Monday, August 26, 2013

Short, Sweet and Sodden; Grantown-on-Spey to Inverness

Sunday the 23 June, 2013
Gutsy people, bold decision – riding in the rain – wobbly navigation – Culloden Viaduct – Bonnie Prince Charlie's final defeat – beside the Ness

Gutsy people, bold decision

It rained all night. OK, I wasn't awake all night but on the several occasions I did wake up, I heard the soft sluicing of falling water outside the window.

We didn't rush breakfast, reluctant to exchange the cosy warmth of the dining room for the cool, fine rain we could see dribbling down the windows. We took time to chat with the owner, an engineer from Manchester who had bought the hotel last August ( it had been closed for three years), spent three months bringing it back to life, opening the bar in December and the accommodation in February. Business was warming up and he and his wife and children were anticipating a big lift in customer numbers over summer.

David and the Richmond Hotel in Tomintoul,
As we drove back to Grantown-on-Spey, the start of today's ride, we talked about our admiration for this family: when old hotels are closing, they buy one in the remote Highlands, giving up the security of their jobs, spend months cleaning, painting, revitalising. Staying in Tomintoul? Please keep the Richmond Hotel in mind.

Today's profile - short and sweetly downhill.

Riding in the rain

Rain fell all day, most heavily in the morning but all day. I'm not going to moan about the rain. It's part of the deal. Yes, I was togged up in my best thermals and waterproofs.....yes, the water somehow filled my shoes, dribbled down my neck, washed away my nasal candles. You know all that. I do, though, want to mention some rain-relevant issues that may be of interest to riders.

  • I found it useful to have very light-weight mudguards. Ride without them and the tyres throw off a thin stream of water that tatooes your back and sprays your face
  • Everything in the panniers was in 'dry bags' or plastic bags. Water has a talent for sneaking into your gear through seams and holes.
  • If the terrain is such that you can't decide whether you are going up or going down a gentle slope, water streaming up or down the road surface will tell you. Mmmm, this sounds like a joke. It's not. There are many Slopes of Deception!
  • I would like all motorists to know that the car they are driving on a wet road squirts four fountains from under the wheels, jets of water they can't see but which drench cyclists, pedestrians, cattle they pass. I would like them to know that the liquid in the streams consists of water with a thickening of sheep urine, cattle shit, decaying flesh of rabbit, stoat, crow, etc. It's a stinky mixture, especially when squirted over you with some force. Finally I would like to ask all motorists to slow down, a lot ,when passing cyclists in the rain. Thank you for listening and I know my bleating won't make any difference at all.
  • Water tends to flow from the centre crown of the road onto the edges, just where you want to ride. I found that I was riding constantly through a stream an inch (2.5cms) deep in water.
  • You tend to stop less often in the rain. You also take fewer photos. 
  • Personally, I find that rain, driven by a head wind, can create tougher conditions for biking than the steepest slopes.

    Lochindorb, 10 miles north of Grantown -on -Spey. A scrubby and harsh landscape,
     its isolation and barren aspect emphasised by the cold, wet conditions.
    Wobbly navigation

In comparison with the difficulties of finding your route through the maze of lanes in England, I had found my way through Scotland so far with ease. Today, Lonely Planet mentions....” a spiders web of unsigned roads between the 10 mile mark and Culloden and it's easy to miss some of the insignificant looking turns along the way.”

The first hour from Grantown-on-Spey is steadily, gradually uphill over scruffy, scrubby farmland which becomes moorland, bleak, lonely and, today, very sodden.

I did see the crucial turn-off at 10 miles, and yes, it is poorly signed but I carried on along the A 939 as the surface was new and the wind was aft. It didn't matter as from then on there were regular alternative routes to take you towards Inverness. The poor signing can result in teeth grinding, though. You can obediently follow a series of signs towards, for example, Croy, and then find that Croy suddenly fails to get any mention from then on.

The most useful signs by far are clear, blue and erected by the National Cycle Association. Around noon I met four cyclists on the way towards Cawdor who told me to follow these signs with and it was good advice.

Culloden Viaduct

I dithered about whether or not to go to Cawdor Castle – it's 7 miles off the direct route and it was raining. I carried on. Next time, Cawdor, I promise.

The Culloden Viaduct, built 1898 and the longest in Scotland.

I did take a diversion down a farm road to get a better look at the quite splendid Culloden Viaduct, the biggest masonry viaduct in Scotland, built 115 years ago, 29 arches, 1800 ' long.

Bonnie Prince Charlie's final defeat

A few miles from Inverness, I turned left into the car park of the Culloden Battlefield Visitors' Centre, the falling rain no deterrent to visitors, judging by the dozens of cars dripping wet outside the centre.

Culloden. In 1746, the foliage was much shorter, grazed to ground level.
The flags indicate the lines of the English troops.

I looked over the battlefield where, in about one hour on the afternoon of the 16th of April, 1746, 2000 followers of Bonnie Prince Charlie were killed or wounded by the professional English Army under the Duke of Cumberland. Many Scots refer to him as “The Butcher” because of his brutal and vindictive hunting down of the Jacobite soldiers after the battle, his slaughtering of the wounded on the moor, his theft of cattle and sheep from the local farmers.

Bonnie Prince Charlie had sought the throne of England, sought to overthrow the House of Hanover and restore the House of Stuart.

At Culloden, his army was outnumbered, out-gunned and destroyed by the smarter tactics of the English army. Charlie chose terrain poorly suited to the famous Highlanders' Charge ( as you might have seen in “Braveheart”) and at least 1200 clansmen were slaughtered by English cannon, muskets and bayonets.

Culloden: the English easily repel the charge of the Jacobites.
 Oil on canvas by David Morier, 1746, so painted the same year as the battle.

The Prince fled, first to Skye (“Speed, bonny boat, like a bird on the wing........Carry the man who's born to be king, over the sea to Skye") then to France. He was never betrayed by the Scots, despite the enormous temptation of a 30,000 pounds reward dangled by the English.

Beside the Ness
Inverness from the hills above the Firth. There are two main routes north from here. The shorter is over the bridge and over the hill. I went left alongside the  Beauly Firth.

It was downhill and busy on the few miles into town from Culloden and the wind was blowing the rain off my face. With the help of a lady waiting for a bus I easily found David and the Waterview Hotel both overlooking the River Ness, broad and stately and lined with fine old houses, including our hotel B and B. We did little exploring in Inverness. It was damp and the choice between (1) trudging through the puddles and (2) sitting warmly and dryly at a bay window on the banks of the Ness , a pint of cider to hand, looking at the passers by, the traffic, the cyclists, the walkers, just outside the window, was not a hard one to make.

Weather – sodden. Wind favorable most of the day. Ahead coming into Inverness.

Distance Today Average Speed Max Speed Riding Time Trip Odometer
64.24 km 15.9 km 45.4 4h 2m 1386

Scottish Joke

I had noticed at times an edge to some comments by Scots about the English. Culloden made the reasons for this edge clearer. Here's a typical sharp-edged joke.

Scotsman (walking through a field, seeing a man using his hand to scoop water from a pool):
Awa ye feel hoor that as full Od coos Sharn! “(Translation = Don't drink the water, it's full of cow shit.)
I'm English. Speak English! I don't understand you!”
Use both hands! You'll get more in!”


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