Saturday, 5 October 2013


Is the climb Belach Na Ba on the road to Applecross summit in the Northern Highlands one of Britain's most challenging for cyclists? It climbs 2,053ft, there are no flat bits, it reaches 20% with several hairpins and the weather is likely to be challenging.
I did it today and here is my story.

Starting at sea level beside Loch Carron, the first mile is easy enough. It is bright but I can see low cloud in the hills. The slope increases and as I turn a corner a head wind meets me. A motorist stops me. He says that it is very steep and nothing can be seen in the cloud at the top. He also tells me to watch out for deer. After another mile I see a herd of deer to my right. The road turns into the hills and I watch the loch getting further away. The wind varies depending which direction the road is going. Two motorists overtake and I receive sympathetic waves.

Half way up the slope is now steep but the wind has ceased. Clouds are now swirling just above me in a steep sided valley. It is time for a snack stop. I perch on a rock, eat chocolate and take a drink. It is quite cold so I do not stop for long. Shortly after my restart, I round a bend and am hit by a fierce headwind. It is now a struggle. My mind wants to carry on but the body is feeling limp. The road looks steep and clouds are swirling fast. It feels dramatic. More cars pass and there are sympathetic waves.

I walk for about 200m. It is too steep and the wind is too strong but then some energy comes back. I am in the saddle again and pedalling where previously I was walking. The chocolate must have kicked in. There are now a series of hairpin bends and the wind drops. However at the third hairpin a mighty gust throws me off my bike. I get back on and hear a stag roaring in the hills above me. What a time to be calling for a mate. I am thrown off my bike by another mighty gust. I resolve to cycle more purposefully.
I seem to be almost at the top and now the wind is behind me. It is now easy cycling although still uphill. A mile further on the summit is reached. I meet a German motorcyclist. He is from Dusseldorf and we swop notes of our rides. He is very worried about colliding with a deer.
There is a small stone pillar to mark the top and it has distance markers to lots of places but none of them can be seen as I am the middle of dense cloud. I want to take a photo of my bike against this pillar but the wind is so strong that it keeps blowing the bike over. All I can do is take a rather boring image as it is impossible to photograph wind.

I have cycled to the summit of Belach Na Ba and I am really happy. I look at a couple in a car. Their windows are misted up and they do not look to be enjoying themselves. I turn round and start to cycle back downhill but the wind is strong and coming straight towards me. I round the hairpins and lady motorist coming the other way stops me. She was totally amazed to see anyone on a bike and made all sorts of flattering comments which I lapped up. Half way down I realised the wind was behind me and it was a joyful ride back to Loch Carron.

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