Thursday 21st June – Day Ten

Today dawned bright but cool,we only had 60 miles to go so it was an easy day along the banks of Loch Ness and the Cromarty Firth with a distillery tour booked for 3pm in the afternoon – simple! What could go wrong?

We made a late start as the miles were fewer and leaving the hostel we headed to Fort Augustus. The six man room was a bit of a shock after the comfort of the Loch Fyne Hotel and some of the brethren who are best left unnamed snore like a badly maintained buzz saw!

DA cooked us a meal last night and breakfast was a simple affair of cereal and toast plus porridge for anyone who wanted it. Loch Fyne provides whisky to mix with the porridge yesterday but no such luxury today!

The bustling metropolis of Fort Augustus has a population 646.  When we rolled through it the number practically doubled! Stopping to take a picture of the sign we heard the bells go and realised we missed getting over the swing bridge,

This allowed us to observe the work of the lock keeper at close quarter. Bawling insults at the ineptitude of the day trippers going up the loch staircases of the Caledonian canal was pure entertainment! Some other enterprising fellow sparked up the bagpipes and the chaos had a soundtrack,

Originally Fort Augustus was named Kiliwhimin so the new name was an improvement. The original Fort used to belong to the Benedictine Monks who ran a school then a heritage centre and finally sold it to Terry Nutkins – he owned the Lovat Hotel too, never had him down as a property magnate.

Having just looked Terry up on Wikipedia it turns out he is dead! When did this happen?

Terry famously moved in with the naturalist Gavin Maxwell (who wrote Ring of Bright Water about his otter called Mij) when he was 15 Terry subsequently lost the ends of two fingers to Maxwell’s pet otter.

We pushed on, the scenery was marvellous and Loch Ness is huge! It was a long but fast ride down the Loch side to Drumnadrochit…today was going to be a milk run. We rode with Amy and Mark and had some jolly sights to take in on route.

Apparently Amy’s posse read the blog so big love to the Chester massive!

Loch Ness is the second largest loch (behind Lomond) in surface area however because of its significant depth it’s the largest by volume.  In fact, it contains more fresh water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined, it’s a big one!

Loch Ness stretches from Fort William all the way up to Inverness and our route follows the side of it as far as Drumnadrochit. A good chance to indulge in monster spotting.

The monster does not of course exist, it started as a hoax in the 1930s against a big-game hunter, Marmaduke Wetherell, who went to Loch Ness to look for the monster. Wetherell claimed to have found footprints, but when casts of the footprints were sent to scientists for analysis they turned out to be from a Hippopotamus.

A prankster had used a hippopotamus-foot umbrella stand to make tracks in the mud to fool him.  Humiliated he responded by (probably) faking the famous ‘Surgeons photo’ which was published in the Daily Mail in 1934 (this was in the days before anyone had heard of photoshop and photographic evidence was rarely doubted).

Loch Ness lies in the Great Glen, a big fault line that bisects Scotland, which has been excavated by glacial erosion.

Urquart Castle is midway along the Loch and very pretty. We passed the 800 mile mark just before we reached the castle…we could not believe the progress we have made over the last ten days – a sad reminder that this trip will be over very soon!

Drumnadrochit is a popular tourist destination with ‘Nessiland’ capitalising on people’s desire to believe in monsters.

We stopped for water in the car park of the tourist information centre before heading up the last major climb of the trip – ‘Up the Drum’ we went.

My training programme had been very effective – I have been very comfortable on all the climbs so far so was confident this would present no challenges…how wrong could I be?

The Drum rises nearly a thousand feet in two miles, it was 15% for 3/4 of a mile…it was truly horrible! James and Amy out paced me and my lovely bicycle started to make horrible noises of which more anon.

It went on for what seemed an eternity! Bend, sharp rises, bend, sharper rise! I saw bright lights as my heartrate went through the roof, angels sang and through the mist I could see dead relatives beckoning me to join them!

I took a breather – not impressed, I was expecting to get up this in one go but I was damned if I was going to walk. After a few mins rest I got up to the top – the hardest climb of the tour and everyone felt it!

Heading into lunch at the Muir of Ord we were pushing into the strongest headwinds of the whole trip, even the downhills were hard work.

There were a lot of tired faces at lunch – everyone had suffered in the climb and quite a few injuries were playing up as a result. The cancellations for the distillery tour started to come in!

We were not going to cancel though, we had a brief lunch and set off. I had noticed that after the Drum my middle chain ring looked as if it was bent…it was only after we had set of after lunch that I could see the whole crank parting company from the chain rings – disaster!

I sent James and Amy on and wheeled back to the DA crew – a godsend, A quick inspection showed if lost three chainring bolts – something I’d never heard of happening before, you need a special tool to tighten/remove them so without the support crew I would have been stuffed.

They removed one of the inner crank bolts and popped it in the middle of the missing three and I searched desperately for a bike shop – I would be riding the god awful ‘spare bike’ tomorrow if I couldn’t get it fixed…the distillery tour looked as good as dead for me.

Fortunately Orange Fox bikes were close and the lovely mechanic there dropped everything and stripped the cranks, reassembled the whole and replaced the missing – what a guy! He then refused to charge me – WHAT A GUY! Highly recommended and saved my bacon.

He did this all in the space of about 30 mins and I left about 2 pm… I might just make the tour if I pushed.

Peddling like a demon I rolled onto Evanton, phoning James on route he told me which room we were in, where to stick the bike and when he would send the taxi back to me…top fellow.

I zipped past other groups taking in the lovely views of the Cromarty Firth and screamed into Evanton like a looney! In to the room, quick change and our again I hooked up with Amy and we were off to the Dalmore distillery!

The distillery tour was held for me and we had a fantastic time doing something that wasn’t cycling. The distillery is on the banks of the Firths with some stunning views over the water.

Because half the people who had booked on the tour had cancelled we had double whisky tasting at the end…some delicious 12, 15, 18 and 20 year old malts were sampled including the King William Alexander – a snip at £160 a bottle! Lovely!

Maurice said it wasn’t a patch on Irish whisky but I’m not sure he is that objective a critic…

Then it was back to Evanton to our lovely little hotel – the Novar Arms who did us a top meal in the evening.

Evanton was named after the founder, Alexander Frazer’s son and has grown in recent years due to the Scottish oil boom. Evanton was the scene of a riot in 1846 when despite near starvation in the village the authorities continued to export grain. A poor show indeed! Out of the 1600 residents 74 still speak Gaelic.

Evanton is famous as the location where the ‘Naked Rambler’ Stephen Gough was reported and arrested. He walked LEJoG wearing only a hat backpack and boots and I think the authorities took a dim view sending him down two months later! Will have to warn Maurice to keep his clothes on later…

The glasses of awesomeness were won by Michael Burland for his stunningly fast ride up the Drum….honestly don’t know where he gots the energy from but seriously well done!

The Outil D’Or went to Amy who lost her phone for the second time in two days. She borrowed mine to check the cab company before finding it in the pub…

A busy day and some tired faces! Today was much harder than anyone anticipated and tomorrow is a beast of a ride at 106miles over some very empty parts of Scotland.

Enjoying the blog?  Please take time out and sponsor us!  Maurice and I are riding in support of Fresh Start – new beginnings, a treatment service for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  My just giving page can be found here and all donations go straight to the charity (my ride is 100% self funded).


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