South Dartmoor CTC Album


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Monday 18 August 1986
Tour: Scottish Highlands and Islands
Day 1 Home to Loch Lomond
18 Participants: Andrew Billington, Catherine Burnard (16, Bristol), Damian Cannon, Daniel Coles, Chris Hall, Michael Hall (15, Preston), Richard Hopper, Brett Jamieson, Carl Jones, Michael Jones, Ian Malem, Philip Mills, David Parry, Stephen Parry, Andrew Simmons, Mark Stott, Richard Van Looy (15, Colchester), Damian Williams
The ticket clerk’s day had not started at all well. Ten cyclists had rolled into his station just half an hour before their train was due to depart with a shopping list for more than fifty tickets. To make matters worse they included requirements for numerous separate journeys between the more remote stations of northern Scotland.

His first reaction had been to turn them away, but they insisted that everything had been planned through the Torquay party travel office and that he should have been notified in advance.

Twenty-eight minutes later he was congratulating himself after correctly identifying all the stations and issuing the last of the tickets. But what was this? The leader of the group was presenting him with a credit card! As he rang Visa for authorisation he noticed the Fat Controller on the platform glaring at him through the glass barrier. But all the glaring in the world couldn’t make Visa answer the telephone promptly at that particular instant.

As the last few seconds ticked by it became clear that something desperate would have to be done to save the tour, so Michael produced his personal cheque book. The Fat Controller managed to summon up one final devastating glare as Michael boarded the train, and then we were off.

This tour, whilst forming the main event of the year for youngsters in South Devon, had also been advertised nationally as CTC tour number 8630. As a result there were a number of people to collect en route, the group reaching its full complement at Preston with the addition of Chris and Michael Hall.

The city centre cycle race in Glasgow did not make the task of cycling from Central to Queen Street station any easier, particularly as a number of key roads were closed. Eventually however all the rail journeys had been completed. Loch Lomond hostel loomed up before us complete with its thirty or so dormitories and endless staircases. With all the ensuing exploration and excitement it was not easy to subdue the younger element to silence after lights out time.
Tuesday 19 August 1986
Tour: Scottish Highlands and Islands
Day 2 Loch Lomond to Glen Nevis
Sunny spells, showers later
18 Participants: Andrew Billington, Catherine Burnard, Damian Cannon, Daniel Coles, Chris Hall, Michael Hall, Richard Hopper, Brett Jamieson, Carl Jones, Michael Jones, Ian Malem, Philip Mills, David Parry, Stephen Parry, Andrew Simmons, Mark Stott, Richard Van Looy, Damian Williams
At 9am everyone was outside with the bikes admiring the view of the distant mist rolling across the loch and savouring deep breaths of fresh Scottish air. The sun was bright, promising great things for our first day of cycling – so bright in fact that Carl fell off his bike whilst cycling around the fountain!

When I said ‘everyone’ was outside, I should have said ‘everyone except Brett’: he was sweeping his dormitory for the third time under the critical eye of a none-too-pleased warden. Fortunately another inspection revealed that he had at last managed to remove more than fifty per cent of the dust, and so he (and the rest of us) were allowed to leave.

Split-second timing has become a feature of Michael’s tours over the years. On this occasion a slightly hectic push along the eighteen-mile loch-side road brought us to Arrochar station just ten minutes before the only train of the day to Fort William was due to leave. The timing would not have been quite so tight had Daniel’s damaged mudguard not required urgent attention along the way.

The train journey to Fort William took nearly three hours, although fine scenery and good food seemed to make the time go more quickly. After a provision stop and a short ride to the youth hostel, thoughts turned to the main event of the day - the assault of Ben Nevis.

A few heavy showers persuaded the younger boys that the TV room was a better bet than the mountain. The nine remaining mountaineers made a bold start up the steep track from the hostel, set with huge steps that looked and felt as though they had been made for giants. Several bends and two hundred soggy metres later the part was down to five (Michael, Daniel, Ian and the two Damians) and the rain, at last, was showing signs of stopping.

There were many occasions when we almost turned back, such as the time we realised that with the hundreds of people walking the path we were the only ones going up, and the times when people coming down assured us that we were still on the foothills. After two hours however we had reached the top.

The sky had cleared for us and the sun now shone brightly on the desolate scree slopes of the summit, the white, fast-moving clouds below us, the green, rolling mountains opposite and the Scottish lochs and highlands in the distance. Here there was absolute silence: not even the sound of an insect broke the feeling of desolation. Hundreds of metres below us lay the huge lake that had marked the half-way point of our climb: now it seemed small and insignificant against this magnificent backdrop. Through the wispy clouds we could occasionally make out the youth hostel far below. For we five the tour had already provided us with our money’s worth.

The descent took only one and a half hours. It was 8.30 and time for showers, food and bed – in that order. Fortunately there was no shortage of milk: Michael had, as usual, ordered enough to bath in – 22 pints!
Wednesday 20 August 1986
Tour: Scottish Highlands and Islands
Day 3 Glen Nevis to Garramore
18 Participants: Andrew Billington, Catherine Burnard, Damian Cannon, Daniel Coles, Chris Hall, Michael Hall, Richard Hopper, Brett Jamieson, Carl Jones, Michael Jones, Ian Malem, Philip Mills, David Parry, Stephen Parry, Andrew Simmons, Mark Stott, Richard Van Looy, Damian Williams
Andrew Billington was different. He had felt different since the start of the tour but hadn’t been able to pinpoint the exact reason. Did the other lads have more energy? Was their meaty diet affecting their behaviour? Was he just on a far higher spiritual plane?

Suddenly he saw. They were all wearing … Hi-Tec trainers! Such bright colours and flashy designs. This ‘concept footwear’ seemed to be revitalising their whole characters. He determined to buy a pair that very morning and set off early for a visit to Fort William.

The rest of the group rendezvoused with the new-look Andrew at Nevis Bridge and then proceeded at fair speed along the Road to the Isles (A830) as far as the Glenfinnan Monument, pausing only for provisions at Corpach and a delicate front-changer removal operation on Damian W’s bike beside the bank of Loch Eil.

There is a spiral staircase within the monument, at the top of which is a small trap door which leads out onto the parapet. A huge stone statue takes up much of the available space and the knee-high safety barrier did little to prevent Michael from feeling somewhat insecure (‘petrified’ was Andrew’s description, but he’s say anything for dramatic effect) as he surveyed the youngsters below playing games with a frisky dog in the tranquil waters of Loch Shiel.

When lunch had been devoured and Steve had been photographed standing on a stone in his monument pose we were off again, penetrating deeper and deeper into the Morar peninsula. Loch Eilt was the next stop when Andrew S decided to swim across to the nearby island. He chickened out when it came to ‘Ze Crunch’ but poor Brett was given no such opportunity!

At last we were nearing the sea. The sight of sheep nosing through the seaweed on the first beach near Polnish cured us of any idea that Scottish seascapes were even remotely similar to those in Devon. We surveyed the scenery from the comfort of a seaside café at Arisaig before covering the last few twisty miles to the hostel.

The welcoming notice at the reception did not exactly cheer us up: “Warden having supper – please wait”. Fortunately we anticipated that the delay might be considerable and used the time for showers and suppers.

Then came the highlight of the day – a walk to the fabulous silver-sand beaches at nearby Camusdarach. To his extreme disappointment (and everyone else’s amusement) Andrew’s new trainers failed to provide him with the courage necessary to leap off a high grassy bank onto the unseen sand below.

As the huge red sun set gracefully over the Sound of Sleat we played timelessly on the soft silvery sand dunes. If there is a paradise to be found on earth we had surely found it here in this remote and unspoilt haven.
Thursday 21 August 1986
Tour: Scottish Highlands and Islands
Day 4 Garramore to Raasay
18 Participants: Andrew Billington, Catherine Burnard, Damian Cannon, Daniel Coles, Chris Hall, Michael Hall, Richard Hopper, Brett Jamieson, Carl Jones, Michael Jones, Ian Malem, Philip Mills, David Parry, Stephen Parry, Andrew Simmons, Mark Stott, Richard Van Looy, Damian Williams
The ferry service from Mallaig to the nearby Isle of Skye operates a tortuous procedure for the loading of vehicles. A huge hydraulic platform with capacity for only about six cars repeatedly loads of batch of vehicles from the quayside, raises the drive-on ramp, descends to the car deck (with an exciting accompaniment of mechanical noises), allows the cars to drive off and then rises once more for the next load. The whole procedure is orchestrated by a number of ferrymen who ensure that the vehicles are packed with maximum efficiency. The last few vehicles have to be loaded with special care as the only remaining room is then on the platform.

Having made an early start from the hostel we had managed to cycle the five miles to Mallaig, stock up with provisions in the harbour-side shops and still report to the ferry by the required time of 09.45 – and all this despite a delay caused by a particularly large insect blundering into Andrew B’s eye near Morar. Cycles and riders are loaded onto the ferry in the same manner as other vehicles so there was plenty of entertainment to be had for the next hour.

Following an equally spectacular disembarkation at Armadale, the A851 (more like a country lane really) was followed through a range of scenery which included avenues of trees, superb coastal views (near Isleornsay) and barren moorland. A grassy, inviting-looking mound, situated quite close to the road in the moorland area and promising panoramic views of the long hill just ascended, was selected for lunch. Beauty is often skin-deep however, for an annoyingly-located bog frustrated the efforts of those who raced to get the best seats on the mound. Their haste served only to provide the more mature members with the information necessary to reach the mound with dry feet!

On arrival the mound turned out to be swarming with vicious midges. The only people who were pleased about this were Andrew and Michael who had taken the trouble to buy an expensive brand of repellent and had so far found no use for it. Now they basked smugly in the sunshine, quietly amused by the discomfort of the younger members.

During lunch a distant car could be seen meandering its way across the moor. As it approached our bikes it slowed and finally parked. A young, apparently oriental couple emerged, evidently searching for a suitable picnic site. They gazed enviously at our mound as we turned to view the action.

Finally the decision was made. They collected their lunch bags and started in our general direction. Everyone watched with baited breath. Suddenly the woman, who was in front, let out a squeal as her sandal sunk into the quagmire. She withdrew her foot spontaneously but the sandal remained submerged as her now shoeless foot returned to the bog. The young man rushed to her assistance, getting wet feet himself in the process, and frantically the two of them beat a hasty retreat back towards the car. If Michael thought he had any chance of stopping the boys’ hysterical laughter he had another think coming. All he could do was return the couple’s distant glare with his most apologetic smile.

A delightful riverside bridge in Broadford provided a peaceful assembly point following the main shopping expedition of the day. No-one was in a hurry to leave, but eventually we set off to cover the six miles to Luib, a tiny hamlet nestling at the base of the majestic Cuillen Hills, where Michael knew of an excellent tea stop. As we stretched out in the fresh sunshine with a deep blue sky above us, a rich green Skye below us and freshly-baked brown scones beside us we recalled the latest rain reports from home and considered our good fortune.

A small but important incident took place here. Philip, who had to fix a puncture while the rest of us took life easy on the grass, didn’t like repairs. He nonchalantly threw away his punctured tube (which was nearly new) and installed his spare. David, who is a scheming and devious child, quietly rescued it, repaired it and contemplated selling it back to Philip for 50p! He didn’t, but the tube does return to the story later.

We chose the coastal road to Sconser as it was scenic, relatively traffic free and not at all hilly. The ferry to the Isle of Raasay arrived a few minutes later – nowhere near as large as the Mallaig ferry but still large enough to take eight cars. Some of the youngsters, during their explorations, spied the ferryman ensconced comfortably in his cabin, turning the ship’s wheel with his feet whilst drinking a can of lager!

It was late afternoon and there was still a midge-infested forest to climb through. But when we emerged at the top, there was the hostel, a simple wooden building bathed in sunshine and overlooking Holoman Bay, the Sound of Raasay and Skye itself. Standing in the doorway was a charming old Scottish lady who announced that she had the kettle boiling for us. The cosy little kitchen quickly turned into a hive of activity.

The evening most of the group scrambled up Dun Caan, the huge, volcano-like mountain in the centre of the island. From the peak we could see the whole island, the sea around it, the mainland and the impressive mountains of Skye, all lit by a warm glow from the rim of the world. A few scattered lights reminded us just how sparsely populated this region was. Far out to the west, just visible under the dying sun, were the islands of the Outer Hebrides, our destination for the following night.

On our return to the hostel we heard how four of the younger boys had spent the evening chatting with the warden by the fire, evidently learning much about life on the islands. But now, we were nearly ready to turn in. We slept with the wooden door wide open to the starlit sky, dreaming contentedly about our great adventures.
Friday 22 August 1986
Tour: Scottish Highlands and Islands
Day 5 Raasay to Lochmaddy
Sunny with a stiffening breeze
18 Participants: Andrew Billington, Catherine Burnard, Damian Cannon, Daniel Coles, Chris Hall, Michael Hall, Richard Hopper, Brett Jamieson, Carl Jones, Michael Jones, Ian Malem, Philip Mills, David Parry, Stephen Parry, Andrew Simmons, Mark Stott, Richard Van Looy, Damian Williams
Breakfast always seems tastier when you have prepared it yourself. Even cereals taste better when you have chosen the packet from a tiny country shop, squeezed it into a pannier next to your spare jeans and carried it around with you for three days. Looking out across the Sound of Raasay, this morning’s breakfast tasted extra-specially good.

The early morning sunshine and scenic backdrop provided us with the ideal opportunity for a group photo, joined by the friendly warden and her adorable black collie. Cal-Mac ferries don’t make a habit of being late however, so reluctantly we said goodbye.

Now back on Skye we took the A850 from Sligachan Hotel to Portree, climbing to a height of 110m before enjoying the seven-mile descent through Glen Varragill. A subsection of the group went on ahead at great speed, planning to “really enjoy” the hill. Michael rode along at the back collecting cyclists who had dropped at various points along the route. On arrival at Portree High School he discovered the leading group sitting around on the grass looking helplessly at Damian Williams, who was badly grazed. Apparently they had arrived during a school break (Scottish holidays differ from those in England) and then performed a spectacular pile-up in full view of the children. Just when the questions had started to be especially embarrassing they had literally been ‘saved by the bell’, so when Michael arrived the repair operation could proceed without interruption.

Portree itself (spelt additionally as Port Righ on the signs) turned out to be an attractive little town, the main shops being arranged around a large, central square. We used the central area for a base as we wandered off to do our shopping. If you ever go to Portree, don’t miss the home-made bakery near the bank: there is usually a queue going right out of the door but that is always a good sign – I can assure you it is worth the wait.

Given the option of the long, scenic route to Uig or the short, direct route, the youngsters made the predictable decision, influenced no doubt by the strengthening headwind. Uig was not as large as we had anticipated, considering its importance as one of only three ferry ports providing access to the Outer Hebrides. There seemed to be only a few buildings scattered around the edge of the huge, sheltered bay, the ferry pier itself dominating everything else with its sheer size.

When the ferry finally arrived we were amazed by its enormity – almost three times the size of the Mallaig ferry but with a similar (and larger) side-loading system. We shivered and shook in the biting wind as the unloading process commenced, making our plight as obvious as possible to the ferrymen controlling operations. Finally they took pity on us and loaded us onto the descending ramp as it returned for the next load.

When Skye had dropped so far behind us that we could no longer make out the little crofting houses that dotted its rugged coastline we moved to the front of the ship to watch patiently as the Isle of North Uist began to take shape. A distant strip of mountainous land, silhouetted by the setting sun beyond, was overhung with a similarly-shaped strip of cloudless sky. The ferry’s Scottish flag, mounted on the bow, fluttered proudly in the stiff breeze.

It was almost dark when we finally navigated through the myriad little islets into Lochmaddy’s natural harbour. The youngsters, who were by now quite familiar with the tedious side-loading technique, were all speechless when the whole bow of the ship began to open up, complete with flag. Vehicles could now drive straight out of the hanger-like car deck!

The youth hostel was, fortunately, close at hand and not too difficult to locate in the semi-darkness. Some local youngsters in the adjacent playing field, who challenged our mob to a game of football, had evidently suffered somewhat from the isolation of the Hebrides: their ‘rules’, such as they were, seemed to allow any action that might help them to win! This did not go down too well with our English lads who walked off the pitch in protest. Nevertheless the exchanges with the locals did prove ... educational.
Saturday 23 August 1986
Tour: Scottish Highlands and Islands
Day 6 Lochmaddy to Stockinish
Sunny start, rain later
18 Participants: Andrew Billington, Catherine Burnard, Damian Cannon, Daniel Coles, Chris Hall, Michael Hall, Richard Hopper, Brett Jamieson, Carl Jones, Michael Jones, Ian Malem, Philip Mills, David Parry, Stephen Parry, Andrew Simmons, Mark Stott, Richard Van Looy, Damian Williams
Saturday morning was bright and still, allowing us to view this strange, new world in daylight for the first time. But it was the stillness that really struck us. This was a kind of stillness that none of us had experienced before. The only sounds were those made by Brett, Chris, Steve and David playing by the edge of the loch.

We had arranged for a private ferry to take us northwards to the next island (Harris), leaving Newtonferry at 11am. The only road on the island formed a rough circle, Lochmaddy being just off the easterly edge and Newtonferry near the north edge, just eight miles distant. We decided to proceed straight to the ferry at a leisurely pace.

We had time to investigate the stacks of peat blocks that had been cut from the bogs all along the side of the road. These must have been the source for the mounds of blocks that could be seen in the gardens of many of the cottages in the village. Andrew B and Michael even had time to arrange some sprays of heather on their cycles – until they realised that the right turn they had been watching for wasn’t going to materialise. They had led the faithful gang along the southerly route by mistake!

Frantically the two leaders chased after the youngsters, who had (as usual) set off at a fair pace. By the time they caught them there seemed to be some question as to whether it might be quicker to go on than to go back. A study of the map revealed that backtracking would probably be quicker, and so the leisurely meander turned suddenly into a hectic panic in an effort to reach the now distant ferry before it left.

The eleven-mile ‘scenic detour’ brought us to the ferry around twenty minutes later than planned, but as it had been exclusively for our use the ferryman (Mr MacAskell) did not seem unduly worried. The only remaining problem seemed to be one of logistics: how to fit eighteen bikes onto what appeared to be little more than a powered dingy with a cabin. Once again the ferryman seemed unconcerned as he stacked fourteen around the outside edge of the cabin: the only thing keeping them from falling into the water was a rope strapped around the outside. Had this not been the only possible way to cross the Sound of Harris I’m sure we would have openly displayed our concern for our machines.

The cloud thickened during the one-hour crossing, and with it came the rain. A particularly nice lady in a craft shop restaurant at Leverburgh allowed us to eat our packed lunches alongside her chips and drinks, but eventually we had to make a move. It was then that catastrophe struck.

Stephen, whilst waiting for the others to finish shopping, slipped on some wet grass alongside a nearby stream and cut his knee open on a stone. Now he could easily have chosen to do this on the mainland, or near the Hebrides’ only hospital at Stornoway. But no, he chose to do it on the southern edge of Harris where the chances of finding anything resembling a doctor would be as remote as the terrain.

An assistant at the shop, nicknamed the FLM by Andew B (Funny Little Man) kindly drove Stephen and Michael the three miles to Northton in search of help. The doctor was out and the ambulance-man couldn’t use his ambulance without the doctor’s permission. He phoned around several houses to see if anyone knew where he was. Eventually he located the district nurse who happened to be within a hundred-mile radius of the area, and she agreed to come to our assistance.

Shortly after she had arrived the doctor turned up. And what a character he was. He must have been in his seventies, and looked like the doctor out of Dr Finlay’s Casebook (a TV series about a Scottish doctor that ran on BBC from 1962 to 1971 for those who don’t know). Stephen was more than a little apprehensive when he saw him, but was no doubt relieved that help had finally arrived.

The doctor used butterfly stitches to close the wound and then generously authorised the ambulance to take Stephen, Michael and the bike along the twisty, unfenced little lane to Stockinish youth hostel where the others would be waiting. Furthermore he arranged for the ambulance to return to the hostel next day to take Stephen to Stornoway, our next destination, where proper medication could be administered at the hospital. All our problems seemed to be solved at a stroke and we thanked both the doctor and the ambulance-man for their trouble.

After a homely supper in the hostel kitchen, eleven of us set out to explore the surrounding area. Whilst wandering along the grassy shores we came across a cove. An old man was tying up his fishing boat. AS we watched we were conscious that we were foreign to this man’s lonely world. He noticed us and seemed to want us to come down. Michael approached awkwardly and asked him where he had been all day.

“Fishing. Around the island,” was the reply in a local accent that took some interpretation. But he was a likeable man.

“You don’t do trips round the bay, do you?” asked Michael jokingly.

The man looked up and glanced at the darkening sky. “It’s a bit late. How many are you?”

“I was only joking,” said Michael, embarrassed that the old man had taken him seriously.

“Don’t you want to then?” asked the old man.

Michael cast his eyes across the eager faces behind him. Of course they wanted to, but that wasn’t the point. The man, however, had also noted their excitement and began to untie the boat.

Chris was allowed to steer – with a little help from the old man. We got around the far side of Stockinish Island, and then the motor failed. The man couldn’t understand it: this had never happened before.

After many attempts he gave up, jokingly saying that he should never had considered taking us out. Michael H and Ian took the oars and began the slow process of rowing us back. It was nearly dark. The others would be wondering where we were. But the timelessness of the Scottish islands had once again enveloped us. A strange friendship was building between man and children as the oars dipped gently into the salty waters. Their different worlds had met and somehow joined just for these few magic moments. This memory would live with us always.
Sunday 24 August 1986
Tour: Scottish Highlands and Islands
Day 7 Stockinish to Stornoway
Sunny start, cloudy later
18 Participants: Andrew Billington, Catherine Burnard, Damian Cannon, Daniel Coles, Chris Hall, Michael Hall, Richard Hopper, Brett Jamieson, Carl Jones, Michael Jones, Ian Malem, Philip Mills, David Parry, Stephen Parry, Andrew Simmons, Mark Stott, Richard Van Looy, Damian Williams
Lochmaddy had seemed quiet to us yesterday, but being at Stockinish was like visiting a different world. Not a sound broke the morning silence. We drifted around the hostel without a care, just soaking up the sunshine and the peace and gazing out across Loch Stockinish to the open sea beyond.

Having consumed the numerous pints of surplus milk we set off along the twisty little lane towards Tarbert, pausing only to give a five pound note (English I’m afraid) to the kind fisherman who had entertained us the previous evening. Dr Finlay (as we had nicknamed the local doctor the previous evening) had told us of this road. On occasions he had been called out to the area in the middle of the night. There were many hillocks and bends in the road but sometimes there would be a really bad hump: before the headlights had descended far enough to light up the road it would perform a hairpin bend, leaving the traveller lying helplessly in a ditch!

Scenery north of Tarbert was certainly sparse, and not too hilly once we had ascended the soul-destroying climb past Clisham, the highest mountain on the Hebrides. An equally long descent brought us to Ardvourlie Bay where lunch was consumed amidst a spectacular water fight, opposing factions being situated on opposite sides of the river.

During the final stretch to Stornoway, Philip taught everyone an important lesson: why you should never come on a cycle tour without servicing your bike. The problem was his front wheel bearings, which had completely seized up much to his embarrassment. Michael had to strip down the hub and install a number of new bearings while the rest of the group waited six miles further on wondering what was happening. It’s all part of the adventure I suppose.

The absence of youth hostels in Stornoway meant that we were staying in bed and breakfast accommodation – three separate houses to be precise. Stephen had already arrived by ambulance (accompanied by Damian W) and was now neatly sewn up after a visit to the hospital. When everyone had unpacked their belongings and generally settled into their respective residences we all met on the lawns outside the public library for a communal supper. Well, perhaps supper isn’t the right word for it: leftovers would be more appropriate. With no cooking facilities we were obliged to eat cold beans and other such foodstuffs straight from the tins, and to use up the remains of the bread and margarine. Nevertheless it was better than paying £8 for a bed and breakfast meal!

It was at about this time that a rather important incident occurred. Mark Stott was sick. Now we didn’t make a lot of it at the time, and I wouldn’t normally have mentioned it here. But this was no ordinary sickness and it was to have a serious effect on the remainder of the tour, so I hope you will forgive its inclusion.

We spent the rest of our evening enjoying the luxury of hot showers, comfortable chairs and (in some cases) televisions, generally doing as little as possible. To say that everyone was exhausted would have been an understatement. Brett, however, was evidently not tired enough to consider sharing a double bed with best friend Philip, sleeping bag or no sleeping bag, preferring instead to rough it on the floor.
Monday 25 August 1986
Tour: Scottish Highlands and Islands
Day 8 Stornoway to Ullapool
18 Participants: Andrew Billington, Catherine Burnard, Damian Cannon, Daniel Coles, Chris Hall, Michael Hall, Richard Hopper, Brett Jamieson, Carl Jones, Michael Jones, Ian Malem, Philip Mills, David Parry, Stephen Parry, Andrew Simmons, Mark Stott, Richard Van Looy, Damian Williams
The morning conversations revolved mainly around the varying peculiarities of the three bed and breakfast establishments and their proprietors. Michael H’s group, for example, were boasting about the huge piles of piping hot toast that they had consumed for breakfast. Not so Andrew’s group: they were complaining bitterly of the ‘witch’ who had followed their every movement for the past twelve hours lest they should ‘upset’ the other guests. Apparently they had been given a lengthy talking-to about the rules and regulations which they were expected to follow during their stay.

Our ferry crossing back to the Mainland, which was not due to leave until 1.30pm, was set to be our longest sea journey of the tour at 3.5 hours. A number of lads availed themselves of Michael J’s sea-sickness tablets as a precautionary measure, including Michael himself who (stupidly as it turned out) took two. Plans for an ambitious site-seeing tour around Lewis (the island we were now on) gradually evaporated in the morning sunshine as our heroes ambled lazily around Stornoway’s delightful shops and harbour stocking up with gifts for family and friends. Every pannier seemed to have a Wild Hairy Haggis or a macDoodie protruding from under the flaps when the group finally boarded the huge Cal-Mac ferry.

The crossing was enjoyable but not especially eventful thanks to the sea-sickness tablets: I’m sure they could easily have been re-packaged and sold as knock-out pills! Brett, who as you will have gathered is usually extremely active, fell asleep on the sun-soaked deck and was unable to fully revive himself before the sight was recoded on Carl’s camera.

Michael J was definitely the worst affected however, being rendered completely helpless for the rest of the day by the wretched pills. Such was his dopey state of mind that he lashed out blindly at some irritating youngsters from the group who had just hit him from behind, only to find that he had in fact missed his intended target and hit a passing female passenger! The cackles of laughter echoed on for the rest of the day.

Ullapool approached. It was 5.30 and we had cycled about one mile. Not bad going we thought as we settled into the comfortable luxury hostel that overlooked Little Loch Broom. Hundreds of boats bobbed gently up and down in the evening sunshine against a backdrop of magnificent mountains and a blue sky. This was Bank Holiday in England and a few telephone calls revealed the extent of the record storms and floods that had been sweeping the whole of the UK – with the single exception of a little corner in the far north west of Scotland around Ullapool!

Many of us were too exhausted to do more than take a few photographs and crash out on the bunks. One or two, however, explored the simple shops that were dotted along Shore Street and whose lights shone out well after darkness had fallen. This was Ullapool, the gateway to the far north.
Tuesday 26 August 1986
Tour: Scottish Highlands and Islands
Day 9 Ullapool to Achmelvich
18 Participants: Andrew Billington, Catherine Burnard, Damian Cannon, Daniel Coles, Chris Hall, Michael Hall, Richard Hopper, Brett Jamieson, Carl Jones, Michael Jones, Ian Malem, Philip Mills, David Parry, Stephen Parry, Andrew Simmons, Mark Stott, Richard Van Looy, Damian Williams
Those readers who have followed the stories of previous South Dartmoor tours will probably have been quietly surprised by the relative absence of major problems on the tour so far. Admittedly Stephen had turned out to be a mild problem, but things still seemed fairly well under control. You will no doubt be pleased to hear that the real nightmare was about to begin.

First, some good news. The group had been chatting with a bunch of cyclists at the hostel and had discovered that not only were they travelling with a support car (a Volvo estate) but they were also going to Achmelvich that night and Carbisdale Castle the next night. They called themselves Highland Cycle Tours or some such name. Stephen’s transport problems seemed to be solved at a stroke, so he packed himself into the Volvo while the others bought some provisions in the Ullapool shops.

A few minutes after a belated 11am departure, Michael H punctured. Most of the group had already climbed halfway up the hill so they waited there, patiently. Well David, being David, found it difficult to wait patiently so he looked around for someone to annoy. He saw Michael J. Shortly afterwards he found himself lying in a particularly prickly kind of Scottish gorse bush, unable to move without receiving agonising pain and with a number of cheeky cyclists taking photographs of the spectacle.

Mark, still suffering from his sickness, was not exactly pushing the pace. Nevertheless the cheerful gang eventually came within sight of the volcano-like Stac Pollaidh (313m) and paused briefly on the banks of Loch Lurgainn for lunch. It was here that Michael J’s extremely expensive pot of strawberry jam decided to roll down the bank and smash itself on a stone.

Andrew Billington, who still had happy memories of the last Scotland tour, was determined to climb Stac Pollaidh again. On this occasion he was only able to persuade Ian to join him, the rest of the group preferring to press on.

It was just after this that the real trouble began. Michael J and Brett both began to feel sick. By the time they had reached Loch na’Dail they were both completely incapacitated. Mark had also lost ground, so Michael sent Richard H on with the rest of the group asking them to call the Volvo back from the hostel to collect them. The three struggled to the top of the hill but could travel not a centimetre further: they all collapsed by the side of the desolate road, immobilised and feeling very sorry for themselves.

Time passed. Brett was convinced he was dying as he thought he was coughing up bile. Michael tried to attract the attentions of a passing motorist who had happened by, with eventual success. Sadly he was Dutch and could hardly speak English, but he kindly agreed to take Michael onward towards Lochinver’s public telephone, leaving Brett and Mark to look after the bikes and stop Andy and Ian when they had finished their climb.

But what was this? Close to Enard Bay Michael J and his Dutch chauffer came across the rest of the group, standing around and looking very dejected. Lying on the ground was Richard Van Looy, wrapped in a silver survival sheet and being tended to by Richard H.

What had happened? Richard VL had also felt ill during the afternoon and had asked Andrew for one of his Imodium tablets. Presumably the tablet had adversely affected his concentration as he had dozed off and cycled into a roadside cliff face. Now he looked in a poor state. Michael H and Damian C had cycled off to Lochinver to call the emergency services.

The ambulance, which came all the way from Ullapool as a result of the message being somewhat garbled, found Brett and Mark first and of course thought that this was the emergency they had been called for. Brett and Mark, being unaware of the trouble ahead, were equally convinced that this was their ambulance. Fortunately the driver decided to take them to the doctor at Lochinver and so ran into the other group on the way. They could hardly believe the trail of casualties which they were discovering along this usually quiet stretch of road.

Speedily the cycles were unloaded and Richard VL was carefully taken aboard along with Michael J. The Volvo turned up just as the ambulance was leaving, kindly agreeing to take all the bikes and luggage on to the hostel. Meanwhile the nurse made a great fuss of poor Brett who was definitely the worst affected by the sickness.

The doctor at Lochinver decided that the sickness was gastroenteritis and that it would clear with rest, so he authorised the ambulance to take the invalids on to the hostel. The rest of the group cycled past just as they set off. When, at the hostel, the three had been allocated to a special small ‘isolation dorm’ (the youngsters wanted to put a red cross on the door) the ambulance set off again to take Richard VL on the long journey to Inverness hospital where a more extensive examination could be made of his injuries.

What a day. The three lads lay quietly on their beds all evening, hardly daring to move in case they became sick again. Outside they heard the sounds of clinking metal which they later discovered to be the piece-by-piece dismantling of Richard VL’s bicycle. Apparently the Volvo group had decided that the frame was a write-off and that the components should be salvaged and packed as tightly as possible. Poor Richard!

About half the group were able to enjoy some dune-hopping on Achmelvich’s superb silver-sand beaches, so the extreme beauty of the area was not entirely wasted.
Wednesday 27 August 1986
Tour: Scottish Highlands and Islands
Day 10 Achmelvich to Carbisdale Castle
Patchy rain
18 Participants: Andrew Billington, Catherine Burnard, Damian Cannon, Daniel Coles, Chris Hall, Michael Hall, Richard Hopper, Brett Jamieson, Carl Jones, Michael Jones, Ian Malem, Philip Mills, David Parry, Stephen Parry, Andrew Simmons, Mark Stott, Richard Van Looy, Damian Williams
By morning there were further casualties. Philip and Richard H had been taken by ‘the bug’ during the night and were still unwell. Michael J was a good deal better but didn’t yet feel strong enough to cycle. Contingency plans were put into effect.

Michael J, Philip, Mark and Brett were escorted to Lochinver by Volvo along with Stephen’s bike. From there they took a Post Bus to Lairg, watching with interest as the mail was collected from remote farms along the way: a wooden flag on the mail box indicated the presence of mail.

At Lairg they had a long wait and then a two-mile walk to Lairg railway station from where they took a train to Culrain. The route offered excellent views of the youth hostel, its towers and turrets projecting majestically from the forest. The hostel was only a fifteen-minute walk from the station, so they arrived at 3pm.

Meanwhile Stephen had gone by Volvo with the other bikes, being joined at lunchtime by Richard Hopper who had been ‘quite courageous enough for one day thank you’. The Volvo arrived at the hostel at 2.45pm, shortly before the bus / train crew.

As for the cyclists (led by Andrew B), they had some rain to contend with as they cycled along the A-roads with the Highland group, so the old ruined inn beside Loch Borralan was used for lunch, just as it had been on the previous tour (perhaps ‘cycling with’ is not as appropriate term as ‘trying to keep up with’ in this case, but it was good to have their support). They finally rolled into the hostel at 3.15pm.

We couldn’t have chosen a better hostel at which to arrive early: there was so much to do. First of all, showers were had by all who had cycled. Then there was time to explore. The youngsters had to locate the secret staircase, concealed doors and hidden corridors that linked the many rooms and halls in the huge castle. It was fun just trying to find different routes from one place to another and trying to lose your pursuer.

Then there was a guided tour of the tower by the assistant warden. The poor clock would never chime the bells again as the previous warden had chopped all the connecting cables with bolt croppers. The group passed the tangled mess of wires lying uselessly on the clock mechanism as they climbed the staircase, then then reached the bells themselves. Without realising the mistake she was about to make the assistant told the lads that they could operate the bell hammers if they liked. No doubt the visitors for miles around were wondering what the time really was, but the locals would have known the meaning – more kids at the hostel!

Then there were cycle repairs (a wooden panel in the main hall was actually a secret doorway into a link corridor that led to the cycle room, but everyone knew that by now), and games, and tv programmes and a tour of the library. Here again was evidence of the earlier warden – a ghastly dark oil stain on the wooden floor marked the place where he had repaired his car.

A phone call to Richard VL at Inverness revealed that he had a hairline fracture to the skull but that it was not a serious injury and that he could probably be released next day to join the group at the last hostel ready for the journey home. This would have to be confirmed by the doctor next morning however.

When excitement had turned to tiredness and lights had been turned out, Damian W was sick - just what was needed. Michael J did the honours but this involved walking along a dark corridor and down some steps to the washrooms. As he approached he heard spooky organ music and hysterical laughter echoing through the castle’s darkened interior: evidently the warden wanted guests to truly believe the ghost stories associated with the castle.
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