One thing I’ve learnt when riding a bicycle all packed up through pastures new is how much the stuff other than turning the pedals matters.
5 bikes, 5 sets of luggage, 5 friends ready to explore the Highlands and Islands of Scotland over 9 days & covering about 450 miles [+ ferries]. The planned route was Glasgow > Arran > Islay > Oban > Outer Hebrides > Skye > Fort Bill > Glencoe > Glasgow.
The guns were out, I had a new Aurelius bike to ride and the weather forecast was impressively good. We were ready!
40 miles from Glasgow to Arran featured a bit of off piste. But a scorchingly hot ferry crossing was sponsored by beer and Arran ice cream. We stocked up with mini whisky’s and rode a lovely 7 miles to our first wild camping site at Sannox Bay. Evening entertainment - skimming stones.
Arran to Islay. Only 30 miles pedalled because the day was arranged around ferry crossings. We rode over a big hill, found a really good sandwich shop then messed about on swings. Ah, cycle touring. Good job the sun was shining. We had a tailwind on beautiful Islay where Jon, Nathan and Alex rode the length of the Island at an average of 19 mph!
After an early ferry crossing from Islay back to the mainland we rode a glorious 55 miles to Oban. Jon had organised the trip and at one regrouping point (in a pub) I said, “you’ve brought us to paradise”. Ride this road, it’s amazing!
In other news, the Whisky Whippets were now turning into Tennents train. Evening entertainment - hitting buoys with pebbles and managing to pitch tents on steep gradients.
Big miles today. About 80 and we pedalled at least 4 of them! It was ferry day to the southernmost isle of the Outer Hebrides - Barra. One thing we learned about bike touring island hopping in Scotland is that the ferries are really cheap. This was our most expensive crossing and it cost about £13. We were lucky to see a school of dolphins playing around the boat.
Two miles then to ride on Barra to pitch our tents on the most beautiful beach. [Be careful of getting sand in your drive train though].
The weather was still great by the way.
Jon’s birthday riding from Barra to North Uist. Clouds and drizzle for the first time but stunning beaches, causeways and quiet roads. Overlapping our trip were other cycle tourers. Someone who spied our Restrap luggage said hello to us as we exited the Barra > South Uist ferry. It was a member of The Adventure Syndicate, who had been spotted by two friends riding the north coast 500 a few days earlier [read their report here]. Bike touring, It’s a small world!
Jon and Nath were woken by a seal. Scotland is ace! We boarded another early ferry, this time to Uig on Skye where we all had showers and a proper breakfast for the first time in a week. Skye is absolutely stunning! The Cuillin Ridge was on the horizon from the moment we reached the island and the road to Talisker for lunch was amazing. Hebridean roads are not like Yorkshire ones, they flow like those in Europe and descending this was great fun! Finding a camping spot was a bit more tricky than previous days because Skye is busy but once again Nathan found somewhere stunning for our evening bbq, bag of cans and campfire. About 65 wonderful miles ridden today.
Bloody annoying headwind. Eugh. Jon, Alex and Nathan pressed on with their Tennents powered train and we rode 70 miles of wonderful wilderness through the Highlands towards Fort William. Gideon and I rode together until the final climb of the day which was stunning. He decided to catch the others up and spit them out :-). I thoroughly enjoyed chugging up the hill, then absolutely flying down it! We stayed in a hotel tonight. 7 days of riding + 6 nights of wild camping was a good effort but we were all ready for an actual bed. We finished the day with beautiful views of snow on Ben Nevis. Alex went back up a big hill because he left his water bottle on a bench.
Penultimate day. I managed to board the Tennents Train and 10 rapid miles took us to Glencoe. From here we had the biggest single hill of the trip, still with that sodding headwind and it never seemed to end. It was noticeable that the motor traffic was increasing as we were now properly in ‘weekend away from Scotland’s Central Belt’ territory. Wild camping had been the aim of the trip but when getting towards tourist land it’s policed. The glorious weather had also turned into torrential rain so we decided to get a campsite. Bucky had become the evening medicinal ‘tonic’ and as it happened to be world Buckfast day, we drank lots of it. Only 45 miles ridden but we made up for that with the longest game of pool ever.
Loch Lomand is lovely but terribly busy. Head down and push the pedals whilst the road we’d be on for about 200 miles gradually turned into an urban cloud of diesel fumes as we headed back to Glasgow. Gutted for the tour to have ended. The Highlands and Islands of Scotland in May are a dream to ride and I can’t wait to go back! The final 60 miles.
Our route: from Gideon’s Strava + Google