Arriving at Loch Rannoch, it starts to rain. It continues for three days and is joined by a wild wind that keeps us awake at night. Not due, in part, to the fact the tent is positioned back-to-front for such conditions, of course. There’s even a sign saying ‘wind’ on the end of the tent that should be facing into the wind.
A pretty forest to stay in, but it has lost its magic. In retrospect, we couldn’t have made a better decision. About five minutes after leaving Kinloch Rannoch, the rain stops, the wind dies down and the sun shines. It’s a great day for the next leg of our journey.
Our route is 113 miles and brings us to a small campsite not far from the Isle of Skye. We decide to use it as a base for exploring Skye and anything else of interest in the vicinity.
We begin on a windy B road, that isn’t too daunting. We turn left and the ride becomes a challenge, it’s single lane with very limited passing points. There’s plenty of steep, winding bends to keep our wits on high alert, not to mention the unpredictable direction that sheep will take when you meet them on the road. We’re meeting plenty of sheep.
We meet a lorry, that is the full width of the road. There’s nowhere for us to go, and even stopped, there isn’t room for us unless we take a dive into the surrounding moorland, from which we’d have to be crane lifted out. We don’t have a reverse gear, and we’re on a steep hill. And to think hill starts used to be such a big deal! The lorry driver recognises the problem and makes a tortuous journey in reverse up the hill until it reaches a passing place at the top. We’re more than grateful.
It isn’t today that we pass a tractor rally, but I’ll mention it here, as it was on part of the road that we’re travelling today. It’s not unusual to pass a tractor in these ‘ere parts, but when you’re passing two, no three, in a row, things seem a little out of kilter. Concentrating on the gap between the verge and the tractors, I couldn’t keep count of how many passed us, but Verd did get to 16. Some looked somewhat antiquated.
We experienced the tractor escapade during a ride out to Queen’s View, a few miles from Loch Rannoch.
The challenging single lane road takes us through sheep-shaped moorland, not unlike being in Yorkshire. This means peat, heather, marsh grasses, bilberry bushes and little more. Heritage groups are hard at work preserving this desolation, sheep-farming being part of the cultural heritage of the land. However, it isn’t good for our natural heritage. Sheep soon eat anything that tries to take root and what was once densely forested land, is now tree-less. It’s not the kind of the land that we’d typically think of as desert, but that is essentially what it is.*
The breeze is gusty at times, making some of the bends more difficult. I’m learning all the time, rarely using brakes to slow for bends and controlling the bike through using the clutch. I later learn that this is good practice, although, I’m sure something from my lessons stuck that made me introduce this feature into bend control.
I’m somewhat relieved when we meet the A9 and we have a smooth, fast ride for a few miles. Soon the sat nav directs us left and we travel the A87 via the A889. It’s a heavenly ride, the scenery nothing short of spectacular. There’s bends, but they are fast and I enjoy the tilt of the bike from one side to the other. Strangely, I’m finding the bike easier to handle with the weight of luggage than without. Except for when parking, and that’s a whole different story. I’ll tell it another time. It’s worth a designated post.
We stop at a popular picnic spot, recognising an opportunity, not only for a good photo, but also for some chips. The chips plan doesn’t work out, which is probably good for my waistline, but we do get some photos and have a good ol’ chat with a couple of other bikers.
One, whose family has now flown the nest says, more than once ,how inspired he feels by what we’re doing.
That is a poor photo – and I would have take another had I known how badly I caught him out. He’s quite the handsome chap and deserved another shot!
We surmise that we’re standing by Loch Ness, but this later turns out to be fake news, as it’s really Loch Lochy, south of Loch Ness. We have to turn just before we get to Loch Ness. Perhaps we’ll find it again on our way back?
Anyway, onward to Shiel Bridge, a small campsite completely surrounded by mountains. The scenery is going from beautiful, to stunning to breath-taking the further north we go. We book in, then get on our bikes to find a pitch. I watch Verd try to pull out and then, in slow motion, fall gently sideways as he drops the bike. Off I get, this is a big load to pick up. We fail. We try again. We fail.
A bike passes on the road, and the same bike comes back.
“I’m only a weedy bloke, but I reckon between the three of us, we can get her up.”
I think it was sheer will power, but soon she’s upright – although we did take off a bit of the weight before trying. I plan a good, serious conversation about the weight we’re carrying, health & safety (I used to be a teacher, it’s in my bones), etc. He managed to drop his bike twice in one day previously. Then, I pull up beside Verd’s, now safely, parked bike and pull in a little too close (I keep forgetting how wide the panniers are). In slow motion, I fall gently sideways as I drop my bike.
No lecturing to be had. Doh!
Darren, our camping neighbour comes to the rescue, but I have to remove the tent so that we have something to grab before we attempt the lift.
We selected this location for two reasons. It’s only about 15 miles from the Isle of Skye, so can do a day tour of the isle and secondly, it boasts hot showers. The last stopping point was cold water only and after three days of cold water, wind and rain, I’m in the hot shower faster than a rabbit in mating season.
We take a good walk through a mountain range called the Five Sisters, then after lunch, take short ride out on our first day to a little village called Glenelg which has 2,500 year old stone hut constructions.
It’s extremely hot in our gear, so we don’t get to see them, but stop off for a tonic water instead. The village has a quaint inn, which oozes the smell of peat fires and is playing a few Scottish tunes by the Blind Old Dogs. Apparently, they can only be found on Spotify, but I recommend them if you do. The landlady introduced us to another band called Tweed, a little more commercial and good fun for a ceilidh, we’re told. I like them, but prefer the Blind Old Dogs, they have more of a feel of a couple of (extremely good) players by the fire of an evening, just enjoying themselves. However, I think both bands need to be given more of an ear before full judgement is made.
We look at a sample menu and Thursday promises fresh seafood, so we book a table for Thursday evening. I’m really looking forward to it. We’re planning the day out on Skye, and I’m sure we’ll be good and hungry when we get back. I’m hoping we’ll be able to taxi it, so I can enjoy some wine too, ‘cos although it’s not the pass to Applecross **, it is a road to be respected. With luck, our next visit will also take in the ancient monuments.
During the evening, I get extremely excited. We see a bird glide on the thermals over the mountain, later joined by two others. They have the call of a bird of prey, and the colouring is brighter than a buzzard. Could they be golden eagles? They are just too far away for full identification, but I’m going to check out the competing possibilities when back on the net.
Our second day in Shiel Bridge is more sedate, we’ve massaged out some aching muscles and catch up with the documenting of the journey. I’m not sure why we both feel this to be important, but perhaps it has something to do with ageing memory. We’re already having to double-check facts with each other!
We’re staying here a couple more nights, and then will make our way to Durness on the north-western tip of Scotland. We’ll then make our way south again and pay a visit to our nearest and dearest before crossing the Channel.
*Rant heavily influenced by a recent Guardian Article by George Monbiot
**Applecross is a small town on the west coast of Scotland, and one of the roads to it, is through a mountain range. It’s well-known in biker circles and I’m getting the impression that if I ever survived doing it, then I can call myself a biker. Right now, I’m hoping Verd doesn’t get any ideas about doing it.