12 December 2012

Western Scotland and Isles tour day 2: Kildonan (Arran) to Crinan

I had a very good night's sleep, if a bit too warm at times. The sleeping bag (rated to -10C!) had proven way too warm, so ended up using it as a duvet sort of thing... The wind had died down by 6 am, when I woke up, and I was gifted with a beautiful morning down at the campsite. However, no wind, and warmth, in Scotland equals midges!

Morning Arran!
I had been warned, many times, of these little buggers. But this was the very first time that I had seen them, so fearing that they would start eating me, I quickly applied some of the products that other cyclists recommended (Skin So Soft).

By 8:30 am I was all packed up and ready to set off for the day. Lucy's camera was playing up, and one of the batteries was already gone, despite both having been fully charged the day before. Great. I have not brought the charger and I am only on day 2...and where on the Scottish isles am I going to find a charge that suits her batteries? Oh well, I had no choice now.

Low tide at Kildonan
Just before getting on my bike, I met another couple who were travelling in a little van from Yorkshire. Funnily enough, they had been doing the same route as me, and their plans were similar, with about the same mileage. I asked them to wave at me if they saw me on the roads, wished them a good trip and off I went round the coast.

After Kildonan bay, I had to climb back up to get on to the A841. By 10 am I arrived in Blackwaterfoot, my original stop for the day before, where I spotted a rather large group of people looking totally pissed at the local pub. I looked at my watch and confirmed that it was still minutes past 10 am! How can you be drunk so early?

The road to Lochranza
From here on the road undulated until I got back to sea level. It was completely quiet and really scenic. Without pressing on that much, I made it to Lochranza by 11 am. My ferry was only due at noon, so went into town, had a look around and ended up at a café having a hot drink.

Shore near Lochranza

Nice café
While waiting at the café eating some local produce, I saw a couple of road cyclists going anticlockwise. It really is not that far from Glasgow, so I suppose you could technically come to Arran for a day? Other than those guys and a couple of Dutch cyclists, I had not seen many other cyclists, yet.

This kind of ferry crossing is common in the West of Scotland
I was the only cyclist on the ferry, along with a few other cars. Once back on the mainland (Clonaig), I started the climb on the road 78, and looked behind a couple of times. The views were amazing, and despite some traffic due to the ferry crossing, they all seemed courteous and gave me plenty of room to pass on the narrow road, even stopping if necessary.

When I joined the A83, traffic became a little busier as it is the main road from Campbeltown. However, it was nicely paved and wide, so I made good progress and got to Tarbet in no time. I recall reading that that was a town worth visiting, and given that the sun was shinning, I diverted a little and had a look around to find a souvenir thimble to add to my mum's collection.

At Tarbert, still rather warm and dry
While eating some food by the port, another cyclist came around. He was doing a two-day trip, staying at B & Bs, covering quite a lot of miles, and carrying one little pannier only. Another way of touring!

Back on the road and soon on to the road 78 that goes around the peninsula, I enjoyed quite a scenic few miles. Nearly no traffic, but despite what I had read on travel forums, the road does not actually quite follow the seaside, but goes inland so the views are rather limited.  However, once I got past Kilberry, it all became clear of trees and the views were fantastic. The Isle of Jura was clearly visible a few miles in the background.

On road 78, the Isle of Jura in the background

Route 78
A bit of wildlife!
There was a nice campsite at Kilberry, according to a holidaymaker I found on the road, but it was still too early and I wanted to carry on enjoying a nice ride in the warmth and sun. I had already covered up 100 km, and was feeling fresh.

Leaving Loch Caolisport on my left, I climbed some 250 m of steep road. The downhill back down to the A83 was amazing, really fast, and with a nice tarmac. Once on the A83, I pressed on to Lochgilphead, some sort of big-ish town (for this part of the world standards) where I briefly pulled into the local campsite. By the looks of it, I was quickly put off - lots of caravans, noise, kids. Not my type. Got some extra water for the night and carried on North along the A83. 

I then joined the B841 (a part of the National Cycle Route 1 apparently) and follow a canal towpath. I kept my eyes open for possible wild camp spots, but could not seem to find many at this point.

Eventually, by 7 pm, I entered a wooded area that looked nice for the night. Put up my tent before it got dark, cooked some food and sealed up my tent: the midges were out! After a short phone call with Lucy, and some journal writing, I soon fell asleep with the sound of some sort of rave going on in the background...

Somewhere near Crinan, looking for a camp spot

Wild-camping for the night
I wanted to press on to Oban on the following day, so aimed for an early start on day 3.

The stats were as below:

Odometer: 137 km
Max Speed: 54 km/h
Time pedalling: 7h 38 min
Time not pedalling: 1h 35 min
Moving average speed: 18 km/h


  1. Hi Alberto, I've done the Arran to Oban route a few times, and will be going that way again during a tour next month. I'd be interested to know where you found to wild camp near Crinan. I recognise the long straight road in your photo but can't remember seeing any woodland areas along it. Would you be able to pinpoint it for me please? Cheers Andy Pritchard

  2. Hi Andy. I don't recall the exact spot, but basically, as you go up the B8025 heading North, there's a some wooded areas (http://goo.gl/maps/qx3Xv). I believe I took one of the lanes that come off of it, then walked a bit into the woods. Nice spot but beware of the midges on a still, damp night!!! Enjoy your trip

    1. Thanks Alberto, I've had a look on streetview and I think I know the spot. I'll be trying the "Smidge" cream this year so hopefully that will keep the blighters at bay. I'm doing a long trek all round Scotland..... heading off via Oban to the Outer Hebrides, then back to mainland and round the coast to Orkney, then down to Edinburgh. Have enjoyed reading all your blogs and looking at your photos. I hope to wild camp as much as possible, and your website is very inspiring. Can't wait to get started. Cheers mate.

    2. Sounds amazing! We'll try to get the rest of our Outer Hebrides tour posts up as soon as we can but any questions about that we are happy to help! For wild camping in the Outer Hebrides I think we learned that if the map shows a beach, there is probably some machair just next to it that is perfect for camping. And several of the ones we went to had public toilets as well, which was a bonus!

    3. Thanks, its great that you are enjoying riding in Scotland, my favourite part of the country. I'll be following your example by travelling up to Glasgow early one Saturday morning next month, then riding via Crinan and hoping to get over to Barra on the Sunday ferry. My plan is to make steady progress up to the top of Lewis in around a week or so, and I'll probably follow your lead by camping behind the beaches on the machair as I go. That will be my relaxing week, cos I've then got 2 weeks of big hills (fully loaded) between Ullapool, Cape Wrath and Orkney and then later over the Cairngorms before heading on to Edinburgh and then down to Newcastle. I'm expecting to have my best time on the Hebrides exploring with no particular schedule so will look forward to reading your updates soon. If you have any cool suggestions of where to camp, where to eat and what to see, then let me know. Cheers, Andy.

  3. Yep, Scotland is fantastic - would go back over and over again. Nice tour you have planned Andy. Best thing is not to be on a super tight schedule and make plans as you go along. That worked very well for me in my solo tour in September, where I took advise from other tourer that I met enroute. Bealach Na Bas pass is a must too, especially in good weather! As Lucy said, wild camping is very easy in the Hebrides. As for food, the local smoked salmon is delicious (this is coming from someone who loves fish!) as is the cheeses. The place we described in South Uist served great food and large portions, then the chocolate factory in Stornaway is superb, as is the smokehouse near the ferry terminal (try the smoked cheddar, again superb). Damn, I want to go back! I did not try smidge, but skin so soft lotion worked great.