Day 3 – the rain was still light in the morning, but there was no wind. I climbed through the same valley as last night, and came across an occupied hunting lodge. At this point, the trail started to descend, albeit gently, but it was still a descent. I checked my map, and could see a phone box at Croick. I decided to press on until then, and phone my wife from there and eat a second breakfast at the same time.
No such luck – the map was correct in that there is a phone box in Croick, but no phone. This was a theme that would be repeated many times during the race.
I took the Ullapool ‘road’, turning off towards Oykel Bridge on some lovely singletrack. It was a stream in places, but the bike handled it well, climbing everything with ease. At Oykel Bridge, there is some road to Rosehall, the last shop for miles. The shop was a sad sight, not much stock on the shelves, but there were pastry goods and biscuits, so all was not lost. Rosehall became Glen Cassley, and then the power station road climb (would have been fun unladen and especially on a road bike) and a long and fun road descent to Loch Shin. This was my first “wow” moment of the race, as the scenery opened up and I remembered just why I love riding my bike in Scotland.
You might have noticed by now the sheer lack of photos – I didn’t take any for the first few days, my main focus being riding to the end. This, and my lack of prowess, speed and ability to write a good story, is why I’m not a sponsored rider paid to blog this…
Anyway, I digress. I knew the ‘crux’ of the route was coming up, the Bealach Horn. The profile of this part of the route made it sound horrible. It is certainly the most remote part of the route, and one that just needs to be seen to be understood. The sky was clouded over, with the occasional beam of light projecting onto one of the rocky cliffs surrounding me, and then Ben Hope appeared in front of me, its steep sides belittling anything I’d seen before. I arrived at Gobernuisgach Lodge, knowing that the fast descent I’d just experienced was just to make the slow climb ahead that little bit more tortuous. The trail climbed slowly up Glen Golly, first a quad track and then muddy singletrack. I could see the ribbon of trail up the ridge of Creag Dubh and knew this was going to be fun/horrible. The sun came out just as I started pushing, so here I was in the middle of nowhere, pushing a heavy bike up a steep hill, overdressed for the occasion. This pain was short-lived though as the top was reached – surely that was the bealach done? A quick check of the map and I discovered this was not the case. A few more k of bogs and boggy singletrack (which was actually quite fun when rideable) and I hit the top of the bealach. I could now see why people quit here – all that climbing was in vain because I now needed to lose that height very quickly and then climb back up the other side.
The best way to describe the descent – if you go hillwalking in Scotland, and decide to venture off the path by taking a steep route along and down the side of a hill, via some peat hags, then you’d appreciate this. Add in a fully laden bike and you get the picture. It wasn’t as bad as I expected it was going to be, but it was still pretty horrible.
A fast river crossing followed, and then a very steep path out to the bealach itself – 2km and 250m of ascent away. Definitely an unrideable part of the trip. However, the next part was not – one of the best descents of the trip, and in fact that I’ve ever ridden. 4.7km, 470m descent. Looking back at my Strava, it took me 4 hours 45 mins to reach the bealach from when I left the road, and 20 minutes to descend it back to the road.
Another ‘wow’ moment; Loch Stack looking magical in the evening light. Another missing payphone at Achfary. I decided to press on for Kylesku, knowing before I’d even made up my mind that the looming hill ahead of me needed done – it just looked like it was part of the race. I was right! A steep, long, slippy and muddy climb through forestry came and went, and then yet another fast loose and bloody amazing descent to Kylestrome. Crossing the bridge to Kylesku, I discovered no room at the inn, or the Kylesku hotel, so decided to press on and find a bivi spot. By this time it was dark, and I had run out of water. Sadly it was sea all around me, so no fresh water. I slowly made my way along the road, eventually finding some drips from some rock beside the road, filling up there – all water is good in the Highlands as long as it isn’t from the sea or filtered by dead sheep. My next step was to find a bivi spot, and that came at about 11pm on the road to Drumbeg, in a layby.