Scotland

That time I got a Dagger Axiom

After ordering my Dagger Axiom 8.5 from North East Kayaks and Paddles and waiting a few weeks for the ‘custom’ colour to be ready it finally arrived and is stunning!

My beautiful Axiom a really friendly kitten

Personally I’m really not a fan of the wavey two tone stripe on the boats and love the clean look of the boat in a block colour.  The colour is a buttery, strong yellow, a bit deeper than sunshine but not as dark as mustard, therefore she is called ‘Buttercup’!

When I got the boat home I set about outfitting the boat.   The foot plate in the Axiom is brilliant with adjustment screws which you loosen to move and angle the ‘foot cups’ to fill the space.  I adjusted the rail and positioned the foot cups roughly so I could get on with cutting the foam wedge to size and placed some small airbags behind the foot cups. 

Netflix and outfitting is now a thing…

Dagger have provided quite a lot of foam to help you outfit the boat.  I started with the with foam wedges that had Velcro attached to the back, placed in and cut to size, before overlaying with the foam pad which has the raised circles.  Although it comes with a peel off sticky sheet, I applied glue to the sheet before sandwiching together and I also removed the Velcro strips, aligned to where the strips are on the foot cups and reattached (with glue) to the back of the foam, waiting 24 hours then simply placing them in the foot cups ensuring the Velcro was stuck together.  I did move the rail back one when I had placed the foam in, but I would have needed to remove the foam and adjust the foot cups if I wanted to move further.

With the rest of the outfitting I didn’t have to do much apart from tightening the back band and moving the seat a couple notches forward which were all extremely easy tasks.  After our recent trip to Wales I did decide to insert a seat booster shim as I felt a bit too low in the boat.  All in all this has been the first boat I’ve actually enjoyed outfitting as it has been relatively straight forward and quite intuitive.

Surfing like a boss

My first outing with Buttercup was on the Awe, getting to grips with tailies and surfing a couple of waves.  Despite having a grapefruit sized lump on my bum due to a skating crash earlier in the week, we took the boats to Tryweryn for the weekend as it really was an ideal river to try a bit of everything (and there is like NO RAIN!!).    By the end of the day I was surfing, boofing, attempting slalom gates and eddy hopping my way down the river, exploring new lines with confidence.  It also means I am now not only an active (and most hilarious) member in the “North East Kayaks Crew” I have now become eligable to enter into the “Axiom Division” which is currently three strong and growing! 

Ronnie “Shop Goddess” Edwards, Danger “Head Rudder” King and Fergus “Tailies for Days” King.

I knew from previous trips in an Axiom that it is a fast boat and think this will do wonders for dialling in timings for those strokes and moves, without having to be as concerned with forward paddling to gain speed.  I’m looking forward to refining my skill set on the river, as well as getting monster tailies!

 

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Running the River Etive

I’ve run this exciting river twice now and envisage many trips back to enjoy its many drops, deep pools, bends and twists. There are many other blogs and guidebooks that show you how to find the river and get in so I’m going to launch straight into describing the paddle. I will add that as this river is gorge narrow even a little rain can change the dimensions greatly, creating stoppers with strong tow back and making some lines foolish to run. Always check falls and rapids you are not 100% sure of and have enough people to run safety when required as there are many boat and paddler munching possibilities along the Etive!
The start of the river is a run of three drops aptly named ‘Triple Steps’ (4).

First drop at Triple Steps

The first drop can look quite intimidating and, as I was still recovering from a bad swim a few days previously, I didn’t run this one, ferry gliding across to the left hand bank and putting in at the eddy above the second drop. I went down the first drop the second time and you want to aim for the middle, slightly left of the rooster tail, taking into account the force will likely push you forward into the second drop without much time to think about it. When I put in at the top of the second drop, I ferry glided out a couple of feet, turned the boat and attempted a boof off the drop! In higher levels there will be a lot of turbulence and pull back on the falls so be ready to paddle hard out of the pool, leaning forward and staying strong. 

Second drop at Triple Steps

There are a couple of mini drops until you enter a calmer pool. From here you can run the final drop, which is a little higher at about 12-14 feet. You take this line at an almost diagonal angle, hitting the edge of the drop towards the middle, but aiming towards the right hand rocks. The force of the water carries the boat down to a lovely open pool which will allow you to roll back up or collect boats and paddles quite easily!

The beauty of this section of the river is its ability to be run over and over again, as the drops are so close together. You can also leap from the cliffs into the pools, but obviously use common sense when doing so.

Once you’ve had enough fun on this section and wish to press on, the river twists and turns a little without much difficulty, although do take care in lower levels as the bed is a bit of a rock garden, often having to squeeze in between rocks not much wider than your boat. The next rapid is ‘Letter Box’ (4+), which would be highly advisable to scout. In higher levels you will get pulled back into a stopper (I’ve seen it happen) and think it has been named ‘Letter Box’ as there is generally only one line down, with not much wiggle room if you get it wrong! Take this as far left as possible, aim for a straight boof to avoid pencilling in and avoid the rock wall on the left.
Next up is ‘Ski Jump’ (3-4) which is a lovely wide drop into a soft cushiony pool. You should notice, as the river falls over the edge, a rock, which you want as close as possible to you right hand side. Aim straight and you will fall easily upright into the pool.

A few twists and turns will bring you to ‘Crack of Doom’ (4). I portaged this the first time round as I was viewing with the memory of my last major swim, but I ran it the second time, with a slight hiccup when I hit a very slippery boulder that spun me round. Thankfully I thought quick and reacted by forcing the back of the boat into a mini eddy allowing the water to pull my front end round avoiding running into the gorge backwards! You want to follow the flow down close to the left, avoiding rocks, before sliding into the narrow gorge section between two boulders, which can be quite tricky. In lower levels you want to stick to the left and drop into the pool below because a rock ledge is exposed just under the surface on the left which you would not want to land on! In higher levels however, you will be aiming more for the left to avoid getting caught in any tow back.

Top half of Crack of Doom

 
Just round the bend is ‘Crack of Dawn’ (4) which I’ve not run yet. This is where I got out on my first visit and the second time round was too shallow, with boulders appearing just under the surface, which would make a nasty landing after a 10 foot drop! 

Darren seal launching, Crack of Dawn in background

 
A few moments later we bumbled down ‘The Great Waterslide’ (4), which was a bump and a scrape over a 5 foot drop, plopping into the water rather effortlessly.
Now onto the grand finale, the reason we’re all here, the rush we got out of bed for. ‘Right Angle Falls’ (5+) looms just around the bend. Definitely get out of the boat and have a look at what awaits you. There is an initial curved drop into a pool just before ‘Right Angle’ and care will need to be given. After speaking to a few who have run this before, lower levels can come with its own problems. The curved drop meets opposing forces of water which can cause unwanted turbulence and possibly even a capsize! Take care when dropping in, be prepared to brace or lean and of course if you do capsize….MAKE THE DAMN ROLL!! Personally it’s always these kind of things which catch me out so I focused hard on not letting it. I took my time getting in my boat, breathed and told myself I could do this no problem but if I were to capsize I haul ass and make the roll like never before!  

Drop in before Right Angle

 

Centred, I started off, sticking to the right and following the curving flow down into the pool before the falls, leaning forward, staying strong and putting in positive, stable strokes. Before I knew it, I was in the pool aiming for the right of the drop which I didn’t want. Knowing I missed the eddy I edged the boat to the left and corrected my direction, aiming dead centre of the water cascading over the lip of the falls…and I was off, falling, placing my paddle to the right, head down, eyes fluttering to a close, meeting the water with the nose of the boat, overturning, instinctively rolling up and hearing the roar of pride from Fergus, being grasped by arms and then hugged. 

Going over Right Angle

 

This was on par with pulling off the ‘Falls of Linn’ on the Tummel and I felt exhilarated and stunned in equal measure. I realised, however, this was no small accomplishment and I have started to run features on rivers which demand respect, strength, determination and often courage to succeed intact. I’ve been watching the videos, reading the blogs and pouring over my friends’ photos of massive waterfall drops and today, this part of the journey has been experienced by me and I could not be happier.
Scraping our way through a rock garden, having to get out at one point we make it to the last rapid on this stretch, which is a 5-6 foot drop into a pool. There is a rock just under the surface on the left hand side but towards the middle there is a bit of tow back so try to boof it and gun it out of there!  

Darren running final rapid

 

All in all a fantastic but challenging river to run requiring safety on many of the features for intermediate and in higher levels advanced paddlers alike.

A couple of final points I think are particularly important. The first is something I have come across on blogs and magazines about river grading. I feel strongly that the grading is in place for a reason and a very good one at that. It provides an indication to anyone running the rapid of what to expect, how much care needs to be given and if there are any specific routes to be taken. There are some who argue the grading system in place on the Etive is too high but I wholeheartedly disagree and feel the 4-5+ grading is highly appropriate, the rapids aligning themselves accurately to the descriptions provided below by the UK Rivers Guidebook.  I’ll also be damned if anyone is going to make others feel naive or overly cautious for looking out for themselves and valuing the life of others.

“Severe waves, drops, stoppers and other obstructions. The route is not easily recognisable and will usually require careful inspection from the boat or bank. Grade 4 encompasses a wide range of rivers, from those with pool-drop rapids to those with extended continuous rapids; so there is a huge variation in difficulty. It is common to distinguish easier grade 4 rapids by grading them as 4- and harder rapids as 4+ (or in some cases, 3/4 or 4/5).”

Describing rationale for Grade 4 (www.ukriversguidebook.co.uk)

“Extremely difficult rapids with precise and technically demanding routes to be followed. Stoppers, currents and waves will be powerful and inspection is essential.”

Describing rationale for Grade 5 (www.ukriversguidebook.co.uk)

What the grading systems fails to mention is the level of damage that can be incurred on taking on a grade 4 and above rapid. You must at least consider the consequences of a swim or a missed ‘must make’ line down a rapid. There have been reports of broken limbs on ‘Letter Box’ and broken backs on ‘Right Angle Falls’ which I’m not sharing to scare people, I only want to highlight the reason behind these grading’s, which need to be respected.

Lastly but equally as importantly, it is imperative you always run rapids you are happy undertaking. Never let others cajole you into running a rapid and always listen to what your head is telling you. Remember that you learn much from watching and championing those who are capable of tackling the big stuff today, cultivating your own abilities and bringing you that much closer to running that rapid more confidently tomorrow. 

Hugging it out after surviving the falls

 

The Leny, Callendar

The Leny was really my first taste of white water and since we’ve run it numerous times, I wanted to put in writing how much I love this stretch of river. The first time I ran it at 0.8, swimming about 70% of the time, I knew it was going to teach me a thing or two about kayaking on white water.  Please note I’ve only run this at a maximum 0.9 and know from kayaking pals that the whole river changes above this level. I know this is probably quite obvious but I wanted to include the note and if I ever get to the point of running it above a metre I’ll be sure to add to the entry.

We run this from the put in, a long layby just passed the turning for the Ben Ledi Car Park, to the get out, a public car park just passed the Lade Inn, on the left.

From the get in until the 1st bridge, there are no real rapids and this gives you time to warm up by ferry gliding and catching eddies. As you come up to the bridge catch an eddy on either side to have a look at it because there are some challenging eddies to try and make on the way down. This rapid is good for practicing ferry gliding or surfing a wave in the higher levels, but is actually quite a tiring rapid as it’s  relatively narrow and can flow quite fast.

Fergus ferry gliding

A little further down the river on the left hand side, there is a small play hole we normally practice bracing in or shooting across. It’s relatively forgiving however, there are a couple of rocks directly below so ensure you have a quick role or a solid brace!

Dani below the play hole

There is a train of big bouncy rapids just before the falls and on the right hand side, the remains of a railway bridge. On the way down there are a few eddies to retreat to if the speed is too much. Make sure you make Last Gasp Eddy on the right as this is directly above the falls, dropping into the eddy as far right as possible. There is a small drop and at higher levels the stopper could cause a capsize! Portage is moderately easy here but make sure you stop and have a look at the falls!

Ian running the falls

You get back in at a large deep pool, great for practicing roles, edging, bracing etc before making your way towards Wee Stinker. I’ve always run this just right of the middle, before curving slightly to the right to hit right of the rock above Wee Stinker before the drop, ensuring a smoother landing.  Again, at higher levels the landing can be rather bumpy so really positive strokes off the drop and keep paddling out of it.

Ewan running Wee Stinker  

From here there is a bouncy stretch just before S-Bend. S-Bend can be handled a few different ways so suggest getting out for a look before attempting, if you’re unsure.

Generally I run it by eddy hopping down the right and hitting the last eddy before the bend. Take care in getting into this eddy as there is a guard rock located at the top of the eddy which has caught many a paddler out, so try and catch it a bit further down than normal. Depending on the level you can miss out S-Bend and go down the chicken shoot but the rapid is such a thrill to ride!

Fergus on the surf wave at S-bend

From the eddy, ferry glide to the other side, however there is a big surf wave in the way! Try to stay as high up as you can, concentrating on giving positive and hard paddle strokes and either go into the eddy on the left or turn on the rapid and shoot down the curve. I’ve capsized on the hole before, tucked up and dropped into the pool where I rolled back up but I did take a few knocks. This is a grade 3/4 which is mainly that is due to the hole in the middle and the stopper at the bottom. It’s also far easier at 0.7 as even at 0.8 the whole dynamics change.

For the rest of the river, you shouldn’t have too much difficulty, but keep alert and ready for rocks as the remainder can sometimes be a bit of a scrape.

NOTE: Watch out for hidden rocks. I’ve paddled the river up to 0.9 and there have always been something to catch you out. Also if this is your first time running the river, I’d recommend getting out for a wee look at anything you aren’t sure of but Wee Stinker and S-Bend if nothing else.

That time we…had our first overnight Kayak Trip

As most things with us, this trip had been planned a few weeks before we embarked on an overnight adventure.  We were going from the top of Loch Shiel, near Glenfinnan House.  Some lovely people in Glenfinnan allowed us to stash a motorbike there for the duration of the trip, enabling us to have a van at the get out and to also know there was a higher degree of safety to our belongings.

We loaded the boats, getting in just beside the Loch Shiel Cruises ‘Port’ and were on our way.  As we started off about 1pm, we were prepared to paddle about 4-5 hours to give us enough time to set up camp in the light.  I will add here that the geek in me was loving the start of this excursion because Loch Shiel from Glenfinnan was used in the Harry Potter films.  Namely where Buckbeak flies with Harry and a lot of the long shots of the ‘Dark Lake’!  It was even more stunning in the flesh. 

Coffee Break Stop on Island

Coffee Break Stop on Island

We managed a couple hours, stopping for a brew on a wee pebbly beach.  We maybe made it 9 or 10 miles in total and camped on a fairly flat grassy beach.  The tents went up, followed by an awesome shelter courtesy of Gus.  The wind had been blowing in our faces almost the whole time, but as soon as we stopped and put the tents up it disappeared!  The midges descended upon us straight away so the nets, spray and fire came out on force.  We’d planned ahead in as far as a Tupperware full of spicy chicken curry materialised and we had a filling meal with rice and beer, followed by a few Rusty Nails*, watching the fire and stars without light pollution, feeling inconsequential, safe and warm.  

Gus Built Shelter

Gus Built Shelter

After a fairly good nights sleep we got up to a wet and windy morning.  We packed up, chocked down some cold porridge** and hot coffee then set off again.  We knew of a Burial Ground as Gus and the ‘Angry Plums’ had been there before, so we were going to stop off there and I think it’s called Eilean Fhianain.  I managed to find a link to a webpage which shows its exact location, which I’ll link to at the bottom.  The island was completely mesmerising, melancholy and beautiful.  We took our time to visit some of the graves and stood in astonishment gazing upon monuments, dedicated to those who have long since passed.  We had toyed with the idea of staying on the Burial Island but am very glad we decided against it as it would have been totally disrespectful and disruptive of the peace which surrounded this exceptional place.

Burial Island

Burial Island

We said our goodbyes and headed off once again.  The wind was picking up again, along wide a side of rain, so the going was a little tougher than the day before.  Despite this, we were making great time and would be hitting the river soon enough.  When we reached the river and once we were passed ‘Acharacle’, the wind dies down again and the river started to take us a little faster, making the going a bit easier for a while. 

We paddled under Shiel Bridge  which comes from ‘Moidart’ to ‘Acharacle’ and an even older and smaller bridge a little further on, aptly named ‘The Old Bridge’.  Be careful when going through this and out the other side that you don’t hit an eddy line like these two idiots!  It’s all caught on Camera, so don’t worry…

Just past the bridge

Just past the bridge

We passed ‘Cliff’ and a few more bends to ‘Shielfoot’.  We did pass a couple of Anglers, one was brand new and motioned us to go behind him and another who was not quite as friendly, but as it was such a gloriously miserable day, with no sign of any other kayakers for miles, I’m sure he was just feeling harassed by the level of disturbances he surely would have had that morning  😉

Leaving ‘Shielfoot’ behind we reached the rapids that join ‘River Shiel’ to ‘Loch Moidart’ – What a RUSH!! The white water was bubbling all over the place so naturally just went for it, one after the other.  We all made it down without any trouble, including Gus in his ultra long  Sea Kayak!   Another pit stop here for lunch of smoked sausage, Mars Bar and a brew, camping food at it’s best!  From where we took a break we could see the ruins of Castle Tioram, which we paddled right around when we got back in the water. 

As Loch Moidart is a salt water Loch, we start to get pushed on a little by the waves and soon the Castle is behind us as we travel on towards ‘Kyles Wood’ and turn toward the top of ‘Eilean Shona’.  This was my absolute favourite part because not only did we see a couple of seals but also the scenery was breathtaking.  We turned into a sort of valley, ‘Kyles Wood’ on our right and were reminded why Scotland is one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

We managed to hit the tide at the right time and avoided a carry across a road/path, but if you were to miss it, it’s not a big task to carry over it.  We took in some amazing scenery and stopped off on ‘Coral Island’ to stretch our legs which is a little white coral island, just before you enter the sea.  From turning into the top of ‘Eilean Shona, we had been staring into the sea in the distance, evaluating and debating the roughness of the ocean.  As we were on the island, we looked again and deemed it to be suitable enough to paddle on without much difficulty.

On Coral Island being a poser dick

On Coral Island being a poser dick

I can tell you now, I learned an important lesson that day.  Always check the weather forecast and let someone sensible/professional know of your intentions!  We survived, that much is true, but we had one hell of a scary ride.  As we started off, the sea was not too rough, but before we knew it, we were scattered, moving up and then sinking low on massive waves, parallel to an unforgiving almost evil looking coastline.  Powerful waves were completely smashing against a ragged shoreline and I did at one point in all seriousness think I was going to end up in the water, hurtling towards those cold hard rocks!

But as always in ‘Baw’s to the Wa’s’ situations I found my inner calm and beasted my way through the danger, unashamedly I shall admit I left Fergus and Gus behind.  My reasoning was I was one less being to worry about and turning round to check on them while timing massive waves coming for me at the same time was pointless and pretty reckless.  I should also admit to you all that this is not the first time I have been in danger so you should maybe not follow any advice I give, ever!

Glenuig Alive but not very well...

Glenuig Alive but not very well…

We did make it around the coastline and ended up back at Glenuig, the same but also changed.  All’s well that ends well though, we ended up in the ‘Glenuig Inn’ (who do rather awesome guided Kayaking tours, as well as serving brilliant food) feeling rather tired but extremely happy that we were all alive and unscathed.

Bewildered but warm

WTF did we do?!?

We didn’t bother camping another night, instead heading home, while Gus drove we got out our face on Whiskey to celebrate, Viking style or victory in battle with a magnificent and terrifying ocean, vowing never to do anything as stupid ever again…..until next time!

*Rusty Nail; made by mixing Drambuie and Scotch whisky in equal measures

**Cold Porridge; is actually not as disgusting as it sounds if made the night before with milk, oats and honey with nuts or fruit added as an option.

That time we…Met the West Coast of Scotland!

Met the West Coast
June 14th 2014

We have visited some of the West Coast before, including Isle of Skye and Applecross , areas which  also fall under the ‘Highlands’ region.  The West Coast of Scotland spans from the western side of Dumfries and Galloway, Ayshire & Arran, Argyll & Bute, West Highlands, Isle of Skye and finishes at the Western Isles.  We visited Arisaig, in an area, which many would tell you feels more like the ‘West Coast’, as it is practically in the middle of Scotland on the coast line!  This is also in the region of ‘Argyll & Bute’ or ‘Argyll & the Isles’ depending on what regional map you reference.

We arrived at ‘Sunnyside Croft Touring’ Campsite on the Friday night to a lovely warm evening and an equally warm welcome from Julie and Ian, the sit owners.  Their campsite was modern, immaculate and very well maintained with  booking ahead strongly encouraged, as it’s a very popular site.

After setting up camp we took a walk into the town of Arisaig.  It was a 2 mile walk and it had started to rain, but we never mind these things.  My outlook is, I’m not at work, I’m walking towards a pub and I’m with my best pal – all the best things in life!  We arrived at the Crofters Bar, which is attached to the Arisaig Hotel and settled down to a pint as we decided what to order.  We settled on a Whitebait and Mushroom with Blue Cheese starters to share and a Fish and Chips main each.  The Mushroom was delicious, the whitebait and Fish was a bit batter heavy but still good and the chips were the same as you’d expect with this kind of meal.  We opted for Whiskey instead of pudding, staggering back to the campsite after watching Netherland annihilate Spain 7-1 in their first game of the World Cup!

Yummy Cider!

Yummy Cider!

Early the next day we had breakfast, donned our wetsuits and carried down to the beach, which didn’t seem that far away, until you are struggling with a Kayak, paddle, water bottle and sweating in neoprene!  Julie and Ian did offer up the option of driving the van to outside their house and shortening the carry by about 100 meters or so, but I needed the carry practice, despite my bitching and moaning.

Long story short, we were on the water all day.  We paddled to the town of Arisaig then back the way we came, via a lot of island exploring.  On our way to scoping out a bigger island with a white sandy beach we spotted our first seal.  I excitedly stage whispered and gestured with my hands to get Ferg’s attention and we both gazed at her lounging on a rock and looking magnificent.  As we got a bit closer she slid into the water, disappearing from ours lives, only to reappear again, along with about 10 or 12 of her brothers and sisters!  Their wee heads were bobbing up and down, inquisitively studying our brightly coloured kayaks and funny faces.  It was a magical experience and one I am keen to experience again.

The island we stopped for a while on was stunning!  The white sand, crystal clear water and big blue sky made it feel like we were in a form of paradise, which of course we were.  Scotland boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world for a reason.

White sands and blue skies :)

White sands and blue skies 🙂

We made our way back to the campsite to swap into our full wetsuits to try some more rolling the kayaks and swimming too.  The water was really clear and the rolls were going well but the cold soon started to take its toll on the old napper!  Before we knew it we were back at the campsite and it was 6pm, meaning we had been out on the water, save a couple of island stops and a dash back to get wet suits, for 9 hours!!  But what a day it was.  I had completely fallen in love with the West Coast Coastline and cannot wait to go back to discover more amazing islands, sing to seals and deepen this blossoming connection.

Beautiful sunset

Beautiful sunset

That Time We Cycled the West Highland Way Backwards

What: West Highland Way How: On my Merida Big 29er (MTB) from Fort William to Milngavie. When: Summer of 2013 Why:  We got drunk one night and as a hangover cure/not to waste a beautiful day excuse, we ended up cycling from our house to Portobello in Edinburgh then and back again.  We had the whole day to do it (56 miles in total on a mountain bike) and the weather was beautiful, food and drinks were plentiful and the love was flowing.  In summary, it was a perfect day and pretty ruddy flat (the flat part is important here.)  We decided to do the route backwards for the simple reason that in 9 out of 10 cases walkers and other travellers would be able to see us coming, reducing the bell ringing and ‘Excuse me please’ quite drastically.

There will be a condensed version for those who can go without my in-depth waffling!

Day 1:

We did not get off to a great start.  I had booked the train tickets a couple of weeks before but I had failed to say we would have bikes (NOTE: I will include some ‘Top Tips’ at the bottom of the post).  I had asked a train person in passing a few weeks earlier who had said we would be ok, but the gruff train inspector informed us that we might not get on without securing a place for our bikes on the cycle carriage.  However, it turns out we were lucky in that we were the only 2 people with bikes on the train for the whole journey!  The panic inflicted by the inspector was obviously designed to give us a fright and ensure if we ever travel with bikes again, to inform someone.  In hindsight it makes complete sense, but as those of you who know me….I thinka about thesa thingsa….notta soo mucha!

Anyway, that wasn’t the only glitch.  I was.  It had been a gloriously sunny and breathtaking trip up, passing Loch’s and picturesque little remote train stations.  We got to the station at Fort William at around 12.30, it was the earliest train we could viably get and it was misty, damp and quite chilly.  We popped our jackets on and set off, unfortunately almost straight into an uphill segment.  I have got a lot better with my attitude and mindset towards hills, however, I’m ashamed to admit my past self showed me up a little in the form of a mini tantrum.  We slogged up the first part and it levelled of a little, but then all I can say is that the climbing got the better of me.  I had wound myself up into a bit of a state.  In the decent into Kinlochleven it was nearing 4pm and we weighed up the likelihood of actually hitting Glencoe.  Although it was only another 9 miles it was another massive ascent and we both knew I would slow us down far too much.  It was at this point both our attitudes changed towards the whole experience.  Ferg had wanted to do it in 2 days I know and I think if we had set off at 6 am on the first day we’d have done it but sometimes we pile on the pressure unnecessarily.  We had a chat and decided to see if there were any places that would take us for the night in Kinlochleven.  We were in luck and the Black Water Hostel had a spare Hobbit Hole with the use of fridge, TV and fan!  We got some sleeping bags and were set up.  We had a meal and a couple of beers in the Tailrace Inn and went back to the Hobbit Hole.  For a Micro Lodge we were able to fit in a lot of stuff and the staff at the site couldn’t have been kinder or more accommodating.

Eagle Statue in Kinlochleven

Eagle Statue in Kinlochleven

Day 2

Up early the next day we dressed and had a breakfast which was quite rubbish.  The only thing open was the Co-op so choked down half a sandwich and a banana then headed off.  Again it was another uphill start.  This time it was longer and a bit more gruelling than on day 1!  I’ll leave out the moaning and crying part or you will gain the wrong impression of me, for those who don’t know me and perhaps even those who do!  I will say though, that we have all surely experienced a time where some action or experience changes your normally quite rational response to completely reasonable situations.  The mind can be a funny thing and I have come a long way in dealing with my irrational reactions and attitudes towards cycling up a hill……But the down hill.  Oh my sweet Gary, the downhill!  It’s absolutely divine.  I’m the complete opposite to my uphill counterpart when it comes to downhill.  All sense of reasonable decision making is out the window!  The path here was pretty good and the uphill’s were gradual for a big chunk.  Obviously you have the up and down ascent to the top of the Devils Staircase through Glencoe which can be challenging in parts but is quite manageable.  Another thing to point out here is the horse flies!  Little fuckers were nippy, plentiful and if you stopped for a breather, they were on you in seconds.  I was a bit pale by this point, sweating and shivering and Ferg was a bit worried about me but we literally had no choice but to keep going, until we got to the top.  Just before reaching the top it was too steep for me to stay on the bike and negotiate my way over the rocks and uneven surface.  Once we were at the top things started picking up again. 

Almost at the top of Devil's Staircase!

Almost at the top of Devil’s Staircase!

I’m not too bad on the downhill so had managed to stay on for a good majority of it and only had to get off when nearer the bottom, where steps and drops have been built into the path.  There were a lot of walkers on this part and they were all really nice, interested in our cycling choice vs walking and wished us luck!  When we reached the bottom we made a decision to push along the road to the Glencoe Mountain Resort.  We didn’t stick to the actual path on the way to Kingshouse but went along the road adjacent to it instead.  I still feel it was the best decision as it was extremely hot, nearing midday and we cut out a good hour of getting off and on the bike, as the path was narrow, gnarly and full of walkers.

The road was still hard though as it was full of fast moving traffic and wasn’t the sort of place you’d want to hang about!  I really pushed myself up the road, seeing the cold Cola I’d be sipping, the sooner we got there the better!  Glencoe Mountain Resort!  We reached it and rather than sit outside in the baking heat we sat in the cool café area inside.  It’s lovely in there, lots of windows and good wood furniture and really super friendly staff.  I was not hungry but wanted to drink a gallon of sugary juice!  Ferg reasoned with me and he ordered us two breakfasts.  By the time it came I was ravenous.  Great thing about a massive cycle, pretty much anything you eat is cancelled out!  After a few coffees, a tonne of sun cream application and the rest of our breakfast we filled up our water bottles at the campsite taps and started off again.  The plan was to cycle to Tyndrum where we could refuel and have a short rest again.

Rannoch Moore was pleasantly sloping and flat at parts.  The paths here were dry and easy to cycle on and we hardly saw anyone for a good few miles.  Again, the scenery was STUNNING.  There is a final climb before you reach Bridge of Orchy but there are lovely views and the downhill part is lovely, through a piney forest bit and finishing in the Bridge of Orchy car park.  From there we pushed ourselves on to the train station and onto another gravely, sloping up and down long path, a valley really as there were massive hills on either side.  We got quite a few miles under our belts after this and a bit more uphill into Tyndrum, still manageable and some nice views of the railway line, disused railway lines, some old walls, coaching roads and ruins, then down hill into Tyndrum.

Still smiling :)

Still smiling 🙂

We visited the Real Food Café and had a burger each and some more juice!  This is where we made the decision to get to Inverarnan before it got dark and hopefully get a room for the night somewhere nearby.  We had toyed with staying in Tyndrum but both decided there wasn’t too much to do there and more importantly the couple of places we called round had no rooms.  I called ahead to the Drovers Inn who had one room left, so we took it – non refundable, so we were now committed for another 12 miles before stopping for the night, so we packed up and headed out again.  The cycle from Tyndrum to Strathfillan is a mixed bag.  There are quite a few steep inclines which is mainly through forest but there are flattish open parts too.  Coming through one of the forest trails quite soon after leaving Tyndrum is where I had my first big fall.  Just a heads up – there are wooden, raised board walks along some of this path.  I found this out by smashing into one and falling onto the edge, wrist first, with all my weight, including the bike landing on my wrist.  The pain was instant, I couldn’t move at all and I was shocked yet again!  However, it wasn’t broken or even sprained.  It swelled slightly but was mainly deeply bruised.  Bless Ferg for jumping from his bike to ensure I was alright, which I fortunately was.  Continuing along we reached Strathfillan, past the Wigwams, which are amazing by the way.  We’ve stayed here before and I thoroughly recommend the campsite.  Great facilities, comfortable Wigwams and little BBQ areas too.  Lovely at night when you can see all the stars.  Moving away from the campsite, there are some fields but a bit further up there is an old graveyard and farm house, all in all very picturesque.  We continued to Crianlarich and didn’t stop in.  There a couple of stiles on this path which you have to hoof the bike over but then you’re on a military type road, so the going is good.  You have to pass under a railway bridge and its really low and narrow, so got off the bike and squeezed through.  A little way after this we came to a farm house and the road was blocked by……CATTLE! Lots and lots of different cows and even some young bullocks.  I can tell you, we got a bit of a shock.  It’s like they weren’t normal size, or maybe I’ve just never been than close to Cows before, but fact was they were massive and not moving.  I decided to carry my bike over the farm house gate and go around the lazy cattle (about a 40ft gap).  I was about half way across and one of the cows got up and moved away a little, meaning my jumping the gate the other side should have been easier.  I was keeping my eye on the young bullock, but it was all going fine.  I popped the bike over the gate at the other side but as soon as I had a leg over they all started getting up!  I jumped on the bike and started pedalling up the hill and that’s when the noise started! It was horrendous and I was convinced I was being chased!! Cow shit was EVERYWHERE and I got some on me via my own muckle wheels.  Fortunately, we weren’t being chased, but by that time we were a good way up the hill.  This part of the cycle was quite thrilling.  Quite a number of up and down parts but you’re never really climbing that much and the downhill was satisfyingly cooling in the heat.  It carried on this way until we closed in on Inverarnan, where it got a bit rockier on the down and paths narrowed, as it joined into a wood.   We crossed over a small bridge and Beinglas farm site just seemed to materialise and, man was I happy to see it!  We boosted just a wee bit further to the Drovers Inn, checked in and went to our room. 

Drovers Inn (c) mylongwalk.com

Drovers Inn (c) mylongwalk.com

We had hoped for a Bath but a shower was all there was.  We stayed in the outhouse part across the road from the Drover’s so after a cold shower, stretch and half change (remember we were travelling light!) we made our way over the road for some scran and beer.  There is nothing like a pint after doing something as big as this.  We tried to stay and watch the band but the were late in arriving and were still setting up half an hour later, so after some sparkling conversation, more ale and pudding, we wished the lovely waitress a good night and went back to the room.  We both weren’t as tired as we had thought so made some coffee and watched a ‘SALT’ with Angelina Jolie in it.  A bit of a restless night though.  Room was boiling (not helped by my clutching of the covers just in case there were ghosts, because we all know hiding under the duvet is the best defence) but we couldn’t open the windows for the midges.  I hadn’t known it was breath that attracts them (from up to a mile away…little bastards) but I’ve also seen Lilo and Stitch so know it’s the only reason the planet has never been blown up.  Anyway…. Day 3

Breakfast Room (c) mylongwalk.com

Breakfast Room (c) mylongwalk.com

Quite a good breakfast this morning and a shed load of coffee to wash it down but in a very surreal environment (see above).  I am aware this isn’t a diet of athletes but I love coffee in equal measure with Red Wine (although I drink more coffee than red wine…just about!).  I was not looking forward to getting back on the bike this morning.  We had over 40 miles left to go and my bum was killing me!  Although, after just 5 mins in the saddle again my body seemed to accept what was happening and we were on our way again.  We had been so lucky with the weather and another blisteringly sunny day was had.  I can see the pros and cons for cycling in the heat but it suited us down to a T. We were off to a great start, heading back to Beinglas Campsite to join back on to the path which was all right to start off with but then it started getting rootier and very up and down, with sleeper steps on a couple of down hills.  Eventually, upon getting to the edge of Loch Lomond, we had to do a lot of carrying!  It was a great workout, but a bit disheartening when we were making very slow progress, not covering much ground and feeling like my shoulders were on fire!  But, yet again, we got through this, hauled the bikes over Rob Roy’s Cave and a little further on we came to the Inversnaid Hotel  From here we were climbing a bit higher and were able to stay on the bike for longer periods but there are still some stop start sections.  Overall the path was really quite good here but can imagine I wouldn’t have liked it so much in the rain – they looked apt to get muddy pretty quickly.  For about another 6 or 7 miles the path starts to keep a steady up and slightly down motion, enough to completely tire me out.  I wasn’t doing so good at this point and we were forced to stop at the Rowardennan Hotel for some refueling.  I was really pale by this point and I think Fergus was once again really worried about me!  I forced down some fluids and waited for our curry to arrive.  As soon as we chowed down I started to feel immensely better, which was good news because we really did want to go all the Way…. Heading for Balmaha, we started off yet again feeling refreshed and determined.  This section was a mix of pretty good forest like track and a minor road, which was running alongside “The bonny bonny banks of Loch Lomond!” (sorry – I couldn’t resist).  When we reached Balmaha things started to get interesting again.  I love forests and forest tracks (like Glentress) which almost certainly stems from my childhood instant love for Ewoks and the forest moon of Endor…off topic!  Basically we were in a beautiful forest, heading for Conic Hill and although it was pretty uphill the whole way it was enjoyable too.  Once we reached the ascent to Conic Hill we had to carry.  The way up is by a steep, massive stone staircase and even the best in the world would likely find it a challenge to get up.  After about a carry of 5 minutes or so, the uphill starts to slope off and became a little easier on the legs.  We still pushed up this bit but it is rideable if you were feeling fresh.  When we reached the top we stopped to take in the view which was absolutely stunning.  We really could not have picked a better weekend to take on this epic challenge and were extremely grateful to the weather for this.  The decent was amazing here too, as the steps down were the sloping long kind which were completely manageable and after a while the steps tapered off to a winding path into Garadhban Forest. 

View from the top of Conic Hill and my favourite photo of the whole trip!

View from the top of Conic Hill and my favourite photo of the whole trip!

Before we knew it we were coasting towards Drymen, passing Drymen, taking in the view of Dumgoyne and making great time, despite our stop in Rowardennan.  Now, I don’t mean to stop abruptly or have it appear I just can’t be bothered finishing but there isn’t really much more to say on the route from Drymen to Milngavie!  We were only 12 miles from the finish and the tracks here were completely rideable, enjoyable and not too strenuous.  There were a couple of smaller up and down sections through Mugdock Country Park but we were on a high because we could taste the finish.  As we were coasting through Mugdock Country Park we actually bumped into an old friend, who was heading to the loch for a party on his bike.  It was so random as we hadn’t seen Pete in years, but we didn’t hang about too long, as we still had to get to the end.

Winding through the park and then closing in on the centre of Milngavie my heart was beating faster and the smile was growing on my lips.  And there it was, the marker that signalled the ‘Start of the West Highland Way’ and our finishing point!  Everywhere was closed and the town pretty deserted, but there were a young couple from Italy who were beginning the journey on foot, so we took photos of each other and bid them good luck.  We got to the train station and started to make our way back home which took about an hour and a half by train!  I’m so proud of myself for seeing this through to the end, especially because there were several times I would have like nothing more than to give up, but we kept going and because of this I’ve been allowed to grow that little bit more as a cyclist and human being!

 

We did it! Finishing in Milgavnie.

We did it! Finishing in Milgavnie.

Cycling the WHW Backwards

Day 1:  A bit of a climb out of Fort William towards Kinlochleven.  For those used to riding uphill, no problems at all.  Paths are good and wide and almost completely ride-able (from what I remember I only got off once.)

Day 2: Kinlochleven to Glencoe a bit more of a mixed bag.  Quite a large uphill section out of Kinlochleven, but worth it when you start to get out of the cover of the trees and see the scenery.  Uphill a bit more till you reach the Devil’s Stair Case descent.  A mix of dirt, ride-able pebbly gravel, some grass and then the descent into Glencoe via the Devil’s Staircase.  Lots of horse fly’s here with the hot weather so you can’t stop unless you wanted nipped a lot!  

We rode the road to Glencoe mountain Resort, refuelled and headed through Rannoch Moore which was a really great section & stunning views with a ‘little’ hill before reaching  Bridge of Orchy.  Through a valley and along an old railway line you will see Tyndrum (Green Welly Stop) quite a bit before making the descent to the town.  Tyndrum to Strathfillan is a mixed bag.  There are quite a few steep inclines which is mainly through forest but there are flattish open parts too – watch out for the raised board walks which can sneak up on you if overgrown.  Strathfillan  to Crianlarich has manageable paths the whole way but a couple of stiles to cross over.  Pretty good until Inverarnan, where it got a bit rockier on the down and paths narrowed, as it joined into a woods.  We crossed a bridge and Beinglas Campsite (next to Drovers) seemed to appear from thin air.   Day 3: Beinglas Campsite to edge of loch Lomond starts to get steeper on the descents & rootier.  As a whole Loch Lomond Section to Inversnaid Hotel is pretty much a carrying bike job.   Inversnaid to Rowardennan Hotel good conditioned paths and wide in parts but very tiring for me due to lots of up and down sections.  On to Balmaha which is a great forest section which sticks to the banks of Loch Lomond until it heads away towards Conic Hill.  Conic Hill, unride-able on the up until it levels out and the stairs become smaller but decent into Garadhban Forest is amazing! Into Drymen the paths are brilliant, and there isn’t really much more to say on the route from Drymen to Milngavie!  The tracks here were completely ride-able, enjoyable and not too strenuous.  There were a couple of smaller up and down sections through Mugdock Country Park but we were on a high because we could taste the finish. Top Tips

  • If cycling ‘backwards’ (Fort William to Milgavnie) inform the train company you will be travelling with bikes to ensure a bike bracelet is sent with the tickets
  • Cycling backwards means you are hardly ever sneaking up on people.  They see you coming and were always pleasant to us.
  • Stop at campsites along the way to top up on fresh water – we always asked before if there was someone around.
  • Enjoy it!  Unless you have some deeply rooted goal of beasting the WHW as fast as you can for your own personal gain (or its raining!!) then try to take time to look at where you are and breathe in the fresh air.