A shorter day miles wise, with only 35 covered.
10 June 2013
I woke up feeling a bit itchy. The midges had definitely got to the lower parts of my legs, and my hands to an extent, resulting in quite few ugly red bite marks. The Avon lady seemed to have kept them off my face and arms, although I wasn’t convinced it was really working. I need to train a team of spiders to spin webs around my campsite every night to catch the midges and Mosquitos. One had spun its web under my bike saddle and caught loads of midges for its supper, a shame I had to evict him or her.
After breakfast and a quick shower I packed everything back on to my bike, and pedalled to the end of the road, just to get a bit further west. I wasn’t going to go all the way to Ardnamurchan Point, as it was a dead end, and I had a ferry to catch over to Mull.
I pedalled back down the hill to Kilchoan and was just in time to get the ferry, perfect, so I rode on board squeezing my bike between the cars, camper-vans and caravans; I wish more people would just get a bike, much cheaper at £5.00 for the crossing as opposed to about £20.00 for a car.
I went up to the deck area for some of the short voyage over to Tobermory, the largest town on Mull. It was a bit of a blustery day, making it a bit chilly out on the water, but mostly sunny. Retreating inside for a bit I called my parents who were squatting in my house in Norwich, and went through my mail with them, nothing very exciting; home insurance, bills, statements and junk mail for the most part. Good to have people checking up on my house, and of course Dad was in fixing things mode so I would no doubt have some home improvements by the time I returned.
Arriving in Tobermory I trundled off the boat, making my way to the Mull museum, literally a few hundred yards down the road on the harbour front. It is free to look around, although they are grateful for donations, and a superb place to start a trip around Mull. I think it took about 30 minutes to look round all the exhibits, being only a small museum, but could have been longer as it was quite absorbing.
I learned about quite a few things, including:
– Mull and Tobermory during the Second World War, when many Navy crews were trained in the area for escort duty under the watchful eye of the ‘Terror of Tobermory’, Commodore Stephenson, from on board HMS Western Isles. He had a quite a reputation due to unconventional training methods and a fierce temperament, hence his nickname, and was responsible for the training of 1,132 ships and their crews for escort duty in 4 years, up to the end of the war. I reckon that’s a pretty remarkable achievement, which no doubt contributed massively to the war effort and keeping convoys safe versus the U-boat threat.
– A Spanish ship that sunk in the bay, from the Armada. It was one of the many that were forced up around the coast of Scotland post the Armada break up. It put into Tobermory for repairs, after a deal was struck with the local clan chief. In return for supplies and repair work, the ship’s captain loaned the use of some of the many soldiers he had on board, to help the chief settle a few local disputes/feuds. Pretty cunning. Unfortunately the ship later blew up in the harbour, and sank. Rumours have persisted of large amounts of gold on the ship, and salvage efforts have been raking place ever since. No bullion found to date. Quite a few Armada ships did eventually make it back to Spain, but nothing like the number that set off.
– The history of Mull, from the Stone Age to the Bronze and Iron Age, about the Celts, and Christianity arriving via St. Columba, and the Iona monastery. The Norse turned up in their longships, being Vikings, and killed a lot of monks, Christians and Celts during their successive raids over the years, so much so that the Iona monastery was eventually abandoned. The Norse later came back and settled on some parts of Mull, but not to the same extent as other islands on the west coast.
– A series of accounts from notable individuals visiting Mull, in the 18th and 19th centuries, which were also interesting to read, with a few items including a travelling chest used for storing specimens and kit. One account described the average Mull man as surely one of the most heavily armed in Europe, with shield, dirk, pistol and broadsword, and possibly other weapons secreted about their person. They were also apparently very brawny in their kilts and berets, with an ammunition pouch helping to conceal their privates. The women were equally tough, wearing tartan again, which often wrapped around into a veil and headscarf.
After my history lesson I cycled along the harbour-front to the other side, before having an early lunch at one of the pubs; very nice to sit down for an hour or so, and eat a huge burger that would keep me going or a bit. I also nipped into the tourist information office to check on my planned route, possible things to see, and campsites.
Riding back along the harbour front I stopped to look around a visiting Himalayan bazaar, a bit bizarre, and bought some incense which I thought might help versus the midges, or at least would smell nice. The bazaar had lots of nice Himalayan style knitted clothes, including arm warmers and hats that I fancied the look of, but really isn’t have room for. Got me thinking about a tour down to Tibet though, and to Everest; another one to add to the list!
Before pedalling to Calgary I stopped and bought some supplies, I’d been craving apples. Suitably restocked with a few things I rode up the steep hill out of Tobermory, and on to the B8073.
The road over to the village of Dervaig was in slightly poor condition, and fairly hilly, so it was tough going at times and i was a bit worried about my rear wheel again. Some nice scenery though, and not many sheep.
I stopped for a break in Dervaig, which claims to be he prettiest village on Mull, and had a drink at the Bellachroy Inn. The Inn is the oldest on the Island, dating from 1608. I had a chat with a couple of builders on a break, interested in my bike, who advised that the road around to Calgary was mostly flat, and that it was only about 4 miles to the bay. They were on a break for a while, leading me to think not much happens fast on Mull.
Pressing on to Calgary I soon realised the road wasn’t really flat at all. I guess if you’re driving you don’t notice the hills as much. Still it had less steep bits than the pervious section, and wound through some lovely countryside. Lots of bluebells were out, along with ferns and bracken growing everywhere, and various flowers and flowering trees scenting the air.
Calgary, which gave its name to the Canadian city, is gorgeous beach surrounded by hills, with an area of machair, and wide expanse of pale sand. With the sunshine the sea was a deep blue colour. I went for a walk down to the beach, and across a bit of the machair which is Gaelic for a specific type of grassland/meadow that grows on sandy soil in Scotland, next to the sea. It’s under threat from coastal erosion, excessive amounts of people walking on it, and grazing by sheep and rabbits, so I was a bit bemused to see sheep actually on it. Efforts were being made to conserve it, as it’s unique habitat for some flora and fauna.
There a designated wild camping area in Calgary, next to a toilet block. I was tempted to stop for the day but I really hadn’t done many miles, and didn’t want to leave myself with too much to do tomorrow, so I pedalled on. Calgary would be a great place to camp out with a few friends, however I get the feeling it’s a very popular spot, the wild camping area having had quite a few folks on it already.
I regretted the decision to press on shortly afterwards, running into a fierce headwind and big hills – especially the one just prior to Fanmore. The hill and headwind combi was a bit of a leg burner, however I made it up, finding a large stone cairn at the top; I added a stone to it in case it was good luck to do so.
The wind lessened a bit as I cycled on towards Killiechronan, still on the B8073 – there aren’t really that many roads to choose from on Mull. Passed through some nice scenery, with the Isle of Ulva just off the coast, across Loch Tuath. You can get a ferry across to Ulva at one point, it’s really not a long crossing – reckon you could swim it pretty easily.
I arrived at the campsite in Killiechronan, which didn’t consist of a lot (campsite or place), and pitched up, the owner coming around a bit later on his quad bike to collect the £4.00 fee, so nice and cheap. I chatted to a few of the other people staying there – the site was pretty full with kayakers, camper vans, and a few other cycle tourers. Unsurprising given the good location right on the coastline, even if there are no showers, and it’s a bit of a walk up the road to the toilet block.
One bird watching couple lent me their binoculars briefly, to look at the Sea Eagle sitting in a tree across the bay, a truly immense bird of prey. There were a couple of them apparently, although I only saw one, which later soared and swooped across the bay, presumably looking for fish or an easy meal courtesy of the nesting birds in the area, of which there were lots; saw oystercatchers, gulls, sandpipers, amongst others. Mull has the biggest population of Sea Eagles in the UK, them all congregating on the island, and it was great to see one.
I fell asleep in my tent post dinner it was so relaxing, with the breeze keeping the midges away, and the incense I’d bought earlier wafting about. Getting up I had a brief chat with a French cycle tourer going the other way, who’d rigged up an ingenious washing line from his tent to his bike. He had a kick stand for his bike though, which I really need to invest in.
Feeling pretty tired, and with most people retreating inside their various tents or camper vans due to breeze dropping and midge threat increasing, I decided to have an early night too, rather than do some bike maintenance which could wait until the morning. It was nice just lying in my tent chilling out, doing a bit of planning and reading. Very quiet too. I ruled out visiting any of the other islands around Mull, as I did’t really have the time. It would be nice to come back and go to Staffa to see Fingal’s Cave with its unique geology and mystical atmosphere, as well as to go to Iona and visit the sacked monastery – Vikings again. There are various boat trips you can go on to the outlying islands, as well as to see seals, more bird life, and porpoises and whales if you’relucky.
So only a short day today, covering 35 miles. I’d need to improve upon that tomorrow, and hoped the weather would be good for it. Went to bed post saying hello to a couple of friendly campsite dogs doing the rounds.