Fear not! It’s not another book, and it won’t be (unless someone calls with an offer I can’t refuse) but it does sum up my plan for August 2014 in terms of cycling. This afternoon I bought a ticket for the overnight sleeper train from London Euston to Inverness for Monday evening and an onward ticket to Thurso for Tuesday morning. Basically, my plan is to cycle first along the northern coast of Scotland (I would love to make it to the very corner at Cape Wrath following in the footsteps of Nicholas Crane who was there recently for the Coast programme) before heading south along the west coast of Scotland with a provisional destination of Fort William. According to the excellent Cool Camping Scotland book that I purchased this afternoon, the west coast is riddled with good campsites and it is my firm intention not to resort to using Booking.com and to make sure that as many of the ten nights as possible between the 12th and 21st August are under canvas. Or whatever material my tent is made of… I need to be in Penrith in Cumbria for a family celebration on Friday 22nd August and after that weekend, I could continue for a few more days through the Yorkshire Dales I suppose. I’ll see how I feel… And how Reggie feels. He is currently at his makers, well, his distributors for a minor check-up and I have new front pannier racks on order from Wiggle. The Rough Guide to the Scottish Highlands and Islands is purchased, as is the Ordnance Survey map. One thing that I need to decide between now and my arrival in Fort William is as to whether I use the opportunity of being in the vicinity to climb Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis. I’ll make sure I pack my walking books. As for the clothing that I might need for that particular vertical excursion, it may be very similar to the clothing that I will probably require for the horizontal one along the coast; Tropical Storm Bertha is, apparently, approaching… I will post daily updates to CyclingEurope.org of course along with a whole host of hopefully stunning photographs. It will give you something to read in between chapters of Along The Med on a Bike Called Reggie… Advice as to where I should go, what I should seek out and where I should stay is, as always, much appreciated.
Probably better to do it the in other direction – the prevailing wind is from the SW and is generally strong enough that it often removes any pleasure from riding.
Midges are a fact of life in NW Scotland and there is nothing you can do about them other than keep yourself completely covered from head to toe. Mosigard is moderately effective but only moderately. People try to flog you some little bottles of stuff made from bog myrtle. Save your money, it has no effect. A couple of people recommended Skin So Soft to me and claimed that members of the SAS have been known to use it so I bought some. It doesn’t keep midges away in the slightest, but at least I smelled nice. I haven’t used Autan for many years ever since I read about it causing possible long term health problems and moreover attacking polymers. The latter I know to be true as I had a trace on my hands and it removed the writing on the side of a ballpoint pen instantly.
Be careful coming out of Applecross as some idiots use the road over the Bealach-Na-Ba as a racetrack. I had just come out of the village and was starting to climb when I heard a lot of noise down the hill. Looking back I saw a couple of classic sports cars racing each other and when the first one reached me I was forced off the road and into a wall, causing considerable damage to the gears. He bombed off up the hill without a care. His friend in the 2nd car stopped by where I and my bike were sprawled on the ground and said “sorry about that old bean” and bombed off himself. Yes, he really did say that! Shame he couldn’t have said something along the lines of “Are you OK?” Fortunately I was relatively unhurt but I couldn’t change gears so I had to wheel my bike up to the pass, freewheel down the other side, and limp to my final destination, Kyle of Lochalsh.
There are plenty of campsites along the coast but if you get fed up with people (I do a lot) there’s plenty of scope for wild camping. The whole of the coast of this part of Scotland is a feast for the eyes, my favourite bit being the Applecross Peninsula, despite what happened. From Shieldaig to Fearnmore you look down on little bays with impossibly blue water and from there to Applecross the views across to Skye are stunning. I would suggest though, despite it meaning that you miss Applecross, that you consider taking the boat from Ullapool to Stornaway, cycling to Tarbert, and taking the boat from there to Uig on Skye. It gives you the options of taking the bridge to the mainland at Kyle of Lochalsh, taking the Glenelg ferry from Kylerhea to Bernera (the original Skye ferry – it involves crossing 2 quite steep passes) or the ferry from Ardvasar to Mallaig. Whatever you do and wherever you go the scenery is unbelievable. Enjoy!
Comments noted. I didn’t follow advice and cycled against the prevailing winds last summer as I travelled from Greece to Portugal. It wasn’t a great problem. Midges? I’ll sort them! Your incident in Applecross does sound like a one off and could have happened on the road where I live in Reading.
I’d only do Ben Nevis if it’s a nice clear day. Its basically 1300 meters of steps if you take the main route and not the ridge route so heavy boots are not too necessary, it can easily be done in trainers on that route if it is a nice day. I think you’d see more interesting views on the bike for that day rather than climbing. I can highly recommend the Ardnamurchan peninsula if you cycle west and south of Fort William. Along Loch Sunart there are regularly sea eagles to be seen picking fish out the sea and you cycle through an ancient oak woodland then past an old volcano (look at the satelite photo on google maps). Camp at Kilchoan which is an interesting camp site run by a explorer who is very knowledgeable and does local walks and educational things (I got to watch minki whales swim past as I read my book on the shore here – escaping midges down at the sea). Ardnamurchan point is the most westerly mainland point and the beach out there is stunning near the lighthouse. Get the ferry over to Tobermory (Balamory) on Mull, if you have time cycle down the west coast to camp at an excellent (in terms of location) campsite at Fionnphort. Quick trip to Iona in the morning before heading back to the mainland via Craignure. Keep an eye out for Eagles, Sea Eagles, Otters, Basking Sharks, Seals and Whales on Mull and around that area. If after Kilchoan you don’t have time for Iona then head to Craignure for the ferry to Oban. You can catch a train to Glasgow at Oban or if you have time cycle down past Inverary on Loch Fyne then to Dunoon to Greenock where you can catch a train to Glasgow. If heading right out to Ardnamurchan point is too far then you can head from Strontian up the A884 (which is a tough climb initally but a great descent) to get the Lochaline to Fishnish Ferry onto Mull then a short cycle down to Craignure to catch a ferry to Oban. The short ferry trips are regular, longer crossings are less regular but you should have no problem at all getting a space and they will be cheap. Have a look at Calmac if you want an idea.
Try and book your bike on the Train up to Wick from Inverness, I’ve read they only take a couple of bikes and these are often booked by JOGLE cyclists (not sure how accurate this is). If you cycle past Tain and need a feed try http://www.carnegiehotel.co.uk/ which is run by my cousin and her hsband. When I looked at the train back from Oban once this too was limited and you can get a few cyclists at peak periods using this route. I cycled back from Oban to Greenock and onto my folks quite easily in a day. This might be all too far south for you, if it is keep it for the next opportunity you have to cycle up that way. I don’t know much of the coast north of Fort William other than to say I’d probably get to Fort William via the Skye to Mallaig Ferry then cycle past the Glenfinan Viaduct and Monument. I’d also try and pass the much photographed (for M&S biscuit tins) Eilean Donan Castle.
Have a look at this route:
Iain’s right. Ardnamurchan is very special.
Nice to hear from you and thanks for all the detailed advice there: brilliant stuff! I’ve got a train booked as far as Thurso – arriving mid afternoon next Tuesday – so I’ll spend that first day going to John O’Groats and then find somewhere to stay (hopefully a campsite) along the north eastern coast, Then it’s a case of following the road west and then south along the coastline. Very useful information about the Ardnamurchan Peninsula and I will certainly print off your comments. I think the campsites that you mention are both in the ‘Cool Camping’ book. If I do have enough time, the route from Oban back towards Glasgow (through Ardnamurchan) will be worth following. Watch out for updates and please feel free to point out other things that I should be potentially doing as I cycle!
Hope you have your own cycling plans for the summer & if you do, I hope they go well!
I was in the alps earlier in the year getting some good climbing in and this weekend have the London 100 to do in what looks like will be high winds and rain. I might not take the 15 minutes off last years time that I hoped to!
I hope the weather is kind to you up north! I’ll keep an eye on your progress.
For the midges use Avon skin so soft the midges don’t like it, I’ve been told the Scottish Mountain rescue use it..
My weapon of choice is Autan (as described in ‘Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie’) 🙂
Sorry to hear you are going to miss Aberdeen and the North East, Andrew. You would have been very welcome to stay over. Sensible choice for scenic routes however. You do know the winds always blow from the south and the midges are diabolical?!
The weather and the midges are, alas, synonymous with Scotland… They are not going to stop me. Someone said there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing 🙂
Great, good to see your back on a tour, looking forward to reading your updates and viewing you pictures. Wish I had more time off from my businesses to do more tours. This summer I did the Algarve coast May then early June, London to Brussels & Late June London to Paris all great credit card tours. Now got all my kit for a solo camping tour, just need to do a trial, then hopefully go for it next year. Your first book inspired me to purchase lightweight camping kit. Not started your second book yet, just finishing Mark Carters One Man and his Bike, Mark cycled the total coast of the UK. Enjoy your adventure.
Mike Carter? Yes; I’ll be retracing his steps. I met him for lunch last year at The Guardian offices where he works. Nice chap! 🙂
If you go past Torridon you will be amount some of the oldest rocks in the UK.
Applecross pass? We did it in the Motorhome and managed to free camp in Applecross. Near the beach, turn right as you come into the village.
Keep the wheels turning.