🚴🏻♂️ Ardrossan – Inverness (800km)
After bobbing around in Thailand, England and Germany, Lucy and I decided to split up. Just for a couple of weeks, that is. After being in the saddle for so many days, it was time to stretch the legs before we would embark on another epic trip later this summer – but first things first. While Lucy enjoyed the time off, not having to pedal for hours every day, I remembered that northern corner of the United Kingdom I never had the time to properly visit, while I had lived in England. The itch was back and I packed up to visit the rugged coast of West Scotland.
Without a planned route, I started off at Adrossen on the coast, east of Glasgow. I heaved my overloaded bike from the train – I was still carrying a 3-man tent and a double mattress and would feel like a king in a palace every night – and stepped out into a hurricane. I wasn’t expecting a tropical summer but THIS was a bit harsh.
While trying to capture this moment for the camera, not only was my bike blown over, there was also a lovely Dutch couple waving and flying by on their bikes. I would meet them later on the ferry to Arran.
Our destination marked the first and most southern of the Scottish Isles, with names most people will only recognize from a variety of Single Malt whisky bottles. As on many of the Isles, Arran has only one road circling the island. My fellow cyclists were in a bit of a rush, hence took the shorter way north, while I (after hearing I will likely see seals and dolphins) headed south.
After a wet and cold first night, the weather changed drastically and the next morning Arran glittered in full bloom. The street meandered along the coast opening the view on new stunning landscapes of the Kintyre peninsula further to the West. After a windy but sunny first proper ride, I left the island in the evening to reach Kintyre, crossing to the West coast to catch the next ferry to Islay and Jura. After a sunny morning the weather got a bit more “atmospheric” while I reached Jura…
Both islands are famous for the number of distilleries located on the shores, Islay with a total of 8 (Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Lagavulin and more) and Jura with one (the famous Jura). All of them a scattered along the coast. Export used to be exclusively done by boat as transport over land was not economical in earlier days. For this reason, all warehouses are painted with the name of the whisky in big letters facing the sea. Otherwise, ships would have docked at the incorrect place, mistakingly loading the wrong whisky barrels before noticing the mix-up.
I had to see at least some of the distilleries, so I made sure to visit three: Laphroaig, Kilchoman and Caol Ila, each with a tour and a few complimentary drams. Unfortunately, reason won over instinct and I decided against transporting a few bottles in my panniers.
I wasn’t the only cyclist stopping for some education/whisky and had the pleasure to run into Josh, Peter, and Allistair, all three students from Edinburgh celebrating their newly earned Bachelor degree with a ride along the West coast. We met again at Machir Bay on a surprisingly calm evening and used the opportunity to burn some driftwood/trees together with another cycling couple Conor and Jennifer. Easily my favourite night of the trip.
It was time to move on and together with my Edinburghian companions I reached the mainland to cycle to Oban, the main ferry hub and a surprisingly gorgeous little town.
My host for the night was Leo, the half Italian but very Scottish cyclist, who occupied an old WW2 outlook on top of a hill, overlooking the whole of Oban’s bay. This man was full of stories and useful tips for my upcoming days, a true star of the traveling/cycling community. We shared a few pints and even more quality chatter during my time in town.
Next up was the island of Mull, only a 1.5-hour ride from Oban and destination of walkers, cyclists and camper vanians alike. This was when I realised that Scotish high season had started. Statistically, May and June have the lowest chance of rain, so everybody wants to use this window of opportunity.
Racing big tour buses I reached the small island of Iona, merely 20 minutes west of Mull. Although when I got there, the day tourists turned around, leaving me and the coast alone to enjoy.
It was stunning but before I was able to fully enjoy the scene, the sky opened and my good ‘ol friend the hurricane was back. And it was here to stay. I scrambled my tent together right next to a cliff, looking for a bit of cover from the gale force winds.
The next morning a river had formed next to me, cutting me off from the road, houses and civilisation. My personal Into the Wild moment that would last 48 hours. Luckily I had food and reading material to pass the time.
Finally able to cross the stream two days later, I had saved up enough energy to cycle all 120 km to the north of Mull. I visited Tobermory, an old fishing village with distinguished coloured houses before returning to Oban and the mainland. Now it was time for my main destination, the only one I had known and been excited about for years: The Outer Hebrides, the edge of Europe.
After a 5-hour ferry journey, I arrived in the evening in Barra at the south tip of the islands only to push even a little further south to spend my first night on Vatersay, a small island framed in the East and West by lavish green meadows and white sandy beaches. The evening was long and I enjoyed the prolonged sunset, slowly burning my nose…
From Barra I cycled north along the Hebridean Way, a 300 km route connecting the south to the northern tip of the islands via two ferries and multiple causeways. I hardly made any progress as it was too easy to stop and take the landscape in.
After camping one night on a beach underneath one of the very few island pubs, I continued to the middle islands South and North Uist, which are flat, easy to cycle and by Hebrides standards a bit dull.
Then I reached Harris and the scenery changed: gone were the flatlands and white sand beaches, now the dunes were wedged between cliffs and hills. The weather was incredibly good and I stopped for a change of pace. Off the bike, I instead spent an afternoon walking along a beach, chatting to people along the way and forgetting about the time. A bonfire and sunset concluded the evening.
After enjoying life on postcard beaches, Lewis, the most northern island, was again a good cycling challenge. Leaving the coast and following the road inland, I climbed North West.
My destination was the Callanish Standing Stones. Similar to the much more famous Stonehenge, the Scottish version was erected between 4000 and 2500 BC and was used as a ceremonial site as well as a grave. Tonight I would be camping here.
But I wasn’t alone. Overlooking the bay, I first met Phil, a British cyclist, and later Max from Frankfurt, who had driven all the way up in his old VW Golf. We concluded: dinner with new friends is the best way to enjoy a historical site. It was also a fantastic finish to our respective trips.
The next morning a ferry would sail us back to the mainland, our minds filled with new memories of the unforgettable Scottish West Coast, sunsets and sheep.