Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Tour d'Ecosse Day 10 Bealach na Bà from Applecross to Plockton Monday 11th July 2016

Tour d'Ecosse Day 10 Bealach na Bà from Applecross to Plockton 77km 1726m ascent
Cumulative: 839km 10088m ascent Ferries 9 Islands 13
Bealach na Bà or Pass of the Cattle - Highest road pass at 650m in UK 
Today is the day. The highest road pass in the UK, and we start from sea level, from Applecross, the easy way up....ha ha ha ha. Well it would have been harder the other way so it was easier. The "Ride with GPS" route below shows the topography, it makes the vicious lumps after Strathcarron look like pimples! Our 6th big day in a row.

We sadly said goodbye to our fabulous yurt. Just everything about our yurt, it's situation and the perfect location to divide up the Applecross peninsula into manageable chunks characterised what this tour is all about. The Applecross Inn is booked solid months in advance, so we were disappointed not to be able to stay there but it did mean we had a 15km warm up before hitting "The Bealach."

Well we had a 15km cool down, it was wet and cold and claggy. After a light breakfast at the yurt we had decided a coffee and cake stop was allowed so early on as we doubted there would be any more cafes for a long time. We polished off the "commute" and were mightily relieved that the Applecross Inn was open in the morning for coffee, and the heating was on. The Garmin showed an average temperature of 10 degrees today. The date is 11th July!

Applecross is as deserted as you can get on UK mainland. You can come in on the Shieldaig road we had followed from Torridon, or up n over Bealach na Ba...the Pass of the cattle. Not surprisingly the latter route is shut for a lot of the winter. Today it's high summer.

Bealach Na Ba on a foul day it was ...winter clothes, hi viz, lights, the works.
10km of uphill ahead
Plenty going on in Applecross, not sure why the Wester Ross Trail is out to sea!
The Applecross Inn's sunny beer garden
Poor Doris, she looks exhausted and we haven't started yet!
We have read that this is the toughest and wildest climb in Britain. The hype is true. The majority of roads in Scotland's follow the valleys as there's no need to climb the mountains but the road links the village of Applecross with the rest of the world by taking the route over the top of Bealach na Ba, 2000ft or 650m.
Yes, we met a car and a caravan whilst descending the other side.
One final glance back at a glimpse of the Isle of Raasay with Skye hidden behind
Going on up...
Is there anybody out there?
Well, the good bit about the weather meant it was relatively quiet traffic wise, we had read that the pass was a lot more popular with the recent North Coast 500 marketing.  Cars were considerate, and patient. Motorbikes waved. We settled into a plod, granny gear all the way We stopped as we needed too, we were not going for heroics. The aim was to get up and down without injury. Especially given the weather. This is adventure cycling. Nothing to fall back on but our bodies and our bikes.
Not a motorway
At one point a descending black immaculate Mercedes with tinted glass waited for us to pass. The driver's window was down and we nodded and said our thanks and he smiled broadly and asked very kindly if we were OK. The chap in the passenger seat was also concerned, as were their smiling wives in the back, in immaculate saris and jewellery, all so incongruous in such wet horrible and muddy conditions. They could have been going to a wedding, but were on a weekend break from Glasgow and asked if they could get tea anywhere. We had a lovely chat for a few minutes, they really were so concerned about our welfare (and/or state of mind I expect!) We gave them directions for tea and said our goodbyes and thank yous for their concern and offers of a lift.
and up and up and up
The weather deteriorated even further, we paused on one particularly steep bit and unable to see what was coming we did walk 100-200m when the gradiant was circa 15%. Looking back now I reckon I could have ridden it if I'd known it didn't go on for any longer, I may have psyched myself to stay on the pedals. However, this was really a pretty daft idea for Steve to be attempting so I didn't push it. It was a team effort to get us both to the top in one piece. In fact the double car park/halt at the top came as a surprise to me. The disorientation of the thick cloud meant we never had any idea how much further other than knowing it was about 9km on the Garmin and I deliberately didn't look at that.
Trig point summit Bealach na Ba, no we couldn't see the view.
Our bikes huddling up to keep warm at the summit
The viewpoint...really!  ...and down we go. this was not a respite, nor was it fast.
Bealach na Ba down toward Tornapress and Strathcarron
...gravelly wet road surface and hairpin bends, at points it is 20% with crash barriers.
Loch Kishorn finally comes into view
We literally inched our way down, hands freezing and locked from hanging on the brakes. my brakes were very worn by the bottom. I get carpel tunnel syndrome at the best of times so I could not feel anything by the time the road started to level. It was pretty extreme conditions and we were envious of anyone with the luxury of time who could afford to wait a day or two for better conditions.
We halted just before Tornapress, which is not much more than a bend in the road. Looking back were the warning signs about how steep, bleak and narrow the road to Applecross was. A massive sense of relief that we had come to no harm and a (still ongoing whilst writing this 3 months later) sense of achievement that we did it, aged 50 with panniers and health conditions, with very little walking, in horrendous weather. Steve decides he would rather have just popped across the road from Shieldaig, he gives me a look when I suggest we need to come back another time, on a nicer day and do it from this side. I think that's a solo trip then!
Fish Farming Loch Kishorn
Slight problem in that the lovely looking Bealach Café in Tornapress was firmly shut. Yes it was July, it shuts one day a week. On a Monday. Our luck was in though, the next establishment of any kind we came across was the Kishorn Seafood Bar On a normal day a plate full of seafood would have done me, but today we needed hot carbs. Seafood filled baked potatoes and pints of tea hit the spot. We literally sat on the radiator. We realised later we had been very lucky, this place is, quite rightly, loaded with food awards, and probably large queues on nice school holiday days. We took our time but the inevitable could not be put off any longer. Back out we went, but it was a little drier than this morning.

Through Strathcarron, a huge place with a bank and a zebra crossing, and the road follows the famous railway line heading to Kyle of Lochalsh. Our addled brains think "this is great" Railway lines are flat aren't they? A nice saunter down the shores of Loch Kishorn to our BnB for the night in Plockton.
Towards Plockton
When booking our B&B the owner said at the time that if we were tired we could hop on the train at Strathcarron, and off at Plockton. "It's only 25km" I thought at the time, easy if we have done Bealach I remember thinking. The road does not follow the railway line all the way, at intervals it turns left, bolts straight up a 15% hill then comes down again. Mean railway for not sharing their tunnels with us!

It was knackering, not nice rolling ups and downs where your momentum powers you up half the ascent. I managed every single one without walking. That train idea wasn't so daft after all. Eventually we roll along a minor road into Plockton, noting the steep ascent we are going to have in the morning!

I had wanted to come back to Plockton, I remembered coming here for a day visit aged about 9 on a camping holiday, we were probably staying in Glencoe. It certainly is still a picture postcard fishing village with a perfect row of quaint cottages, more palm trees and lots of artists in residence. I'll let the pictures do the talking.
Plockton towards the village
Tide's out!
Messing about on a loch in a yacht would be fun
Each cottage has a garden over the road running down to the sea

Competitive Plockton Strip Gardens
We cycled past the cottages, and I thought I had booked a B&B down here, as it was advertised with a sea view. It turned out we were up the hill, in a very good B&B but it lacked character, a modern semi on an estate but the owners couldn't have been nicer. We could see the sea, and the lovely landlady let us use her washing machine for our smelly kit (we did pay her extra for that kindness), and it was good value for £60 for the night. Just a little bit suburban though after our lovely yurt last night and the wild adventurous day we had had. Our land lady also sweet talked a table for us at The Plockton Inn, in retrospect it would have been good to stay there too. We wandered down to the harbour and look who met us at the door.
Stained glass at The Plockton Inn
We had another fabulous meal. I had the starter seafood platter and then a delicious aubergine and tomato curry cooked to perfection. After dinner we wandered along the front and called in at the Plockton Hotel for a nightcap. Well I am blonde, we had been up Bealach Na Ba in a Whiteout so we qualified!
The ales sum up our day in the Plockton Hotel

A wander back to our B&B and we crashed. We were exhilerated and exhausted and secretly quite looking forward to a flat 50km rest day tomorrow, over the sea to Skye.

Touring Tips in Scotland

1 Do not doubt your abilities.

2 The big stand out ascent of the day is not necessarily the hardest.

3 Build in "escape points" to your route for peace of mind in case of accident, illness or most likely severe mechanical problems, especially if limited by time. We could get back to Ardrossan via train if need be from Oban (passing through twice), Strathcarron, Kyle of Lochalsh or Mallaig. We didn't have to test out the escape plan fortunately. There is also a bike bus from Ullapool to Inverness that we didn't know about but could also be very useful.

Tour d'Ecosse quick links:

Day 1 Isle of Arran and a little Mull of Kintyre
Day 2 Inner Hebrides: Isles of Islay and Jura
Day 3 Inner Hebrides: Isle of Jura-Tayvallich to Oban
Day 4 Oban to Outer Hebrides: Barra and Vatersay
Day 5 Outer Hebrides: Isles of Barra Eriskay South Uist Benbecula Grimsay North Uist Beneray and Harris
Day 6 Outer Hebrides: Isles of Harris and Lewis to Callanish Stones
Day 7 Outer Hebrides: Butt of Ness to Stornoway and Ullapool
Day 8 Ullapool to Gairloch
Day 9 Gairloch to Shieldaig - Applecross Peninsula
Day 10 Bealach na Bà from Applecross to Plockton
Day 11 Plockton to Inner Hebrides: Isle of Skye Armadale
Day 12 Inner Hebrides: Isle of Skye Armadale to Ardnamurchan
Day 13 Ardnamurchan to Inner Hebrides: Isle of Mull to Oban to Loch Melfort
Day 14 Loch Melfort to Tarbert, Loch Fyne
Day 15 Tarbert Loch Fyne to Ardrossan THE END!

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