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Virtual Lands End to John O'Groats .... Week 7

Sunday 10 May. Benderloch-Fort William 36 miles. Total 742 miles

The road from Benderloch to Fort William (A828/A82) is narrow, with poor visibility as the route twists and turns along Loch Linnhe. When Jim and I rode it in 2013, the road was not busy, but most traffic overtook us despite there being double white lines along most of the road length. However according to the map now, from Barcaldine to South Creagan, there is a separate cycle route. At the bridge at South Creagan, cyclists cross the narrow midpoint of Loch Creran, which is a marine area of special conservation. Until 1999 crossing to the other side of Loch Creran was by passenger ferry, or by rail on the 1903 viaduct (pictured in 1988).

From the north side of the bridge at Loch Creran, the route again offers a cyclepath, which because of the route elevation profile and steady curves, makes me think it is built on the disused railway line, nearly all the way to Ballachulish. I suspect the Victorian railway was a casualty of the 1966 Beeching cuts, and lay redundant until the viaduct was converted to a road bridge and track bed converted to a cyclepath. My research indicates that Ballachulish had a local slate quarry operating until 1966, and that this slate was used to roof much of the skyline in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Local gravestones were also made from this slate and, 100 years on, appear freshly carved because of the durable carving quality of the material.

At Fort William, I can recommend a very good bike shop, Nevis Cycles. By this stage in 2013, through pushing my bike up so many hills, I had worn out the soles of my cycle shoes and needed new ones – these shoes are still going strong today! They also had top quality Ortlieb panniers in stock so Jim bought me both shoes and panniers for my birthday!

Tuesday 12 May. Fort William-Fort Augustus. 31 miles. Total 778 miles

Fort William is the wettest place in the UK, and true to form, it was raining as Jim and I left the town.

Fort William has a modern claim to fame – Glenfinnan railway viaduct is about 15 miles to the west, and is better known as the Harry Potter viaduct. This is a curving 21 arch viaduct, built in 1901 over the River Finnan, which used to be the main public transport route to Mallaig, for the ferry to the Isle of Skye. The ferry and train suffered a huge loss of trade when the Skye road bridge opened on the other side of the island, but since Harry Potter was filmed, the train has many young people using it, in addition to railway enthusiasts.

Fort William-Fort Augustus is where road traffic takes the A82 the east side of Loch Lochy, but for cyclists, on the west side of the loch, there is a minor road to Clunes, then a forest route – the Great Glen Trail – which runs onto a minor road at Kilfinnan. Kil is a common prefix in Scotland and means chapel or church. Reaching the Bridge of Oich the road joins the A82, but soon after there is a cycle route along the Caledonian Canal into Fort Augustus.

There is a Caledonian Canal centre here, and there are usually small boys, in full kilted kit, busking with bagpipes, making a good trade with tourists! Jim is not a fan of bagpipe music, but I like it, and always admire anyone who has the much-practiced skill to make their own music, whatever their instrument.

Thursday 14 May 34 miles. Fort Augustus-Inverness Total 812 miles

The cycle route again takes a different route to car (and tourist coach) traffic. From Fort Augustus we rode along the east side of Loch Ness. This starts with a 4 mile hill, ascending 1200 feet. Then it is a flat plateau, across exposed moorland, followed by a 7 mile steady descent into Inverness. The prevailing wind is from the south west, but because of the landscape, the only other wind direction is a headwind from the north-east – making it a very easy/very hard ride.

Inverness means mouth of the River Ness. It is a city built largely from grey local stone, and has the cathedral of the Highlands. By English comparisons, it has a harsh climate – typically 69 days with falling snow, and usual summer maximum temperature of 25C and winter low of -11C. The main form of employment was the distilling industry, but now focusses on high tech health services, including amongst other things, the manufacture of diabetic diagnostic tests. Inverness is the centre of the University of the Highlands and Islands, thus encouraging employment in the knowledge economy.

Jim’s photo of Flora MacDonald in Inverness town centre. She’s looking for the seagull who keeps annoying her!

Seventh week of virtual end-to-end completed. Not much further to go now!


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