Bealach na Bà

The sign
The sign

You have to bring your own sleeping bag to Sanachan but it was so hot that I slept only in the sheet inner. The Chinese group arrived back around midnight and disturbed me by talking and repeated running of the shower and going in and out of the bathroom, adjacent to our dorm and with a very noisy lock. This went on until about 02:00. When we got up, we found out that the gas had run out which explained all the shower activity. The owners were away but the two hikers had their contact details and they promised to try to arrange for the gas tank to be refilled during the day.

We’d booked Sanachan so we could do the 45 mile circuit over the Bealach na Bà road and back through Applecross but I was too weary to countenance this, possibly resulting from yesterday’s heat as well as the poor night’s sleep. I’d felt faint at times on the last hot climb with my rucksack. Christine had slept better but decided against doing it alone so we rode to the top and then back down.

The Bealach na Bà is a winding, single track mountain pass through the mountains of the Applecross peninsula, built in 1822 and engineered similarly to roads through the great mountain passes in the Alps, with very tight hairpin bends that switch back and forth up the hillside and gradients that approach 20%. It boasts the steepest ascent of any road climb in the UK, rising from sea level at Applecross to 626 metres (2,054 ft), and is the third highest road in Scotland. The name is Scottish Gaelic for Pass of the Cattle, as it was historically used as a drovers’ road.

We’d been here before, fully laden with camping gear so had to push part of the way. This time I wanted to ride all the way and almost made it. The warm dry headwind forced me to stop for a drink and I couldn’t restart on the hill so had to push to the next passing place. At the summit a young cyclist from Falkirk CC arrived panting. When he’d recovered he told me he was aiming for the 30 min record for the ascent but was four minutes short, beaten by the headwind. Since our last visit a “North Coast 500” driving route has been devised and widely publicised by a tourist development organisation and this formerly quiet pass can get very busy and sometimes bad tempered with drivers unaccustomed to single track roads.

There’s even a cafe and art gallery at the start of the pass so we call in there for lunch after an uncomfortable descent, brakes full on and struggling with the swirling wind. We returned to the bunkhouse, where the Calor tanker was refilling the gas tank, changed and went for a walk along the loch. The Chinese group left today so we moved into the other dorm so we wouldn’t disturb Brian and Ken with tomorrow’s early start.

Distance cycled :16 miles