that.. but in turns out that the Slime in the tyres had done its job so I set off on the first of my little rides out – a straightforward 50km out and back to Elgol. My ride the previous day hadn’t really prepared me for what was in store. Absolutely unbelievably Elgol Ride (12)stunning scenery that kept me on the edge of tears all day. The first 15km was fairly straightforward in the shadow of the Cuillin hills, and it descended gently into Loch Eishort and Loch Slapin, both estuaries into the Atlantic and with the island of Rùm glinting across the water. A food van was plying its trade on the banks of the water and it would seem rude to cycle past without a breakfast roll and a cup of tea.

Elgol Ride (7)Thus fortified, I began the climb up towards Elgol. Alternating between wild downhills and tough climbs, I finally made it past the sheep and cattle that littered the road and into Elgol (more properly Ealaghol – it does seem rude that we have anglicised the original Gaelic place names). The village proper is at the top of a hill (the word ‘hill’ does not really do justice to the brake-shredding descent to the harbour below). But down the hill I went, recognising that the brake-shredding on the way down was going to do serious damage to my legs on the way back up.

The harbour was offering trips across the water to Loch Curuisk and to the Small Isles, but I was content to just gaze out across Loch Scavaig and to the Black Cuillin over the water, just in awe of how beautifully tranquil this spot was.

Elgol Ride (3)Eventually the ride back had to be faced. I made it half way up before I had to surrender.. I think the locals were watching to see how far I made it. Apparently ‘to the cattle grid’ is good performance. The return trip seemed gentler than outbound, although as my tour had made special note of the Blue Shed café (now, bizarrely, purple) it was essential that I stopped off for coffee and cake before gently finishing my trip off and coasting into Broadford (apparently ‘Broadford’ is a more original transliteration of the original Norse ‘Breiðafjorðr’ than the Gaelic An t-Àth Leathann).

Soup and a roll finished my day off.. tired and happy again. This trip is turning out to more than exceed my expectations. I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

All points west!

21 Oct

Arrochar & Loch Lomond (56)Up early the next day for a morning ride round the other side of the loch. The part of me that needs to ride a different way back was going to be frustrated – this is a sea loch, and there’s no way to go all the way round it without a boat. But I did manage to find a nice bit of Arrochar & Loch Lomond (54)mountain biking trail on the way back, which I took with some alacrity as I realised I may not have left enough time to get to the train.

I needn’t have worried. Plenty of time to get to the station and then off on another adventure into mountains moors and lochs, This is scenery so stunning that you can’t afford to miss a moment. I was only a little distracted by the family with a slightly nervous huskie who needed a little bit of fuss so she felt better about being on a train.. To Mallaig & Ferry (28)This is a world of single track railways and tiny stations, of deep, dark forests falling away from railway lines that cling to hillsides in defiance of gravity. This is a world of railway viaducts that the Hogwarts Express would have thundered over, of grass only just hanging on the rock and stone. This is a world of towering hills, of peaty rivers and mossy banks.  A world where buzzards soar above it all, and red deer explode from the brush to hurtle across the moorland. This is a world that defies description, but can only be truly understood in person.

To Mallaig & Ferry (22)And that brought me to Mallaig. I could have rushed straight onto the ferry, but instead I opted for a little jaunt round the village, whose only real existence, beyond some fishing boats, is as the ferry terminus for Skye.

And forty-five minutes after leaving Mallaig I was in Armadale on the Isle of Skye.. and another dream was To Broadford (2)coming true. Just another 25km and a couple of steep climbs later, and I was in a youth hostel in Broadford, my home for three nights. Where, much to my surprise, and, it has to be said, the embarrassment of the proprietor, the fish and chip shop (in a fishing village) had run out of haddock.

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