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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Friday, 13 July 2012

Harris

Amongst all the talk and scribblings on mountain biking in Scotland, two destinations are discussed in almost reverential tones - Torridon and Harris. The former has been on my mind a bit recently and I'm determined to get at least one trip up there later this year. In the meantime, a family holiday to visit the in-laws in Lewis gave me the opportunity to try one of the much-praised Harris routes. 





Although much of the mainland has had its wettest summer for a very long time, the far North-west and the Western Isles are actually reporting water shortages and we had already sat amused by the TV watching the floods down south while we were having 20 degrees and sun. Setting off for Tarbert in the van, the day had started with some low clouds although I was hoping they would burn off to leave us with another dry, warm day. 


After a brief stop at a local shop for some water and a wee snack I was at the start of the trail and contemplating what to wear. Although not exactly cold, the glen I was about to pedal up had a fierce headwind coming right towards me and I knew this would likely provide a wee bit of windchill. So, the Gore Alp-X jacket went on sans sleeves.


The path starts with a bit of a descent to the loch. Rocky steps and some very new-looking water bars added a bit of fun - until I had a quick look at the handlebars and noticed that my Garmin GPS had gone AWOL. Luckily, I didn't have far to backtrack to find it, but in trying to re-attach it, I noticed that it was no longer staying in place  - as of the clamp had somehow got bent. As a result, the GPS ended up in my pocket for the remainder of the journey. 


Anyone expecting a "standard" highland singletrack will be pleasantly surprised at the condition of the track. Even allowing for the dry summer, it is very well constructed, with a good, draining gravel surface. As a result, I was to stay dry and mud-free the whole trip. Reaching the end of the loch, the path starts its ascent of the obvious col ahead and can be seen snaking up. It's all bikeable with a wee bit of effort and the cairn at the top (complete with a wee bit of deer horn and someones discarded tent poles) is a welcome sight. Crossing the hill ahead can be seen the road from Tarbert to Lewis and the path now starts its fast descent almost to sea level. 


This is a real blast. Height is quickly. lost and more rocky steps and water bars give a little bit of an edge, with the fatbike soaking it all up. I'm aware that there's a turn-off to be taken and, just in time, I see the marker post, turning East towards the little road that now makes its way to Rhenigidale. Before long, and after negotiating a couple of small gates, I'm on the road and then there is the 12% sign, marking the start of the long steep climb. 


Although this might not exactly be classic mountain biking, it's hard not to enjoy the route at this point, remembering that this road didn't exist until 1989 (and isn't on my OS map of this area!). Once the road flattens off, it's a pleasant trundle until the almost equally steep descent starts. At this point, I stopped to see the path I'd later be ascending. It looks a killer!!


Although I had intended to go all the way in to the "village", the sight of a 13% gradient sign just after the turn off for the coastal path made me think better of it and soon enough I'm negotiating the contouring track, hugging the steep shoreline. Most of this proves to be rideable although I cautiously walk some sections, mindful of the remoteness of my situation and the potential consequences of a fall. 


After a couple of rises and dips, the path makes a beeline for a small beach, crossing a little wooden bridge. Ahead is the dauntingly steep climb known as the Scriob. 



Now - this might be a good descent for those with a head for heights and technical skills to match, but it doesn't take me long to realise it's well beyond me - in both senses. As a climb, it's a question of getting off the bike and simply grinding up each step, interspersed with the occasional lift/carry over the rockier steps. Of course, at this point I'm also shielded from the wind, so it's time for the local insect population to queue up for a bite at me. I think I'm getting away with it until a cleg takes a chunk out of my elbow, then flies off before I can swat it, only to return to the same point once the blood starts flowing!! If nothing else, this spurs me on to the breezier, easier angled top section of the path where I finally take a bit of a breather at a little cairn and waymarker at a junction in the path. 

From here, the rest of the climb is ridable and I'm soon at the summit, looking over towards Tarbert and the hills beyond. What follows is one of the most fun descents I've ridden. Fast, with some rocks to negotiate and of various levels of steepness. At last, I feel I'm getting some value for my recent efforts and the only thing slowing me down is the occasional need to get some feeling into my pumped-up wrists. After what seemed like quite a long time, but was actually only some 12 minutes, I'm back at the road with a little climb back to the van and the start point.

My thoughts on the circuit? Well, it's certainly a ride on the wild side, but I didn't feel that the long climbs were suitably rewarded and I'm not convinced it would be any better in reverse. Comparing it to recent trips, the north shore of Loch Morar is by far the better ride. However, there are other routes in Harris and I'll be back!