Saturday, October 21, 2006

Back from England and Scotland: photos

Round two! We've just returned from a two week holiday in the UK. We spent 3 days with family in England prior to heading north to Inverness and area, where it was our intention to cycle the Great Glen cycle route.

The weather was gorgeous. With the exception of the first day we were in the UK, when it rained, but only lightly all day, and the morning of the last day we were overseas, we had exceptional, surprisingly warm weather. In the highlands, the temperatures ranged from 14 to 20 degrees C the whole time.

Oh, and also except for one afternoon, October 11th. That day it poured. That day was also the first of what we though would be two days cycling.

The Great Glen runs between Inverness and Fort William, and is bordered on the Inverness side by the Moray Firth, into which the River Ness flows, and on the Fort William side by Loch Linnhe, which empties into the sea on the wet coast of Scotland.

The Highlands are mountainous to say the least. We knew there are three climbs of some 900 ft each along the trip. What we didn't know and weren't necessarily prepared for is the rest of the route is very hilly otherwise, mostly going up - at least that's how it felt.

We had hired bikes from a place in Fort William. The owner transported the bikes up to Inverness for us - and hour's drive - and left them with his brother in law not far from where we were staying with my friend Penelope at her B&B Atholdene House (which I cannot recommend highly enough. It is GREAT).

We had also been provided an excellent, waterproof map by an on line acquaintance of mine, Steve, from Benderloch in Scotland. We had all the necessary rain gear and layering clothing and a couple off good mountain bikes, all of which was our undoing really.

My partner and I bike a lot and I run, often as much as 30 Kms a week, so we're reasonably fit for milddle aged people. We were, to be short, quite overwhelmed by the Great Glen.

The Highlands of Scotland are wild and vast and in places very scarcely populated. As we were cycling well out of the tourist season for the area, we were quite alone on our trip. Between the heavy bikes and the 10 or so pounds of gear we both had with us and the quiet and the wind and occasional rain that day, and the solitude - and the wrong turn down a 1.5 mile long, very steep hill, which we had to re-climb afterwards, we were quite overwhelmed by the time we arrived at Drumnadrochit.

Drumnadrochit is a gorgeous village at the NW end of Loch Ness. It is the home of several shops and businesses dedicated to everything about the Loch Ness Monster. It is also the village below the beautiful ruins of Urquhart Castle. By road it is 13 miles beyond Inverness - about a 2o minute drive. Via the Great Glen, it is about 32Kms, largely uphill. Add in an extra 5 Kms for a wrong turn and it's a bit of a distance.

On arriving there, 1.5 hours later than we had anticipated, we sat down at the the Glen Cafe for lunch and to assess. As we sat there, the heavens opened and delivered a deluge. Despite the rain, we decided to press on wards - we were not cold, owing to waterproof gear and proper undergarments - towards Urquhart Castle and to Invermoriston, our destination for the night. Sadly, on arriving at the castle only 2 miles on, we realised that neither of us was going to be able to manage another 32Kms to Invermoriston and so back we went to Drum in search of a B&B, where we would stay the night.

In the end, we decided to terminate the ride and go either to Fort William or back to Inverness for the night. We left our rented cycles with the very accommodating hosts of the Glen Cafe and called Martin, who rented us the bikes to explain.

During the day, we had tried to get a bus either to Fort William, our destination, or back to Inverness. None of the drivers would take our bikes - with the exception of the last guy, who was driving the bus we took back to Inverness; he said he'd be glad to take the bikes, which were already secured inside the locked Glen Cafe. Ironic.

The next day, we hired a car in Inverness - a Golf (right hand drive, standard, diesel with which I drove on the right side of the narrow, shoulderless road at 60miles an hour) drove to Drumnadrochit, loaded the bikes in the car and made our slow and merry way towards Fort William. Along the way, we discovered that the B&B we had booked for our first night was not 2 miles south of Invermoriston as we thought, but two miles south of Fort Augustus, which is itself 8 miles past Invermoriston. We would have been hooped, wet, tired and lost. Small mercy but mercy all the same.

The weather was gorgeous, warm, sunny and dry, which, although we appreciated it very much, added to our respective private chagrin at not having met our challenge to bike the Glen. However, we are realists and we knew that we were pushing ourselves beyond what was safe. We could have completed the ride we are sure but we also realised that we had lost heart.

The upside was the warm, surprised welcome back to Atholdene house by Lucy, the Angel of Coffee, and a bunch of lovely days spent tramping around the Inverness Area and fun evenings spent at the always excellent Hootenany's in Church Street in Inverness.

I have photos posted on my Flickr space. They are copyrighted so please ask me before you used them, but also please enjoy.

If you'd like more information on the Great Glen, the cycle path and the walking path, please leave a comment on this page.