A slow meander through the north west

IMG_20180512_165352.jpgOur ferry to Ullapool was mercifully smooth. I hardly remember any of it as after eating I basically fell asleep, exhausted after the epic pedal into the wind. We docked in the late afternoon with plans (my plans) to buy food and pedal a few kilometres to find somewhere to camp. However, after some discussion (and me probably being quite annoying) I could see that Astrid was shattered and not really up for any more pedalling. So we called it a day and opted for the hostel 200m away. It was a cosy, friendly place, perfect for spending an evening relaxing, eating and watching the rain lash the windows.

The next morning we pushed out into the highlands of Scotland and were afforded views of mountains, lochs, the sea and vast moors. I was enthralled. The power and wildness of the landscape filled me with joy. This is exactly what I had come to Scotland for. It is this wilderness our hearts had been craving.

After 23km we turned off the main road and followed a wonderful small road to the base of Stac Pollaidh, a mountain that Ben, the guy who worked at the hostel, had told us we shouldn’t miss. A quick lunch in the sun and we were ready to climb. The ascent wasn’t difficult but we had to keep hiding as fronts of hail and rain came over. This was interspersed with bright sunshine and stunning views. Once off the mountain we drank tea and then continued on towards Lochinver, a small village on a loch. Here food was purchased and we optimistically turned onto a small road for the last few miles to Suileag bothy. Other cyclists (the cool bike packing kind) had told us it got a bit rough but we wouldn’t have to push too much. Ha. I think it took us about 2.5 hours to do 4 miles. The road was so rough and steep that at times the two of us were pushing and pulling one bike up at a time! At the end of an already long day it was tough going and we questioned our sanity and dedication to sleeping at a bothy.


Suilven dominates the landscape


Heading in to the Bothy


Firewood collection

IMG_20180510_184857.jpg The road gets smaller..


And rougher!

However, as soon as we rounded the last corner and saw the bothy nestled in amongst all the wild beauty it felt worth it. There is something so charming about these remote huts. I am completely enchanted by them. Inside we met Tony, a guy in his 70’s from London. He was here on a 2 week fishing trip of the remote lochs and had been coming to the area since 1982. Tony was delighted that we can collected enough wood on our bikes (not all bothies have firewood) to start the fire and we spent a lovely evening sharing stories about each others’s lives while watching the flickering (natures tv) of the flames. Tony certainly impressed me with his tales of quitting his job his and working ski seasons in France and becoming an amazing skier in his 50’s. It goes to show you don’t have to be young to do crazy adventurous things. I guess I know this, but it’s nice to hear stories from people who have actually lived it.

Suileag bothy


Outside the bothy

Natures TV

When you sleep so near to a mountain as epic as Suilven, it would be a shame not to climb it. So after breakfast Astrid and I headed the two or so hours up the mountain. Unfortunately we couldn’t actually summit. We got as far as the saddle and then the wind was so ferocious I actually got blown over and was almost crawling to reach the top. We decided it wasn’t worth it. The walk and the views from the saddle were stunning enough for us.

Back at the bothy we debated the merits of staying another night as after a 5 hour hike up a mountain we were both pretty tired. In the end we decided to leave and bade Tony farewell and pushed and pedalled our bikes back out onto the main road. From there it was only a short cycle to Shore camping ground and as we had not spotted anywhere free to camp and the camping ground sold (hot) chips, it wasn’t hard to decide to stay there.


The way back wasn’t quite as tough as the way in..


Chips! And beer!


Another beautiful spot

Brilliant sun greeted us the next day and we enthusiastically jumped into the icy bay. Aside from being freezing, these beautiful beaches with their white sand and turquoise water remind me of places like the prom. I love starting the day with (preferably nude) swim. It makes me feel so alive. There is something so invigorating and life affirming about icy cold water.

It was late by the time we rolled out of the campsite but we didn’t care and had decided to embrace the fact that it was a weekend. The road undulated gently with stunning views. We stopped at a beach to meditate and simply enjoyed the fact that it was sunny and warm in northern Scotland. We ate lunch at Drumbeg looking at a sparkling loch and then began what turned into quite an epic afternoon and evening of steep ascents. Some of the gradients reduced me to pushing. This almost never happens, although I’ve been feeling that my bike is way too heavy and my hill fitness very lacking. Astrid managed to cycle them all. Amazing. We kept trying to find a spot to camp but all we found was boggy peat. Finally we reached the A road and then not long after a beautiful camp spot under a bridge, overlooking a loch with a pub a short walk away. Perfect. The road always provides in the end.




Lunch feast


Stunning views


Hefty climbs




Happy to be at the top




Bridge trolls once again

Shockingly we woke to rain. This was not part of the plan. The met office had promised sun. And so had the locals. I lay there listening to the rain and being annoyed. Astrid wanted to have a tent day. I wanted to walk/cycle into Glendhu bothy 10km away at the far end of the loch. Eventually my whining and optimistic talk of ‘it’s stopping’ won her over and it did indeed stop. We packed up and headed to the pub to try and buy firewood. It seemed too expensive so we decided to chance it. We learnt a good lesson that if you turn up to a bothy on Sunday there is a good chance that some firewood will be left over from the weekend. The cycle in was much easier than the last bothy, only requiring pushing towards the end. Soon we were sat with some hikers eating lunch, enjoying the sun and tranquility. One of them, Lawrence had a sad story. We’d actually heard about him from another hiker (and later found out he knew someone else from Sheffield we had met cycling in Albania!) a few hours earlier. Lawrence was hiking the Scottish national trail with his dog Suzi and had lost Suzi the night before. He was understandably quite devastated. However, later that evening two men turned up in a boat looking for Lawrence. Suzi had been located at a hostel he had visited the previous day and they were here to take him to her. A brilliant ending. After Lawrence left in the boat the rest of us – hikers doing the Scottish national trail – sat by the fire drinking tea and chatting as the light gently faded outside. I’m loving how late it gets dark here.


Sunset beers outside Glendhu Bothy



IMG_20180513_203236.jpgThe morning began with a swim in the loch and we then pushed and pedalled our bikes back out to the road and headed north. At Scourie I convinced a kind motorcyclist to fill my fuel bottle with petrol (again, such a pain in Britain) and we made the best of the poor selection of food from the local shop (instant mashed potato, beans and tomatoes) for lunch. In the afternoon the landscape began to feel more remote, even for Scotland. We had turned off the main road and were headed for a beach – Sandwood Bay, only accessible by a 12km walk or pedal.

I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in Australia or spent a lot of my younger years on hikes and camps in the wilderness, but it is this remoteness I crave. Sitting on the deserted beach, as the waves pounded, with only Astrid and one enthusiastic surfer around, my soul felt at peace. I love cities for all their vibrancy and culture but there is something healing and restorative about the wild places on our planet. That’s why I feel so strongly that they needed to be protected. They are beyond precious. I think connection with wilderness makes us better humans because it brings into focus what really matters. This is probably why I cycle and travel the way I do because this connection comes so organically.


Searching for a campsite


One of the best yet..


Beers at Sandwood Bay

We left probably one of the most picturesque camp spot we’ve had, hid our bikes behind a dry stone wall and finally packed the backpacks we’d been carrying. Then we began what ended up being a rather wet trek into Strathchalleach bothy. This bothy had once been home to a local hermit called Sandy, like all kind of legends he seemed like quite an eccentric guy but I fear there was a deeper, sadder story as to why he turned to alcoholism and the life of a hermit (there are quite a few stories at to why but people seem more interested in his eccentricities than his tragedy).

By the time we reached the bothy we were soaked from the rain and the bog and ready for it to be over. Inside the small bothy we met Becci who was bimbling about the area for a few days, hiking and biking. She was battling with the peat fire which turns out none of us had any idea how to manage. We spent the better part of the afternoon through trial and error figuring out how to get it going. In the end we had moderate success interspersed with severe periods of almost choking ourselves with smoke. Some other hikers with a dog arrived and then Lucy, who we had met two nights ago at Glendhu. She came with digestives and we spent the evening eating biscuits and drinking tea. In the wilderness Astrid and I are often surrounded by men; it was nice to spend an evening with strong, adventurous women. We laughed a lot. Especially when we had a closer look at the hermits murals and saw how x rated some of them actually were.



The morning’s hike out was sunny and much quicker than the previous day. We repacked the bikes and headed out to the road. A pass greeted our return to the main road and then a long descent almost all the way into Durness. Stunning cycling as always. I felt dwarfed by the dramatic landscape. You can feel the presence of glaciers that shaped this land, even though they are long gone. Just out of Durness we marvelled at the Kyle of Durness – a huge tidal river cutting through the landscape, separating Cape Wrath from the rest of Scotland.

We had made plans to meet Lucy that night to celebrate her completion of the Scottish National Trail, an epic hike from Southern Scotland to Cape Wrath. When she finally arrived we greeted her with beer and enthusiasm and were reunited with a few other hikers we had met along the way as well. An evening at the pub ensued.


After we bade Lucy and the others farewell we had a decision to make about where the road would take us. I felt a bit discombobulated; we don’t normally have so much time or freedom. It’s actually a nice feeling, just takes some getting used to. After some discussion we decided to go and get a hot chocolate and then take the boat to Cape Wrath and pedal to Kervaig bothy. Lots of good things happened once we had made that decision; we got a smashing vegan hot chocolate, the sun shone, we didn’t have to wait long for the boat across the Kyle, the pedal was lovely and we met Becci again just before the bothy. The bothy itself was in probably one of the most stunning locations and it was a joy to watch the sunset over the ocean while sharing some whisky.


Walking back to the Bothy post icy dip in the sea


We clambered over these looking (unsuccessfully) for puffins


Happy hour Scottish style


Kervaig Bothy


Good spot for a tent..


It seemed weird to be nearly at Cape Wrath and not visit the lighthouse. So we rode out to it, sheltered in the weird little café from the rain and then headed back to get the boat. We stopped briefly in Durness to restock and then headed east. Often my favourite part of the day is when we stop and this is especially true in Scotland. Mainly because of the right to roam and the ample amount of amazing places to put a tent. To me finding a flat place to put our tent, with a view of a beautiful beach, dry firewood and stream with fresh water, well life actually doesn’t get much better than that. It is the deep appreciation of the simple things that I think ultimately facilitates my ongoing happiness.

We had met a Swiss girl who had told us about a Munroe (mountains over 900m mostly in Scotland) nearby so we decided to head there the following day. Our pedal took us along a beautiful sea loch and then up a stunning remote valley. We had lunch at the foot of the mountain and then spent the afternoon climbing it. Amazing views. Astrid was particularly impressed by a fell runner who literally ran down the mountain. I thought I had stable footing, but this guy was like a super hero. Amazing.

On our way down we had met Ben again – the guy who worked at the hostel in Ullapool. After a bit of chat we all decided to camp together. It’s always fun to have company and Ben is a really cool guy. We found a spot to make camp, built a fire and spent the evening chatting and drinking tea. Ben is more or less bike packing and hiking, something that has sparked my interest. It’s a lot more light weight and allows for easier off road cycling in more remote places. Astrid and I definitely want to try it. I think I am going to make it a project when I get back to Melbourne.

Sundays always pose problems in remote areas where shops are often not open long. We had managed to almost run out of food but luckily somehow also managed to make it 2 minutes before the only shop for miles closed (it was open for one hour). Phew. Astrid would have had to deal with quite an irate me. I am not so good with a lack of food.

It was now a 2 day cycle to John O’Groats which we kind of didn’t care so much about reaching. However, we decided we might as well do it since we had come so far. Astrid and I are obviously not particularly goal orientated; we kind of do what feels right at the time. And if that means changing plans, well that’s fine. However, Astrid did want to go to Dunnet Head (the actual most north easterly point) as it was famous for its birds. And it kind of felt right to finish what we started. So we pedalled onwards, facing some rough weather on the way. The landscape changed from the wildness we had become accustomed to, to much more cultivated and populated. Reaching John O’Groats did feel momentous in a way, but Dunnet Head with its many nesting birds and beautiful views was much more of a highlight. Our last night wild camping was next to a beach with a fire and it was hard to believe we would soon be in London again. I had really gotten back into this traveling, wild life. It would be hard to leave it. Although it wouldn’t be for long.

On our last day we pedalled into Thurso, caught a train to Inverness and spent a wonderful afternoon exploring the city in the sunshine. Then, to our delight we were let into the Caledonian sleeper lounge, given towels and access to a luxurious shower and then a room full of snacks. It felt very olde worldly and like how I imagine train travel used to be. What a treat in this day and age. Once on the sleeper we sat in the lounge cart and drank a whisky while watching the sunset over the highlands. What a stunning way to end an amazing adventure. And not only that, in a way this trip, starting all the way back at Lands End last year, had been about paying homage to the island we have called home for the last 2.5 years. Of course there will always be things we haven’t seen, but I feel like we have given it our best shot to explore and understand this wonderful little island. Thanks Britain, in the end you were pretty swell.

Exploring the Outer Hebrides

IMG_20180502_125652.jpgIncorporating the Outer Hebrides (a remote string of islands off the North West Coast of Scotland)  as part of our exploration of Scotland had never really been in doubt. In fact last year we had started to plan a stand alone tour of the islands but this had fallen through due to a lack of time.


Hebridean Way signs make it very easy to follow

But now, here I was in Oban waiting for the 11:30am train to deliver three friends from London (Astrid was in a cafe waiting with the bikes). Rob, Erica and Dave had all decided to join us and we would be a group of 5 heading for this far flung corner of Britain.

The tiny train pulled in and we all exchanged excited greetings. It had only been a few days but I was incredibly delighted to see them. With two hours till our sailing we efficiently bought ferry tickets, went food shopping and shoved large amounts of chips in our faces.


Chip happiness before the ferry

Before long we were boarding the ferry with a large amount of other cyclists, it seems the Hebridean Way is rather popular. Our ferry took off with us all in high spirits. Unfortunately this was not to last. Rob and I made the mistake of eating a kind of second lunch and we enthusiastically bought a round of beers to celebrate our adventure. It was not long before we hit the open water and what to us felt like huge waves. We all dealt with it slightly differently; Rob vomited, I pretended to be dead (and vomited), Erica and Dave sought relief by moving further to the back of the boat and trying to sleep, and poor Astrid remained at the front of the boat (where we had naively decided to sit) stuck on the bench, unable to move due to sea sickness. The end couldn’t come fast enough.


Excitement, right before it all went wrong..


Post sea sickness


Shamefully this was what remained. Although I finished mine. Probably why I spewed.

By the time we reached Castle Bay our earlier enthusiasm was somewhat curbed and we gingerly rolled our bikes off the boat. Luckily once on land seasickness passes rapidly and we were soon pedalling off to find somewhere to camp. There had been a storm but it was thankfully now dry and the first beach we stopped at provided some shelter from the wind and good spots for tents. It seems when you put a bunch of people together who are used to thinking on their feet and solving problems, everything runs smoothly (this was to be a theme for the week). We all set to work and soon all our tents were up, beds sorted and a system of efficient cooking was taking place on our rather small stoves. By the time we had finished eating we were all shattered and ready for bed.


We camped right next to this


Day one camp


Dinner time

Astrid and I woke early; it was the warmest nights sleep we had since beginning our trip and we both finally felt well rested. Taking the opportunity the quiet early morning brings, we got up and headed to the beach for a quick dip in the icy water. It felt amazing! By the time we returned, our little camp was half stirring the stoves were fired up to provide the morning’s coffee. Not without near disaster however. As Rob lit his stove it caught fire, seeking to get away from the group and the very flammable tents, he did a kind of dive, which unfortunately resulted in Rob landing on his tent, snapping a pole, doing a kind of commando role and then flinging the still lit stove like some kind of grenade away from us. He then had to still run up and turn it off.  A lot of action before 9am. Luckily Rob, the stove and the tent all survived.


Excited by sun and the sea!


Such a good morning

Our first mornings pedal saw us hug the west coast of Barra. We had it all; sun, sweeping views and a rather smashing tail wind. At the ferry terminal to Eriskay we pulled out Rob’s now subdued stove and made tea. Life was pretty perfect.




More beautiful beaches


A lovely mornings cycle


Rob is the man servant and makes the tea

The 40 min ferry had none of the trauma of the previous days crossing and we were soon climbing away from the bay with more amazing views out to sea. At the community co op we purchased wine and lunch and headed off to be stunned by the views across the causeway. It looked like SE Asia or the Caribbean, only about 20 degrees too cold. The wind had picked up and it took us a while to find a sheltered beach in which to cook up our lunch.


Happy on this ferry!


Climbing in the sun


Being weirdos


Cyclo women gang


Lunch on the beach

The afternoon saw a series of brief hailstorms followed by bright sunshine. We rode together in twos and threes chatting and I was reminded again how nice it is to travel in a group like this. Mid afternoon beers brought a hilarious coincidence and a solution to a slightly annoying problem. Astrid and I have a multi fuel stove which we usually run on petrol. This has never been a problem until Britain. Here however they have a rule which does not allow you to buy unleaded petrol in the small quantity that we require. I’d already tried talking an attendant into letting me buy fuel the previous day without success. In the pub we mentioned this the bar tender in passing. She casually mentioned she grew up in Plaistow and normally worked as a paramedic on the islands (where they do 250 jobs a month as apposed to 6000 a day!). Ha. What are the chances of 5 east London paramedics ending up in her pub?! Anyway, as we went to leave her wife turned up with a can of petrol for us. The road. It takes care of you.


Cycle gang


Hebridean cows like to walk in lines..


Fronts of crazy weather

A guy Astrid and I had met on ferry coming off Arran had told us about a group of hostels built in the traditional hebredian style that you could camp at and use their kitchen and facilities. With the icy wind picking up we all decided a warm fire might be required. In the end all but Rob opted for a hostel bed (Erica and I even spent half an hour trying to put her tent up in the almost gale force winds before giving up). Inside the warm cosy structure we found a mix of hikers and bikers and a lovely fire. Food was cooked. Wine was consumed.


The awesome Hebridean Hostel


Astrid and Erica cooking us dinner/drinking



Grey dreariness greeted us but our spirits were not dampened. A hefty tailwind pushed us northwards. Towards the afternoon it began to drizzle but we found refuge in a pub with a fire. The rain having finally cleared we pushed on towards an illusive co op which felt like it would never materialise. Eventually co op was located and many items purchased. We wearily rolled down a hill to where a picnic site was indicated on a map. Unfortunately it was gravel. And the grass around it looked suspiciously like the tide would reach it. Images of floating a tent butt naked out of a mangrove swamp way back in Australia came back to haunt me. We were all tired and just wanted to get out of the wind and set up camp. It was one of those moments were our lack of direction matched our waning energy. Until Rob decided to go and ask the farmer if we could camp on their field. They agreed and were possibly even going to offer us dinner but Rob assured them we were not that ill prepared. Tents were quickly set up and our cooking production line efficiently started and in a short while we were all much warmer and sipping on cup o soup. Classic bike touring, you go from everything being a bit challenging with no where to camp to drinking wine and eating curry in a field.


cooking curry in a field


Curry in a field camp


Curry should be eaten with a gigantic spoon


Life is better with wine in a bag..

The wind picked up in the early hours, followed by the rain. By the time the morning came around I felt utterly overwhelmed at the prospect of getting up. Eventually I forced myself out with the thinking; one chore at a time. By the time I had done the dishes, Rob was up too. We set about getting breakfast ready and Dave soon joined us. As it was Erica’s birthday, we had decided to put on a spread, by camping standards anyway. Rob had bought prosecco and balloons and we deposited these and cards into Erica’s tent. While we had been cooking vegan sausages and making coffee, Astrid had cleared our tent and we all proceeded to climb in there and have a breakfast party. It’s not everyday you get to wake up in a damp farmer’s field on your birthday and drink prosecco in a tent!


Happy birthday Erica!


Bigger than your head bread


Party tent


Having some kind of episode while cooking breakfast

We packed up and pushed our bikes out of the now sodden field, leaving a note of thanks for letting us make it our home for the night. A short pedal and we were on the ferry and heading away from North Uist, bound for the next island, Harris. Here we had opted to spent the rest of Erica’s birthday relaxing and celebrating in a bunkhouse. When we arrived, the place was deserted but open. A note said to make yourself at home and take any free beds. Eventually the owner was located in a shed out the back. He gave us the whole top level to use and we soon had our soaking tents and clothes hanging everywhere and a fire crackling. Cups of tea and relaxing followed. It was lovely to be out of the weather in such a lovely place with such beautiful views.


A wet ride to the ferry


Random stop


Ferry ninjas?



Before it all descended in chaos..


On the way..


And yes

I’d like to think we weren’t one of those loud groups that takes over a place, we certainly tried not to be. However, I am not sure I have ever laughed quite so much before. There was a lot of giggling and marginally ludicrous behaviour. That is probably all I am going to say here. Definitely an evening to remember!


recovery breakfast

A slow morning of pancakes and cups of tea and we hit the road in good spirits, despite the late night. The cycling was truly stunning. Lochs, moors, crazy rock formations and wild views out to sea. Some of the most superb pedalling I’ve done. And the undulations made it sometimes feel like being on a rollercoaster. Super fun. It began to rain as we reached Tarbert. Being the Hebrides and thus more traditional than places on the mainland, all food shops are shut on a Sunday. So we bought supplies for two days and then went to the distillery to make a plan. With the weather coming in none of us fancied a long cycle which involved a hefty climb. Instead we opted for the backpackers in Tarbert but unfortunately being a bank holiday weekend it was full (although we learnt the next day that wasn’t actually true. Perhaps word had got out about an unruly group of  cyclists who spend all night in fits of giggles). Asking around, some locals told us people sometimes camp next to the post office. So that’s what we did. I love Scotland. No one cares about 5 people putting up tents in the middle of their village. A guy even gave us sympathy wine, given the drizzle.




Great riding on small roads


Overwhelmed. That time Rob ate 2 mains and then ordered dessert..

So while London and the rest of the UK was having the warmest early spring bank holiday in decades, we huddled together in a bus shelter out of the constant drizzle cooking pasta and drinking wine. I had a moment of feeling rather morose about it all (the rain was irritating me) but it’s hard to stay in a bad mood when the group you are with are so upbeat and fun and it wasn’t long before I could appreciate the humour of it all.


Cooking dinner in our bus shelter


rage and wine in a bus stop


Camping in the centre of town

Our final day together saw a biggish climb out of Tarbert, a lot of drizzle, lunch in a bus shelter and arriving soaked and grateful for a roof over our heads at the Heb Hostel in Stornoway. By now we had reached Lewis (which is technically part of one landmass with Harris but has quite a different vibe) and there was a lot more agriculture and development. Stornoway felt like a big town after the tiny clusters of houses we had come to expect as villages. Clothes and people drying and washing ensued.






Instant mashed potato in a bus stop


It tasted so good

While shops may all be closed on Sundays, pubs are not. We headed to the Lewis Bar to celebrate the completion of our journey together. Most of the locals were already well on their way to being drunk and we witnessed one Wellington booted chap slam his beer down and storm out. We also made friends with a dog and a woman who told us we were crazy for cycling and seemed to blame Dave and Rob for putting us ladies in such a predicament. Ha.


Final beers in Stornoway

The evening was finished off with wine and curry at the hostel and I felt so grateful to have had such a wonderful week with our fantastic friends. I have laughed so much and been constantly reminded how wonderful it is to go on trips with a group that gets along so well. Everyone was always in such good spirits and despite the mildly annoying weather, I don’t think it took away from the experience at all. Thanks guys for joining us, we had a brilliant time.

The others left in the early hours of that morning and we sleepily hugged them farewell before falling back into bed. We woke late and I was sad in the way I knew I would be. Always when others leave us, be it family or friends, it takes some adjusting. I missed the laughter and group dynamics.

Our day went like many rest days. Many cups of tea, a meander around, a random trip to the museum, a prolonged shop in the supermarket and then back to the hostel. The weather was still uninspiring. So we ate more food and hoped the next day would be better.

It was. Sun and a cracking tailwind saw us pedal out to look at some standing stones, a Broch and then all the way to the Butt of Lewis light house and the official end of the Hebridean Way. It was beautiful standing looking over the cliffs and the wild Atlantic as the sun set. Because it’s Scotland we put our tent up right by the lighthouse as we had never slept next to one before.


So happy with this spot


Cup of soup time

Life is all about balance, what goes up, must come down and tailwinds, once you turn around are headwinds. We woke early, knowing that we would be pushing into wind for 46km and were hoping to make the 2pm ferry. It was probably one of the hardest cycles we’d done in a while. Maybe ever. A ferocious headwind combined with rain and hills across a rather desolate landscape. A day where I almost wondered why I am doing this.  By the time we reached Stornoway 7 hours later we had 15 mins till the ferry left, well passed the official time we were allowed to board. But we thought what the hell, lets try. So we pedalled as hard as we could through the port, I dumped my bike and ran inside ready to plead with the lady behind the counter. Instead she calmly informed me the ferry was running late and we could certainly get on if we hurried. So hurry we did. Exhausted and windswept it was such a relief to board the warm ferry.


46km of headwind in front of me face

Thank you Outer Hebrides, you are wild and beautiful and we’ve had a super time. Now it is time to continue the road north on the main land..




Sunset over the north Atlantic





Failte Scotland


Ready for our ‘big’ bike tour of Scotland…

A year on and it is time to finish what we had started. On a sunny spring day last year we had cycled into Glasgow, from Lands End, and promised ourselves that we would come back and give Scotland the time it deserved.  We also had promised ourselves at some point, that we would cycle the Hebridean Way (a tour of the islands of the Outer Hebrides).  With a month and a half left in the land we have called home for the last two and half years, it was time to honour these promises.  It was with great excitement that we pulled out all of our touring gear and packed for our “practice run” for our upcoming journey home.  Gear wise, Scotland in spring would be a worthy comparison for Iceland in summer.  The tent and and our waterproofs were reproofed, the holes in the panniers and clothing patched, our gear sorted and the bikes self-serviced at our fave bike place – the London Bike Kitchen.


A cycle touring bomb exploded in our room


The girl’s got a good going over here before the trip


Ready to set off from Charlton

Fully decked out, we cycled from Brenda’s place in South London to Euston Station to catch the train to Glasgow.  In true Virgin Train’s style we were given only minutes notice of our departure platform and had to scurry to get the bikes and our gear on in time.  In true Network Rail style the train was continuously delayed by signalling failures and half way through the journey the train behind us had caught up with us so we were made to get off our train and get on it.  We arrived in Glasgow late and due to this our whole fare was refunded – who doesn’t love a free trip to Scotland?


We had loved Glasgow so much last time, that we chose to explore it for a couple of days before hitting the road.  We wandered around the Cathedral precinct, admired the pomp of the graves in the Necropolis, gazed at the architectural designs of Mackintosh, counted the heads and appreciated the art at Kelvingrove, indulged our love of all things transport at the Riverside museum, ate delicious asian street food at one of the many vegan restaurants/pubs that make Glasgow the vegan capital of the UK, sampled many of the the local microbrewery beers and our highlight, watching the amazing kinemats of Eduard Bersudsky at Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre.  A very big thank you to our wonderful WarmShowers hosts Adrian and Laura, whose company was fabulous at the end of each day.







Last year our friend Paul had cycled with his brother around the Isle of Arran, and his enthusiasm about it had been infectious.  So in true Foons on Bikes style, we headed south before heading north.  After a quick stop and shop for some last minute camping needs at Decathlon, we joined and followed the fabulous National Cycle Network (NCN) Route 7 from Paisley to Ardrossan.  It is mostly along a now defunct railway line that winds it way through farmland, woodland, alongside lochs, more farmland and finally deposits you at the coast overlooking the Firth of Clyde.  We made our way to the ferry terminal and joined the crowds to board the ferry to Brodick.


NCN Route 7 sign


Old rail trail


Easy riding


Nice path to the coast


Lunch break


Made it to the coast


Beach time



Looking to Arran

The peaks of Arran shone in the evening sun and we were elated when we were able to cycle along the coast looking for a place to camp for the night.  Wild camping is legal in Scotland and is something that should be protected and celebrated, as well as respected by those who are partaking in it.  We headed uphill for a bit and found our home for the night in what I termed the fairy glen, a gorgeous open woodland above a river canyon. It was great to be back in our tent in nature, and the joy and freedom of cycle touring flooded our hearts.


Arriving in Arran


Looking for a campsite as the light fades


Our home set up


The moon from our magical place


Having breakfast


We rose with the sun to climb Goat Fell.  Well I hiked and Jude trail ran, at times I do believe she is part mountain goat.  Mist and cloud hugged the peak during our ascent and whilst we were up there it gave us fleeting windows of clear views of the surrounds.  We still had a brewery to visit and half an island to cycle so we headed down as fast as our legs, and then our bikes, would carry us.  The ales at the Arran Brewery were exceedingly tasty and we bought one of their puffin red ales to celebrate our climb.  After being warned that we faced legal trouble from the police if caught drinking in public (i.e. in front of the brewery), we poured the beer into our tea cups and supped them in the sun anyway.



Trying the beers at the Isle of Arran brewery

The rest of Arran was just as glorious as Paul had said.  It was a long climb over the middle of the island and we both had a little ego boost when we passed two people pushing their unladen Bromptons.  The joy of the descent after a long climb is always exhilarating and something that I would savour many more times on our trip through Scotland.  Pedalling freely on the west coast we watched the sun sparkle on the water, the seals flap and play on the rocks and the birds soar in the sky.  We pulled over when our legs said they could do no more and made our home on the seaside.  Jude had just managed to start a fire when the dark clouds above opened and the first of many rapid rain storms passed over us.  Luckily it didn’t dampen the embers and she had it going again in no time.  We made dinner, supped whiskey and watched the glorious sunset over the Mull of Kintyre – while Jude sang the song.



I’m physically a cold person who constantly has cold feet.  So in preparation for Scotland and Iceland I had devised a plan to shift this internal thermometer by getting in all the cold water I possibly could over the coming journeys.  This was the morning to test my resolve, so as the sun rose, so did Jude’s and my bare bum in the frigid waters off the coast.  I managed to stay in for about a minute before I couldn’t feel my body anymore, but the exhilaration of both being in and coming out of cold water was incredible.  Jude told me about an article that she read that likens such swimming to taking Class A drugs.  They may in fact be on to something.  Anyhow, after the dip we headed to the ferry port in Lochranza in time for a coffee and a vegan toastie, before boarding the boat to Claonaig.  We met a lovely cycle tourist who was partaking in his yearly tour of the Herbridean islands.  He was packed super light and had the whole thing sorted.  Made me feel like the Dirty Salmon was elephant sized and made wish that we had done more research about the other Hebridean islands – next time as always 🙂


The ferry


Coffee and vegan toasties before boarding

Back on the mainland, our destination now was Oban which we hoped to reach in two and a half days, as we had organised to meet our new cycle touring posse there who would join us for the Outer Hebrides leg.  We could have easily followed the main road straight up to Oban, but what would be the fun in that?  And the traffic?  Wouldn’t the meandering and longer NCN Route 78 be much more fun and interesting?  Yes, yes it would.  So we did.


Old birch trees line the NCN Route 78


One of the many beaches

We cycled the quiet road along the edge of West Loch, surrounded by moss covered ancient birch trees with the occasional little hut surrounded by daffodils.  The road was undulating and we rewarded our bodies with a carb on carb lunch (no judgement please) at the headland overlooking Gisha island.  Jura soon came into sight and with the hot sunshine, the little beaches and the azure blue water, we could believe what the locals said about this area being like the Mediterranean.  But Scotland being Scotland, she was a changing.  We cycled into a dark grey rain storm as we climbed back over to the other side of the peninsula.  Whilst admiring the first of many lochans of our journey we noticed a thin covering of hail on the grass and the rain no longer seemed all that bad.  Got to love a change of perspective.  At Ardrishaig the Crinan Canal cycle path begins and we followed this for a few kilometres before pulling over beside it and pitching our tent for the night.  We enjoyed a few whiskeys in the late evening sun and chatted with the tourists and locals that were walking by.


We pulled off the canal path at Bellanoch and cycled through moorlands and woodlands into the Kilmartin Valley, home to a plethora of Bronze Age historic sites.  We explored the stone circles, cairns and standing stones thousands of years old and when looking down on to the valley from the town you can see why people had chosen this place as their hunting grounds and then their home.  Unless you’re a die hard Bronze Age fan, save your pounds and skip the Kilmartin Heritage Museum – better to spend it in the cafe and read a book on the subject.  Overwhelmed with facts and history we headed back to the things we enjoy most – cycling and nature.  We followed the steeply undulating northern shore of Scotland’s longest freshwater loch – Loch Awe.  If the old forests hanging with moss had continued it would have been a perfect ride, unfortunately the clear felling of pine plantations was in full swing here.   The Old Roman cafe in Dalvich was  hidden gem, especially as their meal of the day was a vegan red curry, we polished off a few bowls and followed these with a few local ciders.  The ciders didn’t make the hills any easier, but did make them more enjoyable.  A walking path along a river leading to a picnic table was the perfect place to pitch for the night and our ritual of a wash, a whiskey, a cuppa soup, followed by dinner was now beginning to cement itself.


Despite my best efforts to change my internal thermometer, my feet were still freezing every night.  I have tried all the tricks – sleeping fully clothed, sleeping half clothed, sleeping naked, sleeping naked with socks on, but nothing was working.  It was at this point that a hot water bottle just made it on to the packing list for Iceland.  Cold feet aside, we had our last push into Oban to do that morning as the posse’s train was arriving at 11:30.  So back on the bikes and we were off down the back road through a lovely valley surrounded by sheep and lambs grazing and highland cows chewing cud.  The first were skittish and would run at the sound of our bikes approaching, the second didn’t care and we would have Mexican stand-off with them if they were ever on the road.  We always kept the bikes between ourselves and the cows, as those horns look like they would hurt if they were stuck into any part of our bodies.


We did make it to Oban on time.  The posse arrived bringing with them the rain.  But also the beginning of the next fun adventure – our group tour of the Outer Hebrides.