Mostly, this is random stories from my various trips as I collect them, but I've a wee backlog to get through too and those will pop up occasionally.

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Sunday, 16 October 2011

Tour de Ben Lomond

I always like to give some background to the inspiration for my rides. This one goes way, way back....


In the 1980s, the authorities in Scotland did something very strange - they opened up a long distance footpath called the West Highland Way. This was unusual because we'd never had any official LDPs before - the historic "right to roam" made them largely unnecessary and folk just went about their business, finding routes themselves. The WHW did attract a large following though and it wasn't long before one Jimmie Macgregor did a whole TV series covering the walk. I was really in to hillwalking at this time and was intrigues by the way that Jimmie would just walk along for a while and then suddenly meet the local laird/ farmer / craftsman and be taken on a tour of some description. It all seemed very chummy compared to the normal walk where you'd be lucky to see anyone! Jimmie was also the butt of a few jokes at the time within the hillwalking community. In particular, the one about the helicopter appearing outside the pub and someone shouting "Taxi for Macgregor". Anyway, I digress. During one of his shows on the WHW, he passes a cyclist, scrambling over a wee wooden bridge on the shores of Loch Lomond and makes a comment to the effect that this was quite common, cyclists using it as a way of completing a loop from Balmaha to Aberfoyle and Inversnaid. Of course, the cyclist was carrying what I would now recognise as a CycloCross bike and was clad in lycra, but this type of off-roading had been going on for decades (so much for the claims of some Californians to have invented mountain biking).


Spin forward 25 years and here I am with a CycloCross bike (of sorts), ready to try out this very same section of track....


My day didn't start well. On a mere hunch, I decided to drive to Balmaha via Glasgow and the Erskine Bridge. Bad mistake. I arrived more than 30 minutes later than I'd planned and scoffed a sandwich I'd picked up en route before packing the rucksack and heading off. The weather looked overcast but otherwise decent, so I opted for lycra all round and packed a lightweight waterproof jacket "just in case". The first section was a wee bit of road, then some decent forest track through Garabhan, following some WHW markers. Before long, I was back on the tarmac again - the wee backroad to Aberfoyle. Paying close attention to my GPS, I soon found the turn off into the forest and was surprised to find that this was still tarmac. Based on previous experience of walking through this section of forest, I'd expected a hard-packed, fast, sandy surface. It didn't take me long to realise why. all along this section there were various small building and aqueducts. This was the route of the main water pipe fro Loch Katrine to Glasgow. 


The good surface carried on for some time, until I reached a larger aqueduct, whereupon it became very rough. After a couple of kms, at a crossroads, it became much rougher still and very overgrown - so much so that my helmet was being used to fend of errant branches as I rode along. The number of tracks hereabouts is very confusing and I found I was relying on the GPS a lot to keep me right, sometimes heading up a track for 100 metres or so, then checking the GPS to see I was on the right one. Progress, overall, was a lot slower than I'd expected but I ploughed on regardless, looking forward to the better tracks. As the track eventually reached the Duchray Water, it actually went across the top of the aqueduct for a while, on some of the slippiest wood I've ever encountered. From here, it took a few zig-zags to get up and over a hill and as it did so, the rain started. Oh joy. 


Descending off the other side, I eventually hit the faster tracks I'd been expecting, some of which I'd walked in the past, and now was my chance to step up the pace a bit. As I headed past the turn-off for Kinlochard, I was aware that this was me now committing to completing the planned route rather than taking the road back through Aberfoyle to the start. I was damp and muddy, but enjoying myself immensely and with a good torch in my bag, I was pretty confident. 


Reaching the road again after Loch Chon, I noticed a new foot/cyclepath still under construction. It wasn't surfaced yet, so I opted for the incredibly bumpy road. I was genuinely intrigued by the choice of building a whole new path when the road was in such desperate need of repair! It's not like it's a particularly busy road, though I guess it'll see quite a few coaches in the summer. 


Approaching the Inversnaid Hotel - via the fast zig-zags, I saw my first other people of the day, generally mooching around and taking photos of the falls in between rain showers. I just huddled into some shelter and gobbled an energy bar in preparation for what I expected to be a hard slog. As it turned out, the next section wasn't too bad at all. I knew there would be some carrying and pushing involved and there were some sections which involved tip-toeing along damp, greasy rocks carrying a bike and looking at a long fall into the loch, but there were pretty few and I'm sure I'd have carried even less had I been on a mountain bike and/or I had more skillz. Still, it was a pleasure to see the house at Cailness knowing it was all cycling again from here. 


The forest track came up more quickly than I'd expected and meant that my pace increased again, enjoying each wee climb and each wee rocky descent. It was, however, gradually getting darker, especially with the heavy cloud, so when I reached Rowardennan I decided to stay on teh road and avoid all the little WHW detours. That meant I arrrived back at the van at Balmaha after 4.5 hours. 


So - another great little day out. I got a bit wet (especially my feet) and didn't see much scenery through the drizzle, but the route is a goodie and definitely worth a repeat visit. The minimal carrying was no bother at all and I'd leave a bit more time in future so that I could explore the bays and headlands on Loch Lomond. Another good, fun day on my CX tyres too.