Book Excerpt 2 - Phil Cox

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A Particularly Hilly Day

The description starts at the west end of Loch Tummel, north of Aberfeldy:

“And now the climbing began again through the Glengoulandie Deer Park towards a small village called Tummel Bridge. There was a caravan park and also, more interestingly, a hydroelectric station. Power generation of this type seemed to be common here and I suppose it makes utter sense: water, hills and gravity to fuel our tablets, TV’s and tumble dryers. It was a reminder to me that there was an outside world and that I was blissfully separated from it. I did, however, miss my iPod but that was on its way to the hotel in Thurso, fully loaded with all the podcasts I’d missed and ready to be enjoyed on my final night in Scotland.

The road became very scenic from now until the A9; I had deliberately chosen this route for its beauty, remoteness and challenging nature.  I wanted to enjoy every moment before hitting a dual carriageway again. The original plan had been to carry on westward along the B846 until turning right onto the B847 at Dunalastair. I had noticed a single track road on the map yesterday that essentially ‘cut the corner’ taking in some of the forested scenery of Glen Errochty. All roads seemed to end up in the small village of Trinafour; the route from Tummel Bridge was a long hill but the climbing really began at Trinafour.

The single lane track was surrounded by pine forest on the side of a steep hill. The gradient wasn’t that bad, just relentless. To the right was a heavily forested upslope, to the left there were fewer trees clinging to the downslope; a completely natural landscape devoid of buildings. However, every now and again, there were rudely constructed tracks with a gate across the entrance. Balfour Beatty had been doing a lot of electricity supply infrastructure work in the area so I guess the roads were access ways that had to be created for their heavy machinery; this remote location just made them look like a road to nowhere. I made a mental note to look at their share price when I got back.

This section was particularly deserted however, half way up the hillside I came across a couple travelling in the opposite direction, the chap was on a bike and his companion was running. We exchanged greetings as we passed by, they disappeared quickly round a bend and I carried on turning the pedals quickly but making little ground at every stroke. In a way, it was a shame as it would have been nice to do this section without seeing anyone; people seemed a little superfluous in this landscape.

The trees thinned somewhat allowing sight of another valley to the left, the distant hills framed the scene along the western horizon, reminiscent of oddly shaped Christmas puddings. The map suddenly came to life from my vantage point as I saw the road I might have taken (had I not cut the corner) join my road further down the valley. A thin line running left to right, sometimes with a tiny car moving along it, became bigger as I freewheeled down the side of the valley. Eventually, the two roads came together.

At Trinafour, I stopped at a set of traffic lights in the village and waited. The climb after the lights was so steep, winding and narrow that it was necessary to control the traffic. This would be interesting if there were cars behind me when the lights turned green. This section of road started with a shady, tree-enclosed bend that immediately went vertical, in fact, I had to adjust my weight forward to stop the front wheel lifting. Fortunately, the steep part only lasted a few hundred yards before I’d climbed out of the trees and was back on a two-way road exposed to the sky again.

The extreme gradients and tight corners called for steel barriers where the road dropped away to the valley floor; I stopped at one switchback to fill my water bottle from a chattering stream. The sun was hot and I’d used a lot of fluid; the cold, clear and tasteless water was too good to pass up. I fished out an electrolyte tablet and added it to one of the bottles; there is no real need to shake the bottle to dissolve the tablets as the action of cycling does this efficiently. A refreshing 10 minute break in the middle of nowhere with views to the horizons in every direction, Peter Jackson’s location scouts couldn’t have found a better place. The water course I’d used drained into Loch Errochty a couple of miles to the west, one of a few lochs dotted above Glen Garry.

After several false summits and many reminders of Balfour Beatty’s efforts in this remote part of Scotland, I topped out and began to plan the descent into Glen Garry; it had taken me the best part of an hour to get to the top. Going downhill would seem to be easy but it is prudent to think about what you are likely to encounter as the speed builds up (especially with additional weight in tow). Essentially, I was dressed in my pants so hitting a stone at 40mph and coming off would have ruined my day. Looking on the bright side, a crash like this might have ended in a shiny helicopter ride; what could be better, assuming I was conscious to enjoy it!”

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