Having stayed the night in Fort William, this was to be a proper driving day to cover off the rest of the Scottish climbs. With a little bit more time, I’m sure there would have been some lovely riding here, but as it was I had sadly reached a part of Scotland with mobile signal and 3G, meaning I was already fielding calls from work so the priority was getting the things done before reality came back to bite any harder…
First up after a few hours in the car (and some very slow driving around Loch Lomond), I arrived at the foot of a very rainy ‘Rest and be Thankful’. Surprisingly, I wasn’t too happy to be getting out of the warm enclave of the Audi
|Not a happy bunny|
The climb? Well, it was long, and not particularly hard. A bit like someone cranking up the gradient every 500m or so, and a surprisingly disappointing summit with views back down onto the highway road through the valley. Going down was interesting, given that the road had essentially turned into a river. That said, I’d love to go back to the Trossachs and do some proper riding – there looked to be lots of lovely tiny forested roads through the hills that I could happily spend all day wiling away on.
|Cloudy, wet, unpleasant - Rest and be Thankful|
|Rivers of water on the descent|
Next up on the list was Mennock’s Pass – another couple of hours away by car, and requiring a trip through the centre of Glasgow. Joy.
Putting your cold, wet kit on while parked up in a layby and busting for a pee should hopefully show to you all that I’m dedicated to getting this challenge done and dusted. Is there a worse feeling that dank wet socks? Fortunately things started to look up as soon as I got onto the Pass – a glorious vista opened up on a silky smooth road snaking its way through a valley. Not so much a climb as an experience, I would wholeheartedly encourage everyone to do this climb once in their lives. Perhaps it was the sunshine that had come out. Maybe the picture perfect U-shaped valley. The lack of traffic may have been a significant factor. Or maybe just the friendly cows grazing by the size of the road – I like cows. Annoyingly, there was a headwind. Something about this trip meant that wind seemed to be attracted to me. I can only hope that doesn’t extend to social situations and everyday life, otherwise that could be annoying/smelly.
|Mennocks Pass - what a road!|
The last bit out of the valley steepens up and finishes just past the highest village in Scotland,
|Wanlockhead - just in case you didn't believe me|
Descending was a joy – steadily getting faster and faster and taking the bends on the inside (risky, but no traffic and a certain sense of giddiness got the better of me) and left me on the last hill in Scotland only wanting more. I will definitely be back to explore the area.
With a bit of time before I had to be at my next stop, I decided to take a risk and try to ‘pop’ down to Northumberland to ride Winter’s Gibbet – a hill I’d neglected to ride the last time I was there, and one which is annoyingly far from anywhere convenient. Satnav said over two hours to destination, but then I laugh in the face of Satnav predicted times. Or at least I hope so, otherwise I’d be climbing in the dark…
Overtaking at a magnificent rate, the Audi was a joy to drive, aided by a drum ‘n’ bass soundtrack (usually reserved for hardcore sessions in the gym) and a lunch of chocolate raisins. I arrived in the tiny village of Elsdon just as the calm of the evening was settling in, and the light was fading – time to get riding. After a bit of high level orienteering, I promptly spied the road uphill and sped out the catch the last hill of the trip:
Winter’s Gibbet is so-named due to the rather morbid gallows that marks the peak – complete with noose. What you may notice from those pictures is a lack of noose. Which is because my rather basic orienteering wasn’t great – in fact I had managed to ride in completely the wrong direction and up the wrong hill. Which is great because I’d spent a while at the top looking for the Gibbet, and taking pictures of the clouds, as the light faded away…
|"Oh Look! A Bee!"|
So as it turned out, I was to climb the spookiest climb of the book in the fading dusk – on my own. Not being one for horror movies, I’d be lying if I said that the hairs weren’t standing on end as I approached the completely silent and abandoned hilltop in view of the noose. So the only thing for it was to pull some stupid faces:
|What an idiot|
The hill itself was challenging without being leg-breaking. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled with great hills, but it wasn’t up there in the pantheon of the best.
After that, it was time to pay penance for all that desparate light-chasing driving: I’d been so intent on overtaking and getting to Elsdon on time that I didn’t want to pull over and fill the petrol tank (why gain 5 minutes getting ahead of a slow moving tractor only to stop and end up back in the queue again). But now it was a game of “how far can you drive with the petrol warning indication flashing” vs “how far away is the nearest petrol station”. I didn’t fancy being stuck on the Northumberland tops in the pitch black and worsening weather. Fortunately, I’m here to tell the tale, which is another way of saying I didn’t spend the night in the car hiding from axe-wielding nutters (Rather, I was holed up at Grandma’s house, throwing a ball for a rather nutty highland terrier – quite the contrast)