It’s time for the annual blog post, despite all my good intentions last year to be more frequent. Ah well. Maybe this year. Anyway, here goes:
Last week my sister Shuna and I had what she has now dubbed An Awfully Big Adventure – so big that I feel it entirely merits the capital letters.
We climbed Ben Nevis.
It was time, I thought, to put together what has become my almost annual blog post. Now that semi-retirement is upon me, I am hoping to become a more regular blogger (note to self – eat more dates) but part of the problem is I get bees in my bunnet and as a result end up getting side-tracked into doing loads of other stuff. Most people would see this as a way of procrastinating (if they are being kind: mostly they probably just think I am a complete anorak), and I suppose it is to an extent. But it goes further than that and I never cease to amaze myself with the items that I suddenly need to research as failure to do so will render me bereft of vital knowledge and therefore a flawed human being.
Roll out the Barra
Thursday night’s accommodation had been certainly interesting, what with the rather eccentric decoration style which was stuck in an early 70s early B&Q time-warp and the presence of a loquacious Scally called Colin. Our hostess did however produce a marvellous three course dinner that we weren’t expecting and we had the company of a nice Belgian couple. (Quote Scally Colin: “I’ve heard of Belgium. Where actually is it?”) and that set us up for our Day Four trek. The day’s route was through South Uist, over to scenic Eriskay and onwards on the wee ferry to Barra where we would catch the 7pm BIG ferry back to the mainland.
Islands on the edge
Day Three involved riding down through North Uist and Benbecula, and this should have been the easiest part of the trip as it is not a particularly hilly route apart form a lump at the start of North Uist. We thought that we’d make use of the hour and a bit we had before the ferry to take a run down to a picturesque church at Roghdal which had been recommended to us by a club mate. The trip was in fact essential as we’d been told that it contained a rather risqué artwork. At this point there was a strongish breeze but enough sunshine and warmth to let us overlook this. The ride to the church was only 3 miles but it contained an enormous hill (15%). Because I had just breakfasted well, this section was about the slowest 1mile I have ever ridden. But the church was worth the effort although the naughty artwork took a bit of finding. We rode back at speed because a stiffer breeze had got up behind us, which meant that we got to the ferry terminal a lot earlier than we needed. I say “terminal” – it was really just a slipway with little facilities other than a waiting room which, mercifully, had a toilet. You’re picking up the idea that toilet stops were as frequent as coffee stops on this trip are you? And they weren’t always for my ageing bladder either it has to be said.
Day Two was scheduled as a bus trip up to Stornoway (with the bikes in the boot of course) and a cycle right up to the top of the island and a return via the Standing Stones of Calanais. The total mileage for the day would have been in the region of 110. I say “would have been” as the whole plan hinged on that crucial bus link. Unfortunately Hebrides Transport saw otherwise and had put a minivan on the route instead of the coach and the driver sailed somewhat arrogantly past us. We decided to start cycling with a view to catching the next bus at whatever point it passed us. And yes, “passed us” it indeed did, although I managed to get it to stop a few yards on. The driver was less than helpful and omitted to tell us that if we got as far as Tarbert, the coach would take us up to Stornoway – a fact we only discovered over a coffee in the splendid and extremely well cake-endowed First Fruits café at the pier in Tarbert. Faced with a wait of an hour, we revised our plans and decided that Calanais was a must see and we’d just have to cut short the day’s ride. This turned out to be a good choice as we were able to spend slightly longer at the stones than we might have otherwise, and it cut out the Cleisham hill. It also allowed us to spend quarter of an hour oohing and ahhhing at some cute little piglets which were about the only type of wildlife on the islands that didn’t attack Laura. More of that later.
I have done several cycle tours over the past four years, most notably to Amsterdam and back where I made several friends with whom I have kept up thanks to that modern-day pen-pal system – Facebook. When my Walkers club-mate Laura suggested a tour riding the length of the Outer Hebrides I was instantly interested – not just because I had been watching a documentary about them but also because I thought “200 miles? Pfffft. Piece of cake after Amsterdam.” I will admit to being a little daunted by the fact that my travel companion to be was half my age (literally), twice as fit (literally) and half my body weight (don’t go there). However, with that customary difficulty I find myself having regularly, the word “No” somehow became Yes” by the time the air had travelled from lung to vocal chords and there I was committed. Or I should have been. One set of borrowed panniers plus rack and a lot of trying to stuff in clothes and other necessities later, I was ready to go. Now it was up to my legs to do the rest.
The Crow Road is one of the legendary cycling climbs in this part of the world. It is not the steepest of hills – there’s a section of 12% at the bottom which lasts for about a quarter of a mile but after that it is just a long drag of a constant climb of between 5% and 9% that goes on for about three miles, going in that distance from 280feet to 1380. What makes it ouchworthy is that you get to what you think is the top only to turn a corner and be confronted with another half mile of up.
My first encounter with this entity was last year during the Trossachs Ton event and it was yet another of my classic comedy cycling moments. Just as I was priding myself on not having stopped, I noticed that the sheep in the field beside the road were actually overtaking me. And the wee buggers weren’t even running! I do have to confess that my “not having stopped” came to an end fairly soon after that as I ran out of steam and had to put the foot on the ground for a breather before resuming.