After last year’s epic Land’s End to John O’Groats 1000-mile cycle, my nephew and I planned something a little more modest this year. Having cycled south to north, the obvious thing to do was to then go west to east. Right?
However, when I looked into the classic coast to coast (C2C) route from Whitehaven/Workington to Tynemouth/Sunderland it just didn’t seem, well … very inspiring. Sure, the Lake District is spectacular but having climbed the North Pennines, it seemed to go downhill here from there. Literally.
So back to the maps I went to design our own bespoke 3-day trip: scenic, quiet, not too hilly and with some great places to stop off along the way. Of course, it had to be the west coast of Scotland.
I designed a route from Mull to Mallaig, taking the Jacobite steam train back to Fort William from Mallaig (which I’ll leave for a later post). This route has islands, lochs, ferries, hills, seafood, craft beers, beaches … what more could you want? The main difference to our LEJOG trip was that this time we decided to travel light, staying in B&Bs rather than camping.
We each caught the train after work to Oban with our bikes, my nephew from Glasgow and myself from Crianlarich. We stayed at the Dunheanish Guest House in Oban, a good base with an excellent view from the breakfasting room (as you can see above). The owner couldn’t do enough to please us and pointed us towards the Oban Distillery for a drink that night.
It’s just a 50-minute ferry ride over to Craignure from Oban and we were soon cycling on the quiet road to Salen, where we stopped in the sunshine for an early lunch at a café. We turned towards the west coast of Mull, gradually gaining height parallel to Loch na Keal until we sped down hill towards the island of Ulva. This is a place I’ve never visited and unfortunately it will have to stay that way for a while since the little boat that ferries visitors to and from Ulva, nor the seafood café which is perhaps the main reason for visiting, don’t operate on Saturdays. I guess the folk that run the boat and café have other jobs on Saturdays but it seems a shame that they’re not open on the busiest day of the week in the summer holidays …
The B8073 that serves the west coast of Mull is great for cycling. It’s quiet and runs through some superb scenery (with views to the islands of Ulva, Treshnish, Coll and Tiree). The only downside is that there are a few fairly steep hills that … er … keep you on your toes. Or at least that’s my nephew’s strategy. Mine is simply to keep peddling, exerting the same amount of energy as I do on the flat, which means that the pace slows somewhat. Luckily, we reunite at the top and keep pace on the downhill sections.
On one hill I some sheep decided to race in front of me. They were surprisingly fast !! I couldn’t overtake since I didn’t know whether they were going to dart in front of me. It kept my nephew amused and I’m sure the sheep have just about recovered from the exertions by now.
By mid-afternoon we arrived at Calgary Bay for an ice cream and can of ginger beer at the little beachside cafe. This is a great spot, one that I’ve visited with the family a few times. That Saturday afternoon there were quite a few people on the beach and in the sea but – of course – a quick shower sent them running for cover.
The end of day one was in sight. We just needed to follow the road to Tobermory to get a hot shower at our B&B. But first we had to climb a couple of steep hills and shelter under some trees while a shower passed. This wasn’t quite as easy as it sounds. Let’s just say that the hills took quite a lot of energy to climb and we were ready to re-hydrate that evening ! We had a good meal at the Tobermory Hotel on the seafront.
Day two started with a ferry ride from Tobermory to Kilchoan, on Ardnamurchan. I had time to take a few snaps of the boats and painted houses in the harbour.
The weather was dull and overcast (but forecast to stay dry at least) and the roads were very quiet that Sunday morning. We cycled eastwards along the single track road from Kilchoan to Salen. The road takes a big loop inland around the north side of Ben Hiant, the main climb on day two, and it’s a slow and frustrating road overall. As anyone who’s driven this road will tell you, the 40 or so miles from the Corran Ferry to Ardnamurchan Point are some of the most tortuous anywhere. And it’s no less frustrating on a bike: lots of small hills, narrow bends, and frustrated car drivers keen to get past.
We stopped for a good seafood lunch at the Salen Hotel before turning north to pass through Acharacle. We skirted Loch Moidart, where I’d gone kayaking and wild camped on an island a couple of years earlier, before the final (steep) climb over the pass at Glen Uig. It was a fast descent which took us freewheeling pretty much right to the door of the Glenuig Inn, our base for the night.
We were ready for a rest and enjoyed a couple of hours relaxing in the bar. Unfortunately the hotel wifi wasn’t working so I walked along to the community shop and sat outside to use their free wifi. Now there aren’t too many places these days that advertise free wifi and leave it on 24/7. But I reckon the people that run the shop are a canny lot for two reasons. First, they know that hardly anyone stops there (at least when the shop’s closed) and secondly, they know that the midges will come and attack anyone loitering outside within five minutes. That’s exactly what happened to me and I retreated quickly back to the peace of the bar.
We awoke on our final day to that miserable, west coast drizzle. We donned full waterproofs but made good time to Lochailort before turning west on the A830 towards Arisaig and Mallaig. This is a fast road, one where cars speed towards the ferries from Mallaig, but luckily there’s a good tarmac verge for cyclists and even some stretches of cycle lanes.
There wasn’t a great deal to see on a wet day, unfortunately. The fabulous views out to Eigg and Rum were shrouded in cloud and so we just kept our heads down and cycled. It wasn’t a great deal of fun in the mild wet weather, unfortunately and we soon got wet clothes both inside and out. I’d really been looking forward to the views on the back road between Arisaig and Morar but the normally turquoise beaches were just a dull bluey-green.
We were soon cycling into Mallaig, desperate to find somewhere to change into warm, dry clothes again. Getting changed in the station toilets wasn’t exactly the scenic and glamorous end to our trip that I’d been looking forward to (!) but you can’t have fine weather every day. At least we’d had a sunny day on Mull, looking out to the islands along the coast. It had been a great trip, in spite of the deteriorating weather. In my next post I’ll tell you more about the Jacobite steam train ride from Mallaig to Fort William.