Saturday, 11 May 2013


After last year's trip to the outer isles that finished by crossing Ardnamurchan and Mull we decided to have a week touring round Mull, Iona and head out to the end of the Ardnamurchan peninsular. Rather than B&B it, we decided to camp for the first half of the holiday so packed a Terra Nova Laserlight mountain marathon tent.

Of course since the last few years had been fine weather when we visited, this time the rain started about two minutes after we got off the train at Oban. Due to having to book an earlier train (0615 from Skipton!) because there were no bike places left on the final leg for later trains we were able to get out to the island and camp at Craignure.

The weather was awful and we were soaked by the time we got the tent up. We weren't able to use the astroturf pitches(!) that the site use as the pegs with the Laserlight are, shall we say, light. Think of a five inch nail with all the weight and strength removed and you'll get the idea. Let's just say it wasn't a pleasant night. The following morning was just light drizzle when we set off but after about an hour it was pretty heavy rain. At least the wind was on our backs.

There was another group touring just ahead of us though they had car support so didn't have loaded bikes. Because we were camping we'd gone for panniers - Ortlieb classics to be precise - and they take a bit of getting used to, not so much the extra weight but the general handling of the bike. In my case it was getting on and off the bike that caused most problems, nearly putting my foot through a wheel in one instance. We caught up with the group at a cafe in Penyghael run by a quite eccentric couple. The group were esconsed in the main room so we ended up having our lunch in the kitchen!

The weather was little better when we left and by the time we got to Fionnphort at the end of the road I was ready to find a B&B for the night. A couple of beers sat by the fire in the pub and I felt a bit better so we headed down the road to the campsite at Fidden Farm, reckoned to be one of the best in Scotland.

Here's the route we took.
Cath and our expansive tent at Fidden Farm campsite.

In better weather I can see it being brilliant but even in the conditions we had it was a lot better than Craignure. We both spent a while in the showers getting warmed up!

The following day we had a wander round the Isle of Iona. I'd last been here in 1978 and Cath had never been so it was fresh for both of us. We managed to bike every bit of tarmac on the island plus a few tracks to beaches.
Heading down to a beach past the golf course.

Apart from Tobermory, Iona is probably the most tourist orientated place on Mull and there are lots of coaches heading to and from the ferry terminal at Fionnphort. With a bit of planning you can get away from things though.

Day three was to be our longest day riding (we'd planned on doing about 10 - 15 miles less each day than last year to accommodate the extra load of the camping kit), of course it was raining again but once again the wind had changed direction so was on our backs once more.

Heading back from Fionnphort on the main road.
Once again we stopped at the cafe in Pennyghael, still quite bonkers, but it's a cracking little place. It's also decently priced being nearly a third of the cost of what we'd paid on Iona. After an hour we decided it was time to move on and once again headed out in to the mirk.

After a couple of miles we got to the junction where "The Scenic Road" began. We'd intended to come the other way on this road last year but Cath's knee was playing up so cut the ride short. Now we were heading in to the wind and it was decidedly hard work, fortunately the open section didn't last too long and we were soon on the main climb of the day which was nicely sheltered. This couldn't be said for the descent on the other side where at one point I was in bottom gear pedalling to go downhill!

The southern end of the coastal section is dominated by waterfalls.

The descent was quite tricky as you couldn't let the bike roll freely as the wind was so gusty. Eventually we got to the bottom where one of the most amazing roads in Britain finds its way between shore and cliffs. The most spectacular part comes at the end (when heading north) where there hardly seems room for a road.

Nearing the end of the section below Creag Mhor

We were intending to camp at Killiecronan but it's really exposed to south westerlies and when I pulled on to the site I was pedalling but not moving forward! We made an instant executive decision to bale to Salen on the other side of the island (only about two miles at this point) and find a B&B. In the end we stopped at the Salen Hotel which has seen better days. We did eat very well that night at a mediterranean restaurant. Here's the Strava trace:

Next day was again dank and dull. We'd only to get to Tobermory so rather than take the main road along the coast which is only nine miles or so we headed inland to Dervaig. There's no real difference between the main roads on Mull and the minor ones: they are almost all single track with passing places, it's just that the main roads link larger settlements or the ferries. At Dervaig we decided to visit the heritage museum which was rather sad to be honest, it must be hard in places like this to make a living so they are making an effort. We were the only customers when we visited. Here's the trace:

We'd got two nights booked at the Tobermory youth hostel. This meant that we could head over to Ardnamurchan without the panniers - yippee! Last year we'd got to Kilchoan just as the ferry was coming in to dock so we hadn't gone out to the lighthouse on the western tip (this is actually the westernmost point on the British mainland). Our aim this year was to remedy this and do a bit of exploring. Fortunately we had fine sunny weather (it was the only fine day of the holiday as it turned out), so once we'd got off the ferry it was just a case of following the signs for the lighthouse. A bit of a hilly road so the six miles wasn't completely easy.

Nearing the lighthouse on Ardnamurchan.

After the tour of the lighthouse and a bite to eat at the cafe we headed back to Kilchoan and then took the road to Sanna. This passes through the other claim to faim for Ardnamurchan - the ring complex - a series of collapsed volcanic cones. They aren't too obvious on the ground but aerial and satellite photos - look on Google maps - show them well.

Dropping in to the ring complex from the Sanna end of the road.
The beaches at Sanna are gorgeous, usual temperature warnings apply though. Then it was back to Kilchoan again, just missing the ferry so another cafe visit ensued whilst we waited for the next one. Here's the Strava trace:

Our last day started with a trip round the Tobermory distillery - producers of one of my favourite malts: Ledaig (pronounced something like letchik) - there was a tasting session, only one dram mind. Once again the wind had changed direction, this time it was against us and the ride to Craignure was hard work. In fact Cath got blown off her bike at one point it was that gusty. Fortunately by the time we got to Salen we had a bit more shelter, plus the road was flatter. Once again we just missed the ferry so had to wait two hours for the next one. A night in the youth hostel at Oban followed by an early start saw us home by tea time the following day.

Now we've just got to get everything dry!

1 comment:

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