Island adventure a tour by SBT.

Kirkcaldy to Port Charlotte.  I was meeting my “tourist” at Ardrossan terminal so travelled from Kirkcaldy to Ardrossan on my own.  On the Edinburgh to Glasgow train I shared the cycle storage with 3 other bikers and it turned out they were on the way to Glasgow Green to meet Marcus Stiltz after his single speed world trip!

All the trains were on time I managed to get across Glasgow without getting lost, knocked down or mugged so all was good with the world.  Tom had stayed at friends and arrived at the terminal before me, I went in to buy the tickets and he was waiting when I came out.  We did introductions and had a chat over a cuppa before boarding the first ferry of the day from Ardrossan to Brodick.  All told we will have gotten 3 ferries and did 3 bike legs before we reach the YH at Port Charlotte and that, to me is what makes it an adventure you feel as if you are crossing borders without getting a passport stamped and it takes almost as long as flying to Beijing!

We headed north from Brodick heading for the sandwich shack and lunch before the second ferry to Cloanaig.  The cycle from Brodick starts off nice and flat following the coast after about 5 miles it starts to climb there is then a short descent and the main climb starts.  You are biking along by Goat Fell by this time and the views are pretty good.  Having climbed you are then handed a great wee descent but beware of sheep on the road!  We reached the sandwich shack and had some food and drink whilst we waited on the ferry departing. 

Brodick to Lochranza 15 miles 1098 feet of climbing 1:11:45.

A short ferry ride and we were in Cloanaig.  I suggested to Tom that we take a look at Skipness Castle and chapel as we had plenty of time before the ferry from Kennacraig.  We headed right from the dock and pedalled along to the castle.  It’s in ruins although you can get on the roof and there are some excellent views of Arran.  We then walked to the chapel which has some interesting gravestones including some Pictish ones and a grave stone for a soldier killed in Belguim in WW1.  

Once we were satisfied that we had seen all there was to see we walked back to the bikes and headed for Kennacraig and the Islay ferry.  The road is mainly single track with passing places and quite undulating but all the undulations seem to accumulate and you have a great 14% descent before the road joins the main road and you turn right for the ferry port.  We arrived with about 50 mins to spare time to bask in the sun!

Cloanaig to Kennacraig 10.8 miles 715 feet of climbing in 52:49

The Islay ferry takes two hours to reach port and as it was 6pm we decided that food was in order.  Was it good or were we just starving??  Book a tour and find out!   After getting off the ferry we really had to put the boot down to cover the 18 miles to the hostel before the advertised reception closing time of 21:30.  I had called ahead so they were expecting us.  We rolled in at 21:30 and to my surprise the wardens recognised me from my stay last year for the marathon.  Bikes stowed, bodies washed and some fresh clothes on I headed for the kitchen and a cup of tea whilst Tom headed out for a walk round the village and a visit to the pub.

Port Ellen to Port Charlotte 18.6 miles with 533 feet of climbing in 1:13:33

The tour spends two whole days on Islay one of which is a free day Tom elected to go to an RSPB loch and do some bird watching.  So left to my own devices I ran and I biked.

A short 4 run miles after breakfast, too soon after breakfast actually!

I followed the run with a bike ride to the south of Port Charlotte to Portnahaven the start point for the Islay marathon back up the east coast of the Island-next landfall Canada!
Heading up the coast from Portnahaven I met these buggers as they were bigger than me I back pedalled for a bit so they could squeeze past.​
​After the cattle passed I continued north, it’s the only way really, and reached the hostel right on tea o’clock which I had in the garden looking out over the beach and water.   After I had finished I decided to set out on another cycle ride just up to the nearest big town heading  North this time, Bridgend.  It was just an out and back ride but I caught the last rays of the sun as it started to set.

Totals for the day:

Run 4 miles 268 ft of climb in 37:02

Combined cycle 33.9 miles with 1300 ft of climb in 3::21:55

Day 3 Jura!!

After breakfast we headed to  Port Askaig for the ferry to Jura.   The cycle to Port Askaig follows the route to Port Ellen as far as Bridgend then takes a left.  As with most roads on Islay it is twisty and undulating with a great wee descent to the ferry terminal.

Port Charlotte to Port Askaig 15.4 miles 514 feet completed in 1:00:00

We arrived at the ferry terminal and Tom visited the shop for some carbo loading.  After a short trip we got off the ferry and turned right onto the only road on the island we wanted to catch the 2:25 back giving us approx  4 and a half hours on the island.

Straight away you are on the type of climb I am happy to call a friend, not too tough but long and gaining height with every turn of the cranks!  You know what comes next is a long easy descent and that was the pattern of the trip we passed through the village of Craighouse home of the Jura distillery and enjoyed a nice flat stretch along by the shore.  We continued until we reached the 18 mile mark and decided that if we were going to have lunch on the island we had best start back.  So back we went more rolling hills and a lunch stop at Antlers in Craighouse which we enjoyed outside in the sun.

​There is an amazing amount of wildlife on and around Jura and on our short visit we saw seals, raptors including a golden eagle, deer and gannets.   Our visit at an end we headed back to the ferry terminal and the trip back to Islay.

Jura totals 36.2 miles with 2394 feet climb in 3:05:31

Once we were on Islay we headed back for the hostel,Tom stopped off at Finlaggan once the home of the Lord of the Isles.

Total 15.4 miles 460 feet of climbing 1:17:19

Day 4 Homeward Bound

On the way home we took the low road to the ferry mainly to try and avoid the strong winds blowing unfortunately it didn’t seem to make some difference!

Ferry Dist 20.6 miles 475 ft of climbing in 1:33:37

We wanted to spend a bit more time biking on Arran to do that we had a tight deadline to meet on the next bike section especially with the wind against us.  By the time we had unloaded for the ferry we had lost 5 precious minutes so it was heads down and PLF!!  The descents we enjoyed just a few days ago were now our enemies.  Thankfully we made it.

Kennacraig to Cloanaig 5.7 miles 469 ft in 30:00

On Arran the plan was to pedal down the west coast and head over the String road, Arrans highest,  which would mean a big climb and the an impressive white knuckle descent as we were buffeted by the wind on our way down.  Reaching the port it was time for some food as we waited to board the ferry to Ardrossan.

Final bike of the tour 22.3 miles 1550 ft climb in 2:18:14.

That’s it the Scottish Bike Touring Island adventure.  A mix of history, wildlife amazing scenery and great biking.


Great Glen Way Day 3 and a military meander

I had had a fitful nights sleep.  The room was small, cramped and full.  Even with the window open it was stifling.  I rose at 0730 once I heard the breakfast table being set.  I had elected to pay for a small continental type breakfast as I knew that after Drumnadrochit there was not much chance to get any food.

The first mile or so was on road I then left the road, near the information board detailing the failed water speed record attempt by John Webb in 1952 and followed forest tracks which began to rise gently then got steeper and steeper till  it was time to hike a bike for approx a mile.  Behind there were views of the loch and castle but no sign of Nessie!

After reaching the plaque to the Canadian lumberjacks I joined a road which although steep was manageable with the hard core underneath.  Although still climbing the slope is not as steep and you soon reach the Abriachan plateau and the routes highest point 1250 feet marked by the standard blue pole.

After a few miles of gentle and sometimes not so gentle descent you come to an area developed by the Abriachan Forest Trust containing a toilet, forest school and a network of paths for runners and cyclists.
Continuing along the way you enter. A woodland with a well constructed although constricted path in the middle of which is the Abriachan Eco Cafe.  You can’t miss it!
You now follow a road for a short spell with the first sight of Inverness coming into view.  You are now descending get towards the city and although the castle isn’t yet in sight you soon come into contact with the Caledonian Canal once more but only for a short while as you head towards the Ness Islands and the castle.
Stats Distance 19.1 miles 1616 feet of climb in 2h 38 min.
I decided however that my day was not done and headed to the final fort on the GG fault.  Fort George is still a working military base. And like Edinburgh Castle a tourist attraction.

I took a slight detour on my return journey and visited the Culloden Battlefield .  This is the site of the last battle fought on British soil and was the final battle in Bonnie Prince Charles’s campaign.

Military meander stats:distance 28.4 miles with 922 feet of climb in 2h 30m.

If you have enjoyed reading about my GG trip why not book one with Scottish Bike Touring!!

Great Glen Way Day 2

After a light breakfast of cereal and toast, the obligatory pot of tea and one of the hosts coffees I was on my way.  I followed the remainder of the Invergarry loop a higher route which brings you out at the Bridge of Oich.

From Bridge of Oich to Fort Augustus the going  is easy and mainly along the canal tow path.   Once you reach Fort Augustus that is the last you will see of the Caledonian Canal till Inverness.

After. a small refreshment in Fort Augustus and a halt to watch boats in the lock I headed off again and almost immediately started to climb. The path now is mainly on undulating forest path with views through the trees of Loch Ness.  The tracks were good the climbs hard and the descents exhilarating I stopped often for views of the loch and the surrounding countryside.  The Way had been busy with walkers but I had not seen many bikers when just outside. Invermoriston I spied a flash of day-glo top and came down a descent and nearly into four women cyclists who were making thier way rather gingerly down the descent.  I stopped at Invermoriston to check the facilities available there and have some lunch and the four came past me on the road and followed the signs for the GGW in the book it says that ther is a climb of 560 feet in less than a mile this must have proved too much for the ladies as about 5 minutes later they came past again on the road !

If hills are graded 1-10. The hill out of Invermoriston would be a shahoorsirthatwassteep!  It continued like that for the rest of the way to Drumnadrochit. some great single track  unfortunately there was also some gates which needed  opening!

  The GGW puts the wild and Ness in wilderness.

Stats 30 miles, 3913 feet climbed in 4h. 

Great Glen Way day 1

An early start from Fife.  I had three  trains to catch today.  I got on my Specialised 29er loaded up with my new seat post rack and bag and headed for the station and the the 5:53 to Edinburgh.  I always enjoy this journey and over the last few months it has been made more special with the construction of the new crossing across the Forth.  This early in the morning the cables seem to glisten in the sunshine.   Alighting at Haymarket I made my way to platform 4 and climbed on the Glasgow train so far so good everything on time and although busy with bikes no need to book on “local” services.

A different story though on the third and final train of the day.  The west coast line from Glasgow to Mallaig is one of those journeys about which TV programmes are made and magazine articles are written.   Little wonder as it passes through great countryside.  Standing at the station I was spotted by a Scotrail customer services member who came straight across and asked what service I was waiting on and if I had a cycle booking.  Happy with my answers he turned to another cyclist and when the Londoner said he didn’t have a booking a frown came across his face and the cyclist was told “you need to book this service sir especially during the summer.  I shall check but I think we are full”.  Luckily there was one space left on the train.  The Londoner breathed a sigh of relief.  The journey from Glasgow to Fort William takes just under four hours and is an amazing rail trip   

Arriving in Fort William just in time for lunch I decided instead to grab some sandwiches and find a nice spot on the GGW to stop and eat.

The GGW begins in the old fort right by the waterside.
The route out of the town is well marked with the distinctive thistle design signs and you soon “zone in” on the markers.  The path stays by the River Lochy and then follows the Caol foreshore.   Word of warning Soldiers Bridge is. Out of order and you need to carry bikes up a rickety set of steps rather than take the ramp (Aug 2016).  You will eventually reach Corpach and the first set of locks however if you take a left turn you will see the Corpach sea lock with it’s distinctive pepper pot lighthouse.
I gazed behind me before I started on the GG proper hoping for a view of Ben Nevis but the top was shrouded in low cloud.  I picked up the path again and was soon crossing the railway and the main road by Neptune’s Staircase a series of 8 locks. 

It is now that you leave the housing and other signs of habitation behind and head into the countryside.   The canal path is easy to ride and well signed with information boards at the many points of interest along the way. 

It is at Gairlochy that you face the first ascent of the day followed of course by a descent.  You are now in Achnacarry this area was used to train the original Commandos for operations in WW2.

The way now runs alongside Loch Lochy till Laggan Locks.  Just before Invergarry Castle I headed west and for my first overnight stop of the trip at Invergarry Hostel. Now known as Saddle mountain. Hostel.