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Amazing Assynt

Started by Sin_Tiger, November 05, 2022, 09:30:03 PM

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Sin_Tiger

My in laws regularly rent a house for a week at least once a year as a bit of a get away, mostly so my wife and her sister can talk non stop for a week, don't ask what they talk about. We've frequently been in the Outer Hebridies, Islay, Orkney, Shetland and Northern Caithness. I'm in the habit of joining them but rather than driving there I'll go by bike and stay just a couple of days. This autumn the location chosen was just outside of the village of Nedd near Drumbeg on the B869 in the Assynt peninsula.

Now most Nav programs will suggest you travel North to Inverness using the A9, particularly if you select a faster time, even if travelling from the West. While that's probably true, I don't use or like the A9, although it has some fine views in certain areas, it is heavily travelled by commercial vehicles and the ubiquitos van sleepers and shed draggers but more importantly, I've seen too many near misses from misjudged overtakes, people travelling much faster than they should and the mix of single and dual carriageways often confuses people. In short there are frequent accidents and several fatalities every year, so not on my recommended list.

Coming from the West I will opt to use my preferred route of the A82, up Loch Lomond side, through Glencoe and onward through the Great Glen to Inverness. Much more engaging, with more stop options and with the weather on the day cloudy with sunny spells and a low chance of rain until late in the day. And so it turned out to be, with the traffic reducing at each junction towards the Falloch, first stop at the Green Wellie in Tyndrum for fuel and refreshment, only a handful of bikes heading South with it being a Wednesday. With the Steamer having only done a couple of hundred miles since it's major refresh, I was very attuned to any unexpected noises, vibrations or odd handling, so far nothing to concern me, nothing hot, smooth, comfy and with an indicated 48mpg, all looking good so far. Onwards through Glencoe there was little in the way of traffic and that was well spaced for smooth progress. Interestingly in current times, the cheapest fuel I encountered on the whole trip was in Glencoe Village, shame on you supermarket giants. :nono

Having not ridden a Steamer for a few years, being spoiled on the Trophy's for comfort, weather protection, luggage capacity and more power than you need under most circumstances, it was a refreshingly pleasant reminder of just how much fun these bikes can be, comfortable without being armchair like but enough weather protection to keep fatigue low, suspension capable of soaking up the worst surfaces while keeping things on track and enough torque right through the rev range to maintain good progress or be lazy with short shifts, easy to imagine it's bigger than 885cc and only the most necessary of information and technology. :wheel

The section between Ballachulish and Fort William was the usual drag with this lovely section of road being entirely limited to 50mph, latterly with double white lines, then two miles south of the town the traffic suddenly becomes almost nose to tail all the way through. It happens every time I travel this route and I can't figure out where all the vehicles appear from. Having navigated all the campervans, kamikaze delivery drivers with phones glued to their heads and a few gaggles of bobble hats, apparently the West Highland Way crosses the A82 about 50 metres either side of a fully functional pedestrian controlled crossing but you have to follow the footsteps of Tom Weir exactly. The road North clears to only occasional traffic as soon as the Mallaig road junction is passed and normal service is resumed through Fort Augustus and on to Inverness for the next stop. It was encouraging to note that the roadworks teams had been busy over the summer, with quite a few sections of the A82 having been resurfaced, leaving just enough dodgy bits to keep a rider on their toes.

I chose to go all the way to Inverness rather than go NW at Drumnadrochit, taking the slightly quicker route West on the A835 to ensure I made it to Nedd before it started getting dark and the stags came out. This is another fast paced road where poor judgement of oncoming traffic speed is often witnessed, a road I use with heightened awareness. Ullapool is a great place to stop if you have time and the ferry is not unloading / loading but there wasn't time to negotiate traffic clogged streets today so I made a short layby stop on a hill to stretch my legs before the last few miles. Being on the NC500 route, quite a few bikes in small groups or solo went by, all seemed to be enjoying themselves and waving happily, apart from a group of adventure bikes adorned with small aluminium sheds on the back who did not look like they'd had fun for some reason.  :m

The route takes you to the end of the A835 before turning left on the A837 along Loch Assynt turning right onto the A894 shortly after the ruins of Ardvreck Castle. I was so enjoying the curves and open views I was tempted to go on to the iconic Kylesku bridge since the last time I ventured into this area it hadn't been imagined never mind built but time was pressing and there was the threat of rain, so I turned off onto the B869. This is a road I've never travelled and it often gets bypassed on an NC500 trip. Which although I can understand it if you're driving a camper or a super sports car because you will really struggle to negotiate parts of it without vehicle damage but technically it's cheating if you claim to have travelled the NC500 as it's officially part of the route, it's a pity because there are some great views on the route. I should explain the reason, there are some seriously narrow parts, bridges that will add battle scars to the sides of most vans, blind summits where your only view is sky and tight hairpin bends, of course the reason for the hairpin bends are the very steep slopes of 25%, can't have one without the other. On occasion there isn't a passing place where you need it, simply because there isn't any terra firma, crawling around the edge of a rocky outcrop with absolutely no view of the road ahead so you can't even approach in the knowledge nothing was approaching on the road half a mile away, to emerge onto a spectacular view of the next headland and the loch beyond all the more rewarding. The gate to the dirt track road up the hillside to the house finally appeared, I couldn't see how it progressed but at least I knew there was a house somewhere up there, so I just went for it and God help any sheep that got in my way, I wasn't for taking prisoners. After the short on the pegs ride I wished I'd been sitting down, the views took my breath away, definitely worth the journey.
I used to have long hair, took acid and went to hip joints. Now I long for hair, take antacid and need a new hip joint

Sin_Tiger

The following day was mostly wet and very windy, so we spent a family day just sight seeing around the area. The geography and geology of this area is quite incredible, I can't do it justice here. The Kylesku bridge is an incredible sight amongst this scenery, nothing I've seen does it justice in the raw, it doesn't look out of place at all, hats off to the engineers that imagined and built it. I can't be so kind about the tourist trap, if you can have such a thing here, of Clachtoll, static caravans in such a beautiful spot just don't blend in, I wonder how they even got them here, by sea or perhaps Sweedish flatpack? Lochinver is certainly worthy of comment, pristine well maintained wee town that manages to cater to and tolerate tourists while still providing year round support for the local residents. Small well stocked supermarket, butcher, hardware store, petrol station, bank, electric vehicle chargers, a renowned pie maker (the venison and cranberry is wonderful) a few other non touristy stores, facilities and a handful of eating places. One of those is a must if you can get in, Delilah's might not look like much from first glance with it's unassuming frontage including the coffee "Van" but the inside is very smart, the menu of mostly locally sourced dishes is quite extensive and the quality would put many top end city restaurants to shame. I won't try to describe the sunset, even with not so great weather it was nothing short of spectacular.

I had to make a decision after watching the weather forecast, go back Saturday and it was looking like wet no matter what I did, or go back Friday late morning as the band of rain that was forecast should have cleared and I could sneak down between it and the next one. I had already decided to complete the Drumbeg loop but not sure about which route to take back to Inverness. Approaching the Ledmore junction it wasn't hard to spot the build up of campervan traffic on the road towards Ullapool on the A835, snap decision, I continued on the A837 towards the delightfully named Oykel Bridge and on to Bonar Bridge. This is a very varied terrain road, from open moorland, lochans and heavily forested riverside sections, very enjoyable but you do have to keep looking well ahead for logging trucks in certain areas and try not to jump off the bike when you hear a shotgun going off.

Getting a bit low on fuel, perhaps too low to make Inverness I had to start looking around, be warned, Google doesn't always get updated when a rural fuel station gets shut down, weeds growing in the remains of a forecourt are not a good sign and opening times don't always reflect the truth, eventually I managed to find a functional one open and decided filling up meant avoiding a stop in Inverness during rush hour. On approach to Inverness the first signs that things were not going to go to plan appeared, A9 southbound completely closed until further notice, I knew that meant 3 or 4 times as much traffic on the A82 as normal. My heart sank as I headed south out of Inverness into the
growing gloom, it was starting to get dark and the rain that had been forecast to have passed to the East by now was behind schedule or the next band had come early, no matter I was heading into it.

The Great Glen to Fort William was hard work, not being able to move fast enough to keep my visor clear meant either riding with it open and suffering a battering and a wet liner or constantly wiping the visor to be able to see with on coming vehicles continually using high beam. The Steamer lights are good but if your light blind you just can't see the road period and that makes for slow and not smooth progress. A very brief stop at Fort William for fuel and a bit of basic food and I was on my way again, not at all enjoyable as it hadn't let up and wasn't looking like it might. I did have a brief rain free 15 mins going across the moors after Glencoe, ironically the one section you would normally expect the worst weather. The nicely resurfaced sections of road that I had enjoyed on the way North were now exhibiting a dark side, quite literally, no white lines or cats eyes yet and little in the way of moonlight or silhouettes to gauge where I was on the road, the only comfort I took was I would see any deer by their eyes from quite a way off. I gave up trying to enjoy any dry parts of my anatomy and focused on more immediate route milestones. Eventually getting back within reach of Glasgow I decided to face the slog down the motorway for the sake of safety and time. Mistake M8 closed due to an accident, lengthy detour through Govan on a Friday night. Eventually I tried to settle into a relaxed frame of mind for the last leg South, M77 closed for roadworks, lengthy detour around Kilmarnock, marginally better than Govan. Finally I made it home and summoned the strength to put the Steamer away, not forgetting to give thanks for her faultless performance under all circumstances and promise her a wash. After failing to find a dry stitch in any article of clothing that was left piled by the washing machine I had a shower and went to sleep very easily reflecting on the journey, at least all the many good bits.
I used to have long hair, took acid and went to hip joints. Now I long for hair, take antacid and need a new hip joint

Lee337

A great write up & some fantastic scenery. Don't know what it is, but the sky always looks bigger in the north - maybe down to the clouds & big hills  :icon_salut:
No matter how smart you are you can never convince someone stupid that they are stupid.

TigerKing

Great report Sin, thanks for sharing.  Shame about the the traffic and weather coming home but the routes you took sound very interesting and have gone in my 'rides to do' list, so thanks for that as well.

Nick Calne

Is it really an adventure bike if its wheels never see dirt?