Nine days on the bike; It was with the tense precision of a Romanian gymnast that I lowered my posterior onto the saddle this morning. The heavy beat of rain drumming onto the campervan through the night had woken me a couple of times and I felt grumpy.
By 7.30 it was clear. The stream adjacent to our campervan gurgled and hissed, the grass dancing along it's bank. The pine trees were fragrant; sweet and fresh, the sunlight passing through them casting jewels of brightness onto the ground. There are red squirrels in these parts (didn't see one), toadstools (nope), grouse (er, not today) and deer (saw one!) and the occasional man in a kilt.
We got going at about 9.00am - heading up towards Glen Coe. This one was going to be massive. Not long after we set off we nodded to three cyclists heading towards us, soon there was a further group of eight or so, then another ten. For the next hour there was a constant procession of cyclists heading South towards Glasgow. They all had numbers so we knew it was some kind of organised event. We passed into Glen Coe climbing constantly and consistently. The high hills were shrouded in a veil of rolling mist, we were pedalling through an anthem's worth of scenic wonder. This remote landscape, dazzlingly beautiful, forests of pine, heather and misty glens with a backdrop of mighty hills alongside glittering waterfalls and tumbling rocks.
And then, as if to add to the effect, and with perfect timing, came a distant haunting sound, reedy and strained. At first I thought it was Gary wheezing as he made his way up the slopes, but no, it was a Highland Piper - in the full costume, sporran, kilt, plaid, those white spats... We pulled in. Gary became immediately tearful - and I have to admit - it did bring a lump to my throat. I know it sounds corny, but out there, in that atmosphere, it worked like magic. We were high up now, standing on an outcrop looking back down the valley. It wasn't difficult to imagine this scene 250 years ago - the Highlanders would have been up here looking down on the approaching Redcoat army... We had a chat with the piper - he seemed a nice man, but he complained of a coach load of Japanese tourists who had lined up for photos and videos but didn't add a single penny to his collection pot. I quickly threw in a fiver and got Gary to take a photo.
All this time the cyclists were still tipping down the mountain. There seemed no end to them. We carried on upwards, slowly, steadily, painfully. We spotted a couple of the numbered riders at the side of the road and we pulled in to find out what was going on. The first thing one of them said as we stopped was: "I'm not sharing my banana" They told us they were riding The Deloitte Challenge - John O'Groats to Lands End in 9 days. There were about 650 of them and they'd set off 3 days ago. They were riding 120 miles per day the whole thing supported by motor cycle outriders, caterers, medics and mechanics, not to mention the complete tented village that each day has to be assembled and dissasembled, rigged with tents, beds, toilets and showers... for 650 - An event like that will succeed or fail based on its plumbing and waste management efficiency. Imagine you are rider 649 getting into camp - will there be hot water?... food?... and what condition will the lavatory be in?
The two guys we met were of the type who 'thrust ahead of the curve', at the cutting edge, cool, 24/7 city whizz kids. Their mission, as I imagined it, was to show the world the one-upmanship associated with the best carbon fibre that money can buy - and the finest, most expensive lycra apparel, not to mention their top of the range waterproofs. This was a bankers bonus on full display. I wondered if they had experienced problems with their waterproof glove? Unlikely I suppose, for surely they were wearing humanely reared SealSkin gloves - no harpoons for them!
As we were wishing them well and about to depart something strange occurred. From out of nowhere an old man appeared. Grey, with a small moustache, he had a vague likeness to Hitler, perhaps a distant relative. And he was German. He broke into the conversation and with a full-on, Colditz guard accent, informed us that there was an excellent photo opportunity just along the road. It transpired that this gentleman had been visiting Glen Coe every few years for the past thirty or so. He came to look at, and photograph, a Rowan Tree that was growing maybe 20 yards from where we were standing. "Ze tree, it growz from ze Rock, not ze earth" he said frantically gesticulating towards it - "From ze rock!!" - he was excited now. We had a look and it was true. The tree was indeed growing straight out of a rock - its trunk rising straight and true from the absolute centre of it. Quite amazing.
We finally got away and headed into Glen Coe village where we stopped for lunch - then we were off again with Fort William our next destination. By now the weather was brighter and warmer, at last the June air seemed to have been clotted with the intoxification of summer. We met in the centre of Fort William and had a brief wander around, took a few photos, all a bit touristy really. We forged onwards to Spean Bridge. Now the weather had turned nasty again, the rain was stinging my face like riding through a swarm of wasps - it was grim, but at the same time invigorating. I felt alive, free and so happy to be in such a wonderful place, it reminded me of a Turner painting; gritty and misty, grey and brown, muted and swirling it was rain, steam and speed in real life.
|The Commando memorial|
The place seemed deserted on arrival, no sign of life at all. We stood around for a while and spotted a ramshackle house in a far corner reached by some steep steps. Gary went to the door, a woman with brown bobbed hair answered the door and came out to show us our pitch. She had the squint-eyed, tuber features of the north...
'Do you have WiFi?' Gary asked...
'WiFi?... WiFi?, what's WiFi' she answered... 'We have devil worship on a Monday, goat sacrificing on Wednesday's, but I n'er heard o' WiFi'.
Well she didn't actually say that, but it was definitely what she should have said - it was that sort of place.
Tyndrum to Spean Bridge - 59.5 miles
Max Speed: 25.7mph
Time on bike: 4hrs 46 mins
Calories used: 3144