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Roads after dark are a new world

By John Davidson

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John Davidson braves the night to enjoy some winter cycling.
John Davidson braves the night to enjoy some winter cycling.

IT’S an eerie feeling being out on a bike on a pitch-black country road with nothing but shadows for company.

The experience can really play tricks on your mind, even though you know the area perfectly well.

My bike lights even spooked me out — their brightness reflecting off Passing Place signs further down the road and, occasionally, the odd pair of eyes of mysterious creatures staring back at me.

Probably just cats, or even sheep. But even knowing this, you still ask questions.

I soon changed my mind about extending my short route beyond Dores and out to Dunlichity, where the graveyard is spooky enough in daylight hours.

Now the clocks have gone back, the only way to get in enough cycling is to do some of it in the dark. For me it’s mostly just about getting to work and back in the winter, but I decided I would give this "leisure" ride a go to see what night cycling is really all about.

My fairly short route took me along roads I know well — in the daylight at least — up the Essich road from Inverness to the crossroads above Loch Ashie, down the steep hill towards Dores, taking a right turn onto the Scaniport road then returning to Inverness along the Torbreck road.

It’s only about a 13-mile circuit from the Essich roundabout on the Southern Distributor Road but distances are deceptive in the pitch black, as I discovered.

Where the street lights end after the houses at the Essich roundabout what lies ahead looks like a wall of blackness.

I switched on my best bike lights — a set of Raleigh RSP Asteri 6 Watt front lamps — and passed through the wall into a whole new world.

Normally the route from here up to the crossroads is a nice half-hour climb on a single-track road with some fantastic views both ahead and behind. As the darkness enveloped me, I concentrated on the powerful beam being put out by my lights, which were giving me a superb view of the road ahead.

Somehow the contrast of these super-bright lights made the darkness seem even more severe, though. I glanced behind me to see the not-so-bright lights of Inverness gradually fading into the night. Ahead there was nothing.

I found myself looking for familiar landmarks to see how far I had come but everything looked so different. I worked out I was in one place, only to cycle past it 10 or 15 minutes later! Maybe I was just trying to convince myself I was further on and therefore nearer to home, where by the flick of a switch I would find myself in a nice light room.

The adrenaline was pumping now. In the summer, I would have stopped a few times by now to take in the views and grab a breather but now I didn’t want to stop. I kept pedalling, faster than ever, to get myself up past Loch Ashie to the crossroads.

Then bang! One of my two lamps went out. I could still see the road well but the difference was incredible. I wanted that lamp back, and fast! After playing about with the wires I noticed it had just been disconnected from the battery, so I plugged it back in and we were back in full flow.

A couple of cars passed in the opposite direction, slowing right down as they tried to work out what this vehicle was coming towards them. I’m sure the lights on the bike looked like a car with full-beam stuck on, but at least they’re sure to get you noticed.

Finally, I reached the crossroads from where I knew it was mostly downhill or flat back to Inverness. I turned right almost back on myself and down the zigzagging tarmac through the trees.

The faster pace and the overhanging trees started to play tricks on my mind and I was spooked by a shadow which was probably just that.

This was a fun ride now but I discovered a problem on the downhill — hairpin bends, where the flaw of night cycling with lights attached to your bike was brought into focus. The place you need to see is almost 180 degrees from where your bike is pointing, so you turn into the darkness at 20-odd mph and hope for the best — either that or slow down severely and gingerly turn into the blind corner.

Just after a bridge over a burn my route took me right on an unmarked road which parallels the main Dores-Inverness road as far as Scaniport. Even this road seemed longer than I know it is in the "normal" world of lightness.

When I reached the main road, I took a right turn through the absolute black of night. Momentarily, I was concerned I might not be seen, but I quickly realised I would stand out like a sore thumb with any amount of light or reflective material on this black stretch of road.

I felt more comfortable somehow on this busier route, despite the darkness. At the Torbreck turn-off I carefully went right, going onto a quiet road that I knew would lead back to the street lights down the hill from Essich.

I particularly enjoyed this last couple of miles through the pitch-black, though I admit to being relieved to getting back to the relative normality of a road illuminated by street lamps. I guess it’s something we’ll all have to get used to again during the winter months ahead.

At least I know the darkness doesn’t necessarily mean that cycling is out of the question. Now, where’s my bike light charger?


Tell us about your experiences of night cycling — comment online at www.inverness-courier.co.uk/activeoutdoors or email activeoutdoors@spp-group.com

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