Outer Hebrides - 2007

Bradford, Oban, Vatersay (6 miles) - Saturday, 28 July

My alarm was set for 7.00 am, so when I finally got up at 7.15 am I was already behind schedule and in a slight panic due to known problems with my car and the need to be in Oban by 3.30 pm. I put the bulging panniers in the boot and attached the bike to the rack. Everything else was in a Tesco carrier bag, helmet, bottles, computer, lights and pump.

The car started but the expected 'kangaroo' effect lasted for an hour (fuel pump problem). I took the A65 through Bingley, Skipton and Gargrave then north westwards to the M6 near Kendal. Then north on the motorway to Carlisle and Glasgow stopping at Hamilton services for fuel. Traffic delays on the M8 made it very slow so I diverted on to the Great West road out of Glasgow.

My sat nav showed an ETA of 2.45 pm so touch and go all the way and I still needed to find somewhere to park and buy a ferry ticket. I listened to the radio as Bradford Bulls lost to St. Helens in the Challenge Cup semi-final 14-35, so the Wembley trip was off.

I arrived in Oban at 3.00 pm and managed to park in the Central car park just round the corner from the terminal, £4 per car per day. Hurriedly, I unhooked the bike, put the rack in the boot, attached the panniers and bottles and went off to pay the car park attendant, who kindly told me the best way to cycle round to the Calmac terminal ticket office. The helpful lady advised me that an eight day rover ticket costing £52 would be preferable to paying lots of single ferry fares. It also allowed flexibility for the journey and included the bike for free!

The boat was approaching so I was soon pushing the bike on board the Clansman and roping it to the side of the car deck. After a frantic search I realised that I couldn't find my digital camera, so resorted to the camera on my phone.

The crossing would be 4 hours 50 minutes. We left Oban steaming through the Sound of Mull, past Duart Castle which the family had visited years before just after it was a 'When Eight Bells Toll' film location. I ate in the restaurant, lasagne, chips, peas and carrots, washed down with juice. I bought a disposable camera just in case.

After all the planning, it was difficult to believe that I was actually underway on my great adventure, it was so exciting.

I planned to cycle south after disembarkation at Castlebay. Arriving at 8.20 pm with the sun going down, I wouldn't have much time to find a campsite, so I thought I might as well start the trip from as far south as possible. I knew from the map that there's something of a hill so that would be an early test.

Leaving the boat, I turned left up the hill, the views of Castlebay were stunning with Kismuil Castle in the bay. Then down the other side and round to the island of Vatersay, the sun across the sea by the causeway was beautiful. I cycled to the dunes between Bagh Siar and Bagh Bhatarsaigh and struck camp on the Atlantic side (NL632952).

photograph - campsite

Afterwards, I walked to the beach to watch the sun disappear into the sea. A group of people were sitting round a fire and they waved me over and offered beer. The fire was well alight, consisting of three huge pieces of wood plus sundry jetsam and flotsam gathered during several beach-combing sessions. The biggest log was carved with the name Laura - the artist. The group had put the marquee up for the Barra Music Festival that weekend.

Greetings to Kenny, Andy, Matthew, Benny, Hazel, Laura, Alisha, Simon, Anita?, Christina and her dog and the others for being very hospitable and most enjoyable company. It was a wonderful welcome to the Outer Hebrides. Simon works for Andy who runs the Hebridean Brewing Company in Stornoway. I can recommend the 'Berserker' Export Pale Ale 7.5% abv.

As sun set across the bay, I sat on the beach feeling the heat of the flames, chatted, drank beer and watched burning embers float off into the star laden sky like magical fire flies.

I returned back to the tent at midnight feeling very mellow, just before the rain started.

Next day