Any time you can combine touring bikes with traveling by ferry then you must take it. The only bad experience was last year crossing the river Tamar on the Torpoint Ferry into Plymouth in pouring rain and a gale. We were left to wait at the back of the que of nice snug, warm and dry cars. I was soaked to the skin and in a rage that could have ended in a fist fight and a long detour. Welcome to Devon. A little fun had been had at our expense and I was seething.
The plan was to tour the Hebrides starting and finishing by going across Skye. Mallaig is a bad place to leave a Bongo for two weeks, so I arranged to stash it at Silversands campsite on Portnaluchaig. A perfect place with bays rimmed with golden sand and lapping turquoise water. Or it was when we went to sleep. We woke up to a thick mist that would be called a har on the East coast. I always underestimate the time and distance to cycle to a ferry terminal and this was no exception. It ended up being the usual acrimonious time trial. We need not have bothered as the ferry was cancelled because of what was now being described as fog and the next sailing may or may not go. We had planned this trip to avoid ash clouds and travel chaos and were now stranded in Mallaig.
The next ferry did run and the bikes were let on first which is as it should be. Third breakfast or perhaps brunch was taken as we travelled over the Sound of Sleat to Skye. The quiet road from the terminal at Armadale does not prepare you for the A87 to Glamaig which is a race track pure and simple. Top Gear has a lot to answer for in my books. It is no longer clever or amusing and perhaps it never was. I wonder how many people are killed as a result of it every year and further to that, Jeremy you look terrible. Mountains, cloud and light did that combination of things that emphasise there hight and tease with glimpses of vistas that open for a moment and then close. Clear blue sky never has these levels of emotion. Fourth breakfast or early lunch was taken in the Sligachan Inn.
The first day of any tour is an assault on the senses. Inertia of a heavy bike has to be adjusted to. Kicking off from a stand there is none of the glide that you get with an exoticly engineered road bike. No time to locate cleats in pedals on even the slightest uphill and a new balance to discover every day that depends on the load. We gained height and then lost it as we went into Portree. Taking the A855 we were going to hug the coast for spectacular views of The Old Man of Storr and massive sea cliffs to our right.
Late May counts as an early trip in most parts of Scotland. It is often said to be the dryest month and certainly a low midge count is a bonus but you do have to pack for winter. There were just two other tents at Staffin campsite when we arrived. Both with bikes. We did our usual thing and pitched as far from our two wheeled pals as possible and with a little elevation to catch a breeze to keep midges on their way.
Big Agnes tent up, Expede mats pumped, Kelly Kettle charged and boiling and civilian clothing on. We are quite good at this stuff and a few more Kelly refills had the Mountain House 2 person meals sitting in their cosys rehydrating and more teas ready. With long handled Ti spoons we tucked in to the evening meal and all was well with the world of the well equipped cycle tourist.
“This will burn off in an hour” were our thoughts as we cycled along the single track road around the top of Skye with our lights on. It was early on a Sunday morning but you can tell by the note of an engine that the car approaching from behind is going to be trouble. The lady in the Volvo was late for church and was on flower rota duties and did not want to give us 15 seconds to get to the pull in on the climb. Esther swears in German as she finds the vocab faster and I gave her a paragraph and hand gestures mostly in Anglo Saxon.
Equilibrium and peace took a long time to regain. Our first Corn Crake just before we dropped down to Uig Bay for the ferry put a smile back on our faces as did the thrilling descent. Almost every B&B in this part of the world has a ‘for sale’ sign as idyllic early retirement plans and 24/7 service industry are unhappy house guests. We had been on the bikes early and a ‘Full Scottish Breakfast’ was a welcome treat. This being a Sunday the ferry was only going to North Uist so no plans needed to be made and we sat back and waited for the rest of day two to happen.