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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Wednesday 14 September 2011

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.

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