A diary of Kingussie & Newtonmore Shinty Club’s Glasgow to Badenoch cycle via The West Highland Way, Great Glen Way & Corryarrick Pass on 12th, 13th 14th July 2013. By Russell Jones
Thursday 11th July;
The plan was that myself, John Gibson, Brick Macarthur and Colin Stewart would leave Badenoch at 7.00pm and arrive at our Cumbernauld hotel in good time to have a healthy pre cycle meal, a couple of energy drinks and an early night. The reality was that one of us, who shall remain nameless, (me) was late in finishing work and 7.00 became 8.00 then 9 and eventually 9.45 before we turned on to the A9 at Ralia. After a short stop at Bruar to pick up support van driver Dave Olds, who been eaten alive by midges during his long wait, we made good time South and all was going well until Gibby switched on the sat – nav to guide us to the “door of our hotel”. After two visits to unknown housing schemes, a trip up a forestry road and three laps of the Falkirk Wheel we gave up on the technology and phoned Kevin for directions. As one of the Newtonmore contingent in the back remarked “Lucky2bhere? – we’ll be lucky to get there!” Gibby later admitted that his glasses were in his bag in the boot. Although it was well after mid night when we eventually arrived at The Castlecarey Hotel and met Kevin Thain and Scott Shiells, who had both arrived hours earlier, it was decided a quick nightcap was in order and we were forced in to the bar.
Friday 12th July;
After what seemed like five minutes sleep, I – Phone and Blackberry alarms welcomed us to the first day of our journey. Breakfast was served in Kevin’s room with supplies bought for the trip as the hotel didn’t seem keen to serve it at 5.30 am. We then piled in to the vans for the 40 minute drive to the start at Milngavie. Fortunately Gibby was not driving this time and we arrived without any dramas. After the obligatory picture at the start point of ‘The Way’ we began the long pedal at around 7.30 am. As any who have travelled the W.H.W will know the first 15 miles or so are fairly uneventful and, especially on a bike, the ground can be covered fairly quickly. After a quick meeting with the support van we headed on to Conic Hill which was our first real challenge of the day. Before we had even begun the climb Brick decided to impress us with some stunt cycling that Danny Mackaskill would be proud of although Brick put his own stamp on the trick by landing on his head first before clattering his thighs off his own bike before eventually making contact with the ground, really quickly. Someone said he may have uttered a couple of bad words but I couldn’t verify that. Bruised but un bowed he carried on and soon we were up and over Conic Hill after enjoying some fantastic views of Loch Lomond from the top. A fairly level section along the Loch side followed until we arrived at Rowerdenan Hotel which was the last time we would see the support van until Balnamein Farm at Inverarnan. So began the worst section of the whole journey. If the path from Rowerdanan to Inversnaid is perhaps 70% cycleable, the next six miles to the end of the loch are almost impassable whilst carrying a bike in places. Scrambling along rocky ledges in cycling shoes, around trees, up ladders, down stone staircases whilst holding your bike above your head at impossible angles this section very quickly turns in to an endurance test that would be more suited to a Japanese game show and there were a few escapades along the way that included Kevin ending up unable to move without assistance whilst dangling headfirst over a rock slab 10 feet above the Loch and Brick taking another tumble in to the undergrowth. By this point Bricks language was darkening with his mood and for some reason (I assume because I had suggested the trip) my name seemed to be getting preceded with a curse every few hundred yards. It became so frequent that, as Colin remarked, the many foreign walkers we were passing will probably return home believing that #*#*#*# Jonesy is some form of Highland greeting. At last we reached the end of Loch Lomond and we began the climb up to Inverarnan and Beinaglass farm. By the time we all arrived at the support van it was after 7.00pm and it was obvious that the hot weather and struggles along the loch side had taken their toll. It was decided that instead of cycling the 12 miles on to Tyndrum where we were to spend the night we would call it a day and travel up in the van and return to Beinaglass the following morning refreshed and ready to go. We arrived at the By The Way hostel in Tyndrum to find Jimmy Gow waiting for us. Jimmy had driven down to take over support van driving duties from Dave. After a welcome shower we all headed out to The Tyndrum Inn for excellent fish and chips and a couple of pints which, shock horror, some were too tired to finish.
Saturday 13th July;
By the time the alarms went off at 6.00am half the crew were already up and showered and while to say we were ‘raring to go’ would be an exaggeration we were certainly in better shape than 12 hours previous. After breakfast Jimmy drove us back to Beinaglass Farm and we were on our way by 7.30am. The track is all very cycle friendly and although there are one or two steep sections we were back at Tyndrum for 9.30 am where we discovered Jimmy had a hitherto hidden talent for making very tasty rolls and sandwiches which was made even more impressive as Kevin had neglected to buy any butter when shopping for supplies. Our next target was Bridge of Orchy and after a fairly steep pull up out of Tyndrum we made good time on the downhill and level track and made our way under the railway line as the 11.40 (ish) train left the station and down to meet the van at the side of the hotel. Refreshed once more we now headed past The Inveroran Hotel and over Rannoch Moor before coming in to Glencoe. During a quick stop at the car park of The Kingshouse Hotel a couple of German walkers stopped to ask Jimmy if they could get a lift to the foot of the Devils Staircase. Luckily Jimmy is fluent in German and the three of them set off in the van as we pedalled down the path towards the same destination. A 40 minute push saw all of us on top of the Devils Staircase and we then enjoyed the best descent of the trip on the steep and rocky path down towards Kinlochleven. Around half way down, as we approached a bridge, we heard shouting and clapping and looked to our right to see Jimmy’s new friends with their trousers rolled up to their knees paddling in the burn, they seemed very happy. We left Kinlochleven at around 5.00pm and the push straight up out of the town was probably worse than the Devils Staircase and it was a relief to get on to the Land Rover track heading towards Fort William. After a nasty ‘sting in the tail’ of an uphill section, just before we dropped in to Glen Nevis, we rolled in to Fort William around 8.00pm. It had been a long day but the W.H.W. was complete and we were two thirds of the way through our challenge. We headed for our digs at The Bank Street Hostel and found that all seven of us were in the same room which was cosy. After a shower and change of clothes we made what could have been a disastrous decision given our sleeping arrangements and all went out for a curry and a couple of pints.
Sunday 14th July;
Perhaps it was the excitement of the last day or perhaps it had something to do with the curry but we were all up before the Blackberrys and I phone alarms could do their worst at 6.00am. After breakfast and some unusual conversations for that hour we cycled off through Fort William heading for Neptunes staircase at the start of the Caledonian Canal at Banavie and The Great Glen Way to Fort Augustus. This was a lovely start to the day and we sped through the first few miles along the even and well kept canal path before joining the forestry road along the side of Loch Lochy.It was around this time that the subject of where we should actually finish the challenge came up. If we finished in Newtonmore it would mean that the Kingussie boys would have another 3 miles to go after that, and forever more we could say we had done 3 miles more than them. If we finished in Kingussie the Newtonmore boys would have 3 miles to cycle back so forever more they could say they had done 3 miles more than us. Obviously neither of these scenarios was acceptable so we pedalled on trying to think of a solution. After we rounded Laggan locks and Invergarry we rejoined the canal path and again enjoyed the good surface, this time with the gradient in our favour as we sped down the last few miles towards Fort Augustus. As we neared the village there was a lot of tourists enjoying the nice weather and strolling along the path. As Colin and myself cycled along side by side deep in conversation we probably half noticed one of these ‘tourists’ filming us as we approached with an I pad. It wasn’t until the ‘tourists’ dog ran in front of Colin’s bike, nearly sending him over the handlebars and in to the canal, that we realised it was in fact Roddy Maclean, now a resident of Fort Augustus, but Newtonmore born and bred and still one of their top goal judges on match days. Luckily Colin, and more importantly the dog, escaped without any serious injury and Roddy wished us luck and put £20.00 towards our Lucky2bhere fund. We arrived in Fort Augustus without any further mishaps and enjoyed Lasagne and Macaroni in The Moorings café. Over lunch it was decided that the answer to the problem of where to finish was to stop exactly half way between Newtonmore and Kingussie in ‘No man’s land’, shake hands, put the bikes in the van and head for a pint. Satisfied with this decision we headed out past the Abbey to begin The Corryarrick Pass and the last stage of our challenge. The Corryarrick is a bit of a slog at the best of times but after 150 miles it is even harder although a lot of work has been done on the road in the last few years and the surface is very good now. When we reached the top we were delighted to see Finlay Binnie, Beado and Richard who had come up to meet us with beers and ice creams in bags full of ice. This was very welcome and we enjoyed a beer as we looked down in to Badenoch knowing our challenge was nearly complete. After a good blast down the Corryarrick we hit the tar at Drummin and passed Garva Bridge and on down in to Laggan. The run from Laggan to Newtonmore was fairly uneventful and we tore through the village towards our newly decided finish line at great speed, much to the surprise of the people who had come out to meet us including the piper Eddy Harrigan had kindly organised at The Balavil. As we left Newtonmore our 160 plus mile marathon became a sprint to the line for no good reason that anyone could think of, it just did. Suddenly we were there, Ballachroan road end, half way between Newtonmore and Kingussie and we threw the bikes down and shook hands. Lots of cars arrived from Newtonmore and Kingussie and for five minutes that stretch of road became really quite busy as pictures were taken and backs were slapped. Then it was back to The Balavil for a few pints and stories to tell.
Many thanks to all who sponsored us, sent messages of support and wished us well. Big thanks to Kevin Thain, Thain Electrical and Miele for sponsoring the accommodation. Lindsay and Basecamp Bikes for sponsoring the bike spares (8 punctures!), Hawcos Inverness for the loan of the support van, Macsigns for the livery on the support van, Kingussie and Newtonmore Shinty Clubs for sponsoring the fuel used and to both our support drivers Dave Olds and Jimmy Gow.
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For more information visit www.lucky2bhere.org
Kevin, Colin, Scott, John, Brick, Russell