Friday, 26 November 2010

Like a fool to his folly: Loch Lomond to Spean Bridge with the B.o.B. Pt.1

My first outing with a B.o.B. trailer (see here) had been an unmitigated success, despite the pushing, and the swearing, and the willful malevolence of the overloaded trailer. As such, I saw no reason not to do it all again, except further.

This time though I left the harmonica and the hiking boots at home...

The route took me from the fringes of Strathclyde, through Argyll via Arrochar, Inveraray, Loch Awe and Oban, and into deepest Lochaber through Glen Etive, Glen Coe, Kinlochleven and Spean Bridge.

Day 1 of the trip though was all about riding Ben Lomond with some friends from Edinburgh Bicycle Co-op. Our plan was to set up camp at the foot of the hill, enjoy a pleasant night discussing subjects of merit, before making an early push for the summit to catch the sunrise and then descend back off the hill.

The campsite was idyllic, but the midgies were fiendish, so we had to entertain ourselves with games such as 'ride off the big rock into the smaller rocks' and 'drink the beer'*

Marty contemplating some small rocks from atop a large rock.

Rich contemplating a beer.

Marty walking straight out of a Howies catalogue.

It wasn't long before a campfire was lit, despite my best efforts to put it out by supplying armfuls of damp driftwood from the beach. The course was set for the night and it was beginning to look like the summit of Ben Lomond would survive unmolested...

Ray Mears would have been sorely disappointed...

Dancing with the midgies in the moonlight.

It was with some reluctance that we eventually turned in for three hours sleep, and with even more reluctance that we got up again and prepared to push up the hill in the dark.

Paul looking a lot happier than any of us felt...

Our climb was punctuated half way up by a collie dog, running down the hill towards us barking its head off. It was followed shortly after by its owner, resplendant in red Y-fronts and looking as dignified as a man can in the morning mist, halfway up a mountain, in his pants. He bid us a gruff good morning, picked the dog up by the scruff of its neck and disappeared back into the mist. Speechless, we carried on, trying to understand/forget what we had just seen.

I would love to say we then reached the top of the hill to the first rays of a new rising sun** but instead we were greeted with some very low, very cold, cloud. Deciding discretion was the better part of valour, and that hangovers were the better part of both, we turned tail and fled, having made it probably almost certainly almost all the way to the top.

On the way down we woke the collie dog again...

Day 2 dawned a couple of hours later, and I bid farewell to the EBC crew after a hasty pot of porridge, rushing to catch the ferry across the water to Inverbeg. The road out of Inverbeg and into Glen Douglas was a harsh reminder of the previous night's whisky and attempted push up a Munro, however it eventually flattened out, meandering through several farmyards and a great big M.O.D. base up on the hillside. I didn't tempt fate by stopping for any pictures.

Just before the plunge down to the shores of Loch Long, I turned north onto an old landrover track that traverses the hillside to Arrochar. The track was steep and rocky in places, leaving a trail of bananas behind me that had been shaken loose from the trailer.

The road to Arrochar


The Cobbler. If you squint really hard at the summit, you can just make
out the outline of... a bunch of rocks. I've no idea why its called The Cobbler.

A brief snooze on the shores of Loch Long saw me refreshed and ready to ride down one side of the Ardgartan Peninsula to my campsite for the night, although unbeknownst to me (at the time) there is a bothy in them thar woods...

Peninsula path.

Ben Lomond from the Peninsula. It wasn't that many hours ago
we were attempting to push up that...

Corran Lochan campsite.

Day 3.

Day 3 was shaped slightly by my appetite for fried food. I wanted a minimum of a bacon and egg roll, but was really pining for a good fry up. I made do with more porridge at the campsite and set off north again, above the shores of Loch Goil this time. A more interesting trail than the other side of the peninsula, I even set my personal best for the trailer high jump competition when I manualed through a dried out puddle at speed. This was an experience I was anxious never to repeat.

A quick stop above Lochgoilhead while waiting
for the trailer to settle down..

Lochgoilhead is a great wee place, with inquisitive otters/pine martens in the village shop, and scores of kayakers out in the water. Nowhere to get a fry-up unfortunately, so I continued north to the waterfalls above the village.

A steep and nervous climb through a herd of highland cows
led to a bridge over the river...

...and some exposed singletrack above it!

The descent back down from the waterfalls was excellent, very steep and with some good tight corners, with added red squirrels to avoid on the way down. A couple of miles on the road led to the climb back into the forest, and an uneventful fireroad slog to the top of the Rest and Be Thankful.

Hello, whats this? Five years later, when I eventually
gave in and bought a road bike, this was the first road
I headed for. Descent from the Rest and Be Thankful
viewpoint back to Lochgoilhead.

Rest and Be Thankful viewpoint, with, from top to bottom:
The backside of the Cobbler (so to speak..)
The new Rest and Be Thankful (between landslips)
The old Rest and be Thankful (full of cows)

Being a viewpoint on a major A-road, I was confident I would find some sort of greasy spoon type catering van at the top of the hill, and I wasn't disappointed. Bacon and Egg roll of the gods! Sated, I immediately pointed the bike back down the hill, and followed the beautiful tarmac road back down towards Lochgoilhead, turning west halfway down for a rendezvous with 'Hell's Glen'.

Moses Well, halfway up Hell's Glen. I still haven't figured out
how it works...

Breaking free of the claustrophic glen, overlooking Loch Fyne
and some more excellent tarmac corners (tip: bring your road bike here).

Hell's Glen was a necessary tarmac diversion to get me to Inveraray and the fearsome Leaccan Muir trails I had heard so much about. The Lochgoilhead road, and Hell's Glen, are great fun on the road bike though, even more so now they have laid pristine new tarmac, so I would recommend embracing the drop bars, no matter how much your friends laugh at you.

Descending to Cairndow, I then had a longish stretch on the tarmac, around two inlets of Loch Fyne and eventually to Inveraray. On the way I dropped into the Loch Fyne brewery (Fyne Ales, very fitting!). It seemed rude not to pick up a couple of bottles for the night, as I wasn't intending any more off road that day. How wrong I was!

Failing to find a campsite or hostel in Inverarary, I headed south towards Auchindrain, looking for a decent wild camping spot. The rain came on, but I had enough hours left in the day that I thought I would continue until I found a decent spot, instead of just pitching up anywhere. However, the trail just kept going, and with nowhere obvious to put the tent, I kept following.

To my lasting regret I didn't get any pictures of the trail, imagine riding through a rocky stream, hemmed in on either side by tight regiments of dense fir trees, and you'll be in the right ballpark. Somehow I skated my way through, clattering the trailer off rocks left, right and centre. Coming to the end of the trees I had an opportunity for a breather, and spied a low, grey building across the river. A bothy!

Carron Bothy.

Bothy interior. Note the meagre fire it took my ages to get lit,
which promptly filled the place with smoke.

Drying clothes/inappropriate calendar. It is impossible to dry
clothes by the heat of a bothy fire. What happens is that your
cold wet clothes merely become warm wet clothes. The next
morning, they have regressed to being cold wet clothes again,
except now they smell of smoke.

Personally, I now prefer a pint of 'Vital Spark'...

Day 4.

Its a fantastic feeling to wake up and know there is some classic mountainbiking right outside your doorstep. Between me and the trails though lay my soaking wet, cold riding gear from the day before. Gritting my teeth, I got dressed, shivered my way through more porridge, swept the bothy, and stepped out into the teeth of a particularly spiteful, loose, rocky climb.

A couple of shots of the track undulating through the moor.
Those lochans play a prominent role in the riding, I'd swear I was
riding through a shoal of fish at one point. Thank god for dry bags..

A deceptively tame looking section.

At the start of the madness. Think slab rocks with water pouring
off them, set at approximately exactly the wrong angle to the steep
corner you're trying to turn. As usual I didn't stop to get any pictures
of the best bits, best head up there for yourself!

I had only ridden one half of the loop from Auchindrain, however I rode the complete loop with a mate a couple of years later. For a ride that features a large amount of fireroad, its still a classic, with some sketchy wet rocky moments, and a fantastic, steep, claustrophobic descent through the pine trees at the end. Unfortunately a lot of the trail is getting 'repaired' as we speak, so it may lose a lot of its character.

Having eventually clattered down the last of the trail, I was in sore need of a seat and some food. Dalavich provided both in fine style with a fry-up in the village post office. On the climb out of town however, I learned why fry-ups feature so little in a professional cyclist's diet, and wobbled painfully along the next few miles, until the turn off for the falls of Avich, and then the intriguingly named 'String of Lorne' which led to Loch Scammadale.

Dalavich: Friendly Aussies, epic fry ups.

Falls of Avich.

String of Lorne

More String of Lorne...

The sting in the String of Lorne.

The S.o.L. had fascinated me since I'd started riding as a kid, the fact that someone had named it meant it was either an epic mountain pass, or had some bloody history associated with it. Turns out it was neither really, but I was glad for the chance to ride it. Apart from the bit in the picture above...

A clue to the origins of the String of Lorne may have been the next section of trail, the Balinoe Coffin Path. I was no stranger to coffin paths, people in the west coast always seem to build churches in the wrong glen, necessitating torturous paths over the hills to carry their deceased. The Balinoe route was especially sinuous, clinging to the sides of steep grassy glens and picking a fine line through the trees. It was also crawling with tics.

Tunnel of tics, thank god for shorts with tight leg grippers.

Some first class coffin path.

Naturally you would think that if a path leads to a gate,
then the path would continue on the other side. Well thats not how
they roll in Balinoe! The path continues about ten metres further up the hill...

In theory I was now on home turf. My parents live in Benderloch (no sniggering at the back!) so I had a late evening trundle in the sunshine along the back roads from Kilmore to Connel, including an opportunity to take some classic 'lonesome traveller' shots of my own shadow, cue mad giggling and thousand mile stares...

The smell of coconuts on a warm summers day, pretty sure
coconuts don't grow on bastard spikey bushes though...

So long as you don't start talking to your shadow, its perfectly
healthy to consider it a 'companion'. Sort of...

I finished the day with a surprise rendezvous with my dad, who'd cycled out to meet me, and a quick photo op on Connel Bridge.

A day's R&R at the parent's house, and I would set off for the second leg, along the shores of Loch Etive and into Lochaber, where fun, and rocks, awaited.

To be continued.

*Courtesy of G.Quagmire
** Courtesy of J.Hendrix


  1. Great post Ian!
    quote; He bid us a gruff good morning, picked the dog up by the scruff of its neck and disappeared back into the mist. Speechless, we carried on, trying to understand/forget what we had just seen.
    hahaha class! beeen there a few time s up noth and you do wonder what you just saw!, seen a guy in boxers carrying a chainsaw once whilst walking back to a wild camp..god knows what he was up to!...we took shifts on watch!

  2. Good god, thats a bit 'Wrong Turn' for my liking Bruce! To this day I wish I'd never watched that movie...

  3. OK, as I've lost my password and it transpires that Google's security questions are tougher than my online banking, I have started a new blog based very closely on this one over at

    Thanks for reading.