19 December 2012

Western Scotland and Isles tour day 3: Crinan-Oban-Fionnphort (Mull)

I was awake and eating some breakfast by 6:30 am, after yet another wet and cold-ish night. I got around the packing relatively quickly, although I was still unsure what goes into each pannier...I should get better at this I thought!

Eventually set off minutes past 8 am. The roads were damp and it was completely overcast, yet it was not too cold. Actually, it was perfect for riding, with temperatures around 12-15C. I soon got back on to the A816 that goes all the way up to Oban. As I was approaching it, I saw a loaded cycle tourist coming from the South. When I caught up with him I realised it was Phil, who I've travelled with on our way to Arran.

A816 towards Oban
Phil had been taking it easy as his ferry bound for Barra, in the Outer Hebrides (and our next destination!) was not running on the day he thought it would be...He stayed overnight in Lochgilphead, at the dreadful campsite I'd seen the day before. Together we made good progress, although because he was carrying even more weight than I was, he got dropped out on all the hills. I did not mind this, and waited for him at the top.

The A816 was surprisingly quiet, and very very pleasant. The tarmac was superb! The Scots really know how to keep their (few) roads in good condition! The scenery was superb, but I was feeling a bit hungry. In a tiny village called Kilmelford we pulled over. The café was nice, but it was still too early and they were not serving food or drinks yet, so the only other option was the Cuilfail Hotel. 

The landlady accommodated us (she even made me porridge!), and for a fiver (i.e. 5 pounds) we got a continental breakfast that was much appreciated. With energy levels repleted, we carried on on the undulating A816. As the km past, I learnt that Phil was quite an interesting character. Not only he had and still works with helicopters (aviation and all things that fly are one of my other passions, but I will leave that out, for now!), but he was also an experienced mountaineer! Amongst his numerous trips, those that seemed to stand out included Bolivia and Nepal, which are both top on my to-do list. 

Nice scenery along the A816 (courtesy of Phil Parker)
It was good to have Phil to cycle with to Oban. Although I do enjoy solo cycling, I always try and make conversation with other cyclists - and sometimes it pays off! I got good advice from Phil, and promised to keep in touch, given our future plans of cycling in South América. Without really noticing, and after a quick descent down to sea level, we made it to Oban. It was 11:30 am.

Lucy's camera batteries had been playing up, and so I thought that Oban would probably be my last resource to find a suitable charger. We cycled past an electronic shop, which looked quite messy from the outside, but which, to my surprise, stocked a Chinese-made universal charge. Even more surprisingly was to find the owner speaking in fluent Spanish on the phone! Funnily enough, as it has happened already more than 10 times since I moved to the UK, she thought I was Scottish!!!

Well, I am convinced this is due to people not understanding a word of what I am saying, specially if tired. But it gave me a boost! Perhaps, after all, I have got ride of that Spanish accent that we all have at some point?

The Isle of Mull in the background, from Oban
Once at the ferry terminal, Phil and I got our respective tickets. I would go to the Isle of Mull, while he was taking the long ferry crossing to Barra. I really was tempted to change my plans and go with him, as the Outer Hebrides beckoned, but eventually decided to stick to my original plans and return with Lucy soon. My ferry was not due until 2:00 pm, and so I had plenty of time to have a spin around town.


Oban port
I followed the road 78 to the North of Oban, until it run out. There, with the sun out, I made a quick brew and dried all my kit for 30 min. It was such nice weather in Oban that I even thought of delaying my crossing to  Mull a bit more...specially since I knew the weather was not as nice on the island.

Drying the kit in the sun, near Oban
Just before I got on the ferry, I could not resist and bought an smoked salmon sandwich. Really, the best one I've had. If you happened to be in Oban, and like salmon, you have to have one of those!

That was quite a lot of smoked salmon!
In Mull things were a little different. Rain was hammering down upon arrival, and it was windy, thus the lack of more pictures. With all my wet gear on, I spent some time trying to decide which route to take. On the one hand it was the A849 towards Tobermory. On the other, if I made a left turn, I could reach as far as Fionnphort and perhaps the Isle of Iona?

Decisions, right to Tobermory, or left to Fionnphort?
The weather was truly horrendous in Craignure, but I had heard many good things of this island, that I thought it would be a waste not to circumnavigate it, in two days. I asked in the local shop about the road and its lumpiness. The local said it was ok. I had a piece of cake and got ready. So there I was, pedalling towards Fionnphort, in the wind and heavy rain.

The road was really scenic, but it had a little problem I was not aware of before I set off. The isle of Iona is a  tourist magnet, and because it is within reach of Oban as a day trip (by bus, that is!), plenty of tourists get on buses to go visit it. The road is narrow, but has plenty of passing places along it. At some point, after the thirteenth bus headed for Craignure had gone past, I gave up counting them. 

Rain stopped for 30 s, and I shot away. On my way to Fionnphort
If you intend to visit this part of the world, I would encourage to avoid the "tourist bus" rush hour. Surely, the go there in the morning, and return at about 5 pm, which is when I was in the middle of my route to Fionnphort. Apart from that, the road was beautiful, despite the persistent crap weather.

The rain/wind started to get in to one of my eyes. The glasses did not seem enough, and so plenty of water and a combination of sweat and dirt coming from my hair/helmet, seemed to be making their way straight into my right eye. I cannot tell you how unpleasant (not to say painful!) this was, but I really felt miserable. I cycled most of the remaining 30-40 km with only my left eye opened. Until the same happened to my left eye.

Dusk was approaching and the weather did not seem to want to improve. It was time to turn all the lights on, and just keep bloody pedalling to Fionnphort. I was making very slow progress, and had already given up on catching the last ferry to Iona. Not that I really wanted to visit this island, but at some point I thought it could be cool to camp there?

Bus sheltering away from the rain and wind
When I got the intersection with the B3035, the road to Loch Na Keal, I got into a random bus shelter that had been put there just for me. Oh well, it turns out it is also a famous shelter in local Scottish audaxes. So I made use of it. I simply rested. I was so miserable, pretty much blind in the right eye, and soon on the left. I wanted to call Lucy for some moral support, but my mobile had no reception.

Ate a chocolate bar whilst shivering in the shelter overlooking the mountains. Back on the road, I had another 30 or so km to Fionnphort. Mull was proving challenging, and bigger than I had anticipated! I just pressed on, only with one functioning eye, and told myself to apply rule number 5. I really thought it would have been a nice ride on a dry day, but this was getting to my nerves, and it was getting quite dark. 

The glasses were not doing me any good, so took them off eventually. The last few km to the campsite, which of course, was not in Fionnphort itself but in Fidden, were painful, into a very strong southerly wind. 
I was glad I reached the reception by 7 pm, totally shattered, shivering and ready for some hot food and sleep. 

Now, the other problem. The wind. It was surely blowing to at least 80 km/h. I asked the landlady if I could pitch behind some rocky formations near the reception, but she said that it was not allowed as it was someone else's propertiy. So there I was, with a few tents blown away already, in the campsite, at dark, trying to find a pitch that was a bit sheltered. I had no idea if my Wild Country Zephyros 1 tent could cope with the Scottish weather... I could not see any standing tents, either.

Luckily though, there were some caravans, and one of them said it was ok to pitch near them if I needed to. They surely saw me a bit desperate. Quickly pitched my tent and rushed to the toilet block, where I had one of the most pleasant showers I remember... As I was leaving the toilet to the comforts of my tent, the caravan owners I had just spoken to, brought me a massive flask of boiling water! I was so grateful for that, as it meant not faffing with the stove in the wild weather!

The following morning
I made a double pot of cous-cous, tea and went back to the toilet block to check on my eye. It did not look good - it was quite inflammed and perhaps about to get an infection. Unfortunately, I confirmed on the GPS that there were no pharmacies nearby that I could go to in the morning...the nearest one was in Tobermory, and that looked quite far away. To my surprise, also, on this campsite I met up with the couple from Yorkshire, who invited me to their tiny caravan to some tea... I had to refuse. I was in no state to engage in any conversation, so told them I would have it in the morning, and went to sleep, in the crazy winds and rain that Mull had prepared for me.

I just only hoped that my eye allowed me to continue on the following morning, and that wind/rain had calmed down in a few hours.

The stats for the day:

- Odometer: 120.4 km
- Average speed: 17 km/h
- Moving time: about 7 hours
- Max speed: 60 km/h


  1. What a wonderful blog you've got here and an fantastic trip too. I'm planning for rib trip oban when I get to visit Scotland. Any thoughts that you can share for me? Thanks.

  2. Thanks for your comment and glad you like the blog. If you have time, I would recommend not only going to the Isle of Mull, but also to the Outer Hebrides. We visited those islands back in Easter and had a great time. Food wise, the salmon is very tasty and cheap for UK standards, especially if you can get it from one of the many amateur salmon smokers that you will find in some towns. Look of for their signs on the houses! Also, I would avoid going in the summer proper, as both the number of tourists and midges can make for a rather unpleasant time, especially if on a bike and camping out. Good luck!