Day fourteen – Ardnamurchan and Moidart, tough but rewarding

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The title of this installment reminds me of Southwark bells: tough but rewarding. Our plan is to make them less tough but just as rewarding.

I had a good night’s sleep despite the rain showers. Awoke and arose at 7.15, showered, admired the fantastic view, cooked breakfast, washed up, packed my panniers and was about to take the tent down when the first heavy shower happened. So I dived into the tent, and my departure was delayed for a quarter of an hour.

Then I visited Kilchoan’s shop which doubles as a Post Office and has a petrol pump also. This is the most Westerly Post Office on the mainland, so I was pleased to get my form stamped here. I got my provisions, including some emergency socks – I had noticed when getting dressed that I only had one more pair of clean socks and underwear left, and I was not at all sure when I would be able to do any washing. Unfortunately the Kilchoan stores didn’t stretch to emergency pants!

Then I set off on some of the hardest but most rewarding cycling so far. Not quite as tough as the road to Ardnamurchan Point yesterday, but far longer. I run out of superlatives to use to describe the views, first looking up the Sound of Mull, across to Morven and the closer Ben Hiant. The road partially ascends the latter, and then skirts the North side of the mountain with fantastic views north to the Small Isles. Then once again back to the South coast of Ardnamurchan and Loch Sunart, with some intimate bays including the one at Glenborrodale.

As you leave the extreme remoteness of Ardnamurchan and head past Salen and Acharacle and continue Northward towards Mallaig, the roads gradually get wider and easier in the main, though still with some fairly steep and prolonged hills. The coastal scenery stays as good as ever, with views of the islands.

I stopped for lunch at the Blue Parrot Cafe in Acharacle. Delicious home made food, and a pot of tea for one pound fifty which I managed to pour six cups from! There was an internet cafe attached, so I was hoping to upload more photos. My phone battery has not been up to it with the poor weather preventing a decent charge from the solar panels. However, I couldn’t read my memory card on the computer, so you will have to wait longer for photos.

I was hoping to make it to Mallaig for the last ferry to Skye at six o’clock, but the terrain had been too tough for that so I stopped about six miles short of Mallaig at Back of Keppoch at the Invercaimbe Camp Site, which is situated right next to a white sandy beach. The pegs go into the sand very easily. Let’s hope the strong wind doesn’t pull them out. One big plus point is that the site has laundry facilities and I’m writing this while waiting for the drier to do its stuff. So thank goodness I no longer have to contemplate turning my pants inside out to go another day!

So only 53 miles covered today and I’m falling a bit behind schedule. I will have to put some big days in if I am to make it for my train next week. At least my legs seem much better now so they shouldn’t hold me back any more. I must be out of here by 9.30 tomorrow to get the 10.30 ferry. At least I should be able to get an early night for once.

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Day thirteen – Island hopping to the Westerly point

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This morning I overslept and awoke at 7.45. So a quick shower before breakfast… except that it then started to rain, so breakfast was skipped, or at least was changed to an apple. For the third day in a row I took down and packed a wet tent, and went off to Oban in search of a bike shop.

Actually by now the sun had come out and there were some lovely views coming into Oban. That was to set the tone for the day’s weather – sunny spells with the occasional, and usually quite heavy, shower.

After getting my lejog transit form (the official form for those attempting the Land’s End to John O’Groats) stamped at the post office, I asked directions to a bicycle shop. The shop had the right size spoke for my back wheel, and the owner fitted it and trued the wheel very quickly and efficiently and provided two spares against future breakages. He also advised me that the road to Cape Wrath might be too rough for my bike when fully laden. I will have to cross that bridge when I get there.

Then to find some meths for my stove. Homebase didn’t have any, and the assistant told me that this is because a special license is required to sell it in Scotland. Is this because the scots are likely to drink it? The second shop only had gallon cans of the stuff, but the third and final hardware store had what I was after, and since it had been so difficult, I decided to get two – I don’t want to risk not having a hot supper in the remote West Highlands.

All this meant that I did not get to the ferry terminal until 11.30, and caught the 11.55 ferry to Craignure on Mull. I had my lunch on the ferry: steak and ale pie. I had intended to take a detour around the dramatic cliffs and mountains of the West coast of Mull, but I was conscious of the need to make progress if I wanted to be on time for my train home next week. Consequently, I made the tough decision to head straight up the East coast for Tobermory, vowing to come back to Mull for a cycling and hill walking holiday in the not too distant future.

Tobermory is a very pretty place, and I made it there in time for the 16:00 ferry to Kilchoan on Ardnamurchan. There was one heavy shower on the way to Tobermory, and another just before the ferry arrived.

Once across I headed straight for Ardnamurchan Point. The road is narrow and single track with passing places. It weaves to and fro, and goes up and down quite alarmingly and is very hard work to cycle, especially as there is a lot of gravel so it is tricky to carry any downhill momentum into the next uphill. Nevertheless it is very pretty, in the way that the remote West coast and Islands can be.

Ardnamurchan itself was thrilling. A real sense of remoteness and some lovely coastal scenery with distant views of the mountains of Mull, and the nearer and less dramatic ones on Ardnamurchan itself.

Returning to Kilchoan at about 6.30pm I had to decide whether to camp here or carry on for another hour or so and camp rough. I decided on the former course of action, and found the delightfully situated Ardnamurchan Camp Site, and camped near the sea with stunning views across to Mull.

I’m slightly disappointed to have done the lowest milage so far on a full day, but there are good reasons for this. It’s good to have the Westerly point ticked off, and now be looking forward to Cape Wrath and the NW point. Another good thing is that my knee and leg seem a lot better today, so hopefully I will be able to make better progress from now on despite the terrain inevitably getting tougher up the West coast of the Highlands. Now for a good rest before hopefully pushing on to Mallaig and catching the ferry to Skye tomorrow.

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Day twelve – Rain in Argyle leads to the gateway to the Isles.

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It rained overnight, and was still raining when I went for my shower. It stopped long enough to cook breakfast, but then started up again. I packed my bags and then waited in the tent for a break in the rain to take it down. The break didn’t come, so I packed a wet tent in the pouring rain and set off late at about 10.30.

Loch Eck looked as if it had the potential to be beautiful in the sun. The woods on the East bank had a more or less continuous carpet of bluebells.

The rain was more on than off in the morning with some torrential bursts and just an occasional break.

A short and easy pass from the top of Loch Eck brought me to the Southern shore of Loch Fyne. Soon I could see Inveraray across the loch, but there was still 20 miles of road around the head of the loch to get there. Added to that there was a fairly strong wind blowing up the loch, and the road inexplicably decided to climb half way up a mountain on the Southern shore.

I finally reached Inveraray, somewhat wet and bedraggled, at about 2pm and immediately installed myself in the George Hotel for lunch. The George is well known to any ringers who have been to Inveraray, and the food is very good, so I decided to make up for the difficult morning with a two course lunch of locally sourced smoked salmon, and haggis neeps and tatties, all washed down with a pint of Vital Spark, one of the local Loch Fyne beers.

Lunch completed, I set out with some trepidation for the pass to Loch Awe. The weather was a little better, and it was sunny with frequent showers. The pass, I knew from driving this way, goes uphill for miles. I can now confirm it is eight miles of hill. But that actually means the gradient is fairly gentle, so it was nowhere near as bad as I had anticipated, and the drop down to Loch Awe was very pleasant.

Coming around the head of Loch Awe the rain became torrential once more, and continued off and on for most of the rest of the ride. Added to that I heard a faint twang noise and then some rubbing on my back wheel. A quick inspection revealed that a spoke had broken. Just my luck as this was about the only spare I was not carrying. Still this is the first problem with the bike, which is not bad considering that I have cycled 900 miles now. I will try to get it fixed in Oban tomorrow. There is a lot of weight on my back wheel and I don’t want to risk the wheel collapsing if another spoke were to break.

I limped on to Oban, and then 2.5 miles beyond to the Oban Caravan and Camping Park, a fairly good camp site which I have stayed in several times over the last 35 years or so. The weather since reaching the camp site has been a lot more settled with just a few light showers, one unfortunately coinciding with cooking dinner.

76 miles completed today. Tomorrow will be lower as I have to get a ferry to Mull after getting my bike fixed, and then another one off of Mull and onto Ardnamurchan and would still have to do 20 miles or so beyond that to keep my average up, and that just won’t happen. Still, I can feel the next objective, the W most point getting quite close now.

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Day eleven – reaching and crossing the Clyde

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It had rained overnight, so the tent was wet when I packed up. The lack of showering facilities, and that I couldn’t wash up last night’s pots to cook breakfast, meant that I got an early start, and was on the road by about 8.30.

The route continued to be picturesque with the Galloway and South Ayrshire hills and a few lochs. It then avoided the built-up areas near the coast by running parallel to it inland on the B730, eventually and inevitably reaching the coast at Irvine. Here I stopped for lunch after 45 miles, and realised that I was on target to get across the Clyde estuary today. As I followed the road up the coast, I could see the storms brewing over the sea, and it wasn’t long before it started raining, and did so on and off for the rest of the day.

There are several islands off the coast around here, and it seemed that every town I passed through was a ferry port for one of the islands.

Again I made good progress up the coast and was able to get the ferry to Hunter’s Quay by 6pm. Once over the route took me up the coast past the pretty Holy Loch, a former submarine base. In the brief spells when the clouds parted, the mountain scenery was becoming more dramatic.

I arrived at the camp site near Ardbeg after 91 miles cycling. The owner was reluctant to let me camp as the pitches were already waterlogged and there is more rain forecast. However, I didn’t see that I had any other options, so decide to stay and hope that I don’t get flooded.

I’m pleased with today’s progress. It puts me on track to get to Oban tomorrow, and possibly across to Mull as well. I just wish the rain would go away and that my legs would repair themselves so that I can cycle at a better pace

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Day ten – back on the road

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This was only really the evening. By the time I had got back to Dumfries from Somerset it was about 5pm. This was an hour later than expected because the previous train from Carlisle had been cancelled due to a freight train dropping some of its load on the track.

One problem I faced was that there was a campsite about 10 miles out of Dumfries and then not another one for about 40 miles. I wanted to put as many miles as possible in, but knew that the second one was too far. So I decided to try to find somewhere to camp rough for the night since the route seemed fairly remote beyond Moniaive.

The route took some pleasant little back roads up the river valley as far as Moniaive, and then headed up into the hills for a pass towards Carsphairn.

I had been very concerned about my knees and the tendons in my right calf. When I had arrived at Dumfries three days ago they were so painful that I could hardly cycle at all. But the rest seemed to have done some good, and I was able to make good progress without too much discomfort.

I managed to find a secluded spot in the woods to pitch my tent and enjoy the Irish Stew and tinned haggis I had bought during my wait in Carlisle.

Given the late start, I was pleased with managing 33 miles over a pass before camp, and relieved that I could actually cycle after the three day rest.

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Kit list and Acknowledgement sections added

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Day nine – Difficulties of a much more pleasant nature, and reaching the half way mark

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With no banana to keep me company in my nice new sleeping bag, I overslept this morning. I managed to be a bit more efficient in my getting ready though, so I still managed to be on the road at 10 o’clock.

The road from Hawkeshead to Ambleside was delightful, with lovely views of fells, countryside and bluebell woods. It was a real shame that I could not linger. Similarly at Ambleside it was difficult not to stop for a coffee and cake somewhere. But I couldn’t stop because I had a serious amount of mileage to cover.

Thankfully, my knee seemed a lot better this morning and I managed the hills, including the pass over to Thirlmere, with relative ease.

I could not help keeping stopping to take photos though. It’s so much easier to do this on a bike than in a car, because you can just stop anywhere. Also the handlebar bag means that the camera is easily accessible.

At Threlkeld I met two local cyclists who were out for the day. They accompanied me until the Mungrisdale turning and gave me some advice about my route, as well as telling me that the pub in Hesket Newmarket brewed its own beer. So that’s where I made to for lunch.

During lunch it rained hard, so I missed the worst of it, although it did carry on raining lighter for a couple of hours afterwards.

I found a good cycle path which followed the river Caldew into Carlisle.

From Carlisle to Gretna and on to Annan the route is fairly flat and uninteresting except for the obvious excitement of crossing the border.

By Annan my right leg was beginning to get very painful as a consequence of favouring that leg to protect my weak left knee. I stopped here for an energy snack before the final push to Dumfries.

The route did not go directly there, but instead wound its way around the coast via Caerlaverock and its splendid castle and peaceful foreshore nature reserve. This was well worth the detour.

Dumfries is just about exactly half way according to my route planning, although I have covered more miles that the plan said I would.

Here I break my trip. My father’s funeral is on Monday, and I have to travel back to the west country for it. Engineering works mean that I have to return via London to be able to transport the bike. So day ten will be on Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on whether I get back in time to put some mileage in on Tuesday.

In the meantime I may post some thoughts about the trip, and the kit I have. So keep looking for updates.

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