After a tough few months at the Keep Pedalling Headquarters we all (well, the 3 of us, or 4 if you count Olive the terrier) decided that we needed a break. Olive was packed off to a relative for her own special quality time and Sylwia took herself off to Glasgow for some bike polo followed by a trip up the West Highland Way. We’ll send you a link to her story once she’s told it.
If you’ve been paying attention lately you’ll know that we’ve just built up a rather tasty back country touring Surly Troll. Also we’ve got a trip to Morocco coming up and we needed to brush down our touring pants. There were some grand plans of huge loops in the Highlands but these evaporated quicker than you can say Bog Trotting Hell Biking. We actually decided to have a relatively relaxing week, y’know like a real holiday – ice creams, beer and everything.
We threw the Surly Trolls in the little black van and headed North from Manchester on Saturday afternoon. Too many motorway hours later we were in Tyndrum, about an hour North of Glasgow at the top of Loch Lomond.
We’d planned a route following the middle section of the West Highland Way from Tyndrum over the Devils Staircase section to Kinlochleven. After that we’d turn off and head over towards Laggan and over the Corrieyairack Pass. Fort Augustus and all the touristy stuff that supplies followed by a lazy spin down the canal to Fort William and pick up the WHW again to take us back to the start. Easy.
We’d originally planned to attempt this route on our tandem. Seriously? Neither of us would have lived to tell the tale…
Leaving Tyndrum is a gentle roll along the valley to the Bridge of Orchy. We enjoyed a random chat with the stationmaster and passed on the average fare in the pub. A bit of a climb along an estate road over to the ski station, past the cafe (very good there, we stopped on the way back) and along the valley to the start of the climb over the Devils Staircase. Get your head down and it’s all over quick enough with a much more rideable descent into Kinlochleven. Head for the friendly folk at the chippy if it’s open, if not then the cafe at the Ice Factor is good – huge cakes and good coffee! After that the climb out of the valley was tough. Here is where we left the WHW and started to head over in a roundabout way to Laggan.
Fair climb that out of Kinlochleven and on some crappy surfaces too, un-co-operative stoney tracks. Dropping down to the river crossing it was time to get our feet wet. In a particularly indecisive few minutes we finally opted for stopping the night in the deserted bothy at Meannanach. We were consistently surprised by the lack of people out and about, it was August and great weather after all.
Next morning really was glorious. Only little clouds in an otherwise clear blue sky. Pity the track was mostly unrideable. Short sections of loveliness with frequent stops to get our feet wet in streams. Still we marvelled at how remote it felt, here particularly. It got better though passing by some lovely waterfalls and soon we popped out near Loch Treig. Here the estate has a project underway to harness all that water and the upshot is that the climb away from the loch is more big gravel for construction traffic.
After passing alongside Loch Ossian we enjoyed a long stretch of fast tracks all the way over to Laggan. A small section of tarmac downhill into the little village and we stumbled on the temporary shop and cafe. Across the road the shop that closed 2 years ago was getting a refurb by its new owner. We had a good natter with him and consumed mugs of hot chocolate before starting off towards the pass. The old military road follows the electricity pylons up the River Spey and before it started to climb too drastically we installed ourselves in a disused sheep pen. Out of the wind and flat it was a pretty good find. Another early night ready for the pass in the morning.
As we spun up the loose gravel towards the top of the pass our minds wandered to a couple of years ago when we rode this route the other way around. Heavy rains had washed the trail away and left it unrideable. We’d had to push down the pass. Now the trail would be unrideable in sections, moreso on a single speed, as it’s currently repeated water bars with loose gravel to allow access to construction traffic as they are now replacing all the pylons. Over soon enough though and we were storming down the other side into Fort Augustus via the troll bridge…
Once down in Fort Augustus we feasted on (more) macaroni cheese, what had turned into our favourite veggie staple in Scotland. Sat around for a bit, drank coffee and ate ice cream, watched the tourists go by. There was that woman with the banana, but that’s for another time.
We found a deserted campspot further down the Caladonian Canal, then we went back 6 miles for supplies! It was along the canal bank so no great hardship. Early evening exploration, late night musings over beer and a lazy morning start – we saw the early morning mist and crawled back into the tent!
Gently trundling down the canal bank in fine weather, there were of course a few more people to chat to along the way as we neared Fort William. A spot of lunch in the high street chippy and we were all set for the climb out of town. Up and along the WHW it was fairly crowded with walkers coming the other way, finishing off their day in good weather and downhill into town. Some parts of this path are almost too groomed, encouraging a fair pace by bike forgetting that there’s probably a European tourist just behind that tree!
Just after cresting the hill and surrounded by eight and nine hundred metre hills we took shelter from the unrelenting headwind barrelling through the valley and popped the tent up. This was the night we found the drawbacks of a single hooped lightweight tent. It rained heavily all night and blew an absolute hooley. There was never really any fear of the tent failing, it just felt like it.
We woke to some light drizzle but thankfully the wind had died down. Dropping down into Kinlochleven was midge hell as we did a fair bit of hanging around in the woods waiting as hikers started their day on the hill. Another visit to the Ice Factor cafe for a late breakfast and we headed for the climb up the more rideable side of the Devils Staircase. We can confirm that riding down the sharp side is also a lot more fun that pushing up! After this we were basically reversing our route back to Tyndrum. Didn’t take long at all especially with the almost never ending descent back to the Bridge of Orchy.
We beat the bad weather as the next day we woke to rain battering down, phew… Apparently this only lasted a day or two – we didn’t stay around to find out and headed for more hills in Wales.
We used soft luggage from Apidura. Plenty of room for a change of clothes and tent, sleeping bags, stove, etc. Really impressed with the handlebar bag. Roll up entry points at each end are really useful for stashing that mid ride windproof or accessing an emergency waterproof.
Tent – Nordisc Telemark 2 Less than 1 Kg. Easy and quick to put up with plenty of room for 2 + kit. Not as stable as multi hoop designs but a lot lighter! We used lightweight down sleeping bags from local company PHD.
Stove – MSR Pocket Rocket and a couple of Ti mugs. Just for soup, noodles and brews. Boils quick and is small and light.
Water purification – we used the Travel Tap water bottle system. After looking at some of the water we scooped up into these little beauties it was reassuring to be able to rely of this bottle to filter out all those nasties. Not having to worry about where to get clean water is a real boon.