This post recounts the 12th day of my 14 day LEJOG19 adventure, in August 2019. For tips based on my experience, please go to my blogpost How to ride Land’s End to John O’Groats. Read Day 11, Kinross to Ballater
I was confused. A familiar figure waved me into a picturesque cafe in the Cairngorm mountains. We’d barely gone 13 miles – didn’t we have the Lecht, one of Britain’s toughest cycling climbs, before our morning brew? We’d done some serious climbing but I was sure I couldn’t have missed the Lecht!
I hadn’t. Instead, Peak Tours wanted us to stay safe as the weather was worsening by the minute, and they assessed whether it was safe to tackle the five mile ascent. I was cold and wet as I sipped a hot drink, and listened to the verdict from Simon and Julie. Visibility was very poor, with strong sidewinds, so they recommended that they give us and our bikes a lift to the top. Most of us agreed straight away. Much as I’d have liked to tackle the Lecht, I was relieved to have been reprieved! I climbed into one of the vans and Howard drove me and Nigel just beyond the summit.
It wasn’t the start we expected to the day. It was sunny as we left Ballater, heading along the Dee. We were overtaken by a Range Rover with fishing rods attached to the car. We were soon climbing, which was when the weather started to deteriorate quickly. I ditched the jacket as usual, but soon decided that I needed the warmth on the descent. The experience showed how quickly the weather can turn in the mountains. “I’m still alive!” Holger joked with a smile a mile or so before our unexpected coffee stop.
Ironically, the weather improved as soon as I got back on my bike. The sun was shining, and I warmed up after 10 minutes despite the strong wind. I soon passed through Tomintoul before another stiff climb. It was satisfying to look back at how far we had climbed.
I enjoyed our lunch stop at a very quiet hotel in Nethy Bridge. But the next 14 miles were a real slog. Was I tired? I probably was, but looking back on Strava that evening I saw that the route had climbed steadily to Slochd summit at over 1,300 feet above sea level. And we had a vicious headwind at times. From there, it was mostly a continual descent to Inverness. But there were nice moments on the way to the summit, including seeing the old bridge that gave its name to Carrbridge, and the deserted road that was the old A9, superseded by the new road. Perfect for cycling.
I was pleased to stop for a cuppa at the brew stop in Tomatin, near another viaduct on the Highland Railway to Inverness. I knew the last session of the day would be an easy one, and it was a pleasure to cycle with Fiona and Simon and the rest of the Cheshire crew in the sunshine. Finally we saw the Moray Firth and Inverness below us.
After quiet lanes, it was a shock to join a huge traffic jam approaching Inverness town centre. But we were soon passing through the car-free high street to our guest house.
That evening a few of us had a pint in the lovely Castle Tavern. On my Land’s End to John O’Groats ride in 2002, I had noticed how some Scottish beers were named after shillings, the pre-decimal equivalent of 5p. Tonight, I had a pint of 80/- (80 shillings). It was a very malty beer, and the only ‘shilling’ beer I saw this year. We chatted to a man who claimed to have done LEJOG in eight days. He was probably telling the truth, but there was just a hint of a tall tale in the way he recounted his adventure…
67 miles, 3,983 feet of climbing, 5 hrs 32 mins cycling, average speed unknown