Mostly, this is random stories from my various trips as I collect them, but I've a wee backlog to get through too and those will pop up occasionally.

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Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Coasting around the West - Day 3

Once again, I found myself awake early and keen to get on the road. That's always re-assuring when you are in to a multi-day trip. Eating and packing whilst trying to keep as quiet as possible, I was on my way be 7:30 - before any of the other campers had shown themselves. Having been to Mull only once before, and that on a bit of a rush-job Munro-bagging session, I was really keen on seeing a lot more. I'd had a good look at the map and had already spotted that (a) there were few potential food stops and (b) there were a lot of hills. My route was also subject to some deviation as there had been some bridges damaged in the previous weeks flash floods and the road was still officially closed. The detour would add 14 miles on to my days riding but, more importantly, would prevent me from riding a section I'd been looking forward to.

The initial stretch of riding this morning had me climbing away from the campsite for some time before a lovely, fast descent into a still-sleeping Dervaig. 
Dervaig
Overlooking Dervaig
Next was Calgary Bay, somewhere I've oft seen discussed and that I'd considered as a potential stopping point for this tour. Right enough, there were a few tents and campers dotted around the designated "wild" camp spot, but given how tired my legs had felt arriving in Tobermory last night, I was glad I'd decided not to crack on this far.

From here, the road simply got quieter still. After a while I started to take note of each house I passed, in case I had some mechanical failure and needed assistance. In the mean time, the stunning views of coast and mountains continued round each corner and over each hill., of which there were many.
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Ben More in the distance
After passing the turn off for the Ulva Ferry, I started my circumnavigation of Loch Na'Keal which meant I was now heading towards the dark clouds which had been gathering over the Mull mountains. Sure enough, it wasn't long before the first spits and spots of rain started and before long I had to admit defeat and don the waterproof jacket. This loch was absolutely teaming with wild-life. Sea Eagles, geese and more heron than I've ever seen before seemed to be queuing up to take advantage of what must be an abundant fish supply. 

At Gruline, I came across the Road Closed signs and then had to decide whether to chance it or take the longer route. I decided I would bluff it out on the basis that I could always carry my bike over any unforeseen difficulties. More heron were seen along this side of the loch, with loads of twitchers out now too. I briefly tried to engage a couple in conversation but they were too intent on their telescopes and obviously had no interest in where they might spot the sea eagles....

The weather decided to clear up for me again which was slightly ironic given the damage caused by the rain the previous week. 
Bridge?
This was a bridge
The first two damaged bridges were passed easily enough by the use of temporary diversions. The third required a bit of a paddle across a wee stream. The local council workers were happy to chat for a while and we were soon discussing the old bridge at Loch Loyne. It was a shame to see what had happened here as these old bridges were to be replaced by pre-cast concrete culverts.

I now found myself approaching the rather formidable cliffs I'd spotted from earlier in the morning and wondering where, exactly, there would be space for a road. I needn't have worried, the road engineers had managed to build/use what amount to not much more than a little shelf, just wide enough for he single thread of tarmac.
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After yet another hard, but gradual, climb I found myself heading swiftly down towards Loch Scridan and what I hoped would be a chance for a coffee stop. However, I was only to be disappointed as  my target, the Kinloch Hotel, was very much closed for business. After enquiring of a local, it seemed that my earliest opportunity would be at Bunessan so I wolfed down a Snickers bar and set off over more undulating terrain. After what seemed like hours, and definitely one or two hills too many, I eventually rolled in to the Bakehouse for a well-earned rest. I wasn't in any hurry. Once again, I'd over-estimated my journey time and with no definite ferry schedule, I knew that I'd make it across to Iona without any problems.

Eventually tearing myself away, I headed across the last headland towards Fionnphort. Compared with the rest of my day, this came as a little bit of a surprise with loads of folk milling around, coming off, or going on to the ferry and as we made the short sea journey, I got my first decent view of Iona and the abbey.Iona AbbeySoon enough, we were all disembarking and I was looking for the campsite. Thankfully, a handily-placed notice board highlighted all the island amenities and I set off for the short trip across to the west side of the island. It seems I made the wrong choice of route though and I had to negotiate a few closed gates and some gravel track before I found the signposted house.

I have to say, I was somewhat confused. I'd not expected much, but the house beside the "site" was empty, there were no tents visible and what looked like a small toilet block was in a field of  knee-high grass. I hung around for a while looking for inspiration, but none was forthcoming. It was around this point that I thought I might change my plans. Originally, I was going to camp on the island then wander around a bit, taking in the various sights. In light of the time of day I'd arrived, and the somewhat questionable facilities, I decided that I'd take a good look around before pitching the tent. 
Made it!
Furthest west (for this trip)
In all honesty, I was somewhat underwhelmed. I'd come to Iona expecting much more. I'm not a religious person, but I can't deny that the history of Scotland was heavily influenced by this Island and many other folk had spoken and written of a special spiritual quality. For me, perhaps inured by my recent trip to Harris and Lewis and my current tour, I only really saw another windswept Hebridean island - one which was pretty commercialised. After a brief spin around, I decided I'd just head back over to Mull for the evening, thereby avoiding any ferry delays in the morning. 

A bit down, I joined the queue for the ferry. Looking over towards Fionnphort, in the far south, hazy but clear against the sky, I could just make out two mountains. I knew instinctively that I was looking at Jura. And that's when it hit me - Iona wasn't the end of the journey, the path carries on and it's the path that makes the travelling worthwhile, not the destination. Hopefully, my path will carry on for a good while yet!

Bouyed up by my revelation, I headed back to Mull in good spirits and located the campsite at Fidden. While it might just have been my sudden good mood, I was absolutely knocked out by the place. On a beautiful little sandy bay, with lots of little rock outcrops and decent facilities, this has to be one of the top campsites in Scotland. I found a little shelter for my tent and sat out on the rocks eating the food I'd carried since Kyle and watching the sunset. This was everything I wanted my cycle touring to be about.

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