Friday, 28 March 2014

Glenfinnan to Cape Wrath Part 2: Glen Shiel, The Falls of Glomach and Torridon

The second installment of my 2011 attempt to ride an adapted version of the Cape Wrath trail. Already struggling after two days I headed into some famous riding territory between Glen Shiel and Glen Affric

Day 3 - Suardalan Bothy to Allt Beithe (Glen Affric)

After a pleasant night in Suardalan practicing my pathetic firelighting skills with some very damp wood, and listening to the mice fustle with my empty porridge bags, I set off for Glen Shiel via the Ratagan Pass. Leaving Suardalan was a frustrating process, the path was rough and sodden, and I eventually just made a bee-line for the river and forded it to get to the road on the other side.

The Five Sisters from the Ratagan Pass

Things started improving once i reached the Ratagan Pass, a nice gentle climb with some amazing views and a great (tarmac) descent.

Glen Shiel wildlife, unlikely to find its way onto any shortbread tins or postcards any time soon...

Gleann Lichd, with the Lichd hut just out of shot. 

The hut was locked but had a tiny little open shelter to the side. In a little nook in the wall were one tin of beans and one half bottle of Napolean Brandy for the truly benighted traveller...

The climb out of Glean lichd towards the Allt Grannda falls and Glen Affric. 

The fry up I'd had in Glen Shiel was really weighing on my stomach here, and I made pathetic headway up what would probably be a challenging but entertaining climb (its a Kenny Wilson route as well, you have been warned!)

The Allt Grannda falls, a pretty spectacular cauldron that appears out of nowhere as you 
round a hidden corner through the glen. Not the best photo but a brilliant wee spot.

Self timed japery around the side of the falls (and crossing one of them!)

Looking back at the Allt Grannda  singletrack.

This was one of countless amazing trails that I chose to climb along my trip. I was beginning to feel a little cheated that most of the good trails seemed to point uphill and not downhill, but that's probably why I made it back in one piece...

Glen Affric hostel, also known as Allt Beithe. 

Great wee hostel, not much better than the bothy slightly further up the glen (Camban) but at least I was guaranteed company, and a shower of sorts. My strategy of trying to get old hillwalkers drunk so they'd reveal the location of the secret Cairngorm's howff* seemed to work in here, unless 'Albert' was having a joke at my expense...

Day 4 - Glen Affric to the Falls of Glomach and Strath Carron

This day was a shambles. The hefty push up the Allt Grannda the day before had left me a bit demoralised, so I was quick to dismount when the relatively good path up Gleann Gniomhaidh started to deteriorate. My mood darkened further when a relatively smooth and shallow mud patch turned out to be a very deep mud puddle which pitched me over the bars and up to my shoulder in black peaty mud.

The beach beneath Bealach an Sgairne.

I sat on the beach for a while and soothed my battered pride, drinking instant coffee and eating cheese and oatcakes. I eventually decided to miss out the supposedly fantastic descent down the Bealach (and subsequent climb back out) and instead stay high and hike through the trackless Gleann Gaorsaic to reach the Falls of Glomach. I enjoyed this despite myself, as I hadn't expected any trail I wasn't disappointed when I didn't find one.

The Falls of Glomach. Terrifyingly big and hidden.

The Falls of Glmoach had captured my imagination from reading about the early in my planning stages. 'Glomach' means hidden and true to form, it was very hard to actually see the entire cascade due to the steep sides. Who knows what lurks down in the gorge, and it was nigh on impossible to look straight down it.

Falls of Glomach singletrack.

The track down from the falls was spectacular, not all rideable, but the good bits were very very good. On the last section there was a tricky scramble over a rocky outcrop that required some very neat footwork with the bike on the back. It was at this point that I met an older couple, the wife of whom was having a little fit of refusal hysterics at how steep and nasty the climb was. I doubt her state of mind was helped in anyway by a disshevelled and garishly clothed biker downclimbing the track with a bike on his shoulder...

The bridge over to the Glen Elchaig track.

The bridge was a brief civilised interlude in the trails where I could actually pedal, coast and sit on the saddle for more than 30 seconds at a time. This took me to Killilan which was nothing short of idyllic in the late evening sun but posed a problem. I could stop here, but that would leave me well short of the day's target, which left me with a potentially long and tricky ride to Achnashellach station the next morning, where I was meeting my friend Rob for the Torridon leg of the trip.

I decided instead to carry on through the beautiful Glen Ling (another spectacular path that I was too heavy/tired to do justice) and eventually made it to Loch an Iasaich.
Glen Ling Singletrack

The final descent of the day, sunset over the Attadale estate track. 

Usually boring, estate tracks are great fun on a laden bike, lots of loose, steep corners to commit to while almost seated and with a large rucsac getting very agitated on your back.

The track led to the main road, and eventually the Strathcarron pub, where I pitched my tent in the neighbouring chicken field and spent the night talking crap with hillwalkers in the pub. Brilliant.

I think I promised Torridon in this installment, but I'll save it until next time, where I pass through Torridon, visit Loch Maree, and ride through Fisherfield to the awesome An Teallach.

*Don't tell me! I only want to find it via 'organic' methods.

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