Land's End to John O' Groats

Chapter 5: Middle Scotland from Ardgour to Ullapool

12. Day, Wednesday: Conan/Ardgour - Glenfinnan - Mallaig - Skye - Plockton
8.30-19.00, 131 km trp, 13.1 km/h avg, 50.7 km/h max, 1497 km total

Imagine I would have spent this day at Oban waiting for the ship and to start a sea journey at noon over 7 hours. Do you know what I would have missed? I can tell you: the best of all, in German we call it "Königsetappe (King's Stage)". The Königsetappe on bike tours is not the most difficult or hard one but the most beautiful one. I don't like to use a superlative, but I have seen a lot meanwhile and may say: there must be more than one sensation to surpass this day.

Loch Linnhe

Ben Nevis in the Haze
When I start at the Ardgour side of Loch Linnhe the sun shines bright. There is no traffic as mentioned yesterday. The Ben Nevis is still hidden by fog. I try to remember our climb up there 30 years ago. But all has gone, I only remember that we had fog all the time. Today we will have a 100 km sight.

"Alone with the sheep" again, sometimes we stop at a cattle grid. I would not recommend to ride over these grids if you won't risk a puncture or break of spokes or rims. Now I see salmon farms again. There are large cages where the salmons are fed and finally caught. I think the salmon to be one of the greatest wanderer among the fish and feel a pity with those inside their cages. You see them jumping out of the water but cannot be glad about it.

30 years ago again we observed some fishermen, as they surrounded a swarm of salmons with nets and finally pulled them ashore. This was at Glenelg.

The most beautiful Telephone Box on Earth
I see Fort William now at the other side of the Loch. Unfortunately they have build a couple of ugly grey blocks over there. I now reach Loch Eil and the road turns west. For we have a high pressure weather period we have eastern winds and this means: tailwind again. So I roll on and amidst of the sunny landscape there is a fire red telephone box. I call it the most beautiful telephone box on earth (Let's discuss about this later...). Now there are about 10 herons at the shore but they fly away before I get my camera fixed.

Salmon Farms at Loch Eil
At the end of Loch Eil we undercross a railway. Just now a train passes, you hear the whistle of the engine. But there is nothing to be seen behind the bushes.

Some miles ahead we reach the place called Glenfinnan. This is the end of Loch Shiel, a long drawn-out lake cutting the district of Ardgour. Besides that you can admire a monument with a stone figure at it's top. "For Scotland's Honor" is to be read and we learn, that this is a memorial for the "1745 Jacobite Rebellion" with "Bonnie Prince Charles". If you want to know more about this matter I am sure you will find out something.

Now the Suisse guests from the hotel come along. They wonder that I made all the way by bike, the speedometer shows 40.5 km and I have spent about two hours. Not bad! Now we go up a wide green valley. The landscape slides along like in a giant cinema.

But now there must be something interesting. On every hill there are people carrying binoculars, telescopes, tripods, cameras, camcorders etc. At a bridge I stop to ask a man who peers along the rail track with bright eyes. He sputters out: "The train will leave at ten forty five, it's a steam engine, you know!". And then he says to his wife and her tripod: "You better go up that hill, Sheila!". OK, I will do the same and go "up that hill", fix my camera and wait for the sensation. But as usual nothing happens. Of course it's nice up here in the sun, but I at least have to do other things. So I take a photo without the train and continue.

"Jacobite" Steam Train
But I got the infect, look back and hope to be at a convenient place for a photo when the train will pass by. Once I have to stop caused by the morning tea - you know. And there it is, whistling and gasping - the steam train. As soon I get my hands free I have my photo, unfortunately the white steam turns to be grey just at this moment.

Remark: During the journey back home by train many days later I find in the journal "Scotrail Outlook 7/99 June - July" an article about the Highland Rover Ticket, by which one can ride in this area, the following note: One of the greatest railway journeys of the world ...In summer the "Jacobite" steam train runs from Fort William to Mallaig offering a chance to savour a taste of the great era of steam...

I think of my Internet-friend and railway-freak Terje M. from Norway who - I am sure - will enjoy to read this story (Meanwhile I know: he did enjoy it...). For me this all was unexpected and so it feels like a sensation. So with a good mood I go on through this lovely landscape. We come to the coast at the Sound of Arisaig.

We have mediterranean conditions today with the blue sky and the bright sun. You will not have this kind of weather very often in Scotland. I fee like it's Sunday today.

Graveyard of the Lost Poet
It is not possible to declare this beauty in verbal form and the photographs only catch a cut of it. You have to sit down and look around for a while and mix the two words "Unbelievable" and "Incredible" in your head. And there are ancient forests with huge mammoth trees. At the ruin of a church we find a graveyard and a sign which declares, that the great Galic poet named Mhaighstir Alasdair, 1700-1770 is buried at this place. But no one knows the correct location...

The narrow road goes up and down and winds it's way between the hills. But then they have built a racing lane supported by European fonds. It is difficult to understand who will have the profit of this project. Before I arrive at Malleig the world famous "Jacobite Train" comes back, and while I just stand aside the road I can shoot another photo.

Straight ahead...

At Malleig I soon enter the ferry which crosses the Sound of Sleat to the island of Skye. Someone is blowing a backpipe there, but unfortunately he just stands in front of a couple of garbage buckets.

Now in the afternoon the sun stands deeper at the sky and so the views get more and more colorful. I shoot some postcard-like photos, once a panoramic sight.

For we live in a progressive and technical era someone has decided again to replace the old winded road by a ramp milled into and through the hills. The building vans are still at work and so I know: it's no Sunday today. You now can ride this way from Ardvasar to Broadford in a comfortable way, but the motorized fellows tend to pass along with 100 mph.

At the junction to Broadford I turn north to approach the mainland again. There is the next progress of the last years as they have built a bridge over Loch Alsh. I suppose the old ferry boat still runs from Kyle of Lochalsh and this is for the romanticists. I had enough romantic scenes today so I cross the bridge - free of charge for cyclists again.

Kyle of Lochalsh

I have choosen the village of Plockton at the Loch Carron for an accomodation. Anywhere it is to be read, that this "Jewel of the Highlands" has won an award to be the most hospitable place in the year 1994. I cannot understand this at first and stray around among some houses which I believe to be Plockton. A kind woman asks me what I am looking for and offers a bunkhouse with self catering. I ask for a hotel and she says I should go down the hill to the village. That's it, up here there is the railway station only.

When I finally enter Plockton I must confirm that this town is worth to get an award. I get a room at the Haven Hotel and book for a dinner as well. I cannot tell you the price, it is very much for a poor biker but adequate after a rich day.

I change my clothes and then enter the dining room. It is elegant in there and everyone tries to behave in an exclusive manner. I do hard to understand, how to choose the meals from the dinner card but finally with help of the amused waitress succeed. At the table aside an older couple is perfect, and so I eventually peer over to learn how to manage the course. I have:

Agyr Ham Slices, Soup, Tuna Filet, Fruit Salad and Ice

It's a lot and hard to believe that within a short hour there is so much place inside of the body. But at last it is not, for the second beer will not run it's way. So I have to resign which is unusual for me. And it's better to go out for a walk in the evening sun while everything is lighted by a yellow shine. To complete the scene there is a ruin of a castle right above. As usual I enter the graveyard and wonder about the dips in the grass in front of the gravestones. I suppose the ground  has sunk with the rotten coffins and this feels spooky.

13. Day, Thursday: Plockton - Glenn Carron - Loch Glascarnoch - Ullapool
8.30-18.00, 132 km trp, 16.3 km/h avg, 56.7 km/h max, 1629 km total

As usual we start on a hilly road to a narrow part of Loch Carron. There is the village Stromferry. To avoid misleading expectations they have built up a sign: "No Ferry". We join to the A890 which leads up to the Glen Carron. And what's the name of the river here? It's name is Carron. Now the tailwind blows me up the valley. At first there are forests of firs, the lumberjacks are at work, let us hope they know what they do. A big dragonfly ahead turns out to be a helicopter at work with the river regulation activities. Soon the limit of the trees is reached and the ground is coverd by brown heather areas. The mountains around are up to 1000 m high, some spots of snow have remained from the winter.

Another most beautiful Telephone Box on Earth
At the wide high valley there are some deserted remains of houses. It is hard to imagine the circumstances in former times, when people lived here. Meanwhile they will have emigrated or searched for a job at Ullapool, Inverness or Edinburgh. I try to think of the winter season up here but this is difficult now in the sunshine. The road is a racing lane again just finished last year. At Achnasheen there is the summit and time for a rest beside a telephon box and argueing which is the most beautiful of all.

Now a phantastic downroll follows, you must imagine this with sunshine and tailwind, the broome (furze = Ginster) forms a yellow hedge. We can run 15 miles downwards nearly without pedalling. Then we reach a valley of a river named "Black Water" and have to climb up again towards north west. And now we have a headwind, but that doesn't bother us.

It's worth to arrive at the Loch Glascarnoch up above. It is a swampland around with dark holes of water. You better stay on solid ground. The highlands around seem to be in their original state frome the ice age. Again I try to imagine rain, storm , hail and snow, and may be one would say: "Never go to Scotland". But today you could fall in love (probably I did?).

Finally there is a downhill again until we reach a park area with busses, caravans and motor bikes. There is something to be seen named Corrieshalloch Gorge. This is a deep canyon and the rocks are covered by green moss and ferns. Of course a waterfall completes the scenery. Now I head for the last miles to Ullapool. There is a ship just going out, may be to the Western Islands. I would have come from there to Ullapool one evening later, if I had followed the earlier plan. I am very happy to have made it this way.

May be you have observed, that I tend to feel unwell in a busy town or at places I don't like. There it is again. The tourist office is closed already and I decide to continue to the next village named Ardmair. At first there is a long steep ramp where I must push the bike. But then there is a nice view back to Loch Broom and to the mountains where I have come from today.


"Out of Ullapool" - the Ramp


Some km more up and down until we reach Ardmair: and - be glad - there are only three houses. Nothing to be read of a B&B or evening meals. In addition there is a camping site, but I resign to ask anyone.

So I go back - up and down and up and down - to Ullapool. Finally down on the ramp I reach the maximal speed of today. May be because it is the thirteen'th day, I need some time to get an accomodation. Most of the people prefer to rent family suites and don't want a single person. At last I end at Mrs. Joan Moffat, 1 Broombank who has a single room.

Now it is late already and I still must go out for a meal. At the first restaurant they conduct me to the bar with much noise in there. I flee out. At the second restaurant I sit and sit and no one seems to be aware of me, may be it is a self-service - but it does not look so. I go out again. At the harbour there is a "Fish 'n Chips Take Away": the last chance. I order a packet but now have to wait for nearly 30 minutes because a crew of workmen had purchased before. Finally I get my stuff, put it all into the front bag and return to my "home". "Did you get your meal" I am asked and answer without any lie "Yes, at the harbour". I then sit in my room and eat my portion with bare fingers, thoroughly thinking not to spoil anything. It works.

Chapter 6: North Scotland
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