Rannoch is one of the remotest railway stations in the UK. On a wet and stormy day this is probably the last place you would want to miss a train when all you have is a bicycle and no road out. This is exactly what happened to me!
I was with my cycling buddy Paul and we planned to ride around Loch Rannoch. This is one of those perfect cycling locations in Scotland with a 10 mile long fresh water loch ringed with a quiet road. There are views of Schiehallion, a Munro, with a distinctive conical top.
I was excited by the remote location where the only way in is by train to Rannoch Station, or 20 miles by road from Pitlochry. To the west is Rannoch Moor which is 50 square miles of bog.
Halfway around the loch we recalculated distances and times and realised with a shock that we would need to go very, very fast in order to catch that 3.09 train. We put all our strength into each peddle stroke. We continuously drifted between believing we would just make it and thinking that there was no chance.
We were flat out and soon we could make out the train station in the distance. It looked like we might just make it. It did not seem far to go.
But it was further than we thought. 3.05pm and there was too much ground to cover. My legs gave in. They knew the game was up. Paul kept up the pace- who knows the train might be late. The one time ever that we wanted a train to be late.
Then I spotted the distinctive blue of the Scotrail carriages easily seen in this land of greens, browns and russets. They were leaving the station, on their way to Fort William!
Even if we took this option it depended on the availability of bicycle storage on the train. You must book bike spaces on trains and we did not have reservations for the evening service. What if there was no space to take our bikes?
Even if we chanced getting the evening train what were we supposed to do in the middle of nowhere for six hours? The rain was getting heavier and waiting for the late train became unappealing.
What about cycling from here to Fort William? This is actually impossible because there is no direct road from here to Fort William, only the railway. Take a look at a map, it is one of the few remaining places where the only way is by rail.
There is a hotel right next to Rannoch station, Moor of Rannoch, so we thought that staying here for the night would be a good option. We knocked on the door. "We missed the train and I was wondering if you have any rooms?"
"I am really sorry," the man was sympathetic, "but we are completely full." I wondered if this sort of thing happened a lot at this hotel- all sorts of stranded walkers and cyclists knocking the door in desperation.
We were being observed by the only other humanity at Rannoch station. There was a couple with a campervan who were curious about the remote station, but more curious about what these cyclists were up to.
The man came up to us, "Not a nice day for it. Where you off to lads?" He had a huge grin and glasses that took up most of his face.
We admitted that we had missed the train and were pondering how to get from here to Fort William. He said that he wished he could drive us, but had no room to take us and the bikes. But I said to him that even if he did have space he could not drive direct from here to Fort William.
"Oh, what you lads going to do then?" He shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his purple cardigan.
We did not know what to do. Our new friend produced a roadmap and tried to find us a path out, "Oh dear there's no roads lads. Oh dear."
We already knew this and we didn't need someone else to tell us. He continued to leaf through his map, "What about this way...oh no, that's no good." This was not helping because it was now obvious that we were trapped and no amount of map checking was going to solve our predicament.
"Glencoe!" Paul suddenly shouted out. "Path to Glencoe. Look!" Paul had found a sign pointing to a trail leading into the trees. "Glencoe is near the hotel we are staying at."
"That's your way out lads. Well done!" The man said, now folding away his map.
"But it's a walking path, not a cycling path. It might not be great for bikes." I said cautiously.
"This is the way out. Let's do it! Let's go for it." Paul was excited and determined.
"Okay! Let's try it."
It was clearly a path for hikers, but the bikes coped well and we moved at a good speed. If it was like this all the way this could indeed be our route to a hot bath and a nice meal.
Within ten minutes the terrain became tougher with hills, ditches and streams, and we slowed down. But it was still a rideable path and we kept going. We were both happy and convinced that this path would work for us. We stopped for a short break and celebrated our good fortune at finding this route.
The path was bumpy and energy sapping. The rain was heavy and we were getting soaked, but we kept at it convinced the hard work would be worth it.
About forty minutes into the ride I found myself a few minutes ahead of Paul. Suddenly the path ended. It just disappeared. I got off my bike and starred in disbelief at the wild, swampy bog in front of me. No road, only squelching ground as far as I could see.
I knew right away that this was the end of our bid for freedom and I would have to give the news to Paul.
Paul got closer and saw me standing there, my bike dumped on the ground. I was shaking my head and looked sad. "What is it?"
"We can't go any further."
Paul took a look and had a more optimistic view of the situation. "Lets try to walk across. The path must re-start somewhere."
As soon as we stepped on the bog our feet sunk. We heaved them out with great effort. We walked on a little bit, trying to find more stable ground, but our feet kept sinking. It was hopeless and there was no sign of a path.
There was no need to say anything further. We picked up our bikes and cycled back to Rannoch Station.
The rain was now battering down and we turned to the red phone box in desperation. Paul tracked down a taxi number and asked if they had a vehicle that could carry bicycles. Yes they did! But they would not come and collect us due to that ever present issue of no road from Rannoch to Fort William.
Unless we could get ourselves to Bridge of Orchy. This was the next stop on the railway heading in the direction of Glasgow and the nearest place with road access to Fort William.
We were in luck! There was a train due shortly that would take us to Bridge of Orchy.
There was still the small matter of bike space on the train. What if all the bike spaces were taken? We decided to chance it and hope for the best.
When the train pulled up it was a tense moment. Would there be room for us? The conductor said, "We are a bit pushed for space. Where are you going?"
"Just one stop. Bridge of Orchy," I pleaded. Inside I was thinking please let us on. This is our only way out of here.
"Okay, come on."
Yes! We did it. We got out. We survived. I was totally relieved to have gotten out of that situation. There was a moment when I thought we would have to spend the night in the wild. Whilst riding back from the abortive Glencoe path I thought about how many layers of clothing I had and if they would keep me warm for a night on a bench in Rannoch station. The train took twenty minutes to reach Bridge of Orchy and the rain was even heavier. I did not think it possible for the rain to fall this hard.
This was one of the worst rainfalls I can remember experiencing in Scotland. We got completely soaked to the skin on the short cycle from the station to the Bridge of Orchy hotel. The hotel bar was full of outdoor types escaping from the atrocious weather. Fleeces, anoraks and hiking boots was the dress code. We celebrated with a pint and felt fortunate to have escaped a tricky situation. It wasn't quite the voyage of Captain Cook, but I felt the exhilaration of having survived a great and dangerous expedition.
Our taxi driver arrived late. He said it was because he picked up two desperate cyclists on the road who flagged him down for a lift to Bridge of Orchy. Two guys were really struggling to peddle through the downpour and had been thumbing a lift in desperation. They had been extremely lucky that one of the passing cars was a kind taxi driver that had the space to carry their bikes.
"These guys could not stop shaking from the cold and wet. They sat in the back shivering the whole time," the driver told us. "I don't know what would have happened to them if I hadn't stopped."
I could see hardly anything out of the car window. The window wipers were going full speed and barely provided adequate visibility.
Arriving at the hotel a hot meal, bath with lots of bubbles and crisp sheets became luxuries and things to be more than grateful for. I realised how much I take for granted that at the end of each cycle ride there is always comfort. The lesson I took from this experience is that city life can make me a little complacent of the Scottish wilderness. It is beautiful, but it deserves respect.
View Loch Rannoch in a larger map
Getting there, cycling terrain and where to stay
Rannoch Station is just under 3 hours from Glasgow Queen Street Station on the scenic West Highland Line.
The road around the loch is flat and there is not much in the way of traffic. It is a 32 mile round trip from the station, around the loch, and back again. You will have to cycle fast to be able to do this route between trains. Or why not cycle from Rannoch to Pitlochry station (26 miles) and pick-up a train from there.
If you are going to rely upon the tea room at the station for sustenance it is best to call ahead to make sure they are going to be open.
The Onich Hotel is on the shores of Loch Linnhe. You can book a room here using the HotelsCombined search box which compares all hotel booking sites for the best deal.