06 Barra to Aberdeen Other

Maps 32, 33 & 34 – Bye bye Skye

Glen Shiel

Today was a long day. It began painfully early in the drizzle of South Uist when my alarm went off at 4.20am. Ouch. It was already light; but already wet on the road, too, as I made my way the 4 miles or so to the ferry in Lochboisdale. I was first on and found a quiet place to sleep, which came easily as we pulled out of port. The next I knew it was gone 9am and we were arriving in Mallaig. Result!

The weather in Mallaig seemed a little drier and brighter. I found a cafe and had a cooked breakfast, and then it was time to board my second boat of the day, the 11am departure to Armadale. Half way across the Sound of Sleat, the engines slowed and everyone came out onto the upper decks. The crew had spotted a pair of killer whales! We turned from ferry into wildlife cruise for 15 minutes while the impressive creatures breached for us several times, displaying their long fins above the water. It was really exciting and, apparently, quite a rare sight. How lucky!

The rain was almost gone now; but you still couldn’t see the mountains of Knoydart or Skye. They were shrouded in cloud almost down to the shore, giving just the merest hint of what I knew lay behind. After 3 false starts for closed cafes (sound familiar?) I stopped for a very nice lunch halfway up the Sleat peninsula, before the long ride I knew lay ahead to Fort Augustus, at the foot of Loch Ness. I still had something like 70 miles to go, with all my bags, and it wouldn’t be flat. It was already obvious that taking any route other than the main road over Skye Bridge was off the cards in terms of both time and weather. You have to know when enough is enough – and you have to get there!

I got about 6 more miles further north up the road to Broadford, with the day’s first hint of sun to my left, when suddenly the heavens opened. It rained hard for 5 minutes and I used a large mechanical digger parked by the roadside as the only available shelter to stop and put on my waterproof. So much for being dry. Still, a couple of miles further on was a place I was only too happy to step out of the rain. I had reached the Misty Bottle Whisky and Gin shop, and on a previous pass through Skye I had promised to call in again. If you are ever in these parts, you must do the same. It is a wonderful little place in what used to be the post office in Breakish village on the main A87 east of Broadford. I was very kindly rewarded for stopping with a sample of locally brewed beer, which I always find makes me cycle faster. Thanks Craig.

The rain stopped and I pressed on. I crossed over the spectacular Skye Bridge one last time – my 4th by bike (plus 2 by car) since May, such is the tricky nature of this trip – and descended into Kyle of Lochalsh. I fancied my first coffee of the day before taking on the serious miles, and actually doubled back when I saw a small place advertising Non-award winning coffee and free experimental gin tasting. Really?

Well, the coffee was excellent; but that was just the start. This shop “Isle of Skye Experimental Spirits” (and its sister cafe in nearby Plockton, both offshoots of Broadford distillery) has a most unusual business model. They stock 100’s of different gins – including their own – and whiskies, and you can taste as many as you like for nothing! You get a tiny amount in a shot glass; but in theory, you could go through the whole shop. Weirdly, they can’t sell you a large bottle of anything you try. You have to purchase a miniature (there is a choice of sizes) and the price you pay is based on a colour coding system. In theory it is a chance to sample some very expensive whisky, such as Octomore (made by Bruichladdich), which is “super heavily peated” and sells in my local shop for something like £140. But I stuck to gin and tried at least seven very different types, all locally made. Their model worked on me and I made a small purchase. Guilt alone must play a part. But I came away feeling like we both won.

It was now 4pm. I needed to stop drinking and start cycling! For the next 2 hours I followed the main A87 road along the beautiful shores of Loch Alsh and Loch Duich, past the iconic Ilean Donan Castle on its small island, linked by a stone bridge. Soon after, the settlements ran out and I was climbing the narrow Glen Sheil, rising slowly between steep sided mountains, their upper parts invisible in the table cloth of cloud, the lower slopes coursed by many waterfalls.

Eilean Donan castle

At the highest point, the sun suddenly appeared and some of the mountains revealed their full height, any bare rock glowing wet in the sunshine. It was glorious while it lasted. These mountains were tall, but mostly green, and visibly rocky only close to their summit ridges, even on the steepest faces. It was as if someone had covered everything from the valley floor to the highest peaks with yellowy-green fuzzy felt (remember that?). There were no stone walls or changes in colour to break up the uniform appearance. It was all very different to the bare, rocky mountains of the Hebrides.

In the highest, loneliest spot, somewhere around the watershed, stands the well-appointed Cluanie Inn. It is about half way between my previous stop in Kyle and my final destination, and may well be my only chance for dinner. It was about 6.15pm and I took it!

Fully refreshed, I set off on the remaining 30 miles in settled, dry weather and discovered to my delight that it was almost entirely downhill to Invermoriston, on the shores of Loch Ness. After 15 miles, it became less mountainous and more reminiscent of the Scottish Borders, with a long, green river valley, a wide empty main road, areas of forestry and not much else. I had it to enjoy by myself and coasted along at speed. The last 6 miles were along the shores of Loch Ness itself. After this morning’s whale sightings, I wondered if I might spot something on the broad surface of this impressive body of water. But, as ever, Nessie was nowhere to be seen.

I finished the ride at 9pm. A long day. I’m sleeping tonight in my own caravan! It has everything I need and it’s quite cosy. No special rush in the morning, which is how I like it. A dry day is forecast. That would be nice. It really doesn’t feel much like July. I’m saving on sun cream, though!

One reply on “Maps 32, 33 & 34 – Bye bye Skye”

Wow, 4.20am is a very early start – well done you! Nice to see the back of Skye I would think. Amazing to see the Orcas. Hope you have a dry day.

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