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YHA Day 13 and 14: Lochgilphead to SYHA Glencoe and rest day
    28/06/2013 09:00

Day 13 and 14: Lochgilphead to SYHA Glencoe and rest day

The early morning began with a mad clapping chorus as we frantically tried to rid the tent of midges. A failed toilet dash by Gareth resulted in a new midge universe accumulating around our sleeping bags. The massacre was soon over and we slept once again, under the haze of last night’s local ale, until nine o'clock.

Day 13 and 14 Route: Lochgilphead to SYHA Glencoe and rest day
Mileage: 74 miles
Total Mileage: 814 miles
Song of the Day: Live and Let Die
Phrase of the Day: Guinness gives you strength

It was a casual departure and, although we knew a long day lay ahead, our ability to conquer miles in the late evening light reassured us. It was after all the longest day of the year. We took some time to tinker with our bikes, apply proofhide to our leather saddles and devour a cheesecake.

Our first stop was in the outstanding Glen of Kilmartin. This region has the biggest concentration of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in the West of Scotland. We were very privileged to be cycling through such a historical and relevant place just hours after the summer solstice. It was easy to imagine the rituals and celebrations taking place amongst the glens people over 5,000 years ago. Pastoral land surrounds the village of Kilmartin which is where we had lunch and a quick gander around the museum. We stocked up on supplies from the quintessential village shop and headed on towards Oban.

The landscape spurred the dizzy heights of eccentric behaviour. A Biking Good Ride became a manmade noise orchestra, blasting out James Bond theme tunes for a passing audience of tolerant animals. Our frenzied pedalling produced the biggest smiles and the oddest sounds as we dropped into curling wooded descents with perfectly cambered roads.

The famous town of Oban was basking in the sun when we arrived. The obligatory pint of Guinness was enjoyed by us all and some rather contrived photography took place on the harbour wall. Annoyingly it was too late to visit the distillery but this fortunate escape was crucial to a safe and sober evening ride to Glen Coe.

Before joining the National Cycle route 78 we rode over the Connel Bridge. This impressive structure spans Loch Etive at its narrowest point. Its huge grey girders make it an impressive landmark on the natural landscape. We then picked up the route 78. The cycling charity Sustrans has been working with the Scottish Government to build mile upon mile of traffic free cycle path from Oban to Fort William. These quiet and scenic diversions gave us a break from the road and provided perfect views of Castle Stalker which stands proudly on Loch Linnhe.

Glencoe soon appeared and we followed the signs to the Youth Hostel. It's set back just off the road and looked perfect for our extended stay. We had planned to walk Ben Nevis the next day but after a glimpse at the forecast in reception our adventure was likely to involve drams of whisky instead. The Highlands operates an eclectic weather schedule and we'd been put to the very back of the sunshine queue.

We woke up early longing for fair weather but, as feared, it was a wash out. Walking up Ben Nevis in these conditions would be miserable. A little disappointed but also relishing the thought of taking it easy we spent some time writing and resting in the hostel. After a quick stroll into Glencoe village to buy dinner, we headed out to find the Lost Valley. Determined to explore we plodded along into a persistent drizzle but through telepathic wizardry an overwhelming decision was struck. The Valley would stay lost today. Then by absolute chance, almost magic, a sanctuary appeared - The Clachaig Inn.

This fine establishment is a well-known haunt amongst the locals, walkers and climbers. Their real ale selection is, quite frankly, excellent. After further inspection it was hard not to spot the vast collection of single malts. The service was super friendly too and we'd been told that a Blues band would be performing in a few hours. It was shaping up to be a very good evening.

One thing we all enjoy about hostel life is the communal kitchen space. Most of the time it's dead easy to find what you need. A draw labelled 'wooden spoons' contains stacks of wooden spoons. There will always be a shelf of mugs neatly lined up. Hot water comes from a machine that never stops. It's 'no frills' but purely functional. The type of kitchen outfit that three chaps like us can run riot in and, of course, tidy up.

It came as quite a surprise to find the kitchen entirely full with girls when we arrived back from the pub. They'd come from Bradford en masse to walk up Ben Nevis and were raising money for the charity Islamic Relief. Their generosity was most appreciated as they offered all their left over food to us, which we gobbled up immediately as our first starter. Thanks to you all and we hope the stomp up the mountain was a massive success.

It was a pleasure to meet Thomas the hostel manager who introduced us to Hamish McBear. Hamish declined our invitation to join us at the Blues night as he'd been travelling across Scotland for many weeks and needed to rest. However we were delighted when he sat with us for breakfast the following morning.

The Clachaig Inn delivered on all accounts. The Blues music was top notch and the atmosphere was buzzing. Revellers danced on tables and it wasn't long before we were suitably in the spirit but, on this occasion, keeping our feet firmly on the ground.

All in all our stay at SYHA Glencoe was superb. It was hard to leave the relaxing and characterful place behind but alas it was time to push on. We were off to find a monster up the road in Loch Ness...

By Harry Hosteller

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