Thursday, 4 September 2014

Scotland: Day 7

View Along Glen Nevis Road
Scotland 2014: Day 7, 4th September 2014
Steall Falls, Nevis Gorge and Lower Falls (7 miles approx. to parking)
Click here for information about the walk

Our last active day before the long trip home the next day. Unfortunately we ran out of time to climb Ben Nevis as its estimated by the advice centre to take a good 8 hours. So Emma decided we would walk to the Nevis Gorge, which is also where you will find the Steall Falls. But before that breakfast at the local Wetherspoons was a must - Emma had the vegetarian breakfast whilst I opted for the large Scottish breakfast. Much like the English breakfast, however comes with potato bread and sausage meat rather than the usual tube like sausages. Very filling...

Now as I told you about our wonderful room facilities in the last post I thought I would share a couple of pictures below. As you can see not the greatest hotel room in the world, but nevertheless one of the cheapest in Fort William and right in the centre of town.

To find the parking spots for both Ben Nevis and Glen Nevis mountain paths follow the A82 from the town centre towards Inverness and at a roundabout you will see the Highland Centre on the right hand side, so follow the 2nd exit (one after the A82) along Glen Nevis. The paths for Ben Nevis will be at the visitor centre on the left hand side. We continued further along and parked up at the start of the Lower Falls.

From here it took about an hour to reach the gorge and perhaps another ten minutes or so until we were practically standing in the waterfall. At the gorge we stopped for a drink and saw a rope crossing to continue the path to the waterfall. Many other walkers were sat nearby whilst others debated whether to attempt the crossing or not. After seeing two older Scottish guys getting across we decided that we would give it a go too. Emma went first and I followed not too far behind (not more than 2 people are allowed on it). One of the guys who had crossed helped us up once we got to the other side.

After a few more metres the path kind of disintegrates temporarily until nearer the waterfall. In the flat areas it is quite boggy, I am guessing caused by the waterfall. Our hiking boots are meant to be waterproof however it would appear that Emma's not so much...

Finally we arrived at the waterfall and climbed as far up as we dared. It was really refreshing standing there, the water actually warmer than what we experienced in the Pyrenees. Emma had debated going further up, but that would have meant getting soaked and I think she wanted lunch by this point. On the way back down the 2 Scottish guys had caught up and we had a bit of a natter before heading back.

On the way back I managed to get my right foot caught in a deep boggy puddle and after grabbing Emma almost dragged her down with me. I decided I would just walk across the gorge rather than attempting the rope crossing again to give me a chance to wash my shoes. Emma was going to use the rope due to the rather non-waterproofness of hers. It was OK though as walking across the gorge mine weren't as waterproof as I thought and so we both walked back with lovely wet feet.

Arriving back at the bikes we decided to have lunch along the river and see if there was a cable car to Ben Nevis. It was around 3pm at this point and so there wasn't enough daylight left really to walk it. Unfortunately there isn't a cable car to Ben Nevis, only one to the mountains in the range which overlook Ben Nevis so instead we went to crystal/fossil exhibition that Emma had spotted in some of the tour leaflets.

Although it was not even 4.30pm we decided we would fill up ready for tomorrow and head back to the hotel to get out of our wet shoes and socks, have a shower and head back over to the Wetherspoons to get a drink, write up this blog entry and have dinner. Plus its nice to relax a bit this evening, get an early night so we can leave as soon as possible in the morning.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Scotland: Day 6

Castle Urquhart, Loch Ness
Scotland 2014: Day 6, 3rd September 2014
Morefield, Ullapool - Fort William (via Loch Ness) (113 miles approx.)
Petrol Stops: 1
Time: 7 hours approx. (with stops)

Emma and myself were woken up today from banging sounds from the room next to us. We were trying to figure out whether it was DIY or basically people having sex. Well that was confirmed once we heard people making interesting noises....

I thought it was only fair that I took pictures of the view from our bedroom window but I forgot to take pictures of the room. The room is nice and has a small TV in the corner but a large double bed with memory foam mattress, a desk with stool and tea and coffee making facilities. Each of the 3 rooms has its own bathroom but these are separate, on the same floor. They are all nicely decorated and very clean. It cost £50 for the room for the night and is known as the Ardlair Bed & Breakfast. The hostess was not offering breakfast as she has just had a baby, so I think the price had been reduced to reflect this. Another thing to bear in mind is the midges in the area. We got attacked when we pulled up the night before and didn't have any issues in Scotland until we got here. We brought repellent but Emma couldn't find it until we ended up leaving.

So we basically followed the A835 until we needed to turn off for a petrol stop in Dingwall. Scenery was still brilliant but the colours were changing - becoming more green whilst the mountains were gradually disappearing and the landscape was becoming more open spaces. The weather was really cold on the way down although it was pretty sunny and road conditions were pretty good. The route pictured below doesn't highlight the detour to Dingwall, but you can see on the map how to get there should you require a reasonably priced petrol garage - again a Tesco.

Another 40 miles and we reached the A82 and middle of Loch Ness. We stopped at the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition which has several presentations on the original findings of Loch Ness and how this can be explained. The lovely woman at the ticket booth asked if we were students, we both said no and she asked again hinting to charge us the lower student rate which was nice of her. 

Further along the A82 Emma said she'd quite like to visit Urquhart Castle so we stopped again. As well as the interesting history there are fantastic views across Loch Ness. The price was around £7 an adult. Although mostly a ruin there are displays showing how the castle was used for different purposes by different owners.

Walking around the castle grounds the sun decided to come out and it possibly reached around 20 degrees. Emma and I had both layered up earlier with heated vests, hoodies and thermals so we were melting by this point. We got back to the bikes, packed some of the extra clothes onto the back seats of the bikes and headed off to find food.

As well as several road works along the A82 there was many instances of slow moving traffic. Although we expected this to be mainly caravaners we found that it was mainly cars that we plodding along a 60 mph road at 30. Due to the nature of the A82 to Fort William there are not many places where we could actually overtake. However, when we did have an open stretch I took full advantage of the sweeping bends. The mountains had come back into view, with white shades at the peaks and continued all the way to Fort William.

Once at Fort William we unloaded into the room and went for a meal at the local pub followed by picking up some sweet supplies at the local Morrisons. The cost of a room here, at the Ossian's Hotel is also £50 per room per night for a double room. However, its not the prettiest room in the world but they defend this apparently because of its location right in the centre of town. There is a small CRT TV with free view box and an en-suite. The room is just very out of date and the mattress feels incredibly soft. The previous 2 B&Bs were luxury rooms in comparison. However this is the cheapest Emma could find in the area so here we are!

Scotland 2014: Day 3, 4 and 5

We have been so busy and without Internet one night so time to update you on the last 3 days!

Scotland: Day 3, 31st August 2014
Edinburgh - Dundee (66 miles approx.)
Petrol Stops: 1
Time: 2 hours approx.

Leaving at 9.30am we took the slightly more scenic route to Dundee, riding over the famous Forth Road Bridge and leaving the motorway for the A92. We then came off at Redhouse Roundabout to follow the A915 to St. Andrews and then onto Dundee via the Tay Bridge.

The ride was fairly straightforward, little traffic and some lovely views of mountains on the left and every so often you can see the sea on the right. No challenging bends on this route, but we wanted to arrive in Dundee relatively early as we were spending time with family.

I had a few issues with the bluetooth connection between my sat nav and headset and as we passed over the Tay Bridge,looking at the old bridge on the left, we had to partly guess our way into the city. The connection came back however so I over took Emma and led the way. The view over the river tay from the top of their road is fantastic, complete with a park at the bottom.

My aunt must have heard the bikes as we pulled up as she came outside to meet us. Emma and I had a lovely day being shown views of the River Tay, the old bridge and a walk around Broughty Ferry. She pointed out where my Grandad and her were brought up, my dad's drinking spot (Cookies) and took us up to the top of Law Hill to show where they played as kids.  We also went round to see family and Emma volunteered my services to repair their laptop riddled with viruses.

Scotland: Day 4, 1st September 2014
Dundee - Brora (191 miles approx.)
Petrol Stops: 2
Time: 6 hours approx. (with stops)

Now I just need to make sure I don't get too muddled with my days as Day 4 and 5 have been long riding days so here we go...

This was the beginning of our scenic rides - steep hills, mountain views, lochs and rivers and so on. The main thing was getting into Cairngorms National Park which lies inland between Inverness and Dundee. Before this however we filled up at a Tesco Petrol station despite only doing around 50 miles since our last stop. Prices can be expensive in Scotland's national parks and remote areas and large supermarket chains tends to be pretty good so its probably worth bearing in mind.

The A93 runs almost through the centre of the park, through the town of Braemar. It's a lovely flowing road with fantastic views of the mountains. There are plenty of great bends but few that will actually catch you out which makes this a really enjoyable ride. 
From the A93 we took the B976 road that leads to the A939. I'd recommend both the A93 and A939 if you go through the park or looking to get to Inverness. You can following the A939 to the A95 or A96 and either will be a great ride. We stopped somewhere along the A939 I think for lunch after climbing a 20 degree hill!

Our next petrol stop was on the outskirts of Inverness at another Tesco. It was a good job as my bladder was about to burst and being in the national park (with very few trees...) I had to wait over a hundred miles before I could go! From here it was the A9 along the coast with views to the North Sea on the right. Weather was still pretty good, although it was getting colder the further we headed up.

We arrived in Brora (Emma's family) just before 4.30pm. They live in a great spot with views of mountains either side. Next on the to-do list was John O'Groats and the ride along the northern coast. But that was for the following day...

Loch Broom, Morefield, Ullapool

Scotland: Day 5, 2nd September 2014
Brora - Ullapool (via John O'Groats) (207 miles approx.)
Petrol Stops: 2
Time: 7.5 hours approx. (with stops)

I think this has to be my favourite day so far...

So our first mission of the day was getting to John O'Groats - the north-east peak of Scotland. Most bikers have done it and some have even rode the entire length of Lands End to John O'Groats in a day - not an easy task at 874 miles!

We were told that there was a Tesco with petrol station at Wick so we headed along the A9 north. The landscape was mainly open and although we had to overtake a few cars it wasn't too bad. Having arrived at the garage at around 11.40am we decided we would find some food at John O'Groats for lunch, which from here was only around 15 miles.

The A9 follows onto the A99 just before Wick and you follow this all the way into John O'Groats. There are two signposts here. The original one apparently had been erected by a photography company. The first sign post we saw however was the newer one and a couple with a dog took our picture near the newer sign. There is a notice by the fish bar stating that you must ask permission to take pictures by the original sign as the sign was erected for that purpose. Anything to make money I guess!

We stayed here for lunch where I had fish and chips and Emma a chip batty. We could see Orkney quite easily from where we were sitting as it was only 8 miles away by ferry. We where there for almost 2 hours but never saw a ferry coming or going. There are also little grey buildings dotted around the area that seem to be for people to stay in and take in the sea views.

Continuing on our journey we stopped at the Tesco in Thurso for a toilet break and then headed east to west along the north coast. It is after Thurso where the views get really exciting. The further west we headed the further into the mountains we got. The mountains in this region are really brown and the roads we particularly fun to ride.

Heading left onto the A836 was very cool. Although mostly a single track road with plenty of passing places the landscape was spectacular. We stopped quite a few times to take pictures. The weather was gorgeous, the loch's a dark clear blue and mountains displaying a mixture of greens and browns. I said to Emma as we stopped next to Loch Loyal that I'd love to live up here. I wanted to just stand for a while and take in all the views, but we still have a fair way to go to reach our overnight stop so back on the bikes we went.

Loch Loyal, A836
Unfortunately there were no more supermarket petrol garages so we had to fill up at a Gulf for our second stop. With about 40 miles to go we ended up stuck behind a coach all the way to Morefield. As these were single track roads we couldn't really overtake and it the driver didn't want to pull in so that we could. However, I decided not to let it bother me and just take in more of the view.

The B&B in Morefield has a lovely spot overlooking Loch Broom. We walked into Ullapool to find somewhere to eat and decided on a small bar/restaurant that overlooks the ferry port. As we were eating Emma spotted a dolphin and a seal at the surface of the water and tried to point them out to me. Unfortunately I missed the dolphin, but did spot the seal poking its head out of the water.

Routes are below. The A836 from Coldbackie to the A839 is particularly stunning.