This is a longish day ride of 250 miles, from Hamilton just south of Glasgow, past Loch Lomond, through Glencoe up to Strathcarron, and ending at Applecross, after the spectacular Bealach na Ba, which climbs to over 600m – it’s one of the three highest roads in Britain.
The bike choice was easy, having ridden a 2500 mile tour of Europe last summer and rediscovered the joys of my 1990 Honda CBR1000. The ride up from London was straightforward – all motorway – and leaving Hamilton next morning (after an overnight stay at mum’s) I stayed on the M74 to bypass Glasgow, then out onto the A82 for Arrochar, tracing the edge of Loch Lomond to Tyndrum and the Green Welly Stop, the famous stopping point that serves good food and coffee.
It rained hard for the first 50 miles, but that didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the A82 – a great road as it twists and turns along the loch side. It’s a favourite of tourist coaches too, each requiring short, sharp overtake blasts as the road permits.
After coffee and a bacon roll at the Green Welly, I turned hard right (though it’s still the A82) through the open snow gates, climbing high up to Bridge of Orchy. I soon crossed Rannoch Moor, an eerie place with a beautifully desolate landscape and the scene of the massacre of Glen Coe in February 1692. Having offered hospitality to members of Clan Campbell and serving officers in the King’s Army, almost 40 members of the Clan MacDonald were killed in their homes or as they tried to flee. The Glen is supposedly haunted, but to me it’s one of the best motorcycling roads I’ve ever ridden, and I stopped in a layby for a picture, to recreate the same moment from 25 years ago, when I rode this way on my Honda Superdream.
The sun came out as I descended out of the Glen, and two miles out of Ballachulish I turned right (yep, still A82) towards Loch Linnhe and Fort William. I’d worked here one summer 30 years ago at the Croit Anna Hotel and enjoyed the 10-mile run along the lochside, recognising a number of key landmarks that hadn’t changed. At Fort William, I took the lochside road that avoids the high street, just stopping for fuel and water on the outskirts.
After well over 100 miles on the A82, running up what is known as the ‘Great Glen’, I finally left it at Invergarry, taking the A87 for Glen Shiel. This is also home to the Five Sisters mountain range, not to mention Lochs Garry, Loyne, Cluanie and Duich. It’s all highly scenic, and I stopped at a car park with half a dozen tourist buses at the stunning Eilean Donan Castle for a picture, coffee and cake. Three miles further on I turned right onto the A890 climbing towards Stromeferry, riding into the sun alongside Lochcarron and the single-line railway track. Turning around the head of the loch I left to come down the other side, only stopping to fill up with fuel and satisfying a sugar craving at the Lochcarron stores.
Just a few miles down the road was Tornapress T-junction, where there’s a fine art gallery and café with decking overlooking the Bealach. Here the signs warn of impending winter hardship and offer the comfort of an alternative low level route… which wasn’t for me, of course. Instead, I took the singletrack road that would be the climax of this day ride, the Bealach na Ba, the ‘road of the cattle’.
It climbs, winds, climbs and climbs some more towards the head of the Glen and a series of harsh hairpin bends on the final slope to the summit of over 600m. I stopped near the top, looking back east towards Loch Kishorn, Lochcarron and the mountains of Attadale Forest beyond. It’s a famous shot and on eBay you can find postcards from the 1920s showing the same view, which hasn’t changed much, if at all.
A few hundred metres on, over the summit, and I was able to look west and south over the Inner Sound to the Isle of Skye and the Cuillins. I spent a few moments alone with my thoughts, enjoying the peace and tranquillity of this place, and the stunning views as the sun headed down towards the horizon. Then it was the final descent to the village of Applecross, over a narrow ribbon of Tarmac that looked as if it had simply been laid directly on top of the heather.
I stayed that night at the Applecross Inn, overlooking the water. It’s understandably popular, but you have to book early because owner Judith Fish has fewer than 10 rooms, with access to a few cottages along the road for overspill. The village is a real community, with its own investment scheme, a 24-hour filling station and a 2016 calendar by local photographer/blogger/fisherman Ali Macleod – buy one, and proceeds go to the community. I parked up the Honda and sat at the water’s edge, watching the sun setting. Applecross is quite a destination.