Despite the absence of snorers, I didn’t get back to sleep after getting up in the night for a loo stop. It was hard, therefore, to rouse myself at 7.30 when the alarm went off. I was down for breakfast a little before the official start time of 8.00, and the warden had it all ready for me. I would have got away by 8.20, but kept forgetting things and having to go back up two flights of stairs to the dorm.
I got going shortly after 8.30, and headed along the coast road towards the Skye bridge. It was built in 1995, and there was originally a charge for using it (in a car, at least), but ten years after completion this charge was dropped.
Once on the mainland at the Kyle of Lochalsh, I turned left to take the coastal road, partly because it would be less busy, and partly because the lady in the tourist information centre in Broadford said it was less hilly. I’m not sure about the latter, as there were lots of small hills, rather than the one large one of the main road. It did afford a good view back to the bridge however, and some delightful sights thereafter. At one point, shortly after passing Duirnish castle (marketed as a unique B&B experience) a red deer skipped across the road in front of me. At the next village, highland cattle roamed (or rather lay) free on the common grazing land. It was a particularly attractive village, with a stream running down the middle of it.
Back on the main road, I passed some men working on the side of the cliff. This was obviously the site of the recent landslide that had temporarily closed the road, and they were busy clearing the hillside and putting thick wire netting over it.
I noticed a single track railway running alongside, and logged its existence, should I be in real trouble later in the day. At Strathcarron I noted that there was a train from there at 3.15, and then another at 7.45.
Going along the side of Loch Carron I spotted a road that I initially might be the one over Bealach na Ba, but then realised that it was only the warm up act. My legs were already warmed up by the 14% gradient hills I had so far encountered!
Once round the head of Loch Carron and turning south-west, I soon became aware of a wind that had not been present at the start of the day. I was to become intimately acquainted with this wind over the course of the day, primarily with it in my face, trying to halt my progress.
The real start of the road over to Applecross was easy to spot by the large sign warning of steep hills etc. The climb started easily enough, and were it not for cars wanting to get past, I would not have needed to stop. After maybe a couple of miles it did ramp up a bit, but it still didn’t feel too bad, maybe due to the fact that for the first time this trip I was not carrying 13kg of luggage. What stopped me in my tracks, however, was the force of the wind shortly after I had just passed a mountain biker. The strength of it, halting progress totally, was rather demoralising. On top of that, I had noticed, with some envy, that the mountain biker, already spinning his legs, had another two gears in reserve, whereas I had been in my lowest gear for some time! After getting my breath back (and being passed by the other cyclist) I swung my leg over the bike and my head began swimming. I’ll give it another minute, I thought.
I passed my nemesis again as he paused for breath, and continued to battle the gradient and the wind. My mantra at this point was “It gets easier after the hairpins”. I had read this somewhere, and held on to it like a lifeline as I ascended. Eventually I came to a hairpin. It was only then that I realised I hadn’t bothered to find out how many of them there were before they came to an end. I paused once more to gird up my loins, and then ground my way up three (I think) hairpins, and sensed the gradient begin to ease, then go downhill. In the minimal visibility, (I was well and truly in the clouds by this stage) I thought that I had summitted, so stopped to take a photo. It was shortly afterwards when the road tilted back skyward that I realised that I had been mistaken. The worst was indeed over, though, and a few minutes later I reached the actual summit, or col, to be more precise. I took a photo of the view for posterity, and began my downward journey.
I forgot to say that I had donned my yellow gilet for extra protection against the wind for the descent, and that when I tried to turn my back light on, it appeared as though it had been switched on sometime by mistake in my bag, for the batteries were flat.
I descended gingerly, due to not being able to see very far ahead, and also afraid of not being able to stop in time in wet conditions if a car did appear. At one point I heard an engine behind me, and stopped to let them past. What went past in a flash was my nemesis, followed by two motorbikes. Either he knew the road very well, or he had plums so large that he wouldn’t be able to sit on the saddle properly. Or both! At one point a red deer crossed the road in front of me, disappearing quickly into the mist.
Even with the gilet on top of my windproof and waterproof top, by the time I reached the bottom,my teeth were chattering with cold. I quickly found a pub, and got a coffee and a large soup and bread. I also took the opportunity to put some charge into my phone.
Despite the food, my teeth were chattering as soon as I started again. It took a few miles for me to warm up on what had been a mostly dull day with low cloud. I had views of the Isles of Raasay and Rona as I went up the coast, and with the wind on my back for once I made good progress for a few miles. Once I turned right, though, the wind was again my enemy.
At one point I came upon a duo of French cyclists, on day five of a tour that began for them in Glasgow. They had taken one look at Bealach na Ba and had called in at a garage and organised a lift for them, their luggage, and their bikes over it! We had a good conversation, half in French and half in English.
I wish I could remember more about the rest of the journey, but it became a bit of a battle with the hills and the wind, which was so strong that I had to pedal downhill to maintain momentum. I stopped for water in Lochcarron, but had enough food with me to get me back, so didn’t hang about for long. I was going to buy new batteries for my rear light, but in trying to get the battery cover off, the light started working again!
I retraced my route back to Broadford exactly from Lochcarron, despite toying with the idea of taking the main road back to the Kyle. Better the devil you know, I thought, and went past the highland cattle (who had moved up the village to lie about at the road junction) and the unique castle B&B. It was good to see the same landscape from the other direction. I got a bit of respite from the wind when passing through forested areas, but it was a pretty relentless struggle by this stage. I did see my first bird of prey of the day, a buzzard. Getting back over the bridge had me in my granny gear for the umpteenth time, and it was tired legs indeed that brought me back to Broadford a little after 7.00 pm, with the rain properly on. A quick shop for tea and then hanging around outside the cafe where I still had the wifi password to send the route data, and it was back to the hostel to warm up, get showered and have some tea. I noticed on the weather bulletin posted there that the wind for today was 30mph, gusting to 50mph on the hills!
It is supposed to be wet tomorrow, so I may head straight up the coast to Uig. I’ll see tomorrow what it looks like, an how my legs feel after what was arguably the hardest day’s cycling I have ever done.
Day 6 statistics
Miles ridden: 119
Height climbed: 13, 000 feet
Time cycling: 8h 40m
Likelihood of doing it again in the near future: slim