Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Clachaig to the Holly Tree by bike

Any day now the bike tracks along the A82 from Glencoe to North Ballachulish will be complete. After months of work, which passers by can't help but have noticed, the new tarred paths alongside the busy road are all but finished.

 New signage to guide your on your way - Glencoe crossroads

The new bike paths provide both an important link between scattered rural communities and a valuable addition to the local tourist  infrastructure. Being able to travel safely by bike amidst such gorgeous scenery is a must, and so to prove a point we checked out the ride from Clachaig Inn in Glencoe to the Holly Tree Hotel at Kentallen Pier.

The first couple of miles are on quiet single track roads, and there's a nice bit of downhill gradient to get you into the swing of things. Nearer the village, the first sections of the Glencoe Orbital Track will take you off the road as far as the Hospital Drive. In time, it is hoped that there'll be a path all the way along the old village road as far as Clachaig, where it will then meet up with a return down the glen, past An Torr and Signal Rock and then back to the village by the National Trust for Scotland Visitor Centre.

If you haven't got your bikes with you, then try hiring from Davy at Crank It Up Gear. Leave your car in the Glencoe Village car park and start the journey from here.

From Glencoe Village, the route uses the old section of road past Craft & Things (save your coffee and cake stop for the return!) and along TighPhuirt. Sections of new tar then take you along past Ballachulish Village and towards the impressive setting of St John's Church. Built in 1842, the present church is now in need of repair and restoration and attempts are being made to raise the estimated £1m required.

It's definitely worth stopping to take in a bit of history, and to also marvel at the panoramic views across Loch Leven from the church.

 St John's Church, Ballachulish

Stunning panorama across Loch Leven to the Pap of Glencoe from St John's

More smooth tar will take you to Ballachulish roundabout next. If you're heading for North Ballachulish, continue on over the bridge, but we took a left turn along the old Ballachulish railway line, which continues through Glenachulish and is currently rideable all the way to Kentallen Pier.

 Left turn for Glenachulish, Kentallen and Oban!

But a little more exploring and a much needed coffee break was required, so once in Glenachulish we took a right turn off the Sustrans track and headed down past Ballachulish House to the Dragon's Tooth Golf Course.

 Passing the walled garden at Ballachulish House

Simply exploring this hidden corner of the area is a good enough reason to head down to The Gathering Place, but equally, the prospect of coffee, cakes and a more extensive bar menu might tempt you!

Parked up at The Gathering Place. Cakes, coffee, golf... Take your pick!

Back on the bed of the old railway line, the views open out, and on a day such as the one we chose, it's just amazing. The views across Loch Linnhe to the Ardgour and Morvern Hills are the best you could wish for. There's a few little shingle beaches and coves where you can get off and search for crabs, watch the cormorants, or simply take a snooze.

Carved stones and impressive ironmongery add to the atmosphere of the route.

The Sustrans route will hopefully continue beyond the Holly Tree Hotel, all the way to Oban and beyond. When it does it will be a superb journey. For now, you need to join the road again as far as the bad corner at Lettershuna, where you can join another section of track past Castle Stalker and the Strath of Appin. Further on, there's also a complete section from Creagan Bridge to the Sea Life Centre

 I just want to jump in!
Time to head back again

In the meantime, take a while to enjoy the view (and a beer!) at the Holly Tree before jumping back on your bike and doing it all over again in reverse!

Friday, 18 June 2010

Bikes and bows

 Glencoe Mountain Resort very kindly invited as many of us as could make it to come and see what's on offer during the summer months. And it would be rude to decline such an invitation so we played around with the diary a little and set off up the glen .

Can you spot Kingshouse?

The centre has been through difficult times of late. But under new ownership, a new lease of life has been brought to the longest established ski centre in Scotland, and there's already evidence that the centre will soon become a year round activity centre, with something on offer for everyone. The snow conditions for years this past winter have certainly helped and the momentum gained is now clearly continuing through the summer months.

I never knew that uphill on a mountain bike could so easy!

Sitting in the log cabin cafe with large picutre windows looking straight at Buachaille Etive Mor was an activity within itself. Coffee and cake was far more appealing than the Downhill Mountain Bike Course which was looming on the hillside just above us. However, Dangerous Will was up for it. He still had use of all of his limbs at the end but did mention something about going to the bike shop to replace some broken parts.

'Dangerous Will' looking confident

For the lesser mortals amongst us, we opted for a nice gentle ride up the chairlift with our bikes. We made a quick exploration of the plateau before opting for taking the weasel track down. Overgrown and washed out, this track dates back to some of the early days of gaining access to the hill, but is earmarked for development into a more formal biking track. In fact, speaking to Andy and the team, and listening to their ideas is both enlightening and refreshing.

Keep on through the snow fence to find the weasel track.

The weasel track has bags of potential and even in its current state was a good bit of fun. There's a few wash outs and bottomless swampy bits, but there's also long sections of good cruising and a few more challenging sections, including a couple of rock slabs. Great fun! And the view..!

Blasting the return to the centre, with the access road and Kingshouse clearly visible.

The tracks onto Rannoch Moor are begging to be explored by bike, and with a fleet of new Kona mountain bikes available for hire, Glencoe Mountain Resort is the ideal base from which to start.

Out of the black, into the red, nothing in this game for 2 in a bed. Smashing, super, lovely...

Back at the centre, we tried our hand at archery, a new activity for this summer.Strangely addictive, especially when your arrows end up around the centre but not in it. Just one more go! I can see a Clachaig staff tournament coming on. In fact, I've just had a brilliant idea for Octoberfest!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

The value of feedback - part 2

Read our recent post about our guest feedback process and you'll know that it's a subject close to our hearts. Learning how to use it, how to interpret it, has been a learning curve over the last 18 months. If you take it too literally, then it could either lead you to complacency (you're wonderful, don't change a thing) or conversely drive you mad (you're terrible, get your act together).

The new cooker in situ at Quarry Cottages, Ballachulish

The best example we can give is on the subject of the comfort of our beds, as it's quite possibly the most subjective of all opinions that we receive. Tracking our forms we've discovered that completely opposite opinions can be forthcoming on the same bed within a matter of days. The solution? First and most obvious is to test out a negative comment to make sure something hasn't suddenly gone horribly wrong. And second, is to maintain a register of all our mattresses with replacement dates, so that we can tell exactly how old a mattress is and whether it's due for the next round of our rolling replacement programme.

One area where we have acted directly on feedback received is on the cookers at Quarry Cottages. Knowing quite how well these perform is a bit tricky unless we're told, and recent feedback suggested that they weren't performing well at all. And rather than risk acting on just one of the properties, we've replaced all 3. So, Quarry cottages are now equipped with some rather nice new cookers with double cavity fan assisted ovens and ceramic/halogen hobs.

Next up, 3 new flat screen TVs. These should be in within the week!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Tempting fate?

I took these photos of a couple of fairly classic viewpoints in Glencoe to help demonsrate the lack of water in the rivers in the Highlands at the moment. I read Martyn's piece (below) and reckon that the photo of the Coe must have been taken on one of the wetter days recently.

The "river" Coupal and Buachaille Etive Mor from near Glen Etive road end.

The pinky bits are so coloured because for the majority of the time they're under water.

 The Three Sisters, Glencoe

And here, just by the A82 above the gorge, there's definitely water flowing, but it's a little hard to spot! Again, pink coloured rocks where more often than not you'd be wading to cross the river.

North easterlies forecast for the coming days. Chilly perhaps, but a generally outlook into next week.

How low can you Coe? - It's all downhill from here!

Our staff at Clachaig certainly work hard enough and when it comes to leisure time they can normally be found taking advantage of the hills & rivers for some action. Some even take time off to VOLUNTEER to work elsewhere.

Last weekend Martyn, our assistant bar manager, took time out to help at the Mountain Bike World Cup at the Nevis Range. He spent a glorious four days sitting on the hillside maintaining the track and marshalling the downhill course. This was his 3rd year volunteering at the event and probably the best yet, helped by the weather and Gee Atherton winning the men's downhill with his sister Rachael coming second in the women's.

As well as being a part of the creation of the event, volunteering also gets you that bit closer to the riders with the likes of Steve Peat, Greg Minaar and the Athertons stopping to chat and ask who's taking which line. Not to mention meeting lots of like minded people to have fun with …..and of course, some shiny free kit.

Our sister pub, The Grog and Gruel in Fort William, was ram packed on Saturday and Sunday nights with riders, press, volunteers and fans as Fort William exploded into a massive party over the whole weekend.

Some people may think he's a bit daft taking a holiday to go 20 miles up the road to work for free and spend his evenings in The Grog and Gruel. Truth is he's a 'paddler' and he's bored…. There hasn't been any significant rainfall since the second week of April and the River Coe is possibly at the lowest we've ever seen!

OK! so a lot of kayak clubs will be out enjoying the sunshine and snow melt of the French Alps at this time of year (not that he's jealous.) but as long as he's stuck in Glencoe Martyn will be doing rain dances for the next few weeks!

I see trouble ahead!

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Lost Property?

I was out rescuing again the other night. A familiar story. A couple out on the Aonach Eagach and decided to descend to the glen from half way along. Got into the gully systems on the south face, had a bit of a scare and got on the mobile phone.

I think it might have been an orange sling at one point in time. 

With only minimal information to go to pin point their exact location we were sent up different bits of the hillside . I was tasked with the big boulder gully above Achnacon Farm. You can't miss it. Going up was tricky. 2 steps up 3 steps back. Everything's so mobile up there; I was glad that it wasn't pouring down. Anyway, Rescue 137 arrived, flew over my head, and quickly located the pair in the next gully to the west of me. Turning down the slope, the fun really started. Imagine scree running when some of the scree is as big as TV sets!

In amongst all the boulders I found a bit of climbing gear and I thought I'd see if the rightful owner want to reclaim it before I put in on ebay. I reckon I could get a few quid for it.

And speaking of mountaineering and stuff, here's the confirmed speakers for the 2011 Winter Experience Lectures. More on the What's On pages for February/March in due course as we confirm FebruaryFest and the winter programme.

Tuesday 1st February - Roger Wild
Tuesday 8th February - Roger Wild

Tuesday 15th February - Adele Pennington
Tuesday 22nd February - Adele Pennington

Tuesday 1st March - Tom Gilchrist
Tuesday 8th March - Tom Gilchrist

8pm Bidean Lounge and they are FREE!

Sunday, 13 June 2010

So near, yet so far!

It could be a rather cryptic start to a review of last night's footie match. But We're actually referring to the Isle of Lismore. Quite literally translating as "big garden", this island is very easily accessed from Port Appin, just 20 minutes down the road from Glencoe, and yet it's taken about 15 years since my last visit to get back to the island.

 The monument to Waverley Arthur Cameron, son of the founder of the Oban Times

The island is just large enough to be too big to explore properly on foot, though you could easily walk around Port Ramsay for a couple of hours. The scenery and the views are stunning, and it's always great to get close to the water. And there's a little bit of history too with the lime kilns and the old cottages. However, the island is better explored by bike, and they are free on the ferry. Other forms of transport are available!

Pre-book a ride on a horse and cart.

The gradients on the modest hills aren't too steep, and there's plenty of side roads to go and explore. And you can do as we did, and try connecting a couple of the roads with a little 'off roading' adventure. Nothing quite like a loch side picnic and the promise of an ice cream at the island's cafe to keep the little legs going!

Stopping for a picnic

Good weather certainly helps, but there's plenty of exploring to be done on Lismore. I've already got a couple more trips ear marked for further exploration of the island, both with the bikes and on foot. And if it looks like the sun is going to shine again next time remind me to pack the sun cream!

The view north towards the point and the ferry pier.

Kids will love a trip to the island too. Whilst there's the history of limestone quarrying and lime kilns, castles and brochs for the adults, the sea shore is a great place for searching for all sorts of crabs, shells and other sea shore goodies which seem much more abundant on the island than even just over the water at Appin.

For more information see the Isle of Lismore community web site or see WalkHighlands for a number of suggested routes with easily viewed maps.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Want to buy a bike?

Want to buy a great bike, dirt cheap? Don't we all! But should you happen to be offered a "too good to be true" deal on a Kona then you might like to get in touch with Glencoe Mountain Resort. Here's a little press release...

A £1500 Mountain bike was stolen from Glencoe Mountain Resort on Saturday. The bike, a 17” 2010 Kona Stinky Six, was on loan to the resort from bike manufacturer Kona as a demo bike for riders to try out on the black graded downhill track. The bike was stolen around 11am from the front of the main building where it was on a rack alongside some of the resort’s 20 hire bikes.

Great to see Glencoe Mountain really getting back on it's feet again. Not great to hear that some miserable *^%$£"!(^*  has been helping themselves.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Feedback & Reviews

Here's a message from a happy chappie that we thought we'd share with you...

Dear all at Clachaig Inn,

You probably don’t remember us but we stayed with you on 4th and 5th May during our walk of the West Highland Way.

I just wanted to say ‘Thank You’ for a great place to stay. The food and hospitality was excellent, the staff also were friendly and helpful.

We managed to complete the way in our allotted 6 days and are well on our way to raising the £5000 we set as a target.

Anyway to remind you who we were here is a link to our website:

Many thanks again!

Best regards,

Bill & the Wogle Walkers

Great to hear from our customers, not only (but perhaps especially) when they've enjoyed themselves (yes, we do remember you, Bill.) We do hear these little bits of feedback quite a lot. Mostly at the front desk as our residents depart or at the bar during the course of the idle chit chat that is central to the convivial Clachaig atmosphere.

Service with a smile!
The only problem is, we're not very good at sharing this feedback. And therein lies the problem.

A little note like this can boost morale on hot, tiring nights in the Boots Bar tremendously. Go on, try a shift here, sample the adrenaline on a busy night and see all the happy faces and you'll know why we love being here so much. But, equally, some negative feedback can really bring us down.

You get what you deserve? From our point of view that's very true. Lots and lots of happy customers. Over 50% of our hotel guests are in the 'repeat business' category. And yes, the (very) occasional bit of negative stuff, sometimes deserved because we got it wrong, but sometimes just a case of not quite getting what Clachaig is all about.

Its been a hot topic here of late, mostly because we've had a bit of a knocking on a certain review web site.  Hands up when we get it wrong, and why shouldn't the world know too? But where's the balance? It does seem a little skewed. And just what is the point in a review 3 years after your stay? Just who does that help? And how many folk have I spoken to who create an identity or ask a friend to put in a good review to put the bad one further down the list? No, we're not impressed.

Head in the sand attitude I hear you say? Not at all. We actively solicit the feedback of our guests, and for the last 18 months have been running a very detailed and methodical feedback scheme. We ask 11 questions and also leave plenty of space for the 'free text'. Every week we collate the returns and 2 directors and a General Manager review each and every form. Name another business where that happens! Specifics then go on to Department Heads, and front-line staff as appropriate. We also convert the results into a score. The number itself is fairly arbitrary, but the week on week, year on year comparisons of the scores give us a very good indication of how we're doing.

To date we've had nearly 1,000 returns. They're all here in a bulging file! Our "satisfaction rating" has risen from 73% in 2009 to 77% in 2010. Out of the 11 questions asked, 10 have shown similar and consistent improvement. The only one decreasing is the question about our web site (which has got us puzzled) and is the area that would concern us least.

So, we think we're doing a good job, and so do our customers. We just need to share this information a little more.

And nmny thanks for the email Bill. Really appreciated. And if you happen to be visiting any review sites in the near future (or the next 3 years come to that), do us a favour and give us a mention!