Some four months ago I decided it was time for a nice bikepacking trip again. I had some time in June and figured Scotland would offer the best mix of remoteness, scenery and culture. Scotland is easy to reach with planes flying from the Netherlands to Glasgow, and in June temperatures would be just fine. Having already done a trip through the Highlands, I decided my route should focus more on the Scottish Islands instead. The last time I was in Scotland, one year ago, I found out light weight is bliss. I trimmed down my gear list to include the following items:
Handlebar bag (Ortlieb pd350 13l dry bag in a diy harness)
Tent (Eureka Moonshadow Solo xp)
Matress (ThermArest NeoAir Xtherm Large)
Saddle Bag (Ortlieb pd350 13l dry bag in a diy harness)
Sleeping bag (Cumulus LiteLine 400)
One pair of socks
Two portions freeze dried food
Frame bag (made with love by girlfriend)
Three portions of freeze dried food
Parts (tyre patches, tie wraps, brake pads, bolts, lubricant)
Toiletries (biosoap, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant)
Stove (MSR Pocket Rocket)
Book (Herman Koch, The Diner, travel edition)
Pan )/(Optimus Terra Solo)
Coffee and tea
1,5 L bottle water
Stuffed away in pockets and on belt:
Coming from a pannier style of cycle touring, I was rather pleased with this set-up. I used the ortlieb dry bags because they are really cheap and durable, the harnesses I made myself, and the frame bag was made by my girlfriend. On the Gear page I will explain how. The following is a travel report I wrote during the trip.
Day 1: Glasgow Airport – Arran
[Ardrossan] It is quarter to three and the ferry from Ardrossan to Arran will leave in 30 minutes. I am pleased with this, as I am pretty weary. Spending the night at Amsterdam Airport took its toll, and taking a bike on a plane always is a hassle. In Paisley, near the airport, I buy some stuff at Summit Outdoor store, where I leave a bag with things I don’t need (flight bag and wrench for my pedals) The people I met so far were gentle, but the area I covered appeared a bit run-down.
[Glen Rosa] The ferry to Arran was fun, passing a rusty lighthouse with the Island being obscured by the low clouds in the background. I feel a desire to call my dad, to tell him about what I experience. I sit down, I cry. The island is beautiful, green slopes reaching all the way to the sea. In Broddick I buy a bottle of beer which I drink in Glen Rosa, where I have my wild camp. It is pretty valley with a nice little river, the midges leave me alone, all is well.
Day 2: Arran – Loch Awe
[Jeeptrack towards Carron bothy] I left this morning from Glen Rosa. A local advised me not to do the coastal path past Laggan cottage, so I opt for the main road north instead. This turns out to be strenuous as it is, but very scenic. I took the ferry to Claonaig (Kintyre), here the sun is shining and I say goodbye to the Australian-Canadian cycle tourist I met on the ferry. In a place called Skipness I buy a sandwich and coffee before I continue my route north to Tarbert, via the Kintyre Way, a hiking trail. The going is tough and there was some hike-a-bike involved until a decent track used by the Forestry brought me down again. This way I reached Tartbert, where I did some restocking. The road (A83) to Lochgilphead was quite dull, but from there I followed the Crinan Canal, very scenic, and best of all; flat. Via nice backroad I reached Kilmartin, and via another nice backroad I reached Loch Awe. I couldn’t reach Carron bothy, the path towards the shelter went up and my morale went down. I yielded when I reached the foot of yet another climb. I put up my tent by the side of road, got myself fed and washed and called it a day. The moment I tucked in I saw a little swarm of midges outside my tent, wishing me goodnight.
Day 3: Loch Awe – Oban
[Ford] I am just underway when an overwhelming feeling of pride hits me. I realize that for too long I wanted others to be proud of me, my father above all. Of course I knew that wasn’t right. Still the fact that he told me he was proud of me when I graduated from university not long ago and not long before he passed away, comforts me.
[Oban] Bottles of beer start at 650 ml here in Scotland. I am enjoying the last sun of the day on the quay of Oban and cannot help but feeling like an alcoholic. The midges of last night were present this morning, in full force. I have never broke up camp so fast. I ate breakfast in a little village where I also readjusted my rear derailleur. With a bike that finally shifted smooth I continued past Loch Awe. At the head of the loch I took a forest track that lead me south of Loch Nant. The beautiful forest I crossed sometimes was marked by deforestation, but that seems unavoidable. The path deteriorated but remained doable with my 2.1 inch tyres. I cycled through a lovely glen and came out on the other end, just south of Oban. A sweeping descent brought me in the idyllic little town, where a waitress gave me the best beer I have ever tasted. The size of the bottle was of little concern to me, at that point.
Day 4: Oban – Fionnphort (Mull)
[Mull south of Fionnphort] Yesterday I opted for the Youth Hostel. I shared a room with two Frenchmen and German. The German was fat and old, and it took him a quarter of an hour to get in his bunkbed. I offered help and the kind sir responded with a friendly “Fuck You!”. The noise he produced can’t classify as snoring, his farts were even louder than his snoring but somehow couldn’t overpower his bodily odours. I wished I was in my tent, midges or not. Today is Friday and a local discouraged me to head east already, for there would be a lot of Glaswegians in the Loch Lomond area. Besides, I reckoned the islands would get more wind, driving the midges away. I decide to go to Mull today, and spend the night on that island. On the ferry I see a pretty girl with a bike and a Royal Mail vest. Of course she wore it for its fluorescent properties exclusively, but I couldn’t resist: “Royal Mail is pretty hard core these days!” We end up talking and when I tell her I want to camp on a quiet beach she tells me go to the South-Western tip of the Island. I follow her advice and cycle a beautiful but wet road to the end of the world. I put up my tent on a patch of grass overlooking my private lagoon, it is a magical place. It rains a little but still midges are motivated to do me harm, so I hide in my tent. Not long afterwards a little breeze comes up and I dare venture out. I bath myself in the sea and have a coffee. To be able to do this for myself gives me a great sense of control. Washed and fed I snug in.
Day 5: Fionnphort – Oban
[Fionnphort] After a breakfast in dry weather and with a perfect view, I pack my stuff. The weather is grey and predicts rain. I arrive in the little hamlet of Fionnphort just in time to see the bus leave. I do not wish to cycle my way back to the ferry, for that would mean doing the same road I did yesterday, though now with a headwind. I spend some time in the little tea room and speak with a local (“Global warming is fake, my son is a scientist and he says it is fake. The North is moving south and so is the ice. Kids killed my dog.”). Behind the counter is tired looking woman. She might have been the prettiest girl in her class, but now looks like past glory. Though the old Scottish locals do not seem to notice and flirt with her anyways.
[Oban youth hostel] It is half past one when the next bus arrives. The female bus driver allows me to but my bike in the baggage compartment. There are only two other persons in the bus and I take a seat close to the driver. She has lived her whole live in Scotland and knows a lot. When we pass a deforested patch of land she tells me the wood has been harvested about 10 years ago. To me it looks like yesterday, never guessed that such areas stay ugly for so long. I ask the bus driver a lot, I hope she doesn’t mind. Back in Oban it is still raining. I once again stay in the youth hostel, it cannot be worse than my last experience, I reckon. The goal Russia made against England has been received in Oban pubs with cheers of joy.
Day 6: Oban – Gorton bothy
[Gorton bothy] Today was a heavy day. Beautiful but heavy. From Oban I took Glen Lonan eastwards. Here I meet Peter. I know him from a Dutch cycle forum and I knew he was in Oban too. I cycle onwards, do a short section of busy A road and then head for a jeep track on the south side of Loch Etive. It is beautiful path often towering high above the lake. From the loch the track heads to Glen Kinglass. I check out Narrachan bothy, which isn’t more than a shed. It has a door and a roof, but no floor. It was still too early anyways. Past the lodge the track becomes obscure. I clearly see rather fresh tyre tracks in the mud but cycling here is impossible for me, I am a lesser god. For two hours I walk, but it is a pleasant walk. It is dry, and I have plenty of time and food. I decide to erect my tent but then the wind tones down and the midges started dancing out of pure joy. I push through to Gorton bothy, where I arrive at nine o’clock. Outside the wind is blowing again. But I am inside, and that is quite nice.
Day 7: Gorton bothy – Glasgow
[Glasgow youth hostel] I took it easy today. I left the Bothy at ten, after having had a nice breakfast by the fire. The clouds hang low and produce a drizzle. After the jeep track I follow the A road south. It is wet and busy, and the cars drive really fast. Solitude becomes loneliness and am not in a mood to cycle towards another bothy. In Tyndrum I opt for the train to Glasgow. In Glasgow it is the youth hostel again. I sleep well but decide to take a private room for my last night.
Day 8: Glasgow
[Glasgow youth hostel] In the park in Glasgow I see a man walking his dog. The dog has a stick, lays it on the ground and when his boss almost arrives the dog picks up his stick and walks away triumphant. Smart dog. Glasgow was nice, a bit of a mess but charming still. European city centres all look alike though, the big chains are everywhere. Tomorrow I’ll be flying back to the Netherlands after I collect a bike box from Dooley’s, a bike shop near the airport. I often experience high highs and low lows when I am on a trip alone, and this week was no exception. It has been a great trip and now I am looking forward going home.