Another interesting day on the road, and back on the rails… It’s been day two of my three-day return to Halifax and not without incident nor cycling (which is why you are here I assume). Indeed there was just over 50 km of the stuff followed by a long two-stage journey back to Glasgow. That’s where today finished but it started back in Ullapool…
…and it was a bit of a Groundhog Day. I stayed in Ullapool in 2014 on my previous Scottish cycle. The weather had been dreadful back in that August seven years ago. Winter had arrived very early in the Highlands. So, to be presented with (another) blue sky this morning when I exited the tent was a delight to say the least. Ullapool, like most small towns, does look better in good weather and approaching it from the north along the long incline from Ardmair Point where I had camped, I struggled to believe it was that drab town I visited in 2014.
I didn’t hang around long however to make the most of my upgraded opinion. I was soon pedalling south along the A835 that would be my home for the next few hours. Curiously, I can’t remember much about cycling the A835 to Garve for the first time. Perhaps the miserable weather I experienced has helped wipe it from my mind. That said, I do remember pausing at a lay-by and in honour of that I did so again today, not to add more layers of clothes but to reapply a layer of factor 30.
I’m not sure if I was aware of the North Coast 500 back in 2014. I am now, as are the thousands of petrol heads on two and four wheels who drive around its length every year. And the motorhome owners of course… For the first third of today’s cycle, they were sharing the road with me. Not always the most pleasant of experiences but they generally made up for their (frequently illegal) speed with the distance they kept from Wanda and me. I tend to take charge of the road in these circumstances by moving further to my right to dissuade close passes on blind bends or when oncoming traffic is approaching. If needs be I hold my right hand out to tell vehicles behind me that traffic is approaching and they should hold back. This has always been a good tactic to use. Today it saved my life.
The white lorry was approaching; the yellow van was behind me on the curve of the road. Double white lines were in the middle of the road but the driver of the van appeared to be closing in fast from the rear. She probably couldn’t see the lorry; I held out my arm, she slammed on the breaks and then there was a bang. Both vehicles appeared to drive on. Unsure what had happened, after asking a road maintenance van behind me to clear the debris from the road, I too continued. However, further down the road, both vehicles had stopped (the lorry having turned around further down the road and passed me). The driver of the van – a woman from Germany – was in tears, the lorry driver a little disgruntled to say the least. Upon applying her brakes, the rear of her van had swung across the white lines and come into contact with the wheel arch of the lorry. I was simply delighted that nothing hit me. I left them to sort things out and completed the cycle to Garve station, just a few kilometres down the road.
The ride was otherwise a memorable one for good reasons, through a wide valley of high mountains and the occasional picturesque loch. The head wind was a tad annoying, especially during the long descent for the last third of the cycle but it was simply karma for rarely having to contend with that force of nature on the Outer Hebrides over the course of the previous ten days.
Once at Garve, the bike-on-train shenanigans started but I struck lucky with the Scot Rail member of staff in charge of the train from Garve to Inverness and the chap running Inverness station. Despite both of displaying sharp intakes of breath, they both made sure that I arrived, with bike, in Glasgow at 20:45 as had been my optimistic plan formulated earlier in the day while sitting on the harbour wall in Ullapool. Job done!
Well nearly… I’ve booked in for a night of ‘luxury’ at the IBIS in central Glasgow and booked a place for Wanda on the train back home at 5pm tomorrow. Which means I have an impromptu day to spend in Glasgow tomorrow. Any suggestions?
Here’s the plan for my trip to the Outer Hebrides…
…and here’s a podcast I made about cycling the Hebridean Way prior to setting off:
More episodes of The Cycling Europe Podcast can be found on this page of CyclingEurope.org.
And finally, since you’ve made it this far, just one more thing:
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What do you think?