Bealach Na Ba - EPIC!

It was suggested that a club weekend away would be a good idea. As a result it was decided that a few intrepid soles would head up north to tackle the famous Bealach na Ba, or the 'Pass of the Cattle'. The bunkhouse at Kinlochewe sleeps 12 and was chosen as the base for the expedition and 12 intrepid soles put their names forward. Unfortunately there was a last minute call off, but when the time arrived 11 of us headed off for a September weekend adventure.  Read below (and check out the photographs) for full details…

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After a lengthy drive up via a roadwork strewn A9 we decamped into the bunkhouse at Kinlochewe. Shortly thereafter we’d changed into our cycling gear and headed off en masse towards Gairloch.  The plan was to ride out into the prevailing headwind, turn around and get blown home. Gairloch was 19 miles away and most of the team decided to head there and back. 

It was a decent evening and the views along Loch Maree and around Gairloch were worth the effort. The craic was good and the anticipation of the next day was adding a certain frisson to the atmosphere. 

The majority of the group opted for the full Gairloch and back route, while a few prudently decided to save their legs for the next day by turning back at the top of the main climb shortly before Gairloch itself.

The outwards leg to Gairloch was tackled at conservative speed, as was the climb back out of Gairloch.  However as the last ten miles of the route loomed the pace started to increase.  Cruising at along at 27 mph(!) there didn’t seem to be as much talking going on as previously!  A burn up over the last few miles was a good way of loosening up the legs after the long drive (honest!) and meant that there would be less guilt associated with indulging in a few beers later that evening.

It would be nice to say that they day of the main event dawned bright and warm, but truth be told it was cool and damp. Spirits were a bit mixed within the group, especially for those who had decided to help with the consumption a nice bottle of Dalwhinnie the previous evening.  Ignoring any fuzzy heads everyone got themselves ready for the grand depart. 

Three of the more sensible members of the group decided to drive to Shieldaig to undertake the Bealach via a 45 mile loop.  While their route was shorter their experience was very similar to everyone else as the Bealach and the coast road still had to be navigated.

The remaining intrepid eight decided on an alternative 90 mile loop.  Not all with the same level of enthusiasm!

Immediately upon departing Kinlochleven the first climb of the day was encountered. Long and steady and definitely enough to start blowing the cobwebs away.  It was uneventful though, other than a close encounter with a red deer stag.

The group hit Achnasheen and headed for Lochcarron with the weather deteriorating.  It got wetter and wetter, and with temperature being low it felt colder and colder.  With thirty miles covered a bedraggled group arrived at Lochcarron.  Well almost - we didn’t even enter the town proper as we spotted a cafe at the lovely wee 9 hole golf course on the outskirts and there were no objections when we made a beeline for the shelter and warmth. 

The level of hangovers within the group was probably evidenced by the choice in food orders. Baked potatoes and salad for some, and rolls and sausage and cake for others!  The café was nice and the food was great but the service was a bit eclectic to say the least.  Still it was a haven in the storm.

Within a mile of leaving the café you hit a significant wee climb out of Lochcarron.  This was much appreciated as it revived cold stiff muscles.  Over the crest and the Bealach was in our sights ahead.  Looking ominous but clear of cloud.  The good news was that the weather was starting to improve as promised in the forecast.

A short descent through Kishorn and we were at the foot of the main climb of the day with an opportunity for the obligatory photo stop at the signage at the foot of the climb.

Most of the party were happily oblivious to what they were about to receive - others less so!  The first third of the climb is relatively easy, the second third is hard and the last third is brutal.

The initial slopes were tackled and people were wondering what all the fuss was about.  On the middle section the thoughts had changed to this is hard but how much harder can it get?  Very was the answer!  The road steepens considerably for a few hundred yards on the approach to the hairpin section near the top.  It was every man for themselves, using any means necessary!!

We briefly congregated at the summit but it was due to the cold temperatures and windchill we were soon on our way with comments ringing in our ears such as “That was brutal!” and “Sa Calobra is a piece of p*** compared to that!”

On reaching Applecross the decision was made that coffee and cake was in order to try and help us warm up.  The sun was beginning to show it’s face and after a short stop we were soon on the road again.

One of the team had advised the rest that the coast road to Shieldaig was rather lumpy.  With hindsight this might have been down playing the degree of difficulty.  The first few miles started out easily enough and the scenery was fantastic, especially as the sun was now out. 

However soon enough the climbing started.  It is not just the frequency of the climbs on this coast road but the steepness of the climbs that makes it one of the most challenging coast roads in Scotland to ride.  The major compensation was that the scenery just got better and better - as long as you had the energy to lift your head to look at it! 

The arrival in Shieldaig was heralded with cries of “I’m never doing that road again!” and “I’m giving up cycling, who wants to buy my bikes?!”

There was only one real climb on the on last 17 miles back to Kinlochewe howver this was nothing compared to some of the climbs tackled earlier in the day.  But just to top the day off it turned out to be a head wind home via Torridon.  Arriving back at Kinlochewe with 90 miles under our belts definitely felt like an major accomplishment.  The conditions hadn’t been easy and the roads were hard, but the route is stunning.

For most dinner had been booked in the local hotel for 7pm.  Unfortunately not everyone would be back in time for that.  But following a bit of rearranging everyone was able to sit down to dinner by eight thirty. 

Most folk agreed that the route was the hardest they’d ever undertaken.  But as the night progressed, with people refuelled with food and several beverages the travails of the day took on a different hue.

The tales that were to be told would be legendary.  The epic scale of the undertaking would take on new heights, and the pain would start to be forgotten.  A bottle of Ardmore was consumed in the wee sma’ hours and plans made for further adventures.

A scenic drive back down the west coast on the Sunday and we were all back at Paisley.  We had successfully completed our objective and we’d had a great time doing it. Well with hindsight anyway!

Roll on the next PVCC Weekend Trip! Vive le velo!!

Words by Don Smith.