Friday, 5 August 2016

On the repercussions of moving Leonardo at 3:45 AM

Shifting Leonardo around at 3:45 in the morning was a right royal pain in the arse. Not only did it interrupt my sleep, but it also made it harder for me to get to sleep as there was the anxiety of anticipation. Together with the motion of the train and my relatively poor ability to get to sleep, I got very little sleep either before or after Edinburgh. Once the train reached the Highlands, the ride quality diminished as the rails became shorter and were no longer welded together. At least, that is my theory. Suffice it to say, I spent the following day in a sleep deprived daze.

When I finally gave up trying to sleep, we were well to the North of Loch Lomond. I ate breakfast crossing Ranoch Moor. Well before arriving in Fort William, I gathered up my stuff from my room to move it to the baggage car where Leonardo waited.

The Jacobite steam train was waiting in Fort William, being the only other train in the station. (There are only two platforms.) Although the Caledonian Sleeper belongs to another company, I suspect the two companies have a friendly agreement to coordinate arrival and departure times.

The Lancashire Fusilier steam locomotive was surrounded by fans and photographers both on the platform and from across the tracks over a fence. Some lucky people got to stand in the cab between the times when one of the firemen had to shovel coal into grate. After about fifteen minutes, whistles were blown and the Jacobite set off in a flurry of steam.

While waiting for the conventional diesel service (which was less than a quarter of the cost and would allow bike reservations), I shopped for lunch and munchies at the supermarket located next to the station and chatted with three successive pairs of cycle tourists from one each from Poland, the Netherlands and France! One of the latter two pairs mentioned their troubles finding accommodation which had led them to having to take a train to Ranoch. This made me feel I had been wise to reserve everything in June!

The train to Mallaig arrived about twenty minutes late and was rather crowded. Getting both Leonardo and my bags on was made trickier by people standing around vaguely in the doorways. I nabbed a seat facing forwards in a four seat section with three people on a day trip to Mallaig from Glasgow. They were wondering just where the train was so I was able to help them by whipping out my road maps!

The West Highland Line rightfully earns its place as one of the Great Train Journeys of the World. I am not going to elaborate further.

I will say that I had to get my pre-paid tickets for myself and Leonardo printed in Didcot. Of the six stubs, exactly none was asked for by ScotRail. Possibly, I missed something.

Mallaig was familiar to me and had relatively few distractions to to offer while I waited for the ferry to Lochboisdale. There was a small museum which while interesting couldn't keep my attention for long. At the Calmac ferry office, I thought about writing a blog entry only to find the battery was very low on the iPhone. I used their plug just below an RNLI donation box. I dumped much of my small change into it. (This was done partly to rid myself of the bulk of pennies and tuppences.)

The ferry was the Lord of the Isles. It towered over the lesser ferries serving the Isle of Skye. It also had a very nice set of lounges. As it was a bit early for supper, I thought about finding a nice stretch of couch where I might lie down for a toes-up. I wondered if this was really allowed for a little while until I saw other people doing so. It did me good to close my eyes.

Supper was a cold peppered smoked fillet of mackerel. How that isn't a kipper eludes me.

Late in the crossing, I was sampling Calmac's "malt of the month" (14 year old Oban) to which the bartender had added too of a back. I sat next to a chap from South Uist. He lived as a contractor slash civil engineer Inverness but was going home for a family function. We fell to chatting and out of puckish malice I decided I would tell him about the Construction Workers' Holiday in Quebec. He was horrified at the notion!

The Lochboisdale Hotel is so close to the ferry terminal that I didn't bother getting on Leonardo! It was warm welcoming place.  The only downside was the discovery that I had managed to mislay my yellow sweat cap between the top deck of the Lord of the Isles and my room at the hotel. I went back to the ferry to look but had no luck. After a lovely shower, I collapsed into a well-deserved sleep.

The place mats in the breakfast room featured cartoonish depictions of sheep with pun based caption, mostly involving the word "ewe". My favourite was one of a sheep driving a donkey cart with an "L" plate displayed with the caption "Form-ewe-la 1"!

After a careful repacking of my clobber and an intense sweep of the room which produced a packet of Dutch prescription medication, I began my trek. It was a shade anti-climatic. For one thing, it was always going to be a short day. Also, it was a day which alternated between cloud, rain and sun. Not to mention all three at once. ;-) In hindsight, I should made a detour South to Eriksay and the wreck of the S.S. Politician made famous by Compton Mackenzie in "Whiskey Galore".  The route weaved around rocks and lochans (small lochs) on the rolling machair (wet, grassy seaside plain with low silica content in the soil) which made for easy cycling despite the frequent single track road but assisted by a tailwind.

Anyway, despite a museum, a scenic detour and waiting too long lunch, I got to the Nunton House Hostel on Benbecula by three. I don't how far I rode today as I had neglected to zero my bike computer.

After a shower, laundry and brief toes up, I wandered over to a nearby beach. There was a wet-suited trio standing about waist deep in the surf. Despite having talked to one of them, I am unclear as to the purpose of the exercise. It may have been boogie-boarding. I saw a grey seal observing the trio.  Good first day on the whole.

As a random note, I assume I will have transfer Leonardo again on the Caledonian Sleeper from Inverness to London. Thankfully, if memory serves, it leaves Edinburgh about midnight which is a better time to be awake than 3:45 AM.

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