Carlisle to Fort William

Discussion in 'Touring and Adventure Cycling' started by shirokazan, 10 May 2010.

  1. shirokazan

    shirokazan Veteran

    OK, one week on, I think I've recovered from my trek around SW Scotland. It was 10 days of B&Bs, youth hostels, and camping (including my first night of wild camping) and managed to complete 15 BCQ sites.

    The weather was mostly cloudy and chilly but the roads were impressively quiet especially in Galloway.

    Day 1: Train to Carlisle. No cycling of note.

    Day 2: Carlisle to Dumfries via Langholm, Lockerbie and Thornhill. Most notable climb was through Ae to Loch Ettrick. B&B. 87 miles.

    Day 3: Dumfries to Newton Stewart via the Solway Coast. Fairly flat thankfully. A shortish slog up to Cairn Holy. Youth hostel. 77 miles.

    Day 4: Circular route from Newton Stewart via Luce Bay, Kirkmadrine Stones, Portpatrick, Stranraer and New Luce. Only technical issue of the trip: chain kept jumping off, solved using a knife (as a screwdriver) and an allen key to adjust the eccentric bottom bracket. Youth hostel. 82 miles.

    Day 5: Newton Stewart to Girvan via Glen Trool and Loch Doon. A lot of time spent with visibility down to 50m at times. Still, what I did see was impressive: Bruce Stone, Loch Doon castle. Horrible forest road past Loch Riecawr: had to walk for large sections. First soaking as I was caught in a torrent approaching Dailly. Brilliant hotel: 4 poster bed! Empty bottle of Buckie in the town square: must be in Ayrshire. 67 miles.

    Day 6: Girvan to Lochranza. After the Electric Brae, fairly flat cycling along NCN 7 and NCN 73 to Ardrossan. On Arran, a stiff climb over to Lochranza. Youth hostel. 77 miles.

    Day 7: Lochranza to somewhere south-west of West Tarbert. Tough day. I was about to set off from the youth hostel to catch the first ferry to Claonaig: "Going to Campbeltown? There's quite a few 1 in 7 climbs on that road," said the man in the reception area, fondly recalling a bike ride of twenty years earlier. And he wasn't joking: the B842 doesn't take any prisoners. For some reason, in spite of this, and the cloud and poor visibility on the way to Campbeltown, I decided to carry on to the Mull of Kintyre. I can only warn that the last 5 miles were hell. I had to really push hard to walk the bike up the hill in places. From sea level up to about 370m and then a spectacular drop to the Mull. Though I didn't bother descending the whole way. Visibility was down to about 50m at the top but improved to around 200-300m when I walked down to about 200m above sea level. At this point, I saw the Chinook memorial and the lighthouse below but the wind suddenly picked up, the rain started and it was definitely time to leave. I then virtually flew back to Campbeltown (and dryness) and with the wind behind me pushed up the coast. Ran out of daylight and wild-camped somewhere between Kennacraig and West Tarbert. The rain started again in earnest. 97 miles.

    Day 8: South-west of Tarbert to Inverary. Lord, I was cold on that ferry across to Portavadie. Still, warmed up after climbing up to Millhouse. Warming cup of coffee and cake at Castle Lachlan. Easyish journey around the top of Loch Fyne and arrived very early at the youth hostel. 54 miles.

    Day 9: Inverary to Craignure. Another easy day with only one slow climb, the haul out of Inverary. A85 was OK until the bit between Connel and Oban. Oban felt weird: a heaving metropolis in comparison to the small villages that had dominated the previous few days. Camping (on a site). 38 miles.

    Day 10: Craignure to Tobermory. Fairly easy day overall. Chucked it down at Salen but took refuge for 45 mins in a bus shelter. Glen Aros was pleasantly quiet, but the climb out of Dervaig was a killer followed by another a few miles further down the road towards Tobermory. Youth hostel. 37 miles.

    Day 11: Tobermory to Fort William via Ardnamurchan Point, Strontian and Loch Shiel. Strong easterly wind. was hard going at times as I came back from the Point. The road from Strontian to Polloch was tarmacked (with a very steep descent down to Loch Doilet) but after Polloch it was about 10-15 miles of forest track along Loch Shiel. The quality wasn't bad but it meant that I didn't see much of the view as I was too busy concentrating on finding the smoothest, least hazardous route along the forest track. The A830 was fine with no real traffic until I got to Corpach and the Fort William conurbation. B&B. 80 miles.

    Overall, I think SW Scotland is a real gem of quiet roads. Good job most folks overlook it in favour of the Highlands and Islands!
  2. Crackle

    Crackle Squatter

    That sounds excellent. I know some of those climbs, glad to know I'm not the only one who finds them tough.
  3. killiekosmos

    killiekosmos Über Member

    It's called your Dailly Buckie :smile:
  4. HJ

    HJ Cycling in Scotland

    Auld Reekie
    SWMBO has started making noises about cycling the Mull of Kintyre over a long weekend, this is getting me worried... :smile:
  5. Crankarm

    Crankarm Guru

    Nr Cambridge
    Is she likely to put your cycling abilities to shame :smile:?
  6. toroddf

    toroddf Guest

    I have done that Claonaig to Campbeltown road myself on a bike and it is the hardest road in Scotland I have ever done. I have heard only the Lochinver coastal road and the Applecross peninsula up in the north is harder than this road.

    The difference between the east coast and the west coast of Kintyre could not be bigger. That's why I will do it again sometimes in August. Just a 2-3 days long tour over Arran t/r from Glasgow.

    I loved the Northern Loop of Mull over Calgary Bay which you did on day 10. I had a magic night there which I will never forget.

    You had a great tour. I hope mine will be as good as yours.
  7. OP

    shirokazan Veteran

    I did the Lochinver road (the one that goes through Drumbeg) in 2007 with virtually the same load as this time. It had some nasty gradients in it but I don't recall it being so bad. This might be because Claonaig to Campbeltown is 29 miles, whereas I'm sure the Drumbeg road is shorter.

    Absolutely. The A83 is mostly flat until you get north of Clachan. I had the benefit of a south-easterly wind pushing me along for a substantial part of it. And it was quiet (though this maybe because it was between 6pm and 8.30pm)

    Actually I didn't get around to Calgary Bay as I went from Salen to Dervaig via an unclassified road up Glen Aros. Next time maybe...

    I'm sure yours will have its highlights too.
  8. toroddf

    toroddf Guest

    Interesting that you rate Claonaig to Campbeltown worse than Lochinver. In that case, I have not much to fear from the Applecross peninsula.
    Thanx for your piece of useful info. You have been a great morale booster.

    I would rate the west coast up past Clachan as the finest coastal road in Scotland. My jaw dropped down to the tarmac all the way up this road due to the f a n t a s t i c views over to Ireland, Islay, Gigha and the very impressive Paps Of Jura. I was also trying to race the ferry coming from Port Ellen........ and lost the race due to those hills before Kennacraig.

    Btw. Islay is a fine one day long detour. Mostly due to the ferry to and from Islay. I did Islay exactly two years ago to this day.

    In short; the Kintyre peninsula is grossly underrated. And so is Isle Of Mull. A repeat of both are on my schedule for the next 15 months.
  9. If you mean the road around the outside of the mull of kintyre (ie the west coast) it is nothing like as hard as the lochinver coast road and the applecross coast road.
  10. toroddf

    toroddf Guest

    The west coast is totally (wonderfully) flat for many, many miles. The reason for the dropped jaw is the scenery and the views which is out of this world.

    The road I was referring to is the east coast of Kintyre from Claonaig to Campbeltown. The one that faces Arran. Believe me, this one is hard. In particular after the crossroad to Carradale. There is hardly a flat piece of tarmac between Carradale and Campbeltown. Most of it is 10 degrees up and down.

    When that is said, the views along this road is brilliant. Arran is really, really impressive from this road. That is why I will do it again later this summer.
  11. OP

    shirokazan Veteran

    It's difficult to decide which is the hardest.

    Applecross Peninsula (July 2006):
    I did this on my audax bike with only a medium/large saddlebag and mudguards (!) to weigh me down. On the Bealach na Ba ascent, I had to stop a few times to allow traffic through and to give my muscles opportunities to recover but I didn't actually walk any part of it. With my touring bike and a full load it would have involved significant walking. I don't recall the rest of the peninsula being too troublesome but it may just be that the passage of time has eroded those memories.

    B869, Drumbeg Road (May 2007):
    Yes, this was tough especially on the first stretch between the junction with the A894 and Drumbeg. Being on my fully-laden touring bike, I had to walk a handful of times. Heading south, there was a wonderful descent down towards Rhicarn with superb views of Canisp and Suilven.

    B842, Claonaig to Campbeltown (April 2010):
    As toroddf says, this is the east coast road facing Arran: the west coast road (A83) only has one hill (at Glenbarr) that I can recall between Campbeltown and Clachan. Between Clachan and Tarbert there is some climbing to do, to get over the central "spine" of the Kintyre peninsula but nothing too difficult. Anyhow, practically the same bike/load as the Drumbeg Road ride and probably just as hard if not more so. However, on reflection, I'm riding less these days over the winter, so that, combined with being three years older, must mean I have less leg strength than back in 2007, which obviously would make things tougher.

    At some point in the future, I'm looking forward to getting to Gairloch on the A832: it looks like a challenging road.
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