2014 Tour – Day 8 Acharacle to Oban

A nice day at last! The weather forecasts were for pretty much wall to wall sun, at least until we were likely to reach Oban to collect the car. We planned to catch the 12.45pm Lochaline to Fishnish ferry, then the 3.00pm Craignure-Oban ferry. This would mean that we’d be hanging around at Craignure for a bit, but the next Lochaline ferry wasn’t until 2.45pm (it would seem ferry men need a lunchbreak!). This schedule worried Carol, who was by now in the grip of a nasty cold and said her legs felt all wobbly. Oh, and symptoms were gaining fast on me too…

Out of the hotel, and up a whole series of climbs, some big, some steep, all strength sapping. Through Salen at the base of the Ardnamurchan peninsula and over to Loch Sunart. The scenery was delightful, with a particularly idyllic campsite over at Resipole. On along past Loch Sunart, and the road got flatter and flatter as we approached Strontian (the village where the element Strontium was discovered). Through Strontian, and we could see the big climb we were going to have to get over in order to reach Lochaline. All too soon, we were heading up.

Fortunately, I’d got a bit of a grip on which Rohloff gears to use for this sort of stuff. Too low, and it’s hard to balance, particularly when cars pass on singletrack. Too high, and you don’t get anywhere! This climb was hot work, particularly with a sick stoker (who did really very well). Once on the top, there’s a welcome descent, before the road rises again, though much less savagely than before. One of the problems with this road is that there can be quite a bit of motor traffic over to Lochaline and back which interferes with setting up a decent rhythm, and can make one rather anxious about meeting the ferry departure time.

The last 8 miles or so to Lochaline are again delightful – varied landscape with lots of wooded riverside fields. We reached Lochaline quite quickly, and could see the 11.45am ferry about to load passengers. We quickly zoomed to the front of the motor queue along with a large number of middle aged german blokes on motorcycles. So we got on the ferry before the motorists who’d pushed past us on the climbs! Minutes later, we were on the way over to Mull.

We may have been the first on the ferry, but we were the last off – just as well, since there’s an uphill road from the Fishnish jetty to the road! It’s only 5.6 miles to Craignure, and these mile ticked by quite quickly. Indeed, we reached Craignure in time for the 1pm ferry – only having to wait a few minutes before boarding with the other dozen cyclists (and before the cars).

40 minutes later, we rolled out into Oban, grabbed some lunch and collected the car for the drive south…

2014 Tour – Day 7 Broadford to Acharacle

We had another cooked breakfast, but this time we got to eat our breakfast  while watching a sea otter breakfasting on crabs! (The breakfast room had a huge bay window looking out onto rocks and the sea). Once we were all packed, we set off for Armadale. Carol was still feeling a bit groggy with the cold she’d picked up somewhere en route, and I was feeling like I had (probably inevitably) caught it too.

We left Broadford feeling reasonably OK, and rode across the road through bare hillside, then down into and up out of lovely wooded areas – we could hear cuckoos. We kept an eye out for sea otters, though the patterns of the last 20 years in which we had never seen one reasserted themselves after this morning’s triumph!

Arriving at Armadale in plenty of time for the Mallaig ferry, I sat in a cloud of DEET in the outdoor seats of the cafe talking to a succession of people who one by one got beaten of by the midgies. I fed crumbs to an astonishingly tame robin. The crossing is pretty quick, around 40 minutes, and when we arrived at Mallaig I popped into the ticket desk and bought a second Hopcotch ticket (for Lochaline-Fishnish and Craignure-Oban).

On up the road, and we set about the succession of climbs and descent with resignation. The good weather was seemingly about to revert to showers. We stopped in a layby to heat up some food and coffee/tea, but couldn’t linger as the rain began, and the midgies attacked. By the right turn at Lochailort, the rain had become rather persistent, and would continue like this as we rode along the side of Loch Ailort itself. At the end of the loch, there’s a steep old climb that takes one over to Moidart, where we camped on out first event cycle touring trip (just a weekend trip).

A few more hills, and we reached Acharacle, which lies is a delightful and lush area bounded by hills. By this time the weather had eased a bit, so we were actually quite dry when we checked into the Loch Shiel Hotel. This hotel is just under new management, and is very cheerfully staffed,with quite a bit of renovation work ongoing. We drank beers in the bar (chatted to a bloke from Barra who’d tried to set up a campsite in Barra only to have several successive caravans blow to pieces), and had dinner.

2014 Tour – Day 6 Waternish to Broadford

We woke to sunny conditions, which was good – and actually made a nice change. Made an early start, riding back down the singletrack towards Dunvegan, though we bypassed Dunvegan itself via a delightful little uncategorised road. Unfortunately this was where the day’s rain began, spitting at first, then a bit more persistent.
We saw the broch near Struan, with lots of people on it, but it was far enough from the road that we didn’t want to get even wetter walking over to it.

We remained cheerful and when an opportunity arose to stop and make a cup of coffee at a viewpoint layby, we grabbed our chance. Sadly we attracted the attention of the first midges of our trip, and consequently drank our coffee while pacing around trying to avoid them. It did seem that the beasts were attracted to the tandem – presumably it looks like the dark mass associated with a large animal!

Pressing on along some climbs and descents, we were getting ever closer to the Cuillins, eventually reaching Sligachan where we stopped at the Hotel bar for a cup of tea and a bowl of Soup (Cuillin skink, their variant on cullen skink – it was very good).

Thus fuelled, we pushed on into brightening weather. Instead of staying on the main road past Glamaig, we took a lovely little road from the Skye golf course and past some fish farms. The road got pretty bad as we rode along, but we made it safely to rejoin the main road. At times, it was a bit like steering the tandem in narrow bits of tarmac between vast potholes, while at others the road surface appeared to have been stripped back in preparation for a subsequently abandoned resurfacing. Still, it’s a lovely road with good views. I was glad of the 2″ tyres, though!

From there, it was a straightforward run down to Broadford. We paused for a coffee at the newly renamed CafeSiar (it has a wood pizza oven) before moving on to find the B&B – Sea Cottage. This accomplished, we wandered out to see about dinner. We eventually settled on the Harbour Restaurant (Puerto), which offers a Spanish take on local seafood. We both had a Squid starter – I had sea bass for main, cooked in a fruity sauce, and a classic Catalan dessert. And beer partly made from oats.

2014 Tour – Day 5 Maraig to Waternish

I woke to hear cuckoos, which is always a good way to start the day! After yesterday’s easy day, we were looking forward to at least some relatively easy cycling. No huge rush for this morning’s ferry, as Tarbert is only about 10 miles, the the ferry leaves at 11:50am.

After another fine breakfast, this time porage followed by Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, we loaded up the tandem and set off up the steep climb to the main road. I’m still getting used to which Rohloff gear to select for particular gradients, but gear 3 seemed to work OK!

The temperature was still pretty low, around 7°C, and the low cloud was bringing some drizzle on the north wind. This, together with the plunge down the sleep side of the Clisham climb Meant we’d chosen some pretty warm clothing. We zoomed down the hill and flashed past the Dutch woman
we’d met back in Oban, calling out a greeting that was probably lost!

In Tarbert, there was an enormous number of cars waiting for the ferry. We were surprised that they all fitted on board! We were last to board, and last to disembark at Uig.

Rolling out in Uig, it was definitely warmer than on Harris. We shed some of our outer layers and set off down the road. Our destination was the Lochbay B&B, on the Waternish peninsula, and we’d booked a table at the nearby
Lochbay Seafood Restaurant at 6.30 pm, so we didn’t want to hang around!
The road out of Uig climbs a fair bit to a vew point that gives splendid views back down to Uig harbour, but rather than pausing we pressed on down the road with the Cuillins ever present directly ahead. About 12 miles down the road, we turned down a singletrack B road before rejoining on A road in the direction of Dunvegan. After Edinbane we had the longest climb of the day, and it was here that we realised we were really over dressed, as by now we were riding under blue skies and bathed in sunshine. The climb dragged on and on, but eventually we reached some respite in the descent at the other side. Then it was a pretty nice ride to Lochbay, where we were welcomed by a cheery bloke mowing his lawn.

After cleaning ourselves up and changing into some more respectable clothes, we wandered down to the seafood restaurant. We were there a bit
before our reservation, So we sat outside in the Sunshine drinking beer – some beer from Ullapool for me, Fraoch for Carol -until our table was ready.
our food was excellent. Starters were oysters (me) and smoked salmon salad (Carol), and we both had Gigha halibut for main course. Desserts were equally good.

After this most excellent dinner, we wandered back to the B&B where after a brief chat with another guest, I lay down to read a book and promptly fell asleep!

2014 Tour – Day 4 Harris

We decided to take it a bit easier today. The wind was still quite strong and from the north bringing cool temperatures and showers, so after a fine breakfast we set off up the steep road from Loch Seaforth up to the main road. A wee bit of climbing and then the spectacular descent from Clisham. The tandem’s brakes were well up to the task. But another bout of pedalling into a stiff headwind really didn’t fill us with enthusiasm!

Eventually we paused in the shelter of a roadside quarry to eat our packed lunches. In so doing, we startled three fledgling crows, one of which nearly fell into a pond.

After lunch, we could see dark clouds looming and decided to
head back to the B&B.

Having a tail wind was such a change! We roared back to Clisham in double quick time, and found the climb quite easy in gear 5. From there it was an easy ride back to the B&B. We took the rest of the day easy.
After hearing quite a few cuckoos, we finally saw one, flying overhead.

We’re optimistic that the next few days will see better weather…

2014 Tour – Day 3 Lochmaddy to Maraig

We woke to a resurgence in wind velocity – and it was going to be tight getting to the Berneray to Leverburgh ferry in time. In response to my stoker’s urgings, I tried to keep our pace up, but this was difficult given the very strong headwinds. Oh, and the bizarre conversation from a motorist wondering if he was on the right road for Benbecula! In the end, we made the ferry with about 10 minutes to spare.

The crossing was pretty uneventful – we chatted with other passengers two of whom we’d met at our first B&B.I saw a gannet and a large eagle that seemed to excite the birdwatching contingent.

Once in Leverburgh, we popped into the grocery store for some snack bars, then headed off up the west coast road, rather than the rather more arduous Golden Road. But the head wind was still pretty hard going. At least our feet and hands were still dry as it hadn’t begun to rain. We stopped periodically to photograph the landscapes.

It was while we were in the Hebrides Art gallery and tea room
(eating scones and drinking tea) that the drizzle began. Soon after, the big climb began. Despite the rain, this was pretty good going, and it wasn’t until well after the top that we felt the full force of the wind, laden with rain coming at me with sufficient velocity that it felt like l was being blasted with stones, and rendering me practically sightless. Still, we reached Tarbert in good shape (though slightly soggy).

The B&B we were heading for no longer does evening meals, so we thought we’d have a quick survey of Tarbert for something to eat. Sadly, everything seemed shut. Even a bar advertising “all day food” didn’t start serving food till 5pm. We decided to press on. As we headed out of Tarbert, the wind seemed to strengthen and the rain came on again.

Soon enough we saw the climb of Clisham rearing up ahead of us, with its steep 1:7 section waiting to be scaled. We were doing OK until the wind was shrieking and flinging us from side to side. Steering at our low speed was in practise impossible, so we bit the bullet and climbed off to push though the worst of the wind. There’s a quarry halfway up – there we remounted to ride the rest of the way.

Pretty soon we were an the top, then descending gently to the turn-off for Maraig. This is quite a sleep descent to sea level, but easily negotiated (on the way down at least). We had a really warm welcome, and settled into a splendid large room. We heated up a couple of sachets of our travelling food for dinner in the kitchen, then chatted for a while with another couple staying there. And so to bed, reflecting on another tough day in the saddle.

We planned an easier day for day 4, but what exactly depends on the weather. At least the wind seems to be forecast to be dropping in intensity.

2014 Tour – Day 2 Lochboisdale to Lochmaddy

Our B&B had excellent double glazing, which deadened the howling gale, but not the car alarm that sounded at 4 am, presumably set off by a gust of wind.

We peered anxiously out of the window at various times before we were due to leave – it was hard to judge just how strong the wind was, given the lack of trees, but at least the rain was predicted to be showers rather than steady. We faced over 40 miles in these ‘interesting’ conditions!

The day’s ride probably features as the most unpleasant in all our tours. We faced a strong 35 mph headwind for most of the day, bringing a serious lashing of rain. In these conditions, nothing keeps your hands and feet dry – Carol staved off the inevitable by wearing full gloves and neoprene overshoes, but ultimately we both had wet and cold hands and feet.

Stopping far more than a few minutes resulted in a severe drop
in body temperature so, with only a few exceptions such as ‘nature breaks’ and to cram bananas and snack bars down our gullets, we felt it prudent to keep moving.

The only cyclists we saw were a group of four with a straggler (who I assume was not actually part of the same group) who passed us during one of our stops. We caught the straggler, and though l hoped he’d tag onto our wheel, he was soon well behind us. We passed the other four as they stopped at a Co-Op.

By about 25 miles of this abuse, Carol was feeling the conditions a bit. We paused for one of our snack bar breaks, and I was a little shocked at her weather beaten appearance. I imagine l looked much the same! Unfortunately the best tactic seemed to be to press on as best we could to our B&B in Lochmaddy.

By Clachan it was clear that Carol was severely energy depleted except for the four or five miles after each snack bar! At least the wind wasn’t in our faces so much after we turned eastwards at Clachan…

We made it to the B&B in Lochmaddy, packed the bike away in a wooden summer house and proceeded to get cleaned up (and warmed up). It took a surprisingly long time to regain full sensation in my fingertips. We booked dinner in the Hotel formerly known as Tigh Dearg. I figured several beers and possibly whiskies beckoned!

We shared a starter of hot and cold smoked salmon, smoked scallops and fish pate, followed by local venison burger with brie and bacon (me) and salmon (Carol). I had a couple of bottles of beer from an Orkney brewery, Corncrake Ale and Northern Light.

After dinner we had a stroll around. Nothing much had changed other than the ownership of the former Tigh Dearg, and its transformation from red to blue! By this time the wind had almost entirely dropped and it was really rather nice. Maybe tomorrow will be OK, we thought.

Through all the day’s abuse, the Thorn tandem behaved well with impeccable handling even in some of the more alarming single
track road incidents.

2014 Tour – Day1 Oban to Lochboisdale

We arrived in Oban in good time, despite various delays en route. We left the car as pre-arranged with a garage, reassembled the tandem and loaded it with the panniers and the rest of the luggage. And then we set off for the Calmac terminal. This was the first time we’d ridden the bike with a full touring load – and very stable it was. In comparison, our trusty Dawes always took an hour or so before I felt properly at ease with its loaded steering.

Down at the terminal, we leant the bike against a suitable wall. We bought two Island Hopscotch 12 tickets (despite the lad at the counter being concerned we wanted to do the route in the wrong direction)and waited for the ferry to load. The preceding ferry (to Mull) was very delayed due to some vehicle getting stuck on board. This caused great consternation among the coach loads of old people presumably headed for Iona.

We chatted to some fellow cyclists including a Dutch lady heading for Barra.She’d got a solo touring bike with a Rohloff hub, and had crossed the North Sea by ferry, reaching Oban by train. Our tandem did seem to attract quite a bit of attention, and not only from the many cyclists waiting to board.

The contingent of cyclists got to board the boat before the motorists, which is always good.

Owing to the delays on the Oban-Mull route, our boat called at Craignure to pick up people who’d intended to return to Oban before setting out for the Outer Hebrides. We had a cup of tea (Carol) and a pint of very excellent Colonsay 80/- (me), followed a bit later by fish & chips in the CalMac cafeteria.

And then on up the sound of Mull, crossing the paths of the Lochaline-Fishnish and Kilchoan-Tobermory ferries. As we moved out into the Minch, it got a bit cooler and those sitting outside either put more layers on or came indoors. But the sun was still there, beaming occasionally through the thin cloud as the boat moved on through calm water. In fact, we were finding it
quite hard to believe the dire weather forecast for Wednesday.

Because of the unscheduled stop at Craignure, we were about half an hour Late arriving at Lochboisdale. Finding the B&B I’d booked was no problem, and we quickly unloaded the tandem.

By this time the wind had got up quite strongly, but it was still reasonably fine. We walked over to the Lochboisdale Hotel for a beer, encountering a brave cyclist looking for somewhere to pitch his tent. By the time we left the Hotel, the wind was really very strong, and by 9.30 rain was lashing down.

It really wasn’t looking like the first full day’s cycling would be fun…

Summer Tour, 2014

Having missed out on our cycling trip in 2013 due to pressure of work, the same pressures have led to us making our cycling trip in Scotland somewhat earlier than usual this year. It will also be our first tour on our newest tandem, the Thorn Raven Discovery.

We’ve been riding the tandem for about 10 months on commutes, day rides and on a trip to France (but not a tour). In that time, we’ve made a few modifications:

  • Replaced the stoker’s flat bars for an old pair of Thorn stoker bars (stoker just couldn’t get on with flat bars).
  • Replaced the rear seat pin with one of the Thudbusters (should have specified this when I ordered the tandem).
  • Replaced the tyre for the tour. We’ve had a couple of sidewall problems on the rear, and ended up fitting a pair of Schwalbe Marathon Dureme tandem tyres (in turn, this needed adjustments to the mudguard clearance.

I have to confess to still being concerned about touring with 32 spoke wheels, but time will tell. In 10 months, they’ve not needed any attention, so do seem quite robust! And Thorn are adamant it’ll be fine. The Rohloff hub has behaved pretty much impeccably, an occasional mis-shift aside.

Bossard Wheelers 10 F15/10 10th May 2014

symbol_03The weather forecast didn’t bode well for this event – not only strong and gusty winds of around 25mph, but heavy showers were predicted. Actually, I was indoors when the big shower blew over, and all I really had to deal with was the stupidly strong wind. Accordingly, I’d replaced my usual H3 with a standard road wheel before I rode over to the race HQ at the Marston Moretaine social club.

It was quite clear by the time I arrived that my choice of front wheel was a wise one – even the standard road wheel was slightly twitchy. I hung around at the HQ for as long as possible before riding over to the start at the top of Brogborough hill, about 3.4 miles or so. Happily, it stayed dry, and I didn’t have to wait for long before my start.

Descending Brogborough hill was rather quick. I recorded a maximum of 73.2 kph, and I’m sure it would have been faster had I the courage to stay on the tribars all the way down! From there to the turn, it was seriously fast, mostly at 46-54 kph (well in excess of 30 mph), only easing back for a car at the first roundabout.  Having said that, I don’t think I was taking full advantage of the tail wind, as I can’t really pedal at high cadence when in the aero tuck position. The marshal at the turn was warning riders of gusts across the roundabout. This advice was very good!

Once round the turn, things took a turn for the worse. I found myself grovelling back to the finish, struggling to keep my speed over 20mph. I was consoled by seeing decent power figures, so at least I knew I was making an effort. On the return leg I was having trouble steering round the myriad potholes while steering the bike in the strong headwind. Eventually, the finish time keeper came into view, and I finished in a disappointing 24:19. Mind you, this was the windiest time trial I can recall ever riding.