I had a good night’s sleep in my private room at the youth hostel. I was fearing that the ride from the train station to the accommodation last night might involve a hill; it didn’t. Far from it. Just a gentle cycle beside the harbour wall. The Rough Guide claimed it would be “a fair trek with a backpack from the ferry terminal [to the youth hostel]” but I can only imagine the authors have rarely hiked any distance with a backpack. A ‘fair trek’ it wasn’t. Mercifully. They also claim that the climb to McCaig’s Tower requires a “stiff ten-minute climb” from the centre of time. Again, they were stretching the point. I’ll let you know what they think about the Hebridean Way…
I climbed to the tower this morning. Interesting curiosity that, in an inverted-Tardis-like way seemed much smaller from the inside than it appears from the centre of town. Its main attraction are its views across the bay and beyond to the islands. They were still slightly shrouded in mist as I pondered my onward route from the monument’s lofty position. The remainder of the morning was spent in the local museum on the seafront. It’s a tiny one-room place crammed full of possibly every WWI & WWII artefact that has ever existed in Oban, alongside some facts and figures about the man McCaig (see above) and the Caledonian McBrayne ferry company. Indeed I chatted to the two old guys manning the volunteer-run museum about the ferries. In recent times they have become a bit of a political football in Scotland (the ferries, not the two old guys…) and they added their thoughts to the debate. Underfunding seems to be at the root of the problems.
I then picked up Wanda (that’s the bike for the uninitiated…) from the youth hostel and made my way to my particular ferry where, to no surprise, Kirsty (the woman from the train) was also waiting.
It wasn’t long before we were joined by perhaps another 15 cyclists of all shapes, sizes and ages; lots of solo cyclists, a few couples and at least one family of mum, dad and kids. I chatted to a chap who it turns out lives close to me in West Yorkshire and who teaches history at one of the schools where I occasionally work as a supply teacher. Not that I recognised him, nor him me. He was concerned about not having a specific ferry reservation for his bike but he needn’t have worried. The ferry was very quiet to the extent that after six hours on the same boat together, most of us were on nodding terms with each other. Perhaps the peak season is now behind us; Kirsty mentioned one of her friends having taken the same ferry last Saturday and there were no less than 100 cyclists on board!
Just before 6pm, after many hours of soporific lolling across the water, the boat docked at Castlebay. After more than 24 hours of travelling I had arrived at my start point. Well, nearly.
The ‘cycling’ bit of ‘cycling day 2’ had yet to happen. Admittedly, it wouldn’t be very long; just the seven or eight kilometres to the southern end of the Hebridean Way at Vatersay.
All the cyclists pushed their bikes off the ferry at Castlebay – initial impressions were that things hadn’t changed that much since they filmed Whisky Galore there back in the late 40’s – with some heading immediately north and the rest of us heading south. It stated sunny, became a bit windy, then rainy, then cloudy… Not quite four seasons in one day but I can see why people say that.
The landscape was a little more undulating than I was expecting – including a steep climb within minutes of leaving Castlebay – but undeniably beautiful. Ignore the buildings. All of them. You don’t come here to admire the architecture. But the rest is just sublime. And then the beach at Vatersay came into view. Again, just as stunning as predicted.
I’ve pitched my tent at the top of the dunes above the beach. There are others here too which makes it fairly tame wild camping but as a novice in this area, I’m happy with that. The community centre with its toilet and showers is barely 100 metres away so again, it’s a gentle induction into real wild camping. The only thing I want now is a sunrise worthy of such a stunning location. Don’t let me down!
Here’s the plan for my trip to the Outer Hebrides…
…and here’s a podcast I made about cycling the Hebridean Way prior to setting off:
More episodes of The Cycling Europe Podcast can be found on this page of CyclingEurope.org.
And finally, since you’ve made it this far, just one more thing:
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