Day 12 – Dunvegan (Isle of Skye) to Fort William – 140 miles

So I did not write anything about the midges yesterday. We had heard about the scourge of the Highlands and the Scottish summer beasties, but had so far avoided the bloodthirsty swarms of midges. We encountered a few yesterday when we stopped to take pictures of the waterfall on Skye, but that had been the most significant encounter to date. However, when we reached the B&B last night, we were literally mobbed by the little suckers. They are tiny, and bite without invitation, and were landing on us in their hundreds in the few minutes it took to unload the bikes and get in to the B&B. We got bitten on the face and hands, and a few bites have come up like traditional itchy bites. Midges are horrible things.

Anyway, enough of that digression. We woke up this morning without an alarm (well, Lena woke up early and was watching the clock) and when 8am passed and my promised alarm didn’t go off, she started the first gentle naggings of the day. Once up, she had a pronouncement: “Good news and bad news – the good news is that there will be no midges today, but the bad news is that it is blowing a gale, and the rain is coming in sideways”. Thus began the wettest day of our tour to date.

Shower, lovely breakfast and a good chat with our lovely hosts, and we were packing up once more. The weather and tides meant that we received a text from the ferry company warning of likely cancellations for the day, We had a ferry booked from Armadale, in the bottom corner of Skye, to Mallaig on the mainland. Given the wild weather and the likely attendant rough crossing if the ferry did actually manage to sail, we allowed discretion to play the better part of valour and opted to return to the mainland via the Skye Bridge. We had planned to stop at the renowned Fairy Pools on Skye, and even have a wild swim if the weather was clement, and despite the obvious indications that the weather was otherwise set for the day, we decided to head off in the direction of the Fairy Pools and investigate.

We rode the 20ish miles to the car park, which included about 4 miles of single track road that had a lot of traffic on it, and discovered that we were not the only fools who had decided to check out the location. It is about half an hour walk to the first pools from the car park, with a steep down and then up the other side, and so off we trudged, in full bike gear and helmets (the wind and rain were so strong that we felt it necessary to keep the protection we had). There were lots of others doing the same (sans biker gear), and so we trudged in droves to see what the fairies had to offer.

The rain was still coming in sideways. My visor and glasses steamed up if I closed the visor, and the rain came straight in if I had it even slightly open, so my choice was between not seeing, and not seeing. I chose the former, and could vaguely follow the path. I have to say that the walk was worthwhile – the waterfalls, stream and pools were spectacular and reminded me a lot of the pools we had swum in the South African Drakensberg during my teens and twenties with my Dad and Dave – best friend from school.

We walked back to the car park, by now wet through in our gloves, but also sweating from the activity and so wet inside our layers, too. The remainder of the days ride did not improve our humidity.

Off the island we drove, still in lashing rain, and re-traced our steps of the previous day. Kyle of Lochalsh and then Eilean Donan, where we stopped for lunch – just to get something warm in our tummies. By now I was wet through my boots, pants, gloves and torso, as well as inside my helmet. It was quite cold with so much of the gear wet, and so stopping for some warmth was most welcome.

We rode past Loch Cluanie once more, though it was not much visible in the mist and rain, then turned south-ish, and passed a number of other lovely Lochs. I say lovely, because we didn’t see much of them due to the weather and steaming inside my helmet and glasses, but the odd glimpse I did get was spectacular. Loch Loyne, then a great viewpoint over Glengarry was followed by Lochs Garry, Oich, Lochy, Eil and Linnhe as we come in to Fort William.

Cold, wet and somewhat miserable, we checked in to our hotel. There was a newly lit fire in the lounge, and they turned on the heating for the drying cupboard so that we could hang all our gear. In our room, we both found that some of our stuff inside our bags was wet as well, which added to the joy, but a hot shower, dry clothes and an alcoholic beverage by the now roaring fire seemed to banish the miseries of the day to distant memory.

It is amazing the perspective that comfort provides. The day had been long (we were on the road for 7 and a half hours, either travelling, walking, refuelling or for one food stop). It had entailed some pretty tough riding – it is hard to enjoy when you can’t see much, there is a lot of spray, and you worry about cars getting impatient and getting too close while the wind buffets you about, and all the while you are cold and wet through. And yet the sense of achievement and satisfaction once we were warmed and dry and had food in us was great, and justified the hardship of the day.

We had not expected summer in Scotland to be so harsh – it was about 12 degrees centigrade maximum, and rained hard the whole day, with attendant strong winds. However the experience has not diminished our trip, rather enhanced it.

Hoping for a better weather day tomorrow, though.