08 June 2024 – Lake Vyrnwy and Bala


We were back in Aberdovey for another family get together, along with our bikes of course. Over our previous visits, we have discovered most of the local roads, so I was looking for somewhere a bit further off to explore. There were also a couple of extra considerations to take into account while route planning…

Firstly, was Colette’s wrist. She had broken it when riding into a giant pothole in February, and now, four months later, it was still giving her problems. After a couple of hours cycling, even wearing a splint, it would start to get painful. So we couldn’t go for much more than that, even with a lunch break factored in.

Secondly, we had to take the range of her e-bike into account. That would be about 45 miles distance or 3000 ft of elevation, whichever came first, in order to leave a bit of charge in reserve for emergencies.

Reading somewhere that Lake Vyrnwy was considered to be Wales’s most beautiful lake, it looked like a good destination. The plan was to ride there from Llanuwchllyn, do a loop of the lake including a stop near the dam for lunch, then retrace our steps to the start. According to the route planer, that would be come in at approximately 30 miles distance and 2900 ft of elevation. Perfect!

On arriving at Llanuwchllyn, we parked near the little railway that runs 4.5 miles alongside Lake Bala to the town of Bala. We had a nosey around the station, then set off on our ride.

Fairly quickly, we hit a steep ramp going out of the village, before turning right onto a single track road. This was steep in places too, as it undulated for the first couple of miles. We then hit the climb proper just as it started raining. I stopped and put on my waterproof, then we cycled on through lightly wooded hillside. Just as we left the trees behind, the rain stopped and the sun illuminated a stunning view of the steep-sided little valley, with a farm nestling in the centre. 

After photos, we carried on upwards, with the gradient staying steady till close to the top, when it ramped up a bit more. At the top, we stopped for a mini-snack before heading down the other side.

A 17% gradient sign heralded a steep descent, from which we took a left turn after a few hundred yards, while the “main” road appeared to plummet even steeper into the valley beyond.

Our turnoff took us on an undulating narrow ribbon of road across exposed moorland, before dropping down into a valley. We had been benefitting from a tailwind so far, and I wondered how hard it would be climbing back up after our visit to the lake. 

The descent to Lake Vyrnwy continued in steep steps, gravelly in some places, and by the time we got to the bottom, I was seriously not looking forward to going back up! We had arrived at a junction at the lakeside, where we were intending going anticlockwise towards our lunch stop. There was also a sign pointing left saying Bala was just 10 miles away.

Lake Vyrnwy

That got me thinking about an alternative, where we would head to Bala for a later than planned lunch, followed by the short cycle back alongside the lake. I tried my best to plan out the alternative route with the available “G”s and it came out as less elevation than our original plan. It was decided then, it surely couldn’t be as hard as the way we came.

So we ended up not doing the full circle of the lake. To be honest, we couldn’t see much of it was we rode along, just glimpses through the trees. I’m fairly sure you would need a drone for the best views. At least we had a respite of a mile or so of completely flat riding on the clockwise route round the lake till we reached the Bala turnoff.

The road was again single track, but with a few more passing places than our road in, and with a fair bit more traffic. It started off easily but soon we hit some hard kickers of climbs. Stopping for oncoming traffic on those steep sections made it impossible to get going again, so both Colette and I were forced to push for a short distance.

One good thing about our hastily revised route was that we were going through woods for most of the climbing, which meant we hardly felt any headwind. The uphill finally ended just as we came out of the woods, leaving us a long, easy descent to Bala, with the exception of a really steep ramp at Rhos-y-gwaliau.

When we reached Bala, the sun was shining and the place was full with Saturday afternoon cyclists. We stopped at a cafe and had a tasty, filling and pretty inexpensive lunch. Wales definitely is a more pocket-friendly place to visit than Scotland!

After lunch, we rode back out of town and past the Bala railway station as we turned onto the B4403. This road made for an easy short ride back to the car, running alongside the tracks and even giving us a view of the train as it passed, and Lake Bala beyond.

As we reached the end of the ride, Colette’s bike was flashing red, which she found quite alarming, but by the time we reached the car, there was still 18% left from a full charge at the start. This was the most charge that she has used on a single ride. The climbing had been quite taxing at times, but using the e-bike made it possible to contemplate this route, which would have been a big no-no on her normal bike.

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18 May 2024 – Dawyck for photos


This particular Saturday had a great forecast, and with so much wet weather recently, we made sure to spend it out on the bike. As to deciding exactly where to go, we didn’t have much of a problem with that, as Oliver had a race in the Peebles area, and we volunteered to take photos.

The race in question was the Peebles CC 55 mile road race, for category 3/4 riders. As Oliver has only just started racing, he is on the lowest rung, category 4. He needs a few good finishes, or maybe even a win, to get him the requisite points to move up to the next category. He had a good feeling about this one, as the more experienced cat 2 riders were excluded from entering, giving him a better chance of a good finishing place.

The race itself covered two and a bit circuits of a larger 22 mile lap starting at Broughton, followed by one and a bit laps of a smaller circuit, ending in a climb up the narrow road to Dreva.

I devised a plan to ride down towards the route from Peebles, where if everything went to plan, we should get four opportunities to snap photos as the racers went past. So we started off from the car park at the west side of Peebles, heading west at first, then turning southwest onto the Stobo road. I was riding my gravel bike, mainly for the carrying capacity of the saddlebag for our picnic, and Colette was on her Ribble e-bike.

We were lucky that she was able to ride the e-bike, which is now her preferred bike, as it developed a fault recently. The hub had began sounding very rough indeed, which was disappointing as it is only 6 months old, with minimal use, due to Colette herself being out of action for over two months with her broken wrist. To be fair, Ribble did say they were willing to consider a repair under warranty due to the low mileage, but we simply didn’t have the time to box it up and send it off for an unspecified period of time, as we had planned cycles coming up.

All the repair shops we called had at least 3 week waiting lists, so I decided to have a go at replacing it myself. It wasn’t cheap, at £80 for the replacement hub and another £80 for the tool to replace it, but with a bit of effort and some patience I managed to fix it. Phew! Worth it to have the bike back up and running so quickly.

Anyway, we were on our way to meet up with the race when we saw the first of the motorbike outriders coming towards us. We had reached the entrance to Stobo castle, so we stopped and got the iphones out. As the peloton arrived at top speed (there was no breakaway at this point), I tried to take photos in burst mode, while Colette took successive live pictures.  My attempt failed, while Colette was more successful. I had been so concerned about taking the photos that I didn’t even realise that Oliver was on the front of the bunch! Live photos for me next time…

We carried on past Dawyck then through Drumelzier, and stopped on the bend at the top of the climb from the bridge just beyond. The climb would slow down the racers enough to get the best quality photos. As we were waiting, we were joined by another woman whose son was in the race, and later by another rider who had done the race the year before, but was just watching for his friend this time. Both of them remarked how much better the weather was this year than at last year’s event.

Come on Ollie!

When the race arrived, we were ready with our phones, and I managed to ring a cow bell and cheer at the same time as taking successive live photos. Oliver was part of a two man breakaway, with the rest not too far behind. Our photos turned out great!

Next, we carried on down the hill, over the bridge and maybe a half mile further on before turning right onto the small road from Dreva that forms the final part of the race. We had plenty of time to climb the few miles up to the finishing point and enjoy the stunning views in perfect sunshine.

Tweed Valley looking splendid

When we got to the finishing line, there were marshalls getting everything ready. Colette and I stopped just before the finish line and propped our bikes next to a gate, before climbing over and having our picnic in the field. We were wondering whether Oliver and his companion had managed to make their breakaway stick. In fact, they did get a good gap, but then it gradually got clawed back when they hit a long flat section into the headwind, so they went back to the bunch. Oliver then got involved in another two-man breakaway later on, and they were in a good position with 10 miles to go when they were told to stop. The race had to be halted due to lack of emergency medical cover. There had been some minor crashes in the bunch and then a major unrelated traffic accident that had called on the services of the first aider. With an air ambulance being called for an injured motorbiker, the first aider had to stay and wait, and ultimately the race was cancelled.

That was such a disappointment for Oliver, as he was confident of a good finish, or maybe even the win. It was quite the anticlimax for us too, as Colette and I rode back to the car park at Peebles. However, we still had the photos to go through later, and Oliver was able to send lots of great action shots to the other guys in the race. He also has quite a few more races on the calendar in the coming months, so hopefully it won’t be too long before he starts racking up some points.


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27 March 2024 – Sa Calobra with Oliver, take 2


Ever since last year’s trip to Mallorca and Oliver’s first attempt at the Sa Calobra climb, he has been keen to come back and try it again. This time he set himself the challenge to become one of the elite few (hundred) Strava users who have completed the monstrous climb in under 30 minutes. To put that in perspective, there are over 139, 000 who haven’t reached this milestone.

To achieve this goal, Oliver has focussed closely on his fitness, training and nutrition, as well as garnering a host of super lightweight components to build up into an ultra-light climbing bike. Now we just had to get him to the bottom and let him go for it.

On the allotted day, we took a pre-booked taxi from our hotel to the aqueduct at the orange juice shack, a few miles short of Sa Calobra village. It was quite chilly after we exited the taxi, with damp patches on the road from some overnight rain that hadn’t yet dried out.

We set off at our own pace on the shorter Coll dels Reis climb on the inland side. I joined up with Oliver at the top, where I handed him a bag and he got rid of all kit that wasn’t absolutely necessary for his attempt into it, then stashed it in some long grass. 

The descent then started, making sure to keep it safe, and I stopped here and there for some photos. It was warmer, unsurprisingly, at the bottom compared with the top, and it looked like a lovely sunny day. We took off our descending outer layers, and I carried Oliver’s for him. I was going to carry his phone too, to relieve him of a bit of extra weight, until he realised that he wouldn’t be able to listen to music as he cycled, which was important.

At 10.05, after a final couple of photos, he was off, with me not too far behind. Then we passed the actual start of the climb and he accelerated into the distance. I pressed the lap button to keep an eye on the time, and also to monitor my own average watts during the climb, as it would be nice for me to try and beat my own personal best time as well.

At the steep part just before the viewpoint layby about a mile or so in, I had to push quite hard and noticed my average going over just over 200 watts. I thought if I could average over 190, I would stand a chance of a PB, so I was hopeful. 

The climb was pleasant in that it was sunny, but not too hot, the views were awesome as ever, there was very little traffic of any sort due to an early start, and I wasn’t finding it too much of a slog keeping the watts on target. 

I noticed the time creep up to 30 minutes on my timer then carry on to 32 and more. I wondered whether Oliver had made it, then a WhatsApp came in saying just “29.02”. He had done it, YESSSS.

I carried on with my effort, and although the watts were flagging a bit, I thought I still had enough to get my PB. At something like 45 minutes in, Oliver appeared on the descent, before turning round and catching me up. He then started with the words of encouragement, a bit like a sergeant major. It was effective though.

Rounding the steepest hairpin. Photo taken by Mallorca Cycling Photos.

After reaching the big “tie knot” turn and getting in sight of the long last straight, he shouted “Come on – 250 watts all the way to the top.” To which I gasped “I can only manage 210!”

However, when I looked down at my Wahoo, it was reading more like 250! The average started creeping up towards the high 190s. Then at the end I just went for it, seeing that I might just break 54 minutes. And I did: 53.39. Beating my old PB of 58.25.

Celebratory sub-30 minute photo!

Once I got my breath back, we headed back down to the aqueduct and we got ourselves coffees. I also thought I deserved a slice of an interesting looking chocolate waffle cake which turned out to be delicious and came with a gratuitous bounty bar balanced on top. Strange, but good!

Next we carried on past the Repsol garage and started the descent to Caimari. We were very much going against the flow, with hordes of cyclists coming up the way, and cars trying to overtake. There was one bus going the same way as us, which got stuck at a hairpin, waiting for four oncoming cars. We took advantage of a hiatus in proceedings as they looked at each other and nipped past the stationary bus. If we had waited, it would have been a very tedious descent, heavy on the brake blocks.

After Caimari, we headed for Campanet. Then Oliver decided he wanted to have a blast along the valley road, so we agreed to meet up at Bar 1919 in Puerto Pollensa for lunch.

I got there and looked for him, but Oliver wasn’t there yet. So I got a table and ordered a Coke. Oliver arrived a few minutes later, after following a bit of a detour. We ordered lunch: a chicken baguette for Oliver, and the usual for me: club sandwich.

Oliver’s meal arrived and he got started on it, but mine didn’t appear. We saw loads of club sandwiches arriving at nearby tables but not ours. It turned out they had somehow forgotten mine. Oliver was keen to get on and do more miles, and that had been my initial inclination too, but now I was scunnered. We just paid, then Oliver went his own way and I just bought a ham and cheese baguette from the Spar, which I took to my room to eat, and then relax with a beer. I was happy enough with my day and didn’t really need to do any more.

In the meantime, Oliver headed back the way and did the Coll de Sa Batalla climb, earning himself the accolade of 2nd fastest of the day, to go alongside his fastest of the day on the Sa Calobra climb. Not a bad day’s cycling I’d say.

Oh, and just to round things off, Oliver’s estimated time of 29.02 turned out to be officially 29.01. He was so close to breaking the 29 minute barrier, which did sting a little, until he remembered how much of an achievement his new PR was. Holding an average of 345 watts on that climb was epic!

Nerdy technical supplement

Oliver thought it would be a good idea to add some extra info for the benefit of anyone else who finds this and is targetting a PB on the Sa Calobra climb, specifically the sub-30 minute goal.

The general consensus is that you need to be able to hold 5 w/kg to beat the 30 minute barrier on Sa Calobra. There weren’t any 2000+ ft climbs locally to try that out on before going to Mallorca, but he had done that on Zwift, so the goal seemed achievable, barring some unforeseen incident, like getting stuck behind traffic (which was why we got there early). So the focus was on getting the watts up high enough and the weight low enough to make the equation come out to the magic 5. He made sure to be as aero as possible on the climb, and then everything else was in the lap of the gods.

  1. WATTS – Oliver’s Garmin recorded an average of 345 W for the duration of the climb. Checking out his power meter pedals against his Wahoo turbo trainer before the trip, showed they were reading about 1.8% lower. These results are within the stated accuracy from the manufacturers, so it is impossible to know exactly, but he might well have been averaging as much as 351 W in reality. So his w/kg average range was 4.9-5.0.
  2. KILOS – On the morning of the ride, Oliver weighed himself on the luggage scales in reception at our hotel, getting some strange looks into the bargain. All his kit was meticulously weighed too, so here is his list for the weight weenie fraternity… 
    Body weight: 70.25kg
    Bike weight as ridden including bottle with approx 100ml of carb mix: 6.6kg
    Kit weight…
    Shoes: 665g including heavy but comfy G8 insoles (100g)
    Helmet: 265g
    Glasses: 25g
    Bib shorts: 190g
    Jersey: 105g
    Aero arm warmers: 48g
    Aero socks: 50g
    Whoop: 28g
    iPhone: 262g
    Shokz open run headphones: 27g
  3. THE WIND – We definitely benefited from a tailwind but exactly how much is hard to know. Oliver sent this myWindsock data for the climb.  
  4. And lastly, for any more info, here is a link to his Strava activity


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23 January 2024 – Port de Bernia


Colette and I settled on the Costa Blanca as our winter cycling destination this year, and chose the Cap Negret at Altea as our hotel. We had been there once before in 2017, but it has been refurbished since, and we were keen to check out the revamped cycle facilities. Colette was also hoping the food quality had improved since last time, as she didn’t have too good memories of that aspect.

Well, when we arrived, it turned out that 10 cycling teams were already in residence and the bike storage spaces were completely used up. Luckily we were allowed to take our bikes up to our room and assembled them on the balcony. Note to anyone thinking of coming here at this time of year – make sure you have all the tools to put together your bike, and ideally bring a track pump, as you probably won’t get access to the hotel cycle zone.

After getting the bikes together, we just had enough time before dark to visit the local supermercado for essentials. Next, we got a chance to check out dinner, which starts serving at a cyclist friendly 6.30 pm. Maybe it was just for the benefit of the visiting cycle teams, but the quality of the food was so much better than we remembered, with plenty of choice. Even the desserts were tasty – none of those eye-catching but completely tasteless slices of cake that we’ve had elsewhere. 

If you like rubbing shoulders with pro cyclists at the buffet, then this is the time to go. We were particularly excited to recognise the Trek Baloise Lions at a table close to us, but made a point of not bothering them during their dinner time. Or maybe we were just a bit too starstruck!

Our first day was marred with a bit of rain to start with, but it never got too bad and then stopped completely about lunch time, but we didn’t venture too far from base in case it got bad.

The race passing Colette on the Coll de Rates

The next day, we took the tram to Gata de Gorgos and rode back over Coll de Rates. I decided to see it I could beat my personal best up the climb, only to be pulled over by police close to the top, in order to let a pro bike race pass through. It was the “Classica Communitat Valenciana 1969” and in the end, was won by top sprinter Dylan Groenewegen of Team Jayco AlUla.

Sunday was a day of rest, since we had bought tickets to see the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup race in Benidorm. It was a complete fluke that we’d booked the week that included this race, but since we’ve been avid watchers of the cyclo-cross for the past few winters, it wasn’t an opportunity that we could pass up!

We took the tram and arrived during the junior men’s race. After buying some obligatory souvies, we found ourselves a good spot, unfurled the Scotland flag and made ourselves as comfortable as possible. The flag was in honour of Cameron Mason, who we were cheering for, although to be honest, we cheered for everyone, especially those we recognised.

From top left, clockwise: Me with chopped up hot dogs and bacon on fries!; Colette sporting the flag; Michael Vanthourenhout; Wout van Aert (eventual winner)

We enjoyed the atmosphere and all the racing, apart from the moment when Cameron crashed in front of us. I hope we didn’t put him off. There’s no need for me to go into details of the races as I’m sure there are plenty of great write-ups out there already. I will just show some of the photos Colette took of the action.

From top left, clockwise: Tom Pidcock takes the lead midway through the race; Cameron Mason – come on Cam!; Tom Pidcock; Mathieu van der Poel

Right, after all that preamble, now I will get to the day of the ride in question. This was going to be a ride along an appealingly snake-like road through an area known as Pinos, leading to Port de Bernia at the summit. I decided that we would take the tram to Teulada to start, riding through Benissa before reaching the minor road into the mountains.

After leaving the tram, Strava routing quickly took us onto a busy dual carriageway, thankfully with a wide enough hard shoulder, which we used. It was a bit slow, being mostly uphill, until we reached a turnoff for Benissa. The map apparently showed us continuing on the main road though, so I stopped to look at another map to double-check. At the same time, another rider with distinctive Zwift kit paused just beyond us and I think was having exactly the same routing conundrum. 

In the end, both of us took the slip road, and followed signs to take us into the town of Benissa. The road through the town was uphill in the direction we were going, and still fairly busy with traffic, so we were relieved to finally get through and out into quiet countryside.

Fairly soon, we reached a sign describing the climb of the day that lay just ahead of us, i.e. the Port de Bernia. Zwift man had got there ahead of us and had taken his photo, so he left and we took ours. The climb is quite long at 15.2 km, but only with 2% average gradient. The climb starts out steady but not hard, then flattens out completely before a 3 km section of steep gradient, maxing out at 17% according to the sign.

Although the last bit was pretty scary sounding, I just parked it mentally and got on with enjoying the climb on a lovely sunny and calm day. I planned with Colette that I would stop every mile or so for her to catch up. That worked well, and we passed Zwift man again taking more photos of the views. Then he overtook us and we didn’t see him again.

The climb was very enjoyable, with plenty of twists and turns to keep the views ever changing; dotted with pine trees and distant mountains. After a while, we reached the flat area, and rolled along nice and easy, but sooner or later, the steep section was going to catch up with us. It did just round a sharp corner, with the road suddenly rising steeply ahead. I shouted over to Colette that the steep stuff had started, got into my lowest gear, and prepared for some hard work.

After a while, I reached the 17% section, where it was not just me who was slowed to a crawl, but other riders too. Once the gradient let off a bit, alongside the next kilometer marker, I stopped for Colette to catch up. When she appeared, she didn’t want to stop for a rest, as she had already had one further down, so we got on with tackling the remainder of the climb (still steep, but the maximum on this section was “only” 14%).

I stopped at the end of the steep stuff for my final wait. By this time, quite a few riders came past who were making a big effort up the climb. I think my shouts of “Bravo!” as they passed were generally well received, as they were certainly well deserved.

When Colette arrived, I congratulated her too, but feared she might have been thorougly sick of this climb by now. But the opposite was the case. She rated this as her favourite of the week, with better scenery than Coll de Rates for example. The good news was that we still had 2 km of the climb left, this time at very gentle gradient.

Before we reached the very top of the climb, we found a restaurant off to our right, down a short gravel path. The Bar Refugio – Vista Bernia was open and able to give us some light lunch. We had bread with aoli, cheese and ham and a small bowl of very tasty beef stew. The restaurant had a very impressive panoramic view over to the sea, although our attempts to photograph the view didn’t do it justice.

View from Port de Bernia

Next, we got back on the road and finished off the climb. There was a large group of cyclists taking a rest there and taking snaps of the views out west over the mountains. After the climb of the day came the descent. It was quite fun, but a bit more bumpy than your average road in these parts, so I took it fairly easy. It didn’t seem to take all that long before we were reaching the bottom, where the gradient eased as we approached the town of Xalo.

I checked the time, and we didn’t have a hope of getting back to the station at Teulada for the next tram. That meant we could take it easy and aim for the one after that, an hour later. So we stopped in Xalo for a leisurely coffee in the warm afternoon sun.

Cortado and Americano in Xalo

The next village we reached was called Lliber, with a very slow set of traffic lights that we remembered from when we passed through in the other direction earlier in our holiday. When they finally changed it was like a free-for-all of bikes and cars trying to get through as fast as possible.

The route I’d planned on Strava had 3 more smallish hills to cover, totalling about 600′ between them, taking us to and through Benissa. The roads weren’t as bad as the way out, but still quite busy with traffic and not too scenic. I would definitely work on improving the route if we were to do it again.

When we got to the top of the last hill, I told Colette it was downhill all the way from here. It usually isn’t, but the last 2 miles were a lovely easy freewheel back into Teulada, where we arrived with 15 minutes to wait for the tram. We admittedly did spend quite a bit of time waiting for and riding trams back and forth on this day, but it was well worth it, as I don’t think we would have had it in our legs to reach the Port de Bernia by bike alone.

I would definitely recommend the tram as a way to extend your cycling range for a couple. There is an apparent max of 4 bikes per tram, and we reached that on one of the tram rides this week, so you aren’t guaranteed to get on. Best go out with a plan B in case the tram is full…


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29 December 2023 – Bowbeat wind farm


With a good looking forecast for the 29th, Colette and I decided to head out for a bike ride. Oliver suggested we join him for a gravel ride up to Bowbeat wind farm, and Colette was keen, as it gave a chance to try out her new e-gravel bike off-road for the first time. She hurriedly got a pot of soup on the go first thing, then we headed off in the car over the Granites to get parked fairly close to the turnoff for the wind farm.


Oliver, on the other had, cycled all the way from home, as he needed the extra kilometres for his Rapha Festive 500. We met up then turned right, away from the Innerleithen road and towards Leithen Lodge. It was the first time that Colette had seen it, and she was very impressed by the orange-painted Arts & Crafts style house, which immediately became her favourite.

After the obligatory photos, we carried on, away from tarmac and onto forest gravel roads. It was pretty flat to begin with, although there were plenty of rain-filled potholes to dodge along the way. I felt that I was having to try a bit harder than normal, following Oliver, and Colette on her power assisted bike.

Oliver has really taken to riding gravel in the forests, as it gives a more sheltered ride during really windy weather when he might otherwise be forced to stay home on the turbo, and also because there are a lot of long, steady climbs to train on. The particular one he chose for us today is known on Strava as the “Bowbeat windfarm main climb”, and is 3.78 miles long, with 1001 ft of elevation at an average 5.0% gradient.

Once we reached the start of the climb, Oliver zoomed off, while Colette and I stopped fairly quickly for a photo opportunity. Colette set the assistance level on her bike to maximum and set off, soon to become an orange dot in the distance, which disappeared around the corner not to be seen for quite some time.

The weather for our ride didn’t turn out as we might have expected from the forecast. No clear skies, but instead low cloud with occasional fine drizzle. At 1-2 degrees C it was a bit colder too, but I certainly didn’t feel it on the climb, and had to unzip to let out steam!

One thought that worried me a little was that Colette, being in between me and Oliver, and without the assistance of a route map, might take a wrong turn. There is zero phone reception in this forest, so getting lost might not be easily remedied. Luckily, there were road signs pointing out the way to the wind farm, which happened to be the route we were using, and Colette duly followed them. 

As I approached the top of the climb, the gradient got that bit steeper, sitting around 10% for a lot of it. I was slogging along at a cadence of about 50 in my lowest gear, wishing I had a couple more lower gears to make things easier. It was a relief when I reached the top, alongside the first of the wind turbines, where I stopped for a rest and to get my bearings.

Although I had no idea where they were, Oliver and Colette were stopped maybe a quarter of a mile further on and could see me. They had continued that bit further, since Oliver wasn’t sure exactly where the Strava segment ended. Colette gave me a call (there is phone reception on the plateau of Bowbeat Hill) and told me to keep on going.

We joined up and took a little time to enjoy the scenery and take a few photos. Colette was buzzing, really happy with her new bike. She wasn’t entirely convinced with the bike for road riding, making her go just little faster overall than on her normal bike. But with these gravel climbs, it has made the difference between making it up and having to get off and push. It means she can get much more out of the off-road riding. 

From our vantage point at about 2000 ft elevation, we could see way to the north, over Midlothian and the Forth to the hills of Fife. To the south however, the top of Glentress forest was shrouded in cloud, so better photos will come on a return visit on a clear day. One feature that stood out very clearly though, was a short but unbelievably steep climb on the road ahead. Oliver said yes, we are going that way…

On my one and only previous visit to the wind farm, I had made my way up from the other direction, and so met this hill on the way down. It was so frighteningly steep that I wanted to stop the bike and walk down, but it was too late by that time, and my attempts at braking just locked up the wheels and started me skidding on the loose gravel. If I’d managed to stop, I would probably have gone over the handlebars it was so steep. So I had no choice other than to let go of the brakes, hold on, and hope for the best. Luckily I made it down, very quickly, in one piece.

This time, I made it up safely but much more slowly, by pushing the bike up alongside Colette. Meantime, Oliver powered up and reached the top just 2 seconds slower than the fastest recorded time for the climb!

After all that exertion, we had now reached the point where we could “relax” on the descent. It certainly wasn’t a particularly technical descent, but common sense dictated that you had to be on the lookout for patches of loose gravel and the like that might otherwise catch you by surprise. I would actually say that this route was one of the least technical gravel rides that I’ve done, and is easily suitable for any beginner (and that’s where I’d rank myself at my current level of practice).

We reached the flat section again and passed a group of cyclists mending a puncture. They indicated that they had it under control, so we waved and carried on past the lodge and back to the car, leaving Oliver to continue his own ride home. By the time he caught up with us, we were showered and had the soup warmed up just in time for lunch. Perfect timing and a perfect way to warm up after a very enjoyable ride.





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10 December 2023 – Cardrona gravel loop


A few months ago, while having a coffee at the No 1 coffee shop in Innerleithen, I was leafing through the shop’s copy of “Great British Gravel Rides”, when I came upon a quite short route starting right there outside the door. I took a wee photo of the route and made a mental note to check it out in the summer.

In the meantime, Oliver has got interested in doing gravel routes as a way to spice up his winter training, being a welcome change from doing the same old road routes in the rain. I suggested that we try this one out, as I figured it shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours (for me) to complete.

Oliver drove us down to Innerleithen and we got out the bikes on a cold and damp, but quite still day. Probably the type of day that would drive me to Zwift normally, but we were quite excited to explore this new route, and by the time we got going, we barely felt the cold.

We used the Tweed Valley cycle path to take us to Cardrona, and it was the first time that Oliver had used it. I warned him that he’d be constantly having to slow down for other users, but it was probably the quietest I’d ever seen, so we made swift progress.

After passing through the houses at Cardrona, we turned left at the roundabout, and right onto the back road to Peebles. After maybe half a mile, we came to a car park on the left, marking the start of the tracks through Cardrona Forest. A well-surfaced forest track called Kirkburn Road led off uphill to the south from here, so Oliver took off to get a good climbing effort in, while I went at my own more sedate pace, stopping for a couple of photos along the way.

Kirkburn Road

The climb lasted about 1.6 miles, before the route took us away from the excellent surface of the forest track onto more of a muddy singletrack. This continued up for a short while, before levelling off at a gate, where Oliver was waiting. He managed to take a wrong turn along the way, but still got there well ahead of me.

We were now away from forest, and had a good, although somewhat misty, view over to the valley and more hills beyond. From here, we descended gradually at first on a boggy grass track. I found it quite tricky on my gravel bike and managed to slip and fall a couple of times. This was terrain more suited to a mountain bike, but my lack of practice and skill were more likely to blame for my slow progress.

Oliver was making faster progress than me, so he waited for me to catch up where the track flattened off just before heading more steeply downhill on a grassy slope. As soon as I hit the wet grass, I could feel the bike slipping. Braking hard caused it to skid too, so I ended up riding tentatively down the slope continually pumping the brakes so that I didn’t pick up too much speed and get out of control. Looking back at the stats, I see that the gradient was over -20% for some of it, so no wonder I was a bit nervous!

A sight of the glen to our left, with Loch Eddy hiding somewhere near the top

Another gate took us via some easier road to Glen Estate and past a castle. After that, we began the second climb of the day. The slightly muddy surface of this road made it harder going than it might have been, although it didn’t stop Oliver disappearing from sight very quickly! Near the top, a nice view of a steep-sided glen was visible to the left, as was the road that would take us back the way a bit later on.

After we arrived at a shepherd’s house, next to a picturesque cascading burn, the path forward became less distinct. In fact, we just had to trust in the map and cross a burn in approximately the right direction before the path became visible. The terrain was grassy, bumpy, boggy again, so I gave my legs a rest and pushed for a minute or two till it started going downhill.

From there it was mostly ride-able without too much risk, but there were a few bits where we thought it advisable to walk the bikes. Oliver managed to fall off twice on this section, once rolling partway down a steep bank, but no harm done.

Loch Eddy

Finally, the tricky downhill section ended next to the bijou Loch Eddy, where our arrival scared off a couple of ducks. This looks to be a private fishing loch, the access road to which made for a much easier surface to continue our descent. Our gravel bikes were in their element here for a change.

At the end of the descent, there was a very short ramp to close off the loop past Loch Eddy and take us back to Glen Estate. My legs were feeling tired at having to climb again, and I was contemplating just getting off and pushing the short distance required, when I noticed my Wahoo telling me the gradient was 20%. Ah, that would explain the feeling in my legs then! I decided not to give up at that point, and slogged on to catch up to Oliver who was waiting at the top.

We then took the paved road away from Glen Estate in the now steadily increasing rain. With lots of water on the road, I might have been nervous on skinny road tyres, but I was confident in the gravel tyres keeping us planted. In fact, we were still having fun, despite being dirty and soaked through.

The final bit of gravel on the planned route would have been accessed by riding into the grounds of Traquair House, but since it was just a small stretch, we decided to keep to the road and continued our fast descent towards Innerleithen, adding a little more respectability to the average speeds.

We had both had a great fun day out, albeit at the expense of a lot of cleaning of bikes, clothes and bodies afterwards. We had also worked up a good appetite for lunch, and were very glad for the soup and rolls that Colette had ready awaiting our return.


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12 September 2023 – Newcastleton and Tinnis Hill


With a spot of nice weather in the forecast, it looked like a good time to go and bag another one of Simon Warren’s top Scottish climbs. This time, Tinnis Hill, starting from Newcastleton.

When planning the route, I noticed it was really quite hilly in the general area, so a ride of a shade under 30 miles would be plenty, as I wanted to make sure Colette would remember the experience fondly afterwards!

We drove down the A7 to Langholm and parked in the practically empty car park next to the river, then headed off south through the town and out as far as the traffic lights, where we went straight ahead onto a minor and quite bumpy road. A significant tail wind helped us initially, as we played postie piggyback along the undulating rural road. After a few miles, the postie reached the end of his round and turned back, but we carried on south, till we stopped to look at the view from a high bridge over the River Esk.

From there, we headed towards the A7, but cut off left just before onto a minor road that runs parallel, as far as the village of Canonbie. Our plan was then to follow the B6357 all the way to Newcastleton, but we had to stop and re-evaluate when we were faced with a Road Closed Ahead sign, with no suggested detour other than a vague instruction to “use the A7”.

A bit of checking on the Roadworks Scotland website showed where the closure was, so we were able to follow the B6357 as far as the crossroads at Harelaw, then take a detour to the right. The road as far as Harelaw included a couple of fairly steep climbs, but our detour started promisingly with a fast downhill, taking us over the border into Cumbira.  Then the road turned sharply onto a steep uphill, which finished with a stiff 16% gradient before levelling off a bit.

Our detour then took us left onto a single track road, with a bit more traffic than you might have expected, most likely due to similarly re-routed locals. The road was very undulating, but despite that, was delightful to ride along. The sun was shining and the views were superb, and we felt lucky to have been diverted along this way, which we would most probably not have chosen otherwise.

After a few miles, we caught sight of the roadwords on the other side of the valley. There were loads of vehicles working along quite a long stretch of road, meaning we’d have had no chance of being let through if we had decided to risk it. Beyond that, we could see the conical shape of Tinnis Hill: our after-lunch destination.

Here was me thinking it was all either up or down

Our fun detour road packed a little surprise in the shape of a couple of hairpin bends before we came to the final descent into Newcastleton. We turned right at the T-junction with the B6357 then on into the town until we reached the Olive Tree cafe. The cafe looked very busy, but luckily there were a couple of small tables free, so we were able to stop for a nice lunch with very enthusiastic service.

Once we got going again, we only needed to go a hundred yards or so before turning left onto Langholm Street. This is where the Tinnis Hill climb began, very quickly getting up to 12% gradient, taking us up and right, past the entrance to the local golf course. After that it eased a bit to something like 4-6% until about a mile in, where the road turned SW and then it flattened off a bit more. With a bit of a tailwind now, I went into the big ring and started to pick up a bit of speed.

It was a little frustrating to have to slow down and briefly stop a few times to let cars past on the very narrow road, but I did my best to put in a decent time (for me) on the segment, and stopped for a rest once I’d passed the end point at the cattle grid at the Borders / Dumfries & Galloway border. Tinnis Hill loomed large from this high vantage point, where over to the south, I could clearly see the Solway Firth opening to the west.

Once Colette caught up, we carried on downhill for a while across the moor, down to a small bridge, where the road began a final climb split up into two ramps totalling about 500 feet. This was a bit of a blow to Colette, who thought we were over after the Tinnis Hill climb!

At the end of the final ramp, we came to various memorials to the local poet, Hugh MacDiarmid, who loved the wildlife of the moors. The info board mentioned wild goats, which I might have noticed if I’d been looking around more. Luckily Colette saw them and stopped for photos before we joined up again.

Next, there was a fast descent which had to be taken carefully due to the blind corners, which brought us out on the A7 just north of Langholm. A quick pedal on the flat took us back to the car park, which was now busy and where an ice cream van was now in residence.

We quickly packed away and made for the van for a couple of cones. Unfortunately, this was the poorest ice cream I’d had in years, but still vaguely edible, and I was definitely ready for some, so I wasn’t going to chuck it away. We didn’t let that spoil the vibe, as it had been a superb day of slow cycling on undulating terrain through glorious countryside. We must explore this area further in the future.

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03 September 2023 – Tushielaw to Tibbie Shiels


When the day of Oliver’s first sportive ride approached (the Tour of the Borders), we were keen to go and support him somewhere along the route. With the roads being closed to normal traffic, there weren’t all that many places to choose from. However, I remembered cycling off-road to Berrybush from Tibbie Shiels, near St Mary’s Loch a good few years ago,  providing an option so that I could meet him as he passed the Glen Cafe over there.

We drove down to Selkirk, then up the Ettrick valley towards Tushielaw. I dropped Colette off at the junction just before so she could get a head start, then parked at the hotel and cycled back. From the junction, I headed uphill, but I didn’t catch up Colette till nearly the top. We then paused at the top of the climb by the Berrybush sign to find out how Oliver was doing, as he had activated live tracking on his phone. He appeared to be on the Devil’s Beef Tub, heading towards Moffat, making really good time. 

Colette and I now went different ways. I headed off-road into Berrybush forest, following the Captain’s Road off-road track. Colette didn’t fancy going off-road, so she carried on down the normal road to the crossroads at the Gordon Arms, a few miles distant.

Berrybush forest

My route continued going uphill for a while on gravel roads through the forest. It was a lot more open than the last time I passed through, as a lot of the trees had been felled in the intervening years. After the road topped out, it descended for a short while before coming to a gate.

Captain’s Road

After that, Captain’s Road became more of a grassy landrover track, heading quite steeply downhill. The views over towards St Mary’s Loch opened up for a very pleasant, if quite bumpy descent, with plenty of sheep randomly crossing in front, so that I didn’t want to let the speed get up too much.

The road flattened out at Tibbie Shiels, and after crossing the little humpback bridge, I reached the “Road Closed” sign close to the Glen Cafe. I chatted to some of the people waiting around for the riders to arrive, then popped into the cafe for a takeaway coffee. They were busy inside laying out macaroni pies for any of the hungry sportive riders who choose to take a refuelling stop.

Meantime, Colette reached the Gordon Arms crossroads to a round of applause by the waiting stewards. She chatted to them and told them that she was waiting to cheer Oliver on and to take a video of him riding round the corner.

By this time, Oliver was well beyond Moffat, and it didn’t take too long before he was closing in on my position. I was holding a spare water bottle that he had given me, in case he needed it, so I placed myself at the side of the road to hand it over. Pretty soon, a sole rider on a white bike came flying past and I started a stopwatch.

One minute and fifteen seconds later a group of seven riders flew past, with Oliver on the front. He shook his head, indicating that he didn’t want to take the bottle. I was glad of that, as it could have been a bit sketchy at the speed he was going. Then he was past before I could shout any encouragement or even tell him the time gap.

As the riders carried on towards where Colette was waiting, I started heading back up the Captain’s Road. The climb was fairly steep in places, but still manageable in my lowest gear. I actually really enjoyed it, and it made me think about getting back to doing more off-road cycling.

Rounding the corner at the Gordon Arms. Many thanks to the anonymous steward for this photo.

Meantime, Oliver’s group was closing in on Colette. She started taking video, but as they approached, she got overexciting cheering for him and ended up with a video of the road. Luckily, one of the stewards took a photo as they passed, and shared that with Colette.

By the time I got back to Berrybush, Colette was still on her way back up the climb from the crossroads, so I went down to meet her and we continued up together. We paused here and there to check on Oliver’s progress, and by the time we were at Berrybush again, he had finished, crossing the line in third place! 

Cows in no rush to move!

We only had a descent left to get us back to the car, but we had to stop halfway down, as there were cows lying on the road. They got up and gradually moved off when a car arrived. The occupants of the car had been on their way to Oban but had been redirected due to the closed roads. We discussed some options for rerouting with them before getting underway again and returned to the car.

The drive back was a bit frustrating as we were out of phone signal for quite a while before Colette managed to get in touch with Oliver to talk about his experience of the Tour of the Borders. He had a great time and took really well to riding in a fast-paced group, considering he’d never done anything like it before. The rider who was leading when we saw them, Chris Browell, worked really hard and stayed clear of Oliver’s group all the way to the finish. Oliver made a break for it as they closed in on Peebles, but he ran out of legs at the very end, and he was pipped for 2nd place by Nikki Elder on the line. What a great effort, we’re so proud of him!

[As an aside, the timing chip puts Oliver as 7th fastest around the course, as a quirk of where exactly you are in the wave of riders as you file past the start. But forget that, he finished THIRD!!!]



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5 June 2023 – Dyfi forest


As we haven’t been doing any rides worth talking about recently, I thought I’d go back to last month, when we were on holiday in Aberdovey, Wales. It was a bit of a family gathering, and Oliver and Kirsty and the boys came too. As well as bikes of course.

Oliver was keen to try out some of Simon Warren’s “Greatest cycling climbs” in the area, and there were a few within striking distance. We started by having a crack at the Dyfi forest climb.

We set out at 8.30am on another sunny morning, this being the middle of the early June heatwave of 2023. However, there was a fairly stiff easterly breeze to contend with, and we were heading east from the start.

Pretty soon, Oliver stopped to pick up a Red Bull from the local shop. I carried on, and sure enough, he caught me back up within a few minutes. The coast road we were taking was fairly winding and wooded for much of it, giving us a bit of protection from the headwind. I was a bit worried that the traffic would be heavy with us starting out on the main road at rush hour, but it wasn’t too bad, and everyone waited patiently till they could overtake.

After a while, we reached the top of the Dovey estuary and the turnoff for Machynlleth. We went straight on, and after the roadworks for the new bridge to Mac, we turned right onto a minor road, headed for Aberangell and the start of the climb.

The road was quiet and pleasant to ride along, with views of the Dyfi valley over to our right. Then we got a fright as a squirrel decided to cross the road just as we were passing. It ran right up to Oliver’s back wheel and then must have got caught up, as it span right round with the wheel, through the seat stays and down onto the ground on the other side. It then managed to find its feet and scurried away into the undergrowth. That was a close call, both for the squirrel and Oliver, as it could have ended much worse for both of them.

A bit later on, I needed a stop to take some painkillers, as I’d been suffering from a sore back for a few weeks. The bumpy nature of the little side roads had set it off again, but luckily the ibuprofen kicked in quite quickly and half an hour later it was forgotten about.

Oliver also took the chance to check our progress towards the start of the climb, when he discovered that we were heading for the finish of the segment, and therefore we were at the wrong side of the mountain. That caused a bit of consternation until I discovered that there were two Dyfi Forest climbs, one from either side. And I had plotted our ride based on the harder one!

The road started to get steep as we entered Aberangell and found our way to the start of the climb segment. I waved Oliver off, then settled in to do the climb at an easy pace. Perversely, as soon as the climb started, the road flattened off, then even went downhill for a short while, but it wasn’t long till I started to see warning signs for a steep road ahead.

I stopped at the bottom of a short dip to take a photo, but stupidly didn’t change down gear. When I started again, the gears complained loudly as I clunkily changed down all the way to my bottom gear.

It was very steep straight from the off, and soon reached 20% gradient in places. It carried on like this for over half a mile, before levelling off and giving me the chance to catch my breath a bit. I could start to appreciate the scenery of Dyfi forest a bit better now. Areas where the trees didn’t encroach fully on the road afforded some great views across the forest.

There then followed another half mile section where the gradient ramped up to severe again, till I got over the top eventually, and found Oliver waiting for me on the other side. He was pleased at finishing in the top 10 of the nearly 1000 people who have attempted it. 

Then we had the descent, where I would have preferred to have disc brakes for the steep drops. The descents were mixed in with short, steep bits of climbing too, with the odd stop to take photos. 

At one point, I hit a bump and my water bottle came flying out and skidded over to the left of the road. I stopped and walked back, noticing a steep drop into a ravine at the side of the road. Luckily my bottle was stopped from rolling off into the irretrievable deep by a clump of grass. I thanked my lucky stars then carried on to catch up Oliver, who was waiting at the bottom, wondering what was taking me so long.

We had reached the (ex-)slate mining village of Aberllefenni, which Colette and I passed through on a previous visit to Wales, and Oliver and I would pass through again later in the holiday on an even bigger and more climby day.

But for now, we were concerned about getting back to base. Our route took us through Corris, where we turned left and onto a very narrow road leading south. However, after Oliver had a close call with a car coming up the other direction, we bailed out onto the main road and enjoyed an easy gradual descent to the roadworks near Mac that we had passed through earlier.

Oliver knew that there was a near 10 mile segment coming up from the Dyfi bridge back to Aberdovey. He decided to go for it as an all-in time trial effort, while I took it a little easier and enjoyed the ride and the continued sunshine on what was becoming another hot summer’s day. When I caught up with Oliver at the holiday house, he a big smile on his face after clocking up another Strava KOM!



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07 May 2023 – The Bealach na ba!


It’s the summer of 1972 and I’m in the back seat of a black Austin along with my brother, sister and dog. My Dad is driving us the final few miles to our holiday destination near Applecross, while my Mum is screaming with her hands over her eyes. Those are my memories of the Bealach na ba, or the pass of the cattle as we knew it then. In the meantime, I believe the perilous switchbacks have been widened, and crash barriers installed, to make it safer but no less awe inspiring.

I have never been back, although since taking up cycling, it has loomed large as one of the bucket list challenges that we should try. But us getting older, and the advent of the NC500 (meaning that the narrow singletrack road is now busy with tourist traffic), have conspired to push it further back, to the extent that I believed we would never actually attempt it.

Then our son Oliver declared that he wanted to ride the Bealach. I accepted the challenge with some trepidation, while Colette politely declined. The plan was to go up on the day before, stay somewhere overnight, then get going bright and early next morning before the traffic built up.

That seemed like a reasonable plan, so we booked a B&B at Strathcarron a couple of months in advance, to coincide with a bank holiday. Only when it came to it, the forecast for the ride day was awful and the day before was good. So we switched it around, and got going early on the Sunday morning, arriving at Shieldaig around 11am. We drove on a wee bit till we found somewhere to park then got ready to tackle the ride.

I got ready before Oliver, so just set off and let him catch me up, which he did just as we arrived at Tornapress, at the foot of the big climb. We turned right, and I wished Oliver good luck as he set off, hoping to post a good time. I pulled in to let a camper van past, then set off much more sedately, passing the big blue sign that states all of the very good reasons that you should NOT be attempting to drive along this road.

After crossing the River Kishorn at sea level, the road took a left and began gently to climb. I soon passed the turnoff for Kishorn Port, which was developed to construct rigs during the oil boom of the 70s, and despite lying unused for a number of years since then, there is clearly something quite large being constructed there now.

The road then turned more inland, and it would be impossible not the be impressed by the majestic rocky peaks that appear in your view, especially on such a warm and sunny day. After about a mile or so, I caught up with a couple of heavily laden touring cyclists just as we came to a viewpoint. I decided to stop and take a few pictures, as well as take on a snack to keep me going.

By the time I got going again, the woman tourist was pushing her bike. It was going to be a long walk, but still doable in a couple of hours or so. Her companion was fairly far ahead, making good progress, and I very gradually caught up on him as I progressed and the gradients got gradually steeper and steeper.

I could see a bend in the road ahead, and once I finally reached that corner, the notorious switchbacks came into view, at the top of a long, straight and very steep looking section of climb. I was now into my very bottom gear, and wishing for a few more easier gears.

In fact, I had attempted to fit an extra small granny ring to my chainset, but when testing it, it had a tendency to drop the chain when shifting down from the middle ring (I use a triple). Reluctantly, I went back to the standard one, but at least it would shift reliably again. Triples can be tricky to get working right, while doubles are a doddle!

Anyway, about maybe halfway up the steep grind, I caught up with the male cyclotourist, who was tiring, and soon had to stop and push. I knew my number was up too, and decided as soon as my heart rate reached 180, I would start pushing myself. That didn’t take long, so I dismounted and began walking the bike uphill.

As I was pushing, I saw a figure in the distance at the top of the switchbacks looking down. I wondered if it was Oliver, and yes it was, as it happened. He had long since reached the top of the climb in a time of around 34 minutes, which sounded amazing to me, although he was expecting to do a little better. 

My heart rate gradually dropped as I continued to walk, and where the road flattened off a little leading in to the start of the switchbacks, I climbed back on the bike and got going. The rest really did me good, and I felt strong enough to negotiate the hairpins, but only by taking the flatter outside line. That did confuse one oncoming car when I moved over to the right side of the road on one of the bends, so I made like I was stopping at the crash barrier to look at the view till he was past me.

Oliver was waiting above me and shouted “get out the saddle” so he could get a better action photo. After I caught him up, he suggested we get some more photos at the viewpoint, but my Wahoo was telling me that if I continued, I could get a sub 1-hour time for the climb. So that’s what I did, pushing with what little strength I had left and Oliver urging me on, it was just like our Sa Calobra day earlier this year.

We paused at the car park at the highest point of the road and took some photos. Then it was time for the descent to Applecross. Oliver disappeared ahead of me again, while I took it easy, as my rim brakes weren’t as effective as his hydraulic discs. There were quite a few blind bends where you might need to scrub off a lot of speed very quickly if a car suddenly appeared coming towards you.

Then I felt a bit of a worrying side wind, so played it safe. I had to shake out my left hand a couple of times, as my fingers were beginning to cramp up on this very long descent. At last, I came in to Applecross and found Oliver waiting at the T-junction at the bottom.

The Bealach na ba was over and we’d survived! There was plenty of traffic to be negotiated, but it all went off without incident and we had some great weather to admire the scenery. If we’d decided to do the pass in wind and rain the next morning, there would have been fewer cars for sure but the fun factor would have been a lot less and the fear factor a lot higher!

Now we started the return leg around the coast road. This was constructed in the late 70s I believe, and it certainly wasn’t there during our 1972 visit, or else my Mum would have insisted we use it! It doesn’t go above 500ft, so being blocked by snow is less of an issue compared to the Bealach. However, it does go up and down a lot, and most of the day’s climbing was going to come from this section.

Oliver asked whether he might get lost if he went ahead, and I told him no, so he went haring off again. There was a decent tailwind here, so I felt like I was flying at times, apart from when hitting those steep little climbs, where you just went slower and slower till you needed to get into the bottom gear and grind up to the top.

The scenery was nice though and I was really enjoying the ride, despite the odd period of trudging, as it would inevitably be followed by a whizzy fun descent. I went on like this for an hour or so, then stopped to try and check in with Oliver, where I found my message wouldn’t send due to lack of reception.

A slightly longer climb took me to a picture postcard view over Loch Torridon, and just as I was stopping for a photo, Oliver called. He’d just got back to the car, while I was still about 9 miles short. I suggested he pack up and drive to Shieldaig for some refreshments, and I would join him there. I liked that, as it would shorten my ride a bit and I was getting tired.

A minute later he phoned again to say the car had a puncture. Oh no, so it was back to plan A. I would join him at the car and in the meantime, he would get the spare on.

Soon, I got to a bend in the road with a good view of  Shieldaig Island, making me feel that the end was in sight. However, the amount of up and down packed into the last mile or two of this little road was unbelievable. I was beginning to flag, so having to stop for a moment to let a mother duck escort her ducklings across the road was a welcome break.

A creaking noise from the cable guide under the bottom bracket was beginning to annoy me, and it was starting to have an affect on the crispness of the shifting at the back, so I stopped just before the T-junction at the end of the road to sort it out. If anyone had seen me turn the bike upside down and spit on it, they would have thought I’d gone mad! It did the trick though.

Next, I turned right and started the final leg back to the car. It was into the wind and mostly slightly uphill, so the last few miles seemed to drag till I finally caught sight of Oliver’s car with hazard lights blinking. Luckily, he had managed to get the spare on without any issues, so I just needed to help him get the wheel with the puncture stowed away in its place underneath. 

After that, it was off to the B&B to get showered and then a short walk to the Strathcarron Hotel to enjoy some beers in the still warm sun at the tables outside. There we could reflect on the day’s adventure, comparing it with our experience of Sa Calobra earlier in the year. 

The Bealach na ba and Sa Calobra climbs are very similar in terms of total distance and total elevation, and even the amount of time we took to climb them. However, Sa Calobra is fairly steady, while the Bealach is fairly easy to start and much steeper at the finish, which makes it by far the harder of the two.  

We ended the day with a gentle constitutional walk to ease our leg muscles, while admiring the mountains surrounding us. As ever, this part of Scotland, while the weather is kind, is very hard to beat.





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