Scotland 2019 

After a 3-year absence from Scotland due to the French tours I’ve made, I’m heading back to Glasgow today, and after such a long break, it all seems a bit strange and new again. Last year I cycle camped from Dieppe to Roscoff but I never got around to writing anything about that trip so this year, in an effort to produce something, I’m writing this as I go. I guess you’d call it a Travelogue.

I had a very early start to my first day. When I know I’ve got to be up early I don’t sleep very well these days. I was awake by 3, up at 4 and on route to the station in the pitch black at 5. Yes; I have got a front light, but no; it’s not a good one. More of a “Be seen” light rather than “I can see where I’m going” light.


The 05.30 train to Liverpool Street then a ride across town to Euston with time to spare. Well, over 2 hours actually, which meant I had plenty of time to do at leisure, what I had to do later in mad panic mode, had I only known.

So I relaxed, bought a coffee and made it last over an hour, just so that I had somewhere reasonably comfortable to sit and wait.

When I booked these tickets, and my all-important bike reservation via Trainline, about 2 months ago, I was told to write down the bike reservation number as that would be the only confirmation needed or indeed received. This seemed to be good information as there was no mention of my Bike Reservation on the email from them, and when I collected the tickets from the machine earlier in the week, only the actual Ticket, a Seat Reservation and a Receipt dropped into the tray. These were safely stored in my pocket while I waited for my train.

Despite the reasonably long journey, around 5 and a half hours, they only give you about 15 minutes from Platform Announcement to actual Departure, so it’s always a dash to get to and through the gate; find the hole into which the bike is to be thrown, strip it of luggage and valuable bits and get it stowed and strapped before hurrying back to the platform to pick up all the aforesaid bags and bits so you can waddle around and find your seat, turf out whoever has decided to pinch it as they couldn’t be bothered with a reservation themselves, then try to fit everything on to the ridiculously small rack over said seat. Just to exacerbate the usual timing problems, and those I’m about to relate, this train was fully booked and rammed to the gunnels. (I don’t think Trains have gunnels, but you get my drift I hope).

So, back to me, here, now, at the Gate. Imagine if you will, my horror when on finally getting to the front and presenting my ticket and Bike Reservation Reference, hearing “You need a Bike Reservation Voucher, or you can’t get on!” “Au contraire”, I explained. I’d been told I did not need anything but my reservation number! But this fell on deaf ears. “Go to the booking office and get a voucher. No Voucher, No Bike, Train goes in 10 minutes!.

Can I leave my bike here?”No, you can’t!

I ran with the fully laden bike, back up the causeway, against the flow and through all the crowds in the main hall narrowly missing several law / hospital suits only to see at least a 20-minute que at one of those airport style mazes. I was sunk, it would be futile to que, I’d have to barge in somehow. Thankfully I managed this without any fights breaking out due largely to a huge amount of begging and pleading on my part. Fortune favours the brave though and Voucher in hand I ran back to the platform, through the gate and then the whole length of the train. Bikes are, of course, stowed at the front end of this particular train, directly behind the driver in coach “A”. By this time the train is ready to go, so “Get yer bike on, strap it in and take all your bags with you to find your seat”. Where is the seat? Coach “F” of course, what fun those ticket sellers must have. All the way back through the train with bags bashing everything and everyone through 6 packed carriages and 12 electronic push button doors, then, steam literally rising from me, turf out the aforesaid interloper and RELAX! I’d made it.


I arrive at Glagow Central in sunshine! First time ever I think, it’s usually raining, recently rained, or, going to rain soon. It was a promising start. There’s a big Football Match on tonight and large groups of “supporters“ are outside in the streets and there’s a lot of what sounds like far-right chanting to me. Plenty of police around too. So a few turns around the Squares to check out the Duke of Wellingtons Hat (a Road Cone that no matter how many times it’s removed, is always back in place the next morning) down Sauchiehall Street and I’m off to the hostel for my first night.


Glasgow Youth Hostel is pretty impressive. It’s located in the west of the City, where all the best people live you know. I’ve probably told you before but every city is the same and it’s all due to prevailing winds. All the smoke fumes and noxious odours created in Cities as they grew would drift East on the prevailing wind, so if you were rich, you lived in the west. If you were poor, you suffered. The Hostel has excellent views across the park to the Clyde and some impressive architectural features inside. It’s been refurbished recently and provides a more Hotel style experience. The beds are just the usual bunk beds though so no frills there.

Glasgow to Crianlarich:

The day dawned bright and sunny on the giddy heights of Park Crescent, but as I descended through the Park to the level of the Clyde, mists encased everything around me. The route out of the city followed the Clyde initially and I was soon on a disused Rail Line, formerly ferrying Clydebank workers to the now almost disused docks and boatyards I expect. Towpaths beside the Forth and Clyde Canal took me further north and after this the River Leven flowing down from Loch Lomond provided the scenery and saw me safely to the West Lomond Way. This dedicated cycle route follows the busy A82, sometimes right beside the carriageway and at other times dropping off into older quieter roads along the Lochside or through pretty villages. The cottage shown here hasn’t changed in 14 years since I first rode this way.


Unfortunately, the surface in places is very bad now and it made the route harder work and less enjoyable. It ends at Tarbert where the Loch Cruises attract coach loads of tourists, and where there is a small shed/café. I made this my break for fuel and a rest beside the Loch. You will find there are a lot of places called “Tarbet” or “Tarbert” in Scotland. It’s the old Gaelic name for an isthmus, a narrow stretch of land between two bodies of water where a boat could be moved across the land from one to the other. Before roads, boat travel was the main form of transport so crossing points were highly valued.


After Tarbet the A82 continues, with just a little less traffic, for 16 miles up to Crianlarich. No cycle way, no separation and little respite as it twists, dips and climbs along the Loch shoreline. At 9 miles to go you pass the Drovers Inn, a signal for those who’ve passed here before that the climbing will start and continue all the way to Crianlarich. The attached photo should give you the idea.


Crianlarich Hostel has also been modernised since my last stay, but it looks pretty much the same on arrival and very welcoming at the end of my ride. There’s a small shop near the Hostel so a few purchases ensure I won’t go hungry.

An early night for me, but I sat in the communal lounge for a while reading and absorbing the buzz and excitement with so much planning, maps, guidebooks and chatter. It’s a busy weekend with the weather being so good, solid sunshine and 24C forecast for tomorrow, Saturday, and Crianlarich is a very popular Hostel for walkers and climbers being close to many Munroe’s (Scottish mountains over 3,000 feet) and the West Highland Way. My GPS App keeps suggesting I use the West Highland Way but from what I’ve heard it’s wholly unsuitable.

Crianlarich to Glencoe:

Glen Coe hostel is fully booked tonight so unless there’s a cancellation it looks like I’ll be camping. I’ve decided therefore to leave a bit later. I’m sure I can get to the famous Clachaig Inn in time for a late lunch and have time to check on the hostel. If there are no late cancellations it’ll be off to the campsite and set up for the night. The Clachaid has a long history in the Glen and it’s located amid stunning mountain scenery. The “Boot Bar” is famous among the adventurers who visit Glencoe. Somewhere to head for when you’re cold, wet and tired. Dog friendly; a good fire to dry out by and no one minds your muddy boots.

Before I left though I decided on a final cup of Tea in the hostel and heard a harp playing tunes I know. I grabbed my Flute and joined in. Turns out the harpist works at the hostel and she was having a practice before heading to Oban to busk for the tourists. We shared a few tunes and chatted before I headed to the bike. A nice way to start my day.

Sun shining now and I’m ready to go. Straight onto the A82 again I’m afraid, and due to the unseasonably good weather, there is more traffic than ever. Not very pleasant despite the incredible scenery.

The road splits after Tyndrum. The A85 heads off to Oban and the A82 continues on to Fort William via Glencoe. This split eased the traffic a little, but not nearly enough. On a day like today this route is a draw for every tourist, petrol head, motorcyclist and day-tripper in the area. After an initial climb out of Tyndrum there was a very long descent following the River Orchy down to Bridge of Orchy. Thereafter the work began again as I headed up onto Rannoch Moor and on into Glencoe. The scenery just got better.


And better


And better


The last time I cycled this route was in 2005 on my LE2JOG. It must have been into October and it was raining hard. On Rannoch Moor itself it was actually sleeting, sideways. I was soaked through and on that occasion all the aforementioned benefits of the Clachaig Inn were very much appreciated. I clearly remember it was packed, and steamy from the heat of the fires on very wet people. Today, it was more like the South of France. Brilliant blue skies, clear sunshine and temperatures in the upper 20’s. The difference was astounding and it was so beautiful, especially as the descent started. Absolutely stunning scenery that I never got the chance to appreciate before.

If the photos look devoid of vehicles, that’s patience on my part, believe me there were plenty. There is no provision for cyclists at all, not even a decent gutter line. The risks are just too high so I doubt I’ll ever cycle this route again. Descending into the heart of Glencoe and seeing the turn on to a minor road to the Inn was pure joy though. Beer and a sandwich when you really need one? Heaven.


The sign at the entrance states “No Hawkers & No Campbells”. Long memories these Scots. The Glencoe Massacre took place in 1692, when men under the command of one Robert Campbell, whilst being “billeted” by the Clan MacDonald of Glencoe, rose up in the dead of night and slaughtered their hosts with concealed weapons for allegedly being slow to show support for the new Monarchy. It’s never been forgotten or forgiven and I guess, it never will be.

Well there was no room at the Inn for me tonight, Campbell or not. So, it was the Red Squirrel Camp Site on the banks of the River Coe. Magnificent and very rustic.



Meagre portions from my panniers and a very early night with a book. Luckily, I’d chosen a quiet spot as due to the hot weather weekend there were close on 500 campers that night and plenty of high spirits.

Glencoe to Isle of Lismore:

It was dry and bright as I broke camp. Tea and breakfast on the banks of the river then pack up and away.

From Glencoe Village there’s an excellent dedicated bike route, the NCR 78. It goes all the way to Oban but I was only going as far as Port Appin today as I wanted to catch the ferry to visit the Island of Lismore. The good weather was forecast to end and sure enough the rains came to soak me on the 2nd half of the ride but it was a small price to pay for the glorious day before and there were still some pretty good views on route, including this Sea Castle.


There have been Sea Castles on the West Coast of Scotland since the 1300’s and Castle Stalker is a good example. In those days, travelling by boat was much easier and safer than across land, hence the importance of Tarbets as noted above, so building castles just off the coast made mooring easier and with good solid walls to protect them, the occupants were safer from attack.

I arrived at the Port Appin Jetty in time for lunch in the Pier Head Café and to buy some basic provisions to take over with me. There is no pub on Lismore and just one shop/post office, which is closed today of course as it’s Sunday.


The regular Ferry was out of service for repairs but a RIB was ferrying foot passengers and bikes on the hour. A 10-minute crossing and I was heading along the single track “Main Road” straight to the Bunkhouse.


If the Bunkhouse looked a bit bleak and basic on arrival, then it was deceiving. Mike the owner is a landscape architect and he built it with very green design features including the untreated timber facades, high levels of insulation, solar power and a green roof. Internally it’s very modern, warm and comfortable. The site itself does appear a bit unloved and actually is a rather bleak. Lucky for me the one stop shop was nearby by for tomorrow. A planned day off to see a bit of this “new” Island.


I’d never heard of Lismore before so a bit about this forgotten Isle.


Lismore today has a population of around 180. It was for centuries closer to 500 and this swelled to over 1,700 in the 1800’s when a fledgling flax industry was established and lime quarrying and burning was expanded to meet the needs of the Industrial Revolution.

The island Boasts history and artefacts from as early as the Bronze Age and has quite a few Brochs of the Iron Age. Surprisingly, given the thousands of Brochs in existence across Scotland, there is no consensus on why they were built or what their purpose was. Despite the similarities of construction, it’s thought they could have been defensive, offensive, communal or status driven. The remains of a Castle also exists that was founded by a Viking Prince called Coeffin. The original structure would have been more timber than stone and it was later rebuilt by the MacDougals of Lorn. When the Vikings arrived in the 8th century, Lismore legend states that they rounded up all the priests and burned them in their own chapel.

A point of interest to me here; the “Vikings” were actually “Norsemen” who were out to raid pillage and steal, or, “Viking” in their own tongue. They would later arrive as Norse Traders and Settlers at which times their fearsome dragon figureheads would be turned inboard to show that they came in peace.

The bounties of the sea and the land have always been the mainstay of life here, much as it remains today. Up until the 1800’s the Runrig System dictated Common Use of land to be shared and worked by the Community for mutual benefit. This ended in the 1800’s and for most of the last 200 years families have survived on small Croft’s, working the land with the help of neighbours during ploughing and harvest times when more than one horse and more strong backs were needed. Most of these families would own one horse and a few cows to sustain them and would raise calves when possible for selling or trading. Many crofts remain today alongside larger more industrially farmed areas.

Then came the Clearances. Around 1840 the Laird, John Campbell of Combie was forced to sell to a wealthy advocate who set out to clear people from the island. Raising sheep was seen as more profitable than Tenants and 10 or more Lismore townships were obliterated in this way with their occupants scattered to the wind. In the words of a local man, testifying at the Napier Commission some 40 years later “First he impoverished us then sent us away one by one till he had all the land to himself”.

Lismorians do not seem at all embittered however. They seems full of energy and at peace with their history which they nurture and promote along with the Gaelic language. It was a very positive visit and I’m glad I came to discover this place.

Lismore to Oban:

It rained all through the night last night but by 7am there was a bit of lighter sky on the horizon, and for now at least it’s stopped.

My easy option today, in case of serious weather or if I’m just feeling wimpy, is a 2 mile ride to the a second Ferry that goes directly to Oban, nearly at the Hostel door. But, given all the effort the Scots have gone to to create the cycle route to Oban, I feel I have to give it another go.


So I was back at the jetty for the 9.15 boat to Port Appin then off south on the NCR78, which so far; I’m currently stopped for the essential tea and cake at Benderloch, is excellent. Again, they have used well surfaced byways, disused rail lines and some forest tracks and linked these with new sections keeping me away from traffic all the way to the river crossing at Connel, just a few miles ahead now.


After the Bridge at Connel, the route turned inland to cross the hills that lie behind Oban and it followed single track lanes weaving through tiny hamlets and farmsteads, all well away from the busy main road.


Resting at the top of one climb, by a farm cottage, an elderly lady came over to chat. She told me that she used to cycle all around here when she was younger and “don’t worry’ she said, “it’s all downhill now into Oban”. Never trust a local! Downhill my foot! Still it wasn’t long before I did start the descent and was quickly into Oban Harbour for a beer and a bite to eat before checking in to the Hostel. No Harpist here today but an old boy with a Fiddle was rattling off some traditional tunes on the quay and seemed to be doing quite well.


I’ve stayed at Oban a few times over the years and it’s a splendid hostel sandwiched between posh hotels, that look pretty similar, but cost an awful lot more. It has great views over the Sound and the Harbour and produces some spectacular sunsets. This evening was no exception.


Initially the hostel was very quiet giving me a chance to do some music practice in the kitchen/ dining area; always great acoustics. But more solo travellers arrived later and then a coach load of German 6th Formers. Peace and quiet? No chance, but the 6th Formers did provide some entertainment as they decided it would be a good idea for them all to go swimming in the Sound as the sun set. Good for them.

Oban to Ardrishaig:

It’s back to the main road today as in truth I’m not feeling 100% and the NCR78 adds about 15 miles onto todays 40 mile route and is, I’m told, equally hilly. I cycled the main road once before; it has some very steep climbs but the traffic is usually pretty light. This proved to be the case today as once I was clear of Oban, I was passed only infrequently, sometimes 5 or 10 minutes between vehicles.

Memory is a strange thing. With most of the routes that I revisit after some years, I seem to remember only the main features, a spectacular view, a cafe or an unusual building for example. I invariably remember the ride as shorter than it actually is as in my mind it only consists of the highlights, all joined up. Today, my mind had clearly flattened out the ride as well. I remembered one of the Lochs on route, I remembered the only village the A816 actually goes through in the first 30 miles, and the only café, which very disappointingly was closed today! I remembered too, quite accurately, the last 14 miles of the ride due to its distinct features, but I’d clearly forgotten that this section contained the worst hills of the tour so far.

Relentless from the off, the hills continued to get steeper and steeper all the way to Kilmartin, which is where I’m writing this up over lunch. You may. be forgiven for thinking these mileages are pretty small, but given the terrain and the equipment I’m carrying, they are more than enough for me. So that’s the worst over for today; I hope. About 14 miles to go to my Hostel at Ardrishaig, most of it off the main road and half of it will be on the Crinnan Canal tow path.


Oh, while I remember, I did take a nasty tumble earlier On the A816 when a lorry passed me on a bend during a long climb. I got too close to the edge and the wheel just slipped off the road throwing me down onto the road. First thing I saw was the lorry’s rear wheels moving away, next thought was “What’s behind it? “. Very luckily for me there was nothing following, so I quickly scrambled up off the road and checked the damage. My elbow took the brunt of it and the knee came a close second. I was bleeding quite heavily from cuts to both areas but no apparent breaks and more importantly no serious damage to my bike, just a bent pedal. I moved on to a safer spot to clean up the cuts and apply antiseptic and plasters and I was ready to move on again. But the thought of what could have been with that lorry shook me a bit.


Ardrishaig to Jura:

Waking up to a glorious morning at the Argyll Backpackers Hostel.


A very quiet and comfortable night but the weather forecast is not looking very good. Rain forecast for next 3 days which is a worry but I hope it won’t be too bad or the Music Festival could be a washout. Especially if like me you’re camping!

Not far to cycle today. I’ll head 16 miles to Tayvallich back along the Crinnan Canal to catch Nicol’s fast RIB direct to Craighouse.

Craighouse is the only village on Jura and it hosts the annual Music Festival in its Village Hall, the Bars of the Hotel and a large Marquis on the foreshore of the Jura Distillery. All of which are close to each other in the small village centre. If it’s not closed down in the 3 years I’ve been away, there’s a good little shop too, run as a cooperative by the islanders. Camping is courtesy of the Hotel and they provide a good toilet/shower facility too. In addition to the Camping and the Hotel, there are always a number if yachts that appear and anchor in the bay.

Jura has 5,000 Deer but under 200 residents. Glastonbury it’s not! But I reckon on a good year numbers can swell to around 500. It should be fun.

Craighouse Jura: 

I made it almost to Tayvallich before the heavens opened and drenched me. Literally just a mile to go, so annoying, but I was soon in the café with hot soup and tea to follow. The RIB arrived on time and it was all aboard for what turned out to be quite a bumpy crossing. Bags are stowed inside the cabin but my bike was tied to the stern rails. Not very well it seems as it was soon loose on the deck and it was too risky to try to rescue it. Luckily, it clung on to a rope and was shaken but undamaged on arrival.

The skies had parted during the crossing and the sun actually shone long enough for me to select a spot and set up camp in what was a pretty soggy foreshore where by the evidence left behind, the deer had been roaming very recently. I went to the Hotel to pay for my stay and as the rain had started once again, I’m now in the pub for a pint, something to eat and a catchup with these notes.

This will be my 6th or 7th time to the Festival that is one of the annual highlights for the Islanders. Not loved by all I’m sure, but most join in and many profit from the business it generates. It is themed toward Traditional and Gaelic music but there is a wide range provided including the more typical Rocky Festival Bands. There “should” be impromptu Open Sessions too but so far, I’ve not seen any of the musicians I’ve met over the years, so I wonder if these will happen.

It’s Friday morning and more tents are arriving with every ferry and the campsite is slowly filling up despite the rain continuing to fall. Several people I’ve met here year on year arrived from the mainland so plenty of catching up to do.

Friday night is the “Locals and Visitors” Concert in the Village hall with some pretty impressive performers as well as some outright amateurs, but mostly it’s a chance to socialise and meet friends old and new. Tables are set out for all and sundry and sitting with strangers is a great way to get to know new people. Friday night also heralds the first of the rock bands playing in the marquee. These go on till about 2am and being in the camping area, there’s no chance of an early night.

Saturday morning and there are various activities and street performances throughout the day, always including something a bit random which this year is the “Indigenous Peoples of Ghana Drum and Dance Band”. The main Concert is also held in the Village Hall and is always a sell-out. This year the joint MC’s are Norris MacIver of Skipinish & Manran fame and local lad turned internationally famous fiddler, Archie McAllister. They kicked the night off and were followed by an up and coming Band called. Assynt and topping the bill was Chris Stout (Fiddle) and Catriona Mackay (Harp).

Craighouse to Ardrishaig:

There were a few Sessions going on after the concert but somehow these weren’t working for me and with Sunday morning still cold and damp, I decided I’d enjoyed it as always but was ready to go. I checked there was a bed for me at the Hostel at Ardrishaig and that Nicol was happy to let me change my RIB booking. I said my goodbyes to friends and to Joan Moran, the tireless founder of the Festivals who this year was very deservedly awarded a place in the Scottish Traditional Music hall of Fame. Promptly at 5PM the RIB set off and I was leaving Jura.

Somehow my wires got a bit crossed. I knew the RIB took an hour to get to Tayvallich but in my head I’d worked out that with an hour and a half ride from Tayvallich I’d arrive at the Hostel at “6.30pm”. Well before dark. In reality it would be 7.30 and very much dark.

I did have my back light, essential once I hit the main roads but my pretty pathetic front light was buried at the bottom of one of the bags. So I’d have to race to get there. Seven fairly hilly miles along Loch Sween, another six on the Crinan Canal towpath then a final two on the main road. I arrived in the dusk after almost exactly one hour cycling and just 10 minutes later it was pitch black. Being there meant a much needed good night’s sleep and a shortened ride tomorrow, both great news given how I was feeling. On my French Rides, I felt stronger as each day’s riding passed, but there’s something about Scottish hills that seem to drain me and I was feeling quite tired by now.

Ardrishaig to Lochranza:

To reach the Isle of Arran from the Kintyre peninsular, you need to use the Claonaig Ferry. The Jetty is only 25 miles from Ardrishaig and it’s a route I know well. A reasonably easy ride down to the Harbour at Tarbert (Not the same one as at the start)


then on to Kennacraig, passing the Terminal where the Car Ferries leave for either Port Askaig, in the north of Islay, or Port Ellen at the southern end. Just after the terminal there’s a minor left-hand turn onto a minor road crossing over the Kintyre Peninsula to Claonaig. I knew that this last 5 miles would take me best part of an hour. It only climbs to just over 400 feet but most of that is in one long grind. So including for a stop in Tarbert for Coffee, Cake and supplies (no shop in Lochranza) I allowed myself three and a half hours overall and made it to the ferry with 25 minutes to spare. A chance to sit and reflect on my journey.



Lochranza is probably my favourite place in Scotland. Arriving there feels like coming home. I know the Hostel Wardens, Natalia and Michaél quite well, so there is always a friendly welcome. I have 3 nights booked here giving me 2 full days to clean my kit, dry, clean and repack my tent and do nothing if I can help it. After that there remains the final climb up around Goat Fell and down to Brodick for the ferry to Ardrossen on the mainland. But Lochranza is where I’ll end this Log with a few photos, I hope you enjoyed the ride. Now to relax for a bit.



STOP PRESS::: All change here in Scotland. During my first day of rest, a high wind weather warning has been issued for tomorrow affecting the Brodick to Ardrossan Ferry from mid-morning latest. Up to 60 MPH winds possible. If I risk staying put in Lochranza tonight, chances are I won’t get off tomorrow (That’s happened to me before) and I’ll miss my train from Glasgow. So there goes my nice relaxing day. I’m off to Glasgow now and will stay at the same hostel I used on the way out. First lesson of Touring, always keep an eye on the weather😡