In the eyes of the gloomy beholder

Well we nearly got out on the bikes yesterday. It was discussed briefly but the gloomy skies and cold blustery wind were all it took to convince us that a walk would be more fun. It wasn’t. It’s quite shocking sometimes how your mood can smother every glimmer of brightness.

We headed for the nearest access to the canal about three miles from home and as we drove down the quiet country lanes a succession of cyclists in brightly coloured winter outfits acted like a powerful search light exposing our guilt at having left the bikes in the shed. Each rider we passed seemed to drive home the message that there was absolutely no reason for not being out cycling. I think that’s where the rot set in for me. Once on the towpath it quickly became clear what the effect that so much rain has had in the last few weeks and we were squelching through glutinous mud almost ankle deep. After a few hundred meters we turned back in the hope that the path in the other direction might be a bit drier. It was slightly easier underfoot but the cold wind was now squarely in our face making it difficult to stay warm even at a brisk walking pace.

There were three brief encounters with wrens which fluttered into the undergrowth like tiny little balls of rusty fluff but other than them, even the birds seemed to have deemed the day to be not worth bothering with. A few ducks huddled in a field adjacent to the water but the remains of ice floating on the surface was obviously enough to put them off going for a dip. The narrow boats moored along the bank looked sad and neglected as they listed in the water; lifeless and unloved under a blanket of last autumn’s debris. Branches ripped from the trees in the recent winter storms rose from the water like the dead arms of cadavers frozen in a last desperate cry for help.

Library photo reflecting a better mood

Library photo reflecting a better mood

I’m sure that in other circumstances I would have noticed all manner of signs of spring but the grey, damp blanket of sky casting it’s  gloomy shadow over everything seemed to blind me to such things. All I could see was black mud, dark sinister water and bare boned trees reaching up and touching the drab ceiling with skinny skeletal fingers. It was a bleak, hopeless scene almost entirely devoid of life. Or so it seemed to me.

After about a mile we turned tail to get some relief from the cutting wind and made our way back to the car and the promise of warmth, home-made soup and a lazy afternoon listening to the rain rattling on the windows. Sometimes it’s just hard to see the beauty and I brought the camera home unused for the second day in a row. I know the splendour is there, I’ve seen it before, but sometimes on a day like today, the problem is in the beholder.

Seemed like a good idea

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Broadford Backpackers Hostel lounge

It seemed like a good idea at the time! The alternative title for this post would have been, ‘A day of two halves’ which describes it very well. We stayed at the Backpackers Hostel at Broadford on Skye and it was a really nice treat and very relaxed and comfortable. Even though we were later than normal to bed we were still up at 5:30 and a bit disappointed to find the kitchen didn’t open till 7:30. We made do with a brew and a cereal bar and a good old chinwag with three guys who were on a guided Cuillin bagging trip. I was particularly impressed by the innovation of the one eating cornflakes with milk from a plastic bag. Who needs a kitchen.

We were away before seven and despite a weather forecast predicting heavy rain later (remember that) it was sunny with a light south westerly to push us on our way. We were soon crossing the famous Skye bridge to Kyle of Lochalsh

The bridge from Skye

The bridge from Skye

and after shopping for the day we took tiny twisting coastal roads towards the village of Plockton. This was touring heaven as even though they were minor roads they had been newly surfaced and even the roller coaster nature of them was a delight. A gradual climb revealed a view of mountains framed by pine trees and backed by yet more spectacular peaks. Stopping for a breather could not have been more rewarding. The following few miles rolled along the shore of the loch alongside the amazing railway line that follows a seemingly impossible route hemmed betweeen mountain and loch.

Time for a breather

Time for a breather

We brewed up at yet another breath taking vantage point and we were amazed at how the numerous motorists would pull up, jump out of the car, (though one passenger didn’t even bother to do that) snap a quick picture and zoom away again. Maybe they like to enjoy the great spectacle of the Highlands at their leisure and through the playback of their cameras.

Brew with a view

Brew with a view

The glorious weather was changing and it looked as if the forecast would be right. We had a fallback option to camp at Lochcarron which was only another ten miles away so we pressed on with the prospect of an early pitch and a lazy afternoon. If only we had known.

On arrival we found the campsite closed so it was time for a re-think. We checked the weather and the heavy rain seemed to be holding off until late afternoon according to the latest forecast, so after topping up on water and a quick snack we decided to press on with the option of a wild camp somewhere on route.

Now I had a real yearning to climb the famous mountain pass Bealach Na Ba but I had read enough about it to be wary of it in bad weather. We made a plan to ride as far as the turn off point for the pass and decide there on what to do. It was raining lightly by now but we were warm enough tackling some steep climbs and I think that lulled us into a false sense of security. We both felt good for the challenge and at the point of no return we decided to go for it despite the increasing rainfall and cool breeze.

No comment

No comment

It’s a six mile climb that starts on easy gradients and we had been told that only the last mile was seriously steep so we didn’t anticipate any real problem even if we had to walk a few sections. It was only half past one and we had all afternoon. What could possibly go wrong. Two and a half hours later we staggered into the Applecross Inn as close to being hypothermic as we have ever been.

The first part of the climb was directly into the chilly wind and Gill very sensibly stopped and put on her rainlegs. I was unaware that she had stopped and when I pulled up to wait for her I couldn’t understand why she was taking so long on the easy slopes. I got seriously cold here and should really have put my own rainlegs on but after Gill finally arrived we pushed on another mile before I saw sense. I fear I had left it too late though. At three miles we were enveloped by cloud and the wind strengthened considerably. Of course the temperature was dropping with the height gain and the wind chill effect was considerable. The gradient was steepening and the effort was masking how cold we were becoming. Gill was struggling now and I chose not to tell her that there was still another two miles to go as she switched between riding and walking. Every so often cars and motorhomes would force us off the road and often it was too steep to get going again easily until the slope eased. We finally reached the hairpin bends that we knew heralded the end of the climb and unashamedly pushed and heaved our bikes up the last half mile. The cloud was now like thick fog and with steamed up glasses it was impossible to gauge where the actual high point was as the road levelled and rose again. What really struck us now, quite literally, was the galeforce side wind that was whipping viciously across the mountain and driving the rain like a pressure washer. We tried a couple of hopeless attempts to ride but it was just too dangerous and for the first time I started to realise the seriousness of our situation.

We walked the most wind swept sections being blown sideways across the road and often not even realising that cars were queueing behind us as the noise of the wind and rain blotted out the sound of their engines. We shouted encouragement to each other but it was a bit pointless as our voices were whisked away by the gusts of wind. Finally we tentatively mounted the bikes as the road descended only to find the brakes were hopeless with so much water on the rims. We both adopted a technique of rolling downhill with one foot unclipped ready to break a fall should the wind knock us over. In this manner we managed to lose about a thousand feet before we could start to ride again. It was a constant mental battle to choose between speed to get down faster and safety should the wind catch us and blow us from the road. I saw a building by the side of the road and stupidly stopped with the thought that we might shelter behind it for a while. Gill wanted to get on with descending and looking back I can see that I was showing the first classic signs of hypothermia. Most people who succumb to this deadly process stop to rest when they really need to press on to shelter. Often electing to stay alone and encouraging others to leave them where they are. I’ve witnessed it twice before in other members of my group but never in myself.

When we reached Applecross village we threw the bikes against the pub wall and dashed inside, desperate for warmth. We were both shivering uncontrolably and only after about half an hour and two hot chocolates did our bodies begin to return to normal. We were finally rational enough to order soup, put on dry clothing and begin to talk to people around us about “coming over the top”.

Today we are holed up in the tent.

Listening to Desert Island Discs in the tent

Listening to Desert Island Discs in the tent

It still hasn’t stopped raining in 24 hours but we are warm and dry and happy to have come through what was probably a serious error of judgement. Another one to bore the nursing home staff with one day.

So that was Bealach Na Ba. I’m told there are spectacular views from the top. We didn’t see them.

Scotland. Twice.

We’ve had a bit of rain, a lot of hills and some really cold winds over the last couple of days so it has been interesting to see how it affects our overall enthusiam. I’m pleased to say that whilst it’s easy to get a bit down in the moment we are generally still very much up.
At Longtown we had terrific heavy rain during the night which is only an issue in that it tends to wake us up sometimes but we were lucky to get away in the dry and high tailed it into Gretna propelled by a strong easterly wind. The gloomy weather got the better of us and we took refuge in a cafe for a full cooked breakfast to lift the mood and fuel us for the day. By any standards it was a poor quality affair but relativity is everything and to us it was Scotlands finest cuisine and we relished every morsel. And talking of Scotland, this second visit in twenty four hours was still exciting and we zoomed along propelled by exuberence, eggs and bacon and high winds.
At Annan (I so wanted it to be twinned with June June, or Sally Sally or something) we detoured to the ‘harbour’ because I was becoming concious that we weren’t really taking in much detail as we travelled. It seems that Annan had a fine harbour and a proud ship building tradition many years ago but now it’s a muddy river creek with some very tired looking boats in it.

Annan 'harbour'

Annan ‘harbour’

Caerlaverock Castle was much more impressive even if it is in need of a bit of redecoration. Well, rebuilding might help as well. Still it was the subject of an exciting siege in 1300 when the English camped outside it and set up all their castle sieging equipment. It must have been impressive because the occupants just threw in the towel and came out to surrender. I bet that was a real disappointment for the spectators. It was here that we found Ted and Lorraine Crook paying far too much attention to our parked bikes outside the tea shop. It turned out that Ted has the same model as Gill’s except that his isn’t bright pink surprisingly. Ted offered to take a photo for us and was very pleased that we also had exactly the same camera as him. It was nice chatting and explaining our trip to them but we left before it turned out that we shared the same mother or something.
Nice cycle paths along the river Nith took us into Dumfries

Flirting with Dumfries

Flirting with Dumfries

but we only flirted briefly with the outskirts before heading south down the opposite bank of the river. This business of travelling up and down estuaries will no doubt become a whole lot more familiar over the next few months.
Home for the evening was Southerness Holiday Park. It was actually a small township of static vans complete with ‘The Venue’ entertainment complex. Tonight’s highlight was bingo followed by guess the TV theme tune quiz. We didn’t partake of either but played the miserable geeks in the corner making use of the free WiFi. It was a very cold night but we knew nothing of it as we slept soundly in our lovely warm sleeping bags.

Bluebells are everywhere

Bluebells are everywhere

Oooh er missus!

Oooh er missus!

Kirkudbright harbour (working still)

Kirkudbright harbour (working still)

Tonight we are enjoying a beautiful sunny evening at Kirkcudbright and I will leave Gill to tell you all about our disappearing underwear later.

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