Day 1: Glen Glass
Colette and I went off for a few days up north, with the hope of getting some cycling in. We managed three days in a row, which is pretty good going, considering the weather at this time of the year. The first was a trip up Glen Glass, which Colette really wanted to revisit on her mountain bike.
We parked just outside Evanton then headed towards Glen Glass on a mild but fairly dull morning. There had been quite a bit of snow a few days earlier, but the recent mild spell had melted most of it. There were a few remnants at the side of the singletrack road, as we headed up the glen.
After about 5 miles, we reached the closed gates of Eileanach Lodge. Through we went, to find the road on the other side properly covered in hard-packed snow. The tyres of my hybrid bike, although they are pretty good offroad, were no use at all on this, so I had to push my bike, while Colette rode across the snow without any problem on her proper mountain bike.
Luckily, the snow only lasted for a short while, after which we reached the track running towards Loch Glass. A few minutes later, we reached the lochside, with a bright pink house dominating the scene.
We paused to take a look at the pink house, which is something of a conundrum. The paint job looks quite fresh and the roof in pretty good condition, but the inside is completely empty, as if unfinished. We can’t decide if it is half-made or half-renovated. Whichever it is, there is a fantastic house in a fantastic location to be had with a bit more investment.
As we cycled along the sometimes muddy track, it was as if the whole hillside was awash with water. The snow-melt was rushing downwards, noisily filling up the burns and drains.
A little later, we came across a second abandoned house, but this time it was clear that it had been lived in and then deserted. The timbers were rotting and the roof looked ready to fall in. It’s a shame, as this house has such a beautiful view.
Moving onwards, we reached the head of the loch with the impressive Wyvis Lodge on view in prime location at the top. A small number of other houses were dotted around. We decided to take a left here and carry on further up the glen.
The road began to climb a little more as we followed the river upstream, passing a fairly new building that I’m guessing held a smallish hydro-electric generator. There were signs of a buried pipe leading into it from further up the glen.
We carried on for a while, but decided to turn around when we got to about half a mile from where my map said the track ended. The alternative was to head up a steep track which promised to take us to a loch. The track was really very steep, but I managed to ride up it till we reached snow again. From there, it was trudging gradually uphill till we finally reached Loch Bealach Culaidh.
It was cold and bleak up there. The track appeared to continue round the loch, but we were happy to call a halt to our exploration there, and headed back down. After carefully negotiating the snowy part of the road, we fairly flew down the rest of the path till we reached the main track. We both commented on how it was suddenly feeling much warmer as we retraced our path all the way back to the car.
Day 2: Loch Ness and some fun with hairpins
This is a ride that I had been keen to do ever since finding out about the so-called Inverfarigaig corkscrew. Colette did it earlier this year, and luckily she was up for a return visit.
We started off from the car park of the Tesco store right at the south side of Inverness. Leaving the car park on the road to Dores, we were pretty much immediately into the countryside. At Scaniport, we left the “main road” (it wasn’t exactly busy) behind for a while, as we followed the recommended cycle route along an even quieter singletrack road. We then rejoined our original road just outside Dores.
It’s traditional for Colette to stop next to the Dores Inn for a shot of Loch Ness from the beach. There’s a great view from there, all the way down the loch. After that, we got back on our bikes and pedalled along the lochside road, heading for Inverfarigaig.
Just before Inverfarigaig, there’s an improbably steep-looking bit of road which you can see from a distance, and seems to rear up in front of you. In fact, at first I didn’t believe my eyes, and thought that it must have been a grey-coloured cliff that stands alongside the road. Unfortunately, as I got closer, it definitely was real. After a struggle, I got to the top then paused for breath next to the “Welcome to Inverfarigaig” sign. Some welcome!
We went past the entrance to the corkscrew road for now, then took the next left, which runs up a deep gorge. There was a fast-flowing stream and native trees at the bottom of the gorge, whle the road running through was thankfully not too steep. We paused to look at the monument to the 19th century geologist James Bryce, who it appears had fallen to his death from the scary-looking cliff on the opposite side of the ravine.
We then carried on, taking the first right, heading towards Foyers. This quiet road ran through another steep-sided valley at a leg-friendly gradient, which we decided to take gently so as to enjoy the atmosphere. I was absolutely loving it!
Finally we came out near Foyers, which was eventually reached following a short but steep struggle. We then found the Waterfall Cafe, where tea and chocolate gateau was consumed, readying us for the second half of the ride.
Leaving Foyers was done at high speed, bringing us back to the shores of Loch Ness in no time. Shortly after that, Colette called to me that she had spotted Boleskine House. It was the first time she had caught sight of it, although I managed to miss it. It is known for tales of devil worship, celebrity ownership and a recent fire. Colette was keen to cycle up for a closer look, but the closed gate was quite uninviting, so we pressed on.
Soon we arrived at Inverfarigaig again and took the corkscrew road. This is a very narrow road and rarely used by vehicles, due to the very tight hairpin bends. It wasn’t long before we were going uphill and came to the first bend. In a very short distance, we negotiated a total of six hairpin bends, taking us high above the level of Loch Ness. It was great fun! The area is quite thickly wooded, meaning that it wasn’t possible to get a good photo of the hairpins stacked on top of each other, so we just carried on after passing them.
The road after this point continued to rise, made more difficult by the tarmac being heavily eroded. For a good mile or two, the road is more like a farm track, and we certainly had an audience of interested cows as we cycled slowly past. After that, the road improved a bit, but it was quite a few more miles till we finally joined up with a more substantial road, just south of Loch Ceo Glais.
Travelling north, the road we joined was perfect, with lovely sweeping curves and a big hill rising steeply to the left as we passed the loch on our right. High above, we could see a golden eagle circling, adding to the special feel of the place.
Further along, we passed through Drumashie Moor, with its well-spaced Scots pine and juniper trees. There we also spotted a flock of waxwings, giving us another tick in the birdwatching box, although in terms of red squirrel watching we drew a blank, despite keeping our eyes peeled all day.
Next, Inverness and the Moray Firth came into view in the distance, and the road started heading downhill. We had quite a fast run back into Inverness, where the car was waiting, next to a very handily located hot food van.
Day 3: Exploring Loch Ericht
For our third ride, we stopped at Dalwhinnie on our drive back south to explore Loch Ericht: the loch that is visible from the A9 as you pass Dalwhinnie. The place has long held a fascination for Colette, and since the map shows a track running along one side of the loch, we thought why not…?
The first obstacle in our path was the railway, where we used a “private” level crossing to access the track to the loch. Pretty soon, the track became quite unpleasant to ride along. It was akin to riding into a building site, with dirty and quite loose gravel in the middle of the road, and claggy, almost gelatinous, light grey mud up to a centimetre deep on either side. It was all a little disappointing, so I tried to keep my eyes on the scenery ahead as much as possible.
Fairly soon, we reached a very impressive gatehouse, where the road was paved for a short distance. After that, it was back to the grime, with a little stop to admire the next building: another lovely lodge with bags of character.
By the time we’d done three miles, I was thinking about packing it in, due to the unpleasant road, but by that time we could make out Ben Alder Lodge in the distance, so decided to carry on at least that far. The road undulated a fair bit in the mean time, but the surface didn’t get any better unfortunately.
Upon reaching the lodge complex, we found another lovely gatehouse, but with an electronic entry system to use if we were to continue along the lochside. The only alternative, apart from turning back, was to take the track leading up to the right through the woods. But joy of joys, the track to the right was devoid of grey goo, so off up we went.
After gaining a bit of height, we were able to look down onto Ben Alder Lodge on our left. It was made in that old-fashioned romantic style that is still quite irresistible to this day, full of unnecessary towers and castellations. I wonder who lives there…
Soon, we reached a gate, beyond which we left the woods behind and moved into open moorland. The landscape was deserted apart from a trio of horses close to a recently-filled hay feeder. They eyed us cautiously as we passed, but certainly didn’t seem at all disturbed by the sight of two cyclists slowly puffing their way up the hill.
With not unlimited amounts of time to play with, I had to think of the place where we’d turn back. Checking the map, it looked like we were heading towards a certain Loch Pattack. That was beyond the next rise, so we decided to make that our final destination before turning round again.
We reached the loch and stopped for photos. It was an incredibly remote and tranquiul place. If I were the camping type, this would be irresistible, as long as it wasn’t midgie season of course! The track, still very cyclable, carried on round the next hillside and, according to the map, passed another lochan. It was tempting to go further, but we needed to get back and have some lunch, so that was as far as we went.
As Colette headed back towards Dalwhinnie, I stopped to pick up some rubbish – a discarded inner tube. I never understand why people ditch their burst inner tubes when they replace them. It certainly isn’t good advertising for cyclists, so I picked it up. The extra weight was minimal.
I caught her up in time to enjoy the next long downhill ride together, then it was back on the grey gunge for the final five miles. We passed a couple of tractors working on the road, spreading the gravel and ironically making it even harder to ride on. Let’s hope that the road is a work in progress and that it will improve by the summer. It certainly is a lovely place to explore.