On the Bonnie Bonnie Banks …

As predicted the boy (and surprisingly not so boyish) racers of Ayr called it a night after the tow truck removed their fallen brother, and we slept soundly, lulled by the lapping waves and awoke bright and early as we wanted to make our next stop and planned peddle along Loch Lomond.

Farewell to Ayr

We made good time and parked up at Balloch, a place that we had stopped at on our way to Drymen in 2019. That time though we had headed off away from the Loch and into the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park. We had studied the intended route on View Ranger and noted that there was seemingly a dedicated cycle path that travels beside the Loch. However, it is also beside the A82. We have found that cycle paths next to main roads can sometimes be rather unpleasant, despite not sharing the space with the traffic, or they can be shielded from the traffic and often occupy an older road which is traffic free.

We assembled Twolula and made our way through Balloch, the original part of which has a few shops and marina, and then onwards to the smart newer retail and refreshment area at the head of the Loch, before finding the route out along the length of it. Things started well, there were lovely views along the Loch, albeit it was busy with people setting up for water sports. The route though then veered away from the loch itself to run alongside the main road, and we found that this was literally a pathway directly beside what was a frenetically busy thoroughfare given that it was a June Saturday morning and there were many with the thought of a little jaunt out to the National Park.

Finding the going unpleasant, we made the decision to strike out onto a spur route which took us to the town of Helensburgh. This was a pleasant enough ride, though alongside the road for much of the route, it was a far quieter road, which meant that we could enjoy the countryside, when not working hard up the hills.

The last hill climbed we coasted the length of the high street into Helensburgh and down to the loch front where we stopped for coffee enjoying the briny air and watching the progress of the little sailing boats. We took a leisurely peddle along the front, until we reached the end of the navigable route and then headed back. Not wanting to peddle back up the hill that made up the Main Street, we noted that the Sustrans route was actually along a quieter road that ran parallel, Helensburgh being set out in the main on a grid system. We passed through a rather trendy market with a number of artisan coffee shops and eateries and then headed up the long hill out of the town. We noted that there were a considerable number of significantly sized older houses, and wondered what had been the main trade of Helensburgh in the Victorian era to have sustained such a large population of wealthy citizens. On carrying out a little research on our return, we found that it was not Helensburgh itself that had provided the source of wealth, but rather the coming of the railway had allowed wealthy Victorian Glaswegians to be able to commute from the smoky city to the clean sea air of Helensburgh.

Our ride back to the van took half the time of the outward journey as it was nearly all downhill, so we freewheeled with the wind in our hair and put the kettle on for lunch.

We have found that there is a dearth of pleasant day rides as we have come north of the border, previously we have been journeying and preoccupied with reaching our daily goals, enduring difficult sections, ignoring the less than attractive sections, and revelling in the delightful sections as we encountered them. When you are riding out for the purpose of seeking delight, it is a little disappointing when knowing you are within such a beautiful area, that access is difficult on a steed like Twolula and we have resigned ourselves to having limited pleasure rides that are not ‘there and back’. We had though identified one further potential day ride around the Oban area, and so set off driving the very road that we found too busy to cycle along.

The views as you drive the length of Loch Lomond are indeed bonnie, the road though in a vehicle like Sam is a bit of a white knuckle ride. Although we rarely exceed around 45mph on anything other than motorways, it does feel like we are travelling far in excess of this, and when a huge tourist coach is bearing down on you on the twisting narrow road it can be somewhat heart stopping!

We found our way to our stopover for the night, below the bridge over the Falls of Lora at North Connel. It was a beautiful spot and we sat and watched the tide flow, over the falls with the sun warming our faces.

We wanted to make another early start for our peddle out in the morning as the day was promising to be warm, so we prepped our lunch and took provisions for breakfast and retired for a peaceful nights sleep.

We were up and on the road before 07.30, though the air was a little chill, there was the promise of warmth on the air and the sun was peeking its way over the mountains as we rode along. The route we travelled was the Sustrans route 78 which takes you from Oban to Fort William and we were delighted to find that it ran for most part along what was the old railway line and followed the banks of Loch Creran. This was an area which I had last visited when pregnant with our eldest child, who is now 28. Mr V though had returned numerous times with his brothers as they used to scuba-dive the waters of the Loch.

Over the bridge

As we rode along we delighted in the flora and fauna of the area, Mr V even spotting a deer scurry off into the woods. The woodland and verges are full and verdant, with abundant ferns their fronds looking like they have exploded out from their central point. There were clouds of muted purple rhododendron bushes, which further south have just about finished flowering, but here are still showing off, and all along the verges the darker purple of foxglove spears elegantly swaying in the breeze, every now and then though a white foxglove stood in contrast against the purple. There was still some yellow broom, and of course lining the sides of the path the yellow of buttercups and white of ox-eye daisies. Those are just the flowers that I was able to identify with my limited knowledge, there were others dressed in their prettiest garb to attract the pollinators.

We stopped to investigate as much as we were able, what turned out to be a disused water sports holiday park, a casualty of preferences for warmer climes for such activities perhaps? To us it seemed like a classic setting for a Scooby-Do mystery!

Scooby-Doo, where are you?

As we rode on we crossed the narrow section of the loch at Cregan and cut across to the banks of Loch Linnhe. The waters of the lochs were like mill ponds in the still morning as we peddled up and past Castle Stalker, which stands on a tiny island in the loch. We peddled on a little further, but the route appeared to then be beside the road for quite some time, so we retraced our steps and stopped for breakfast on a well placed bench looking over at the castle. It was still early and the peace and tranquility of the spot was really quite lovely. Having consulted the Ranger in respect to a signposted Appin Loop, we decided to move on as one of the nearby residents had decided that today was the day for cracking out the industrial trimmer to tidy up his hedge.

Retracing our steps just a little, we found the alternate loop, and made use of the thoughtfully placed hand sanitizer attached to the gate. We crossed over the marshland via the Jubilee Bridge, which was the latest incarnation of generations of bridges that have provided a link between communities. The Appin Loop offered further lovely views, the hill which the route circumvents though had clearly been planted with fast growing softwood trees, and this crop had been rather drastically harvested, leaving it with a large bald patch.

Jubilee Bridge

We stopped to offer assistance to a cyclist who had whizzed passed us about 10 minutes previously, she had ignored our cheery ‘good morning’ then but it seems she was a little preoccupied. Having driven from Fort William to the area in order to ‘road bike’ on safer roads. Originally hailing from Germany, she had come to Edinburgh to study and settled in Fort William having fallen in love with the area (and a local) for the outdoor pursuits. Alas we could not assist her with her bike issue though, as it appeared that her new wheel was making an odd noise and neither she nor Mr V could identify the source as it was not the brakes rubbing so may have been a bearing apparently… She decided to call it a day, intending to return her new wheel, and we continued our circuit around Appin. We had not gone much further, and were puffing our way up a hill, when we were surprised to be overtaken by a gentleman of advanced years, only to realise that he was assisted by an electric motor. We passed him further down the road where he had stopped to admire the view whilst having a cigarette.

We closed the circle of the loop, and were heading back the way we came and enjoying the view from the other direction with the sun now fully awake. We stopped on the banks of a small bay, where Mr V felt was sure it was the same one where he and his brothers had dived on a WW II wreck called the Breda (named after a city in Holland, which we have incidentally also cycled through!). We lounged in the sunshine enjoying the beautiful view, watching a small boat make slow progress across the bay, and then a shoal of paddle boarders followed. However, the sun was actually a little too hot as we had no shade, so we decided to move on with the final leg back to the van.

Once we had packed up, we headed further northwards along the banks of Loch Ness, first though having to stop for what we initially thought was a rail level crossing, but soon realising that it was the initial lock of what is almost a staircase at Fort Augustus. It was quite surreal waiting in traffic watching masts pass by.

We have stopped over tonight in another park4night find which is at the edge of a Woodland Trust wood, which had formed part of the Urquhart estate. We enjoyed a sun dappled evening stroll in the charming wood, and meander around the Kirk yard before supper, and then our weekly Sunday night family zoom date, where my father pointed out that the illusive cinnibun baker of Carlisle, was likely to have been the McVitie’s factory, which evidently makes all the world’s gingernuts, and when Carlisle was flooded a few years ago there was utter consternation as tea drinkers had nothing to dunk, such was the gingernut shortage. Hard times.

Ullapool is our intended initial destination tomorrow to avail ourselves of the services there, and from then onward and upward.

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