Tag Archives: Scotland

Cycling the North Coast 500 when the wind is blowing a hoolie 

The North Coast 500 is a circular route showcasing some of Scotland’s finest scenery. Starting in Inverness the route heads west to the Applecross peninsula and hugs the coast taking in the top slice of Scotland. 

I had a week off work and this was to be my March challenge, riding solo and unsupported. I didn’t give it much thought until it was Friday night and time to pack. Yikes! 

Day 1: Inverness to Kishorn (111km 684m) 

I drove up from Edinburgh slightly apprehensive; there was snow at the side of the road, it was 1 degree celcius and the forecast was grim for the next few days. This was a challenge and no one said it was going to be easy.  

I abandoned my car in a residential street near the canal and set off hoping I’d be back by the following Sunday! 

I followed a suggested route through Beauly and Muir of Ord to reduce the time on busy roads until the inevitable at Contin. I’d also suggest the quiet short cut via Kirkhill on route to Beauly. 

It was a fairly gentle ride and apart from a few showers, the weather was pretty kind. From Garve the scenery started getting more interesting with rolling snow topped hills hugged by low cloud. I kept stopping to take photos of all the stags at the roadside looking on curiously.

As I dropped into Achnasheen I was hoping for a cafe stop but it was still closed and there wasn’t any sign of life at the hotel either. I pushed on to the Sanachan bunkhouse in Kishorn. Watch out for the steep climb out of Loch Carron just before you get to Kishorn. I was exhausted by this point but thought if I can’t get up this wee hill, what hope do I have for the Bealach? This was the longest I’d ever cycled and I was a bit bedraggled by the time I had arrived at the bunkhouse. Wrists, neck and lower back were feeling it and this was only day 1! 
I’d spotted a seafood bar on the map (would surely have a veggie option?) but it was closed too. Note the pattern…….who comes this way in March? Emergency adventure meal no. 1 to the rescue. I had a good chat with the owner about adventures in the hills and their plans to build a log cabin later in the year. Perfect spot for cyclists. 

Day 2: Kishorn to Kinlochewe (92km 1481m)

I knew this was going to be a toughie, with the Bealach na Bá just around the corner. It means ‘Pass of the Cattle’ and resembles alpine passes with steep gradients and switchbacks, climbing to 626m. 

The forecast shifted from heavy rain to cloud so I set off just in my shorts ready for a sweaty climb and fine views. I caught my first glimpse of what I guessed must be the route and it seemed the weather had different plans. 

A few minutes later the wind had picked up and it was lashing down. Full on waterproofs and nowhere to hide! 

The climb to the start of the switchbacks is long and relentless and probably the worst bit. At times I couldn’t pedal because of the headwind. 


The plus point of doing it this time of year is the dearth of traffic. Eventually I made it to the top and there was a wee lift in the cloud. 

There’s a viewpoint a bit further up with views over to Skye, Rum, the Outer Hebrides and Wester Ross but I was cold and wet and didn’t hang around too long.  

From here, the descent to Applecross is awesome with sweeping corners and the type of speed that makes me glance down to check my front wheel is on properly. I had to stop and put more layers on, it was flipping freezing! 

I headed straight for the Applecross Inn for coffee, hot chocolate and radiator hugging. I’d gone through 3 pairs of gloves with the rain and was pretty soaked. Clothing is always tricky to predict but I was grateful I’d packed spare waterproof gloves and a jacket.

The next section to Shieldaig follows the coast around the Applecross Penninsula and was actually harder going than the Bealach. It’s a series of short sharp leg zapping climbs that seem to go on forever! 


I decided to keep going to the Torridon Inn and got some fine views of Ben Alligin and Liathach.

 

After a fuel stop I charged on to Kinlochewe as the rain wasn’t far behind. It’s fairly flat up Glen Torridon so a good way finish off a big day. I didn’t quite manage to beat the rain and my heart sank when I arrived at the bunkhouse/hotel and everything was closed up. A quick phone call to the bunkhouse number and fear not, the door is always open! 

It wasn’t the most inviting of places and emergency meal no.2 would be on the cards but it was 5pm, 20 miles to Gairloch and without internet I had no idea if I’d manage to get any accommodation further up the road. I knew the forecast for the next day was horrendous and would have liked to get some more miles in but it was too much of a gamble. I stayed put, dried my clothes off and enjoyed my rehydrated meal. 

Day 3: Kinlochewe to Ullapool (124km 1477m) 

I woke early with the wind and rain battering the window and was dreading the day ahead. This was a big day starting off with 20 miles to Gairloch into a forecasted 40mph headwind. Part of me wanted to hitch a lift and not tell anyone, but I remembered my brother doing an etape in horrendous conditions and decided just to crack on with it. 

The ride to Gairloch was brutal in terms of the wind; I was barely moving in my granny ring. I was battered by rain, snow and hail but there were also moments of sunshine. I let out a whoop when I caught my first glimpse of the cafe down by the pier. I was pretty broken by this point and there was still 59 miles between me and Ullapool. It was the first day of opening for the cafe (Coast Coffee Company) and thank goodness! It’s been taken over since I was last there and has a delicious menu that I would happily have worked through. Unfortunately it was only 10.30am so coffee, smoothie and a date slice filled the gap.

 

I’ve done the Tollaidh loop on my mountain bike before and knew there was a big climb out of Gairloch but thankfully the wind was behind me at this point and it wasn’t too bad. My dodgy knee had taken a hit battling through the wind to Gairloch which was a bit of a worry. Anyway, I kept going with the wind sometimes being a hindrance and sometimes my new best friend. More snow and hail showers and I actually got blown off my bike when I stopped at a viewpoint, not long after this……..


On some descents I had to pedal hard to move because of the headwind. Stunning views though over to Assynt, An Teallach and Sgurr Mor. 

I made it to Ullapool, pretty broken from the wind. I’d booked into the bunkhouse at the Ceilidh Place and took advantage of the log fire, a pot of tea and iced my knee. By now weight bearing was tricky and I was worried it was game over. Guess this highlighted the importance of conditioning. I ride my mountain bike all the time with no issues but this was a different bike and a different type of riding. I was super excited to get some proper food at the Ceilidh Place and not have an emergency meal! Big high five to the veggie options. 

Day 4: knee recovery day in Ullapool

It was blowing a hoolie and the sensible thing was to have a rest day to try and let my knee settle. I spent the day eating, icing my knee and taking it easy (actually harder in some ways than riding!)

Day 5: Ullapool to Durness (119km 1489m)

I was nervous starting the climb out of Ullapool. I knew the road and knew my knee would get tested. I road tentatively and enjoyed the views across Ardmair Bay to Coigach, Stac Polly and Suilven.


Approaching Loch Assynt I had a decision to make – the direct route to Kylesku or the longer route via Lochinver and the stunning beaches around the penninsula. From spending a week up here before  I knew the latter was a beautiful but challenging route with short sharp hills and twisty singletrack. My heart said that way but my head said to protect my knee and go direct. I went with my head and while I didn’t capture turquoise coves, I enjoyed riding past the snow topped peaks of one of my favourite hills Quinag. 

I stopped at the Kylesku Hotel for soup and coffee and had a peek at the bridge.

After the climb out of Kylesku it wasn’t long before I was passing through Scourie and getting fine views of Ben Stack, Arkle and Fionaven (another one of my favs).

 I took shelter from the wind behind an old fishing building on Loch Laxford and refuelled in the sun. 

After Rhiconich the road gradually climbed again and my knee started playing up. It was a case of head down and pedal the last 20km to Durness. 

I stayed at the Lazy Crofter bunkhouse which was perfect – comfortable and cozy. The hotel was closed so another adventure meal! 

Day 6: Durness to Thurso ( 119km 1489m) 

The beaches were gorgeous but when you’ve got a lot of miles to put in, there wasn’t really any time for exploring. One of these days I’ll get to Smoo Caves! 

This was the first day of light wind and coupled with a big flat section from Durness tracing the shore of Loch Eriboll I was suddenly experiencing a completely different NC500.

I stopped for a roadside view of Ard Neackie after seeing @loosemooose‘s photo a couple of weeks beforehand. 

After a fast descent to cross the River Hope, there was a big climb up to Á Mhòine and this section is a strong contender for most breathtaking part of the trip. Perfectly still, just me, snow by the road, frozen lochans and stunning views of a snowy Ben Hope and Ben Loyal. I was in a moment for sure and could have spent the whole day up here. 

Another fast descent takes you to the Kyle of Tongue slipway. @belhavenbikes had sent me a message on twitter to visit Weavers cafe just after Tongue and promised it would be open, and so I did. A great refuelling stop and it has a track pump outside which is handy.

The beach at Bettyhill looked inviting but I needed to push on. Pretty much as soon as you cross into Caithness the road flattens. I managed to hit home time as I passed Dounreay and the road suddenly became very busy. 

With the calm conditions I would have liked to get to John O’Groats but by the time I got to Thurso my bum was so sore I couldn’t sit on the saddle any longer and called it a day.

Day 7: Thurso to Helmsdale (121km 1056m) 

It was an easy 30km to John O’Groats with a flat road and light wind. Before long, Orkney was visible and I was pulling in for the obligatory photo.

I stopped for a coffee and to let my back have a rest – by now I was really struggling. Last year I had a pretty bad back injury and was anxious from day 1 that it was going to spasm again. 

If you are doing the pure NC500 there is no choice but to head down the east coast from JOG and join the A9 after Latheron. 

I was back to having a decent enough headwind to make riding tough, and the first section from JOG was fast car territory. I was glad of the high vis vest I donned for this section. 

This part of the route is far less interesting than the West / North West corner and you don’t have the spectacular scenery to distract you when things are hard going. I stopped in Wick for lunch and the rest of the ride to Helmsdale was a sufferfest. My lower back was struggling and I was getting off the bike every 20-30 mins to do release exercises on the ground. 

Watch out for the Berriedale Braes – a steep descent and brutal climb, especially with a headwind! 

I’d booked a B&B in Helmsdale and after doing all my back stretches fell into a deep coma. 

Day 8: Helmsdale to Inverness (127km 704m)

I was expecting to need 2 shorter days for the final stretch because of my back but made good progress to Dornoch. There’s a really nice coastal road that takes you from Golspie to Dornoch and lets you escape the lorries on the A9 


After coffee and cake (definitely back in civilisation now!) at Gordon House in Dornoch I headed back along the A9 to Tain. 

There’s a nice route along quiet roads to Dingwall 

My back was holding out with some off the bike releases and I was then on the home straight retracing my route from Muir of Ord to Beauly and the final stretch along the Beauly Firth. 

I made it! 

For me this was an epic challenge. I set off knowing I’d have a tough 4 days with the weather and I sure did! 

People talk about the mental and physical side of things. I ended up talking to inanimate objects at the side of the road and the odd bit of road kill. There were times when I felt like curling up in my bivvy bag under a rock and giving up because of the relentless wind, but I didn’t. Mentally I (just) managed to hold it together. 

Physically my legs were fine and got me up the many many hills but it’s the things that come with conditioning (and possibly a professional bike fit) that would have made the biggest difference. A ride like this exposes the niggles that normally dont bother you. The 20-40mph headwind for the first few days took its toll on my knee. A chronic injury that has never bothered me on the bike, became a big problem. Sitting on a saddle for 7-7.5h on consecutive days, my bum and lower back were crying out.  I ride my mountain bike about 3 times a week for maybe 3 hours at a time and a lot of that is standing up or off the saddle chatting. If I’d done some proper road training would it have helped? Who knows but I do know this is a serious undertaking and a completely different kettle of fish to being mountain bike fit. 

March threw up its own challenge……food. The fickle Scottish weather can catch you out anytime of year but until Easter pretty much everything is closed. This includes the hotels! Apart from Ullapool I had a dehydrated adventure meal every night for tea (can restock in the outdoor shop in Ullapool).

March does have its benefits though. The only traffic you encounter is Highland cows, locals and Tesco delivery vans. You have the bunkhouses to yourself so it’s easy to dry off clothes and there are no midges! 

Good luck to anyone doing it and I hope the wind is your friend. Scotland is a spectacular country and what better way to explore?! 

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Strathpuffer – 24 hour mountain biking race 

Turning 40 this year and decided a challenge/adventure a month would be a good way to celebrate! 

First up was the Strathpuffer – a 24 hour mountain biking endurance event, set in the Scottish highlands, at the harshest time of year.

Well I (only just) survived! It started off fairly benign before the arctic conditions set in causing havoc to the bikes – seatpost gave up on lap 1, brakes and gears froze, icicles hung from my down tube, drinking water froze, stoves stopped working and the trails got pretty sketchy with ice. Great experience looking back and bumped into some familiar faces which was nice. A great team with Angela, Nicola and Fergus and support from Tony. We managed 24 laps most of which was sub-zero with garmins recording as low as -8 degrees. If it wasn’t for the fire not sure I’d have lasted! Given it was dark for 17 hours, photos are limited!

Cycle touring trip: Outer Hebrides and beyond

A second cycle touring trip, a second mad dash for the ferry, only worse. The lesson we never learn is accounting for caravans (and cars) driving at 30 mph. Amazingly we managed to catch the ferry after arriving in Oban after it was meant to leave. 

But, as soon as you get a spot on deck calmness and relaxation take over and the mad rush is forgotten. We certainly enjoyed the sun while cruising past the Ardnamurchan peninsula. 
  

As usual, we didn’t have any plans apart from our first stop being Barra. I’d heard from surfing chums about the beauty of the small island, just 23 square miles, and  it didn’t disappoint.

Andy showed off his mean set of wheels and packhorse style set up. He’s since earned himself the nickname Kelpie. 

 

We did a wee trip south over the causeway to Vatersay, passing the plane wreck of a Catelina from WWII. This island is tiny at just 3 miles long. 

 

A perfect evening to start the trip with a BBQ on the beach and a dip in the turquoise water below the narrow strip of machair holding the island together. 

  

  

We camped near Borve in Barra and then headed up to the north tip and managed to time it perfectly to catch a plane landing on the wide bay of Traigh Mhòr; the only airport in the world where scheduled flights use the beach as a runway. The beach on the west side of the airport is stunning. 

  

   
  

We camped near Bolnabodach and had an early start to catch the ferry across the Sound of Barra to Eriskay. Any ferry involved a near miss and this was no different! Eriskay is only 2 x 1 mile and super cute. 

We crossed the causeway and made our way up the Uists sandwiched with Benbecula to Lochmaddy where we ended up camping on the local football pitch. 

In the morning we caught the ferry to Skye and after arriving in Uig, cycled across the Trotternish Peninsula to the Quiraing. Full of pillars and pinnacles it was a welcome hike off the saddle 

   
 

  

The fast and sweeping descent to Staffin Bay was worth the climb from Uig to the Quiraing. We then cycled the undulating A855 down the east coast of Skye to Portree. This was a tough day, especially in the heat, and we were ravenous by the time we reached Portree and glad of all the food options in Skye compared to the less populated Outer Hebrides.  

  

   

We braved the midges and camped at Sligachen but there was no hanging about in the morning when they were out in force. Definitely glad I’d gone for the extra weight and protection of my scarp tent than the tarp! 

  

We cycled to Armadale and caught the ferry to Mallaig on the mainland. From here we followed the coast to our camping spot in Arisaig and had a stunning sunset with the sillouette of the Skye and Rum Cuillins set below the glowing sky 

  
   

     

We rode to Glenuig and had lunch at the Inn. I’ve driven that road a fair few times and nothing compares with the senses you get when cycling. Despite being a group, cycle touring gives you a sense of freedom and solitude. After recharging we continued to Resipole with multiple ice lolly stops to help with temperature control.  

  

 

We decided to head round the Arnamurchan Peninsula to catch the ferry that goes from Kilchoan to Tobermory. Another ferry almost missed but this time due to a mechanical. Luckily some cable ties came to the rescue.  

 

After a lunch stop in Tobermory we climbed the rediculously steep hill south and meandered our way to Craignure to catch the ferry back to Oban. I always feel a sense of sadness on the last leg but we certainly deserved a beer! 

 

This was an amazing trip. We were blessed with the weather but it did cause some sweat issues! 

7 islands, 250 miles, stunning scenery and a whole heap of giggles. 

Cycle touring is such a special way to experience our landscape, flora and fauna. Get out and explore. Don’t plan, just go with the flow and whatever the weather throws at you! 

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MTB, paddleboarding and big mountain adventures in Wester Ross 

A very last minute cottage booking and three of us were off to Wester Ross for our September hols. 

On the way up, Tracy and I had a quick spin at Laggan. This was the first time I’ve been when the lower section is open and it’s a great trail centre to get some flow and take in the beautiful scenery.

   

 

Sunday was a bit dreich and went for a wander to the fairy lochs, near Badachro. There is a scattering of aircraft debris at one of the lochans from an aircrash in WW2. All crew and passengers were killed when the plane crashed into the hill returning home from the war. 

 
 
We’d hoped to paddle the length of Loch Maree (20km) and got the perfect day for it on Monday. We started at Tollie Bay to take advantage of the gentle tail wind and as we made our way down to the get in, the mist lifted to reveal a very atmospheric and glassy Loch Maree. About a third of the way along we reached the islands; five large and over 25 smaller ones, many of which have their own lakelets. We weaved our way in between the islands enjoying the contrasting colour of the purple flowering heather, green woodland and rock formations. The midges were fierce so had a floating lunch stop. 

A couple of weeks ago I’d confidently declared I’d never fallen off my board and it would be almost impossible to do so. There was a lot of hilarity when my fin caught a shallow rock and propelled me off the side of the board with my phone stuffed down my bra! Needless to say a bowl of rice came to my phone’s rescue and I have since bought a replacement aquapac cover to fit it. 

There are lovely beaches dotted along the shore of the Loch and you feel dwarfed by the giant Slioch on the north. 

   

   

We then had the most stunning mountain day I’ve ever experienced. I’d been biking in Torridon last year and after hiking Ben Alligan became fixated with Liathach. We set off early, leaving our car just east of Glen Cottage and followed the path up the east bank of Allt an Doire Ghairbh. This was relentless and being completely sheltered from the wind, stopping for a rest equated to a midge attack. 

I remember looking up to see the top of the ridge poking out through the cloud and then realising we are emerging from a cloud inversion. It was incredible. 

  
   

When we got to the beallach, we made the short trip north east to the summit of Stuc a Choire Dhuibh Bhig (915m) to soak it all in. This is a classic viewpoint for taking in Beinn Eighe. I felt like I was in a plane looking down on the cloud cover below. It’s hard to put into words how special this moment was so I’ll just leave it for the photos. 

    
 

We retraced our steps before continuing along the ridge, crossing the two tops of Stob a’ Choire Liath Mhor to the highest of Liathach’s two Munros, Spidean a’ Choire Leith (1055m). From here you have two choices – a few hundred metres of scrambling across the pinnacles of Am Fasarinen or the footpath below which had a couple of bits of fairly decent exposure. While contemplating the route, we got chatting to a pretty experienced mountaineer who offered to guide us across the pinnacles. He’d been up countless times, including in the dark in winter, and knew it like the back of his hand. He shared tales of some of his wilder days on the hill, and turned out to be the guy who logs when you’ve completed the Munros and signs your certificate. 
   
    
   

We enjoyed a sunny break on the top of our last summit, Mullach an Rathain (1023m), with fine views of Loch Torridon before descending the steep scree slope into Toll Ban. Here we came across another mountain legend, Andy Nisbet, who we’d seen getting the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture at the Fort William Mountain Festival a year or two ago. Rather handily he’d parked at the bottom of the descent and gave us a lift back to the car. 

I don’t really walk anywhere these days so my legs took a real pounding. Our rest and recovery day involved some sunbathing and paddleboarding on Mellon Udrigle beach. It was wildlife galore with giant jellyfish, playful seals and a curious sea otter (first ever otter spot!). An amazing backdrop across the bay with the Assynt mountains and An Teallach clearly visible. 

   

    
 
 

And the sunshine continued……

Next up was some biking in Torridon taking in the route which follows Loch Damph before picking up the path which climbs around the south side of Beinn Damh to the beallach with Beinn na h-Eaglaise. A wee bit of hike-a-biking required. 

  
    
 

The descent was fun with some rocky singletrack and slabs before reaching a burn. After crossing slightly upstream, there was a great section through the forest which literally pops you out on the road just west of the Torridon Inn. 
  
   
   

Ben Alligan and Loch Torridon in the background 

I also managed to squeeze in another great ride. This time, parked up at Slattadale on Loch Maree and biked north west along the road for a few km towards Loch Bad. At the end, there’s a path on the right which takes you along some great singletrack to Gairloch. 
   

From Gairloch it’s back on the A832 towards Poolewe. Not long after Loch Tollaidh there is a path marked on the right to Slattadale. I thought this was the start of the downhill section but there was still a fair bit of climbing before starting the super techy descent to Loch Maree. This section definitely got the adrenaline flowing! 

This was a good varied route but be prepared for a full on descent! 
  

We’d have been really spoiled if the weather had been perfect all week and our last day provided the alternative side of Scotland with fierce wind, rain and low cloud. We thought we’d give Beinn Dearg a bash and on the walk in passed a few folk who’d given up and were calling it a day. We managed up Beinn Dearg (1081m) but it was hard to stay upright and required full on nav so didn’t feel too wimpy leaving the other tops for another day. Always good to get a reminder of how much we need to respect the outdoor environment and make sure we’re safe/comfortable in all conditions. 

  
   
 
    

 
  

If this week couldn’t get any better by day, it also couldn’t get any better by night. We had 4 nights of aurora in a row, visible with the naked eye from the back of the cottage. Those lights were dancing and so was I. 

Thank you Wester Ross for spoiling us beyond belief.  
   
    
  

Redbull Foxhunt with Rachel Atherton 

I’d managed to get one of the sought after tickets for the Foxhunt – a mass downhill start of 150 women riding down the Pentlands being chased by the World Cup Downhill champ, Rachel Atherton. 
When I rocked up into the car park on Saturday morning, I suddenly felt a bit out of my league; surrounded by some serious bike bling and MTB girls who race. 

I’ve just started doing events this year and had a blast at the Selkirk Mountain Marathon and 10 Under The Ben but this seemed a different level! 

After brekkie, the practise uplifts started and 150 of us were transported in pretty nifty jeeps up the hill before doing a spot of hike a biking to the top of the course. 

I then showed my race naivety by charging down the first practise run, not realising the last feature was a jump with a flat landing and having a spectacular high speed crash. Thankfully I wasn’t part of the group who broke their collar bone.

Lesson 1: scoping out the tricky bits and working out your line is what the practise runs are all about – make the most of it 

We squeezed in another practise run before lunch and then it was time for the ‘seeded’ run where we set off in number order at 30 sec intervals to determine your place on the 150 women grid for the main event. I was surprisingly nervous as my start grew closer. I was fine once I got going but quickly realised my race fitness needs to improve. The intensity of a flat out 5 minute ride is something I’ve not experienced. 

Lesson 2: need to sort out nerves, guess they will get better as I do more races 

Lesson 3: need to work on fitness for this kind of thing. 5 hours out in the mountains is very different to short sharp bursts 

The atmosphere around the village was great – loads of cool folk chatting away and excited about race day. Rachel had been around on the practise runs and kept stopping to give girls tips and encouragement. 

I had to dash off to a party but those who stayed had a yoga session, got some dinner and drinks and watched a MTB film. All very cool. 

A friend texted the seeding results – I hoped to be in the top 50% and came in 29th which a massive surprise and meant starting in row 3. I was super chuffed. Three of us who’d been chumming about all ended up in the same row which was cool. 

Lesson 4: don’t be scared by full face helmets and seriously expensive bikes 

Race day arrived and the sun was shining for us. There was a bit of tactic discussion as the uplift started in reverse seeding order. I wasn’t sure how aggressive and ‘elbows out’ people would be and I certainly didn’t want to knock any of my new chums off their bikes. I did know however that I have a real competitive side, which revealed itself at Selkirk and 10UTB! 

When we got to the top of Caerketton Hill the nerves kicked in big style and it took a wee while for us to get organised into our grid positions. My wheels were almost touching the wheels of the rider in front so there could be some serious carnage. I reckoned the first row would be off like a bullet and I would only really have to worry about the second row and any speedy girls coming through from behind.

The horn went and 150 people funnelled down over the heather to a short steep climb. Thankfully I managed to get a bit of space and got up the climb ok. When I hit the traverse, one of the girls got taken out by another rider just in front of me so needed some quick reaction skills to avoid the crash. The rest was over in a flash and I hadn’t been caught by Rachel! I was super pumped at the finish and there was a lot high fives and whooping going on. What an atmosphere! I finished 23rd which was way above expectations. 

I loved this event and really hope it’s on again next year. I’ve certainly got a few technical skills to work on such as jumps and keeping my knees out a bit. I’m maybe a bit old to launch my racing career but why not?! 

Throughout the weekend we were treated to delicious food from the Loving Food Truck such as Greek yoghurt, stewed apples and flapjack for brekkie, tomato and courgette soup with oat scone and chilli served with flatbread. Definitely my kind of event! 

You can watch Rachel’s headcam as she chases the pack here 
  

  
    

   

  
   
  
  
  
  
  
  
  

Rum Cuillin Ridge

Taking shelter in a cafe in Fort William while rain and hail lashed the windows, lightening illuminated the sky and thunder echoed, we spotted a break in the bleak weather forecast which coincided with the CalMac ferry timetable to Rum. Perfect, we would traverse the Rum Cuillins.

After catching the morning ferry from Mallaig, we were on our way by 12.30pm. Little did we know that 12 hours later we’d be eating our dinner!

We started off following the Allt Slugan a’ Choilich towards Coire Dubh making adjustments to our packs to try and carry the load most efficiently.

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The route up Hallival was fairly straight forward with some easy scrambling which allowed us to get used to having the weight on our backs. With perfect visibility, we were spoiled with views over to the mainland, Skye, Eigg and beyond

After picking our way down Hallival’s rocky slopes, we started the ascent of Askival towards the menacing Pinnacle. 

  
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We all decided to give the harder right hand side a go but soon in, two decided it wasn’t for them and headed round the left hand side. Julie and I continued with the harder scramble which had one move in particular which was slightly tricky with the heavy packs on. 

We lost a lot of height descending to the Bealach an Oir before re-ascending to Trollabhal. We left our packs on the first top and it was a much quicker and easier scramble up to the second top without the weight. We’d read about the importance of taking the right line off Trollabhal (SSE) to avoid the big slabs/crags but route finding was still difficult, despite perfect visibility.

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Ainshval was fairly straightforward. We started going up the right hand grassy side of the ridge line before skirting over to the left. A short steep hike up through the rocks popped us out almost the summit.  

 

We continued on to our last summit, Sgurr nan Gillean, conscious that time was pressing on and my stomach was definitely over energy bars and crying out for some proper food. It would have been nice to camp out but we were out of water. 

The sun dropped setting behind the Outer Hebrides as we picked our way down the north side of Leac a’ Chaisteil, just before Ruinsival, in the dark. 

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It was a bit of a trudge to Harris where we set up camp, had a very late dinner at 12.30am and woke to an amazing still and sunny morning. 

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We were pretty weary so had a bit of a sunbathe where I managed to pick up 10 ticks before heading back along the land rover track through the middle of the island to the Rum Bunkhouse (what a facility!) 

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Rum 2

This was a great trip but despite the amazing weather, route finding was still a little tricky trying to find the easiest way to descend off the tops so take care when visibility isn’t so good! 

There’s still some exploring to do on Rum so hopefully I’ll be back soon.