Scottish Cycling Day 7: Ullapool To Broadford (Skye)

There was a faint air of dryness in the air this morning as I left the youth hostel in Ullapool. The sky was just as dark and foreboding as it has been for much of the last week or so, but it was at least hinting that I might arrive at my destination not soaked to the skin. And so it turned out to be. The theme of the day was ‘changeable’. It did rain at times but the downpours were never sufficient in length so as not to make the process of drying off when it wasn’t raining completely futile. There was even one brief but much cherished half an hour or so as I was cycling along the flattish road just to the west of Dearg Beinn that summer appeared in the form of a break in the clouds and sunshine that almost (but not quite) made me remove my rain jacket. I did at least unzip it completely and it was allowed to flutter gloriously in the wind. Some heavy duty climbing was required for a few miles just before the sun decided to shine. You know you are in trouble when a sign appears saying ‘slow lorries for 2 miles’. It should have actually read ‘slow lorries and comically slow cyclists for 2 miles’. The reward was the flat section already mentioned and then the tremendously long, gradual descent towards the small cluster of buildings that calls itself Garve. For the second day running, most of the cycling was wind assisted and this put me in a state of merry pedalling for much of today’s journey.

Heading inland, there was a clear change of scenery from bleak moorland to a more forested landscape, much (if not all) of it managed by the Forestry Commission for Scotland. I’ll come back to the ‘for Scotland’ bit in a moment by the way. Significant chunks of the forests had been felled (one had been felled and burnt to blackened ashes), presumably to be replanted. I seem to remember reading about how much of Scotland’s forests are non-native but they flourished under tax-avoidance schemes in the 1980s. I wonder if the thrust is to repopulate the land with more indigenous species? How would that be cost effective? I assume that indigenous trees are slow-growing ones. Too many questions and not enough answers!

Back to that ‘for Scotland’ thing. So many things are ‘for Scotland’. In addition to the Forestry Commission for Scotland, there’s the NHS for Scotland and then the National Trust for Scotland. OK, that’s only three bit I’m sure there are many more. Then there are all the things that are prefixed ‘Scottish’; most of the tabloids appear to have their ‘Scottish’ equivalents as does the YHA (I’m staying in the SYHA hostel in Broadford on Skye tonight). To a casual observer, independence has already taken place. If they do votes ‘yes’ next month, do all the ‘for Scotland’ references disappear? Mr Salmond we demand an answer!

Back to the cycling. Garve was, as I mentioned, at the bottom of a wonderfully long hill. I was expecting the usual steep climb just before my destination, but it never came. As with many places in these parts, the ‘village’ was so spread out so as not to have any centre and I was left scratching my head wondering where the train station might be. I eventually located it at the far end of the ‘village’/’cluster’; it was just a very functionary two platform affair. Some people were standing waiting for a train. Not surprising you might think because this was, after all, a train station. But there are only three trains a day that stop at the platform for the Kyle of Lochalsh. My train wasn’t until 2:30pm so I would be in for a long wait. Or would I? Such was the speed of my wind-assisted cycling in the morning that I had arrived in time to catch the earlier train at 11:50am. Nice!

It was a bit of a squeeze on the train with the bike – several other cyclists had got on the train in Inverness presumably – but the ever helpful Scot Rail employee, the train conductor (or whatever they are called nowadays) didn’t even consider not letting me travel on the train. Problem sorted with the removal of the panniers and a bit of shifting around of metal. However nice the joys of cycling might be, I enjoyed travelling under someone else’s steam (or diesel I suppose) for a couple of hours. A spectacular ride through dramatic and sparsely populated land. It makes you wonder why they thought it necessary to build a train line there in the first place. To the ferry to Skye I suppose… which no longer operates having now been superseded by the high bridge. Another concrete job – I suppose it must be durable building material – spanning the few hundred metres between the mainland and the island. It was another flat ride of just 9 miles along the coast to Broadford where I located first a coffee shop and then the amazing Cafรฉ Sia where I tucked into a haggis baguette (yes, they exist and it was good!) washed down with a Plockton beer. Highly recommended.

The other thing of note that I did today was to purchase a train ticket from Mallaig to Glasgow via Fort William. It leaves at… Right! Slight change of plan. I’ve just checked the tickets for the time. I opted for the 16:05 train from Mallaig but the annoying woman selling me the ticket at the Kyle of Lochalsh station has actually given me a reservation for the 10:10. I say ‘annoying’ as she was somewhat off hand with me as I had the temerity to want to buy a train ticket from her. The first Scot Rail employee to have not been anything other than ‘excellent’. She knew full well that I wanted a reservation for the later train as we discussed other options at length. Stupid, stupid woman! This now means that I will have to travel back to the mainland tomorrow afternoon and stay somewhere in or near Mallaig. It will, however, mean that I arrive in Glasgow at an earlier time to sort myself out with accommodation, but that will be a job. My end of journey treat!

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