Acharacle to Glenfinnan
Distance: 28.96 miles
Average speed: 10.7 mph
Total distance: 241.52 miles
Maximum speed: 34.8 mph
Ardshealach Lodge appears to be a popular restaurant, as well as a very good hotel. We drank aperitifs in a bright, airy, sunny conservatory, with large windows overlooking the southern end of Loch Shiel and afterwards ate a very good meal in a very full restaurant. Attempts to locate a local malt whisky failed miserably: we asked for Glen Borrodale Castle (having cycled through Glen Borrodale) but what we received was a sort of “place-holder” whisky, local in name only, presumably imported while they wait the requisite six years for spirit from the newly built distillery we passed yesterday. For the record it was a lowland style whisky, unpeated, light, with sherry notes.
Today was a planned short day, in order to allow us time for a cruise on Loch Shiel in the afternoon. Consequently we needed to cover just under thirty miles before lunchtime, effectively from the southern end of Loch Shiel to the northern end, albeit by a rather circuitous route. We’d considered cycling up the unmetalled drover’s road on the eastern side of the loch, but, not being great enthusiasts for rough surfaces, opted instead to follow a road route.
It was bright and dry when we left, and stayed that way all morning, apart from a very small number of raindrops. We headed north through the town of Acharacle on quiet well-surfaced roads, across the River Shiel and over a short climb towards Loch Moidart. Thereafter we rode along the side of the loch, with fine views to the west, before a second stiffer, longer climb took us over craggy moorland towards the sea. In fact, once we’d reached the summit of the second climb we were rewarded with a glorious, swooping two-mile descent to sea level on a fantastic smooth wide road. Excellent!
Once again we had views across to Eigg, Muck and Rum, and after a while we could see the peninsula we will follow tomorrow towards Mallaig for the Skye Ferry. Today, though, instead of turning west towards Mallaig we turned east in the direction of Glenfinnan, joining the busier A830 for the last miles of today’s journey. The views of Loch Ailort, and then of Loch Eilt, were spectacular, and across the latter we caught sight of the steam train heading west from Fort William to Mallaig.
One final substantial climb away from the loch brought us to the top of a long stepped descent, at the bottom of which we spotted our hotel, the Prince’s House. As we were early our room was not yet ready, but the helpful proprietor took our bags and showed us where we could change into non-cycling clothes for the rest of the day. So we changed into the very latest line in lightweight t-shirts and even lighter weight ultra-fashionable zip-off trousers (please, no pictures) and marched off downhill to obtain lunch at the Glenfinnan House Hotel. Top-notch venison sausage and mash, since you ask.
Some weeks ago we’d booked a voyage along Loch Shiel, so after lunch we walked alongside the loch to find the jetty for Loch Shiel Cruises. We (along with a dozen or so other passengers) were welcomed aboard the M.V. Sileas by Jim Michie, who piloted us in a southerly direction for the next hour and a half, whilst providing a detailed and informative narrative on the geography, geology, fauna, flora, archeology and history of the entire area. His knowledge was impressive, and delivered as if for the first time with enthusiasm and wit.
By the time we reached Gaskan, two-thirds of the way down the loch, the weather had deteriorated somewhat, and all we brave souls sought refuge in the covered area at the rear of the vessel for most of the remainder of the voyage. It was a shame, as there was so much to see, but the rain was unrelenting.
Our return journey brought us back to the northern end of the Loch, with fine views of the Glenfinnan Viaduct (now often described as the Harry Potter Bridge, sadly, and we had already passed “Weasley Point” slightly earlier in the cruise).
Thanking Jim for a most pleasant (if damp) afternoon we disembarked and hurried round to the Glenfinnan Monument before it closed. This imposing tower (which, to our eyes, appeared to lean slightly towards the south east) commemorates the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. We climbed many spiral stairs to reach a small hatch, through which we folded ourselves to reach the balcony, which gave fine views south towards the loch and north to the viaduct.
A most diverting afternoon, then, and it certainly made a change from pedalling. Tomorrow brings a lot more pedalling as we tackle the longest day of our trip, sixty-eight miles from Glenfinnan to Portree via the Mallaig to Armadale ferry. Once we’ve completed this long day we intend to reward ourselves with a whole day off in Portree, before commencing the southerly return leg of our journey.