Since Lockdown began many things have been on hold, we had to cancel lots of skiing, a planned trip to Iceland and a couple of trips to the Alps. Duke of Edinburgh Expeditions which were due to begin in April and run throughout the summer and autumn were all cancelled and are still not back to normal as was an expedition to Malawi. So after a long few months we decided that it was maybe time to give something back to our existing customers…
A bike packing trip was organised for some of our customers with a real sense of adventure. The trip was over 5 days and sampled some of the best the Inner Hebrides had to offer. Our route would take us from Ardrossan to Arran, to Kintyre, to Gigha, to Islay to Jura and back to the mainland and then to Bute and back to Wemyss bay. We would be wild camping and using camp sites that were open. The challenges of booking Caledonian Macbrayne ferries during Lockdown when they had minimal capacity should not be underestimated. Eventually the various bookings meshed together and the trip was on! Colin MacAllister proved himself a logistics wizard in the planning.
Day 1 Ardrossan to Arran, a misty day, 7 intrepid cyclists on a mixture of road and gravel bikes crossed to Arran and cycled through Brodick in light drizzle heading North to Lochranza. The bikes were laden with a mixture of saddlebags, frame bags and handlebar bags each bike had about 20kg of kit , tents, sleeping mats, sleeping bags, cooking equipment, spare clothing and other gear. The pull from Sannox up the hill before the descent to Lochranza was “challenging” to say the least! Of the 7 cyclists 2 were experienced road cyclists, 3 very fit individuals, one fit lady plus me!
We cycled round to Lochranza and waited for the ferry at the little sandwich shop nearby. It had been a long time since breakfast and the Ham and Cheese Salad on Sourdough along with an Americano was very welcome! The ferry took us over to Claonaig and we began the long climb over the B8001 and a great scary descent to Redhouse at the junction to the A83 the main road to Campbeltown. We cycled down the main road to Tayinloan well spread out with the Road cyclists well to the front with me bringing up the rear!
We arrived at Tayinloan and caught the ferry to Gigha arriving about 4pm. A quick scout to the local shop and we were informed that we could camp on the beach near the ferry terminal. Breakfast supplies bought, we set up camp on the beach on a pleasant evening looking out towards the mainland. We did try and book the one star Michelin restaurant but it was booked solid with yachtsmen. We were successful in booking the Gigha hotel and had our first draught beer and restaurant meal since lockdown and it was excellent
We headed back down to the shore and an early bed just after 10pm. We discovered the toilets at the slipway were open and the bonus point was that the fresh water tap at the side Coastguard station was working. Result!
Day 2. The next morning we had time for a quick exploration of Gigha before catching the ferry back to Tayinloan We cycled to the North end and then up to the Oggam stone and the old cemetry.
Ferry back to Tayinloan and then the road up to Kennacraig for the 3pm ferry to Islay. Only problem was that the ferry left at 1pm and not 3! Oops. Cal Mac booked us on the next ferry at 6pm and it’s a 2 hour crossing. Our campsite was at Port Charlotte, 24miles from the ferry port at Port Ellen! So we had to cool our heels until 6pm. 5 miles to Tarbet to stock up on supplies and visit a coffee shop. The late arrival on Islay meant that we wouldn’t get a restaurant or pub open until the next day Sunday…..! We ate the supplies we had bought in Tarbet on the ferry and debated what to do. The decision to be made was, do we camp near Port Ellen or go for it and cycle to Port Charlotte. We arrived at Port Ellen and decided to go for it.
We arrived at Port Ellen community campsite at 10pm, just as it was getting dark, having braved head winds, rain squalls, tired legs and sore backsides! The camp site is very modern and gets a big thumbs up. The showers were to die for, unlimited hot water. I didn’t want to come out! We tried for the pubs but all had closed at 10pm and tomorrow was the Sabbath….! Fortunately I had forseen some of this and the half bottle of grouse purchased earlier in Tarbet went down well between us as a night cap!
Day 3 The next morning we planned to go to Jura. The ferry port for Jura is at Port Askaig about 15 miles from Port Charlotte. As it was Sunday morning, we couldn’t get breakfast and made do with tea and porridge. The plan was to go to Port Askaig, get breakfast and the 12 mid day ferry to Jura. When we got to the Port Askaig hotel around 10, it was like the Marie Celeste. I eventualy found a cleaner who told me that the Hotel wouldnt open till 12! We kicked our heels for an hour and a half and eventually found the chef who agreed to do as a brunch in the hotel. A negotiation with the ferry master found our ferry postponed for 2 hours and a great lunch was had by all. We then took the ferry across the short crossing to Feolin on Jura. The Ferry Master warned us to be back by 4.30 if we didnt want to spend the night on the island. As the hotel on Jura was still closed and all our camping kit was still at Port Charlotte, we agreed! We then began the cycle along the shore and the steep ascent into Jura along mile after mile of quiet road. We used time to judge when to return and after an hour decided to turn back. After a thrilling descent we returned along the shore and could see the ferry leaving Port Askaig to meet us. As soon as we were on the ramp it started to rise up and the ferry moved off. We were told the crew were “on a flier”! After the steep climb out of Port Askaig we made the 15 miles back to Port Charlotte with ease and with the wind behind us. Dinner that night was in the Port Carlotte Hotel and was excellent.
After a few beers we returned to the campsite and another early night.
Day4 We Packed up early and had breakfast in the Cafe in the camp site which can be recommended! We then began the cycle to the only distillery with a tour that was open Kilhoman. a cycle again of about 15 miles to the distillery which is unique in that it produces all its whisky from barley, peat and water on Islay. We had a very interesting tour of the distillery and made the cycle back to port Charlotte for the ferry to the mainland. Another small logistical problem arose in that we had approximately 45 mins to get to Tarbet for the last ferry to Portavadie in order to get to our final campsite at Kames. Unfortunately despite us asking the crew if we could get off the ferry first at Kennacraig we were kept till last! Well done Cal Mac!This cost us more than 15minutes and put us immediately under the cosh to make the 5 hilly miles to Tarbet in less than 30minutes. No mean feat with heavily laden bikes. The road cyclists managed with ease, we turned the corner at the end ofTarbet and got on the ferry with seconds to spare! No pressure!
After what we had done already that day the cycle to Kames was fairly smooth. Colin had organised that we could camp in the paddock in front of the Kames Hotel which is essentially an extension of their beer garden! It’s a stunning location with views over the Kyles of bute. Initially the Hotel manager denied knowledge until shown the email. on Colin’s phone and told we had a booking for dinner! She changed attitude and told us to “fill our boots” In fairness she was under pressure and had few staff. we had a great night in the hotel and slept well in the beer garden, another first.
Day 5 The next day dawned bright an beautiful in a stunning location. We had breakfast in the hotel and headed for the big climb out of Tighnabruaich. The climb, which seems never ending finishes at a spectacular viewpoint looking down the Kyles of Bute. Spent a few minutes there catching my breath and admiring the view which I think is probably one of the best in the countryA great descent down to Ormidale then followed the A road to Colintraive with more climbs en route.
The crossing from Colintraive to Bute is the shortest ferry crossing in Scotland it only takes a few minutes to get to Bute and the relatively flat coast road to Rothesay. On Arrival at Rothesay we treated ourselves to a well earned Nardini’s ice cream! and the ferry back to Wemys bay. There the team split with 4 taking the train back to Glasgow and the remainder cycling back along the coast road to Ardrossan. This was the only time during the trip we were exposed to heavy traffic and in sections it wasnt pleasant particularly going through Largs and passing Hunterston where very little distance was given by passing drivers. A culture shock afer 5 days of island tranquility. So ended a fabulous trip. Would I do it again? in a heartbeat. The scenery in the islands is fantastic and for me, so close to home. The clients loved it too. It’s also something I will consider organising for the business in the future. Bike packing. its the way forward:}