Down the Great Glen

The SUSTRANS web site is not a favourite of mine.  Usability, particularly on smallish phones, doesn’t appear to have been a priority for the developers.  However, the OS map showed that my route was using NCN 1 into Inverness and bits of NCN 78 onward towards Fort Bill.

The first section, via pleasant lanes to Dingwall was fine but the section between Dingwall and Inverness isn’t great.  It uses cycle paths beside dual carriageways and climbs long, shallow, pleasureless hills through OK scenery.  Till North Kessock I was just making miles.  North Kessock’s promenade and the steep climb on to the bridge were the highlights of this stretch.

Once over the big bridge, I headed for the River Ness and followed it through town.  My intention was to repeat a route I had used back in the 80s down the south side of Loch Ness.  Thanks to heavy traffic on the B862, Dores Road, and a damaged NCN 78 signpost things worked out a little differently.

Rolling stones

You’ll have gathered that I was underwhelmed by the cycling so far.  My opinion was to change.  NCN 78 shows the Great Glen at its best and is well worth researching even if that does mean doing battle with the SUSTRANS website.  NCN 78 avoids the first part of the Dores Road and I wish I had known that as the B862 was busy and fairly narrow.

Where NCN 78 rejoins the road, life improved.  First a cycle path got me off the busy road and then a quiet lane took me away from the traffic.  The lane brought me to a T junction where the NCN signpost had been rotated on its pole.  The obvious route was back to the B862.  It looked as if that way would have me in Dores in just a few minutes.  But there was something about the left turn which drew me on.  Maybe it would offer a quieter route to Loch Ness.

It didn’t.  It climbed beautifully and brutally, through native woodlands and by the McBain Memorial Park, for about 600 feet of ascent.  The top came at a cross roads near Loch Ashie, where a cold headwind made itself known.  A section of moorland brought me back to the B862 high above Dores.  I had no intention of dropping down to the loch, where I had been told that camping was possible.  A littered pitch with fire rings wasn’t what I wanted so I headed on, towards Fort Augustus.

And I might have made it but for some roadworks.  Twenty minute delays were advertised so, after an unsatisfactory conversation with the young man holding up the traffic, I pushed my bike up into a plantation.  Confident that no one else would be visiting my chosen piece of forestry, I found a side track and pitched on it.  Only a roe deer objected.

Forest pitch

The condensation on my tent next morning was astonishing.  Aktos used to have a reputation for internal dampness until backpackers realised the Laser was worse but I had never seen anything like this before.  And the drizzle was surprisingly cold.  The conditions were too much for my camera.  It refused to work, unlike the construction crew, who had been audible since just after dawn.  I snapped a shot of the tent with my phone and headed down to find out how long the road workers were planning to hold me up this time.

Not at all, as it happened.  The light turned green as I reached the road.  However, things still weren’t great.  Outside the forest, the precipitation was sleety and my cycling clothes felt inadequate.  Also, the road works went on for two miles.  I was unable to get between the lights while they were on green and so I had to edge past big machines doing dangerous things.  The arseholes on this project had not given a minute’s thought to cyclists.

At least my anger was warming me up.  The weather improved and the route was brilliant.  Really good scenery.  I rode through Errogie and Whitebridge then up to a summit which I remembered.  Last time here, a coach load of German tourists had cheered my brother and me as he just beat me over the crest.

The Great Glen

The plunge down to Fort Augustus was great fun.  I bought snacks and then headed off along the towpath of the Caledonian Canal.  The riding was easy and the views were gorgeous.  In a car, I have never enjoyed the Great Glen.  NCN 78 is totally different.  Great riding, although the person who designed the gates can’t have had any experience with a loaded touring bicycle.  The gates require lifting the bicycle a good eighteen inches.  I guess they had unladen mountain bikes in mind.

I really enjoyed the ride down to Caol.  Heavy traffic in Fort William needed a lot of care but the last couple of miles down Glen Nevis to the campsite were quiet.  The campsite has improved and grown a lot since my first visit, when a drunken Scot had called, “Lochaber no more,” once every two minutes for the entire night.  The person in reception said they take behaviour seriously nowadays.  Maybe they do.

My thanks to the musical excellence of Snarky Puppy and to the quaffability of Hobgoblin for making this reminiscence possible.




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