Leg 44 – to Campbell Town, Southend and the Mull of Kintyre

I’m in the West Country now, so the blog is still very behind but will catch up as and when I have time. I’m doing some long legs to try and make it around to the Latitude Festival, which will be fun and near the end of my tour. I may link up with the cycle to Latitude event in London on 18 July, just talking to the organisers about it.

14 June 2013

To say that the 14 June 2013 won’t qualify in the top ten of my Bike around Britain touring days may be a bit of an understatement. It probably wouldn’t make the top 50, more likely the bottom 10 unfortunately.

I got up late, mostly because I overslept, and partially because when I did wake up it was raining and I did’t feel like getting out of my cosy tent. The rain eventually stopped, and my bladder dictated it was time to emerge into the wider world. As the toilet block next to the camping field was currently under construction, I had to make it to the other toilet block about a quarter of a mile away. I opted to take my bike, the bumpy ride not at all helping with the bladder situation. I did however notice that my rear wheel was rubbing against the brake pads, thus warranting attention.

Morning view from Port Ban campsite

Morning view from Port Ban campsite

When I got back from workmen had arrived to start doing more to the new toilet block. It will really be a blessing for campers when that’s finished. Unfortunately they started cutting tiles which rather shattered the peace of the beachfront campsite, not that there were any other campers around, but the buzzards were definitely vexed.

There followed about an hour of rear wheel fixing, which was pretty annoying seeing as it was new. I guess the weight of the panniers had worn it in quickly! Straightening out the buckle took a lot of patience and fine tuning of spokes, and a couple of times I nearly despaired at the worsening wiggle as I turned the wheel. I eventually got it into a satisfactory state, and also adjusted the brakes and gave everything a quick lube for good measure. I’ll need to check the rear wheel and spokes every morning I think, just to be on the safe side, and maybe get some advice from the next decent bike shop I pass; could be a while as not many shops, let alone bike shops, around here.

What is it about me and rear wheels? It’s not like I’m overloading the bike, and it’s balanced front and back. At least I’m getting lots of practice at spoke tuning and brake adjustment. Haven’t broken any spokes yet either, touch wood.

Bike finally loaded and ready to go

Bike finally loaded and ready to go

Everything packed and loaded, and slightly nervous about my spokes going ping, or being too loose on one side, I pedalled up to reception to pay for the night. £14.00 was a bit steep, and I was beginning to wish I’d just wild camped, however the staff were nice and a hot shower always welcome. I spent 30 minutes in their cafe before leaving, partaking of a warm beverage to recover from my stressful wheel straightening experience, and watching the buzzards fly about over the bluff.

Port Ban campsite

Port Ban campsite


On my way out of Kilberry I took a quick detour to see the sculpted medieval stones, which turned out to be very like the ones in Kilmartin, depicting medieval lords, or swords and suchlike.

Kilberry sculpted stones 1

Kilberry sculpted stones


At this point the weather was still alright, with a moderate but manageable southerly breeze.

Liked this house

Liked this house


From Kilberry I rode up West Loch Tarbert, through some nice countryside, seeing a couple of ferries heading out towards the islands; Caledonian Macbride ferries again. The minor road I was on (B8024) passed through woodland of beech, oak, ash, sycamore and pine – those were the species I could identify easily anyway. There were buttercups, bluebells and wild garlic growing alongside the road in abundance, the wild garlic giving off a splendid aroma.

Road to Tarbert

Road to Tarbert – top of a decent hill climb


I had to contend with several largish hills, which woke my legs up nicely, but reached Tarbert in good time. I didn’t actually go into the town, turning on to the A83 just beforehand for the 37 mile ride down to Campbeltown. I’d be back along this way shortly anyway, one of the joys of the Scottish coastline – Slartibartfast has a lot to answer for.

Heading south along the coast the sky grew overcast and rather threatening, with a steadily building headwind making it tough going. The sea looked angry with plenty of white horses, and waves crashing over the rocks in places. I passed through Whitehouse and on to Portachoillan, with the occasional period of sunshine brightening things up. It was however a hard slog into the headwind, especially up the frequent hills, and every mile was hard won. It reminded me of my first day on Orkney, where the wind had been challenging on the way to Kirkwall; If anything it was windier, and some of the gusts really caught my panniers and pushed me around.

Threatening skies, and ferry on its way

Threatening skies, and ferry on its way


I eventually made it down to Tayinloan, with the island of Gigha just off the coast. A ferry runs from Tayinloan to the small island, which is inhabited, probably by sheep for the most part. Don’t think there’s a distillery on it, unlike Islay and Jura which I could also see across the water. 

Llamas on patrol

Llamas on patrol

I met a group of Llamas which made a nice change to the usual livestock. This one was particularly curious, however I kept my distance worried he might spit at me, which I’m sure I’ve heard they do sometimes. I liked his hairstyle, very down with the kids.

Stopping in Muasdale for a break I dropped into the village store. They had bananas! I’d forgotten to buy any in Oban and had developed a craving for them. I duly consumed a couple, along with some chocolate to try and get some energy back. The store owner advised that on a good day you could ride to Campbeltown in 30 minutes, or about 2 hours if the wind was in the wrong direction. He was about right, the next session taking a while and involving a fair bit of swearing as the headwind quickly drained my banana infused legs.

Riding on down the A83. Not liking the look of the weather.

Riding on down the A83. Not liking the look of the weather.


The next 15 miles were really hard work, with the headwind getting a lot stronger as I passed through Bellochantuy and Kilkenzie, before arriving in Campbeltown about 17.00. 

Windy coastline, with sheep of course

Windy coastline, with sheep of course


 

The old bridge

The old bridge


 

Weather boding ill

Weather boding ill


The last 10 miles had been achieved purely on the promise of a hot meal and a pint in Campbeltown, so I had a quick ride around looking for somewhere to have a break. Passing a Co-op I nipped in to buy a few supplies, including a couple of their Danish pastries which were massively reduced, it being the end of the day – they didn’t last long. The checkout girl recommended the White Hart Hotel for a decent meal, which I’d passed on my scout about, so I made my way there past the docks.

Campbeltown port with lots of timber ready to be shipped

Campbeltown port with lots of timber ready to be shipped


I passed the port where a lot of the trees I’d seen on the back of trucks, or stacked up at the bottom of deforested hillsides, seem to have ended up. At least there’s a decent replanting programme and it seems to be well managed, although it takes about 30 years for the trees to get to harvestable size, and must increase the risk of landslides.

Locking my bike outside the White Hart I got down to the serious business of food, and a beer to help alleviate my dented morale. I ordered the Louisiana Spicy Chicken pizza, based on the bar staff’s recommendation, and wasn’t disappointed; it was huge and tasted delicious.

Campbeltown - pizza at White Hart Hotel

Campbeltown – pizza at White Hart Hotel


The hotel and bar wasn’t expensive, and the staff friendly, so suddenly the day seemed a lot better, especially with a portion size finally worthy of a long distance cyclist’s appetite. I’d have struggled to finish the pizza a few month’s ago, but it disappeared quickly and I felt ready to venture forth once again.

Refuelled I set out for Southend and the Mull of Kintyre, at the southern point of the peninsula. The rain set in about half a mile out of Campbeltown, and with the wind made things rather unpleasant. Spray being kicked up by passing cars meant I was soon pretty wet, including soggy feet. I covered the 10 miles to Southend fairly slowly, but it was worth it, being greeted by a fairly dramatic coastline.

Mull of Kintyre

Mull of Kintyre


 

Sea off Southend pretty stormy

Sea off Southend pretty stormy


I rode around to Carsley Bay and stopped for a look at the Kiel Caves, and St Columba’s footsteps and Well. I disturbed a lot of roosting pigeons in the cave, which might have been quite a good spot to camp if it hadn’t been for the amount of guano, it was certainly sheltered from the wind and rain, but a bit too squishy and smelly!

Kiel Caves

Kiel Caves


 

Kiel Caves - inside a bit smelly

Kiel Caves – inside a bit smelly


 

St Columba's footsteps

St Columba’s footsteps

I reckon the footstep was about a size 8 Wellington boot, but that’s probably slightly blasphemous – I’m sure he wore sandals. I made a wish at the Well for a good place to camp, kind of worked I guess.

St Columba's Well

St Columba’s Well

 

Carsley Bay

Carsley Bay


 

Mull of Kintyre panorama

Mull of Kintyre panorama

A large and dilapidated looking dirty white building up on the hillside was making me slightly nervous. It looked very out of place, and maybe was once a hotel, maybe it still is. I wouldn’t stay there, it looked spooky and was probably full of vampires; Hotel of the Damned maybe – there’s a short story there I reckon.

I’d been aiming for a campsite in Southend, but it turned out to be a caravan site only. I could have perhaps squeezed into a spot on the coast beside it, but there were several no camping signs, and I didn’t want to sleep in the shadow of the spooky building anyway, plus the coastline was getting blasted by the wind. I decided to save money and wild camp somewhere inland for the night, preferably somewhere a bit drier.

Pedalling out of Southend I turned on to the minor road that would eventually loop back around the coast to Campbeltown, via a different route to the one that had brought me here. In the driving wind and rain, with water seeping into places it had no business to seep into, I had to tackle a couple of pretty challenging hills in my search for a campsite. I could feel my back wheel starting to go again too, perfect timing. With streams starting to flow down the road I eventually found a suitable spot, if not particularly dry, near a patch off woodland. It would have been a beautiful view if not for the weather, but at least it was keeping the midges away.

It was a relief to get my tent up and pile inside, stuffing my panniers and wet stuff into the porch area. I was pretty damp, the rain having dripped inside my waterproof, and my socks needed wringing out.

Wild camp in hills near Southend 1

Wild camp in hills near Southend 1

 

Wild camp in hills near Southend 2

Wild camp in hills near Southend 2

Reckon my tent was pretty camouflaged from any hunting vampires, although they’d be unlikely to be out in this weather, their makeup would run!

I got into some dry stuff and retreated into my inner sanctum, getting cosy for the night and trying to dry a few things out using body heat, which is effective but not entirely comfortable. I decided to leave wheel straightening until the morning, when hopefully the rain would have stopped (haha). I snacked on a few biscuits and some cheese, listening to the bad weather lashing against my tent, which fortunately doesn’t leak, and putting on a few extra layers to combat the chill evening. I really didn’t want to have to venture outside to the loo, and thankfully fell asleep before I needed to.

5 thoughts on “Leg 44 – to Campbell Town, Southend and the Mull of Kintyre

  1. Steve

    Good to catch up on your blog, I was starting to wonder how things were going. Sounded like a bit of a day.

    Two things of “interest”. Firstly following your prop stand question the other month I can say having just fitted one to my touring bike it has been so much easier when stopping not having to find a wall or post to lean the bike up against.

    Secondly, I did a bit of a coast tour the other weekend using National Cycle Route 2 which goes past my house near Worthing. All the way to New Romney, a mixture of road, shared pavement and some nice little tracks – def worth following when you come past me here. btw – if you are planning to stop near Worthing/Brighton way, let me know!

    Reply
  2. westonfront

    You seem to be having immeasurably more trouble with your back wheels than should be expected. I hope that in the three week gap between the time of this post and now you can finally found a decent wheel to use? How many spokes does your hub allow for? If it is only 28, you should consider a 32 or 36 spoke set up. I wonder if you could ring ahead ca. one week on into your journey and arrange to get one built ready for you? We had a tandem for a few years and broke a few spokeson the first tour (Southern Ireland, not great roads at the time) I then got the wheel rebuilt with a thicker grade of spoke (lower wire gauge #) and the next 9000 miles did not give rise to any issues.

    Reply
  3. Shane Rhodes

    James, we thought we had lost you. However, you seem to have popped up again. I met you in the campsite in Kirkwall and Lucinda and I have followed your progress with the feeling, sometimes of “we really should be there” and sometimes of “thank God we aren’t”! We wish you a tailwind for the remainder of your trip and hope we are able to find the later portion, which seems to disappear from our internet from time to time! If ever around Stansted and needing a bed for the night, just drop an email. No probs.

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Self Propelled | Bike Around Britain

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