round Britain by bike

Leg 18 | Oban to Ardrossan | June 2014

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Our final highland leg has arrived, and it entailed some considerable planning.

The tortuous nature of Scotland's west coast meant that we had already cycled almost 650 miles since we reached Cape Wrath three years ago. Now, as we crossed the Great Glen fault, the coastline fragmented further into a labyrinth of sea lochs, peninsulas, mountains and islands, making it all but impossible to clearly map any definitive coastal route.

As ever, Steve and I turned this to our advantage. We reasoned that the only sensible course of action would be to meet up in London one afternoon with a load of OS maps, and carefully assess the merits and practicalities of each possible route. Needless to say, this took quite some time, but by around 10pm and after a number of beers, we had agreed that:

  • we would take time to travel out to the islands of Jura and Islay as part of our ride, since the opportunity to visit these islands on our bikes would probably never again arise;
  • we would also schedule in a trip to the tiny island of Gigha, which Steve had spotted and thought it looked cool, and I like to think that doing these slightly random things now and again is in keeping with the spirit of our trip;
  • we would cycle all the way down the Kintyre peninsula, and then all the way back up again, despite the blow that 'doubling back' for this distance would deal to our morale;
  • we would ditch the Portavadie - Bute - Wemyss Bay route in favour of the Claonaig - Arran - Ardrossan route, on the basis that Arran was essentially (and geographically) more Highland in character, and as we'd be doing a three-quarters-circuit of Arran we wouldn't then feel guilty about getting the ferry across to Ardrossan to end the trip.

Having thus planned our route in some detail, two surprises followed – firstly, that either of us could remember it the following morning; and secondly, that our good friend David (survivor of the Skye leg) decided at the last minute to join us for what was set to be a varied and scenic but decidedly gruelling leg.

We had a lot of ground to cover in the nine full days and two half-days we had available, and not much spare time on which to fall back if the weather turned bad. Spirits were generally good, however, as we met up in London to catch the Caledonian Sleeper up to Glasgow again – the weather forecast suggested that settled weather was likely once a band of rain had passed over us during the first couple of days, and we were joined for a preparatory pint at St Pancras by James, our other erstwhile Skye (not to mention Arbroath to Elgin) cycling buddy. A little later we boarded our overnight train, knowing that some hard cycling lay ahead, but seriously – what's the worst that could happen?

Go to Day 1 (Oban to Clachan Seil)