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18: Applecross

One of the major attractions near Skye is Applecross, or more precisely the pass leading to the village called Bealach Na Bo, Pass of the Cattle. My host, having written an article on the tour for Used Bike Magazin, recommends me to take the tour anti-clockwise because that will give the best views. As the tour alone is a tad short, I decide to include a visit to Kinlochewe, the starting point of my multi-day walk of tomorrow.

Skye is connected to the mainland by a bridge, which used to be a toll bridge but is now free. Soon after leaving the village on the mainland side of the bridge, Kyle of Lochalsh, my route takes me north over the A890. This turns out to be a fairly new road and boy what a road it is. Apparently laid out by someone who formerly was a racetrack designer, it goes up and then down again over the hills with just wide sweeping corners - as far as I can tell, there's is not a single straight bit for the whole stretch of some 7 or 8km. When the road settles back into an older bit (a single-track road but wide enough to let a bike and a car pass so it doesn't really bring the speed down), I'm almost tempted to turn and do it again. But I'll get another stab in the afternoon on my way back, and tomorrow, and the day I'll return from my walk...

The route takes me along Loch Carron, a pleasant road with plenty of sweeping curves (hairpins are a rarity here) and height differences to stay interesting. At the end of the loch, a right turn brings me on the next stretch of A890, which is completely new, very wide, and very fast. In fact, a bit boring because I can ride large stretches with the speedo indicating well over 140km/h. At Achnasheen it goes left to Kinlochewe. The first part of the road is new and boring, then there is a piece where the new road is under construction, and the final part is the old single-track road. I must say, I wish that the EU would subsidise a bit less of roadbuilding in this place, the single-track road is definitely more fun to ride.

Luckily, progress hasn't reached the A896 towards Shieldaig - single track, as usual with a nice grippy surface and most of the time it is easy to spot oncoming traffic well in advance. It's hard to describe the environment here - I'm constantly tempted to do it, but the landscape changes subtly from valley to valley, and then also with the coulds and the weather. This stretch of road gives just another sample of the vast amount of variations that the Highlands offer on the theme "valley and hills". I planned to visit a geocache halfway, but I see clouds packing and I definitely want to reach the mountain pass before the weather turns bad, so I decide to press on towards Applecross.

Just past Shieldaig it goes right onto the "new" single track road to Applecross. The village used to be reachable only by means of the mountain pass, but this road gives a second way to get there and thus the possibility of doing a tour of the pen-peninsula. I quickly see why the tour is so popular: the new road follows the coast for some 20-25km before reaching Applecross, leading me from almost Mediterranean blue-sea-with-pines to the rough cliffs and higher hills of the area. All the time, the road is just great fun to ride with only the occasional dangerous bit (like a blind summit or blind curve). Still, this sort of riding takes a lot of energy...

The clouds are still packing, so at Applecross I decide to go straight up into the mountains and have my by now well-deserved rest somewhere high on the pass. The around 10km of road bring you from sealevel at Applecross up to some 700m and then down again to sealevel at Loch Kishorn. It is utterly different from the average Alpine pass with its well-build road and often monotonous hairpin-after-hairpin. Here, I don't think two cruves are the same, most of the road is single-track, and it costs me all my concentration to ride up quick&safely. A bit after the pass-height I find a good viewpoint, take some pictures and a break, and bask a bit in the sun that luckily hasn't yet disappeared behind the still building cloud cover. The last stretch down of the pass is completely different in character, but just as much fun, as the way up. I understand why this run is so popular with bikers.

I could take the shortest route to Skye but it is still early and there is an alternative route I would like to explore - it means riding all the way around Loch Duich, to the shore opposite the Eilean Donan Castle (a very nice old castle on an Island in the loch, quite romantic for the Highlands), and then a short walk to a 'Broch', an old fortification, where a geacache should be hidden. The walk is short so I decide to do it in my riding gear, which I'll regret quite quickly. This textile stuff isn't made for my usual stiff walking tempo, so I quickly get quite wet with sweat underneath. The broch is impressive - still standing, while the map indicates it is 'prehistoric'. I take that to mean at least a couple of millennea, quite some time for a loose collection of stones. The cache is quickly found after a consultation by telephone with a friend back home (I forgot to take the printed web page with the descripion of the cache location with me), but turns out to be completely wet so I can't make a note in the logbook.

Back at the bike, I start wondering when the thing will want me to switch to reserve. It is showing way more kilometers on the tank than usual, so all the riding on single track roads (with the associated reduced speed) must pay off in the form of higher fuel economy. I ride back south along the loch, and then head west along what is called "old military road" towards the ferry to Skye. The old military road turns out to be a treat to ride, serving me the full complement of twisties. I don't see any bikes along this route, so I think it's a sort of 'Geheimtipp'.

The ferry takes me across and lands me near an otter observation station on Skye. These animals seem to be quite abundant, but shy. The observation point is a small walk from the parking lot, but just as I want to start walking, two fighter jets come in low over the water. I decide that if I'd been an otter, I would vanish for a couple of hours after that much noise - it seems to be useless to walk down, so I just sit at a nearby picknick table and take in the beauty of Kyle Rhea, the name of the narrows the ferry just has taken me across.

A very nice single-track road takes me back to the main road near Broadfort. Still not running on reserve, I decide to fuel up nevertheless. A quick calculation shows that I've done 17.3km to the liter today, which is quite a record to me.

With the upcoming walk I decide to give an outdoor shop I noticed in Portree a quick visit. I pick up a daypack, new gaiters and just to be sure a pair of heavy Smartwool socks, just what my feet will want tomorrow.
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