Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Applecross the Hard Way

Most cyclists in the UK will have heard of Applecross in the north west of Scotland thanks to its infamous Bealach na Ba - the Pass of the Cattle. This is probably the hardest road climb in Britain going from sea level to just over 2000ft and back again in 11 miles. Last year I took my skinny bike round the course of the annual Beallach Mor Sportive including the famous climb. Today, however I was looking for a different challenge, one that would make the pass of the cattle a breeze....

The Muk was brought out and the weather hinted at much dryness around the applecross peninsular. Last year I did a circuit from Applecross itself over the excellent trail to Kenmore, as popularised by Coastkid himself in an early vid on his blog (cheers Bruce!), and back round the north side of the peninsular. This time I'd hatched a slightly more drastic plan - a southern circuit but rather than schlep 35lbs of fat bike over the road climb I would go round the south coast and hit the southern end of the road down from Applecross to Toscaig. Therafter up to Applecross, over the trail to Kenmore then back round the road to the start - a fine days ride

Low tide was at 10.45 but a late start meant I was on the trail at just after 10. The first problem came in the form of the large boatyard and quarry sited on the former drilling platform manufactory. I thought I'd be able to ride through all of this but the recently opened quarry stopped this idea dead. Instead I was forced to fight my way round the boundary fence over rough terrain with much carrying. In hindsight I should have ridden up the bealach road for a few k and dropped down to the beach beyond the quarry - hey ho.... Its a shame that a through route along the coast wasn't provided when the quarry went in as there is actually an old path along this coast marked on the historic mapping on Geograph has some good pics of this coast which is what put me onto this route. It also has some historic photos of the oil rig yard. Apparently the yard was built to make the worlds biggest floating object - a 600,000T platform!

Looking back to the quarry etc. This bridge was busted but a clear indication of the old path which predates all roads to applecross

The route ahead with the first section of beach riding

Pretty typical stuff for the first k o
r so - big shingle with intrusions of boulder fields and rock outcrops. I think if I'd chosen a day with a spring low tide I'd have got round these sections much easier

After about 1.5k I had to leave the beach to avoid some low cliffs - I actually think I could have got round these if I'd tried but I didn't want to risk having to back track, given the incoming tide. You can just about see the old formation of what must have been a good path at one time - now totally overgrown but rideable on 4x26!

Looking ahead to what made the route - nearly 1.5k of mostly rideable beach. I thought that the far peninsular was where I was aiming for but in actual fact it wasn't quite that far. Skye is in the background.

This looks worse than it rode - you could usually pick a line round the bigger rocks although it was pretty techy in parts!

This bit was quite challenging and looking ahead there was clearly a major rock section coming up!

Correct! carrying a fatbike whilst scrambling over large boulders is quite tricky. I was painfully aware that if I fell I could be in serious trouble....

Made it! one last bit of beach riding and Ardrishaig bothy appeared above me 2.5 hours after leaving the car. The next section of coast is all cliff after the beach shown here. The coast path is actually shown on 1:25k maps but there is little evidence on the ground. My plan was to follow the much clearer path from the bothy to Toscaig. I took this photo during my first proper rest of the day as I wanted to make the best of the low tide. I was also painfully aware that I still had over 50k to do!

Ardishaig - actually someones house but with a sign on the garden gate inviting people to take shelter in the porch - there was a kettle, mugs and tea and coffee in there!

The path up from Ardrishaig climbs steeply to 200m and then eases to its final summit of 250m - actually the highest point of the whole circuit. Its an old stalking path which makes for fine, if demanding, riding

Route high point - note thickening cloud!

Looking down towards Toscaig on the last section of this ace trail. Raasay is in the background.

The applecross inn at last! - photo of my well earned pint and old skool paper maps...

The path from Applecross bay to Kenmore is a corker - one bigish climb and then it undulates across a huge tract of wild land. Its pretty technical in places but the descent is divine and the fatbike loves it!

Just before the final descent. As you can see the sun had come out and the Torridon hills had shed the previous days murk.

I finally hit the road at Kenmore and was actually quite glad- only 27k to go! That said the northern part of the coast road is tough - an endless series of ups an downs. Once you hit the main road things ease off - just a steady climb then a long descent back to the car, all with a stiff tailwind.

So I claim the first ever traverse of this bit if coastline - come folks its your turn now.....Total distance 65k in 7.5hrs - I was busted!