I’m writing this whilst wild camping down near Campbeltown, with the rain lashing down and wind gusting outside my warm and cosy tent. Currently wondering if any of the clothes I wore today will be dry by the morning, but not to worry, I have ginger nuts. Now back to nearly a week ago on Skye.
08 June 2013
I woke up early (for me) at 06.30, with an urge on get back on the road after a day’s rest. I had breakfast and showered before packing up quick. The weather looked good in Uig, with mostly clear skies, sunshine, and very little wind.
Hitting the road about 08.30, I was off to a good start, having a long leg ahead of me. I cycled out past the Bakur Bar, bidding it a fond farewell, and past lines of traffic queuing for the morning ferry. Lots of people with bikes or kayaks attached to their vehicles but no cycle tourers I could see.
I rode North out of Uig, up the hill on the A855 which would take me around the top of Skye and back down to Portree.
Unfortunately as soon as I got over the top the clouds started to draw in from the North, along with a moderate and chill wind. I decided to speed up and try and get this section done quickly, hoping the weather would improve again down in Portree, with the clouds breaking up against the mountains. I rode through some fairly wet and at times foggy landscape around to Staffin, passing several small villages and small islands just off the coast, as well as the usual multitude of sheep.
Staffin wasn’t very exciting, especially given the weather. It has a store, cafe and candle shop, but I didn’t need any artfully created scented wax illuminations at the time, so carried on. From Staffin I pedalled on down the coast, up and down a couple of big hills, to the Old Man of Storr, where the sun was just starting to burn off some of the cloud and fog, revealing the spectacular Storr mountain, and lochs on the other side of the road.
I stopped for a double banana break by the roadside, feeling a bit drained post the cold ride around the top if the island, before continuing on to Portree. There were quite a few motorbike tourers out on the road again, making easy work of the hills, along with the obligatory camper vans from all around Europe.
The sun came out properly in Portree, and remained out for the rest of the day. I stopped to buy a few supplies from the Co-op, then ate lunch in the town square, munching my way through most of a baguette, with cheese, ham, tomatoes, an apple, and a couple of cakes from the local bakery for good measure. There were lots of tourists and associated coaches in Portree again, and I heard then saw at least one bagpipe busker taking advantage of the holiday season influx.
I left Portree passing the finish of the half marathon being run at the same time. It must be a challenging course around the town, and I passed a few very tired looking individuals. I pedalled down the same road I’d cycled up two days previously, over some fairly big hills, and with Raasay and Scalpay just off the coast.
I passed dozens of cyclists going the other way over the next couple of hours, in small groups, ranging from those looking fairly professional to those who were huffing and puffing along slightly. There must have been some kind of charity ride on. It was nice to wave and shout hello, and they all waved back or shouted greetings, so was quite fun.
I rode on and just after Broadford turned right, on to the A851 that would take me to Armadale. It was a lovely ride in the sunshine, through some great scenery alongside the Sound of Sleat. The road was comparatively flat, with just a few leg testers in the final miles before Armadale. In places there was lots of wild garlic out long side the roadside, giving the air a pleasant scent, with bluebells and plenty of bird life to keep me occupied. At times sparrows and tits would dart out in front of my bike, then fly off down the road in front of me before careering off into the bushes.
Passing Armadale Castle, which I couldn’t see from the road, I reached Armadale about 16.00 having covered in the region of 75 miles. I’d originally planned to camp there, but was still feeling pretty fresh, and the ferry across to Mallaig was still running. I had a quick look around the Eco Woodland campsite anyway, which turned out to be a bit different, with several curiosities to look around and set in a fantastic location. There were herb and vegetable beds everywhere, all labelled with what they could be used for, from natural anti-midge concoctions, to treatments for chafing, and recipes for various dishes. The whole set up had the feeling of a hippy commune, with water butts, ramshackle but well kept looking wooden buildings, and compost loos; there just didn’t seem to be anyone about. I had a quick walk around the woodland camping area anyway.
The one drawback of the camping area was that come dusk it would be absolutely infested by hordes of midges, given all the trees and lush vegetation. Given I was still feeling pretty good, and it wasn’t late, I decided to avoid the midges and get the ferry over to Mallaig, which at £4.00 was a bargain – bikes go free. I wanted to get the ferry, rather than go back over the Skye Bridge, as it avoided a long ride inland to get around to the coast again, and actually meant I’d see more of the coast.
Whilst waiting for the ferry my bike became the subject of interest for a group of French tourists travelling by coach. On this trip it seems to often be the French who have wanted to know how far I’ve cycled and about my bike; they must be in to their cycling in France. I chatted to a few of them for a while, practicing my rusty French again. They were amazed at how heavy my bike was, with various expressions of surprise uttered as they tried to lift it. After posing for a few photos the ferry arrived, and they had to get back on their coach, saving me from trying to explain anything further to them.
I boarded the ferry, cycling down the gangplank and tying my bike to a designated railing, which I was still finding pretty exciting. It’s only a 30 minute voyage over to Mallaig, but that was enough time to eat the rest of my baguette with some cheese, whilst admiring the view.
Upon arrival in Mallaig we disembarked in a mostly orderly fashion, aside from a few groups of foreign tourists who weren’t sure if they were supposed to walk off the boat or get back on their coach there and then, resulting in a minor amount of chaos on the vehicle deck. Whilst this was going on I took my opportunity and quickly cycled off, jumping ahead of the traffic. Mallaig looked like a nice place, the end of the A830 going north, with several shops, fish and chips and hotels, as well as a train station.
I took the road signposted to Fort William and Arisaig, hoping to find a campsite within the next 10 or so miles, or at least a good spot to wild camp. I took a brief detour through Morar, looking across to Loch Morar, before continuing down the coast road towards Arisaig through some stunning scenery.
Along the flatter coastal stretch I passed three potential campsites, two of which were sporting site full signs, the first time I’d encountered such a problem on this tour. This must be a popular bit of coastline, especially for kayakers, and with the good weather people had flocked out to spend their weekend here.
I arrived in Arisaig and bumped into a fellow tourer, doing Land’s End to John o’ Groats the long way round on a small wheeled but fully loaded bike. We chatted for a bit about our experiences to date, and he confirmed there were no campsites in the immediate area going south. He gave me a few tips on my route, and what to see on Mull if I went that way, and I vice versa on Skye, although he’d been in the area before having holidayed on Eigg with his family in the past – no cars on Eigg, just bikes. It was really pleasant sitting in the sunshine in Arisaig, with the Isles of Eigg and Rum just off the coast.
Post a pint in the village hotel, and buying a couple of dinner bits from the Spar, I cycled back to the Silver Sands campsite I’d passed earlier. It was the only one without a site full sign, and was in a lovely location. I stopped at the owner’s house on my way in and had a brief shouted conversation from where he was up in the garden, ascertaining it was fine to go and pitch my tent and we’d settle up in the morning. I found a great spot next to a mother and daughter having a weekend break, and a family of kayakers doing the same.
Post around an 85 mile ride I consumed a large dinner of more baguette, pork pie, cheese and fruit, in the peaceful setting, waiting for the sun to go down and watching oystercatchers and gulls wheel and dive over the sea. The oystercatchers seemed to be behaving a bit like starlings, flocking together at dusk and flying about in a noisy fashion before finding a spot to roost.
The only drawback to the site was the arrival of the midges, however the Avon lady seemed to keep them at bay before I retreated to my tent. The sunset was spectacular, only slightly spoiled by the arrival of some noisy, beer swilling Jordies who insisted on standing in everyone else’s view until this was pointed out to them. To give them credit they did move to one side and quietened a bit after that.
I have far too many pictures of his sunset.
On that note I’ll finish with some words of wisdom. When fumbling around in the dark in your tent, don’t try and use a pork pie as a torch !