Last weekend on the 23rd August I joined our Property Manager Andrew on his attempt to cycle around 10 National Trust properties in one day. Suffice to say I was not cycling, instead I was in the support car and over the course of ten hours we managed to cover nine properties and over 155 miles!
Once the sun came up, a mere five hours into the ride, the day was gorgeous from the car with brilliant sunshine but on the bike the relentless winds and afternoon heat were a little more challenging. Now, I can’t comment on the ride because firstly I didn’t actually do it and secondly I am not a cyclist and therefore would talk about nothing remotely technical or interesting to any cyclists. So, instead I decided this week to write a blog about the places we visited.
The great thing about the National Trust for Scotland is the variety of places it looks after. Some people think the NTS is all about castles, but this is totally wrong. Our trip took us to a garden, two mountain areas, a cottage, one countryside estate, an island, a towering gorge, a battlefield and yes a castle, but one is allowed.
We started at Kintail which is spectacular. It hosts the Five Sisters – a mountain ridge incorporating three Munros – and the Falls of Glomach, Britain’s second-highest waterfall, as well as lochs, glens and coastline. It also has two Scheduled Ancient Monuments: the site of the 1719 Battle of Glen Shiel, and Cill Fhearchair, a 2,000-year-old standing stone and burial ground. All very impressive, unfortunately, when we arrived it was midnight and pitch black so all we saw was a vague outline of the mountains around us. We did however take photos with the bikes with the flash on and laughed about the reaction we would get if anyone came across our strange group and at how crazy we all must be.
Just down the road from Kintail we headed through Blamacara Estate which is a traditional Highland crofting estate and covers some 2,550 hectares. There are 84 registered crofts on the estate, using traditional crofting agricultural methods such as rotational cropping and cattle rearing which are directly supported by the Trust through its Traditional Croft Management Scheme. The towns of Drumbuie, Duirinish and Plockton are exceptional examples of traditional croft management and if you get the chance you should definitely stop and talk a wadner along some of the woodland walks. Whilst we didn’t stop we certainly enjoyed the drive. With the cool night air speeding us along and very few cars to get in the way we were able to enjoy the winding roads without the normal worry of encountering the dreaded motorhome coming the other way.
As I said we did hit one castle and this was Strome Castle. I have to admit before this ride I had never been to Strome, terrible I know, but I am really glad I got the chance. Its one of the NTS’s little gems and sits on a little promentary jutting out into Loch Carron making it a beautiful little viewpoint. From here we also visited Sheildaig to cycle past Sheilaig Island. Another little gem the island is almost entirely covered in Scots pine, thought to have been planted over 100 years ago to provide poles for drying the nets of local fishermen.
Finally as the sun began to rise we hit Torridon. This place is gorgeous and offers some of Scotlands finest mountain scenery. Five of the Trust’s 46 munros can be found at Torridon and the site is a magnet for walkers. At this point I feel I should apologise for using so many adjectives but we are really lucky in the Highlands to have adjective worthy scenery everywhere so whilst it may sound like I’m just saying everything is amazing for the sake of it, I’m not, it truly is a beautiful landscape with every corner giving you new and exciting scenery. Driving through as the sun rose was a special way to see the area, even though it was still a bit cloudy, and I think we were all pleased to have the daylight to guide us on towards Inverewe as the winds began to pick up.
Inverewe Gardens is a unique place. Despite the northerly latitude the area is full of colourful and exotic plants. Thanks to the warm currents of the Gulf Stream and the foresight of Osgood Mackenzie, who planted over 100 acres of woodland to shelter the area the garden can grow species of plants from across the world. This was our first major stop of the day so that we could stretch our legs and have some breakfast, which felt very strange considering we had already been awake for hours. Also fun was providing a slip stream for Andrew. I like to think we were really important and also very good at not running Andrew over, though that’s probably because it wasn’t me driving.
From Inverewe it was a big push to Corrieshalloch Gorge. With the traffic picking up and the wind against us all the way it was a struggle to stick with Andrew but what was great was all the encouragement we got along the way. Everyone we spoke to was keen to hear about our crazy challenge and were wishing us luck in reaching Culloden to finish the day. We didn’t actually stop at Corrieshalloch, mainly because from the road you don’t get to see all that much. Instead you have to walk out, preferably onto the suspension bridge, to get a true view of the largest waterfall, the Falls of Measach, as they drop 46m drop the slot gorge.
Our last stop before Culloden was Hugh Millers Birthplace on the Black Isle. This small cottage tucked into the streets of Cromarty celebrates the life of Hugh Miller – a 19th century geologist, writer and social commentator. Here the sun picked up which made for glorious views across the isle and made you wish for an ice cream to cool down, even for those of us not cycling.
I wish I could say we then cycled to Culloden but with the wind still pushing us backwards and the heat reaching 31 degrees we had to admit defeat. It was five o’clock and in ten hours Andrew had cycled over 155 miles. Safe to say it was a massive achievement and even if it wasn’t quite what we had aimed for I think everyone was amazed we’d managed to get as far as we had in one day. So, since we had to finish at Culloden we all got in the car and drove the last little bit to be met by our colleagues who were impressed we were still awake and forming coherent sentences.
Overall the day was great fun and utterly exhausting! Whilst a great effort by Andrew that served to raise money for all the properties we visited the day also highlighted the amazing work the National Trust for Scotland does. I think sometimes people forget that it is a charity and as such only runs because of the amazing generosity of our visitors. As the third largest land owner in Scotland the Trust has a lot of ground to care for but it’s is worth it when you get to see the spectacular scenery that they protect.
Hopefully this little blog has inspired you to see more of the NTS world and as always please like, follow, share, comment, tweet and help Andrew raise even more money by donating at https://www.justgiving.com/TourDeTrust2015/
All the best. D