We continued on heading past the most northern point on the route at Achfray before dropping down to the north west coast. A brief respite from the loose tracks and pushing came in a road section to Lochinver – however this too was typically hilly but with stunning views it helped take our minds off tired legs and numb bums.
We stopped on the coast that evening hidden away behind some rocks a nice breezy spot that helped keep the midges away.
More early morning pushing.
4 hours sleep and another early morning start, we knew day 4 was going to be a hard one.
A short spin along the coastal path dropped us in Lochinver sadly before the famous pie shop had opened, a climb out along a glen heading for Glen Canisp and the first ‘proper’ hike a bike. Having done this section of the route at Christmas we knew we had a good
5 1/2 hours of bike hauling ahead of us. Eventually we hit the road on the far side, passing a school group en route who didn’t believe that we’d just carried the bike over. Back on tarmac it felt good to be logging the miles again as we headed again for Okyel Bridge this time timing it perfectly for brunch and re-stocking our pockets with flapjacks.
The old road to Ullapool.
Bellies bulging with food we trundled off slowly onto the old road to Ullapool, for a while we made pretty good progress with wide open tracks until the path became a ribbon of single track overhanging the Corriemulzie river. More off and on the bike, more chatting to estate workers about what we were doing and a bit more pushing thrown in for good measure. It was as we headed to Ullapool we realised that we’d managed break our cache battery which meant we were without a power source for charging our Garmin. This was potentially a big problem as without the Garmin we’d be relying on maps which would slow us down again. We made the decision to head for Ullapool asap to find the outdoor shop and get ourselves sorted. We came off route a couple of miles out and hurtled down the road to town, we made the outdoor shop 5 mins before closing but they had no cache batteries or Garmins. We did however find an electronics shop where the owner was amazingly helpful, we bought a huge cache battery off him and while we went to eat some chips he helpfully made sure it and our Garmin were fully charged. A couple of hours later with our crisis averted we rolled up out of town and back to where we’d left the course to regain the route.
Above the aptly named Coffin road.
A short section of road took us to the aptly named Coffin road, a steep seemingly almost vertical push up and over the tops before dropping down to Dundonnel. It was cool and bright night so we pushed on for a while until eventually we started to drop down and found a flat (-ish), dry spot to bivvy for the night. Tomorrow would be a big day- the loch crossing at Fisherfield and the Postmans path.
6am and bright sun, the climb to Fisherfield.
An early morning push/climb took us up behind the mountain tops before a fast, loose decent into the valley bottom heading towards Fisherfield. Some single track took us past the Shenavall bothy and onwards to the shoreline and the crossing point for the infamous loch crossing. Unlike last year when some riders had been at chest level when crossing the loch for us it was just past the knees.
Surrounded by mountains the loch crossing at Fisherfield.
This was to be our longest and slowest day, we managed a total of 35 miles, our estimate is we pushed, hauled, carried the tandem over 26 of them. Another long steep rocky climb followed as the day got hotter, more hauling the bike over loose rocky slopes and three point turning it to get it around harpins and over rocks- this was definitely ‘Type 2 Fun’. Once we reached the plateau we found this too was unrideable, the wheelbase of the bike being a little too long, more walking and scooting followed. Eventually we were rewarded by the amazing view of Dubh Loch and Fionn Loch as well as some bits of track that were rideable.
Dubh Loch and Fionn Loch.
Not all tracks are rideable.
We crossed the causeway between the two lochs and started on a long slow grind up the ‘Postmans path”. The Postmans path is a historic path about 10 miles in length that runs from Letterewe to Fisherfield causeway where once a month the postman would make the journey to deliver mail. One heck of a route!
We’d thought that once we’d made the end of the path we might be able to make it to Kinlochewe for tea. We couldn’t have been more wrong.
Somewhere there is a path…
Sense of humour failure.
Manhandling a tandem over a tree filled ravine has that effect.
The trail suddenly disappeared to become a footpath barely 3″ wide in places that clung to slopes that were about 75 degrees. Covered in a mixture of ferns and rose bushes we dragged the bike along being scratched, torn, burnt in the sun and eaten by midges when we stopped. Progress was slow and only got slower as we encountered one of 3 ravine crossings that was filled with fallen trees. After much swearing we manhandled the bike over, under and through the trees- having a ‘moment’ or two in the process.
6pm came and went and any thoughts of tea at the Whistle Stop cafe were well and truly dashed, we decided to camp a few km’s outside of Kinlochewe get a proper nights sleep and roll into town for breakfast in the morning. Tempting as it was to push on the prospect of a large breakfast and good coffee was all we needed to call it a day. Absolutley knackered we crawled into our sleeping bags, the last thing I heard was another HTR rider cursing as they bounced down the path towards Kinlochewe.
More mountain tops in Torridon.
A short spin into Kinlochewe and we hit the Whistle Stop cafe for breakfast. Smoothies, quinoa and mushrooms with fried eggs on top, peanut butter on toast and lots of coffee, now we were ready for another day of bike hauling. So far the bike had been perfect (except for losing a chainring bolt- which was holding together nicely with zip tie!) it was just us that were starting to feel it. Riding a tandem seems to necessiate a lot of sitting down- especially on the loose slopes of Scottish hills. We both had developed a rather uncomfortable saddle/pressure sore on our ass plus rather worryingly our shoes had started to split across the soles. It would seem that dragging a bike across many hills had taken it’s toll on our footwear which was patently not HT550 rated. This was not what we needed when the mornings objective was to haul the bike through and over Torridon. We rolled out of town and had a few gentle miles of road before turning off onto some fast rolling fire road, this didn’t last long before we started the inevitable climb into the mountains. We popped our heads into a bothy we passed and managed to find some suncream someone had left- winner! Maybe today we wouldn’t fry as much. We eventually reached our high point and then started to drop down, we did manage a bit of riding before deciding that maybe a full suspension bike would be a better choice for the large slabby drop offs. A quick and fun blast through some wooded trails at the bottom and then back onto the road for a while to knock out some more miles. By now we were pre-occupied by the fact we wanted to get to Dornie before the general store closed otherwise it was no food for us. More hills, more swearing at the non existent river side path to haul the tandem along before finally hitting tarmac again. By our reckoning we had 15mins to get 5 miles to the shop, we decided to give it everything we had and screamed down the road, a headwind was not what was needed right now. We didn’t arrive in the 15 mins- but it turns out we had the opening times wrong by half an hour and it was still open. Result!
An impromptu picnic outside followed as we stuffed restocks into bags and bellies for later.
Misty start in Glen Affric.
We climbed out of Dornie, stopping briefly at the viewpoint before heading to Shiel bridge and the turning to Glen Affric. We then had a few miles of nice fast riding as we dropped into the Glen before realising that the footpath that clung to the mountain side above us was where we were headed next. Off the bike again for another night of pushing the bike up and over rocky paths that clung to the glen side, crossing waterfalls, and becoming more remote the further we travelled along it. We knew we were going to be passing Camden bothy en route and guessed it would be a full house in there as we spotted a couple of other HTR riders heading for it. We rolled on by saying hello to the few riders outside who were trying to quietly get their stuff off bikes and inside without waking the others. Shortly after we decided to bivvy for the night as the mist had dropped in and visibility was deteriorating.
Old military road to Fort Augustus.
An early start as we kept heading through the Glen passing the SYHA hostel- surely one of the remotest youth hostels in the country. It was a misty morning and gave the glen quite an atmospheric and spooky feel. Eventually we crossed the river at the end of the Glen (bridged) and continued on fire roads. Progress quickened as the going got easier and we could see where we were gong, we picked up the military road heading for Fort Augustus climbing up and through more forests, hills and past remote hilltop lochs before the hitting a massive long fire road decent- the sort of decent that leaves you with the smell of overheating brake pad in your nostrils. A final hill to climb, another descent through a gorse filled hillside of switchbacks before arriving in Fort Augustus.
More food (pizza!), a restock at the petrol station and a visit to the chemist for blister pads.
Our deteriorating footwear meant we now had a number of blisters on heels and toes so a quick stop on the banks of the Caledonian canal gave us some time to patch these up. It should also be noted that a Compeed blister pad can do pretty good service to a pressure sore on the ass- and apologies to the couple cycling by who may have witnessed what probably looked like some pretty deviant behaviour as I was applying said item to Rich’s backside.
After the relentless hills we’d encountered spinning along the flat banks of the canal was a welcome relief, some woods, some lochsides and a few hours later and we hit Fort William. We’d forgotten it was World cup weekend and were a bit shellshocked by the amount of traffic and people we suddenly encountered. We skirted the edge of town and started the long climb through the woods heading for the old military road to Kinlochleven. It was mostly easy going except we’d blocked out the memory of a set of stairs we’d have to contend with.
Once on the military road we trundled on our thoughts being to push on through the night and get in on a 6 day finish. However, with Rich’s new open toe spd arrangement it became apparent this wasn’t the best idea and he was probably risking a broken toe or two in the process. As darkness fell we made the decision to stop and crack on again in the morning, a 6 day finish wouldn’t be likely but we would have 10 working toes each.
Last view of the ‘Ben’
Another early morning start of walking the bike down to Kinlochleven, followed by our last big push of the trip up and over Devils Staircase, we were definitely glad we hadn’t tried to do this in the dark. Once over the other side we followed the Military road to the Kingshouse hotel (too early for coffee!) and on to the Glencoe ski station. A fast stoney downhill took us past the many highland Way walkers that were now on the move and on to the Bridge of Orchy, we had a quick caffeine & cake hit here and then pushed on past the station and onwards to eventually rejoin the route we’d last been on 6 days ago.
We rolled in to the Green Welly stop at 7 days 4 hours and 44mins after we’d left.
We lost one chainring bolt, trashed 2 pairs of shoes, and can honestly say that taking the tandem around the HTR550 is the hardest physical thing we’ve ever done.
It’s taken a week for the cankles to go down but we’re already talking about which bike we’d ‘solo’ it on 🙂
Free to a good home, one careful owner.
Bike specs and kit list.