CTC Tour of the Inner Hebrides

Discussion in 'Member's Travelogues' started by Big T, 16 Jun 2016.

  1. Big T

    Big T Veteran

    Location:
    Nottingham
    For our main holiday in 2015, my wife and I decided on a CTC organised tour of the Inner Hebrides. Here's how it went.

    Day 1
    A long drive from Nottingham to Ardrossan. We left the car at the ferry terminal, unloaded the bikes and joined up with the rest of the 18 strong group, ready to get the ferry to Campbelltown on the Kintyre peninsular. We learned that there was a problem with the boat and that we might not be able to sail that evening. A contingency plan was quickly hatched and it was decided that we would catch the ferry to Arran instead, staying overnight in Brodick, then cycle up to Locharnza to catch the ferry to Kintyre.

    Day 2 Brodick-Islay
    After a short but eventful ride up to Lochranza (one guy in our party snapped his chain on the climb, I lent him my chain tool to fix it). After catching the ferry we crossed the Kyntyre peninsular and caught another ferry from Kennacraig to the island of Islay. On Islay, there was a steep climb away from the harbour and we were on rolling roads towards the west coast of the island. It was raining horizontally, blowing in straight off the Atlantic. I was in shorts but it would be the last time I wore them for the whole holiday. It was mid-May but the temperature was in single figures. We followed the coast road round to Port Charlotte and our digs at Bruchladdich. We were next to the whisky distillery and you could smell and almost taste the whisky. This is the famous Angel's Share, due to the whisky evaporating from the oak barrels.

    Day 3 Islay
    We explored the western end of Islay making our way over to Portnahaven on the far west coast. Over some tough hills and into a fresh wind. We had Elevenses outside the Post Office and were able to watch grey seals basking in the harbour, Back to Port Charlotte for lunch, we did an afternoon loop inland, stopping to do some birdwatching at an inland bird sanctuary near Gruinart.

    Day 4 Islay-Jura-Lochgilphead
    We set off in the rain to ride around the bay to Bowmore for elevenses. After the rain stopped we set off via the wild interior of the island, back over to the east coast, stopping for a late lunch at Ballygrant. We caught the ferry to Jura, making our way over a long climb to Craighouse on the eastern side of the island. The ferry here is a small rib boat that can only take 12 passengers and there were 18 of us. The tour organiser had supposedly arranged for an extra boat to be laid on, to take the rest of us, but the ferryman knew nothing about this. So the ferry departed at 5.30pm with only half our party aboard. The rest of us would have to wait 2 hours for him to cross over to the mainland and return. To save time, we rode 10 miles further up the coast, so that he wouldn't have to travel so far back. Inevitably, as soon as we set off, it started raining again. Whilst waiting for the boat, we sheltered in an old barn, full of sets of antlers, which was somewhat spooky. We eventually caught the ferry at 7.15, didn't land on the mainland until 8.15 and still had a 20 mile ride to the hotel. It was raining again and starting to get dark. Luckily, a few of us had lights, so we stayed together as a group and arrived at the hotel at 9.30. The hotel restaurant had stayed open especially for us and cooked our food whilst we were showering.

    Day 5 Lochgilphead to Oban
    We retraced our route of the previous evening following the Crinnan canal, then turned off along a minor road towards Kilmartin. We then followed an NCN route along the side of Loch Awe, but this involved several 25% gradients, where we had trouble keeping front wheels on the ground. After a gruelling ride, we emerged for afternoon tea at the Robin's Nest cafe in Taynuilt. Another killer climb over the hills to Oban to drop down and catch the 5.30 ferry to Mull.

    Day 6 Craignure- Fionnport-Iona
    We made our way over a long climb from Criagnure to Pennyghael, where we found a cafe selling hot scones and coffee. We tended to split up into small groups on the road and re-assemble at stopping points. We set off again heading west, but kept having to pull over to let coaches through, as it was a single-track road. We came across the home and workshop of a local silversmith, stopping to buy a few presents, then dropped down for a late lunch at Fionnport. We caught the ferry to the holy island of Iona, where we were supposed to be staying at the youth hostel, but we found it full of American students. the hostel manager had got his dates mixed up and we were double-booked. A couple of hours of frantic phone calls and my wife and I managed to secure a room at a Catholic Pilgrims Retreat, as we were one of only 2 married couples in the group. Some of the older members of our party managed to get in at the Monastery, but everyone else had to camp with no washing or cooking facilities. We counted ourselves as very lucky.

    Day 7 Mull
    This was probably the best day of the trip. a dry and sunny day for the most part. We caught the morning ferry from Iona back to Mull, returned to Pennyghael for more hot scones, then climbed over the Ross of Mull and on to the much quieter north coast. This road was an absolute delight, very little traffic and stunning scenery. We stopped for lunch at Salen then turned north for Tobermory. This is a pretty seaside town, where the houses on the sea front are all painted in different colours. It's been made famous by the children's TV programme Balamory, which is filmed here.

    Day 8 Tobermory-Ardnamurchan
    We caught the early morning ferry to Kilchoan on the Ardnamurchan peninsular. We were due to visit the lighthouse, which is the most westerly point on the British mainland. This was 10 miles west of our landing point, but it was raining again, so we set off eastwards, not wanting to do an extra 20 miles in appalling weather. The scenery was wild and desolate. We stopped for Elevenses at the Nadurra Visitor Centre and for lunch at the Salen Jetty tearoom. It rained for the rest of the day and we were glad to get to our overnight stop at Glenuig.

    Day 9
    Today we were supposed to be riding up to Mallaig, over to Skye then finishing the tour at Plockton. However, it was another wet and windy day and I noticed that there was a station 10 miles up the road at Lochailort. So we caught the train back to Glasgow via Fort William. We'd just had enough of the wet and cold. The train ride is quite spectacular, crossing Glennfinnan viaduct ( which is in the Harry Potter films) and climbing up to 1500 feet over Rannoch Moor. We were back in Glasgow by mid afternoon, in Ardrossan by tea time to collect the car and we drove straight back to arrive home at 1am.

    It had been one of the most scenic tours I'd been on, but the weather was not good. The problem is that if you go later in the year, the west coast is blighted by midges. I'd recommend a CTC tour, in spite of the problems we had. It's nice to have all your accommodation taken care of, and to meet and ride with like-minded cyclists.
     
    Last edited: 16 Jun 2016
  2. rugby bloke

    rugby bloke Über Member

    Location:
    Northamptonshire
    Sounds like an eventful trip !! Kudos for putting up with the weather.
     
  3. OP
    OP
    Big T

    Big T Veteran

    Location:
    Nottingham
    Not much choice but to carry on when all your accommodation is pre-booked. You actually get used to the rain after a while and I got plenty of use out of my new Goretex jacket. We heard that the weather was unusually bad for the time of year. Quite a few did drop out along the way. Only 9 of the original 18 made it to Plockton.

    I'd like to go back when the weather is better.
     
    Pat "5mph" likes this.
  4. Appalling weather, cancelled ferries, beds double booked, you did well to salvage some enjoyment from this one. Kudos for the fortitude and I hope you go back and get a better deal next time.
     
    rugby bloke likes this.
  5. Pat "5mph"

    Pat "5mph" A kilogrammicaly challenged woman Moderator

    Location:
    Glasgow
    Well done for sticking to it in spite the (not unusual) bad weather.
    CC Ecosse did the first part of your trip, until Islay, 3 years ago: it was August, it was so stormy that we did a reenactment of the sinking of the Titanic on the ferry :laugh:
     
    Rickshaw Phil likes this.
  6. This was last year?
    Yes the weather was unusually bad in May/June last year.
    Should have gone this year, glorious weather for most of May and early June!
     
  7. Fab Foodie

    Fab Foodie hanging-on in quiet desperation ...

    Am taking notes .... am doing the OH end July ....
     
  8. galaxy

    galaxy Über Member

    Even with bad weather I wish I was there. Excellent trip
     
  9. Cranky Knee Girl

    Cranky Knee Girl Über Member

    Location:
    N Somerset
    Great write up! Wishing I'd seen this write up before our similar trip last year.

    We managed to miss all the glorious weather in May/June 2016 and had similar weather to you for our fortnight. Our car was in Ardrossan and we did a big loop.out to Outer Hebrides too, and our escape plans were trains at various points. Fortunately we didn't have to use them.

    In spite of the weather it was fantastic, aching to go back and explore everywhere in more depth like you did. We pre booked all accommodation, and decided that was good. No being wishy washy in bad weather, but we were incredibly fortunate that all our dozen plus ferries ran on time. The cancellations were when we were on outer Isles. No problems with any double booking of accommodation either, we were so lucky!
     
    Big T likes this.
  10. Pat "5mph"

    Pat "5mph" A kilogrammicaly challenged woman Moderator

    Location:
    Glasgow
    I'm doing Lochgilphead to Oban in June, with @User46386 and with @flyingfifi who made the route.
    Hopefully she left the 25% gradients off the route :smile:
    I know that the CTC (Cycling UK now) like the hilly Sustrains NCN: more often than not there is a perfectly good parallel almost flat road :whistle:
     
  11. Cranky Knee Girl

    Cranky Knee Girl Über Member

    Location:
    N Somerset
    Dream on...they're still there!
     
    Pat "5mph" likes this.
  12. OP
    OP
    Big T

    Big T Veteran

    Location:
    Nottingham
    There is a flatter alternative to the Loch Awe route, but it involves a bit of main road riding. When we did it, our 18 strong group split in 2, the older, more sensible ones went the flat way, whereas the foolish younger ones opted for the hilly route.

    I got conned into going with the younger ones, though most were still in their 30's and 40's.
     
    Pat "5mph" likes this.
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