The weather today did just about the exact opposite to yesterday. That is to say it rained when it had been dry yesterday, and was dry when it had rained. I had some clue this would be the case (it’s called the weather forecast), so I planned for as late a departure from Inverary as I felt I could reasonably risk, namely half past twelve. That was easily achieved because hostel checkout time was 10am, which I narrowly missed, and then I breakfasted grandly at the highly recommended Brambles Cafe in Inverary’s well proportioned High Street. A couple of emails and a change of shoes later, and the small town, or large village, was bathed in pale, watery, intermittent sunshine. All things come to those who wait. Had you therefore been waiting for more rain to follow the sun, you would not have been disappointed. But it was fairly pathetic rain, to be honest, and I didn’t even bother putting on my waterproof to ride.
Inverary is a planned town, rebuilt mostly between 1770 and 1800. Most of its whitewashed Georgian buildings are considered to be of architectural merit. It isn’t very large at all; but it pervades a sense of importance beyond its size. Inverary Castle, from the same period, is the ancestral home of the Duke of Argyll. The church, with its large square tower, stands above the rooftops of the town. It contains a peal of 10 bells and you can climb the tower for the views of Loch Fyne and the surrounding mountains. I would have enjoyed that if there was anything to see; but today was certainly not the day for such activities. Unless you like looking at white clouds.
The ride started with several level miles along the lochside until it finally ran out. Then I began to climb. This road, the A83, crosses a mountain pass called ”Rest and be Thankful” before dropping down again to the top of pretty and fjord-like Loch Long at Arrochar, and then a quick up and over the small isthmus of land to the west shore of Loch Lomond at Tarbet, half way up its length. The climb was long but the gradient was forgiving. It wasn’t terribly busy with traffic. But the weather got worse the higher I went and it was raining full on in the higher reaches. I reached Tarbet half an hour ahead of boarding time for the last water bus across to Inversnaid Hotel, 3 miles north on the opposite shore. That gave me time for a coffee by the pier, while I watched the father of a family of five gamely sit on the grass and cook a barbecue lunch in the drizzle, their picnic table fully laid out. None of them wore coats and the father spent the whole time talking to someone on his phone while he cooked. They were still at it 30 minutes later when the boat arrived.
It wasn’t really a conventional ferry, more a tourist boat cruise that stopped for anyone not wanting to return. Getting my bike aboard was quite a kerfuffle and I can only guess how people manage with their heavy e-bikes. The prices were a little steeper than Calmac’s heavily subsidised fares, too. But beggars can’t be choosers, and I did get to spend 45 minutes on a pleasant cruise of Loch Lomond, Britain’s largest lake by area. Before the end of it, the last remnants of rain had given up and shafts of sunlight lit up parts of the surrounding hills.
I had a quick pint at the Inversnaid Hotel in the walkers’ bar. They keep us dirty, smelly folk away from the fancy carpeted interior where the tourists stay. I don’t blame them. Our simpler surroundings are much easier to keep clean. They have a porch for boots and coats even before you get this far in. There are many walkers passing by because it is on the West Highland Way, a very popular long distance footpath. Right next to the hotel, the River Snaid comes crashing down into Loch Lomond as a spectacular set of waterfalls. After the recent rain, they were in full spate.
My only way forward was up a steep climb east from the hotel on a small road that leads in a few miles to another large and beautiful body of water, Loch Katrine. When it is not under repair, you can go for a ride on the historic Sir Walter Scott steamship, which has cruised the loch since 1900. The history of this Victorian steamship is interesting. It was built in sections in Dumbarton. The sections were then floated on barges up Loch Lomond to Inversnaid where they were offloaded and then dragged up the steep hill to Loch Katrine by teams of horses. The ship was then finally assembled on the shores of Loch Katrine and launched into the water at Stronachlachar pier, where the road ends.
There are Victorian waiting rooms by the pier at Stronachlachar, now converted into a very nice cafe, where I had a quick pot of Earl Grey. I have distant memories of my only other visit here when I was about 14. We were on a family camping holiday which, as was often the case, featured violent storms in the Lake District and the near terminal collapse of our trailer tent. My Dad and I gamely stayed in the tent for another night while the rest of the family transferred to a nearby cottage where my mum’s younger sister and husband were living. My uncle made a comment to my Dad about not being mean and paying for a bed and breakfast at our next intended camping location, in The Trossachs. This must have hit a sensitive spot, because, uncharacteristically, he did! In the same B&B was a sheep farmer from Skipton in North Yorkshire (or Skeepton as he pronounced it). He rambled on loudly in the residents’ lounge about “200 head of sheep” and how children should give their elders ”no backchat”. It was during one of these memorable and oft repeated conversations that the owner told us we really ought to visit Stronachlachar, because – and I quote – it had ”very nice toilets”. So we did. I mean, we went to see the loch and the mountains as well, obviously; but the toilets were a major talking point and extra incentive.
Now I should stress that all of this took place at least 40 years ago; but I was fascinated to know if the toilets were still such a draw. After all the beer and tea, I certainly had reason to be curious. I can confidently report that the Gents, at least, are not worth going out of the way to see. They do still have 2 original Shanks porcelain hand basins; but that is where the interest ends. Oh well. Another memory shattered. While I was conducting my historical research, the plumbing in the adjacent cafe failed in a spectacular way, causing water to gush all over the kitchen floor and the electricity circuits to trip. Coincidence?
The ride from here to my end point in Dunblane became ever more gentle. The first 10 miles or so to Aberfoyle, an inland resort, passed along the side of pretty, smaller lochs, some with large, well appointed half-timbered and stone built houses overlooking their banks, with manicured lawns and their own small boathouse. Then the country became less hilly as I drew closer to Stirling and more populated parts of the country.
I was hungry when I reached Dunblane and sat out in the pretty town centre by the small river to eat fish and chips. I had a good view from here of Dunblane Cathedral, an ancient and noble edifice whose clock was telling the wrong time. I’ll have to tell Sir Andy Murray, or his mum, Judy, to get it sorted. They come from here and I imagine they get listened to.
One final observation: despite its cathedral, I saw no obvious claim to city status here in modest Dunblane. I did see a few estate agent’s boards bearing the name ”Cathedral City Estates”; but I expect they are a Brechin based company.