Saturday, 10 August 2013

Leg 4, Day 8: Campbeltown to Luing

We woke at 5.20am to the sound of someone coming up the stairs in the Campbelltown lifeboat station. Exhausted and slightly delirious but partly excited at the prospect that it may be a shout for the lifeboat, we waited to see what was going on... A man came in to the crew room (where we were lying on our roll mats on the floor),  introduced himself as the Coxswain of the lifeboat, said that he was dropping of him pager as he was heading to work on the ferry and left... a slightly surreal experience at that time in the morning, and unfortunately a false alarm! We soon fell back to sleep and woke again at 7am (we had allowed ourselves a ly-in) for a breakfast of cereal and coffee at the station before packing up our kit.

We departed Campbeltown in the drizzle; exhausted from the previous day's ride but well rested and well fed.

Today was a day of two halves- the first was our journey back up the Kintyre Peninsular to the Tarbert for the ferry to Isla, and the second was our journey from Isla onwards, cycling the full length of Jura.

The west coast of the Kintyre Peninsular could not have been more different from the east coast which we had cycled the previous evening. The road was a larger and slightly busier route, but with gentle inclines and descents, good surface, a light cross tail wind and far reaching views across long sweeping sandy bays. As we headed north we passed surfers on beautiful 6ft waves, a scattering of caravans and sand dunes- more akin to Cornwall than Scotland...

We arrived in Tarbert Ferry terminal rather ahead of schedule having covered the 50km far faster than we had envisaged being possible (given our tired legs and expectations of the road being similar to the east coast which we cycled last night). For once the weather was on our side as it started pouring shortly after arrival, so we settled in at the rather basic terminal building with a cuppa...

Shortly before the ferry set off, the sun briefly came out and the MacBrayne ferry (our largest yet) was loaded.

The 2 hour crossing from the mainland out to the inner Hebrides was stunning, and we quickly settled in to a local ale and pie on the ferry (which was far better than expected!) and reminisced about how relentless the previous day's cycling had been...

We soon arrived in the tiny and very picturesque Port Askaig on Isla. As the RNLI station was a 50m cycle from the ferry and our next journey was on to Jura we sadly didn't see a huge amount of this island which is said to be extremely beautiful.

Within 5 minutes of the ferry docking we had taken a photograph outside the RNLI station and boarded our next island hopper ferry to Jura...

During our short crossing to Jura the rain descended on us, but through the grey haze we were able to watch a joint exercise between the Isla RNLI Severn lifeboat ad the Coastguard Sea King helicopter in the narrow waterway between Isla and Jura which was fantastic....

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The second part of our day of two halves was our journey across the island of Jura. There is only one road on the island (the 'A846'!!!), which runs from the south west, around the southern tip and up the eastern coast. Although not the best of roads in terms of the quality of tarmac (some parts were amounts the worst we have cycled on so far) or size (most is single track with a few passing points), we both agreed that this was amongst the most beautiful stretches of road we have cycled to date. It was also one of the most remote. With a population of around 140 people, largely clustered towards the southern end of the island, (where there are also a couple of small Whisky distilleries) we went through truly rugged and stunning wilderness...

Where the road peters out towards the north of the Island we were met by the Cadzow family who had very kindly come to collect us on their boat, for a short journey through the islands to their wonderful home on Luing....  En route we paused momentarily to see if we could spot a sea eagle nest which they knew of in the trees along the uninhibited and inaccessible northern peninsular of Jura...

En route to Luing the Cadzow's took us around a remote island and showed us the third largest Whirlpool in Scotland (thankfully just a choppy tide race at the time we passed!) and between scattered uninhibited islands which they farm by transporting cattle and sheep out on a barge to. 

After a hot shower, a wash of our kit ( the first proper one in a week!) and a cuppa coffee we felt almost human again! The Cadzow's treated us to a delicious Luing dinner of Lamb from the farm, and fresh potatoes and veg from the garden. After a few drinks in the party barn, we fell into our beds for the first good night's sleep of the trip.

Leg 4, Day 7: Largs to Campbeltown

We're absolutely broken. 185 km cycled today the last 60 of which included 17 hills of over 15 % gradient. So until I have the energy to type all you're getting are pictures. 

Saturday 10th August UPDATE: We are currently sitting in Tarbert ferry terminal waiting for our ferry to Islay and are having a chance to reflect on yesterday's patience testing, reserve challenging, leg destroying, bum numbing challenge. 

As you can see above it was always going to be a big day. 185 km of cycling with 4 ferry crossings all of which all had to be perfectly timed was a big ask but we managed to make it...just. 

Largs was the start of the day, looking above at that photo it seems like last week. The rain that fell during the night had thankfully stopped but it made for a somewhat soggy cycle up to Gourock 20 km to the north where our first ferry of the day was departing from.

Annoyingly due to our pre-planned route which is loaded onto my Garmin watch suggesting that we should cycle up 3 flights of stairs which was clearly a footpath incorrectly marked as a cycle path, we decided to stray from the route and work out our own way to the ferry terminal. This was a mistake. Numerous stops to check google maps on the iPhone cost us 10-15 mins and resulted in missing our first ferry! 

This is what we navigate by, the idea is to keep the arrow on the line. You can zoom in and out quite easily. When you stray from the line it usually results in a world of pain. We are slaves to the line. While this isn't as romantic as carrying a big folding paper map, we think it saves us more than an hour each day in navigation stops. 

We did however use this opportunity to get breakfast and elevenses (a highly under appreciated meal) from the local bakery, served by a remarkably grumpy woman. 

Aboard our first ferry from Gourock to Kilcreggan. 

Once we arrived at Kilcreggan we began our second critical stage of today's cycle- having to cycle all the was around the loch to Helensburgh RNLI station which was a touch over 40km in time for the return ferry (back to Gourock) which was leaving just under 2 hours later. Missing this ferry simply wasn't an option as it would have had knock on consequences to the ferry crossings scheduled later in the day.

We got our heads down and made it to Helensburgh in just under an hour... A quick photo and we were back on our bikes. 

Cycling past the MOD base on the east coast of the loch.

On our way back to the

Which we made...just and as a bonus we were joined by some quality facial hair, something the Scos seem to do quite well. They are real men up here. 

We had 15 mins in Gourock before our next ferry to Dunoon which would take us onto Bute. We had been in touch with my good friends Thierry and Pith who were spending the week at their loch side house which was only a mile from our planned route, but before we could enjoy some coffee and cake with them we had the small matter of climbing the only serious hills of our trip so far and we got that familiar taste of leg burning fun, often coupled by unexplained hysterics which would usually inhibit any form of climbing whatsoever. 

This was spectacular scenery and the roads were either fantastic (clearly benefitting from some obscure EU subsidy) or horrendous. We heard that this particular road was voted e most beautiful road in Britain and I can attest to the views that distracted us from our tired legs during the journey to Tignabruaich.

After an hour or so chatting with Thierry and Pith over a cuppa. Photos to follow from Thierry! We had an hour in which to cycle the remaining 18km to the ferry terminal at Portavadie which when announced was greeting which raised eyebrows! Did they know something about the road ahead which we didn't? We decided not to take any risks and cracked on, stopping briefly for a few photos, one of which was the RNLI station in Tignabruaich. 

The Portavadie-Tarbert ferry was a welcome sight...

...which provided a welcome change of seat.

With the last ferry of the day done, a weight was off our shoulders and all that remained was a 60km jaunt down the Kintyre peninsula down to Campbeltown. Or so we thought. 

There are two routes down to to Cambeltown, one on the east coast and one on the west coast. We opted to go down the east coast and up the west coat the following day. Little did we know that the east coast B-road, which happens also to be a national cycle route, was reminiscent of North Devon in the sense that the road was single track, gravelly, and contained no less that 17 ascents of greater that 15% gradient. 

We had planned to do 40km, have a brief rest then do the remaining 20km.  We soon realised what we were in for when we had taken 4 stops within the first 4 km! 

One of the few flat spots, albeit with a fantastic coastline.

Eventually, nearly 3 hours later we got to Campbeltown RNLI station. We rolled down the hill (visible in the photo below) with a sign of utter relief after what was a very hard day on the bike, saw the familiar RNLI flag blowing in the breeze and smiles spread across our faces. We had made it. 

After a quick shower, we headed to the nearest restaurant which turned out to be simply fantastic. Rare rump steaks and a cold beer were our reward for the days efforts and I'm not sure food has ever tasted so good.