Monday, 28 May 2012
A weekend out West
The generally poor weather this year has really cut back on my longer trips away. The combination of cold, wet, windy and generally unpredictable weather has resulted in a few last-minute call-offs and a general reluctance on my part. It was therefore useful to have the incentive of agreeing to go with some other riders and not wanting to call off. The plans for the weekend had been fairly fluid, but the main event was to be a ride alongside Loch Morar on a route which has been very highly recommended.
It's a fair trek out to the Morar area so the plan was to break the journey up with a couple of circuits of the Laggan Wolftrax trails. This is probably my favourite trail centre as the Red routes are around the limit of my comfort zone and just that bit more challenging than the likes of Glentress. I'd been round Glentress on my Fatbike a few days previously and, having really enjoyed it, I thought I'd try the same at Laggan.
Well, it was different. The rather rockier nature of both the upper and lower red loops didn't really suit the lack of suspension and the undamped rebound from the tyres was in danger of making the whole thing uncontrollable. It was much better on the smoother sections , like the zig-zags on the upper red and the bottom "jump" section on the lower where the tyre volume and grip could really be appreciated.
After a wee snack break, I decided to go round again on the Blur. I'd had it round here previously and really enjoyed it, so I set off up the hill with a big grin and with great expectations.
Unfortunately, it all went to pot. The bike seemed uncontrollable; I was finding it hard to get the correct amount of steering input and to keep it pointing where I wanted to go. The slower I went to counter this, the more the bike seemed determined to fight against me. Eventually, I had to get off and walk a few sections. I was mortified. I'd never had to do this at Wolftrax before but I just couldn't seem to ride it. My first thought was that there was something wrong with the bike. something loose or incorrectly adjusted. However, a good check seemed to indicate that the bike was just fine. That meant it was pilot error. I can only assume that having ridden the Fatbike for so long, I was just failing to adjust myself to the different steering and handling.
Either way, I was really despondent when I left Laggan headed for Morar.
Choosing a camp-site around Arisaig isn't simple. There are quite a few and they all have lovely views. Having tried a couple previously, I noticed that the site at Camusdarach was closest to Mallaig where I'd be meeting the others for food and drinks, so that got the vote. It's a lovely site, even though it's a little walk to the beach. However, the beach is probably the most famous in Scotland....
In an uncharacteristic break in the prevailing 2012 weather pattern, Saturday dawned fair and even fairly warm. That was great as it meant less spare layers to carry. Meeting at Morar meant I got to cycle to the start, so I was already warmed up when we set off. The route starts on the "old" road through Morar before cutting off onto the dead-end road along the north bank of the loch. This had a fairly big hill near the start, which had us all huffing and puffing a bit, but also gave a great view along the loch and a nice easy descent almost to the end of the tarmac. leaving the road here and carrying on along the good track was great - a real sense of heading into the wilderness.
The track itself is mostly rideable. There are a few steep, rocky climbs heading East and one section which is made up of boulders under a cliff which involved a short carry. It's all fun though - mainly dry, rock or gravel with oodles of grip and enough ups and downs to maintain interest and provide a variety of views along and across Loch Morar.
Reaching Swordland - all two houses - was almost like arriving in civilisation and after a short climb up the landrover track, we could see the cairn marking the top of the pass and the descent down to Tarbert.
There's not much at Tarbert. A couple of farm buildings and a church - now converted into a bunkhouse - are all you'll find. The view north to Knoydart and Skye is rather curtailed by the narrow bay, which does at least have the advantage of being a nice shelter, although the cold breeze we'd been shielded from all day had us donning jackets as we sat around, ate and generally chilled.
When the cold started to feel too much, we headed back up the hill we'd not long descended and were soon at Swordland again. Almost immediately, it was time to remove the jackets and we enjoyed another lovely ride along the singletrack, descending the bits we'd struggled or pushed up on the way out and trying to remember what line choices we'd picked out.
Louise HAD to go for a wee swim - brave lassie, so we stopped for a few minutes at the lochside before the end of the track and then set off up the tarmac road. Stopping briefly at the top, we set off on a gravity race - no pedalling allowed, see who gets the furthest. I'm sure I would have won if I hadn't been knocked into the verge :-)
Upon arriving back at Morar, all that was left was to enjoy a pint in the sun, taking in the general ambience and reflecting on what must be one of the best bike rides in the Highlands.
I had eschewed all attempts to get me riding at Fort William in favour of a little exploring round Camusdarach beach. While the morning wasn't quite as warm as Saturday not helped by a cool on-shore breeze, it was fabulous to be riding no "Bens Beach", made famous by Local Hero. This is a fantastic little movie which regularly ranks amongst the professionals favourites. Witty, charming and still very relevant. I guess that any remake would feature wind-farms rather than oil facilities, but the conflicting messages are still there; protect the landscape - hoping that it has its own value plus that of tourism, or allow development, bringing jobs and relative prosperity.
So, from being rather despondent by my performance on Friday, through an excellent evening and ride on Saturday, to the fulfilment of a dream I've had since I acquired the Fatbike, my mood was much better when it came to pack up and head home, dreaming of more good days out!