Saturday, 9 July 2016

Oban & the Mull of Kintyre

There is nothing better than finishing work early on a Friday, except finishing early knowing the bike is already loaded up and in the car park ready to go.  So I found myself bailing out of work at 2 and heading Oban.
As I got off the M9 at Stirling and turned for Callander it was a balmy 28 deg C and I wound the screen on the RT all the way down to try and get some air circulating.  This was going to be the theme all weekend, the big fairing on the RT does a brilliant job of keeping the elements off and unfortunately it is also great at keeping the cooling breeze at bay as well.  Pressing on north and west I continued to stew in my riding gear.  I pressed on through Callander along the side of Loch Lubnaig and up the south side of Glen Ogle.  I stopped at the top for a drink of water and pondered why the f£$k this road is now a 50 mph limit, cash cow ahoy!
Oban was heaving (rush hour in Oban!?!) when I arrived so after a quick scoot around the town I decided to head for Tesco, get some supplies and head for the campsite and get camp set up.
At the campsite I steeled myself for a showdown with the new tent, 15 minutes later I declared victory and started to peel myself out of my riding gear.  I pulled it all inside out and left it to air on the bike while I headed for a well earned shower.  Showered down, I grabbed a couple of cold beers from the camp site shop and headed for the tent to cook up some dinner and look over my route for Mull tomorrow.

RT and the new touring palace, a Vango Omega 300 - grande!
Saturday dawned bright and still and by 9 o’clock it was already well on its way to 20 deg C.  I rode down to the ferry terminal and checked in.  I was in some fine company as the Sunbeam Register & Owners Club was heading for Mull on the same ferry.  There was a fair spread of bikes, one mint example from 1928 in fully restored condition to bikes that were in serviceable condition that spent more time being ridden than washed.  There was also an interloper on a tidy 30’s Velocette.  The RT looked well out of place…
Just to complete the vintage feel of the morning, the paddle steamer Waverley was making her way out of Oban bay for a cruise round the Islands.

Riding off the ferry at Craignure I headed left on the A 849to start my loop around Mull and take in some of the sights of the island.  Quickly the road changes to single tack and would remain like this for the bulk of day.  Passing Duart castle the road climbs away from the sea and the hills of southern mull start to appear on the right.  Pressing on into the hills you are soon surrounded by rugged hills.  This was a surprise I did not expect Mull to be as rugged.

As the road starts to drop back down to sea I turned right onto the B 8035 and followed the coast north up the island.  This is a real single track road, grass in the middle and gravel all over the place.  This is a scenic wee road, highland cattle grazing on the seaweed on the shores and sheep lying around all over the place.  You have to keep an eye on the road as well as there are a few sharp bends to catch you out.

To stay on the coast I pick up the B 8073 heading for Dervaig.  Looking south the ruggedness of southern Mull stands out against the calm sea and Loch Na Keal.

Still on the B 8073 and turning north at the mouth of Loch Na Keal the road skirts the coast all the way to Calgary bay and it’s glorious white beach.   All along the single track road there and wild campers and caravaners pitched up on the shore.  Unlike these spots further south the place is spotless, no sign of the usual burnt out tents and detritus that seem to part and parcel of weekend wild campers in central Scotland.  I can see me coming back and camping here myself.  For contrast the right side of the road is strewn with boulders that have worked there way loose from the steep hills rising away from the road.  It is great riding as the road twists and turns to follow the natural curve of the coast and hills.

Climbing away from Calgary bay the road is a bit of a let down after the sights and twists of the past 20 miles, but soon enough this changes.  Leaving Dervaig the road is a rollercoaster of tight uphill hairpins long twist sections past inland lochs and then twist downhill hairpins as you dive down into Tobermory.  It is worth going to Mull just for this 10 minutes of road madness… just watch out for the sheep and gavel!

Pulling into Tobermory I was soaked, wresting an RT along roads like that in 25 deg C sunshine is hard work.  I usually got to the Mishnish for food and refreshments when we called into Tobermory with the dive boat, but it was full.  Plenty of cold water and a sandwich still hit the spot in the shadow of the harbour wall.

Suitably refreshed I started to head back down the A 849 back to the ferry terminal at Craignure.  As I climbed out of Tomermory a mint Sunbeam with rider resplendent in classic leathers, laced up boots and pudding bowl helmet was keeping good pace with me.  The old bike had no bother troubling the nation speed limit all the way back to Craignure.  Back at the ferry there were more classics waiting to board as well.

Mull was a blast, I loved every mile of it and I will go back for a look again.  I never managed the section of road to Fionphort and I would still like to do it as well.   I will probable stay on Mull overnight the next time I go to give myself more time on the island.

Sunday dawned even warmer than Saturday and I was out of the tent by 8 o’clock.  The campsite store provided a breakfast of corn flakes and ice cold milk and I was on the road by 9.  I headed south and fueled up as I left Oban.  As soon as I was out of the 30 mph limit the road immediately starts to climb and twist away from the coast.  The road south to Kilmartin and onto Lochgoilhead is a flowing road with long sweeping bends and some tight hairpins that will catch you out if you are spending more time looking at the scenery than the road.  Passing the turn off fro Crinan I made a mental note to have a look down there on the way back.  I picked up the A 83 at Lochgilphead and continued to wind down the coat to Tarbert passing through Ardishaig and Stonefield Castle; I dived here once in December and had to defrost the zip on the tent to get out!
Passing through the port town of Tarbert I kept on the A 83 looking for the Kenacraig ferry terminal.  Just after the terminal I headed left onto the B 8001 to cross the peninsula and onto the many single track roads down the east side of the peninsula terminating at Campbeltown.  This is a great bit of road, the single track road sweeps along the cost before turning inland for a while then sweeping back to the coast with views of Arran over the water.  The roads down the east side of the peninsula are a lot like the island of Mull, there is also a good few seriously tight hairpins on the southern section near Campbeltown.

Having somehow getting myself lost in Campbeltown I eventually found the B 442 for Southend.  A nice country road with not to much to report, it is a fast road with nice sweeping bends and no surprises.  I did think about taking the road to the Mull of Kintyre lighthouse but decided to stick to my plan.  I was soon passing the 30 limit signs of Southend and noticed a lot of sand on the roads, lots of sand!  I could feel the bike moving around under me, if you are down this way watch out for it on the corners.  Five minutes later I was at my goal for today the beach at Carskey Bay.  I parked up the bike and spent a hour wandering around enjoying the sunshine and cool sea breeze.

I headed back the same way I had come and found another beach I had somehow missed on the way down.

I had a short stop to take on some water as the temperature had climbed to 28 deg C and I wanted to stay well hydrated.  I had a look at my notes and headed of for my next target, Machrihanish air base.  Well it’s not an airbase now but my diving past has given me a passing interest in all things war, so for today it is Machrihanish air base.  The sigle track roads around the base made for some interesting riding as well.  The road all around the runway are slightly lower so you can can’t actually see the runway in all it’s glory.

Leaving Machrihanish I headed for the main A 83 that would take me north u the west side of the peninsula.  Even though it is a main road there was very little traffic on it and the run back up towards Tarbert was a pleasure.  The road sweeps along, hugging the rocky coast then occasionally turning inland for a few miles before returning to the sea.  By now the temperature was up to 28deg C so I stopped ad Ardishaig for an ice cream.  I also cleaned the bugs of my visor, revenge for the wee blighters that were attacking me at Oban the night before!

North of Lochgilphead I pulled off the main road and headed for Crinan.  Following the canal down to the coast the gentle cooling breeze coming off the sea was a relief in the now stifling heat, there were even people swimming in the canal!  I stopped at a couple of the lock gates before continuing north along some of the dead strait single-track roads leading to A 816 and Kilmartin and onwards to Oban.

I couldn’t have got a better weekend for it.  It was scorching, dry and calm all weekend.  The weather held out for the ride home on the Monday as well, Glen Coe was stunning in the sunshine.  Somehow I ended up at the Green Welly as well, why does it always happen!