An Turas Mor – Glasgow to Cape Wrath – Day 7

Day 8: Is a celebration of a ride. After taking the tiny ferry onto the Cape Wrath peninsula, the cycle on off-road track to the Lighthouse and the end of the trail is just a great end to a magnificent journey that has taken you through the very heart of the Scottish Highlands.

Maybe next year…

In the morning it’s ~5hr ride to Lairg, passing the ferry port for Cape Wrath (bittersweet) and using some of the NC500’s A838 coast road before heading inland/east. We make good time on the road (I can use the aerobars for the 2nd time :D) so have lunch in a nice cafe in Lairg (Pier Cafe). We pack cakes for the train trip and it starts to rain for the first time in a few days. In Inverness we have a hotel and do a little bar crawl. Same again for Glasgow after some shenanigans changing at Perth with Scotland playing football on Saturday! This is the second time we’ve paid silly prices for hotels in Glasgow – the last time was during Commonwealth Games. Need to pay more attention to the Glasgow events listings…

Damn right you should be looking happy, you smashed it chick!
Damn right you should be looking happy, you smashed it chick!
Lovely morning mist
Lovely morning mist
Highland traffic
Highland traffic
View of Loch Inchard from A838
View of Loch Inchard from A838
Ben Hope from the south side? Near Loch Stack anyway
Ben Hope from the south side? Near Loch Stack anyway
Scotland just keeps on giving...
Scotland just keeps on giving…
Enjoying the 'free speed' on sealed roads
Enjoying the ‘free speed’ on sealed roads
Loch More, looking at Aultanrynie
Loch More, looking at Aultanrynie
Malwinki is amazed at the size of this shroom. It's massive!
Malwinki is amazed at the size of this shroom. It’s massive!
Back at the Start, Kelvingrove
Back at the Start, Kelvingrove
Fin.
Fin.

Thanks to Rich and David and the members of Obscura Mondo Cycle Club that developed the An Turas Mor route and guides.

Thanks to everyone in Scotland that was super friendly and wonderfully helpful and hospitable during the trip.

What should we do next?

An Turas Mor – Glasgow to Cape Wrath – Day 6

Day 7: The first part of the day is easy riding along Strath to the hydro dam in the shadow of Ben More Assynt. A short steep climb takes you to Loch Shin. Just after Merkland Lodge turn onto an upland offroad trail to Gobernuisgach Lodge. Descend to the ford at Cashel Dhu. CAUTION: If the river is in spate do not cross here. Better head back up river, cross if safe next to Ben More Car Park or better still cross using the bridge at Alltnacaillich followed by one mile portage to connect back with hill track to Loch Eribol then onwards on the coastal road to Durness.

Me 'orse, me 'orse
Me ‘orse, me ‘orse

We had our alarms set so we would have the tent packed up by the time the Achness Hotel opened for breakfast aka making the most of the daylight but still smashing the fry-up on offer! Frazer (Achness manager and chef, to my knowledge) made some amazing scrambled eggs for me. Full up, we eventually ride out and up along the River Cassley.

River Cassley
River Cassley
The amount of stone walls built is inversely proportional to the availability of TV and Internet
Amount of stone wall built of an era is inversely proportional to the availability of TV/Internet
Up we go
Up we go
Nice trail, lovely colours, lots of water
Nice trail, lovely colours, lots of water
Dam(n)!
Dam(n)!
Loch Shin
Loch Shin, photo not taken from up high like I wanted to…

The climb up from the Duchally Weir is paved but tough. I use ‘relubing of my chain’ as an excuse for a breather. Note: waxed chains get stripped and noisy pretty quickly in the wet in Scotland; but it was a case of run what ya brung for me. I was carrying Ceramic Wet lube and once clean and lubed the chain would quiet down again. Had a funny incident on the descent to Loch Shin. I was in front and thought I’d let Malwinki catch up and at the same time take a photo of the loch. So I stop near a hillock before a turn and go to get the phone out for a photo when the hillock moves, waves its arm and tells me to keep going! Turns out some deer hunters in camo (legit SMIDSY!) were laying right there and I’d stopped right behind them. Tip: if you’re a deer hunter, maybe don’t shoot from 2m off an open road and don’t get upset when someone doesn’t see you if you’re dressed in camo! Ha!

Not needing to detour to Overscaig Lodge for supplies we turned north on the A838 past Loch Merkland and then branched off right through West Merkland lodge’s ‘two-boulder gate’.

West Merkland
West Merkland
Huge boulders to our left, running streams to the right with nothing for scale
Huge boulders to our left, running streams to the right with nothing for scale

We stopped for lunch in the middle of the trail here ^. It was just immense. There were huge boulders that looked ready to topple down on us at any moment and over the water was the noise from the streams running down the mountain. There was nothing man-made to indicate the scale of anything. It was just huge, beautiful nature and a nice moment to stop and ‘try’ to take it all in.

Has anyone seen the 'remote'?
Has anyone seen the ‘remote’?
No drama with the calmer panorama
No drama with the calmer panorama

Passing Gobernuisgach Lodge, we hit some single track following the river. If you have the full route file off the ATM website it actually takes the HT550 route and follows the Glen Golly River left here but this was supposed to be much more technical with lots of hike a bike so we went right along a very wet riverside ‘track’. The trail then seems to go across a field but we lost it and were just wandering through high grass and stream crossings aiming for the next turn until we found a track again. Quite confusing and could do with a few more GPS points in this file to make it more obvious.

Not the HT550. We went right and took this very soggy riverside trail instead
Not the HT550. We went right and took this very soggy riverside trail instead
2300 year old 'Dun Dorniagal Brock'
2300 year old ‘Dun Dorniagal Brock’

We suspected it was going to be a ‘no go’ but the plan was to check out the 4m river fording at Cashel Dhu to see if it was passable. Unfortunately, it was more like a 40m crossing and there was no way I was going swimming with a bike (again).

Cashel Dhu river crossing - um, no thanks
Cashel Dhu river crossing – um, no thanks

We backtracked, which was handy, as I found my sunglasses on the trail that must’ve bounced off on the way down to the river. We weren’t going to go back to the Alltnacaillich bridge and take the 5km ‘portage’ option so instead rode north along Loch Hope and joined the A838, which adds maybe 15km and a couple of road climbs before it rejoins the ATM route again at Eriboll.

View of Ben Hope from farm track just off A838 detour
View of Ben Hope from farm track just off our A838 detour

We’d had no tyre dramas after Malwinki’s valve issue right at the start so it was a bit funny that I had a rear tyre puncture (the first for this ‘former frontman’ Pirelli Cinturato M) on the road with only 20k to go until Durness. This was the first time using a Dynaplug in anger. It worked exactly as expected, sealing the tyre and letting us continue fairly quickly (after hosing all the sprayed sealant off my frame and saddlebag).

The only puncture for the entire route. Dynaplug worked well.
The only puncture for the entire route. Dynaplug worked well.

We arrive in Durness!

This would be our ATM finish point. The Cape Wrath ferryman was on holidays so we couldn’t get over to Cape Wrath itself. We knew doing this out of season that it was unlikely we’d get all the way so this is one of those things you need to be prepared for. We were stoked to have made it all the way to Durness given the rocky start, terrible weather and kit issues. So, we weren’t too bothered about the Cape Wrath section and it gives us a reason to come back!

Durness
Durness
Durness
Durness
Sango Sands campsite, Durness
Sango Sands campsite, Durness

We try and find a B&B but everything is either shut, full, or £300/night so we end up camping at Sango Sands for £20. They’ve got showers (extra thanks to whoever left their shampoo in there) and a nearby bar and some onsite food shop doing takeaway next to the pub. We pitch up out of the wind. The Tyvek ‘groundsheet’ (it’s building insulation) off ebay we cut to size is full of holes now from rubbing on Malwinki’s brake cables and I wonder how it will cope with the soggy ground. Hot showers before ringing through a large food order just before the kitchen closed. I find another tick on my leg while in the bogs and remove it with no drama. Over to the bar it is for a celebratory Irn Bru (and some Orkney beers, whiskies and the takeaway meals we ordered). While at the pub we decide not to hang around tomorrow but instead ride south to Lairg to get the 3pm train to Inverness then overnight there and train to Glasgow, then overnight and another train back to London. We ring up and book bike spots on the necessary trains.

What's that Lassie? It's your round?
What’s that Lassie? It’s your round?

An Turas Mor – Glasgow to Cape Wrath – Day 5

Day 5: The Corriehaille hydro scheme rough tracks are followed all the way to Contin where the trail joins the ‘Strathpuffer’ forest cycle trails to the historic Little Garve Bridge and onwards via forest trail to Inchbae.

Day 6: It’s into really remote mountains now, following an ancient drove trail all the way to Oykel Bridge and Rosehall.

Coffee and porridge at camp is such a novelty, having never carried cooking stuff before
Coffee and porridge at camp is such a novelty, having never carried cooking stuff before

It’s a very clear and so very cold night in Contin but I slept better than in Killin, having swapped sleeping bags with Malwinki. Strange that I’m the fat one, but sleep cold, whereas she’s usually too warm. We pack up and then backtrack to the Contin Store again to get water and who could resist more food and another coffee? Then it’s back through where we camped and into the forest proper. We make a little detour to check out Rogie Falls…

Rogie Falls, near Contin
Rogie Falls, near Contin
Loch Garve
Loch Garve
View from Little Garve Bridge
View from Little Garve Bridge

We rode on to Inchbae Lodge, the ATM’s Day 5 finish point, where we stopped for a sit-down lunch in their warm conservatory out back. Burgers and a pint of Golden Cow from Strathcarron Brewery as well as some hearty rolls (ie. egg and hashbrowns) to take away.

Blue skies
Blue skies
Hairy coos!
Hairy coos!
Loch Vaich?
Loch Vaich?
Malwinki says the hills remind her of Moby Dick-esque wales
Malwinki says the hills remind her of Moby Dick-esque wales
Imagine living there - Deanich Lodge
Imagine living there – Deanich Lodge
Nerdface on the bridge near Deanich Lodge
Nerdface on the bridge near Deanich Lodge
Highland traffic jam
Highland traffic jam

​There’s no big climbs through here, it’s just a long gradual gradient upwards following the water along Gleann Mor. We pass through the Alladale Wilderness Reserve and head on to Croick where we stopped to explore the Croick Church and look at the signatures etched into the windows by farmers displaced during the Highland Clearances.

Croick Church with crofters names etched into windows during Clearance of Glencalvie in 1845
Croick Church with crofters names etched into windows during Clearance of Glencalvie in 1845
Oykel Bridge
Oykel Bridge

I’m not wearing my sunglasses and my eyes get slammed with some bugs during the fast forest descent towards Oykel Bridge. We head to the Oykel Bridge Hotel, knowing it will be closed, having earlier rung them to ask about booking a room. I use an outside tap to try and wash the bugs out of my eye and then we try the old ‘get your partner to jam her finger in your eye’ trick, but no dice, so we push quickly on along the A837 looking at other establishments along the way until we get to the Achness Hotel. It has lovely flat grassy areas outside and I’m immediately thinking of asking them if we can camp the night outside (Desperation Face: Engaged). The staff are lovely and we order some drinks and ask about the camping situation. They’re totally cool with it providing we order a main meal. That was going to happen regardless, so I’m stoked. They also open early enough that we can grab a nice breakfast as well. So, we finish our drinks, clean bugs out of eyeballs, clean ourselves up then set the tent up next to the pub before sitting down to a lovely dinner beside their fireplace! Now THIS is camping 🙂

Achness Hotel
Achness Hotel
Achness Hotel camping
Achness Hotel camping
It's settling, just like I'm settling into the cosy pub
It’s settling, just like I’m settling into the cosy pub

While using ‘the facilites’ I spot one of these little critters on my thigh. It’s a tick and we expected to encounter some so we came prepared with tick tweezers. It’s so small I have to actually take a photo of it to confirm it’s a tick and which way it’s pointing. Performing my first ever Tickgetoffme procedure is a little pinchy as I probably grabbed more skin than tick but it seems clean so all good.

Tick tock
Tick tock

After eating ALL their apple pie (and Malwinki’s huge cheesecake) as well as some more pints and a few drams we are all set to dive into the tent. It’s pissing down now and there’s only one small tent door so we run to it one at a time and have a pretty decent nights sleep. I think it stayed about 10C all night so it was quite toasty.

 

An Turas Mor – Glasgow to Cape Wrath – Day 4

Day 4: It’s back on another historic trail, this time its Major Caulfield’s road. Built in the 1700’s the ‘road’ provides excellent single track to Glenmoriston. The new power line track creates a great off-road link after another big climb to beautiful Glen Affric and its ancient twisted Pine trees.

Day 5: The Corriehaille hydro scheme rough tracks are followed all the way to Contin where the trail joins the ‘Strathpuffer’ forest cycle trails to the historic Little Garve Bridge and onwards via forest trail to Inchbae.

We grab (not literally, remember we’d had dinner) the woman cooking breakfast at the hostel and she says she can do us some breakfast rolls, fruit, cereal bars at 8am so we have some coffee, pack up our dried kit and tuck in to the food when that arrives and then set off. The trail continues right behind the hostel, with a reasonably steep set of soggy switchbacks up through the forest on Caulfield’s Road. It’s steamy work in amongst the trees but eventually we pop back out onto dirt road.

Courage ATM
Courage ATM
Nerdface enjoying herself
Nerdface enjoying herself

After about 7km, the route turns left onto some bumpy singletrack and in here there’s a “4m stream crossing” which thankfully wasn’t in spate so no detour required. If you’re careful, you can keep your feet dry… ff you’re me, well, top marks for my Dexshell waterproof socks.

Stream crossing
Stream crossing
Singletrack between Fort Augustus and Glenmoriston
Singletrack between Fort Augustus and Glenmoriston

After the singletrack descent we took the ATM guidebook’s suggestion and rode a mile further down the road to Redburn Cafe in Dundreggan. Here we had some coffee and cake (scones w/ jam and cream for me) for morning tea and grabbed a couple of sandwiches to pack away for lunch. The guidebook mentions that the Estate has blocked the gate behind the cafe but my GPS route still used this blocked way so we found ourselves having climbed up to a locked gate. We had to ride back down past the car graveyard onto the A887 and use the next turn, just before Tomcrasky Road, near the red phone box. There’s also a gated trail in between these two tracks but a loaded bike doesn’t fit through (see pics below).

Blocker not showstopper
Blocker not showstopper
Blocker not showstopper
Blocker not showstopper

Now there’s another decent climb past some logging trucks and then it opens up and you can see for miles. There’s some blue sky and it’s hot enough work that the waterproofs have to come off (so nice not having clammy waterproofs sticking to your legs!). There’s lots of photos of ‘someone’ walking but I’ll not post those to protect the innocent. Walking is no bad thing up here though – the views are stunning.

Sheeple
Sheeple
The joy of not wearing waterproof trousers
The joy of not wearing waterproof trousers shows
Ben Nevis in the distance?
Ben Nevis in the distance?
Loch na Bienne Baine
Loch na Bienne Baine

From here it’s 10k of open and forest descent down into the village of Tommich, where we stop for refreshments, remembering my rule of, ‘if food is available – eat it’. We get lucky for a change and as soon as we’re inside the skies open and a big shower hits.

Pea & garlic soup, scone, Hoppy Ness beer
Pea & garlic soup, scone, Hoppy Ness beer

Because we had now decided to push on and it’s likely to get colder and/or wetter, we revisit the ‘crappy glove’ issue and decide to try and buy some Marigold washing up gloves to supplement our existing gloves. There’s a Spar in Cannich, which is only 5k further along the route, just over the river so we head there. On arrival, Malwinki points out an Aussie flag sign in the window but I think nothing of it. Then I spot a can of Solo (light on the fizz so you can slam it down fast) in the fridge. Every Australian should be familiar with this drink. It turns out, the owner is a Sydney woman and she runs an Aussie food import business and has an Aussie section in the Spar! What are the chances?! We only arrived here for washing up gloves (which we found and bought) but we left with an arm load of Aussie treats.

Aussie food shop in Cannich Spar
Aussie food shop in Cannich Spar – https://cannichstores.co.uk/
Cannich also has a Teapot Fairy
Cannich also has a Teapot Fairy
Another shower misses us after leaving Cannich
Another shower misses us after leaving Cannich
It's only 4pm so we push on into Day 5 of the route
It’s only 4pm so we push on into Day 5 of the route

At some point we’ve looked at the remaining flat route for the day and decided, since we still have 3hrs of daylight left and the weather is nice, we should push on past Struy and into Day 5 of the ATM guidebook route. The climb is tough but the views are rewarding.

You can see why "hydro" schemes are popular in Scotland
You can see why “hydro” schemes are popular in Scotland

The tension starts to mount when we realise the descent isn’t going to be a fast one and that ‘3hrs of daylight’ becomes 2hrs.

Not the rewarding descent we had in mind
Not the rewarding descent we had in mind
I do not enjoy the tonne of hike-a-bike through this wet trail
I do not enjoy the tonne of hike-a-bike through this wet trail
*waves*
*waves*
Thankfully after turning a corner the trail dries out and doubles up
Thankfully after turning a corner the trail dries out and doubles up
The Conon hydro scheme
The Conon hydro scheme
Orrin Dam
Orrin Dam
Sunset from Orrin Dam
Sunset from Orrin Dam

We haul arse down the smoother and drier doubletrack, snap some pics at Orrin Dam (1hr of daylight left) and then zoom down the paved road to Marybank. There’s not much in Marybank so we head onwards to Contin to see if the Riverside campsite is open. It’s not, but Contin Stores is, so we grab some snacks, beers and everyone’s favourite camp food – Pot Noodles! We ask the nice woman running the shop if she has any wildcamping suggestions. She does and we decide to use the closest of them – Contin Forest – just a couple of km away and on the ATM. I don’t have any pics of it but I think we actually set the tent up with some remaining daylight (always helps) and then used the handy Forestry toilets to clean up and change into warmer clothes while cooking up a little feast (ok, Pot Noodle, Cup-A-Soup, the lunch sandwiches, beer and random snacks) with the stove.

 

An Turas Mor – Glasgow to Cape Wrath – Day 3

Day 3:  Follows hydro and stalker paths all the way to Loch Laggan to join the historic General Wade’s Military Road built in the eighteenth century which crosses the highest pass of the trail the notorious Corrieyairack Pass, followed by a long offroad descent to Loch Ness and Fort Augustus.

Loch Ossian
Loch Ossian
Loch Ossian YHA
Loch Ossian YHA
The Loch Ossian YHA massive
The Loch Ossian YHA massive
Stoked and ready to roll
Stoked and ready to roll

We were in amazing spirits after all the warmth, food and lovely hospitality from last night so had obviously decided to push on rather than bail at Corrour. We still had some faster options to Inverness, if the weather stayed miserable and we couldn’t dry kit out, but everything was looking better this morning. After saying our goodbyes, we rode out and noticed the two guys (I think one was Matt, sorry I’ve forgotten names) were camped near an outbuilding and cooking breakfast. We had another chat and probably shouldn’t have mentioned how lucky we got with the hostel while they spent a wet and windy night in tents – sorry fellas! A few kms down the track I realised I’ve left my wallet at the YHA so have to back track but we’re soon making forward progress along Loch Ossian.

Mushroom mushroom
Malwinki can’t believe how many mushrooms are on the roadside


The riding is much easier for most of this stage (at least until Corrieyairack Pass, the biggest climb of the route, around the 50km mark) and the weather seems to be easing.







We were paying more attention to minimising ‘hanger’ today so using the notes from the ATM Guidebook – “Loch Laggan, lacustrian sandy beach at Kinloch Laggan, good spot for a break” we take a break and, for the first time, spark up LFGSS member Owl’s camp stove – one of three he’d kindly loaned me to test for this trip. Boiling water with his MSR copy in the 750ml Ti Toaks pot is quick and we make instant cappuccino (not my choice – next time we’ll take something different) and a last minute purchase from Decathlon – their dehydrated spaghetti bolognese. Turns out to be a good panic buy – it’s quite decent and we then clean and reuse the spag bol packets for the rest of the trip, in place of having any of those natty folding plastic bowls (mmm bolognese-falvoured porridge).

Sandy beach on Loch Laggan
Sandy beach on Loch Laggan
Owl's loaner stove w/ Decathlon spag bol
Owl’s loaner stove w/ Decathlon spag bol
Decathlon 'Pasta Bolognese' packets worked as bowls for most of the trip
Decathlon ‘Pasta Bolognese’ packets worked as bowls for most of the trip

There’s a 10% off-road climb out of Loch Laggan and then there’s some lodges to ride through – one filled with deer – so ride quietly if you want to see them.

Sun's out, guns out
Sun’s out, guns out
Another rainbow but the weather is better today
Another rainbow but the weather is better today
Deer me
Deer me

After some road sections we were soon at the base of the day’s dread… Corrieyairack Pass, the biggest climb on the ATM route at 770m elevation. There were lots of stream crossings and stone-edged drainage gullies. Some were shallow and easily rideable, others were deep enough on the high side that it made sense to jump off the bike and walk over or around. We’d heard horror stories about this climb but I didn’t think it was all that bad (Malwinki might have a different opinion – she looked a bit trashed on this climb). Sure, it was long and the hairpins at the top are very steep but it’s so much easier to walk these than ride. I was doing the same speed walking as riding but my lower back was much happier not having to do 600W around each hairpin corner.

Corrieyairack Pass
Corrieyairack Pass
Corrieyairack Pass
Corrieyairack Pass
Corrieyairack Pass
Corrieyairack Pass
The top of Corrieyairack Pass
The top of Corrieyairack Pass

Having crested the top it was a fast and loose descent down towards Fort Augustus.

One of us might've been a bit 'faster and looser' than the other...
One of us might’ve been a bit ‘faster and looser’ than the other…
Still descending...
Still descending…
Who put this climb in here?!
Who put this climb in here?!

There were some navigational hiccups as we got closer to town. I looked at the files when we got home and we seem to have three different routes into Fort Augustus. One of them clearly wasn’t right as it tried to go through the grounds of this pink place which is private property.

Pink Party Palace Presented Problems for Progress
Pink Party Palace Presented Problems for Progress
Follow me!
Follow me!

After a few dead-ends and some hike-a-bike through a cemetery (technically another ‘dead end’?) we finally cycled into Fort Augustus and straight into a Londis to inhale much needed food and drink while checking phones for (roofed) accommodation options. We settled on Morag’s Hostel which happened to be the cheapest and closest option, just around the corner from the Londis. After some price querying we were checked in to our own room and promptly turned it into a massive drying rack. It was here we noticed the cables on Malwinki’s bike had eaten their way through her Topeak Frontloader handlebar bag. It has a weird arrangement where the curved harness part is out front rather than the Revelate stuff which has the more solid part at the back. Anyway, we patch this up with Gorilla tape for now, but we’ll need to find a better solution – her brake cable splitters also ended up damaging the head tube paint on her bike.

World's largest drying rack
World’s largest drying rack
The Bothy pub dinner
The Bothy pub dinner

After cleaning ourselves up we headed back into town and had a huge feed and some brews at The Bothy pub. We met the boys again (they’d sensibly got an airbnb and were probably madly drying stuff like us) and this was where they diverted off the ATM route so we wouldn’t see them again. Much fuller and happier we had a nightcap in Morag’s bar and then hit the sack.

An Turas Mor – Glasgow to Cape Wrath – Day 2

Day 2:  Continues up NR7 using a disused railway line to a pass crossing the busy A85, followed by a Forest trail descent to the Falls of Dochart and Killin. The trail turns west here to follow the Strath to the remote and wild Pubil Pass to Glen Lyon, which then turns east to the Bridge of Balgie with its Post Office Cafe. A cake or two is a good idea for the Kirk Pass is the next challenge. This steep off-road pass is a serious climb which will bring you to Loch Rannoch. Another climb then follows skirting Rannoch Moor to Loch Ossian

The forecast had said the rain would stop at 8am so we stayed in the tent a while. Of course it didn’t stop and we were just uncomfortable and wasting time now so we quickly packed everything up wet and got a move on. The Alpkit sleeping pad had punctured at some point so we’d need to fix this one before next camp (Gorilla tape didn’t work but a Lezyne glue-less patch did the trick)

Wakey wakey hands off snakey
Wakey wakey hands off snakey

​We start with some more climbing which is nice as it warms us up a bit. Then it’s up the Kenknock climb which is pretty hard work sans-breakfast. But there’s a rainbow and some motivational messages for ATM riders up there…

Kenknock climb
Kenknock climb
Forza ATM!
Forza ATM!

After the climb is 17k of wet, cold, ok, very cold descent to the Bridge of Balgie. This is when we both find our gloves not up to the task and start to question whether it’s sensible to push on or not, given our expectation of it getting colder as we head further north.

Descent to Bridge of Balgie
Descent to Bridge of Balgie
Descent to Bridge of Balgie
Descent to Bridge of Balgie

Thankfully the Glenlyon Post Office Cafe was open so we had a long break here – warming up, eating/drinking hot stuff, squeezing water out of wet kit, talking about road bail out options. Of course, while under cover, the rain stopped and the sun came out and this must have improved our mood as we decide to carried on.

Bird at Glen Lyon post office

Glenlyon Post Office Cafe

The climb up Kirk Pass is quite steep in places and towards the top is very wet in places. Other than being a midfoot rider I’m wearing normal shoes (FiveTen Freeriders) and using flat pedals (Pedaling Innovations Catalyst) so it’s easy to jump off the bike and walk any steep bits. Flats are also useful for walking around big puddles that you can’t see the bottom of and don’t fancy losing a front wheel and face-planting in. Kirk Pass is a pretty decent slog and, of course, the rain comes back.

Kirk Pass
Kirk Pass
Kirk Pass
Kirk Pass
Kirk Pass
Kirk Pass
Kirk Pass
Kirk Pass
Kirk Pass
Kirk Pass
Kirk Pass
Kirk Pass

There was a nice forest descent off Kirk Pass down to Loch Rannoch and then some very pretty views while riding alongside the loch. We notice a couple of blokes with bikes stopped lochside and head on towards Rannoch Station where we hoped to have a proper feed at the cafe there. Alas, at the B846 turn west, there was a sign saying the cafe would be closed. “No soup for you!”. This was starting to get quite unfun – I was running on fumes and getting proper hangry but we pushed on up ‘The Road to the Isles’ into the Highlands. Somewhere along here I stopped to jam a pack of jelly snakes into my face and the two guys passed, saying hi and asking if all ok. A little later on one of the duo had stopped for a gate and we caught up and had a chat. They were doing a similar few days to us but then detouring for a fast ride to Inverness. They disappeared up the climb. The climb turned into a proper bastard, with loads of streams to cross, some of them very fast moving and requiring a bit of exploring up and down to find the safest crossing point. All the while it’s blowing a gale and tipping down with rain.

The rain's a comin'
The rain’s a comin’

Eventually we crest the top and get to drop down fast to Loch Ossian. We ride straight into the YHA there, drop the bikes and wander around looking to see if we can shelter somewhere or ask someone if we can camp on the grounds. We already knew it was booked out but thought we could at least pitch next to a building out of the wind. We must have looked pretty trashed as Jan, the manager, immediately offers us the hostel’s shed. This is no ordinary shed – it already has a bed frame, electricity, lights, fridge, kettle, tables, etc. We look at each other and think we’ve won the lottery. She then proceeds to hammer some floor tiles onto the wall where there’s a bit of a leak while we move some bikes outside to make a bit more space. While all this is happening, Katherine, one of the hostel guests comes outside to move her bike. She asks if we’ve been double jabbed and when we tell her “yes” she asks if we want to come inside and get warm. It turns out, they’re a big group of walkers and cyclists doing their annual group trip. They had a couple of ‘no shows’ so offer us beds for the night. “What the?! Oh, yes please!”. So, we’ve gone from miserable and soaked to posh shed glamping to actually sleeping in a toasty warm hostel! We both shower and clean up and then they feed us a lovely meal (including my first Cranachan – lovely combo of whisky-soaked oats, cream and raspberries) and give us drinks and we have a great night chatting away with the group. Amazing! Thanks so much Jan, Katherine, Isobel, Dave, Saartje and the rest of the gang! They wouldn’t take our money either so instead I sent some money to the Mountain Bothies Association as it seemed appropriate given the “shelter” we’d received. We had planned to bail here, getting a train from nearby Corrour Station, but this huge uplift in mood changed that and turned out to be the catalyst to us finishing the An Turas Mor.

 

An Turas Mor – Glasgow to Cape Wrath – Day 1

Scotland cycling

“From Glasgow to Cape Wrath on Scotland’s Premier Long Distance Mountain-Gravel Bike Trail” – https://www.anturasmor.co.uk/

An Turas Mor Route mapAn Turas Mor Route Map (copied from their website)

Day Distance (km) Elevation (m)
ATMc1 Glasgow to Balquhidder Station 89.8 1,134
ATMc2 Balquidder Station to Loch Ossian (orig) 95 1,493
ATMc3 Loch Ossian to Fort Augustus 77.9 1,181
ATMc4 Fort Augustus to Struy 52.1 1,069
ATMc5 Struy to Inchbae Lodge 55.6 902
ATMc6 Inchbae Lodge to Rosehall 62.8 634
ATMc7 Rosehall to Durness 97.7 1,217
ATMc8 Durness to Cape Wrath 22.3 395

So, we bought a new (used) lightweight tent (Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2) and decided, after staring at weather forecasts for weeks, Scotland’s An Turas Mor trail was still worth attempting in early October. We rode the Downs Overnighter to test the tent. It worked but exposed some issues with carrying it on our bikes – cue some research and a custom bag arriving very quickly from Beer Babe which holds the tent poles under my downtube and a more durable S2S Big River drybag w/ Voile straps for the tent itself. I was pretty chuffed that Beer Babe let me name the downtube bag and Hippy’s Down Under Pack is available to order here. Lots more panic buying, borrowing and packing and repacking later, we rolled in to London Euston after work on Friday, had a pint and had a very good experience getting bikes on and then off the train in Glasgow thanks to Avanti West Coast. Other UK train companies could learn a thing or three from Avanti!

Day 1: Starting at the Kelvin Park Bridge in the very centre of Glasgow the route north follows the cycle path on the banks of the Kelvin – a deep forested river gorge that hides the city and its sounds from you.  Forested muddy singletrack awaits defying the fact you are exiting a major city. Leaving the Kelvin you pick up the banks of the Allendar Water to Milngavie where the trail joins the walkers of the West Highland Way to Drymen. The trail now picks up the Rob Roy Trail through forest to Aberfoyle with its famous cyclist cafe. Onwards and upwards, to the Dukes Pass in the Queen Elizabeth Forest. This route is part of the National Cycle Route 7 which now winds it way alongside Loch Lubnaig to Strathyre.

Fry-up at the hotel cleared, we rolled away shortly after from the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and even more shortly after we stopped again because the grrl’s (@PhilDAS) rear tyre had deflated. Yes, of course I’m starting 500km of off-road riding in the Highlands with four brand new tubeless tyre installs.

#fucktubeless#fucktubeless

I scream obscenities at the wheel until the valve agrees that I’m right and seals and we roll away again, wondering if we’ll even make it out of Glasgow and where the nearest bike shop is. We clear Glasgow quickly and are now in stop/start boggy singletrack for a while, neither of us really stoked about anything. Some roads and some more muck and we eventually get to the

West Highland Way

West Highland Way which is quite popular with walkers and their dogs – we “hey buddy” all of them – RIP Iohan. It starts raining as we roll into the ironically named town of Drymen. Thankfully it has a nice little bakery where we can eat cake and drink coffee while sorting our waterproof stuff out. We carry on, wet and still a bit miserable to Aberfoyle, stopping in at Macgregors for a proper lunch, more coffee and large piece of cake. Definitely worth a stop here. Then the trail heads up into forest with a fantastic waterfall. Food + pretty view = massive mood increase!

Waterfall @ Duke's Pass
Waterfall @ Duke’s Pass

An Turas Mor

An Turas Mor

Lovely mossy forest
Lovely mossy forest

Somewhere near Laggan we stopped to clear the trail of fallen branches and this timed perfectly with two women riding the other way, also on loaded bikes (MTBs). We had a nice little chat with them and exchanged tips for each other’s upcoming trail sections. Always good to meet fellow bike travelers to lift the spirits. Thanks ladies!

Hairy Coo statue in Strathyre
Hairy Coo statue in Strathyre

Yes, every view in Scotland looks like an oil painting
Falls Of Dochart
Falls Of Dochart
Hippy Chick beer pump clip
Hippy Chick w/ dinner @ The Falls Of Dochart Inn
Tent
First night’s camp outside Killin

We had decided to make the most of daylight and ride beyond the ATM’s Day 1 scheduled stop of Balquhidder Station and aim for Killin where there were more pubs and shops we could use for dinner before setting up camp. We had burgers and beers at The Falls Of Dochart Inn and, after speaking to some locals, decided to ride up the hill out of town to look for a tent pitch rather than pitch near the lochhead where there might be wardens a-wardening. I was so tempted by some lush, flat grass that I ignored the noisy hum of a hydro plant in the background. We slept… a bit… being cold and disturbed by rain through the night.

 Stay tuned…

Chiltern Ridgeway Bikepacking Weekender

Looking around for gravel / off-road options I stumbled onto Mark Goldie’s http://ridgewaydouble.net/ route and a vague plan was formulated, some more kit was purchased for @malwinki and packing commenced…

Revelate Vis-cat-cha
Revelate Vis-cat-cha

The weather looked good and since I’d finally given away the rear rack I’d had sitting on my porch for 10 years (typical!) our only option really was bivvy bags – the 1p Macpac tent I used touring Europe in 2005 was too big for any of my bikepacking bags. Malwinki got my waterproof RAB Alpine and I would use my ultralight most-certainly-not-waterproof fly bivvy. She had a full-length Alpkit sleep pad and I had a 3/4-length Thermarest NeoAir. I took my down jacket and half bag and Malwinki used my old, heavy, large full-length down bag, stuffed into a handlebar harness I’d just bought off @Aroogah.

Rather than go straight into wild camping I thought I’d ease Malwinki into this world by using a proper campsite – you know with showers and toilets. With other sites closed until April 2021 she found that the Barge Inn, Honey Street was open and we booked Sat night.

Day 1 – Saturday

5am Breakfast of Champions
5am Breakfast of Champions
I’d used RideWithGPS to plot a cycling (rather than my normal fast, main roads) route to the start and combined with the 6am Sat leaving time it was surprisingly quiet and made for a very pleasant start.
Having lived together for so long, our fluid, faultless communication had us standing in different spots at the start, each waiting for the other for 10 minutes…
Flowers
Where are you Malwinki?
Whipsnade White Lion, Ivinghoe Beacon
Whipsnade White Lion, Ivinghoe Beacon

Reunited and moving along the actual route now, we pass the Bridgewater Monument / Ashride Estate just before 9am and it’s already very busy with walkers and other cyclists.

Bridgewater Monument
Bridgewater Monument

Riding up Crawley’s Lane, a road climb we’d done on the previous week’s gravel grinder, we caught up to a bloke riding part of the route on his MTB and had a chat for a few kms. He done his knee in a couple of weeks before hitting a deer at speed but seemed well on his way to recovery. I let him go while waiting for @malwinki at the mowed field, where all the Kites were circling for critters, last weekend. It was a good call because it got a little more off-road through this section and I wouldn’t have been able to keep up on slicks with my skill level anyway and I didn’t want to ruin his fun. Thanks for the chat dude.

Cow face
Moo?
Mooooooooooo!
Mooooooooooo!

Through the woods we had a few navigation issues (I took a Garmin Edge 1030 and Garmin etrex 30x that I was trying on a new 3D-printed etrex mount (thanks to @Stonehedge for the printing and Ty Domin and/or his partner for the design). Disabling a borked map on the etrex helped but in the end I turned it off and stuck with the slow, but clearer Edge 1030. Eventually we popped out into this clearing with a lovely view. Turns out it’s Whiteleaf Hill, which I’ve climbed a lot from Princes Risborough on the road but never seen this side:

Whiteleaf Hill
Whiteleaf Hill

Further along the trail we start seeing security guards sat on folding chairs along a fence line. WTF? Looking through the trees all I can make out is that it’s a big hole. I assume it’s some kind of mine or maybe a water storage reservoir but why the guards? Well, we google it just now and it turns out it’s this: Water dyed black at Chinnor quarry to deter swimmers

Quarries at Chinnor
Quarries at Chinnor

At Goring we stopped for a sit-down lunch and refilled our bottles outside Pierreponts Café. Here we got chatting to a cycling trio from Tatrafitness. I think they were as curious about our bikepacking setups as I was about why they had jerseys referring to the Tatra mountains (border mountains between Poland and Slovakia). Turns out they were Reading locals but his wife was Slovakian. They were on a loop to visit World’s End. I suggested the pub in Camden. 🙂

Malteser Rocky Road
Malteser Rocky Road

There’s a reasonably steep climb out of Goring (unpaved road or the rougher side track we took) and then you start getting out into more exposed open sections.

There's gold in them thar hills
There’s gold in them thar hills
I see fields of green...
I see fields of green…
Gravel, Groad, Grave, Gnarmac, Dirt, Loose!
Gravel, Groad, Grave, Gnarmac, Dirt, Loose!
Towards the southern end the trails open up a lot more
Towards the southern end the trails open up a lot more
Wantage Monument
Wantage Monument

There’s even some proper singletrack riding out here. I think this is a place called Grim’s Ditch:

Carve that singletrack, bro!
Carve that singletrack, bro!

Mark’s route has a bunch of taps marked on it but of course I didn’t copy those to my file and Malwinki only found this one because another couple were using it when we rode past. Doubled back and filled up:

H2O

The trails towards the south get very rutted. You can’t really see it in this photo below but my pedals are below the edge. I got so frustrated smacking my pedals or feet into the sides of the ditches and unshipping my chain or having to bail I think around here is where I had a meltdown, chucked the bike into some bushes and sat down for a bit. Higher BB and smaller feet would help here. These are the Nukeproof pedals I bought for an MTB race ages ago – much better shoe grip than the ‘midfoot’ Catalyst pedals I’ve been testing, as they have spikes and not just allen key pins. So, I now need to find some pins for the Catalysts and they’ll be grand (or better yet some SPD shoes that allow the cleats to go really far back – anyone?)

Argh, fucking trenches!
Argh, fucking trenches!
Uffington White Horse
Uffington White Horse
Malwinki crushing it
Malwinki crushing it

Not the normal reason you'll see me hike-a-bikeNot the normal reason you’ll see me hike-a-bike

Mal didn't notice this but, look, it's a crop circle!
Mal didn’t notice this but, look, it’s a crop circle!

The ruts in the final 10k got deeper and one switch-over finally got me. Thankfully, I had knocked off most of my speed and Malwinki was a way behind so there were no witnesses this time. No damage to me or the bike.

Then finally, we were done! Now it was just under 10k to get to the Barge Inn for that well-earned pint!

Fin. Invinghoe Beacon 139km
Fin. Invinghoe Beacon 139km
Piano Man, Barge Inn
Piano Man, Barge Inn

We paid for the campsite and got to ordered food and drink quickly as they stopped serving at 8pm. The actual pub isn’t open but they’re running outdoor drink and food bars. There were tonnes of people and they were maybe struggling a little bit but we got fed and watered and while Malwinki was showering I got chatting to a couple of lads that had ridden out on gravel bikes as well – Darren and Grant. It started raining (obviously, because the forecast said no rain) so they invited us over to share their table canopy and we got to chatting and drinking. Eventually we went over the other side of the pub with the majority of the partying campers and continued. (FYI: I’d showered before dinner too in case you were wondering). This merriment went on until the bar shut and eventually everyone retired to their various accommodations. I say everyone, there were still people up for a long while after that. We surveyed the campsite and decided the quietest corner of the big party canopy was for us. Obviously it rained quite heavily most of the night because has a weather forecast in England ever been close to accurate? We started outside the hay but soon shifted inside under the large party canopy and at least didn’t get any more wet although we didn’t get much sleep either. I wonder how Grant’s ebay special tent went in all that rain? Better than my open-topped bivvy I suspect!

Sitting around campfire with Darren and Grant (and 200 hippies)
Sitting around campfire with Darren and Grant (and 200 hippies)

Day 2 – Sunday

In the end, we had the biggest tent in the whole campsite
In the end, we had the biggest tent in the whole campsite
Go to bed in a bivvy, wake up in a tent bigger than our place
Go to bed in a bivvy, wake up in a tent bigger than our place

We left camp the next morning before 8am after waiting for the rain to stop and after we’d cleaned up and packed and eaten the panini we’d bought specifically for breakfast.

The Alton Barnes White Horse
The Alton Barnes White Horse

Not a lot to report about the ride home other than it was pretty slow going with both of us lacking sleep, coffee was more plentiful than I remember from earlier morning starts on audaxes and there was some more nice lanes and traffic-free paths to enjoy.

Duck slide, Jubilee River Path
Duck slide, Jubilee River Path

Somewhere after the Jubilee trail I almost crashed on a turn as the tyre dove and I realised I’d I got my first puncture with a tubeless tyre. This bastard took the best part of an hour to fix, mostly because I didn’t know what I was doing – I tried everything from adding more sealant, trying to glue the tyre with superglue and finally using the GI repair kit to stab a sticky rubber thread (anchovy) into it. I don’t think I loaded the GI inserter properly the first time but I found on maybe the fifth go that with some twisting motion the anchovy was staying put and it did eventually plug the hole so I could reinflate and finish the ride (we only had 20k to go so could’ve got the train but from Langley but I figured I should use this as a tubeless tyre learning experience).

My first tubeless repair - added sealant, tried superglue, in the end manage to plug it with a GI anchovy
My first tubeless repair – added sealant, tried superglue, in the end manage to plug it with a GI anchovy
Home, sweet home
Home, sweet home
Got a bit carried away with the dinner order
Got a bit carried away with the dinner order

Not a bad trip all in all. Malwinki’s 1st bikepacking trip, her 1st bivvy sleep, my 1st roadside tubeless repair, our first British campsite stay. 340k all up for the weekend, much of it on dirt and for me, all of it in a pair of trainers. Quieter roads than I’m used to, good scenery, met some cool people.

With only one waterproof bivvy and no tent, I got wet early on (was outside the canopy initially, because people were using the canopy until late) so didn’t use my down stuff so I was cold to begin with. Eventually I put my down jacket on under my rain jacket and some gloves on and that was better. Mal was toasty with her full sleep pad and full down bag and waterproof full bivvy. We just need a little more kit – this was a bit of a rush so we compromised what we took. If we do again, I’ll need another waterproof bivvy and another full-length sleep pad and either a tarp for those or just get a 2P tent for the both of us that we can actually use in the rain.

I’m not sure about the flat pedals. At least I know the pins work much better than the Catalyst allen key studs but really what I want is a midfoot SPD setup. I’m going to look for SPD shoes that have the furthest back cleat mounting point and see what I can do with those. Also, I might move back to 700C wheels with say 42mm tyres and see if that lifts the Kinesis up enough to help with pedal strike in the ruts. Or just take an MTB 🙂
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