So to give this story some context, you need to know a bit about me. While I now live in British Columbia, I'm originally from the east coast of England. I moved to Canada just before I turned 22 years old, and I've only made it back for a handful of short trips in the last 8 years. I was due a trip home to see friends and family, and then Covid hit...
This down-time gave me the opportunity to dream up some wild ideas, but it wasn't as kind to my good friend in the UK. He went through a messy divorce and some other stuff, and I could only console via online messenger and short calls. We chatted back and forth over the months about a trip we could do together when I finally came home, something better than just going to the pub. It started as a hike in the Scottish Highlands and it progressed from there. Once I discovered the "most remote brewery in the UK", we were pretty much locked into that plan.
Through all my research over the course of 8 months planning the ride, I never once found any record of someone crossing the Knoydart Peninsula by bike. This 30km trail through the mountains ended in Inverie, a small village perched on the west cost of Scotland, on the far edge of the Knoydart Peninsula. The Knoydart is often referred to as "Britains last remaining wilderness" and has an area of nearly 100,000 acres of protected land (and a further 25,000 acres of marine area).
Anyway, I'll get to the point. After a year of trying to make it happen, I finally made it back September 2021. Fresh off my 9 hour flight, we went to Scotland for a weekend riding trip with the guys at Glentress. After a few too many beers and bacon butties (when in Scotland, right?), myself and Dave made the trip further north. The roads got smaller and the weather got worse, and we definitely wondered what the hell we were doing.
We were lucky to have some support for this in the form of Freehub magazine, the Lochaber Chamber of Commerce, Evoc, and Altura. With this support came a beautiful little B&B at the end of Loch Hourne - the Loch we were going to follow to the mountain pass. I loved that night at the B&B - good food, comfy beds, incredible setting, and that feeling of nervous anticipation of the day ahead. The next morning, on the side of our hearty Scottish breakfast, came the comment of "most cyclists here go out in wetsuits, most end up in the drink!".
So we set off. Spinning along the last few hundred metres of paved road on the west coast and into the narrow, overgrown trail on the side of the loch. It was definitely more overgrown than anticipated, but we were feel of eggs and bacon and had a great day ahead.
When things started to get steep, that's when the ride took a turn. We wrongfully assumed that on the uphills we might have to walk our bikes, but on the flats and the downhills we could ride. We were a step out on all accounts. On the inclines, we had to carry our bikes, on the flats we might be able to ride, and on the downhills we could try and pick our line, but it was very difficult. This all slowed our process massively, and it even though at the bottom of every downhill we could ride there were smiles all road, deep down we knew we couldn't make it the whole way with a trail in these conditions.
I forgot to mention earlier, we had seen that a large lightening storm was going to hit the west coast that night, so we had to make it there or go home, there was no safe option for staying on the mountains into the night.
We trudged on. There was a mid point, at the end of the loch and just before the mountain pass, that we (I) really wanted to get to, to at least see the mountain pass with my own eyes and understand that we couldn't do it. We pushed on and on. Foliage covered the trail and the deep ruts underneath, carved out by thousands of years of rain and wind and ready to swallow our wheels whole. Every now and again you would get rolling, life would be good, and then out of nowhere you would sink, both pedals would hit the ground and the handlebars would smack you across the legs. It got pretty tedious.
After five hours of this, we rolled past some old ruins and into the small settlement of Bassisdale. We looked up at the mountain pass, with thick black clouds hanging over the peak and a trail that could barely be seen, and we knew we were right to call it. Maybe we could've slogged through and made it to the cold refreshing pint in Inverie and the draw of the UKs most remote brewery, but realistically it would've been a stupid decision. We failed.
It didn't feel good to turn around and give up, it really didn't. It took me a few days to get over it and make peace with the decision. But it was right. We cruised out of "town" to retrace our difficult steps and head for home, trying to outrun the impending storm that literally cast a dark shadow over the ride. We hustled. We had our goal and we knew the way, let's just get this over with.
This time, none of it was really a shock, but it didn't really improve it. The winds picked up and we got the occasional spot of rain, but thankfully we made it thew whole way back to the car before the heavens opened.
Overall, it was an amazing trip. I got to spend quality time with my friend, we pushed pushed our limits and had three days of conversation about the nuances of life. We didn't make it to the brewery, but it was an amazing trip for both of us. It also got us hooked - the Highlands are incredible and I cannot wait to go back.
Oh, we later heard that the town was shut down and ferries weren't running due to the severity of the storm that night, so we would've had no chance. That made me feel a little better.