I’m in Essex as I write this, and miss my time in Scotland, which was amongst some of the best riding of the Bike around Britain tour. Leg 47 was another good day, with fantastic scenery and more places and people to revisit at some point in the future.
17 June 2013
There was was a splash from outside my tent, followed by another, someone throwing stones I thought? Maybe I’d annoyed some locals by camping here. I cautiously opened the tent flaps to a bright morning, peering out, and spotted the culprits of splashing. Rather than an angry mob there were two gannets fishing, flying up and down the shoreline and occasionally diving down into the loch, an amazing sight to wake up to.
Unfortunately I’d camped in a shady spot and the midges were still out, so I packed up and breakfasted quickly, before setting out on what was probably going to be a long day, with lots of Scottish hills to cross, as well as some lovely National Park land.
Bike loaded I rode down through Otter Ferry, not named after Otters, but after the Gaelic for sandbank (oitir), and past the Oystercatcher pub, before continuing up the B8000 towards Ardlamont Point. I passed a couple of cyclists going the other way looking rather sweaty, who warned me of impending hills. They weren’t wrong about the hills, which were a little feisty, however it was worth it for the views at the point. There was also a nice coach house cafe which I was tempted to stop at, but resisted in this instance.
I turned back north towards Kames and Tignabruiaich, passing a few other cyclists with whom greetings were exchanged. A lot of tourists appear to frequent this area, also know as Secret Scotland, and I’m not surprised given the fantastic scenery and national park.
Following the coast alongside the Kyles of Butes, the Isle of Bute was just across the water. I think you can almost walk across to it at low tide, but they obviously want to keep their island status for the tax breaks!
I stopped in Tignabruiaich for lunch at the Burnside Bistro, as several coach-loads of mostly the older generation turned up, quickly making there way to the few eating establishments who were obviously prepped for their arrival, springing into action; it must be a daily occurrence during the holiday season and I was glad I’d got in just before they’d arrived. I consumed my scampi and had a coffee, before escaping the hordes who were busy eating Tignabruiaich out of cake as far as I could see.
Post lunch I had to tackle a long hill climb out of Tignabruiaich, which took a considerable amount of effort especially as it was getting fairly warm; it was all worth it for the views the top. Several loads of cake laden tourists passed me, the coaches labouring up the ascent, and filling the lovely clean Scottish air with fumes. A lot of those tourists could have benefitted from a bit of a cycle I reckon!
There was another one of Scotland’s handy information signs at the top of the hill, which educated me on the various Norse versus Scots battles that had taken place in the area, before the Norse were finally kicked out, and about Clan Cambell who dominated the area, with at times an equally bloody history.
I rode on alongside Loch Riddon, enjoying a nice descent on the A8003, before turning on to the A886 and then the B836 as I followed the coast. Another series of hills followed up to Loch Tarsan, several marked as serious climbs or descents which either made my brakes squeal or me perspire and grunt accordingly. I was almost tempted to jump in Loch Tarsan to cool off, but reckoned it would have been a bit of a shock to the system. Scottish lochs are not renowned for being particularly warm.
There followed a nice descent down to Dunoon, where I did a quick circuit before heading back up around Holy Loch. I stopped to refill my water bottles at an accommodating cafe at the Marina, and stocked up on a few energy boosting supplies in the form of bananas and biscuits.
I considered getting the ferry over from Dunoon to Gourock, which would have saved me a ride back up to Loch Fyne and round to Glasgow, but in the end decided I didn’t want to miss out on the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. I’m not entirely sure what a Trossach is though, perhaps related to haggis?
With it starting to chill off I rode through Strone and up to Ardentinny, alongside Loch Long, with more great views to absorb. I feared Scotland was going to spoil me somewhat, potentially overshadowing the rest of my tour! With it getting later I considered pitching up and wild camping for the night, but couldn’t find anywhere immediately suitable so I pedalled on, spotting the Whistlefield Inn on my map which would do for dinner.
There were of course the usual caravan parks in evidence, but they don’t always accept tents, and I didn’t fancy paying over the odds to camp when I could just find a nice spot further into the national park.
With the end of the day looming there followed a massive and very steep hill climb up to Sligrachan, that seriously taxed my legs and lungs, and was probably the closest I’d come to having to stop and push in Scotland to date; reckon the hills and heat had tired me out somewhat. I was rewarded with a pleasant descent down to the Whistlefield Inn, where I’d already decided I’d stop for dinner. It proved to be a good decision.
I’d only covered 65 miles, but there’d been some serious and pretty constant hills along the way, so it was a relief to sit down in a comfy chair and stretch my legs out. The food was excellent and reasonably priced, although at this stage I would have eaten pretty much anything and thought it nice I was so hungry. I consumed my Cajun chicken meal pretty swiftly, followed by a ginger and date sponge pudding which was also excellent, all washed down with a pint of Sommerset Cider as recommended by Hannah, the most excellent barmaid/host who was running the place with the manager out poorly. Hannah let me know there was a good spot to wild camp just around the corner, or said I could just pitch my tent in the grounds of the Inn, so I was also sorted for a place to kip for the night.
Taking advantage of the free wifi I caught up on the news, and enjoyed a few more pints, then spent the evening chatting to Hannah and a few other locals in the Inn. John and Lynne gave me some good advice on my route for the following day, round to Glasgow. John had cycled in the Outer Hebs, which I hadn’t managed to get to but sounded very much worth a visit – on the list! He also has at least one Uncle who’s won the lottery, and we talked about the effect this can have on people. I reckon it would be great to win, as there is so much I’d love to do with the money, but I might not tell anyone as that just seems to cause problems.
All in all a great evening, finishing up by chatting with Hannah about living up here, which sounded great but not without its challenges. For example getting anything done by employing workmen from Dunoon is obviously a bit of a chore, as they work on ‘Dunoon time’ and are very laid back. They’ll get things done, but might need reminding, and there’s no guarantee as to when the job will be finished. The pace of life around this neck of the woods is definitely completely different to for instance the South East, and there’s something nice and I daresay healthy about that, although it could be frustrating if you’re not used to it.
Post a bit of a late night, with probably a few too many beers and a whisky courtesy of Hannah, I rather blearily pitched my tent and crashed out for the night. It had been a great day’s ride, followed by a great evening in friendly company. I was looking forward to tomorrow’s leg and getting around to Glasgow, and heading South, but I’d be sorry to leave this part of Scotland and some of the people I’d met. Thoroughly recommend the Whistlefield Inn if you find yourself in the area.
I’ll definitely be coming back to this part of the world sooner rather than later.