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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Monday, 17 September 2012

Petrichor Summer

So. Autumn is almost upon us and we've mostly been bemoaning the lack of a summer. It certainly seems like we've had it wet, cool and windy. But there have been days, short spells when it almost seemed like a "proper" summer was going to arrive. Back in March there was that glorious week and then we had a great weekend in Aviemore for the packrafting. It all seemed so promising....

...much like my Summer has been. Having decided not to commit to any events this year, my diary was clear to be flitting around, especially once my daughters exams were out of the way and the school holidays had arrived. 

It all started so well. My tour around the West Coast was soon followed up by a long-awaited chance to ride in Harris and then a week camping with Mim - and that's what did it. Sometime during a day of paddling on Loch an Eilean and Loch Morlich, or in the loading and unloading of the kayak, I strained something in my shoulder and a couple of sleepless, painful nights ensued. Frustratingly, despite painkillers and physio, the pain is still only slowly subsiding and my ability to get comfortable on a bike has been hampered with any severe jarring being completely out of the question. 

Activities since mid-July have therefore been somewhat limited but I thought it was worth a quick summary in any case.

Glencoe
Ruling out cycling just meant more of an excuse to get out walking so Mim and I headed up to the Clachaig in Glencoe for a couple of nights. We've looked at staying here a few times but it's invariably booked. What I did find surprising - and it was most noticeable during breakfast - was the clientèle. Very few folk seemed to be of the hillwalking/outdoor fraternity and we had lots of families and older couples. For sure, it's not exactly budget accommodation these days, but it still seemed a bit out of place.

On the way up, we bagged Beinn Dorain and Beinn an Dothaidh. Mim was particularly pleased at doing the former as the long views of it and path round the bottom were still fresh in her memory from doing the West Highland Way. From the summit, we were able to pick up long stretches of the WHW both South - towards Ben Lomond - and North to Ben Nevis and it gives a great perspective on the sort of distances travelled each day when you can see it all laid out before you. 


Our second day was a bit overcast and dull looking so we took ourselves out to Ardnamurchan for a drive. I enjoyed retracing some of my recent road bike miles and pointing out some of the highlights to Mim. I actually surprised myself at the steepness and length of some of the hills, thinking that I'd not really noticed them so much when cycling. 

Our return home on day 3 was fitted around a trip to the Lost Valley (Coire Gabhail) in Glencoe. This was another first for Mim. The last time we'd tried this the river was a lot higher and we ended up on some very dodgy scree. No such problems this time once we'd navigated our way across the diversion which avoided the bridge that was being repaired. This turned out to be another lovely day - though it was, once again, raining when we got home.
The Lost Valley - Glencoe



Lake District
As if to rub salt in the wound of my sore shoulder a stag weekend down in Keswick was tom include some Ghyll Scrambling. Now, normally I'd have been all over that but I judged that pulling/being pulled by that arm was likely to result in a great deal of pain. As a result, I opted to take the Amazon down with me and to do some light on-off-roading by making use of NCN71, the C2C route.

The drive down was uneventful enough and the hostel at Denton House was basic, but clean and well sorted. Dumping all our gear and heading to the pub for food was first on our "to do" list and thankfully they were still serving dinner. I say thankfully, in actual fact the food was at te very poor end of "pub standard", even the portions were a bit meagre. At least the chips were fairly good and I availed myself of whatever anyone else deemed they didn't want. The Scotch selection was also a bit meagre, but we sampled some of that anyway and headed back to our dorm to lay into the Jura and the excellent Balvenie. I can't recall quite when we eventually turned the lights off, but I knew even then that I hadn't had the best preparation for a ride the next day. 

As it turned out, I was still fairly chipper in the morning and after a bit of prison-style breakfast I headed off on the bike and into Keswick proper. After a brief stop at a local bike shop for a multi-tool (something I'd forgotten to bring), I found NCN71 and headed off on some quiet roads. If it had stayed like that, all would have been fine, but alongside Bassenthwaite Lake the track turned into a proper "forest road" that had the Marathon tyres scrabbling for grip. I had a couple of dodgy moments with the back wheel stepping out before I opted for a bit of pushing up and through the MTB trails of Whinlatter. Back on the roads again, I made decent time all the way to the old railway line - now cycle path - taking my into Whitehaven. The only real issue I'd had up to now was the large number of C2C cyclists heading towards me and their often dodgy road-sense. The cycle path took a nice line and didn't seem to deviate in the manner that many do, so I was soon in Whitehaven for a spot of lunch, satisfied that I was now half way around my circuit. What's more, it had stayed dry, with only a cold breeze taking the slight edge off things.


Post-lunch, I located the coastal track which headed towards Workington - also confusingly NCN71 and was soon on quiet roads again to Cockermouth. This was where I had my only navigational problem of the day, with the Sustrans route weaving its way through the town. That would have been bad enough, but one section was closed and with no diversion marked I had to improvise a little. No matter - I was soon under way with the hills before me and a bit of a climb to get back to Keswick. Again, the Sustrans way of doing things caught me out a little and the small, single-track road I was on petered out at a gate. The waymarking was clear enough, I'd simply have to ride over a field. 
Yep - that's the route
That turned out to be fine but when the route entered the forest above Bassenthwaite Lake again I'd have been a lot happier on a mountain bike. Whoever thought of sending road bikes along here needs some serious talking to. Playing the safety-first card again and mindful of the stress to which I was subjecting my wounded shoulder I again opted to walk. Now, it's bad enough having to push up-hill, but walking a bike downhill just isn't the done thing!

All in all, a mostly great experience of a Sustrans route and that's a little surprising to me having issues with some more local ones I know. Perhaps that's just it - as a tourist the routes work really well. The roads are quieter and there are few navigation difficulties with the very clearly marked NCN signs removing the need to refer to map and GPS. It certainly showed that my concerns about Lake District roads being overly busy were mostly unfounded and, based on my experiences, I'd even consider the whole English C2C at some point.