At home with our local guides: Alex Glasgow, Plockton
Ross heads to the west coast to visit and ride with guide Alex Glasgow at his home in Plockton and get schooled by an mtb pro
Ross spends the day with Alex in Plockton
Having set off early this morning, confident in Alex’s map drawing ability I now find myself perplexed as I pull up next to Plockton’s very own, not so international airport. I try Alex’s phone and sure enough get warmly greeted by an automated answer machine. A quick call back home to the H+I office and soon I’m on the right track as Alex emerges from the depths of his shed.
A quick tour of “the croft” included Alex gloating at his wall of bikes and the XC race bike he’d be ripping my legs off with, before scaring off a flock of geese from his field by simply shouting the word ‘geese’ over and over. Apparently a morning routine. Alex spent three years of his life designing and building his fully eco and off-the-grid house, complete with recycled milk bottle under-floor heating! The tall glass windows towering above the roaring stove frame the Cuillin mountain range of Skye on the horizon as we stand with coffee in hand.
Alex is a racer at heart and more recently returned from being an integral part of Mark Beaumont’s around the world in 80 days support crew. I was prepared for a beasting on the steep and snappy hills above Plockton. With the temperature still reading minus despite the golden winter sun I was soon being dragged above the intricate coast line and looking across to the white walled cottages hugging the water’s edge as a ketch moors up in the cove. Alex points to a mast atop a ridge line high above us: “That’s my training ride, record to beat is 25 minutes to the top from my house…” I needn’t respond as my face drops in disbelief and somewhat disgust as I mull over the potential pain.
The trails below our tread are frozen solid and offering up grin inducing rolling speeds and grip levels. I’m working hard to keep on the coat tails of Alex both up and down, admittedly failing at the ups but that was a given… More petrifying was the pace he was holding on the downs despite the XC race hardtail complete with what looked to be the tallest seat post known to man. The Plockton trails were a pleasant and surprising contrast to their other west coast siblings, lacking in rocks and technical features but no less fun with their fast and flowing nature. Any local walker is in for a sight-and-a-half if they have the pleasure of coming across Alex whilst on a training loop, there’s no let up and he knows every contour of trail… He even pointed out to me a camber on the inside of a turn that been worn in from solely the passing of his wheels! We drop the rest of the altitude quickly as the sun is beginning to drop over the islands ahead of us and end up on a white beach of maerl (similar to coral). As short as the winter days are, that was good value for money…
“I live on a croft in Plockton, it’s around 8 acres and it came down through my family. I’m very lucky to have it! When I got the croft it meant I could build a house and so it took three years to build the zero energy, autonomous house. We have a view over the Cuillins on Skye and now we live a nice quiet life on the croft growing our own veggies and being hippies!
“After I finished building the house I got into racing seriously for three or four years as I turned 40, which is a stupid age to start racing! I did it anyway and spent a winter in the Andes where I towed my son in a trailer up and down the Andes up to 4000m on a bike that weighed 85 kilos… so I got pretty fit! I came back and surprisingly won the British Champs and ended up winning three British titles in 09, 10 and 12.
“This last summer I spent five weeks driving in a camper van basically from Paris to Beijing across Europe in six days, then Russia, Mongolia, and China supporting as a mechanic for Mark Beaumont on his complete mad and epic around the world in 78.5 days world record. 240 miles a day, 16 hours riding a day, 1200 hours over the course of 80 days… It was completely mad! Being there and watching him right out in the van in front of me did in no way make it easier to work out the difficulty… ”
“One of the things that is also cool about living in Plockton is that if you look at a map basically the Cuillins, Torridon, Kintail, Affric… the madness of the west coast and Plockton is bang in the middle of it. I’m 45 minutes from the Cuillins and Torridon, half an hour from Affric… So there is amazing riding all around. Compared to other peninsulas there is also a lot of trails and forest so it’s an ace place to live.
“I don’t intend on being anywhere else, which is odd as when I was young I was a pretty footloose traveller and spent a lot of time on the road cycling my bike around. It’s funny to get a bit older and go from that to being completely settled here, my roots are definitely out now!
“The trails here are a little more cross country style in comparison to the other big mountain stuff we do at H+I. From my personal perspective they’re good for race training as there are a lot of ups and downs and there is a lot of aerobic fitness needed. But it’s not far to the likes of Torridon so I can still get out and ride bigger and gnarlier stuff, but to be honest I rarely put the bike in the car as I just ride out from here as it’s so good and I’m really lucky to have it on the doorstep. When it comes to the summer and doing the coast-to-coast it is like going back and visiting an old friend… Seeing what’s changed, if a rock has moved. It’s a nice balance.