Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Kidnapped! Trail April 2016


I recently re-read R.L. Stevenson's book Kidnapped, which tells the story of how a young Scots lad is taken to sea under duress and makes his way back to Edinburgh after the ship carrying him founders on rocks near to the Isle of Mull.

I was curious as to the route he would have taken, and started looking at some maps to get a bit more detail than that given on the map shown in the book. The idea then occurred that this could be a great route to do by bike - even if getting to the start might be a bit awkward.

A plan was made, a date was set and a fellow adventurer, Nick was signed up.

Map from R.L.Stevenson's book
As it turned out the plans I had  made for getting to the start by train proved unnecessary as Sarah and Nick's other half Mary were both keen for a trip to Mull and happy to drive back. This also meant that full on bikepacking style - how I had originally envisaged completing the trip would not be necessary and we wouldn't have to carry sleeping kit.

Sunset over Mull from the ferry
Sarah and I drove up from Edinburgh on a Thursday evening and caught the last boat from Oban to Craignure, sailing into the sunset. We then completed the long drive  down the single track road on the Ross of Mull to Fionnphort where we met Nick and Mary at the Fidden farm campsite - a beautiful spot on the beach.

After we had set up the tent I went for a wonder to the tidal island of Erraid – this is where David Balfour, the protagonist from Kidnapped is washed ashore after the shipwreck. Low tide was to be at midnight, so I set off at about 10 to cross the sands to the island. Once I got there I propped up my bike and got my camera out to take a picture of the starry sky. Then I noticed that there seemed to be fingers of light shining up from the horizon. There were no man made lights in view, so I quickly realised that this must be the aurora borealis.

Aurora from Erraid
I caught a couple of pictures before rushing back to the campsite to check that Sarah had seen this too. She had, but by the time I was back the sky had clouded over and the aurora had all but disappeared.

Day 1

Next morning Nick and I commenced the route, with a long stretch of tarmac to begin with. Soon we were pushing our bikes up the slopes of Ben More, following a dashed line on the OS 1:50,000 map which barely existed on the ground. This led to very wet feet, and a col called Craig MhicFionnlaidh. From here we descended, mainly riding but sometimes pushing our bikes over rocks and through bogs to Loch Bà where we picked up a good land rover track that led us back onto tarmac where we wrung out our socks before continuing to Fishnish and the ferry to the Morvern peninsula.

The short ferry crossing dropped us off in Lochaline, where we continued briefly on tarmac past the impressive Ardtornish house and then up a good track to reach Loch Teàrnait and the Leacraithnaich bothy which was in good shape and looked like a nice spot to spend a night. From here the track deteriorated to either a tricky to ride singletrack or a pathless bog. We spotted a badger out hunting in broad daylight near an abandoned croft. The trail eventually brought us to Glen Sanda and a tricky descent to the sea and the enormous super-quarry.

We marvelled at the huge machinery and scars on the landscape as we skirted the quarry on a good land rover track that followed the coast. As we left the quarry we abruptly dropped onto a coastal singletrack. From the OS map it’s normally impossible to know what a trail will be like. I had no information about this costal singletrack apart from a dotted line on the map. It turned out that the trail involved some pushing (or very arduous riding) over shingle on the beach, some rock climbing along the cliffs where we couldn’t get round the costal promontories and some squelching through bogs and being snared by brambles. It would have been harder still if the tide had been in – we would have been forced to climb over more outcrops on the rugged hillside.

Eventually we popped out onto the very scenic road at Kingairloch and the remaining 15 easy miles to the Corran ferry, passing a flock of feral goats grazing on the way. The short (and free for pedestrians and cyclists!) ferry brought us to the busy A82 which brought us to Ballachuilish where we finished for the night.

Ready to go on day 2

Day 2

It rained all night, and was still raining in the morning. In fact it had snowed down to about 500m above sea level, so the mountains were looking impressive where we could see them above the clouds. We elected not to start with the route up Glen Duror and down to Ballachuilish that I had originally planned. The day was going to be long enough without this hilly, and – I expected – boggy start.

Nick climbing up the Chiarain path

We followed the road to Kinlochleven and by the time we arrived the rain had stopped. We stocked up at the Co-Op and then set off up the Chiarain path, climbing on mostly good singletrack past the Blackwater dam and then on to the bothy at Loch Chiarain. As we climbed the cloud lifted and the sun came out revealing the stunningly white peaks of the Aonach Eagach to the south.

Tom near the Blackwater Dam

Looking at the north side of the Aonach Eagach
After the bothy the trail became more technical. Most of it was close to the limits of what I was able to ride, with occasional peaty puddles that sometimes turned out to be only a few inches deep and sometimes threatened to throw us over the handlebars. The trail got worse as we descended to Loch Treig, so it was with great relief that we emerged onto the good land rover track here. By this time I had realised that our progress was not what I had originally anticipated and started to think about modifying our route, so after we climbed to Loch Ossian we deviated away from the planned route which would have taken us over the Bealach Cumhann to Loch Ericht.

Buchaille Etive Mor and the Black Mount across Rannoch Moor
Instead we climbed on a track which was labelled on the map as “The Road to the Isles” which took us past Corrour Old Lodge and then down to Loch Eigheach near Rannoch station. This diversion must have saved us a couple of hours compared to my original route, but missed out a visit to Ben Alder Cottage which is one of the possible locations of “Cluny’s Cage” where David Balfour and his companion Alan “Breck” Stewart stay in the book. The route did offer a spectacular panorama, with Buchaille Etive Mor visible across the Blackwater Reservoir as well as Ben Nevis and the Grey Corries with a fresh coating of snow on the summits.

Nick with the Grey Corries
The rest of the day’s riding was on good tracks and roads, but involved a fair bit of climbing. First we went over the Lairig Ghallabhaich to get from Loch Rannoch to Glen Lyon and then on tarmac over the Lairig an Lochain to descend to Loch Tay and Killin. From here we followed the cycle path to Balquhidder, where Sarah and Mary were waiting at the Mhor 84 hotel having booked us in for dinner.

Day 3

There was frost on the tent for the start of day 3, but it soon warmed up as we rode down the glen – a quick stop to pick up a bacon roll and a bridie at Mhor Bread in Callander keeping the fuel levels topped up. We took bike paths, tracks and back roads through Doune, Dunblane, Alva, Dollar and Dunfermline before eventually emerging at the Firth of Forth.

Spectators on the side of the trail
David Balfour had to take a boat over the Forth, but we were able to roll across the Forth Road Bridge. Soon we were in Cramond for the “official” finish of the route. Sarah and Mary were waiting to meet us and pack our weary bodies and mucky bikes into the vehicles to take us home.

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