Day 17: Spean Bridge to Beauly

Distance: 56.3 miles
Time: 4 hours 27 minutes
Average speed: 12.5 m.p.h.
Distance from Lands End: 879.95 miles
Distance to John o’Groats: 151.51 miles
Number of monsters spotted at Loch Ness: 0
Number of days we’ve been on the A82: 2.5
Number of times Gary still managed to get it wrong: at least 3

Spean Bridge was lovely – a small place, but with several very pleasant-looking B&Bs and a good choice of eating places. The restaurant at the Smiddy is famed throughout Lochaber, but we had chosen the less formal Old Station restaurant, and we weren’t disappointed. It was a short menu, but all fresh locally-sourced food, beautifully cooked and presented. The new owners have only been in post for a month, but it’s clearly going well already. The restaurant has a view of the platform at the station, and at 8:10, bang on time, the Caledonian Sleeper came through, picking up passengers for the night train to London.

After conking out at 9:45pm, possibly our earliest yet, we slept well and long, and came down to a great breakfast, including haggis, which Jonathan enjoyed very much. A couple from New Zealand chatted away to us, but we were very restrained and managed not to mention the Kiwis’ recent defeat at the hands of the English cricket team.

Sue had done some washing for us, and had even spirited away our toxic shoes to the drying room for the night (which was definitely above and beyond the call of duty), as they were really wet after our soaking in Glencoe yesterday. Spean Lodge was a really good choice, Glen and Sue were so friendly and welcoming, and had some good tips for our evening in Beauly tonight.

We hit the road about 10am, straight over Thomas Telford’s stone bridge over the River Spean, and paused briefly to visit the Commando memorial. It’s a striking monument, marking the training of soldiers in this area during the Second World War, and is in a great position, high up and with a 360 degree panorama of all the surrounding hills.

The road then took us down to Loch Lochy, which, judging by its name, must be the quintessence of loch-ness. Or maybe they just ran out of names here. It was very pretty, anyway, a long loch stretching north-westwards, marking out the Great Glen in a line with Loch Oich and Loch Ness to come. We caught and passed two Spanish cyclists weighed down with camping gear and wearing great flowing rain capes. They told us they were going to Inverness and back over four days.

Between Loch Lochy and Loch Oich we crossed the Caledonian Canal via the swing bridge at Laggan, and rode on up the Great Glen, with the water now to the right of us. At the top of Loch Oich we came across the second swing bridge, this second one at Bridge of Oich open though, to let a yacht and a large catamaran from Helsinki through. It was very efficiently done, and we were soon on our way, through a brief loch-less section up to Fort Augustus. There was an amazing flight of several locks on the canal at Fort Augustus, and we stopped briefly to watch the lock-keepers in action.

Leaving Fort Augustus we hit Loch Ness at last. Glen at Spean Lodge had advised us to be a little cautious on this stretch of road, as people can be a little distracted by monster-spotting as they drive along the loch! As we rode along, there was an ominous CRACK from the back of the tandem, and we decided to stop in the driveway of a cottage to check it out. Sure enough, a spoke in the back wheel had broken, not an uncommon event. Thankfully this was one incident we’d prepared for, and we were able to put in a new spoke from our spares collection. Not having done it before, though, we were a bit slow, and the time we spent on it put paid to our plan to lunch at Drumnadrochit, still about 12 miles away. Word soon spread amongst the local midge population, though, who came down in their droves to lunch on us. We’d stocked up on repellent in Carlisle, so we weren’t too badly munched once we’d dug that out.

Once the tandem was all back together again, we rode on to Invermoriston, where we found a good little cafe, a hundred yards down the Kyle of Lochalsh road. Whilst we had lunch, Gary recalculated our route to Drumnadrochit, switching us from just 12 miles directly into Drumnadrochit on the A82 to a 126 mile route via Kyle of Lochalsh and various other places he fancied calling at. We were speechless!

Ignoring his pleas, and after a mildly comic search for Jonathan’s missing glove involving several other guests in the cafe (one of whom spotted it as we left, attached to the underside of our top bag via its velcro fastening, much to our embarrassment), we headed out on the A82 along Loch Ness once more.

Loch Ness is huge, at least half a mile wide and very long, but we knew we were turning off about halfway along its length. The going was a little slower than our speedy ride along Loch Linnhe yesterday, much more up and down, but we made good time, and were soon passing the ruins of Urquhart Castle and turning for Drumnadrochit.

We knew that there was a tough climb beyond Drumnadrochit, the last time we would climb to 900 feet on our planned route. As we turned onto the Beauly road, the sign said 15% for three quarters of a mile, and it was every bit of that. It was the steepest hill we’ve been up for many days, and unremittingly steep too, climbing to 600 feet with barely a let-up in the gradient. We made it though, and the last 300 feet were at a much gentler gradient, taking us up to a wild, craggy plateau. We had several cheery waves from drivers up on the plateau, and thereafter enjoyed an almost unbroken glide down to Beauly.

Our rain jackets have been on and off all day today, but it’s a sunny evening now, and we’re settled in to a large room in a B&B near the centre. There are various options for dinner – Glen recommended the Priory, although we’ll have to see what they think of our elegant zip-off trouser arrangements.

Tomorrow could be a long day – we plan to pop into the bike shop in Dingwall, right on route, to see if they can check the tension on our replaced spoke for us. Then we’re aiming for either Golspie, Brora or at best Helmsdale, but a lot will depend on the going and the time. Helmsdale is nearly 70 miles from here, but would give us a shorter day through the Flow Country to Thurso the following day.

Thurso! We can’t quite believe how far we’ve come. And how close to the end we’re getting. The tension is building!