Erskine Hospital Ltd Charity No SC006609
Erskine Hospital Ltd Charity No SC006609
All preparations complete and now ensconced in Bught Campsite, Inverness. We cross the start line at Inverness Castle tomorrow at 0900. The mood in the camp is focused but excited. So much so that a small trip down memory lane is underway as reminiscences of Soltau and Salisbury Plain are relived. We even have Tennents! But no oatmeal blocks, no campfire and strictly no digging holes. Tam Hobbs (SQMS) in his element and threatens a mean breakfast to see us off. All bikes loaded, oiled and ready to go. Rain is forecast for the night and former skills are revisited in an attempt to stay dry. Thanks to everyone for your support.
Inverness to Applecross
After a team photograph at the Castle we left Inverness and cycled out along the Beauly Firth towards our first destination, Applecross on the West Coast. The weather turned from pleasantly cool and dreich to cold, wet and very windy. The 8 cyclists were drenched by the time we reached the lunch stop at Achnasheen to be met by Bumper Brown with an array of sandwiches and hot drinks. Spirits raised we ploughed on to the base of the infamous Bealach na ba and started the 9 km climb to the 628m summit of the 6.8% gradient. We had expected a tough climb but the weather made it worse. It was an upwards slog of some 2.5 hours and there was no let up. On top there was thick fog and very penetrating rain which drove us to get off the hill as fast as possible. The descent was much quicker and we were relieved to see the campsite sign at the bottom. It had been a tough day with just over 82 miles covered and we made full use of the dryers in the campsite laundry. Tam Hobbs and his team had laid on a perfect reception with a sumptuous feast after which it was time for bed as the rain quietly pattered onto the tent walls. Needless to say the admin group has camper vans and that was fine by us. They certainly deserved their comfort for the excellent way they looked after us.
Applecross to Gruinard Bay
Day Two and we have been blessed. We started cold and clear with amazing views to the Cullin hills and a quick spy at ‘Boris’s’ rental cottage. And Andrew Totten’s message to us as we departed from Inverness has come to pass; the road rose with us and the wind was at our backs. Applecross to Torridon hugging the coast revealed spectacular view after spectacular view at every bend in the road. We took coffee in Shieldaig and filled up with the best homemade cake this side of Ullapool before cycling the supremely spectacular Glenn Torridon. There was something smugly satisfying about being on bikes as the queues of traffic at some of the passing places looked frustrating.
We cruised down to beautiful Loch Marie and about half way along our trusty support team met us with a hearty lunch and buckets of tea. The fuel we needed to climb over to Gairloch and begin our final 25 miles up the stunning coast to Gruinard Bay. And our luck held out with just one wet old coastal shower allowing us to arrive and get our tents up and initial admin done before the rain.
As I write the noise of the rain on our tent is louder than the click of tapping these keys. The team are all still in one piece but with one or two niggles that will be testing over the coming days. The highlight of the day was having Bella and Rab Anderson keeping up with the pack for our first 50 miles on their fabulous electric bikes - they are really marvellous ( riders and bikes alike).
Supper will give us the boost we need to climb out of Little Loch Broom tomorrow morning, all we need is for the day to start dry. Make a wish for us.
Gruinard to Lochinver
A very wet start despite the more promising weather forecast. No morning coffee stop because the only location was Dundonnell Hotel which was restricted to residents only - we nearly booked a room for an hour but decided for 8 blokes it looked a little suspicious. So we rode on and got soaked climbing up the hill to the Falls of Measach in Corrieshalloch then had a fast descent to Ullapool and arrived freezing. Saved again by a hot brew and piles of sarnies from Bumper’s camper in the Tesco car park. After lunch the weather improved and we had a glorious ride on the coast road to Lochinver in the sunshine. Coffee in the cafe spurred us up the last few cheeky hills to Clachtoll, beautifully positioned looking West out to sea. In all 77 miles, and so 240 of 500. Thank you for your support. Please help spread the word to raise more much needed money for our veterans in Erskine Hospital.
Clachtoll Beach Campsite to the Kyle of Tongue
At last a dry start to the day, but it is colder. Again the wind is mostly behind us for all the big hills so we set off with our tails up. The Assynt peninsular was stunning and produced a few really testing hills as we climbed away from yet another stunning beach. What a delightful but undulating ride from the camp site to the A984 junction. Now on the main road with longer but less harsh grades we managed a fast ride to Scourie for coffee and tea out of Bumper’s camper. A further short hop through some classic coastal mountain landscapes to Rhiconich for a welcome sarnie at lunch. From there to Durness was one of the most fabulous bits of country so far - grand open moor and the longest lovely downhill propelled by a god wind. At Durness We we’re honoured to be met the entire school of 6 in waving Union flags and stopped for a photo with them by the War Memorial - very touching. Around Loch Eriboll was made particularly challenging by a strong head wind all the way. But following one more sickening climb, we had a very fast run down hill to Tongue and a most welcome Tam Hobbs curry. Thank you for your support but do keep speeding the word to help our cause - the Erskine Hospital looking after our veterans and perhaps us all at some point in the future.
Kyle of Tongue to Lairg
Wowzer, where do we begin? In the tradition of the Sound of Music we will begin at the very beginning. Around midnight last night the winds freshened and the rain arrived. It was rather nice being snug inside our tent walls even as they bent and swayed with the ever strengthening and gusts. By morning we had an inch of water inside two tents and one was already being flattened by each gust. An hour later and the poles of the second tent gave up the fight. By this stage we had agreed amongst ourselves to depart an hour later in order to see if the wind might drop just a little and the stinging rain cease. As we set out the sun emerged and the wind seemed to abate, and anyway it was largely behind us for the first 20 miles as we rose and dipped along the stunning north coast. Turquoise waters and dancing white horses to our left and purple heather to our right. Our turn south came with a welcome coffee stop, but an unwelcome realisation that from now on the prevailing winds would be against us.
Where is Padre Andrew Totten when you want him? The road rose into Helmsdale but the wind was at our fronts. Dampened by stinging showers, but with spirits untempered up we climbed onto Scotland’s flows. We were admirably welcomed by the beautiful Kildonon Estate for a lunch stop before the last great climb of the trip ~ 1000 feet over to the A9 which we followed for 3 busy miles before taking once more to the back roads to head into the setting sun towards Nairn. We were at 80 miles, a normal day up to now but today we still had 24 hard miles to climb.
We reached our campsite in twilight; a total of 104 miles from Tongue. It is proper military camping tonight for, although we are in outhouses, there is no running water and the lavatories are closed (actually we are sleeping in them!!).
But we have just 92 miles left to do. Our sore bottoms will survive!
Lairg to Inverness Castle
And so, the final leg. After a night in the Woodend shower block - Gents loo (it’s a long story) but was dry whereas the tent might not have been. We had a good 'Tam fry up' and set off to re-cover the 6 miles back to Lairg before picking up the NC500 to the final destination - Inverness Castle. The weather was better than expected as we followed the River Shin and the Kyle of Sutherland. A highlight was carrying our bikes over the railway bridge - yes, it really was part of the route. Coffee in Ardgay, followed by some fast and furious cycling to catch up 2 pretty girls, revealed that they were going as fast as us while carrying all their kit as well. Up and over Strath Rory and onto the Cromarty Firth to Dingwall, where we enjoyed our final lunch out of Bumper’s van, before he settled in for the Ranger’s match and we continued in the sunshine. Crossing onto the Black Isle, with the wind behind us, we flew up to the North coast with Invergordon in sight. Turning the corner up at Cromarty was a shock as the head wind hit us and we ground our way painfully back to North Kessock and the bridge. There was a short pause to gather the peloton and adjust our dress (Erskine Shirts) before crossing the bridge and back into Inverness through a circuitous route across the trading estates to the finish line and it began to rain. At the Castle we were met by the Regimental Pipe Major, Ben Duncan and the Pipe Major of Scottish and North Irish Yeomanry, who had formerly been with Queens Royal Hussars, plus a crowd of regimental veterans who had made the effort to come and see us in. What a welcome! What a family! And then, suddenly, the reality hit; the 500 mile journey was over (Actually 512.8 because of Lairg). To all our Regimental family, our friends and our many supporters we say a huge Thank You all for your incredible support - mental (encouragement along the way), physical (food and equipment) and financial (touching £40k as I write). The fundraising page will stay open until 30 Sep so please continue to spread the word; https://give.everydayhero.com/uk/jimmy-s-riders-for-erskine/members