After two days of fairly sedate weather (for Scotland, in October), this was the really crucial one in terms of avoiding the wildest - nearly 2,000ft of climbing on a single remote road to an isolated coastal village. Heading out early to the West Coast, passing Inverness and then the length of Loch Ness (no sign of the monster sadly) the roads became smaller and smaller past the stunning Loch Maree before finally becoming a one-lane track heading South to Shieldaig. By the time I had finally arrived, the drizzle was just starting to set in, and I was busting for a toilet and cup of coffee in a town made up of a tiny shop, (closed) pub, B&B and a few houses. The shop proved negative for hot drinks or conveniences, but on recommendation I popped into the hotel and was motioned to a roaring fire and presented with a cafetiere of delicious fresh coffee- who says the West coast is remote and wild?! I was even given a local magazine to catch up all of the local news, where I learned about a minor scuffle in a pub on a Friday night, a spot of cattle rustling, and a potted history of Scotland’s innovative and "well-exported food" industry.
Thirst quenched, I prised myself away from the fire and back into the rain to go out and ride. Sluggish at first, the ride hugely picked up as I got a facefull of the incredible scenery en route – although anyone with a vague sense of direction could work out that mountains covered in clouds in the direction you’re about to start travelling isn’t great news
|There's a road in them there hills|
10 miles into the ride and I was greeted by these signs at the bottom of the Bealach-Na-Ba. Nothing like a warm Scottish welcome...
As I stopped to put my rain jacket back on, I could barely stand up in the wind blowing onshore, but fortunately appeared to be the only person to be foolish enough to try this road in this weather so I wasn’t too worried about falling over. On almost all of the climbs I’ve done so far, I’ve made myself ride them without stopping to get the full experience of the thing, before stopping to ponder what exactly it was or to take pictures. However for the Bealach I had been so primed by what I had been told or read that there was little chance of me doing it in one go and giving up the opportunity to get the camera out. So with the number of stops, I wasn’t exactly setting a world record time, but even in pretty atrocious weather it is an absolute blast of a climb which has to be ridden to be experienced, but which you can get a feel for with these pictures:
Even better, once you’ve descended off the tops and down to the tiny village, you will find the Applecross Inn – rated Scotland’s pub of the year in 2012. Not bad for a place that’s tucked well out of the way and with a population of only 238.
|Who says taxidermy has to be anatomically correct?|
|Local pub dog - Irish wolfhounds aren't |
the best for confined spaces
As I had arrived 20 minutes before service, the only decent thing to do was to sink a couple of swift halves of the local ale, and chat to the barkeep (who had to keep rushing off to answer the phone to make bookings for 3 months time – talk about popular). This did mean, however, that I wasn’t the best prepared for the ride back up the coast to the car. As it turns out, the coastal road is a brutal brutal one, with non-stop lumps and bumps to soften-up already soft legs, and a good dousing of wind and rain for measure. When you look at the profile of the ride, these barely register next to the 1,200 ft of the Bealach, but I can definitely tell you that I felt them in my legs. At least there was a rainbow with a pot of gold just around the next bend…although pity I didn’t bring the scuba gear
|Oh so close to the pot of gold|