15 June 2013
It was still raining when I woke up, and pretty hard judging by the sound of water hitting the canvas, so I decided to stay in my tent a bit longer and work on a blog post. The rain surely had to stop at some point, and I wanted a dry patch to pack up in, plus to check my rear wheel. I decided I’d definitely find a campsite tonight, to hopefully dry some stuff out. In the meantime there was no point in getting more stuff wet, so I’d wear my still damp kit which I reasoned might act a bit like a wetsuit (didn’t entirely work out as planned).
It didn’t stop raining, so I packed up about 10.00 rapidly getting wet again in the process. My tent was soaked, although it had been dry inside; I’d need to dry it out somehow in the evening as there was no way it was getting any dryer in the hills above Southend.
I did a quick check of my bike wheels and spokes, adjusting a few, before loading up and setting off down the hill. Everywhere was waterlogged, including the short track I’d walked down yesterday evening. I had to hop about a bit trying to stay on non-submerged areas to get back to the road, which had streams of water running down it. I’m not sure why I bothered trying to keep my feet out of the water, my shoes were still soaked from yesterday.
I rode around the coast towards Campbeltown, in the rain and attempting to dodge the worst of the waterlogged potholes – you can’t see how bad they are when they’re full of water. At least I had a tailwind which helped up some of the hills. I was a bit concerned a couple of times that the road was going to be underwater at the bottom of some of the descents, or simply washed away. The streams that had yesterday been small babbling brooks were now raging torrents, angrily rushing down the hills and crashing into the sea. Amazing how the landscape can change so quickly and violently.
I rode up another hill past a field full of bullocks standing stoically in the rain. They spotted me and did their usual trick of following alongside for a bit on the other side of the fence, at quite a pace. Have any other cyclists encountered this phenomenon or is it just me? Maybe I have panniers that are particularly attractive, or offensive, in the bovine world; I don’t want to find out which it is.
I rode around the point and into Campbeltown after about an hours ‘paddling’, thoroughly soaked, past Davaar Island.
Dripping everywhere I stopped in at the Bluebell Cafe and had their breakfast special, which improved matters considerably – bacon, eggs, Lorne sausage, black pudding, beams, potato pancake and toast! Friendly staff, hot food, and a chat with a few other breakfasters all helped, plus I rang my gloves and sleeves out in the bathroom, not for the first time, and I was sure it wouldn’t be the last.
Post the Bluebell Cafe it was still chucking it down so I adjourned to the Black Sheep Pub around the corner for a decaf coffee, in the vague hope the weather might improve and that I might dry off a bit. Slowly drying, or at least not getting any wetter, I stayed in the pub for about an hour chatting to the barman James, who with the weather as it was didn’t have a lot of tourists to serve. James was about to emigrate to the USA with his American wife, and in fact will be there now so hope it’s going well. It sounded like a pretty exciting lifestyle change, and the weather will certainly be a bit different, although we both reckoned it could be a bit of a culture shock to begin with. To move to the US he’d had to be sponsored by someone, in this case his father-in-law, and had to visit the US embassy to do all the paperwork; sounded like a bit of a trial but sure it’ll be worth it. It was good to relax for a bit and chat post my wild time in the hills, and the rain even stopped about 13.00.
Slightly drier I got back on my bike and left Campbeltown, keen to head back up the peninsula. I took the B842 up the east side, towards Carradale Point, as unfortunately the rain started again which made for pretty unpleasant riding. There was a lot of spray and mud on the road, and I was very glad of my mudguards having passed a couple riders grimly going the other way coated in muck. On a sunny day the scenery would have been great, and even in today’s conditions was impressive…and hilly…there weren’t really any flat bits, and there were lots of chevrons indicating steep sections, marked on my map.
At one juncture I passed through a cattle farm and rounding a corner encountered a cow in the road, which had a steep bank on one side and vegetation on the other. It was either stop or run into it, so I ground to a halt as we regarded one another with suspicion. On reflection I think it was probably a bullock and not a cow, and it started frisking about a bit and pawing the ground. At this point of the day I really wasn’t in a retreating mood, and there was certainly no easy way around without backtracking for miles, so I tried to make myself bigger and edge forward, which has worked in the past…they usually back off. A bit of a stand-off ensued however eventually, after some more melodramatics on both of our parts, the bullock backed off into the bushes, leaving me somewhat relieved. I’m really not sure what I’d have done if it had charged or not moved, probably just kept the bike in between me and it, and maybe brandish a lobster in it’s general direction; or climb up a tree quick, which could have been tricky given the rain.
With the sun starting to come out, but it still raining, I rode on through Saddell and up to Carradale, over continuous hills. At least there was no chance of dehydration or overheating, and bananas were keeping me fuelled for the climbs. After Grogdale and Crossaig the rain finally stopped leaving me with just the hills to contend with, but I could deal with them, especially with the wind mostly behind me; mostly aside from when it’s a bit fickle and flows down off the hills swirling about a bit.
I met a group of 3 other cycle tourers at Crossaig, who were out for a weekend’s riding from Kilmarnock and on their way to Arran, intending to take the ferry from Claonaig. They’d set off from Campbeltown earlier only to have a chain break which had to be mended on the roadside. Luckily they’d had the tool for the job and were able to fix it – I was just glad that hadn’t happened to me, yet, however it reinforced the importance of checking your chain regularly and replacing it if it’s stretched too much. It was good to have a chat with fellow tourers, and I felt my spirits raised by the encounter.
With miles left to cover I bid them goodbye and cycled on, drying off a bit in the sunshine, and fervently petitioning the weather gods to keep the rain at bay.
At Claonaig I turned inland and rode over the top to Whitehouse and a familiar road, joining the A83 towards Tarbert. I passed a police radar gun speed trap and asked if I was in the clear after they aimed the device at me. They waved and encouraged me on which was nice.
Tarbert was a welcome and somewhat unexpected sight, being a lovely little harbour town, with lots of yachts moored up, and a yacht club, plus several cafes, pubs, shops and and hotels. I decided to stop for a break and raided my panniers for bread and cheese, and bought some tomatoes from the Co-op, having a nice conversation with an interested seagull and a few passing tourists wondering how far I was going.
The sun came out properly in Tarbert and I started steaming gently, a bit odd but it made a pleasant change to have water going the other way. Somewhat reluctantly I left the town pedalling up the hill, and being passed by the police from earlier, who reliably informed me I was going very slowly at 7mph, thanks guys.
After a few initial ups and downs the road flattened out and I had a nice ride up to Ardrishaig, being able to engage my ‘mile eating’ pace for once, in a high gear with no interruptions. Enjoying the sunshine I stopped for a break at the end of the Crinan Canal, had a wander about and made a couple of phone calls. I walked out to the end of the pier, watching a fisherman cast for mackerel. He didn’t seem to be having much luck, but I spotted 3 gannets diving for fish who were having a better time of it. It was amazing to see them dive, and something I’d wanted to witness for ages.
Pushing on I rode up to Lochgilphead and found the campsite, relieved to see they accepted tents as well as caravans. Whilst I was happy to wild camp again if need be, it was really nice to have the prospect of a warm shower, and to dry some stuff off. Post checking-in I pitched my tent as the midges started to arrive, homing in like heat seeking nano-missiles. I applied Avon Skin so Soft and lit some incense, but neither seemed to make much difference, I just smelt a bit hippyish and my skin was more tender for the midges. I retreated to the shower and spent a while washing away the day’s grime, before arranging a few things to dry and heading into town to explore.
It being a Saturday evening it was fairly lively on the streets of Lochgilphead, with a lot of excitable youngsters out, and I have to admit I kept fairly quiet to avoid attracting attention to my Sassenach accent, although I’m sure it would have been fine.
I located the Argyll Arms which looked promising, and spent the evening their amongst a lot of lively locals, many of whom seemed intent on downing as many shots as possible, with varying results. I chatted to quite a few of them, and got a pint bought for me so all good. The jukebox was pumping out some classic rock tunes, as well as a few dodgy numbers that got several groups singing rather discordantly, but it was all entertaining and a friendly atmosphere.
After several pints I retreated back to the campsite, not noticing midges anymore, and funnily enough slept very well post the day’s 60 mile hilly leg. With any luck the weather would be better again tomorrow, for the ride around to Inveraray and beyond.