Thursday 31 May 2012

Cycling to Jura, the magical island

Thursday 17 May

The 12:05 pm train from Leeds to Ardrossan Harbour took me straight to the ferry to Arran, and alighting at Brodick, I cycled to the campsite at Lochranza. Just 13 miles with only one long ascent towards the end followed by an equally long descent. Due to misplaced optimism I didn’t stop to don waterproofs and arrived at Lochranza campsite soaked through. I treated myself to smoked salmon in pitta pockets for tea in my tent. It rained all night and I kept dry.

Friday 18 May

My worst nightmare scenario came to fruition, though, packing a wet tent. This was soon sweetened however by coffee and cake at Lochranza village hall, before hopping on the ferry to Claonaig. From Claonaig I cycled to Lochgilphead, along National Cycle Network Route 78. There were good views across the Sound of Jura as I cycled with the coast to my left, and I was treated to my first look at the Paps of Jura from afar.

2.15 pm £3 coffee at a restaurant in Kilberry, the most expensive coffee on my trip.

Playing: Roxy Music, “Dance away the heartache”.

I pitched my tent in a municipal looking campsite, close to the centre of Lochgilphead.

Playing: in the shower, AC DC on the radio.

On the way into town a group of teenagers cycling in the paddling pool next to the playground looked like they were having a grand time. I didn’t want to take a photo as I don’t wish to be intrusive.

Rewarded after my ride by scallops wrapped in pancetta at the Argyll Hotel, washed down by a large Pinot Grigio. Superb.

Playing on the juke box: awful music which was so remote and alien to me I could not attempt to identify the source of such evil, so thank the Lord it was soon turned down – I can only presume someone requested that. Indeed I did make a point of thanking the bar tender such was my relief. Food and drink came to £21.50 but they missed off the 2nd glass of wine and threw in a side of vegetables for free so I gave the lady a £4.50 tip. Such is my munificence. And I was a bit tipsy too.
This extravagence and quaffing has driven a large coach and even larger horses through my budget.

Back at the campsite a friendly Scottish man working on the wind turbines offered to help me move my tent as he said I had pitched it in a waterlogged area which to be honest I don't think it was. I declined his kind offer and we left it that I could knock on his door (caravan) if I got cold.

Saturday 19 May

In the shower on the radio: 3 songs which I am later told were covered by the Beatles, one was “Baby it’s you” by The Shirelles, followed by the Fab Four themselves with "We can work it out”. The shower walls are covered in the formica from 6 Kersal Drive kitchen surfaces.

I left Lochgilphead campsite around 10 am and bought some Jungle formula for midge attacks.  The lady in the chemist was how Nigella Lawson might have been had she been born in a different world.  Beautiful, kind, warm and normal.  Also purchased: shower cap and tweezers.  I love browsing in chemists. 

After leaving the Smiddy for slow service, I stopped at the Baptist church for St Margaret's coffee morning where I paid to enter and was treated to coffee, free refills and sandwiches and cakes on the table. Also, to the company of Jess and Jen who invited me to join them and were interested to find out where I was heading. Their friend who joined us disapproved of the route I was following, which skirted the western side of Loch Awe. This redoubtable lady chillingly implored me to “reconsider”.

I cycled out of Lochgilphead along the Crinan canal towpath with James, a friendly and proud local man who had one of the best commutes in the world, cycling from his home to Lochgilphead; he pointed out Dunadd Fort, home of the ancient Kings of Scotland. I detoured to Crinan for coffee and then retraced my tyre tracks to return to route 78, turned left towards Kilmartin and stopped by an ancient burial cairn, two stone circles and a burial chamber in a valley.


An ancient burial cairn

I took a minor detour from route 78 to see Carnasserie Castle then headed for the road of doom along the western side of Loch Awe. Ignoring the lady’s implorings I gaily cycled up the dark road with the forest to the left and drops down to Loch Awe to my right.

The road to Carnasserie Castle

Carnasserie Castle

Ford to Taynuilt

Here the cycling was hard, I was carrying a heavy load in the region of 30kg spread across four panniers, two bags on my back rack and a rucksack. I know, why would you? Trust me, I have listened and I have learnt. I will not bring four Gelert 9 inch steel rock tent pegs away with me again. Ever. In fact, I left them as a present for a very inspired person on my last camp. The other side of the coin however, which excuses me (in my book) for carrying 500g of cooking oil around with me for two weeks (which remained unopened), those steel rock tent pegs, the vast wardrobe which was a vain luxury… was …. the fastest descents I have had the pleasure of dropping down. The stretch from Ford to Kilchrenan is just over 18 miles which covers a number of climbs and drops (as opposed to descents).

I cycled past a camping sign near Kilchrenan, also past a friendly looking pub, then on to Taynuilt and from there, a stunning 12 mile ride to Oban along the single track road through Glen Lonan. Pure heaven with cattle the only traffic.

I cycled past Oban to a clean and neat campsite, Roseview, in Glenshellach, with silence in the showers, the walls the same lino that the Hancocks had on their kitchen floor. 

I slept well after my long ride only half waking and listening to some interesting banter from the fellow campers when they returned from their Saturday night out in Oban.

Sunday 20 May

The 20 bikers who were on a Boy’s Own weekend were slowly waking and peering out of their tents by the time I returned from the shower and they hoped they had not woken me the night before, I assured them I slept well. Ivan and Scott were helpful, in showing me how to use my Trangia and recommended Applecross to me for future trips. I waved them off and packed and paid.

Two Scottish campers shared some cycling tips with me too, and on their recommendation, I headed back to route 78, followed the single track road up and down to Connel Bridge then turned right and followed a quiet road along the northern shore of Loch Etive. The remains of Ardchattan Priory was an interesting stop and the wild garden and the cactus house boasted some fine specimens.

A wild monkey puzzle tree in the wild garden

I turned left at Inveresragan heading for Barcaldine and climbed (in fact pushed, in places) a single track road to a nice summit stretch with some waterfalls dotted around. This was hot cycling, on a hot day. A couple were sleeping in their foldaway chairs by their car half way up the hill, with stunning views of Loch Etive to greet them when they awoke. What heaven.

Then heading down to Barcaldine where I arrived at the luxurious Caravan Club site in a walled garden there and was greeted by 5 staff in red t-shirts who booked me in and showed me where might be a good place to pitch. It looks like everyone here is retired and enjoying their retirement. I suspect I lowered the tone a little, I certainly lowered the average age. 

I approach a man sitting on a recumbent, he looked comfortable and pretty attached to his bike to sit on it between rides.  The lady did the speaking. They were going to the Moray coast after a week at home, and then somewhere else. I expressed my envy at their relaxed lifestyle. “It wasn’t what we planned. We planned to spend our retirement in the Alps and Pyrenees, but then he had a stroke”. I looked at the gentleman with his neat grey beard and eyes which seem to want to speak. The lady continued, explaining how he goes out on the recumbent and she walks alongside with the dog. They can’t go far in case they get a puncture, you "can’t get him out easily" and putting him on the ground would be difficult whilst she tried to fix the puncture. I didn’t really know what to say. I went to pitch my tent.

I struck out on a cycle ride without gear and ended up in a pub. Dear me.  I met some sailors who showed me pictures of their boat, a man who showed me pictures of his bike (a Molton, I easily identified it, having been the proud owner of a gold Mini-Molton as a child) and then a woman from Holland who cycled extensively and we enjoyed good bike conversation, then her partner Bernard, a diver and her invited me to join them for dinner and we enjoyed a lovely evening sat looking out over Loch Creran.  No music.

Monday 21 May

6.50 am I set off on a ride without gear and explored the Strath of Appin, then on to Port Appin, and then I followed a disused railway along the Sound of Shuna. I wanted to go further, to Duror, but had to head back. I spent between 10 and 12 noon packing and then set off back up the single track road with the waterfalls, sped down the big hill now, to Loch Etive and at 1.15 pm found myself not only at the edge of my map but the end of the road which came to a halt.

I had to turn round and go all the way back along the northern side of Loch Etive, to Connel, across the bridge at 2.45 pm and from there on the single track road through Glen Lonan (heaven), to Taynuilt which meant a ride of around 20 miles round the Loch as there was no ferry to get me across. No trouble, I thought, I will just camp at Kilchrenan tonight.   Time in the saddle is always a treat. 

I noticed as I approached the friendly (looking) pub at Kilchrenan it sounded quite busy and lively. As I stood in the door way and then approached the bar you could hear nothing. No music, no sound, nothing at all. Except my constricted, clipped, nervous request as to where the nearest campsite was. This was followed by a repeat of the earlier sound I had heard, nothing. It lasted so long, I was about to say this silence is really awkward isn’t it?

The lady behind the bar: “no, there are no campsites around here. You will have to find a farm and ask the farmer nicely if you can camp there”.  

Me: “I will just have to keep on going then, won’t I?”.

That silence again, and it accompanied me as I walked out and got on my bike and cycled back to the road, to do the big hills between here and Ford at the southern end of Loch Awe.

I was tired. I thought I would see how far I could go before either reaching a campsite or a place which looked good for a wild camp. Four hours later I ended up in Lochgilphead, again. Just before I reached this traveller’s resting post, I pulled into a petrol station, and rustled around looking for nice food but there was nothing edible. I inhaled a bar of chocolate and asked if they sold wine in such a way that it caused people to look up, sharply. Oh dear.

In the shower, “My best friend’s girl” by The Cars. Oh, sweet music. My feet had gone white and various toes were clumped together in places for company, I think, after a long day’s riding.

Tuesday 22 May

I packed and paid, returned to the Crinan canal towpath and saw James cycling towards me, I said hello and he double took, then stopped, and called, "didn’t you make it to Jura?" I said I was heading for Tayvallich as I was booked on a boat later today, he was pleased to hear where I had been since we last met.

The cycle to Tayvallich was refreshing, I was heading for the sea to hop on the Jura passenger ferry, I had a coffee in the shop at the port then sat on a bench and had a picnic and burned in the fierce sun.  A sailor told me I wouldn't need sun block as I applied some too late, no chance of burning here - but I was! 

A group of locals and visiting retired people congregated around my bench and we whiled away the time waiting for my boat, then Donald pushed my bike to the RIB, complaining about the weight and introduced me to Nicol as “organised chaos.”. 

Nicol, the captain, set off for Jura eager to be efficient, and had to return to collect someone who rang him from Tayvallich. Georgina from Oban was visiting her brother and the three of us were the only passengers on this speedy vessel to Jura, the Paps became closer and larger.

Alighting in Craighouse, I checked in at the camping field in front of the hotel and as the other three members of the Jura posse had not arrived yet, I pitched my tent, went for a bike ride, then had an early night.

Wednesday 23 May

I cycled down to meet the JP off their ferry from Islay and showed them round the field.

They pitched their tents and we reccied the three Paps of Jura, an amazing experience.

Thursday 24 May.

JP cycled to a forest, where we left our bikes and walked to the Cruib Lodge bothy where we swam in Loch Tarbert and had a lovely evening, slept well on the clean floor of the bothy which was in better condition than my house.

Friday 25 May

JP headed back to Craighouse.  The field in front of the hotel was filling up with tents.

I went to the marshalls’ meeting in the fire station and me, Molly and Judy were officially allocated checkpoint 7.   Rob suggested we take water up – which had not dawned on us as a requirement – and we took up his kind offer of a lift to the start of the path to CP7.

Saturday 26 May

Molly, Judy and I met Rob and he drove us to the meeting point for the Raynet lady, Ann and the two men who had marshalled CP7 before.  We all walked up to CP7 and between us looked after the 200 or so runners who made it to that check point, offering water, Lucozade, Rob’s brew and gels to those who looked most in need. A very hot day. 

An amazing race. The 3 JP members who were running did brilliant and all got round, in respectable times. 

Sunday 27 May

The JP left on the first (or second as it turned out) ferry to Islay then we hopped on the ferry to Kennacraig, and cycled to Claonaig where we parted company.  I headed south along the eastern side of the Kintyre peninsula and they headed for the ferry to Lochranza, Arran. Setting off from our point of parting around 12.30 pm and then arriving at Campbeltown around 4 pm having enjoyed a stop for coffee and cake near Carradale at a Network tearoom.

Tourist info pointed me in the direction of the campsite at Machrihanish. I was temporarily derailed by a sweet shop where I had an ice cream and stocked up on lemon bonbons. Arrived 510 pm

Monday 28 May

I treated myself again. This time to a bike ride without gear. I packed a pannier with inner tubes and related paraphernalia, left camp around 9 am and around 20 minutes later arrived back in Campbeltown. I stopped at Gallery 5 for a coffee, and the man who served me reassured me I didn’t need to worry about my bike outside, “Nobody steals anything in Campbeltown, they just get drunk and fight” and had a chat with the proprietor of Aladdin's Cave opposite, then I bought picnic food from the Co-op and set off for the Mull of Kintyre.

In the Co-op, in my head, a refrain I can’t shake, “what a wicked thing to do”, Kris Isak,"Wicked game".

Around 10.30 am I set off along the coast road and arrived a few hills later at the Argyll Arms at Southend around 11.45 am, opens at 12 ... so I kept going. I spoke to a walker with a big ruck sack who had walked the Kintyre Way and was now waiting for a bus, as I ate my ice lolly at the shop and continued on my way.

I came across a man sheltering in shade of some gate posts of a drive leading up to what looked like some former institution. He told me he believed it was a hotel completed "before the war with Hitler". I later find that this is indeed the shell of the Keil hotel and it was completed in 1939, and served as a military hospital during the war. This gentleman had a glint in his eye and as he picked up his rucksack and bag, and hopped towards the bus as it turned round and stopped, he told me he used to go cycling and walking before, he could not go as far now, but he isn’t giving up.

I had a picnic on the beach just past St Columba's footprints

and then made my way to the lighthouse at the Southwestern tip of the Mull of Kintyre. The foghorn was impressive and I would love to hear that but never will. That sounds like a Morrissey lyric. 

Arriving back at Campbeltown, I dropped in at the Royal Hotel on Main Street for a pint.

Playing: John Coltrane - track not known.

I sat outside, overlooking the harbour. An elderly man came along, stopped and greeted me and eyed my pint, and caught his teeth before they fell out, he was then refused entry and came to me complaining there was no reason for that of which he knew.   I wondered if this was one of the locals who didn’t steal but got drunk and fought, and wondered if we would come to blows over my pint. He looked thirsty. I was thirsty.

On his second attempt at entry the landlady told him to "leave the lady alone” and when he passed me, I said maybe there was somewhere else he would find where he could be served. I was later told he was very nasty in drink and barred from all the pubs in Campbeltown. 

Playing now: Wham! “Wake me up before you go go”. Then, Duncan and Sandy started talking to me and after about an hour of politely refusing I accepted their offer of a drink. They had been drinking all day and were ready for bed. It was about 7 pm by this time. Duncan was interested in my job and also in the separation of the powers and was keen to engage in discussion on what brakes can be applied by the judiciary when the executive exceeds its powers. I could not remember.

Sandy had a very interesting and wizened face. I would have loved to have a picture of them but didn’t want to intrude. I have only my memory. They were very good company but I think I caused upset when I laughed aloud when Duncan complained of this of his wife and women generally: “Women deteriorate faster than men”.

They pobbled off and I went to the Co-op to buy my tea.

Tuesday 29 May

I had another coffee at the Gallery coffee shop, paid my second visit to Aladdin’s Cave and was sold a camera, having shown the owner my pictures of the foghorn at the Mull of Kintyre.

I cycled to Claonaig and arrived with minutes to spare and hopped on the 17.50 pm ferry to Lochranza. At which point the walker, Lars, who I had chatted to at Southend appeared and we sat together on the ferry marvelling at our luck with this balmy weather as the ferry sailed into Lochranza. Cycling to the campsite I struck up a conversation with two cyclists and the four of us enjoyed an entertaining evening at the Lochranza Hotel later. I wept with laughter at Paul's tales of his £2 journey on the Glasgow to Birmingham Megabus. What a great evening.   We had a late night which was risky bearing in mind an early start was necessary in the morning.

Wednesday 30 May

Ian, the cyclist who was cycling from John O’Groats to Lands End, and myself set off around 6.30 am and made it to the ferry to Ardrossan Harbour with minutes to spare. Before I left the campsite though, I left Paul, the cyclist who lives on Mull, the four tent pegs he had laughed at the previous evening and a hard boiled egg outside the door of his tent. 

The train from Glasgow back to Leeds marked the end of my cycling trip but I have plans for my next cycling trip in Scotland underway already.  Cycle touring is quite addictive as a way of life.

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