Day 15: Balloch to Tyndrum

Distance: 39.35 miles
Time: 3 hours 24 minutes
Average speed: 11.5 m.p.h.
Distance from Lands End: 766.75 miles
Distance to John o’Groats: 264.71 miles
Number of afternoons off today: 1!
Number of different pronounciations of Tyndrum there seem to be: at least 2

At first last night we thought our B&B’s location just outside the centre of Balloch was a disadvantage, but our host showed us a path we could take down through the grounds of Balloch Castle to the shores of Loch Lomond, and it was a lovely stroll in the evening sunshine. Balloch Castle was an odd place, an impressive grey stone building with crenellated turrets, but seemingly derelict and unused, with boarded up windows on the ground floor. The grounds and the lochside were full of people picnicking and enjoying the weather, and there were boats out on the water and midges in the air.

Clare came to Balloch once as a child when her uncle was married here, but didn’t recognise it when we arrived yesterday. Apparently then it was just a hotel and a little wooden jetty sticking out into the water. Now there are several hotels and restaurants, lots of guest-houses, and a huge marina.

We had a curry for tea, less chaotic but not quite as good as the one in Okehampton, and took a taxi back up to our digs to save our legs. We were both quite tired, after two days of over 60 miles.

We’d always planned that today should be a shorter day, a sort of rest-day, but having had an enforced day off in Ambleside we felt fine to push on a little further than we’d originally planned. We spotted Tyndrum as a possible destination, just under 40 miles from Balloch, but thought we’d better check it was somewhere we could stay. The Tourist Information Centre found us a B&B in Tyndrum, and told us they’d still been working at 6:40 last night, but they had managed to find somewhere to stay for everybody, which was quite an achievement. They’re supposed to close at 5:30!

We left Balloch on the A82, which follows Loch Lomond from Balloch right to the top at Ardlui and beyond. It’s a busy road, and a little disappointing, in that you’d think there would be great views of the Loch, but there aren’t. There was a good track beyond the white line at the left of the carriageway, so we stuck in that and everyone gave us plenty of room.

After about 10 miles there was a bend in the road, and we stopped to take some pictures. Clare crossed the road, stepped over the armco, and discovered she was on the West Loch Lomond cycleway, which had come right from Balloch, right next to the Loch! We’d seen no signs for it as we left Balloch, so we hadn’t known it was there. Still, now we’d found it we were delighted to be off the main road, and enjoyed the little track away from the traffic and close to the water. At some points it became obvious that it had once been the main Loch Lomond road, as there were still cats-eyes on it. After 6 or 7 miles the cycleway ended, and we were back onto the A82, a little less busy now as some traffic had turned off, probably for Oban.

We stopped at the Bonnie Braes cafe (silly name, great views over the loch), where we provided a considerable talking point for a coach party who were just leaving. You do see lots of tandems around our way, but we do forget that they are seemingly much rarer in other parts of the country. We had our first portions of ‘tray-bake’ – in this case a biscuit base topped with toffee topped with chocolate, very wicked but delicious, and perfect for keeping the cyclist’s energy levels up. It’s a good excuse, anyway.

We continued on around the loch, marvelling at the number of motorbikes there were. Some were obviously touring, like us, laden with panniers, taking it steady and enjoying the scenery. Others, though, were obviously just out to test themselves against the road – not great for any of the other road users including us.

Loch Lomond is very long, with several bends and kinks, and the views out across the water changed constantly as we made our way around. After 24 miles we reached Ardlui at the top of the Loch, and headed on towards Crianlarich. We knew this would involve climbing, but we didn’t know how high we would go before we reached Tyndrum. The climb was steady but pretty relentless, and by the time we reached Crianlarich were we up at over 600 feet.

We stopped in the station tea-room for a lunchtime sandwich, where we learned that Crianlarich, or A’Chrion Laraich, means ‘the withered site’, which doesn’t do it justice really. The fells on either side were spectacular, and we’d seen lots of walkers on the West Highland Way, which, like us tomorrow, goes up to 1100 feet over Rannoch Moor and down through Glen Coe into Fort William. We’ll be doing it on the A82, though, and in fact we’re going to be on the A82 for days now, so perhaps even Gary can’t mess that up. Or can he…?!

We arrived in Tyndrum just after lunchtime, so early in fact that our room was not quite ready, so we were forced to wander to the nearest bar and drink beer. After a leisurely pint we checked in, and, having lugged the Sunday papers all the way up today’s climb, we can now lounge around and read them at our leisure. Tomorrow we plan to cycle to Spean Bridge, seven or eight miles beyond Fort William.