Holidays

That was it, the last day of cycling had ended in the pouring rain. Now all that was left to arrange was our journey home.

Our first stop was the station where we found the only train we could get our bikes on left Fort William at 7:40AM. This seemed very early but would give us some time to look around either Edinburgh or Glasgow.

Now we had all day in Fort William, what entertainments could we find ? We started in the tourist information which was totally devoid of any information about the immediate vicinity of Fort William. If we had had a car there would have been plenty to do, but we didn’t. There was a little museum next to the tourist info which was recommended in my rough guide to Scotland so since it was raining we went to have a look in there.

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We had a magnificent breakfast in one the small cafes in town and then a short hiatus whilst I realised I had left my sunglasses back in the hostel and went back to fetch them. It didn’t look like I’d be needing my sunglasses however since it was already raining and looked like the weather was going to be plain miserable all day.

We didn’t have any clear idea of how to get to Fort William apart from a rather sketchy map in my rough guide to Scotland and whatever details I was able to remember from looking at the maps in the tourist info the day before. Basically we were planning on taking the A road up to Loch Lochy where it looked like there was a B road we could take around the other side of the Loch and into Fort William.

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Our friendly hostess brought us breakfast which we ate in the little conservatory adjoining our room. Whilst she tried to persuade her children to stay in the house and stop exploring the garden we chatted with the couple staying in the adjoining room. In fact Phil mostly chatted with them since I do not generally like talking to people in the morning, or while I’m eating, or quite often in general. They tried to convince Phil his rabbit dropping eagle was in fact a mere buzzard but I don’t think they succeeded.

Breakfast eaten we set off again down the A road for Fort Augustus. First stop was after 20 minutes or so at Urquhart Castle, the moody and romantic location for most Nessie sightings. I was hoping it would be along the same lines as Ruthven barracks; pretty much empty and where we could just wander around for 20mins and leave. In fact there is a huge gift shop and multimedia exhibition for which you have to pay an admission price which will also allow admission to the castle its self. There was no way into the castle without first passing through the gift shop complex.

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Since our cycle today was only around 20miles we had booked ourselves on a dolphin watching trip on the Moray Firth. I don’t like being early for things and had assumed Phil had actually made a reservation when he spoke to the dolphin people the day before. Consequently by the time I was packed up and ready to go we were cutting it fine.

It turned out that no reservations had been made and as soon as I walked into the office to book some places on the boat the guy was asking his assistant how many people they had on the boat already. He got an answer to that question and said “Right, thats it. No more on now.”

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We were going to spend the night the Inverness whilst we took care of various tasks which needed completing. The most immediate task was to find somewhere cheaper to stay than our £50 a night hotel room but the most important task was to decide what to do with the next 6 days of the holiday.

We had four real possibilities which boiled down to heading East towards Aberdeen down sustrans cycle route 1 to Aberdeen, heading north on the same cycle route towards John O Groats, heading North West towards Ullapool ( which we had been assured was the best possible place we could go from Inverness ) or heading South East down the Great Glen past Loch Ness towards Fort William & Oban.

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The final stage of the Sustrans 7 route into into Inverness. I opted not to have any breakfast since the guest house we were staying in seemed to double as some kind of OAP retirement home. When we went for dinner the previous evening we were given menus and shown to some kind of living room which was filled with old ladies and gentlemen wittering on in the style of old people everywhere. For a while they took the piss out of a man who was even older than most of them and who was apparently here to be bathed by a young nurse who, it was generally thought, would almost certainly fall for the very old mans charm and provide more than a quick soaping this evening.

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After the marathon of the previous day I was hoping for something a bit less hard work and with a bit less wind today. Luckily we only had 30 miles or so to cover and most of them were along nice looking B roads with no major uphills apart from a short one near the end.

We were heading for Carrbridge and started off on the A road through Kingussie, handily there was a nice cycle path next to the A road so it was only the pedestrians also on the path who were risking their lives rather than us. We turned off for the B road just before the remains of Ruthven barracks which we stopped off to have a look around.

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Pitlochry to Newtonmore. 44 Miles over the Drumochter pass which carries the highest stretch of railway in the UK. This was the longest day of our route and also I think the highest. The first 10 miles were fairly flat until a place called Calvine at which point the road began 15 miles or so of constant uphill past Dalnacardoch lodge up to the Drumochter summit at 460M above sea level. From the summit it looked like a fairly long downhill run into Newtonmore so the challenge for the day really was to get to the top of the Drumochter pass.

The weather was pretty gloomy looking as we set out from Pitlochry but it wasn’t actually raining, at least not seriously raining so we made good time through the pass of Killiecrankie and up to Blair Atholl. From Blair Atholl there were some long straight sections of road down which the wind was roaring towards us in our faces, there is nothing worse than long straight roads with big headwinds. You pedal away thinking to yourself “I must be getting along pretty quick here” and look up to see you are apparently no nearer the end of the road than you were last time you looked up. Whilst we were stopped to adjust Phils handlebars ( and have a quick cigarette ) Phil expressed the hope that the wind wasn’t like this up on the pass but unfortunately according to the map we’d be travelling in more or less the same direction over the pass so the chances are it would still be in our faces.

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We were waiting for the bike shop to give Phil and call and tell us our bikes were now ready for todays stage. In the meantime we had some breakfast provided by the slightly confused seeming, but very lovely, barmaids. The breakfast too was lovely.

Predictably it was raining still, as it had been virtually all night and the falls were in full flow outside the Inn. They had risen noticeably from the height they’d been the previous evening so we spent some time watching them, mesmorised by the water, and taking some photos.

To get out of the rain we settled in a coffee shop where we in fact spent most of the morning, Richard phoned to sort the arrangements for Summer Sundae, I did some washing in the laundrette next door and wrote some postcards. Outside the rain was showing no signs of let up. Eventually we got the call we had been waiting for and went down the shop to collect our bikes.

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We’d arranged to spend a day chilling out in and around Callander so we kicked off by doing some washing and then headed into Stirling where we had a look around the castle and tried to find the Wallace monument so Phil could see Willy Wallaces huge sword. This was not an entirely successful mission since we arrived just as it closed. An extremely grumpy bus driver gave us a lift up to the monument so we could at least admire the view and then even more grumpily he gave us a lift back down again. We had a great chinese in the evening and then watched some film with Jim Carrey in back at the hotel. He was imprisoned in a huge virtual reality world designed by a scary designer. I quite enjoyed it.

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