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YHA Day 16: Van hire, Tents and SYHA Loch Ness
    09/08/2013 08:39

Day 16: Van hire, Tents and SYHA Loch Ness

Eating breakfast and looking out over Loch Ness. That's a pretty cool way to start a day. As with many hopeful residents at the hostel we didn't see the monster and will have to return for a longer visit. That won't take much persuasion as the location is beautiful.

Day 16 Route: Van hire, Tents and SYHA Loch Ness - Woodend Campsite, Lairg
Mileage: 81
Total Mileage: 54 miles
Phrase of the Day: #ABGR

After a quick check over the bikes and a wee bit of banter we set off into a light drizzle along the A78. Loch Ness is epic. It sits in your vision and guides you towards Inverness, the capital city of the mighty Highlands.

Slightly less romantic but crucial to a successful trip we had to drop by the Inverness branch of Enterprise Rent-a-Car. It was time to pre-book our transport home for the end of the trip. After extensive research it became clear that getting a train to the South of England was (A) ridiculously expensive and (B) not particularly easy after a long cycle ride. If you're travelling in a group getting a van is reasonably priced and direct to your front door. It's possible to hire for a one-way journey for a small fee. A helpful chap called Connor processed all the paper work and told us to come back on Thursday to pick up the keys. Sorted.

The wind was up against us riding north and this really knocked our energy. A bitter chill came in waves as we chased patches of sun into the hills above Cromarty Firth. Our legs felt heavy and the added ascent on the B9176 became a terrible chore. The slog was soon over as the road plateaued into rolling forest lands and the daddy mac of all our descents into Bonar Bridge began. Be warned - this is seriously fun cycling.

Our campsite, Woodend Camping and Caravan Site, was nestled five miles north of Lairg. The tent was pitched in no time and it wasn't until the morning that we fully appreciated the vast landscape we were in.

We'd heard that camping could be a real drag when doing LEJOG. Well, balls to that, because it's one of the best ways to escape and get off the beaten track. There are excellent sites to be found when sometimes accommodation can't. Wild camping is always an option and most people will give you permission if you ask.

We used a Voyager 3 EX made by a German company, Robens. It's available from Cotswold Outdoor, the official outdoor retail partner for YHA (England and Wales). We chose it for various reasons and considered plenty of different models. It has a good sized sleeping compartment for three men but its most useful feature for cycle touring is the porch. You can keep plenty of kit safe and it offers space to cook, shelter and swing a small passing cat. Our bikes slept outside.

It's not the lightest of tents at around 4kg but can be split into equal weights and shared in a group. The Voyager 3 has a very solid build quality and would stand up to serious winds.

Our only gripe (or should I say my only gripe) would be the pegs. Why make such a handsome tent and then supply cheap tatty pegs that can be bent by hand? I suppose it does allow you to bend them back once bent. Bring on the steel pegs Robens, we don't mind the weight.

We took our roll mats for extra comfort and suffered the bulky weight on the ride. It made a big difference after hours in the saddle to lay down on a softer surface. Have you read the fairy tale 'The princess and the pea'?

Our choice sleeping bags were lightweight down-filled. We knew it would be chilly up north so opted for a cosy bag, but needed it to pack down small as space was limited. Rab have a good range and we used the Ascent 300.

By Harry Hosteller

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