Sunday, 29 April 2018

Throwing in the Cowal.

Last autumn I did a bike trip from Rannoch Station back to Bridge of Orchy and surprised myself that I was able to ride the route in a day (even though I'd planned to do it over a two). During the winter I've tried to keep the momentum up with my cycling but almost inevitably my fitness has slipped downwards and my weight has slipped upwards.
After a number of false starts, the weekend saw me finally make it back out to do a bikepacking trip. I have a number of routes that I hope to tick off this year but felt that it would be sensible to start off with something that wasn't too ambitious (given the factors mentioned above) so after a last minute food shop I hit the road to drive round to Glenbranter on the Cowal Peninsula. This was to be the starting point for the route that I had in mind and I was pleased to find a large car park with no restrictions or charges where I could leave the car. 
I quickly loaded up my luggage onto my bike and set off up the climb out of Glenbranter heading roughly southwest following the Cowal Way long distance path. 
It was steep and relentless climbing on a forest road (not made any easier to handle by being caught and passed by another bikepacker). After a brutal warm up the gradient eventually relented and the views began to open up a bit. The sun was shining making it tricky finding the correct amount of clothing, I was overheating badly on the climb but as soon as I picked up speed on the flatter terrain of Strath nan Lub I started to cool down quickly. 

I'd zipped the sleeves off my jacket but they soon went back on again as I whizzed down the  lovely winding track towards the farm at Garvie. 
I knew from studying the maps that there wasn't likely to be any technically challenging riding on my route but the lovely weather, beautiful scenery and fast winding track made for very enjoyable riding anyway. At Garvie I turned briefly onto the A886 road before continuing to follow the Cowal Way down the quiet unclassified road towards Glendaruel. 

At Glendaruel I stopped briefly to watch a game of Shinty being played before pushing on past the sadly derelict Glendaruel Hotel. It would have been great to call in for a swift pint but as with many such remote establishments the hotel seems to have fallen on hard times.
  There was nothing for it but to have a swift swig of my energy drink and push on rejoining the main road A886, passing the turn off for Tighnabruaich before turning off myself onto the B836 towards Loch Striven. I was treated to fleeting glimpses of the Kyles of Bute in the distance.

I'd ridden this road a few times  on my motorbikes so knew that I was in for more hard work. I toiled up a steady climb past Stronafian all the while knowing that I was going to lose all my hard gained height when I dropped back down to sea level at the head of Loch Striven. The consolation was that the descent was a hoot (I was able to easily keep up with a van that overtook me at the top) and the views down the loch were superb. 
Next it was another steep climb up towards the reservoir at Loch Tarsan. 
The ride along the side of the loch was very pleasant until I passed Glenlean farm and turned uphill once more onto a forest road which climbed and contoured round above the eastern shore of Loch Tarsan. I decided to start looking for a spot to spend the night (it wasn't late but my legs were tired from all the climbing and I was past the halfway point of my circuit). One advantage of having plenty of time was that I could be choosy where I decided to stop. I passed a perfectly flat grassy layby with a water source which was surrounded by trees but decided to push on a little further in the hope of finding a campsite with a view. My luck was in as a little further on I found another layby with a stunning view and a picnic table!
The ground was covered in gravel which gave me some concerns about puncturing my sleeping mat but I had a thin ground sheet to put underneath it to offer some protection. I decided to pitch my tarp supported by the picnic table to save using my bike and front wheel as "poles" like I usually do. 
Once I was all set up it was just a matter of enjoying the sunshine while I cooked my dinner. 

I was finished eating by 7pm so went for a short stroll along my route for the next morning before turning in very early. It was cold overnight with a full moon but I was toasty in my winter sleeping bag and bivi bag. 
As I'd gone to bed so early I woke early too, I got up and got started with breakfast but it was very cold and I had to wear all my cycling and camp clothing to keep warm until the sun came up. After breakfast I set off again (heading towards Glen Massan). I was treated to a few final views of Loch Tarsan behind before I plunged down towards Glen Massan. I was amused to note that some other laybys had picnic tables as well. 

The descent into Glen Massan was really fast and fun and the scenery was lovely.
I passed two cows with tiny calves and had to stop and take a picture.
The track down Glen Massan eventually turned into a tarmac road which wound it's way down the pretty glen.
At the bottom of the glen I passed Benmore Botanic Gardens  and Arboretum (which looked well worth a future visit) then there was a stretch alongside the River Eachaig. 
I followed the river up to it's source, Loch Eck and joined the rough track which follows it's western shore. 


The track meandered and rose and fell along the length of Loch Eck and was very varied and picturesque. Eventually it emerged beyond the loch near my starting point at Glenbranter. 


It had been an enjoyable ride and confirmed my suspicions that I don't yet have the strength and endurance in my legs that I had last year, still it's a step in the right direction and hopefully the weather will continue to improve and allow me to do some of the more ambitious trips I have planned.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Bikepacking with a difference.

I'd been planning to do a ride from Rannoch Station for a while and back at the end of September 2017 I had two days off and a decent weather forecast. I'd reckoned that my proposed route would take me a couple of days as I wasn't super fit so I intended to carry overnight kit with me on the bike so that I could stop and wild camp somewhere on the route.
I left home early in the morning to drive to Bridge of Orchy station where I parked the car, unloaded my bike and gear and then sat and waited on the platform for the train to arrive.

 I'd pre-booked myself and my bike on the train and when it arrived I loaded the bike and luggage into the Guard's van and settled down for the short journey to Rannoch Station.
Rannoch Station has a cafe so before setting off on my ride I treated myself to breakfast. The first section of my route took me from Rannoch down the road to Bridge of Gaur where I crossed the River Gaur and rode along the singletrack road that follows the southern shore of Loch Rannoch.
I followed the road for a few miles until eventually I reached the turn off for the Old Kirk Road which leads from Loch Rannoch over the Lairig Ghallabhaich to Glen Lyon.

This initially took the form of a narrow path that climbs through the woods and forestry, it was hard work on a loaded bike but good fun and quite picturesque.


After a while I emerged at a reservoir in the forest and stopped for a breather before pushing on up the forest track climb that forms this section of the Kirk Road.
Eventually the trees thinned and the track emerged onto the open hillside above Loch Rannoch (which was hidden by the low cloud).
A deer fence and gate marked the start of the Lairig Ghallabhaich proper and the track began to undulate rather than just being a relentless climb.

 After a while the track started to descend towards Glen Lyon and the village of Innerwick.
Initially the descent was gentle but it turned into a steep, fast ride down the final section of the Old Kirk Road until it emerged at the tarmac road at Innerwick.

A short ride along the road took me to Glen Lyon Tearoom and as it was lunch time I stopped for some food. If you ever happen to be passing the tearoom I'd recommend stopping to sample the food, it's very good.
After a hearty lunch of soup, sandwiches and cake washed down with a pot of tea I hit the road again. Initially my legs felt tired but soon the energy from my lunch kicked in and I felt much better as I tackled the short sharp tarmac climbs of the Glen Lyon road. Although this section was a road it was very quiet and scenic so was an enjoyable ride.
Eventually the road reached the Stronuaich reservoir.
By this time it was mid afternoon and I'd progressed much further along my route than I'd expected, my thoughts started to turn towards where I'd stop for the night. I reckoned that I'd push on to Loch Lyon and reassess my progress there. Just before the tarmac road ended at Pubil I stopped to have a look at a memorial to Robert Campbell a founder of the Hudson's Bay Company who originated in Glen Lyon.
At Pubil I left the road and climbed steeply up a track that would eventually emerge high above the dam at the eastern end of Loch Lyon. There is a choice of routes here, you can either follow the northern or southern shores of Loch Lyon until the two tracks converge at the western end of the loch. I chose the northern track.
The view back east along Glen Lyon (the way I'd come).
 The dam.
The way ahead, west above Loch Lyon. 
The track alongside Loch Lyon was a rough rollercoaster of a ride. There was nothing technical on it but there were some fast bumpy descents punctuated with water erosion damage that meant concentration had to be maintained to pick the right line. I was also very grateful for the suspension forks on my bike which added a little much needed comfort on these teeth rattling descents. After a couple of miles I crossed the Allt Meurain stream, this was a ford that could be a potential problem if this route was ridden after a wet spell of weather. 
 The view back east along the loch was spectacular, highlighted by the dramatic clouds hanging over the mountains.
At this point my thoughts turned again to an overnight stop. It was late afternoon and I'd made far better progress than I'd expected. My plan had been to stop for the night near the watershed at the head of Strath Tarabhan but it was now dawning on me that I could easily complete the ride in a single day. I was a little bit torn as I love wild camping and this was a spectacular setting to spend a night but I now felt the lure of the challenge of getting round in a day. 
As I rode over the watershed the lure of the challenge won and I decided to push on down towards Gleann Achadh-innis Chailein. 

The descent down towards Auch Glen was really fast and fun with multiple crossings of the Allt Kinglass river by way of fords. Soon the familiar viaduct that carries the West Highland railway line across Auch Glen came into view (except this time I was viewing it from the opposite direction from the usual vantage point of the A82 road). 
After passing under the viaduct I joined the West Highland Way for the last few miles back to Bridge of Orchy. It was strange seeing all the walkers on the path as I'd hardly seen a soul for the last few hours. 
Nearly there!
Made it!
The final push back to the car was soon done with and it was time to reflect on a trip that hadn't panned out as expected. I'd ridden further than I'd imagined I could have managed and obviously had more in reserve than I'd realised. I'd missed out on my night out but the sense of satisfaction from completing the route in a day made that worthwhile. Next time I'd definitely do it without the extra 8 kilos of luggage on the bike though!