Tue, 26 Jun 2018
“That can’t be the road.”
I’m only about 10 miles in and across the loch I can see a road going improbably up the side of what appears to be a cliff from here. It’s in the right direction but surely it’s not the road.
Of course, it is.
However, that’s some time away and before that there’s the 30 odd mile run to get there. Largely into a headwind it turns out. And with quite a few more hills than expected.
The trouble with a ride which has just one very large hill is it skews the profile. You don’t notice all the other small hills because there is an enormous lump in the middle of the route. Or two enormous lumps because of course the lunch stop is on the other side so I have to go over it twice.
The hill in question is the Bealach na Ba, or “the toughest and wildest climb in Britain” as 100 Greatest cycling climbs would have it. In the grand scale of things it’s not huge but by British standards it’s quite a lump. It’s also half way up the West coast of Scotland so fairly remote. We’re on holiday nearby so riding up it seemed the obvious thing to do. Fortunately it’s not so remote that there isn’t a pub with a reputation for excellent food on the far side hence the “ride to the pub for lunch, ride back” plan.
The run in isn’t too bad, the odd sneaky 14% hill excepted. And there’s a decent chunk of tailwind back down the other side of the loch so I’m pretty relaxed when I get to the bottom.
The lower slopes are fairly gentle, helped by the tail wind, so it goes swimmingly for the first bit. Then I round the corner that starts up the glen proper and it all goes a bit Pyrenean. I can see the top and it’s a fair old way, both horizontally and vertically. More troublingly is that it’s got steep and looks to be getting steeper.
Its pretty constant so it’s a case of settle in to a rhythm and plod up, occasionally slowing at passing places to let cars pass; it’s a single track road and fairly popular. The drivers are impressively patient, probably because I’m a lot less trouble than the numerous camper vans grinding their way up.
Definitely steeper at the top. With proper hairpins. It’s great. In a hurty sort of way.
Also spectacular. There are towering walls of rock everywhere and the other side of the glen is an impressive distraction from the effort of going up.
The views from the top aren’t too bad either, although it’s a little cloudy and definitely a bit too windy to be hanging about. Plus, it’s definitely getting on for lunch time.
The top part of the descent is a bit sketchy thanks to the wind. It’s exposed and steep and the gusts make for the odd nervous moment. Further down though is a hoot and proper let go the brakes and effortlessly catch cars territory.
Lunch is chips by the sea because I’m not sure a full fish and chip lunch will be compatible with getting back up the climb. And they’ve not got any sandwiches because it’s been too busy. There is an outside tap for filling up with water which is impressively continental.
And then back up. Briefly steep at the start and then a long slow drag roughly into the wind, before the steep bits. This side might be a bit easier but the wind is definitely turning it into a draw. It’s also much less regular so a bit harder to hit your stride and stick to it.
Again the descent is tempered by the wind but it’s still a lot like fun.
At this point I’m still feeling pretty good although there’s a chunk of slogging into headwinds to come and this is where it begins to go a bit slow. As ever I suspect I’ve not done enough eating early enough so the frantic attempt to pour calories in starts. Not entirely successfully it will turn out.
Still, the run back up to the top of the loch is fine and the run back to Erbusaig goes well until the first of those 14% hills. It’s much longer than I remembered and progress is not quick. The next one is a similar slog.
Otherwise the run back is fairly pleasant. The odd bit of traffic but the great joy of cycling in the remoter bits of Scotland is that busy means several cars in a minute and then only briefly. There’s only one driver all day who seems irked to be held up by a cyclist, largely because I made way when I thought it was safe rather than immediately.
I do think if I was to be in the area again I’d not do the over and back but over and then loop round the rest of the Applecross peninsula. Partly because it’s also lovely and partly because I have a preference for loops over out and backs. Definitely up the East side and down into Applecross though.
posted at: 22:05 #