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A Journey into Scotland … Part 33


My bicycle had hardly moved. It had wedged in gravel at the side of the road and finding itself, suddenly and unexpectedly, both riderless and stationary it had quietly fallen onto its side. Anything that wasn’t screwed or bolted had further to travel. I ended up seven yards from the point of impact. I don’t think I flew that far. I think I would have remembered and I think my injuries would have been a good deal worse. The four panniers had gone in four different directions. One ended up under my foot.

My elbow had taken a crack from the side of the bus and I couldn’t work out how this could have happened. If it had been a Loony Tunes cartoon there would be all sorts of explanations. The only one that fits is that the bus pulled out to pass me (There wasn’t a lot of room; it was essentially a single track road) and came back towards the kerb side before it was fully past me. I consider myself rather lucky. If he’d pulled in a second earlier he would have hit my bags and these would have swerved my bicycle in such a way as to make going under the back wheels of the coach a possibility. I was considerably shaken.

near mallaig

A quick assessment of my injuries told me I’d either been lucky or unlucky. My elbow hurt like the devil but the pain was already diminishing. This suggested a nasty crack on the humorous. I was pretty sure it wasn’t broken. I’d ended up on springy turf. There were scratches and some pieces of gravel to pick out of scrapes but I was outwardly OK. My concern was my ankle. And it was a serious concern. I could put weight on it so it probably wasn’t broken but it felt wrong.

When I was younger I’d smashed the same ankle to pieces pedalling on a big down and up slope  that we called  the big dipper. It was about a mile from where I lived and my ankle at that time, though badly injured, had allowed me to get back home. I ended up not being able to walk on it for weeks but I could walk on it for that first half hour or so. It hurt like the blazes but at the same time felt numb. It felt as though somehow large air bubbles had got inside the joint. On that occasion I’d torn the achilles tendon and done considerable ligament damage. On this occasion my ankle felt exactly the same.

I determined that plans to spend two days cycling around Skye and eventually catching a ferry out to Tarbert on the island of Harris were now out of the window. I knew there was a railway station at Kyle of Lochalsh. If I could get that far I would be able to get back home. I needed to make as much of the milage as I could before the ankle stiffened up. I could use some help.


And, at exactly that moment a fellow cyclist came into view behind me. She’d been on the ferry,  was my age and American and was the finest sight I had seen in the whole of my journey. At this moment I needed someone who was prepared to stop and help and to ride with me as far as the railhead just to make sure I got there. I got all of that and more. It’s another of the people from the journey whose address I lost. I can’t even remember her name and yet for two hours or more she was my Guardian Angel, my Good Samaritan and my bringer of good cheer.

The first thing she did was to bind my ankle. My own first aid kit was plasters and paracetemol. She had a crepe bandage and she knew how to tie it. Hobbling, I checked the bicycle for damage and found none. The bags hadn’t fared so well. The back bags had separated and the ties and clips that fastened them to the bike had been torn. Clumsy knots had to do at the bottom and the American girl had some string that worked at the top. It was a simple and effective cure that I determined would last only until I could make a proper repair. It was still holding the bags on when I got back to Exeter. The tent and sleeping mat had slid into a ditch and were easily restored.

I mounted and tried a few yards. So far so good. She was heading to the Kyle so I wasn’t putting her out of her way. I was slowing her down though. We’d looked at both of our maps. We reckoned between twelve an fifteen miles. It was going to take some time. I wasn’t at all sure the ankle wasn’t just going to seize up. It was hurting more and I didn’t know if that was a good thing.

eigg and rhum?

“Don’t worry. Just get on as best you can. If you can’t get any further I’ll ride on until I find a phone box and I’ll get you an ambulance.”

I don’t know if that reassured me or stiffened my resolve but I kept on going and the longer I went the more sure I was that we were looking at a bang and a twist. I was now absolutely sure it wasn’t broken. I was pretty sure it wasn’t badly sprained but I couldn’t rule out tendon or ligament damage simply because of what had happened to me years earlier.

She was great. Sometimes she rode in front to reduce the wind resistance. At six or seven miles per hour this doesn’t have a great effect but it gave me something to aim at. Sometimes she rode behind to allow me to go at my own pace but mostly we rode side by side and took our minds off the painful (literally) progress of the ride by telling each other how we’d got there. She’d flown into Prestwick a week or so earlier and had been following pretty much the same route I had taken except she was stopping to climb the occasional mountain. She’d spent the day before scrambling up Ben Nevis and had intentions of adding Scafell Pike and Snowden to this achievement before she went home. She wasn’t going much further north but was heading towards the Great Glen and Inverness before turning back into the Grampians.

For a while the road ran by the sea with mainland Scotland seemingly within a good throw of a stone away. There were little settlements but I didn’t want to stop. There were no really big hills but one long rise where I wanted to get off and rest but clicked the gear into the biggest cogs I had and the pedals turned nearly as many rotations as the wheels. I got to the top.

By the mile I was feeling more confident. If it was serious there would be some deterioration. If anything there was an improvement.

The improvement continued and by the time we reached the main Lochalsh to Potree road at Broadford I was certain that I had had a dramatic tumble but had come out largely unscathed. Momentarily I even contemplated resuming my island hopping route but the sensible thing was to allow time to determine the damage. If I rode to Kyle of Lochalsh I had a railway station there and if I followed a route towards Achnasheen I was still on course for the north of Scotland while having a railway station every five or ten miles if I felt I had to abandon.

My biggest regret, looking back, is that I not only missed much of the beauty of the island but failed to really notice much of the loveliness that I did ride through. In those days there were a pair of small ferries that plied the stretch of water between Skye and the mainland. We stood together having completed our ride. To me one of the most important dozen miles I’d ever cycled, and the hardest. To her an unlooked for act of kindness. A proof to me and herself that she was made of the right stuff. That she cared enough to go that extra mile for someone she didn’t know.

kyle of lochalsh

When the boat docked, I said I’d stay for a while to rest and then see if I could get on. She would have stayed but I knew I was OK. Regardless of the state of my joints I was now able to get home if I had to. She rode off and I hoped that maybe our paths would cross again.

If, nearly thirty years on, you remember driving a silver coach that came from Surrey across the Isle of Skye and that you overtook a cyclist, who never appeared in your wing mirrors afterwards, then you might wish to get in touch. I don’t think, however, that I’ve got very much to say to you. If, on the other hand, you were from Berkeley California and bandaged a fellow’s ankle and rode slowly with him across the island then I really do wish you’d get in touch. It’s always a cheering thought to know that the world is enriched by the presence of good people (and you are one of the best) but I’d like to have a proper chance to say thank you.