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Whisky Memory 4, The Grand Tour

Whisky Memory 4, The Grand Tour

My Dawes Galaxy Tourer was British racing green was retro fitted with an elongated rear derailleur, a handlebar panier and two rear paniers. This was in the days before mobile phones and GPS for the common man; the perfectly folded map was in the clear plastic cover of my front panier showing the first stage, the road to Crianlarich.

5 day cycle route Edinburgh to Wester Ross

Road cycling that summer had been my life; I was working as a groundsman at the Grange Sports Club down in Stockbridge and had been cycling to and from work. Living in Lasswade (a suburb of Edinburgh) was over a 16 mile round trip every day, my fitness levels were good. My buddy Colin lived up the road and he was on the rowing team at SABC, Scotland’s oldest rowing club, to say we were at the peak of physical fitness wouldn’t be far off.

We had decided to cycle up the west coast of Scotland to a family cottage in Laide, a village just off Gruinard Bay, south of Ullapool by maybe 25 miles. This was going to be a trip of just under 300 miles, over 4 nights using Youth Hostels. The first day, Edinburgh to Crianlarich would be a slog and not particularly pretty or revealing aside from the climb out of Balquhidder and the gentle freewheel down the other side past Killin. Nine hours in the saddle covering 88 miles, needless to say both Colin and I were cycling a lot more out of our saddles the following day… The following day was a delight, almost too short, Crianlarich up to Glencoe is only 35 miles which if we blasted we could probably cover in a little over 2 hours, we took our time. We got everything, pouring rain followed by brilliant sunshine to dry us out. I learned to keep my mouth shut when passing heavy vegetation on the verges, the bugs were persistent if small (mostly midges).


By Glencoe we had resolved that wardrobe changes would be limited, there was no point in stopping to pull out a cagoule, or water-proof breeks, we’d just battle through whatever the Scottish summer could throw at us. This next day would be the making of the trip, Glencoe to Shiel Bride (Ratagan Youth Hostel) was 77 miles but we’d climb way above sea level. Colin would go skinny dipping in Loch Cluanie and I’d vow to invest in a new saddle for my bike! Gel pads are the future.

It is rare to see vast open skies in Scotland or even the UK, there are no flat plains as there are in North Dakota or Argentina but when you’re on the A81 between Loch Garry and Loch Loyne the views are stunning. Looking west you can almost see the Cullins of Skye, looking east your view is no longer blocked by the glory of Ben Nevis, you have instead the beauty of the Cairngorms. It’s all breath taking and we feel so lucky that this is our home, our country, where we belong.

Looking at Ratagan

After Ratagan we’re on our way to Torridon, the traffic is thinning out and the heather is starting to blossom, you really feel like you’re now in the Highlands. The pigeons have been replaced by hawks and herons, the sounds are more likely to be Stags barking than cars beeping, the air is cleaner and fresher, the tourist shops have become the local post-office; life feels more real, less forced.

Torridon is trees upon trees, mixed to pure scots pine, the highlight for many is the Torridon Hotel which stocks some 350 malt whiskies, a beginner in my eyes, not to be sneezed at though, an impressive selection.

My lasting memory of this trip, aside from the views down Loch Ewe and Aultbea was both of us being handed the gift of a whisky flask by an old family friend Alistair Mackenzie. Sadly no longer with us Alistair took Colin and I for a pint in the Aultbea Hotel the following day, god we needed it. We went out to the car park to look out over the bay and caught site of a family otters playing by the shore. Good times.

Colin Gilchrist (whisky enthusiast), guest blogger.

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