(written by Dave)
Today was a great day. Wow, what a difference it makes to have sunshine and no rain. It also helps that we were riding along beautiful highland lakes surrounded by picturesque mountains. We started the day early on the edge of Loch Ness (loch is lake in Gaelic for those who hadn’t figured it out yet – all the lakes here are called loch something). Fort Augustus is on the southern tip of Loch Ness where 5 water locks step up to the Caledonian Canal. There was a boat going through the locks this morning so we hung out a while and watched. It is quite entertaining to watch but one of those scenes that is not overly photogenic. In fact the photos are downright boring.
We traveled the Caledonian Canal for its entire length up to another lock and ultimately Loch Lochy (try figuring out that name). The ride along the canal was chilly but the morning light fantastic. I took lots of pictures and got an early “hurry along” from the senior editor. The road surface was packed dirt which made us a little worried as our guidebook listed a section further up as unsealed. There were no comments about the road surface here. The Caladonian Canal and a couple other canals further up were built in the 1800s as a way to generate jobs (construction) and follow-on commerce. The purpose of the canals was to cut straight across Scotland from east to west, saving the time and risk of sailing around the North Sea. In its day, the canal served a vital trade route. Today, it is used for pleasure and cruise boats. The locks are quite narrow by today’s standards.
Once we reached Loch Lochy we had a choice of riding the busy A82 highway or taking the combination road and forest path on the west side of the lake that I mentioned above. The non-highway route was supposed to have 7.5 miles of forest track and we debated quite a bit over which way to go. The traffic on the short section of the A82 between the lochs convinced us to try the path. There were more junctions on the path so we had to not only slow for the dirt sections but we also had to do a fair amount of map checking. The dirt surface was not too bad, pretty smooth really, but dirt roads really slow our speed down and the concentration that they require also makes it hard to look around at the views. We were happy to see the pavement again when we reached it. There was no traffic on the side we chose so at least that worked out.
Once off the dirt, we had another 15k to go to reach Fort William. We saw a few other cyclists heading the other way so we knew were at least picking a route that others used as well. We met one particularly interesting Scotsman who was out for an overnight tour. He came upon us when we were stopped and proceeded to talk non-stop at us until a car finally came up and we had to get out of the road. He was another one of those fellows who really liked to talk. We learned about his job, his bike, how much it cost and various other things. He told us where we might find all of the “bothies” in the highlands. Eventually we got a word in edgewise and asked him what a bothy was. He laughed and told us that it was a hiker’s hut of sorts. I just looked it up and sure enough, that’s what it is – see description in Wikipedia for “Bothy“.
We made it to Fort William about 1PM and made our way straight through to the main walking street. Nancy and I were here in 2006 when we took our mothers on a tour of Scotland. I somehow remembered exactly how to get there. We found the “best baker in Scotland – 2005” and had some fine baked goods sitting in the sun on a bench. Did I mention that we like the sun better yet? Nancy would have been happy stopping here for the day but I wanted to stick with our plan and push on while we had good weather. I think she gave in because there were so many possible places to stay in Fort William that we would have spent hours trying to find one and riding is just easier sometimes.
We were not disappointed that we rode as the afternoon weather turned out great. We had to ride on the A82 again for 14 more miles but traffic was pretty polite. And the views across Loch Linnhe, our third loch of the day, were fantastic. I stopped for a few more photos but was careful not to push my luck. We had a slight tailwind and mostly sunshine – what more could we ask for? We even got a glimpse of the tops of most of the surrounding mountains. One thing I do remember from the trip back in 2006 was that we saw no mountains as it rained or we had clouds most of the way. I remember saying something like “this would be beautiful on a nice day” and what do you know, today it was.
We eventually made our way to Duror, our planned stop for the night. There is no town to speak of, at least no store, but we found our camp ground pretty easy. They were mowing the grass, as you do when you get the first sunny day in weeks, and the tent area was looking a little swampy. All we could think of was midges so Nancy asked them if either of their two camping pods were free. We’d seen the pods on the internet and they looked fun. Well, to make a long story short, one was free and we took it. It was more than camping but how many times will you get to sleep in a pod in your life anyway? The pod is small, only has two cots but it is cozy, warm and midge free (did I mention that it was 8 degrees this morning?). We are more than happy here.
Tomorrow we head for Inveraray. It is supposed to rain again tomorrow, but not until early afternoon. We’ll get up early, try to avoid the dirt roads and hope to make it there before we get wet, or at least too wet.