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A weekend of cycling and walking in Torridon

Written by Fiona June 08 2010

My leg muscles are almost as sore as they were post-Loch Ness Marathon. My quads and calves are actually painful to touch and I am having trouble walking normally, let alone descending stairs. But how can this be? I haven’t taken part in a race (indeed, I have  the Peebles Triathlon to do this Sunday!) and the past weekend’s Munro bagging included only two summits (I’ve hiked many more and felt fresher in previous months.) No, the only explanation I can think of is the 57-mile cycle I completed on Saturday on the Applecross Peninsula, Wester Ross.

Ordinarily 57 miles would be a decent bike ride but I wouldn’t expect it to cause my leg muscles to be complaining three days later. Except this bike ride included the famously long and twisting Bealach Na Ba, also known as the Pass of the Cattle.

And, boy, was the pass a challenge for my cycling legs. (Even the G-Force, who is an experienced cyclist, said he thought his legs would explode on some of the steeper sections of the road! He did have two less gear cogs than me though!)

The Bealach na Ba pass, Tornapress to Applecross

The single track road heads up from sea level at Tornapress to a height of 626m and features gradients of up to 20%. Around every hairpin corner I looked up to see ever more road and ever more uphill. The road was even a challenge for people driving their cars. Several times I heard cars stalling and you could see the strain of concentration on the faces of drivers as they ascended the road. Nearing the top, many drivers and passengers stopped to cheer me on. You can see from these pictures how the road winds Alpine-style through the mountains.

Steep and painful!

I would love to report that the descent was worth the effort of the ascent but even that was painful. By the time I reached Applecross, a pretty village on the north-west coast, my hands were aching from holding on to the brakes. In the distance I could see the G-Force speeding on ahead but I’m not brave enough to take the corners as crazily as he seems to.

So why on earth were we putting ourselves through such torture? Well, there were two reasons. First, we wanted to explore the area during a weekend break and because we like cycling and walking we decided to cycle on the Saturday and walk Munros on the Sunday. The Applecross Peninsula is famously beautiful with magnificent mountains, stunning sea lochs and a gorgeous coastline. The landscape is iconically Scottish looking and thanks to glorious sunny weather we saw the area at its very best.

We have also entered the Bealach Mor Cycle Sportive in September. This 90-mile challenge includes the Bealach Na Ba ascent and descent – and so we wanted to find out what all the fuss is about. Now we know! Having cycled this pass as part of only a 57-mile circuit I am seriously considering whether I will be able to manage the full 90-mile event. At this stage it seems unlikely, especially given the agony in my leg muscles today.

I would still say that a bike offers one of the best ways to see the Applecross peninsula.  With the sun on our arms and legs and the heavenly scents of gorse, rhodies and sea air as we pedalled wonderfully quiet roads and took in the truly stunning scenery. I always say that the landscape in this region looks as though it was designed for giants and, certainly, we felt like tiny little people as we pedalled up and down never ending hills.

A beautiful evening in Sheildaig

The G-Force, a sunset and a perfect evening in Sheildaig

We were fortunate enough to be staying at the Torridon Hotel (treat yourselves some time as this is a wonderful hotel) where the bedroom window looked out on to one of the best vistas I’ve ever seen including loch and Munros. And so on Sunday we could hardly resist the chance to summit a couple of peaks. The G-Force had been in the area the previous week and bagged a dozen or so other Munros. He’d left the “easiest” for our Sunday adventure. But, still, I’d not recommend Beinn Alligin, which includes an airy scramble over the so-called ‘horns”, to anyone who is fearful of heights. This includes me! For once I was actually glad that there was a large amount of cloud hanging around the mountain ridge because it meant I could not actually see how steeply the mountain sides descended from on high.

The G-Force, Beinn Alligin traverse, Torridon

FionaOutdoors, Beinn Alligin traverse, Torridon

At one point as we climbed up from the car park on the bank of Loch Torridon  and up towards the “horns” we heard a woman shout at her partner: “For goodness sakes, can you not sense that I’m really not enjoying this.” I had a lot of sympathy. Having felt the same way on the famously scary Aonach Eagach ridge traverse in Glencoe some years ago I completely understood her fear and unease. Perhaps, however, I’ve become a lot more familiar with mountains and ridges over the last year or so. Or maybe it was the patient and calming instructions of the G-Force who managed to give just enough assistance to make me feel safe but was never so patronising as to make me feel inadequate. In any case, while I did feel a little exposed in places I managed to enjoy most of the walk and even the scrambling sections.

Although the route does merit its tougher grading there is a reasonably well-marked path for most of the route and finding the two Munro summits,  Sgurr Mhòr (986 m) to the north and Tom na Gruagaich (922 m) to the south, was relatively straightforward. It was on the descent of the last Munro that my tired cycling legs really began to suffer and by the time we returned to the car park my quads were shaking uncontrollably.

Despite being exhausted after all the exertions of this weekend I wouldn’t have changed a single part of it. Using up so much energy also gave us a big excuse to eat and drink to our heart’s content. We enjoyed big cakes at the Potting Shed Cafe in the Walled garden at Applecross House, cake and ice-cream at Nanny’s Shop in Sheildaig, wine and home-made canapes on a wonderful sea tour to see sea eagles with Torridon Sea Tours, as well as a fab pub meal at the nearby Torridon Inn and huge breakfasts and a fantastic six-course meal at the Torridon Hotel.

My only worry this week is whether my legs will recover in time for the Peebles Triathlon. Judging by the pain endured at this morning’s yoga session I’m seriously doubting a full recovery. Then again, perhaps my legs will recover so well that I find myself storming the course in Peebles. Yeah, dream on!

You can see more pics of the weekend on my Facebook profile

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