A vivid account of our Coast-to-coast adventure
Read one guide’s vivid account of our Coast-to-coast adventure, in this Tour Diary by Kevin Henderson, mountain bike guide, poet and artist
We’re in the East, and on the ground, near the place where the Dornoch Firth, the Carron River and the Kyle of Sutherland flow into each other. This is important: the deceptive stability of the earth flowing next to a broad and dazzling sheet of tidal estuary makes for an immediate and altered sense of time.
The porridge (“that will put hairs on your chest” my mother used to say, though I’m not sure that she used the same line with my sister), scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and toast I had for breakfast was important too.
And it’s not raining. Boulders, mud, sweet water from high lochans and burns, leaf mulch, bog and sharn, forest road, rivers to wade to singletrack, rainbows, and descents – perhaps into those pots of gold – which once might have been the ancient beds of streams, are all out there waiting for us and our tyres, and I’m on the ground, excited, checking that I’ve everything I need, before ensuring that everyone else does as well (plenty of food and water, warm clothing and water-proofs, spare tubes, sense of humour…) With the sounds and smell of grasses, heather, mosses and silver birch … beginning to rise like a trout to a fly in my mind; water and earth and the sun rising over a Torridonian quartzite top and a billion years of earth’s history fizzing with infant joy… There is little I can say of happiness, other than I’ve been there.
After the transfer vehicle has dropped riders at the start of the first day’s riding of the coast-to-coast adventure, this is the last they see of the inside of the van until Applecross six days later and the return journey to Inverness. This is more often the case but sometimes the weather requires us to make changes to the intended route for safety reasons, and this occasionally requires us to transfer riders to an alternative start point, but on the whole, from this point on we’re on bikes, and we have in our ride packs everything we need for long days in the saddle.
The group’s main luggage is taken forward to that night’s accommodation, and this too is important. Good Highland accommodation in family-run hotels and bed and breakfasts, with hot showers, great breakfasts, and great food in the evenings are essential on this tour because days out in the mountains, sometimes in heavy weather, can be tough on the mind and body. And also because quite simply, we have it: fish and shellfish straight out of the sea to be turned into a Cullen skink or creamy fish pie; artisan potato breads; dark, succulent venison casserole; haggis, neeps and tatties that transcend this mortal realm with the aid of a slug of whisky, or that unassuming salad of fresh green leaves, mozzarella and tomato which your body has been craving all day … sparkling and fresh and smelling of the soil it grew in – the real fuel of this coast-to-coast adventure, not gels and power bars.
By mid-week during the last coast-to-coast adventure tour, despite cold and wet weather, three H+I Adventures mountain bike guides and eight American riders had worked their way, past Loch Clare into the Coulin forest, then climbed a trail by the side of Fionn Abhainn to the Bealach na Lice – above Glen Torridon and Torridon village itself which can be seen nestled, tight and blithe into the base of Liathach – before eventually dropping, six hard-worn but rewarding hours later, into Annat at the end of a fast, grin-inducing 9km descent.
At dinner that evening I read aloud poetry by John Burnside, John Glenday, Kathleen Jamie, Hugh MacDiarmid, Sorley MacLean and Kevin Williamson… poetry which amplified our journey thus far, from east to west; from an economy of the farm, to the sea, and the croft, from wheat to sheep, from John Burnside’s reflections on kinship, and the subtle interplay, transmigration and interdependence of living things, of ideas and creatures ‘…we wonder about those legends / of women transformed into deer, / or a cold daughter, lost in the hills / and hidden in the caught breath of a fawn…’ to Kevin Williamson’s first collection ‘In A Room Darkened’, published by Two Raven’s Press, who have their publishing house in Ullapool. Along with other poems on language and landscape, on flowers, Scotland and its people, and humour… lots of laughter… And all the while the body ached just a little, remembering the lungs working hard, the heart pounding in its cage, calf muscles searing near the top of a stiff climb, everything then that tells us we are “embodied”, in culture, in life, now, in this place.
If Kevin’s evocative account of a Highland adventure has captured your imagination, then why not join us in Scotland this year and experience The Art of Aventure?