Last night, the chap in the bunk above me closed the window before he went to bed. In my usual non-confrontational manner, I waited until he got up in the middle of the night and went and opened, it, to give the 7 of us in the room some fresh air.
I was up early at 7.20 am, and having breakfast ten minutes later. I left the hostel at 8.20, to leave myself plenty of time to catch the 12.40 ferry from Mallaig. I tried in Fort William to send an email off the phone with yesterday’s GPS track on it, but to no avail. I was concerned that I might lose it, as the programme that I am using only stores the latest three tracks, deleting any previous ones to make room. As today would use up two remaining tracks, one to Mallaig and a second on Skye, I would have no more spaces left.
The day was overcast, with a cooling westerly wind, and I donned my waterproof jacket before setting off from Fort William on the road to Mallaig. I had driven it back in the 1980’s, but at that time it was a single track with passing places. Single track no more, it was a well-surfaced, two-lane carriageway almost all the way, save for a couple of older bridges under which it passed.
On my way out of Fort William, I saw a motor yacht shoehorned into Neptune’s Staircase, a series of locks which join Loch Linnhe to a river that leads to the most loch-like Loch Lochy. I travelled along the side of Loch Eil as I headed westward into the wind, and with a good road surface, soon arrived at a place called Glenfinnan, where a monument in tribute to the Jacobite clansmen who fought and died in the cause of Bonnie Prince Charlie stands at the head of Loch Shiel.
As I climbed out of the valley, it began raining, dulling further the grey views. I put my head down and got a few miles in without looking round too much. On one descent I smelled and then saw the carcass of a deer that had obviously been hit by a vehicle. Not the way I wanted to see a deer at the side of the road.
The miles went in easily, and I was soon viewing the sea for the first time, glimpsed through the arches of a railway bridge.
At Morar, I got off the main road, and onto what had been the main road. I wanted to see the river where my friend Ben had been a river watcher, stopping the locals from netting the salmon so that other people, who had paid a lot of money, could try and catch them with a rod and fly. I had gone to visit him, and had fond memories of the place. Apart from the river and the railway station, I recognised nothing, so much had the village changed in the intervening years.
If I thought that Morar had changed, I was totally unprepared for what met me at Mallaig, a sleepy fishing port, or so I had remembered it. No longer sleepy, and with a roll on/roll off ferry replacing the one I remembered where the cars were loaded in a lift! Apparently that one ran until 1995.
At the CalMac office, I was able to purchase tickets for all my remaining ferry journeys, and save a good bit by so doing. I then went in search of a cafe with wifi access, to try and send the GPS tracks. There was one across from the harbour, but its wifi had been out of order for a couple of days. I lucked out again, but at least I was able to get more money from a bank cash machine before queueing up to board the ferry.
Once on board, I was able to charge my phone. The sockets were about a foot from the ceiling, so I had to hold the phone against the back of the seat to stop it falling to the ground.
Getting off the ferry at Armadale, I decided to go West first, to get views of some of the other islands, namely Rhum and Eigg. There were some good hills up and down as I made my way to Aird, and a little beyond, until the tarmacked road ended. I passed a lovely little waterfall at one point. I was the only person to come this way from the ferry, and I felt that I was seeing some part of the island that most overlook.
As I returned to Armadale, and cycled past the Clan Donald Centre, my mind came back to a University friend, Martyn Crabtree, about whom I have been thinking much this trip. He, I and a few others went on a walking holiday in the summer of 1987, after my finals. We had climbed Ben Nevis, getting a clear view at the top after ascending it in cloud, and had come over to Skye, staying at the now defunct Armadale Youth Hostel. I have a photo of the view we looked out over that day, looking back to the mainland on a cloudless, sunny afternoon. I returned to Manchester the following day, and was never to see Martyn again, as he fell to his death a few days later while walking in the Torridon hills. Do we regret a life cut short, or do we celebrate the life that has been lived?
The wind was on my back for the first time this trip, so it seemed, and as the sun came out I made good running towards my destination of Broadford. At the bottom of one long drag I saw three mountain bikers, who had been on the ferry with me, somewhere near the top. Admittedly I put in a bit of an effort, but I caught and passed them before they crested the hill, waving as I went passed.
I reached Broadford before 3.00 pm, and called at the tourist information office to find out where the hostel was. I was also told that I may get to see golden eagles in Broadford bay!
I was a the hostel at 3.00, but the hostel didn’t offricially open until 5.00, so I left my panniers and went in search of a cafe with working wifi. This time I was successful, and was able to send the files, and also read about Froome winning today’s stage on Mont Ventoux almost as it happened.
The only other customers were cyclists, and when we were kicked out at 4.00 (closing time on a Sunday), I chatted to tham a bit about where they had been. Another couple of cyclists came up, and I saw that one was wearing a Phoenix top! Aidan no longer lived in NI, but had been a member of the club.
I went to the coop and got tea, also stocking up on muesli bars, and then returned to the hostel, reading outside until it officially opened.
I have now had tea (tortellini, for the third night in a row), and am sitting in the living room, looking out on mist-covered hills on the other side of the bay. It will be another early night, in preparation for tomorrow’s trip to Applecross, near where sea eagles have been sighted.
Day 5 Statistics
Miles from Glen Nevis to Mallaig: 45
Miles from Armadale to Broadford: 24
Total miles ridden: 69