The recent talk 'My Life and Hard Times' by Dennis Gray had me reminiscing about some of my early exploits, and, by coincidence, I then bumped into an old friend with whom I had shared a tough weekend in the late sixties. Our recalling of this event was the inspiration for me to put pen to paper in an attempt to show what it was really like in the good old days. Read More...
In the mid-sixties I had acquired an old bicycle on which I rode to work. The bike was a simple affair, uncluttered with such extras as gears or carrier, but sometimes this unlikely steed took me on epic trips to the mountains. On this particular occasion I came up with the idea of cycling to Ben Alder Cottage then via Loch Ossian to Kinlochleven, and had managed to talk a hard cyclist - Frank Finnie of Finnie Brothers Cycles - into sharing this exploit with me. This was in the days before mountain bikes were invented and we were unaware if anyone had ever attempted such a trip. It was to prove to be a groundbreaking journey in more ways than one!
The trip was planned for the end of May and as Frank had a reputation for being superfit I realised that a wee bit of training would not go amiss. The training that third week in May still sticks in my memory as being particularly brutal. I could only train after work in the evenings and on the Monday I cycled to Ben Lomond then climbed it via Ptarmigan taking only one and threequarter hours bike to bike before dashing down to Drymen in time for a pint - ten o'clock closing in those days! On that occasion I was joined by John Peters but I'm afraid he wimped out and took his car. The Wednesday night was a purely cycling affair and I cycled to Arrochar via Loch Lomond returning home via Helensburgh. By Friday I was getting a bit tired so I cycled to Ben A'an and shared the ascent with John and Sandra Peters before sprinting back to Aberfoyle in time for a wee refreshment. I could only hope that my preparations were adequate.
At last the big day arrived and Frank cycled out from Glasgow to meet me in Killearn and I was rather aghast to note that he was cheating - he had gears- ten of them, and a saddle- bag. In contrast all of my worldly goods were rolled in my sleeping bag and tied on behind my saddle using two bootlaces. I had never cycled with a serious cyclist before and didn't realise that stopping for the occasional rest is not in their programme. and I was therefore rather surprised when we passed through Callander without stopping and even more surprised when we cruised through Killin. In fact our first stop from Killearn was just before Fortingall, at the bridge over the River Lyon. Of course I had to pretend that I was thoroughly used to such long distances and commented 'Surely we're not stopping already, Frank. And me just getting into my stride!'. In fact the only reason that we stopped was that Frank regularly used that spot for a drum-up and had a good supply of wood hidden nearby. A good fire and a hearty meal and we were ready for the next stage. During the climb up from Coshieville I was able to play the moral superiority card by telling Frank that perhaps I might consider getting gears in the future, but only when I was much older and my strength was waning. Down we raced to Loch Rannoch then at Bridge of Ericht we cheated and took the hydro road up to Loch Ericht. It was a bit of a push before we gained the footpath to Ben Alder at Cam Chriochan. As usual the last mile to Ben Alder Cottage was the hardest as we struggled through the black quagmire with bikes over the shoulder. As we had no stove we had no sooner arrived than it was out again for wood for a fire and a meal to fit the occasion..
We awoke to heavy rain and quickly realised that the day's journey to Staoineag would be far from easy but we soon wheeled and carried the bikes to the highest point of Bealach Chumhainn at over 2200'.We were keen to cross the Uisge Labhair as soon as possible for the stream was rising rapidly, but our fears of being unable to cross were unfounded as the bikes gave a degree of stability in the wild torrent. I was more concerned that we might suffer from hypothermia as, strange as it might seem nowadays, Frank had no jacket, favouring instead an oiled-wool Norwegian sweater, while I had a thin cotton anorak which at least slowed the rate of water penetration. Frank wisecracked his way down the glen in appalling conditions then we had a minor respite from the weather while cycling through the woods at Loch Ossian. Our plan to reach Staoineag in a single push faltered when Frank punctured a couple of miles after Corrour Station. We did not have the luxury of carrying a spare tube but luck was with us as we were not far from a railway bothy where a heroic bit of fire building enabled Frank to dry the tyre sufficiently to perform a satisfactory repair. Back outside conditions were rapidly deteriorating and we rode down what was now a stream on totally unsuitable bikes with narrow touring rims. As the water occasionally submerged the wheel spindles, tumbles were frequent and we were completely soaked. At Creaguaineach Lodge we took the decision to follow the south bank of the Amhainn Rath to Staoineag as it was obvious that the stepping-stones would be under water. Having dragged the bikes to the bothy our labours were not over as we had to make a couple forages to get sufficient wood for an essential fire. As we carried no spare clothing that evening was spent in front of the fire rotating slowly like two enormous donner kebabs as we attempted to dry our garments without removing them.
By morning the weather had greatly improved and it was possible to use the stepping stones to reach the track on the north side of the glen and a spell of wheeling soon brought us to the rough road at Luibeilt. Bouncing along on high pressure tyres we were relieved to reach Mamore Lodge then enjoyed an exciting descent to Kinlochleven where we bought food for the run home including the shop's entire stock of bananas.As we were now back on surfaced roads, early afternoon saw us lingering by a fire near the lochside, confident that we would easily complete the trip. Our plans for a relaxed cycle home were soon shelved when we met some friends in Glen Coe and spent quite a bit of time blethering with them. As we had no lights with us this resulted in a brisk pace for the non-stop run home. My footwear for this exploit were heavy industrial shoes complete with steel toecaps but they seemed to act like bobweights on the journey over the Rannoch Moor, and nowadays every time I drive past Auch I can still visulise us sharing a bunch of bananas on the move. We travelled down the Falloch and Lomondside with me tucked in behind Frank. The pace was impressive and I was relieved when we reached Balloch where our ways parted and I was able to crawl home the last dozen miles chanting the mantra 'Never again! Never again!.....', arriving in Killearn in darkness.
So, you see, it is really quite easy to capture the spirit of the hard times - just get yourself an ancient bike, strip off it's gears and buy a pair of industrial shoes. After a wee tour round the above circuit you'll have a pretty good idea of what it was all about.
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