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Epic Routes – Cycling the Scottish Hebrides: Leaving Glasgow, leaving the mainland

Updated: Apr 9, 2020

The first day saw us cycle from Glasgow to Tyndrum, skirting the shores of Loch Lomond. It was a real baptism of fire for me; cycling in traffic, cycling up hills, getting used to my position on the bike and trying to keep up with much stronger partner. It is no exaggeration to say that he dragged me through this trip, in fact I don’t think I took a single turn on the front in the wind and for this I am forever grateful. Turns out those five years of basically doing no exercise is not the ideal preparation for a multi-day cycling trip.

Without taking the most scenic route out of Glasgow, the city started to give way to country and the trip really started to feel like it had started once we pedalled north of Balloch, the gateway to the Trossachs National Park. We stopped for some lunch in Loch Lomond before battling the summer traffic on the A82 which was my first experience of the joys of filtering through frustrated drivers.

From Inveranan to Crianlarach the road started to point up to the sky and I was discovering the brutality of cycling uphill. I was cursing even packing toothpaste in my saddle bag as even gram of extra weight fought to pull me all the way back down. It was also my first real taste of massive lorries careering past inches from my bike and certainly takes a bit of getting used to. This part of the trip was about getting on the road and getting out to the islands so we took the most direct route.

That last climb of the day to our hostel was a brutal introduction to what lay just over the water! But like any young men, thoughts of the next day were far from our minds when we realised there was a decent pub across the road from the hostel and that essentially we were on holiday. We even met a Stephen Merchant lookalike which genuinely may have been the highlight of the trip so far. Sixty-four miles in the legs so I raised a pint to the fact that I had just completed my longest ever cycle.

Needless to say we awoke hungover and not at all prepared for the relatively short thirty-six miles along the A85 to Oban where we would catch the afternoon ferry to Barra. Mercifully the rain abated and even more mercifully it was pretty much downhill all the way to the coast. Turns out that Oban on a Sunday is basically closed so we past the time with lunch in a nice restaurant where we scared the locals in our lycra.

As a cyclist you are allowed to enter the hull of the ferry before the cars, giving you time to secure the bikes in a designated area and secure prime real estate on the boat. This meant finding somewhere where we could essentially lie down for five hour sail across the stormy Minch.

This was my first taste of the CalMac ferries in about ten years when my Dad and I used to go across to Arran quite often to do hillwalking and I was really impressed with the service, the value for money (£15 for a single trip) and the overall standard of the boats.

The trip from Oban to Castlebay on the southern tip of Barra took about five hours and once the boat got out of the sheltered waters and into The Minch the weather and waves took their toll on the passengers. Without going into too much detail, the bathrooms were awash with vomit. Even a salty sea goer like me was feeling a little rough and couldn’t wait to reach our destination. If nothing else the length of the ferry ride and the ferocity of the constant waves simply added to the already epic nature of this trip.

Day two of this epic trip can be found at the link below:

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