Active Outdoors
Published: 02/10/2011 00:01 - Updated: 30/09/2011 09:35

A leisurely tour round Lochaber lochs

Written byBy Peter Evans

Corpach and Caol from Camusnagaul.
Corpach and Caol from Camusnagaul.

CYCLING ROUTE

Start/finish: Fort William.

Map: A decent road map will do.

Distance: 64km (40 miles).

Surface: All road, including single track and A roads.

Time taken: 6 hours (leisurely pace, including stops and ferry ride).

Corran ferry: Regular, frequent sailings through the day (check timetable). Cyclists travel free.

WITH my wife and daughter off to Mallaig on the "Harry Potter" steam train, I opted for an active day while they were gone, not wanting to waste the opportunity of a spell in the "Outdoor Capital of the UK", as Fort William styles itself.

The Ride Fort William website is a great source of information for cycling in the area, offering routes of all grades, from adrenaline-pumping downhillers to gentle family outings.

I wanted a scenic ride that would last long enough to keep me occupied until my family returned to Fort William, without having to rush.

An easy 64km circuit on roads around lochs Eil and Linnhe, with the bonus of a trip on the Corran Ferry, fitted the bill perfectly.

So Rose and Charlotte were waved off on a packed train and I saddled up in the car park next to An Aird, the Fort William shinty ground, and headed north along the A82 in busy traffic.

This ride is like the parson’s egg — good and bad in parts — in terms of main road and quiet road sections, but it is well worth it for the quieter leg, a long stretch on the Ardnamurchan peninsula with fantastic views.

But first there’s main road to deal with. Not far out of Fort William a left turn took me on to the A830 towards Mallaig.

There’s interest along the way at Banavie, where the Caledonian Canal makes a dramatic rise up Neptune’s Staircase — the eight locks allowing vessels to continue their journey along the Great Glen to Inverness.

Then comes Corpach, where the canal meets Loch Linnhe and the sea before the road leaves the settlements behind and it’s head down for a long ride to the end of Loch Eil, with the railway a constant companion on the left.

A cycle path would make this a much more pleasant experience, but at least the road is wide enough for the traffic to zoom by, giving you plenty of room.

I was glad to see the back of the A830 as I made a left turn off it at a signpost for Lochaline and Strontian.

Here’s where the best of the route starts. A single track road hugs the shore first of Loch Eil, then Loch Linnhe until it reaches Ardgour, for almost half the total distance of this circuit.

It is almost entirely flat, so you can trundle along at a gentle pace and admire the scenery.

Morning mist on the mountains was clearing away by now and the day was set to be warm. Too warm for a lightweight windproof, so off that came and I settled into an easy rhythm, gazing along a calm Loch Eil, listening to the shore birds and the sounds of nature.

The scattered crofting townships of Duisky, Blaich and Achaphubuil fringe the shore and there was only the occasional car or tractor to worry about as I bowled along, thoroughly enjoying the ride.

At Camusnagaul the road makes a sharp right turn to leave the shore of Loch Eil for that of Loch Linnhe.

The sun was out and this was the perfect lunch stop so I parked the bike and sat on an upturned boat to while away the time and look across to Caol and Corpach on the other side of the water.

Conscious that I wanted to be back to meet the family, I set off again along the next stretch of quiet road to Ardgour.

After Trislaig, several hectares of roadside woodland are managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust as a reserve and the scenery continues to be stunning.

Dominating the view ahead is Ben Nevis, which was still holding on to some cloud around the summit that eventually cleared on the last leg to Ardgour, revealing the great mass of the Ben in all its glory.

A short rise in the road as it veers slightly inland to round Inverscaddle Bay was the only significant effort I had to put in on what ranks as one of the most scenic rides I’ve done for a while.

Approaching Ardgour I could see that the ferry was in so I stepped up the pace to ride down the jetty and on to the boat for the short crossing to Corran. You can keep your cash in your pocket, too, for the ferry is free for cyclists.

If you have time, there’s refreshment available at hostelries on either side of the channel.

Once on the other side it was time to rejoin the A82 again for the final section of the route back to Fort William.

Care is needed here on what is a very busy road, especially when some impatient drivers think a cigarette paper’s width between a cyclist and them is enough. But at least it’s mostly downhill and I sped along as fast as I could to get it over with.

Arriving back at the car I could hear the steam train’s whistle blow as it approached the station, so perfect timing to rejoin the family and head for The Braes guesthouse in Spean Bridge where we were spending the night.

Walkers and cyclists are welcome here and the view from the sitting room looks straight out on to the Grey Corries. A fantastic end to the day.

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