A82, Ardnamurchan, Ballachulish, Corran, Corran ferry, cycle touring Mull, cycle touring Scotland, cycling Mull, Edinburgh, Fishnish, Forth Road Bridge, Glen Coe, Glen Dochart, Glen Eagle, Glen Eagle campground, Glen Earn, Glen Ogle, Glencoe, Iona, Isle of Iona, Isle of Mull, Loch Earn, Loch Linnhe, Lochaline, Mull, Musselburgh, Rannoch Moore, The John Muir Way
There is nothing, but nothing that comes close to making you feel small and insignificant, in the way that the astral wonder of a sky full of the brightest stars on a moon free night does. We have had a perfect show of stars on two occasions on our journey and on Iona, on our final night there we got lucky once more.
And I do mean lucky. You would guess that you would have more star filled nights, but something always spoils it. When things are right, you know you are witnessing something very special, and it makes your head spin with the enormity of it all. A morning of horizon spanning azure blue followed as we packed up the tent.
The short ferry trip across the bay to Mull, and we retrace our route for the first few miles on the road across from Ben More. We take a left turn, the B8035 towards Salen, a route we have done a few times before. We know we are in for a treat. To call it one of the great cycling roads of Europe would not be over selling it, and today we had the perfect weather.
Overhanging the road as you turn to ride down the far side of Mull are a series of high cliffs that dominate that side of the island. You expect to be a bit in awe of geology when you stand in the Grand Canyon and yet we have it here at home as well. You have to stop, take it in, listen to it even and soak up the drama. If you are there on a day without rain, wind, mist or a bitingly cold that will go straight through the most technical of high-end bike clothing, then you are lucky. We got lucky.
Into the village of Salen. A nice cosy and unpretentious place with a friendly pro-cycling cafe. A pot of tea and a scone, the typical cafe stop and very welcome. We take the short ride to Fishnish to catch the ferry to the mainland. The is a cafe of sorts at the terminal, and another cup of tea would do no harm. ” Could we get some water in these bottles? “. We had already paid for our teas, so the answer when it came was a bit of a shock, ” NO “. Then I remembered that we had been here before. A group of us cyclists had descended on the place and spent enough money in half an hour of calorie consuming frenzy to put his first born through college. He was unhappy and unfriendly then, and he is just the same now. A good case could be argued for declaring him ‘ the most miserable man in Scotland ‘. Perhaps he is good with animals?
Across the Sound of Mull, and we camp on the beach just up the road from Lochaline We have passed into the Highlands with just a short ferry ride. We set out the following morning after a cold night. We can not complain, we are biking in a run of good weather we have never witnessed in our home country. It is polling day, the day that may end the Union and turn our little country into a small independent nation. We cycled through cities in China that would dwarf the total population count here. Which is a good reason to live in this beautiful country.
The closer we get to home, the more tired we feel. We have both remembered the final ferry at Corran as being ‘ just up the coast ‘. The first signpost comes as quite a shock – 29 miles. To add to the horror, there are an uncomfortable quantity of short sharp hills between us and it. It is a right turn onto the A861 to Ardgour and we pick up Nation Cycle Route 78 as we push onto the Corran ferry. To our left is the start of The Great Glen, a gash in Scotland’s landscape that runs diagonally across it. To the left has geology in common with continental America, to the right is European.
The A82 would not be on anyones list of safest cycle roads. It is however, just as stunning as it is hard on the nerves. Ballachulish, once the heart of the slate industry is slowly turning into a tourist town. Beyond, is Glencoe Village, where we take our most expensive campground of the tour of the UK. It is just short of Swiss prices, but we are too tired to argue and the views are amazing. I love Mince Pies, that British cake of the season of Christmas. Imagine my surprise to find a box of 6 on special offer. It is mid September, more than 3 months to go and here they are. The madness continues when you look at the ‘ best before date – 27-10-14 ‘, they will expire long before the big day!. Of course I buy them.
We watch the sun pass over Onich Bridge and dip into the water at the end of the loch. The morning is cool again, with not a breath of wind. We play host to a million midges and try to eat breakfast without lifting the rim of our head-nets. It is onto the Dave Yates’ bikes for the ride through the tourist heart of Scotland. We climb up through Glencoe, passing each of the Two Sisters mountains as we ride. Today they are all wearing a cap of white cloud, which is fitting. Pure blue skies through here would feel wrong.
The Buachaille Etive Mor with Stob Dearg at it’s head comes up on our right. If you have watched the Bond film Skyfall, you will know this view. Bond turns down Glen Etive here, towards Skyfall, his ancestral home. It is one of the most beautiful Glens in Scotland, but a dead-end. Our road continues to climb, but the mountains drop away as we ride over Rannoch Moor to the summit at over 1,100 ft. We may have just biked through the bleakest and most beautiful 10 miles anywhere in Scotland. It is as good as anywhere we have been in the world today.
After a series of short climbs, we drop down to meet the Oban road at the village of Tyndrum. A fish pie for lunch at the institution that is The Green Welly Stop. We sit talking to people just long enough for my legs to almost totally lock up. They simply do not want to turn the pedals ever again. The thought of even more traffic hanging at my elbow is not an uplifting thought either. We make it to Glen Dochart has a campground marked on our map. We are overjoyed to see the site open sign come into view at the end of a short, but hard day.
It is a Saturday morning like few in Scotland. You could plan an open air concert, a wedding or nude sunbathing without anxiety today. It is going to be peachy perfect. Off we ride, and at the start of Glen Ogle a bike path that we had both forgotten about. It takes us away from the madness of the road and high up onto the opposite hillside. Thank goodness for the Victorians and their love of money and exemplary work ethic. Welcome to National Bike Route 7, and I feel better already.
We drop down at Lochearnhead and head to the narrow road that runs behind the loch. This is a new road for us and quite a treat to discover such a gem. Crief, a town I know that I must have been in before, but I can not quite place it. I am looking at Scotland as a tourist and it is rather fun.
A rear spoke goes. I can feel the ‘ping ‘ through the saddle. This is the first on the tricky side of the wheel in all our time on the road. I decide to ignore the problem this close to home. The sun is already low, and shadows long as we pull onto The Glen Eagles Caravan Park. It is all rather posh, as you might expect for such an address. ” Set up and come and see me later “. We do, and after a nice chat we get the camping for free, which is nice. They are a bit busy with preparations for a game of golf in a weeks time.
The morning starts poorly. I always shake my Crocs before sliding them on. Today it is not enough to dislodge the slug that has enjoyed my shoe and called it home for the night. It is a morning of cool and heavy dew, as we leave the campground. Geese fly overhead as we put the work into the first few miles of undulating road. Every Copse, every damp woodland carries the smell of mushrooms into the still air. Rumbling Bridge and then we enter the Kingdom of Fife. My legs are killing me – why do they always start the day worse than they were when you stopped the day before?
Our first signpost to Edinburgh. We are getting close to home, close to the moment we need turn these pedals no more. A right towards the village of Saline, and we are clear of the main roads for a while. We link together bits of the Fife Coastal Path to get onto the Forth Road Bridge. In the haze to our left as we cross, the Rail Bridge an icon of engineering known the world over. We cross from North to South Queensferry, and are in among the bustle of a sunny afternoon on the coast.
Dalmeny House has undergone a bit of an enlightenment with regards to public access while we have been away. We join the throng and pick up The John Muir Way – a Trans-Scotland walking and bike route in honour of the man from down the coast here. We manage to miss the turn where the walking and cycling paths diverge for a while. It gets a bit too technical for our touring bikes and becomes more of a walk.
We spill out into the outer reaches of Edinburgh. It is like suffering from amnesia. I recognise bits and pieces, but not for the life of me can I join them together to make a route that goes where we need to be. I am using the gps, keeping the blue of the Forth to our left. Our mental internal map is a few updates old and we are quite pleased to find the big red bridge that is close to our hosts for the night – our pals Drew and Jan.
Sleeping indoors is harder to adjust to than going outside to sleep. You can drop backwards through evolutionary time more easily I guess. Whatever the reason, I have my first of a string of bad nights of sleep. We head up to town the next morning to find big changes to our home town – there are Trams and stuff. It is down the coast now, through what once were individual villages with fishing at their hearts. For the first time, as we ride, we admit to each other that we have pre-visualized the moment when we get home many times. We get to Musselburgh and spend time on the beach, not wanting things to end just yet.
As we ride up the road to our flat, the meter trips to 32,499 miles in total. It would be nice to get it to 500 miles, but that would look like we cheated. We have been away almost 4 years. Thinking back to the night sky on Iona, we have been on our bikes whilst our small, blue planet has gone around an insignificant star almost 4 times. Now that is a big number of miles. People have the glib saying ” small world isn’t it? ” Well you know what, it is not small. Looking up at the heavens makes it feel small, looking down beyond your feet and at the far horizons, it’s big and not much of it is flat.