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.

Feel free to leave comments.

Wednesday 28 September 2011


I've being doing some experimentation lately. The Ti-framed Amazon tourer has being doing splendidly well at getting me around the country but I thought I'd give it a go in another guise. Removing the mudguards, fitting some Maxxis Raze 700x35c knobblies and flipping the stem has transformed it into a pseudo Cyclocross machine. I was a bit tentative taking it out at first. Despite  running the little Ti hardtail MTB with rigid forks, the bigger wheels seemed a bit unwieldy. However, I was soon getting the hang of it and taking on some rougher terrain. 

What I have noticed is that the bigger wheels do seem to run over minor obstacles better than 26" wheels and I was soon getting used to a more detached feeling from the back tyre - grip being great longitudinally, but poorer laterally than a MTB equivalent. Braking is well sorted with BB7 cable discs at both ends too. 

So much have I been enjoying this new experience, it's become my favourite bike - the one I'll grab and just head out on. The combination of decent road speed and its go-anywhere ability is allowing time to just make up routes as I ride and I've been finding little bits of track I'd perhaps pass on a road bike but not be able to explore and that might be outwith my normal MTB riding due to the amount of tarmac riding necessary to get there. 

Typical of this was a ride I did last Sunday. Without really knowing where I was gonna go, I headed up the Pentlands, came out at Flotterstone dropped into Glencorse and Penicuik and then followed signed cycle tracks all the way to Dalkeith, Wallyford, Niddrie, Duddingston and back home. 57km or thereabouts with no more than 10km of that on the road. 

What other rides do I have planned?? Well, a ride to Glentress, a circuit of Green/Blue and a return home would seem possible. I also have a circuit of Ben Lomond in mind. All I need now is for the weather to stay in my favour!!

Oh - it looks the dogs danglies too. I was in Princes St today, having a bagel by the art galleries. This guy walked past, turned to look at it and walked into a lampost!

Friday 23 September 2011

Isle of Man End2End

Well, that was certainly a different experience for me. Despite having participated in a few Sportives in the last couple of years, I've never really considered a mountain biking equivalent. My only previous experience of competitive MTB was a deeply muddy SITS which was more about the craic than the time. Even this trip was more about socialising, meeting up with some mates and visiting a part of the world which had so far eluded me - despite my history as a motor-cyclist.

First of all though, I was clever enough to take a road bike with me too. Despite some naff weather on the Friday, I managed to sneak out for a couple of hours for a quick tour around the south of the island and I must say that I was very impressed with what I saw. A flatter, greener east coast is contrasted by a rougher, more natural and forested west coast and there’s a cracking wee range of hills between them. Road surfaces were a bit dodgy in places but there’s so little traffic that there’s plenty of room for manoeuvre. What I did miss, is that the 61km TT circuit would be an even better ride. There’s a 396m mountain “pass”, some beautifully maintained smooth tarmac, an absence of cats-eyes and loads of padding on parapets and the like should the worst happen :-)   Definitely worth a return visit and I’d encourage any cyclist to pop over for a look.

Saturday was a bit of a rest day for the mates and I, though we did go to see some 4x4 shenanigans, wandering about a muddy hillside watching some real enthusiasts get themselves into- and out-of some challenging positions. We also registered for the race, got our timing chips, etc. The whole process was very efficient.

In addition to tyres, clothing etc I’d also been prevaricating about nutrition during the run-up to setting off for the ferry. As Saturday evening arrived, I realised I’d still not decided, so set off round the local Co-op to see what I could stock up with. “Not much” was the result! I eventually decided I’d wing it with some gels and a couple of Torq energy bars and see what I could snaffle en route.

“Race” day morning saw us up early and heading to the Point of Ayre for the start line. The wet weather we’d had since arriving looked to be drying up as we got there and cycled down to the mass start. While a couple of the guys were keen to get near the front, the rest of us just tagged on at the back of the 1200+ strong crowd and waited for the start. Quite a range of machinery on display and it was obvious from various team jerseys and the like that the event is attracting a lot of off-island interest.

When we did eventually get going, it took us a full 12 minutes to reach the start line and the beginning of the 20+ km road stretch south. It was obvious from the off that we’d be doing some overtaking and soon little groups were forming and breaking up as we passed though some pleasant wee villages, locals lining the roads as we went. Hitting the first real off-road hill was a bit of a shock. The lane narrowed and most folk were simply pushing up. Attempts to cycle past were, at first, successful but eventually I succumbed to the inevitable and joined the throng, looking for the best line up for boots and struggling in places to get grip in the lee of 1,000 other pairs of feet. The first climb ended and what was in prospect was a muddy, braided track, obviously cut up by motorbikes and by many, many cyclists. Avoiding the mud was impossible and it was a case of hop on, cycle for a bit then a quick dismount and carry/push he bike onto a more manageable section of track. To be fair, the track improved the further it went on and as the field thinned out a bit, I started to pass a few more challengers, even getting the bike airborne on a couple of occasions, much to the delight of some of the spectators.

One “disaster” had befallen me though. My new Garmin Dakota GPS had reported “Low Battery” and I’d had to switch it off else I wanted to use it later in the day. It was totally my fault. Rather than invest in some new NiMH rechargeables, or even to buy some alkaline AAs I’d tried to use some older rechargeables and they’d obviously not charged properly. I knew that with all the signing and the number of competitors I’d not get lost but I was using the GPS as a way of checking my progress. Suddenly, without it, I felt a bit under stress, not knowing how far we’d to go and so how hard to push myself. As we progressed further south, I kept looking at the surrounding hills, hoping I’d spot something I was familiar with from my recent travels, but it seemed to be ages before that happened. Querying some of the marshalls and onlookers, I was getting some wild estimates of distance remaining. One thing though, we were down to the last 10km or so.

Having congratulated myself on getting on so well, I was passing one spectator when he simply said the wrong thing - “you’re going really well!!”. No sooner had his lips closed and I was off my bike and into the surrounding gorse bushes. Well, I had to laugh, especially as he looked so concerned. Quickly picking myself up and carrying on it, it was only another few minutes before I was off again. This time, my right calf had simply locked up with cramp and as I lay on the track swearing, I saw some of the folk I’d just passed  getting through on me again. A quick rub down and stretch and I was back into the fray - for only another couple of minutes. As a little rocky step-down appeared in the narrow heather track, the rider in front of me hesitated and when I tried to put my left foot down to steady myself, that one cramped up too! This was just getting beyond a joke!

Soon though, it was the fast, grassy descent down to Port Erin and the rather sadistically placed 1:4 final road climb to the finish line. Not knowing how I was going, I was pleased to see the clock at 5h29m as I crossed the timing mat.

How was it then? Well, other than the two long sections of uphill pushing and one rather muddy forest descent when my front wheel became so clogged up that it locked, I’d rather enjoyed it. I was as muddy as I’ve ever been and the effect of the calf cramps had me walking round the refreshment tent very gingerly but I was already thinking of how I could be quicker in future.
  • Starting nearer the front would have meant less bottlenecks and what there was would be with folk who were likely to be a bit faster anyway.
  • The conditions should also be better with fewer riders mashing up the muddy bits before I arrived.
  • I could break the habit of a lifetime and go a bit more lightweight. I was carrying a full 3 Litres of water, a jacket and more, whereas the quicker folk were topping up as they went and just carrying less.
  • I’d treated the whole event as a bit of a laugh, but a better training, sleeping, eating plan would show results on the day.
  • Having now ridden the course, I’d be more aware of how far I had to go, what was coming up next and how hard to push myself.
Sub-5 hours next year??

I should say that the whole event is superbly well run and it seems like the whole island chips in to help out. Lots of my fellow challengers seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely, though there was also a significant number who seemed to have their "race face" on and couldn't even manage to exchange pleasantries as we cycled along. I'd like to think I'm never like that - but I may be wrong!

Friday 16 September 2011

C2C Summary

I’d been thinking about this route for quite a while, so was pleased to eventually get around to it. A bit like the Curates Egg, it had it’s good and it’s bad. The Corrieyairack was awesome despite the weather and doing the route all of the way to Ruthven gave me a real kick and encouragement for another project which has been on the back-burner for a while.

The Speyside Way turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. I’d cycled much of it, in parts, previously and had assumed it would all be similar. In retrospect, not following the advice on the official Way markers turned out to be a bit foolish and I could have saved myself some grief by taking the B9102 from Mains of Cromdale to Ballindalloch. However, many of the problems exist because there are sections where it looks like the Way is barely tolerated by the landowners, squeezing round field margins or in a thin muddy strip between a golf course and some houses. The parts which are easily navigable by bike also tend to lack any decent views - much of this a consequence of following the old railway line along a wooded valley. Truth is, I’d not recommend it as a walk either.

The weather obviously plays a major part in how we view our activities and for sure it was disappointing to have quite so much rain, but that’s the nature of cycling and at least I stayed mostly dry under my protective gear.

The bike performed really well and I reckon I made the right choice. The CX option would have been increasingly uncomfortable as the journey went on, and downright miserable over the Corrieyairack. Panniers were, perhaps, the wrong choice. Loading all of the weight onto the back was mostly fine but the excess width was a real problem with some of those gates and when negotiating some well-overgrown singletrack. Some permutation of handlebar bag/ rackpack/ frame bag option would have kept it all “in-line” and a small rucksack would have been fine.

Overall though, I was taken by how much of the route was on remnants of older means of transport. As mountain bikers, we are blessed to have access to so many canal towpaths, disused railways and old military roads. Of the 245km or so I travelled, around 45 was on tarmac road and much of that single-track lanes. Sheer bloody-mindedness might have decreased that slightly but I was happy overall with my dirt:road ratio.

It was also great to meet up with friends - David at Craigellachie and Jo at Buckie. It's nice to be able to travel to such nice places and meet up with folk en route. I aim to do a lot more of that in the coming year.

Thursday 15 September 2011

C2C - Part 4

It's another very wet morning as I sit and ponder over breakfast and no matter how much I delay, it seems like it’s getting no drier. So, I gear up and set off back into the woodlands. This is a very pretty section with some good tracks, though some of the route round the golf course seems like it’s been squeezed in.

The remainder of the Grantown-Cromdale section is a bumpy, muddy, gate-strewn nightmare and I rapidly lose patience. Opening a normal swing-gate is one thing, but these hinged hill-walker gates can't be negotiated with panniers, so each one means stopping, unclipping a pannier, feeding the bike through and re-setting everything. I’m spending more time doing this than actually cycling.

The next section goes through woods at Tom an Uird and to Knockfrink - another part which it is officially recommended to avoid while cycling. I opt to heed the advice this time and head along on the A95 for a few miles. The Way then cuts across this and I'm off-road along a farm track again. Guess what? More gates! I count 10 in the space of 1.5km and what cycling there is is confined to a narrow, boggy, fenced-off corridor between two fields. Eventually, I hit a lively little wooded downhill section  which takes me into the old railway line just before Ballindalloch. This picks me up a bit as I know it's more bike-friendly from here. I look up from the track, smile, and suddenly the world seems a friendlier place despite the track itself being very muddy.

Even better is when, a few km later, my friend David shows up for our planned lunch rendezvous. Finding the cafe at Aberlour closed for lunch(!) we try the pub, but that is full so we head along to Craigellachie and up to Davids house.

This leisurely lunch is just what I need and I’m content to let time pass in the dry and warmth. David also convinces me that the section up Ben Aigan is better than any detour so we're off again, climbing to the highest point since the Corrieyairack. It's mostly in the trees, but when we reach a clearing I look north and there is the coast.

Having climbed on forestry road,  the descent turns out to be alternately muddy and loose and rocky. David speeds off ahead on his 6", full suspension Nomad, while I'm content to pick my way down more carefully, reckoning it's better to get there slowly than not at all. This fun all ends as we approach another railway bridge and I'm astonished when a train actually crosses this one. I've become so used to seeing abandoned railways that I've forgotten this is the Inverness-Aberdeen line.

A short section of quiet road follows - there is no alternative for the Way here - and then we reach Fochabers where David takes his leave for some "real" mountain biking and his return home. By now, the day has warmed up a little and I’ve managed to divest myself of the waterproof trousers and jacket for the first time today.

Cycling through the roadworks at Fochabers, I'm struggling to find all the Way markers but eventually find the Spey again and I know that will keep me right. Another nice wooded section veers occasionally to and from the river bank and at one point the track is almost completely washed away, undercut by the strength of the rushing water. As I hurry across one section of undercut embankment I can actually hear stones falling from underneath into the river.

As I head downstream, the shingle banks are getting bigger and more complex and then I see the line of houses which is the tiny village of Spey Bay. Here I am then, at sea level again. By way of celebration I scoff a Snickers bar and watch as the clouds part for the first time today and some early evening sunlight breaks through.  Spey Bay and the coast once more.

A couple of photos, a chat with some local runners and I set off on the very last leg - along the coast to Buckie. After a promising start, the Way again finds itself trapped along field margins and the like and for a while it's very slow going. Just before Portgordon it dives back onto another old railway line, there are more gates (!) and then it runs right along the coast to Buckie, past the seals basking on the rocks. There's an opportunity to divert into the NCN1 cycle track to Buckie but I opt to keep to the Way to the end.

Not much further and without any major fanfare, the Way ends. I lay the bike up against a harbour wall and stroll down to the sea to dip my feet, mirroring the ceremony of 4 days earlier and making it a true Coast to Coast.


Wednesday 14 September 2011

C2C - Part 3

It's damp and cold as I set off back across the Spey to pick up the Glen Truim road, but I get a view of the still rather distant Cairngorms under a patchy blue sky.


It's like the clouds are just above me and I speed up, trying to outrun them. Every time I look over my shoulder, I see a menacing dark grey mass chasing me down. I soon reach the track I'm looking for and head off-road again into the woods. The old road here is in pretty good nick, with occasional glimpses of the cobbled founds as a reminder of its provenance. I hang a left through a field down to Crubenbeg, realising half way down that I've left the forks on lock-up. Again.

The A9 comes as a bit of a shock, especially as it's currently being remodelled into a dual-carriageway. However, I know that the continuation of my route is on the other side somewhere. I zip down in a quiet interval and get some bemused looks from the various workmen as I enter the farm track to Etteridge. The track to Phones is well surfaced and smooth, but breaks up a bit after that and there's a long grassy section which is an absolute delight. Various turn-offs appear and one has me a bit flummoxed. I initially set off to the right, but soon realise it was the wrong option as it’s heading uphill. My annoyance is tempered as I come across the remains of some old sheilings. Quite substantial, it must have been a busy wee settlement in the distant past. 


The track gradually leads back towards the A9, which I cross again, pick up some old singletrack road and then I'm at Ruthven Barracks. I'm elated. I've completed General Wades road all the way from Fort Augustus to Ruthven - at least as much as is possible today - and I wonder when was the last time someone made this claim. Nerdy? Obsessive? Maybe, but it's ideas like these which form the outline for some terrific riding.

Leaving Ruthven, I see the signs for the Badenoch Way and decide to follow them. This turns out to be a mistake as it soon becomes unrideable and I'm having to lift the bike over gates and fences. Eventually I reach the Tromie and a decision point. My original plan saw me heading directly over to Glen Feshie but I'm starting to think about lunch and there's nothing at all that way. Plus, having no GPS will make route finding somewhat testing in the complex of forest tracks. The simplest option is to stick to the Badenoch Way. This is signposted, runs past Loch Insh and I've ridden it before. It means a little tarmac just before the Loch Insh restaurant, but I'm willing to bend my principles for this one.

Lunch is devoured. It's gone 2.30 when I set off again, with some distance to go. Up to Feshie Bridge and back on more terrain I've ridden. The maze of forest tracks leads me to one of the finest pieces of singletrack anywhere. This takes me to Loch an Eilean and thence to Inverdruie, but not before I miss another turn off.

I'm beginning to severely miss the GPS and I realise it's actually a lot more useful as a cyclist than as a walker. The latter has the advantage of a slow pace. Route choices come up slowly with plenty of time to decide what's best. Wrong turnings are discovered before going too far off track and can be quickly corrected. The cyclist has both hands occupied, so can't be constantly looking at map and routing errors might only be noticed after a couple of km or more. This is so much worse if you've been firing downhill at speed and you have to retrace your wheeltracks uphill.

Aviemore appears and I use NCN7 to avoid heading into the High Street and then I'm on The Speyside Way - the final link in my cross-Scotland journey. Again, I'm on tracks I know and I zip along these at a decent pace. The tracks between Boat of Garten and Nethy Bridge are more great fun, if a bit slower. At Nethy Bridge, I see a sign for Grantown on Spey - 5 1/2 miles. This is actually a bit of a shock as I'd actually thought it was going to be further. Large Speyside Way information boards inform me that some sections of the Way are suitable for cycling, and some sections are unsuitable for cycling. However, that leaves around 50% of the Way in some sort of “might be suitable” no-mans land. I opt to largely ignore this advice, relying instead on my own sense of responsibility trying to avoid damaging tracks where possible.

The next section is an old railway bed which would be great if it wasn't for the fact that there's a gate every few yards. This is just getting completely frustrating. At each one I have a mutter to myself....

Eventually I reach the A95 crossing, pop through some lovely woodland and I see the suburbs of Grantown. A couple of junctions and I find my B&B for the night.

C2C - Part 2

The sound from the open hostel window tells me all I need to know - even though I'm not even up yet. Every car that passes creates a swoosh of spray off the streaming wet road. Thankfully, all of my gear has dried overnight and after a relaxed breakfast, I set off. Well, almost. Trying to switch the GPS on, I see that the screen has filled up with water and I’m getting nothing. I change the batteries, but still nothing. It’s an ancient Garmin Geko and it’s served me well, but this feels like a bit of a blow. With map, compass and the knowledge to use them, I’m not in danger of getting dangerously lost but I know that there are some complex little route-finding options later in the journey which will now have to all be done from the map and that will, inevitably slow me down.

The GGW path is narrower in parts here and less well surfaced, so this feels more like mountain biking. As it dips into the woods on the bank of Loch Oich it rises slightly to meet the trackbed of a long-abandoned railway. Before long, I'm diverted off this and onto a parallel track - another of Wades old roads. This is really rough in places and exposed tree roots have me bouncing along. Across the canal at the next set of locks and I'm back onto the smooth, fast towpath making good speed towards Fort Augustus.

As I ride this section I start to see the hills I'll need to cross shortly. Shrouded in low cloud, dark and very, very wet. I'm beginning to harbour doubts about the whole affair and wondering why I didn't even consider bypassing this by heading south from the hostel to Spean Bridge and taking the A86.

A cafe in Fort Augustus is a very welcome sight and I order a coffee plus the pancakes and bacon. It’s still chucking it when this is scoffed, so it’s another cup and a round of toast. Eventually, I bow to the inevitable and head out, grabbing a sandwich and drink from the garage opposite. Just as I set off, the rain halts. This brief interlude has the locks and boats looking sparkingly fresh and I take a couple of photos so I can look back and prove it wasn’t a dream.

A short sunny spell in Fort Augustus

As I’m heading out of Fort Augustus, I see a little track with a sign to Ardochy. That’s enough to jog my memory to take it - skipping some tarmac miles in the process. Emerging from that track onto a minor road, I eventually see signs for the Corrieyairack. There are so many tracks leading around here that there is no certainty about which is the Wade road. However, I’m pretty sure it’s not the massive motorway of a track which is being built by Balfour Beattie alongside. As the RoW rises, it is soon intersected by the BB track for a short distance before veering off again. The BB track (being built for the Beauly-Denny pylon line) is being forced to take a different path from that outlined by General Wade in order to prevent damage to what is classed as a Scheduled Ancient Monument. However, the noise of the construction traffic and the occasional glimpse of the track is taking away slightly from the general wilderness feel.

As I climb the track, the sun puts in another appearance, this time for a bit longer. I celebrate by removing my waterproof jacket for a while, probably drier that way than keeping it on and sweating. Again, this doesn’t last too long and soon it’s as bad as ever. Worse! Now there’s hail and sleet to contend with too. In amongst this appalling weather there’s a brief break in the cloud over the top of the pass and I catch the merest glimpse of the pylons at the top. It doesn’t look so far off now, but it’s certainly at some considerable height. A few moments later, I find the track blocked by a digger, with the operator in a ditch. I don’t know who is more surprised to see someone else in that environment. I have to man-handle the loaded bike round them and have a quick chat. Turns out he’s working for Scottish Natural Heritage doing path repairs. 

I climb up past another couple of diggers and a pick-up and as I’m cycling along I suddenly feel that the chain has locked up. Quicker than you can say “ “, I stop pedalling and unclip. I can’t see any problem, but with less than 1km to the summit of the pass and not making quick progress anyway, I opt to walk the rest of the way. This is certainly not when and where I want to be having a major mechanical, ripping off a mech or whatever. Eventually, I see the power lines starting to head downwards and right enough, that’s the top of the pass. I stop beside a wee shed to get out of the wind and send a txt message confirming my progress, but it’s too cold, wet and windy to be hanging around, so it’s downhill I go.

The zig-zags appear soon enough and I fairly enjoy steering my way round them, trying to avoid the biggest boulders and all the time aware of the weight of my panniers on the back of the bike. This first section drops you down really quickly into Corrie Yairack itself and as I lose height the cold wind drops and it stops raining again. Looking at all the water draining down the corrie, I’m suddenly reminded that it’s all feeding into the Spey and will be draining out at Spey Bay sometime soon. I’m wishing for a giant GPS-enabled pooh-stick I can race down to the sea!

Crossing the pass also means I’ve crossed the Druim Alba - the watershed of Scotland - and in some sense I’m now in the “East”, even though most of my journey is still ahead of me. It certainly feels different as the breaks in the cloud are now getting longer. As I approach the bothy at Melgarve, I see that the track has been resurfaced. When I was here last year, this was all a boulder field, the foundations of the old road. While some MTB purists might lament this “sanitisation”, I think it’s the right thing for the road. Wade never intended the foundations to be so exposed to the elements and this will help protect it. I stop at the bothy for my sandwich and drink and have a chat with one of the stalkers, watching a shooting party on a nearby ridge with his telescope. He’s not the most talkative of fellows, but I guess he’s actually working whereas I’m just here for a play around!

An old Wade bridge near Melgarve bothy

The tarmac road from Melgarve is a known quantity for me and I realise I’m not that far from Laggan now. The tailwind is also pushing me along and after a good look at the sky and likelihood of further rain, I take the opportunity to take off the waterproof jacket AND trousers, the first time since lunchtime yesterday I’ve felt I could do so. While I’m not sure the world is quite ready for the combination of lycra shorts and Shimano MT90 boots, I couldn’t really care and it’s a massive morale boost to feel so unencumbered.

After Spey Dam, the road cuts across the river and I suddenly remember I was going to take a different track, one that would also help my dirt:tarmac ratio for this trip, so I head back over the bridge and quickly spot it, almost hidden. I’m thinking that if I’d had the GPS I’d have not missed it. What I’d hoped would be a fantastically well-preserved, little-used section of Wade road turns out to be a direct line through a bog. However, after a couple of gates and a little bouldery climb and descent the track follows the river through a field of tall blue flowers (Cornflower?). 

Meadow flowers on the track near Laggan

After a little of this, it’s up to the A86 and across the bridge into Laggan and my B&B for the evening.
I’m feeling pretty pleased. The Corrieyairack has been playing on my mind, firstly as a walk and recently as a cycle, for almost 20 years. It’s just reached 4pm and I can relax and get all my gear dried off for another round tomorrow.

Monday 12 September 2011

C2C - Part 1

Speak to anyone that knows me and they'll tell you how great I am at organising stuff. Trips away are laid out with military precision. Train timetables, route maps, accommodation options all lovingly prepared so that everyone involved is fully prepped. So, how come it's gone midnight and I'm rushing around packing my panniers with thoughts of a 5.30 alarm call nipping at my brain?

Prevarication. Faced with too many choices, I've delayed my decisions and now it's panic stations. You see, it used to be so simple. You had a bike and when you were going somewhere you just got it ready and that was that. Now though, it's a number of bikes and you're stuck trying to decide which is gonna be "best". Rigid, front suspension, full suspension, even that CX bike you've been enjoying so much recently. And then there's the luggage question, not forgetting "which tyres".

I'm the end, I opt for what, to me at least, is "old school". A traditional hardtail mountain bike. The only problem is that this one has been languishing rather unused and unloved in the garage while newer toys have been getting a regular airing. Fitting suspension forks to replace the rigid ones would have been fine, discovering the headset needed replacing was one complication I could have done without. Remembering that the chain was skipping and then having to replace the cassette too was just frustrating. Oh - and those brakes were a bit soft - better bleed them too. What’s this, one of the pads has come of it’s backing?? All of that, plus a tyre change has set me back and I still can't decide what to wear.

Finally, gone 3am and after having to re-plot the route to reduce the number of waypoints, printing out maps and general faff, I make it to bed. Waking the next morning is easy enough, it feels like I've not actually gone to bed. A last minute rush around and it's off to the station. The traffic is, of course, a lot lighter than expected so I arrive much earlier than necessary. I get on the first train to come in and arrive in Glasgow a full hour early, dreaming of what that extra 60 minutes would have felt like in bed.

The Fort William train only has another couple of cyclists on it, so lots of space and it’s also quite quiet so I find myself a window seat in a relatively empty area and settle down to nap. I get some, but there’s too much going on around me to really doze off enough. Approaching Fort William, it’s not just the torrential rain that’s concerning me. Trees and bushes are being whipped over in a strong Westerly, promising more rain to come. Right enough, when we pull into the station, it’s like waves of water being bashed against the windows. That being all the excuse I need, I head for McDonalds for comfort food and to let it pass.

It doesn’t.

Time enough. It’s not getting any better, so I gear up (full waterproofs) and head off following the Great Glen Way signs. To be honest, once I’m cycling it’s mostly a tailwind and doesn’t feel near as bad as it looked from indoors. Reaching the canal towpath, I’m in full flow and I tear along at a fair rate of knots overtaking the occasional sorry-looking walker and some of the boats that have just come through Banavie Locks. By the time I reach Gairlochy, the rain has eased off a little and past the Loch Arkaig turn-off I find myself on unfamiliar ground for the first time this trip. The forest track is pleasant enough, though the trees mostly block the views. Stopping at one bench, I look around to see heavy, dark clouds lumbering up Loch Lochy.

It’s got to be easy enough - keep up a fast enough pace and you’ll outrun them! Aye - and just at Laggan Locks with around a mile or so to go to the hostel, they catch me and it’s like sitting in a tepid shower. It just keeps on coming and coming and follows me all the way to the hostel.

I’ve arrived much earlier than planned. Originally, I’d hoped to make it all the way to Fort Augustus on the first day but train times and the like gave me this shorter day. While it’s a shame to be “wasting” daylight, I’m glad to get indoors before all my gear gets completely saturated, and given my lack of sleep from last night, I still reckon an early stop works out well.

So - what’s this route all about anyway??

Well, I’ve always wanted to do the Corrieyairack Pass. It’s like a badge of honour amongst off-road cyclists in much the way that both Ben Nevis and the West Highland Way are for walkers. Options exist for doing it as part of a loop, or even an out-and-back, but I’d also had a hankering for a Coast-to-Coast route, and one that was a wee bit different and more manageable than many I’ve seen. Joining up the two simply meant getting to Fort William, going up the Great Glen Way to Fort Augustus, doing the Corrieyairack and then working my way down to Aviemore. A bit of map-reading showed that I could also incorporate a section of General Wades Great North Road, so it all just sort of fell into place. The Corrieyairack would be by far the highest and most challenging section and I was hoping that the surfaces on much of the rest would let me keep up a good pace.