How are we only on day one I hear you ask? A lot happened.
So – bellies full of soup,chips,rolls and a full pot of tea each – we knew we had to get on our way and say farewell to the comfort and lovely chat of the Lochcarron Golf Club.
Our stuff was lovely and warm from the luxury of the heaters that were maxed out for us. What a morale boost. The rain started to ease and we took this opportunity to set off. We chucked the panniers back on the bike and assembled ourselves – next up… The Bealach na Ba! This road – it’s name meaning ‘Pass of the Cattle’ holds a rep as one of the greatest cycle climbs in the UK … if not the world. We were eager to meet this monster!
We met a steep hill … I thought to myself and shouted over to Kirstie “is this the Bealach?” …. surely not we thought. And we were right. As we reached the top of this *little brother of the Bealach* – we called it, we sped down a verrrry fast descent which took us round a long corner to the right.
Once round this corner I recognised the road from the photos in my research for this challenge. “The sign is coming up Kirstie”. This was a well know road sign absolutely covered in stickers from vistors from far and wide! It started to appear… and I looked to my left. THE BEGINNING. We stopped for a photo – and to take a breath to be honest, before the hairpin bends ahead.
Here. We. Go.
Deep breath – like jumping into a swimming pool – a 9km long incline of a swimming pool.
We set off – our food had settled by now, so we had plenty of fuel to get going. One thing was against us at this – the wind. And it was STRONG.
“We’re doing it! We’re doing it” we both chanted as we began the ascent. “Whatever happens – see you at the top” we said to eachother. We did not know what lay beyond in the upper hairpins…
Pedal, pedal, pedal we went. This isn’t so bad I thought …. what a view! But the wind was relentless – it felt like trying to cycle up a gusting chimney – or like someone was pushing my body back down the road I had just cycled.
The first bend came – and with this, a little rest from the wind which felt AMAZING. Go go go! Now was the time to gather a bit more speed and momentum. But up ahead lay the next hairpin – this felt like a runway, with the gradient rising and rising , the road itself sloped inwards – like a velodrome!!
Continuing up the hairpins and wind tunnels a beautiful rainbow appeared and along with this .. the first sighting of a HUGE stag on this rolling landscape. This was encouraging and reminder of why I was there – to be out in the wild – filling my lungs with freedom!
Did it get any easier? Hahaha no. It was pretty ruthless – but not in a pain way. My body was amazingly not in pain. The thing that was the mental pain was the wind and the inescapable gravity of my bike and the weight on it. Pedalling forward was hilarious – and it felt like 4 pedals to get the usual 1 forward. The bike wanted to go back down the hill ….and the wind was helping with that plan. Pretty defeating… but luckily – came a big distraction. More and more stags began to emerge …. and with this – their very loud vocalisations. Rutting season? I think so.
Emerging out of their camoflage in this landscape – our surroundings undulated with their moving figures. There were honestly too many to count – I promise this is not an overstatement! It was incredible.
There was an absolutely HUGE stag who was repeatedly chasing off a younger one from his group of ladies. And he was NOT happy about it. Up and down these sheer faces of the surrounding mountainscapes they chased. This was transfixing – and wow – their strength. I had never seen stags that big move that fast.
It got to a point where Kirstie were cycling side by side – after a bit of catching up on my side and we had to stop. Just before the last hairpin up the Bealach …not due to our bikes … but due to the rutting and stags crossing ahead of us on the road! What a scene.
We slowly pushed up the last of the Bealach – a combination of cycling and walking in caution of these stags – that were still running about the road!
By the time we made it to the top – it was pretty much pitch black (this was in October remember – so daylight was in short supply).
We exhaled multiples of “we made it” at the top – and now with our lights on full beam – we began our descent. This was FAST. Imagine the uphill we had just cycled … and now flying down the other side to Applecross – in the dark!
I’m not a big one for screaming on my bike … I’ll laugh, sing and chant with random exclamations of joy … but this descent caused SCREAMS. Remember the stags? Yeah – they were still around. And crossing the road frequently – in this dark night. This was sooooooo fast. Our forearms began to burn with the constant use of our brakes and hands tightly gripping of our bikes. Ouch! The wind had somehow flipped now and was behind us – pushing us faster and faster through this tunnel of darkness. In hindsight – and after seeing that road (from the car) in the daylight on the way back – I am amazed we managed to stay on our bikes haha.
Hairpin bends came out of nowhere on our way down ….as well as STAGS RUNNING ACROSS THE ROAD! They would bolt across at the edge of our light beam limits. Kirstie was in front – and as she would go round the corner – there was a chunk of dark before the light of my bike caught up – and in this darkness saw the outline of the wandering stags and then a quick glimpse as they bolted out of my way. Terrifying! It all kind of felt like some crazy dream. As I came round a very sudden corner I let out my biggest scream – a huge huge huuuuuuuuge stag on my right hand side – SO close and with HUGE antlers. Just looking at me. What a thrill but no time to lock any kind of eye contact and indulge this moment … haha! I was zooming onwards and dowwwwwn and couldn’t really believe the experience. This carried on for what felt like hours. Fun albeit mental.
Arms burning – the faint light of Applecross came into sight and with an abrupt thud over a high speedbump of a road surface we arrived.
Scoping out the area we meandered over to the Applecross Inn – sadly they were full for food – so we quickly turned around to find a spot to cook on our stoves. Oh how we missed daylight at this point. It has been a long one – but also a day short of light. As we cooked the dehydration set in a bit … sadly Kirstie was pretty sick and found it hard to eat much that night / anything that she did manage to was swiftly spewed up. It’s weird how even though your body clearly needs the food it says a violent NO!
Rest was needed – and we needed to find a spot to camp. At this point we didn’t really have the mental capacity (at least I didn’t feel I did) to search far and wide for a spot. The night was very, very calm with barely a breeze – so we settled for a flat patch of soft grass right in the centre of Applecross. It was this or trudging on – so we set up camp quickly. Nearby was the luxury of a block of public toilets – so we brushed out teeth and fell into our tents. Good. Night.
Calm night ahead right? Wrong.
I was awoken by the most terrifying – monumentally – terrifically – insane strong winds I have ever found myself in. The tent was being pulled in every direction and my tent poles were starting to bend. Ignore it Ana , it’ll be fine – I said to myself. AYE RIGHT! This mind-set changed reaaaaaally quickly as my tent caved in on me. “KIRSTIE ARE YOU AWAKE?” really stupid question I know … who could sleep through that? “YESSS!!” I heard faintly.
“WE NEED TO MOVE NOW!!! MOVE TO THE PUBLIC TOILETS NOW AND GRAB YOUR TENT” I shouted.
This was now a case of finding my way out of the battered tent – grabbing everything as I went and rushing to get to this haven of a building.
I managed to take a video briefly on my phone – to remember this madness! See below.
We whirled into the refuge of the public toilets block. Wow. The storm battered and howled against the walls – even though we were now indoors we could still hear and imagine the strength of that weather system churning through the coast. We set up our home for the night in the luxury of the accessible toilet cubicle which was big enough for the two of us. Pictured below. It was super super clean due to Covid cleaning standars (i’m, sure it’s just as lovely all year round – but it was honestly spotless).
As we sat there – curled up like caterpillars in our sleeping bags and now munching by the light of our headtorches – we felt very lucky to be out of the surrounding storm. But in true Kirstie and Ana spirit- it was all part of the adventure!
As the night grew even darker – the two caterpillars turned of their headlamps and lay down to sleep – around 1am with the aim to wake up at around 7am to a hopefelly less stormy situation….
NEXT TIME on the NC500 blog!
- What did we wake up to?
- Were our bikes still there against the outside wall?
- Were we in any condition to cycle ….?
As always I would love to hear from you – any comments or tales of your own adventures!
Keep adventuring big and small 🙂