Sunday, 30 May 2010

Tour of Ben Loyal

29th May 2010

Route on Garmin Connect

After the night of torrential rain at Achmelvich, we broke camp and headed into Lochinver for expensive petrol and Spar shop coffee, which looked and tasted almost entirely unlike coffee.

The weather was still looking pretty grim and unsettled so we headed north in search of inspiration and a proper cup of coffee.

The Kylesku Hotel looked just the place, but we arrived at 9.45am which was 15 minutes too early to be served. So we kept heading north, over the fantastic Kylesku Bridge (which was opened on my 21st birthday), and up to Scourie to that strange Scourie Hotel, jam-packed with fishing paraphernalia and memorabilia.

The coffee took forever to arrive, but was thankfully worth the wait.

Now with caffeine in the system, some form of outdoor activity seemed more of a possibility. But with the weather still so grim, we delayed the inevitable by carrying on driving north.

Passing the Kinlochbervie junction I knew we were close to the fateful location of Brenda'a horrendous accident last year on the track below Gualin House where she managed to comprehensively destroy her right shoulder joint. This lead to me driving her first to Durness, and then all the way to the Raigmore Accident and Emergency in Inverness.

It was strange therefore to see Brenda (and Maisy) in the Raigmore yesterday in such different and happier circumstances.

Anyhow we passed Gualin House without drama this time and arrived in Durness in horrible cold rain only to see a bunch of bedraggled but rather familiar looking cyclists. I'd met some of these guys a few weeks ago at the Galashiels Moffat Toffee 200km Audax. But today they were all doing a 300km route from Portmahomack called the "Durness Duress". It looked like a truly daunting outing, especially given the awful weather.

We left them to it and headed on to Tongue. Scene of Manny's final Corbett last year. And after another coffee and the world's smallest piece of carrot cake at the Ben Loyal Hotel we thought it was just about blummin time we should go out and do some exercise. The choices were a yomp up Ben Loyal, but that looked pretty grim in the pishy cold weather, or a 50-odd mile bike ride around Ben Loyal and Ben Hope.

The bike ride seemed slightly more appealing so we set off at about 1:30pm up the big hairpin drag out of Tongue and over the high ground to Loch Loyal.

At first things seemed OK, with conditions only moderately rainy cold and unpleasant, but after the Altnaharra junction things took a turn for the worse. The descent down Strath More towards Ben Hope required a strong mental approach to blot out the feeling of being frozen to the core with freezing torrential rain.

The rain just kept on hammering down. I was so wet and cold in my flimsy pertex top and shorts. It felt like I was cycling along completely naked with no protection from the elements. I kept wiping the layer of water off my Garmin 205 to count down the minutes and kilometres.

It was a huge relief when we reach Hope, knowing it was just a 5km flog uphill, followed by a swift descent to the Kyle of Tongue causeway.

We were only out for 3 hours 15 min, but I can't remember ever feeling quite so cold and uncomfortable on a bike.

Once I'd managed to peel off the sodden clothes and force my numb hands and feet into dry clothes, it took a good 30 minutes with hot air blasting downwards in the car to finally de-frost my feet and get the feeling back.

We drove down to Lairg to re-fuel on fish and chips, and tried to decide what to do next. The fact that we had a car full of sopping wet kit, and a soaking wet tent meant I wasn't that keen to camp and do anything tomorrow. I had vaguely thought of heading to Torridon to track down Spyke on his record-breaking Munro Round. But without anywhere to stay, we decided to hit the A9 and get back to Glasgow.

The drive back was unbelievably tiring in pouring rain and pour light conditions. I stopped at Tomatin services, only to discover they've been demolished. We stopped in Aviemore for coffee at Smiffy's. We stopped on Drumochter for me to sleep for 2 minutes. We stopped at Pitlochry, but the petrol station was closed. We stopped at Perth for more coffee, then finally negotiated the maze of cones on the A80 upgrade stretch to arrive back in Glasgow at 1am.

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