John Peet, former General Secretary of L'Arche UK, is hoping to raise £30,000 by cycling 1500 miles around the UK and visiting every L'Arche Community and Project on the way. The money will go to L'Arche in Zimbabwe, where funds are so desperately needed just to keep the Community going, and to the Projects in Glasgow and Manchester that, with your help, will soon become L'Arche Communities.

Wednesday 18th June

Route: Arrochar, near Loch Lomond, to Glasgow
Mileage: 44.57 746 miles so far; 754 miles to go
Weather: Cloudy to the north but broken cloud to the south, light wind

I'd booked in for the 8.00 am breakfast which turned out to be the full works. It was impressive to see how the 3 coach loads of people were served in 2 sittings. Many of them had spent yesterday on Arran and were heading to Dunoon today.

My start was delayed this morning till 10.00 due to still wet clothes, but thanks to Anna on the front desk everything but my shoes were tumble dried – they would have to get the natural airflow treatment when turning my pedals.

The road from Arrochar (emphasis on the Arr not the o) leads over a small hill to Tarbet where I joined the busy A82. With some relief I found the Sustrans Route 7 which runs alongside this busy road, rather like it does alongside the Perth to Inverness A9. Looking back north, heavy rain clouds loomed, yet the sky ahead looked encouragingly bright with the sun breaking through now and then. Much of the old A82 has been used for the cycle track and the lapping water of Loch Lomond was never far away. I passed a few cyclists coming the other way including Craig Samson from Melbourne and his New Forest friend Terry Mason who stopped to chat. Craig was interested in the bike for a possible end to end attempt.

Further down near Luss I stopped to observe a party of 'silver' paddlers prepare for an intrepid kayak crossing to the island of Inchconnachan where, would you believe it, lives a colony of wallabies – yes wallabies. You learn something new every day. Further down the Loch side, I came to an imposing gated entrance to an estate which turned out to be the Loch Lomond Golf Club where the Scottish Open is being held from 10th - 14th July,

I reached Balloch around 12.15 and spotted a MacDonalds so thought I'd see if the free WiFi was available which it was for the cost of an 89p coke. A quick email check and blog send. Then on to Balloch station the cycle path starts its trail alongside the canal towards Dumbarton. So far so good, but I realised on reaching Dumbarton that I wasn't going to make the 2.00 pm rendezvous at the Glasgow Science Museum with Gerry and Elizabeth Green. So I rang and optimistically suggested I would be 30 – 45 minutes late. Then the cycle path signs disappeared and no-one I spoke to could help me find it. So I headed into Glasgow for a while on a thunderingly busy road until I spotted a roundabout with a minor road leading off it at 3 o'clock. This led onto the cycle track which signs later confirmed was Route 7. I feel a letter coming to Sustrans to suggest that Fred in charge of signing gets on his bike through Dumbarton!

As I innocently glided along this rural path, I must have missed a crucial turning, as I was set on an irrevocable course which was to lead me to Glasgow City - Speirs Wharf to be precise. My only distraction was negotiating two rather large swans guarding the route. I gathered speed as fast as I could on the clinker path and tried to surprise them, but one of the darlings was quick on the uptake and lurched forward, its telescoped neck bringing its beak to within mere inches of my leg. I've heard a swan can break bones if threatened whilst guarding its young.

Little did I know it, but I was too far north. Not knowing where Speirs Wharf was, it was time to switch on the SatNav. Elizabeth and Gerry were being very patient, meantime, and to cut a long story short, I wheeled over the impressive foot bridge which spans the Clyde, at around 4.00 pm, 2 hours late! I think should have bought a Sustrans map...

After a short ride with Gerry and the mandatory photos, we headed off to the University Catholic Chaplaincy where we were due at 5.00 to attend a lecture by philosopher Professor John Haldane who earlier in the day had been awarded an honorary degree. Feeling a little out of place in my lycra shorts and dayglow jacket, I was ushered up to some reserved seats at the front behind Archbishop Conti and Bishop Tartaglia. It was a very thought provoking and challenging lecture on religion and the search for meaning, and faith in contemporary society. Afterwards we were all invited to a buffet banquet, a chance for me to distribute publicity material personally to the assembled gathering and invite them to sponsor the Big Bike Ride. I also met an old friend Vincent Toal who is the editor of the Diocesan newspaper, Flourish, and gave him some details for an article. The photo will be on its way to you this week, Vincent. Also the Scottish Catholic Observer editor, Martin Dunlop, had been briefed by L'Arche PR Officer David Winpenny, so I got a call from him for some detail about the ride so far.

Thanks to Joan and Laurie Keenan for organising my attendance at the lecture, and Lawrence, Marie and Matthew Logue for arranging the sponsor forms.

I was then driven over to Rutherglen by Gerry and Elizabeth to my accommodation with Ann
McCart, Dierdre Blagbrough's sister where her other sister Marion, previously of L'Arche Kent, was waiting to welcome me. Thanks so much for your help, Gerry and Elizabeth – sorry you had such a long wait.

When I parked the bike, It was clear the back wheel was out of true, so we did some research on possible bike shops to call at in the morning. A long day ahead and again accommodation plans had fallen through, so it was going to be one of those journeys into the unknown.

Tuesday 17th June

Route: Oban to Arrochar, near Loch Lomond
Mileage: 63.38 701 miles so far; 799 miles to go
Weather: Cloudy and showers in Oban, then wind and persistent rain for the rest of the day

Knowing my planned route for the day, Joe, the Duty Manager, kindly gave me a complementary breakfast which I consumed in the company of a German couple, and a Spanish group, and two women from The Wirral. My Thai friend was already up, seemingly cooking what seemed like another Thai banquet for breakfast.

Another cyclist shared my room. His machine was a recumbant type which looked like it would need quite a bit of getting used to, but he told me it was better in windy conditions, I guess because of the lower profile. I think I'd feel more vulnerable.

After packing up, I called into Catherdral House and spoke with Monica who kindly agreed to ask the Canon to display the poster recruiting L'Arche Assistants, and to mention the Big Bike Ride appeal in the Newsletter. I had visited the Cathedral last night and pleasantly surprised to find it open to visitors during the day.

My next task for the morning was to check with the sorting office if the pannier hooks had arrived which they had, and to send the blog for uploading. Thanks to the receptionist at the Caledonian Hotel for allowing me to use their WiFi.

As I headed back along the Esplanade, I passed the Oban Times Museum and was told the new office was near the supermarket. I half hesitated then decided to make the effort and so spoke to reporter Euan who seemed interested to run a story on the Big Bike Ride, and take a photo of me. If it gets more sponsorship, it will have been a fruitful diversion – if not at least it will help announce L'Arche.

The rain then started to fall as I headed north along the coast road. This was a route I wasn't going to enjoy, with heavy traffic, a poor road surface which in places felt like going over an off-road track and wind that seemed to be driving the rain in my face. After passing a field fullof deer, I passed Connell where Oban Airport opened yesterday and round to Loch Awe for a coffee stop. Thanks to Wendy here, I was discouraged from continuing along this road, which was also a Sustrans cycle route, and persuaded to turn at the end of Loch Awe, past the Cruachan Hydro Scheme, right down the quieter A819. Good advice Wendy, even if I couldn't see very far with all the rain.

This was probably the worst day so far. I had to talk myself into believing that somewhere at the end of it all was joy not pain, in the form of a hot bath or shower and a slug of warming alcohol. I called into the Tourist Information for an uplifting chat with Chris and Sara who called up the route ahead on their internet map, and suggesting I call at a hotel in Arrochar, just short of the planned night stop, Tarbet, and negotiate a bed for the night.

The next part of the ride was easy enough around the Loch, past the famous Loch Fyne Seafood Restaurant whose well fed customers must have thought “who's that idiot out on a bike in this weather?”, as another oyster slipped down the gullet. Yes, I was jealous!

It was another few miles before the climb started to bite, and the rain came down even harder to the point that I could see cloud hovering above the nearby pine trees. Before reaching the Rest and be Thankful lay-by, I came across a film crew in the middle of shooting a scene from a new film 'Valhalla Rising”, some delight being expressed about the authentic cloud and gloom which would otherwise have cost thousands to create artificially. So you see, one man's nightmare, is another's Valhalla.

It was with only 6 miles to go that the summit was reached, and the gradient turned. This was not the exhilarating descent it should have been due to the now chilling wind and rain hitting the face like needles. But, hey, I wasn't having to pedal.

I vowed to call at the first hotel in sight on arrival in Arrochar which came into to view through the rain at the head of Loch Long. There was a strange square building which I somehow mistook as a paper mill but as I passed noticed it was a Lochs and Glen Hotel, outside of which were parked 3 coaches. I eventually found the manager and negotiated a heavy discount for dinner, bed and breakfast. Many thanks, John, and for putting the sponsor form on the notice board for all to see.

After an ample dinner, large group style, served energetically by attentive waiters, I felt a little more human. Thanks Michal, Tamaz, Katrina, Edit and Monica - hope you enjoy Scotland!

Sunday 15th & Monday 16th June

Perfect weather for a day of pilgrimage on Iona. I hope readers will understand if I it's a mini-blog today. Lunch by the beach, a siesta and time to reflect. Thanks, to Joan for a delicious barbeque at her cottage and a wonderful evening with Ernest, Catherine and Terry.
On the way back from the hostel I happened to bump into the party of Americans I had met on The Lord of the Glens!

Back at the hostel, I enjoyed the 3 part harmonies from Thorsten, Hanna and Regina, the German ministers who were staying with their families. Hanna's son Janne (John) enchanted us all just by being himself. This is a wonderful place and on my list of places to return to and stay longer.

Monday 16th June

Route: Iona to Fionnphort by ferry, then by bike to Craignure
Mileage: 39.8 miles; 638 miles so far; 862 miles to go
Weather: Cloud gathering from the west, dry on Mull, rain on arrival in Oban

Attempts to have a cooked breakfast went a little wrong - not being used to an electric cooker – so everyone came into a haze of well cooked bacon fumes. What else can you eat with fresh duck eggs at 25p a piece? Wonderful. Blow the cholestral count.

The German singing contingent were leaving this morning, along with a number of us. Time to say good-byes. Thanks, Anna at the hostel, and John MacLean for sponsoring my stay. This is a hostel of hostels.

I called in at the Columba Hotel, who generously allowed me to use their wireless internet to send the blogs and check my email. In the garden outside, had a chat with Findlay McCutcheon (from Cramond, Edinburgh) whom I had seen yesterday with a neat two-child trailer on the back of his bike.

Then onto the port to catch the 1045 ferry. Judith, Jackie and Karen were waiting for the same boat, all of them hoping to catch the bus to Craignure, then ferry to Oban like me. The weather looked as if it was definitely on the turn, but the rain held off throughout the 38 mile ride across Mull. Either the description of the hilly route had been exaggerated, or I was getting fitter, but it wasn't a difficult ride even through Glen More. It took 3 hrs 17 minutes to cover the distance. The cycling computer is a clever little machine which stops the clock when the bike stops so as to give an accurate riding time and average speed.

At Bunessan Primary School I spoke to Head Teacher Robert Burney who kindly agreed to consider a school spnsored ride for L'Arche.
I called again at the Pennygael Post Office where I met a party on a wildlife tour which is organised by the Shop, and the returning party of Glasgow High School pupils who had been camping out as part of their Duke of Edinburgh award. One young lad looked the colour of beetroot. Then on through the Glen past crowds of yellow irises now past their best, and lonesome Foxgloves whose purple hue made a colourful contrast against their yellow companions.

It's impossible to get an Orange or Virgin mobile signal on Mull so I had to wait till Craignure to pick up messages – then the battery failed! However, I was able to use the wireless network of the Craignure Cafe to Skype Judith at the L'Arche Office for the daily update.

As the result of difficulties in fixing up accommodation in Oban, I ended up checking into the
Scottish Youth Hostel along the Corran Esplanade just round the corner from the Cathedral, and was given a warm welcome by Jon, the relief manager who fixed me up with a room. The hostel occupies an imposing Victoria mansion overlooking the harbour and Kerrera. The wind was starting to whip up the sea and the rain now looked set in for the night. But there were more opportunities of collecting sponsorship and explaining about L'Arche.

Fellow hostellers included a family from Australia, a couple from New Zealand, a group from Thailand who filled the kitchen with exotic aromas and looked as if they were extraordinarily well organised in preparing their meal. I later discovered that they comprised the staff of a Thai restaurant in Teddington called Thai Smiles! I decided to carb-up at the local Italian restaurant and was not disappointed. Thanks Piazza chef for the cyclists portion of pasta!

Then half an hour on the hostel internet. It's good to have such a facility, albeit not wireless, but frustrating not to be able to use a memory stick, so I wasn't able to let you see some of the wonderful views I have enjoyed over the past week. Thanks to the Caledonian Hotel, I'm able to send this blog.

Saturday 14th June

Route: Gruline, Mull to Iona
Mileage: 39.51: Total so far 598 – 902 to go
Weather: Broken cloud, sunny, light wind

The peacocks, which had perched on the newly refurbished roof of General McQuarrie's former house, proved a persistent alarm clock, but I deferred the inevitable hour until 7.30, snatching another few hours sleep. At breakfast I learnt a little more about Mull's population of eagles which Fiona is employed to watch and research on behalf of the RSPB, and the problems of managing the Harmer's sizeable estate which the Rhododendrons are threatening to over-run if they are not controlled through spraying. After a walk down to the Loch for a photo or two, it was time to say thank you to James, Nicola and Fiona for a most enjoyable stay.

Equipped with a couple of much appreciated sandwiches, I left the Harmers in bright sunshine and the prospect of good weather for the journey ahead. I had been warned about the climb past Gribun as the stunning coast road swings south inland and over the lower reaches of Ben Na Sreine. It was a long hard pull but I managed it with just one stop to look back, as the Harmers suggested, to take in the elevated views behind me. Whitewashed cottages, almost engulfed by green fields, set against a deep blue sea and cotton wool-clouded azure sky. Postcard images in front of my very eyes.

Effort is normally rewarded and the run down though the forest to Loch Scridain lifted my already high spirits as another coastline came into view, and the glint of car windows in the now strong sun gave a clue to the path of the Craignure road. This I would join near the Aird of Kinloch. after what had been a semicircular route around Ben More.

Once on the more major road, I stopped at Pennygael Post Office for a hot cuppa and met Jim, Doreen and Brenda who kindly offered me a lift to Iona. I politely declined although I have to say I was tempted! Jim was visiting these parts to survey all premises serving alcohol. Apparently, new legislation is coming in which requires all such premises in Scotland to provide floor plans detailing where alcohol is stored and sold, and without certification by a certain date, hotels and restaurants will be heavily penalised. Hope I've got this right Jim!

Onwards to Fionnphort for the ferry to Iona. After buying my return ticket, I was waiting by the jetty when a lady saw my pannier adverts and remarked that she knew L'Arche. So we got into conversation. It turned out that the person in question was Joan Lewis Le Morvan who had helped to set up the RC House of Prayer and who had lived in Chichester before moving up to Mull. It transpired that she knew Kathleen O'Gorman, the current national Chair of L'Arche UK! Accompanying her was Terry Clarke from St Catherine's Parish in Manchester who was interested to hear more about the new L'Arche Project Group meeting round the corner in Didsbury. I'll give your details to the Committee Chair, Terry.

Joan is a mine of information about Mull, and was keen to tell me of the 5.00 pm Mass that afternoon which was being celebrated by a priest from Uganda at the House of Prayer overlooking the Sound of Iona. After arriving on Iona I had a look in the Nunnery then called at the Columba Hotel which I had been told had internet access. Here I met Sam and Lynn from Pateley Bridge, and Jim and Jackie from Todmordan. Great to meet you all - your support is much appreciated. Then I headed to the north end of the Island to find the Hostel, a private initiative set up and run by John MacLean and his wife. It's hidden from view, nestling in the lea of a rock outcrop. Ahead is the most stunning view of the near Atlantic. As I write this blog, I can see Lunga, Rum, Col and Tyree.

The hostel is really well planned, equipped and managed. My room has two bedded bunks and occupied tonight by another cyclist, Steve and a couple walking, Kevin and Helen.The spacious kitchen would be the envy of any farmhouse and, with windows on 3 sides, takes every advantage of the surrounding views.

I hurried back to the ferry terminal, to get some provisions for supper, and then up to the House of Prayer to catch the beginning of Mass. Fr Ernest Siervers is a White Father and a brief chat afterwards over a sherry with Sister Jean who runs the House of Prayer revealed that he knows well Andrew Yooumbe, the L'Arche Zone Co-ordinator for Africa. The web of connections expands.

On return to the Hostel, the kitchen was a hive of activity, and fellow guests included people from Germany, Argentina, Finland, Australia, New Zealand, England, and Scotland. A convivial evening finished with guitar playing and singing.

Thursday 12th & Friday 13th June 2008

Route: Fort William to Gruline, Mull
Distance: 52.33 miles 559 miles so far; 941 miles to go)
Weather: Sunny with broken cloud, light wind, dry

Donald kindly offered me a short Eucharistic service so I was well nourished with spiritual as well as physical bread for the journey. Breakfast included a robust cup of excellent coffee from his Gaggia espresso machine and more interesting history of the parish.

My departure was delayed whilst I got hold of the distributor of Altura panniers who turned out to be Zyro Ltd in Thirsk. After explaining the problem to Claire, of their customer service department, she organised a couple of spare hooks to be sent for my collection at the Oban Post Office Monday. Thanks for your help, Claire. Meantime a length of nylon cord would have to suffice. I think Altura need to go back to the drawing board with the design of this rather crucial component.

Armed with a couple of much appreciated sandwiches from Donald, I headed off to the Corran Ferry, calling first at Off Beat Bikes for a tyre pressure check, courtesy of Liam. The A82 is a busy road but the 7 miles or so were quickly covered. As I turned into the ferry terminal, who should be sitting there in her car but Kathy MacDonald, who had passed me up the road on her way back from the Regional Council in Drumnadrochit. So we had a coffee and a chat before parting company.

Passengers and bikes travel free on the ferry which only takes few minutes to cross Loch Linnhe. The A861 follows the loch side for a few miles before turning west inland up Glen Tarbet. The climb was reasonably manageable and the glint of Loch Sunnart marked the start of an equally gentle descent to the junction of the A884 at the eastern end of the loch. Again the road followed the loch until turning south up a pretty steep incline when the lowest of granny gears just managed to keep me on the saddle. Some wonderful descents into Gleann Geal eventually leading down the side of Loch Aline. Here I had a pit stop at the ferry cafe advertising a haggis burger which I had to sample. As I waited for the ferry, Gordon Henderson appeared, offering me some mackerel he and his son Mikey had just caught, so I took up the offer with the view to taking some for tonight's hosts. Many thanks Gordon.

The ferry across to Mull is a 15 minute hop, so my journey soon continued west along the A849 to Salen, a small village with hotel, shop and restaurant. By this time the weather was starting to look more settled, with blue sky and a warmer breeze predominating when I headed inland towards Gruline across what was effectively the neck of Mull.

My SatNav had told me to take the first turn left at Gruline past the church, but I ignored the insistent voice and took the second turn. Gruline House is tucked away from the road along a half mile drive past General McQuarie's mausoleum. Before reaching what I hoped would be the final gate into the grounds, a deer ran straight in front of me into the woods. Then the sight of Nicola Harmer at the front door waving, told me I had taken the correct turning.

Standing in its own grounds, Gruline House is an imposing turreted mansion overlooking Loch Ba. It was built in 1861 beside General McQuarie's original house. James and Nicola Harmer couldn't have given a warmer welcome to a complete stranger. This had all come about through a succession of contacts originating with an approach to Bishop Martin Shaw and leading to Mrs Sue Blockey, the local Episcopal Church Secretary, through Audrey, Bishop Martin's secretary. I'm really grateful to them all.

After a hot bath, I was treated to a delicious dinner which their daughter Fiona had a hand in cooking. Time to share a little about L'Arche and learn about the family and its connection with Gruline. The prospect of continuing the good conversation in front of a crackling log fire seemed very tempting, but I knew I should retire before sleep hit me after a long day and most enjoyable evening.

Thursday 12th June 2008

Route: Inverness to Fort William
Distance: 65.32 miles Total so far 506 miles; 994 miles to go
Weather: Overcast, cool, light showers then dry

I had been up quite late the night before wrestling with computers to try to get photos uploaded - my great wee ASUS Eee refuses to read from my camera's SD card. Don't ask me why! Then I lost Monday's draft blog so had to start all over again. At least I got that done and Tuesday's too.
I'm sleeping for England at the moment, so only woke around 7.45, with quite bit to do before setting off. I've now got into a strict routine for packing, everything having its rightful place in the respective pannier. I must have left shampoo bottles in numerous houses over the years – this trip I'm determined not to lose the miniature containers which have helped to reduce the weight to a minimum.

Breakfast was a quick affair with Pawel, Kevin and Mark. Then a quick email to Judith with the completed blogs for uploading, and it was time to say my thanks and farewells to the house and take a photo which everyone agreed could go up on the blog.

Chris Sadler had offered to accompany me out of Inverness, so I headed off to Lodge Road with the help of my SatNav. Thanks for all the snacks which have sustained me throughout the day. With a cool wind in the air, the occasional shower forced me to wear my heavier bright yellow rain jacket enhancing the wasp look. I was then on my own heading along the B862 which takes the eastern side of Loch Ness.

The route took me past the site where Rock Ness had been staged the previous week-end which had attracted over 35,000 people I was told. This was now Thursday and it looked like there was still quite a bit of dismantling to do. The ride was relatively flat as far as Foyers where I stopped with the intention of having a mid-morning coffee. I pulled off the road and pushed the bike up the accessible ramp which led to a large decked area in front of The Red Squirrel cafe and the adjoining Post Office. Before I was half way up a man came out of the cafe and said “Please take the bike off the ramp” So I said I would be as quick as I could but that didn't go down too well, as he had intended me to go down whilst I thought I'd solve the problem by going up. He then became quite insistent “You can't bring the bike up here, you'll have to leave it down there”. “But I've got all my valuables which I don't want to be out of my sight” I explained I was doing a 1,500 mile sponsored ride for people with learning disabilities. “Besides, there's plenty of room up there – surely one bike isn't going to be in the way?” Then I noticed a woman emerging from the Post Office echoing the mantra “Please take your bike off the ramp”. “But all want is a cup of coffee.” The man then said “What if a crowd of cyclists turn up and they all want to come up here – this is the Highlands you know” My blood was beginning to boil. “I was going to buy a cup of coffee, but I've just decided not to” I replied constraining myself from articulating what I really thought of them both for being so petty.

Fortunately there is a hill just after Foyers where I was able to vent my anger by taking it out on the steep incline. I was surprised how much the incident had pressed a button and annoyed me so much, but sad that this rather aggressive and unreasonable reception had marred my otherwise buoyant mood. A bit further on I passed a sign for a Catholic Church and a voice inside me said 'go and say a prayer and clam down'. So I turned round and went to investigate. Hidden by trees from the road, the little white-washed chapel adjoins what I was soon to discover had been the Presbytery but was now a private house. The door appeared locked, so I went round the back and came back to find an elderly lady with peaked cap in the entrance door beckoning me inside. She explained that the land had been given by a member of the Lovat family and the chapel built over a hundred years ago. I explained I was doing a sponsored bike ride. “Would you like a cup of tea or coffee”, she said. “A coffee would be great - thank you, but I just want a little time for prayer” “That's fine, I'll just go and get it ready” she said disappearing through the connecting door to her house. Eventually I left the church, and went round to the front of the house where I was welcomed into the sitting room. We introduced ourselves – she as Marianna - and I sat down while she went to sort out the coffee. It wasn't long before her daughter Therese appeared with a toasted ham and cheese sandwich with salad garnish and a piping hot cup of coffee, subsequently complemented by a plate of chocolate biscuits.

Therese then told me of her plans to develop the site as an oasis of peace for people who had lost hope and could not see the way forward, and for those who wanted a quiet place for a retreat and for youth gatherings. Her vision seemed deeply rooted in a strong Catholic faith. I was very touched by her warmth and openness. With the help of others she was setting up a charity called 'Cerys'. I sensed it was at times a daunting challenge to deal on her own with all the legislation which surrounded multiple occupancy legal requirements with which I'm not unfamiliar. Therese knew L'Arche Inverness as Brian McDonald brought a core member out here occasionally. Whilst I had a tour of the skeleton of a new kitchen, her mother was organising a colour print of the Chapel for me. After meeting Therese's son Tom, and taken a photo for the blog, I headed off with a lighter heart and a real hope that Therese's vision could be realised.

The next part of the route involved quite a steep climb to the Suidhe viewpoint on the edge of the Monadhliath Mountains which dominate the eastern side of Loch Ness. Here I met Danny from Litchfield, a young graduate who was doing the Land's End to John O'Groats ride and was already this far up on his 9th day. Good going, Danny – travel well. Then an exhilarating descent past the new Hydro Electric scheme being installed, before entering Fort Augustus. On the way down I met Will Thomson and American Friend Dick Jones on the way up. Will had been diagnosed with cancer and was determined not to let it beat him so was an a tour of Scotland for the local Aberdeen cancer charity CLAN. Good luck to you both – I admire you're positive attitude, Will.

At Fort Augustus the Caledonian Canal starts from a lock complex surrounded by a busy cluster of tourist shops, pubs and restaurants. As I arrived a lone piper was reminding tourists that this was Scotland, so I rang the L'Arche office in Silsden for my daily update and gave John and Judith the benefit of the tuneful strains.

From here, the cyclepath follows the western side of the canal and I set off for Fort William c. 30 miles away. At one point I stopped to chat with a couple of cyclists and give them a card when another cyclist passed me. Ahead was another lock and a massive cruise boat so I went to investigate and no sooner had I leaned my bike up against fence when the man who had just passed me, and was now on the boat, said “ Hello, are you doing a sponsored ride?” “Yes” “Would you like to come on board and tell the passengers about it?” “Um, well, yes please, that would be great” So before I could say “Lord of the Glens” (the name if the boat) I was sinking into the luxury pile carpet of this exclusive cruiser, and being plied with another cup of coffee! More importantly, Brian, the person in charge, made a PA announcement about the L'Arche Big Bike Ride and invited people to the lounge to hear more. So as we glided gracefully up the 5 miles or so to the next lock, I chatted to a number of Americans who were on the week's cruise to Oban and Tobermoray. The Zimbabwe connection seemed to evoke particular interest. Brian at one point generously offered me accommodation for the night. I reluctantly declined. Leaving an ample stock of cards and sponsor forms, and collecting a donation or two from passengers, I disembarked at the Aberchalder lock gate near Bridge of Clich. What can I say but that the hand of God seemed very present in these last two episodes.

After the A87 turnoff to the Kyle of Lochalsh, the road switches to the east side of Loch Lochy before climbing to the Commando Monument in the shadow of Ben Nevis. I met up with a group from the charity Deaf Scotland. Another interesting encounter with a couple on holiday from England on their way to Ullapool, Achiltibuie and the Summer Isles. Have a great trip!
The remaining cyclepath to Fort William follows the next stage of the Caldonian Canal. By this time the cloud was breaking and the sun emerging, so it was a pleasant end to an eventful ride. With SatNav assistance I was soon arriving at St Mary's presbytery where I was staying thanks to the hospitality of Mgr. Donald McKinnon whom I had met on a cycling tour of the Hebrides with my friend Jock in 1997. On the way into Fort William, I thought I heard the sound of a plastic cap falling to the ground, and on removing my panniers realised it was one of the plastic hooks securing the offside pannier to the rack. This could be serious. An early call would be needed to track down a spare part from an Altura stockist.

Donald kindly showed me to the self contained suite at the back of the house and had anticipated my need of a hot bath after what had been a long ride of 65 miles. I was then treated to a great pasta meal, half way through which a parishioner Alistair MacLeod appeared with more food and sat and chatted with us.

I retired to write my blog around 9.30 pm and woke at 11.30 pm to find I had written nothing! I've now covered a third of the mileage in 10 days on the road. My original estimate of 50 mile average a day is on target. So far no major aches or pains, thank God.
Wednesday 11th June 2008

Rest Day in the L'Arche Inverness Community

I had arranged to go to Braerannoch to get a lift from Linda to the Corbett Centre, but slept in longer than expected so abandoned that idea. I made my way directly to the Bike Shop over the bridge. Thanks to Damian at Highland Bikes for tweaking the gears at short notice. Greatly appreciated.

It was then on to see a long-standing friend, Chris Sadler for lunch. Chris is the founder of L'Arche Kerala Community in India and latterly worked in L'Arche Lambeth before moving north. She now practices as a reflexologist and Tai Chi coach. I was interested to hear about a non-violent communication course she is doing.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in the new L'Arche workshop which is now fully operational. In addition to all the resident core members on the Community, it now welcomes a number of local people with learning disabilities. It was one of these, Winston, who was celebrating his birthday today, so a cake was produced and everyone gathered in the back patio area to wish him well. It was so good to see familiar faces of core members from Braerannoch and Soarsa, the other Community houses.

MacTalla was hosting the monthly Community Gathering this evening so by the time I got back, the meeting room had been transformed and guests from other houses were arriving. Members of the Regional Council,- that is all Community Leaders and Regional Co-ordinators, arrived from their meeting at Drumnadrochit on Loch Ness, and after introductions there was a slide show of the Community's pilgrimage to Iona, then a light supper. It was good to see former colleagues, and particularly good not to get involved in any work based discussions! But it was useful to liaise with Community leaders to confirm my arrival date at the yet to be visited Communities.

After all guests had departed, I joined the house for evening prayer at around 9.15. This is normally a daily routine for a L'Arche house, though people are able to join in or not. This started with some music from a CD, which members were encouraged to accompany on a variety of percussion instruments with various degrees of gusto. Jackie really entered the rhythm. Pavel then read from Jean Vanier's book I walk with Jesus, a simplified version of the gospels beautifully illustrated in a simple line drawing, so people can get a sense of the theme of the readings. Then there was a time of prayer when people could express themselves verbally or silently, followed by everyone reciting The Lord's Prayer.

Not only is MacTalla is a very well run house, the neat order and cleanliness of everything is a real credit to Pawel and his team. It's got to be in the running for the best house I've visited. Thanks everyone for making me really welcome, and for going out of your way to making me feel very much at home.

Repeated attempts at uploading photos to the blog before a late bed.