Corrieyairack and Glen Cannich
This trip is almost a C2C and if we'd started in Inverness then it would have been. In fact, we started in Aviemore just because we thought it'd be a better place to finish...
Day 1 involved driving to Aviemore and dumping the car. We're actually aiming for Laggan Bridge tonight because tomorrow is going to be a long one as it is, without tagging on any extra kims.
We'd intended following the NCR7 cycle route to just past Newtonmore and then cutting across to Catlodge. In the event, it's raining in Aviemore when we set off and in the circumstances we simply choose the direct route down the 'old' A9. It's perhaps a tad busier than we'd have liked but it is a fast road and it's really a case of putting the head down and getting on with it.
We're in the bunkhouse at Laggan Bridge and are happy to recommend it. On this occasion there seems to be an extended family here as well. They have extended kids who make extensive noise. Perhaps they have a syndrome, as it's quite fashionable now. Therapy appears to involve letting them have free reign to express themselves in whatever way they see fit. That approach may be fine in the privacy of your own home, but we are forced to seek refuge in the pub...
Next morning dawns grey. When we go to retrieve the bikes from the wooden shed we notice a wasp bink hanging from the roof inside and so the operation is necessarily a delicate one. Of course, it wouldn't do to spread fear and alarm among the Extended Family so we keep schtum...
We're following the River Spey up the valley. It's a single track tarred road and a steady plod as far as Melgarve where it ends. This is where the Spey swings to the south along to its source in the remote Loch Spey. Our route is on a track now and it's heading towards Corrieyairack Pass.
What starts as a reasonable surface soon deteriorates and becomes loose rubble. It's rideable in places but for those of us who are perhaps gravitationally challenged - plus the weight of the panniers - it's safer to walk. There are also some relentlessly steep sections where you've really no option but to walk.
It's a long haul up here and we're glad to get to the top at almost 800m. The rain has stayed off and this a fine spot to be so we stop for a snack. It's only early afternoon so plenty of time to get down to Fort Augustus where we're booked in tonight.
Only then do we notice that two spokes have broken on Iain's back wheel. Just what we'd feared.
So it's a slow and careful descent down into the Great Glen. Perhaps there'll be a bike shop in Fort Augustus; it's on the Great Glen Cycle Route after all. And as soon as we hit tarmac I notice that familiar wobble - a spoke has gone on my back wheel as well. We are truly goosed!
Morag's Lodge Bunkhouse has a bike-hire business but, helpful as these guys are, there is no way we can have the wheels fixed. Only one thing to do: sit outside by the canal locks, nurse a beer and watch the boats go by...
The solution is for one of us to get an early bus next morning to Fort Bill and take the wheels. We phone Off Beat Bikes and ask if it might be possible to do a rush job. They are nothing but helpful and, yes, that should be OK.
Iain gets the short straw and also the 7.30 bus in the morning. Despite the early bus, it's early afternoon before he's back and we're just about ready to roll. We're aiming for Cannich tonight and had considered following the Great Glen Cycle Route to Invermoriston and then taking an off-road trail that goes over the hills via Loch ma Stac. That's clearly a non-starter now and, while we're obviously pleased to have got the wheels fixed, it has thrown a spanner in the works.
We opt for the easy - but unpleasant - trip along the main road. Not ideal but it does get the kims behind you without too much effort.
The village of Cannich has a bit of a run-down feel to it. It is, however, an obvious jumping-off point for a number of routes; the most obvious being Glen Affric. We're aiming to go all the way up the glen and then drop down into Gleann Lichd to Shiel Bridge. You could probably do this in a day but we'd decided to book in to Glen Affric Youth Hostel simply because it's such an iconic hostel in a spot that's about as remote as it gets. You just have to stay there...
Leaving Cannich, it's a good few miles up the valley before the tarmac stops just past the end of Loch Beinn a Mheadhoin. From here it's a good track along Loch Affric and it's refreshing to get away from what has been more road in the last day or so than we'd intended.
We're still a few kims from the hostel when it comes on to rain. The surrounding hills are magnificent, rain or no rain, and in due course the hostel heaves into view, in all its splendid isolation.
The accommodation is basic but none the worse for that. The number of places is limited so booking ahead is really a must. Our fellow travellers are an eclectic mix of nationalities and types; no doubt the warden has seen it all before. All except us have walked in, mostly from Shiel Bridge. We have a pleasant evening and just hope the rain will ease tomorrow.
Sure enough the day dawns bright. This is a special place; we say our goodbyes and take the path leading further up the valley. Once past Camban bothy the progress slows. It's a good path if you're walking, but not so easy with a bike. We're soon at the seriously spectacular, but steep, descent into Glen Lichd. It's merciless going down but you'd surely need to be completely deranged to bring a bike up here...
...and if you are tempted to bring a bike, here's some free advice: take the pedals off and give your shins a break!
The rain has returned as we coast easily along to Shiel Bridge where we're booked into the bunkhouse.
Almost at journey's end now, and the following - and last - day sees us back on tarmac for the shortish leg to Kyle of Lochalsh where we're booked on the 12.30 train back to Aviemore via Inverness. We pause only to admire the classic Eilean Donan Castle...
...so, a good circular trip - not quite as we'd planned and with mixed weather - but passing through some of the finest that the Highlands has to offer.
john b, galashiels