Monday, 21 July 2014

A beautiful day on a bicycle, the Beallach na Ba

Spent last week on holiday in Applecross. Got my 'pass' on the Thursday so a ride was on the cards. Where would I go? Head for Torridon, maybe?
Applecross? Yep there is really only one place you can head for on a bike of course, and that would be my first attempt at the Beallach na Ba.
I wondered whether to get dropped off at the foot, and go for an 'up and down' ride, but decided that given I had a 'pass' it would be better to take a few hours and ride round the peninsula, and besides, my decrepit asthmatic lungs would need 'woken' before an attempt on the Beallach.
I set off from the campsite, and headed towards Shieldaig 25 miles away. Figured there would be a few climbs along the way to wake my lungs up. Little did I count on the treat, both visually, and climbing wise that I would be in for.
As you travel along the peninsula you are treated to breathtaking views of Skye on your left, from the Cuillin in the south, to the Quiraing in the north, and cliffs to sandy bays directly to your left below (and a nuclear submarine too.). In front of you lies a winding road filled with lovely short sharp climbs, and descents. As your lungs adjust to the demands being placed on them it's easy to become complacent, and suddenly everything seems easy, the climbs seem less steep, and you just end up in a place you haven't experienced in a long time, life just becomes wonderful.

As the sea begins to open in front of you and the views become less spectacular, you round a right turn, and again your eyes are filled with more wonderful mountain views, this time the Torridon mountains in the distance with Liathach centre stage. The landscape seems to change around you too, it becomes a more baron place with nothing but the winding rolling road ahead of you, scores of sheep, and a few cottages scattered here and there. As the mountains grow larger, and your legs grow more tired from the constant climbing and descending the complacency ebbs away. Before you know it the scenery changes again, this time a lush forested landscape with even steeper and longer climbs than you have experienced before, but these don't last for long and soon you are at the end of the peninsula nearing Shieldaig, 25 miles and aver 2000ft climbed so far, this is a good day.

The next section is a short 7.5 mile stretch to Tornapress, it's wooded at first but soon opens out with a loch on the right. Although short, this section was a drag with a strong headwind and slight uphill, until the end of the loch where the landscape opens out more with two more lochs on your left and a vast moor with mountains in the background, by now the wind seemed to have turned to tail, and with a downhill the rest of the way to Tornapress, and excitement building for the coming climb, was fast.
When you reach the turn off for the Beallach na Ba at Tornapress, it looks pretty innocuous, you are greeted with a sign which warns of how steep the road is, and once the obligatory photographs were taken I was on my way.

Many have already said this, and I can confirm that the start of the climb is pretty easy, and much of what lies ahead is hidden from view, as you climb there are fine views of Loch Kishorn to be had, and before you know it, it seems pretty far below you. You then make a right turn, and you can see the splendour of the mountain in front of you, and you also begin to get a hint of the seriousness of the task at hand.

You reach a junction (which appears to go to a lochan from the map), and make a sharp left turn, here the climb steepens, not dramatically, but all of a sudden you experience that dull ache in your legs for the first time. As you climb further, still seated at this point, the first perspiration appears on your brow, but still you think this is pretty manageable. As you reach the end of that stretch it's time to take the first rest, and take some water on board, and take some more photographs. At this point the full magnificence of the mountain and the climb are revealed to you. You can see cliffs all around on 3 sides, a waterfall and river far below to your left, and ahead you can just make out those switch backs in the distance. I admit to being a little overawed at this point, and for the first time worried that I had taken on too much.
This section is by far the worst section of the entire climb, as you climb, the entire time now out of the saddle, just grinding your way up 20% + gradients, you realise that a 52/39 chainring on the front was not the wisest choice, why didn't I fit the compact from the commuter? Fool! Nothing you can do about it now, so you batter on, energy depleting by the second, and once that nauseous feeling starts you know it's time to stop. You wish for the next passing place for some rest bite, and when it comes it is just sheer relief to be stationary. The rest of this section of the climb is sheer purgatory, as I jump from passing place to passing place resting at each one. The only target at this point is to get to the next passing place. 
That section of the climb finished me, that long mostly straight, steep section before the hairpin bends was the worst time I have ever spent on a bike. I feared briefly at this point that I wouldn't make it, but what can you do realistically? There's almost a mile of the climb left, you're on your own with no phone reception, saddle up. To my relief despite their appearance, or maybe because of the 10 minute rest, the hairpins were not as bad as I had first feared, take the corners wide and they are pretty easy. Perhaps I was also spurred on by seeing another cyclist on one of the sections below, I wasn't being caught, just not letting that happen! I took each bend one at a time stopping briefly at each one (y'know to take photies...;) ), until the final exertion, and sting in the tail to crest the climb.

The descent back to Applecross (I think this as an ascent would actually be harder) is exhilarating, 40mph+ appears in no time and I spend most of it braking, and before you know it you are back where you started.
It took me 1hr 02mins of cycling to get up the climb, as well as 40 minutes wheezing at the side of the road catching my breath. I had set myself 2 goals before I set off, 1: get to the top regardless of how long it takes, and 2: no walking, cycle the entire climb. I achieved both of those goals.
The peninsula ride was 43.2 miles with 4300ft of climbing according to Strava (, the Beallach Beag sportive puts it at 6400ft ascent for a similar route (

What a wonderful day on a bicycle..... :D

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