The Caledonian Way – part 3 of our holiday

The third part of our holiday was the main part of the cycling holiday. This was the tour we had wanted to do in the first place, and part 1 and 2 were only added because we could, because why not cycling to Ardrossen instead of taking the train?, because I didn’t want to cycle through Glasgow, because the C2C had been on our list too, because the NCN7 Lochs & Glens tour connected the two nicely, and because we had not been to the south of Scotland before. H

Here’s a map with our stops:

And the stats: The Caledonian Way, 9 days of cycling plus 2 rest days in Oban and Foyers. We followed the NCN 78 route from Campbeltown to Inverness over a total of 433km, climbing over 4,800m over the distance.
Sunday 11 July, Campbeltown to Peninver, 7.2km distance covered, 128m elevation gain
Monday 12 July, Peninver to Tarbert/Corribuie,
50.8km, 998m
Tuesday 13 July, Tarbert to Kilberry/Port Ban,
27km, 379m
Wednesday 14 July, Kilberry to Torran Bay,
57.72km, 507m
Thursday 15 July, Torran Bay to Oban,
57.38km, 1089m
Friday 16 July, rest day, 2x5km into Oban and back to the campsite
Saturday 17 July, Oban to Duror/Lagnaha,
53.17km, 504m
Sunday 18 July, Duror/ Lagnaha to Corpach/Fort William, 60.4km, 263m
Monday 19 July, Corpach/Fort William to Foyers/Loch Ness, 76.95km, 784m
Tuesday 20 July, rest day, walk up to Foyers Fall
Wednesday 20 July, Foyers to Inverness,
32.84km, 219m

Tour profile – all the hills and humps we crossed (in miles and feet, not metric)

9 days of cycling, seven times our tent pitched, one night slept in bunk beds in a glamping pod aka a wooden hut, one night in beds in a hostel. Tortellini and tomato sauce, beans and sausages, various wraps, or hot dogs for dinner, all cooked on a gas camping cooker, muesli and bagels and bloomer for breakfast, all eaten on campsite benches or cross legged in the tent; cheese and chorizo on whatever bread we could get for lunch, sitting on park benches or tree trunks, or standing around our bikes; cakes and scones wherever we found them; uncountable litres of tab water to quench the thirst, and always STOATS bars and sweets and apples to top up our energy.

I have neither gained nor lost any weight; but knowing that I have gained muscles not only in my legs from cycling but also in my arms and upper body from pushing my bike plus 15 to 20 kg luggage up some of those pesky hills, I have definitely burned some fat reserves. Even after two days of rest, now being back home, I still have slightly sore muscles. I guess, it will take another day or two until I stop sighing when getting up from a chair or silently swearing when climbing stairs …

And another couple of days until I manage catching up with all the posts I still have in my mind to write. But somehow it again is way beyond bedtime … Night night

Back home

We made it home. As said yesterday, it was a bit of an abrupt ending to our cycle trip, but in the end it all worked out. Instead of pitching in Inverness again, riding out of town for the campsite and back in, worrying over train times and interchanges and more, we had a couple of hours of stress to prep the bikes and hope for the best to have a driver who accepts three bikes on their bus. The bus ride home took under four hours, Ingo managed to get the bikes cycle-ready quickly and so we had one last ride from the bus terminal behind the new St. James Quarter across the bridges and through the Meadows home to Bruntsfield where we started two and a half weeks earlier.

Three tours – 875 km over 16 days

We spent the day with unpacking, washing laudry, resting, and quietly digesting the impressions from our trip. I still have two unwritten blog posts in my mind, about our daily routines and habits on tour as well as some photo highlights to share.

Day 18 – The End

So, that’s us. We reached Inverness!

The most uninspiring sign – no extra way marker, just a road sign a few metres away from Inverness castle, which currently is a building site. So unfortunately the end of the tour, the reaching of the final destination turned out to be a bit of an anti-climax.

But hey ho, no time to waste, no time to be disappointed, we had another far more important problem to solve: how to get home?

Option 1 was to cycle home. We have four days of our holidays left, so could cycle the 300km back. But we thought that 875km in 16 days on the bikes is enough. And a couple of days at home relaxing before Ingo and I are back to work would be nice too.

Option 2 was to take a train. That was our plan. But even a one hour phone call with the ticket and reservation line couldn’t get us on a train together in one go from Inverness to Edinburgh. We made a reservation for two trains with an interchange in Aberdeen, but with two of us leaving at three in the afternoon and the other one leaving already at lunchtime. But we didn’t book tickets, as there was a problem with that.

And then Ingo came up with option 3, trying to get us on a coach. They say ‘bikes on request” and if there’s space, but the information on the website was rather vague. So before heading to the train station again to try and get us on one train or without an interchange, we thought, we’d also ask the City Link bus company.

So, straight from the terminus of the Caledonian Way sign to the bus terminal. Yes, there is a bus to Edinburgh today, and in theory buses take bikes, if there’s space, it’s up to the driver. But the bikes need to be bagged or wrapped.

“Okay, we do that then”, and booked three tickets for the 17.15 bus First we had one last lunch on a bench, then Ingo went into a bargain store to buy extra large refuse sacks and tape. We unpacked our bikes, took off the pedals, turned the handle bars, and bagged each bike.

The bus driver wasn’t impressed, but since there wasn’t any other luggage to go into the boot, we were allowed all three bikes “usually we only take 2 bikes, did they not tell you when buying the tickets?” – No, they didn’t!

Anyway, it’s twenty past nine, and we have just crossed Queensferry Crossing. I can see the Pentland Hills, and in less than half an hour we will reach the Edinburgh bus terminal. Another half an hour to get the bikes cycle ready and a final twenty minutes to ride home.

A sudden end. 18 days. 16 days of cycling. Three tours in one. South, west, north. 875km cycled, over 9,000m climbed. 14 campsites, a hostel, a glamping pod.

Day 17/2 – Three tours in one

We started our big summer holiday cycle ride Sunday two weeks ago.
The first part was cycling from our doorstep out to the shore of Musselburgh – the east coast of Scotland – and then down south to the west coast of Scotland in Annan. The ‘Scottish C2C‘ tour took us three days, it stretched over 202 km and was a tough start to our holidays, lots of wind, lots of hills.

View back to Edinburgh with Arthur’s Seat and the Pentland Hills

I loved the views, the remoteness just a stone-throw from Edinburgh, wonderful landscapes, rolling hills, though definitely easier cycling along the valleys between them then crossing over them. Navigating this tour was tricky, the route was created and is sign-posted to cycle from Annan to Edinburgh, so south to north, and it doesn’t always follow national cycle network routes. Ingo, our navigator, had to read the travel booklet back to front, and most of the time rather consulted his phone and GPS than the printed maps. But we found our way!
Edinburgh – Glentress/Peebles: 75.8km
Glentress – Moffat: 63km
Moffat – Annan/Powfoot: 63.5km

The second part took us west then north again, following the NCN 7 route, called ‘Lochs and Glens‘ by Sustrans, 240km over four days and a morning.
After three days of strong headwind and some stiff hills from the C2C tour our legs were tired. And not just that: we are 3 years older than on our Outer Hebrides tour, which plays against Ingo and me and for Robert, being stronger and taller and on a grown-ups bike now. Ingo and I also are less fit than last time: Ingo hasn’t been cycling to and from work every day for the two years of the pandemic, I haven’t done as much running recently, and also, we both had COVID two weeks before we left. So we slowed down at the start of the second part.
The NCN 7 route was super well sign-posted. But it was created to avoid roads completely, or uses minor or side roads – at times more farm tracks than roads with potholes amass or grit and stones rather than tarmac, and to take the scenic route. Sometimes we simply wanted to get from A to B, so cut the odd bit short where we thought it’s helpful.
All in all, the NCN 7 route was lovely, going from Dumfries and Galloway into Ayrshire, changing landscapes again, hilly in places, but more often we struggled with the humps along the way, the short and sharp 10m ups and downs, rather than long winedy uphill stretches. The last long trip from Glentrool to Prestwick was great with the changes from forest to farmland over two hills and then the long cruise down to the Ayrshire coast – in the best of sunshine.  Just wonderful!
The last few kilometres to catch the ferry to Kintyre were flat and easy and enjoyable. We were proud to have managed to get there in time, as the ferry only goes Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays.
Annan – Beeswing: 42km
Beeswing to Kirkcudbright: 36.5km
Kirkcudbright to Glentrool: 59.5km
Glentrool to Prestwick: 70km
From Prestwick to Ardrossen: 32km

Tomorrow we will cycle the last thirty and a bit kilometres to Inverness to finish part three of our tour, the Caledonian Way. Part four, which is from Inverness back home, will most likely happen by train – if we are able to make a reservation for 3 bikes.

More on that in another post.

Day 17 – it’s going to be hot!

It’s is 8am, we are not cycling today, so no need to rush.

It is 8am, and inside the tent it’s already hot, hot, hot. So I took my map & sleeping bag outside to watch the clouds, to listen to the birds, to look into the green, and to listen to the first noises of a morning on a campsite: tent zips pulled, flip-flops on grass on their way to the wash house, the odd bark of a dog, first cluttering of dishes …

It’s going to be a hot day today, we’ll take it easy.

Day 16 – the penultimate ride

We’re almost there, only one thirty-odd kilometres ride left to get us to Inverness. Today we again had a long ride – 77km, might be our longest actually – from a village next to Fort William along the Great Glen to Fort Augustus and then another section to Foyers, climbing 400m over only 8km with some great views over Loch Ness.

And again we cycled against the clock, but this is a story for another day. It’s past eleven, I’m exhausted, and we’ve got a toasty warm night ahead. 28° today, 29° tomorrow. So we just decided to take another cycling day off, visit the Falls of Foyers and maybe even dip our toes into Loch Ness. Night night.

Day 15 – and we’re still cycling

Another 60km for today, and for a change, almost totally flat and almost no wind!

We started from the fabulous Lagnaha campsite in Duror and pedalled 7.5km to Ballachulish. There Ingo unloaded his bike, and while Robert and I were waiting, Ingo did an extra 8km detour to a supermarket to buy enough food to bring us through today and tomorrow’s breakfast. We then carried on along a busy road, but luckily on a cycle path, to the Corran ferry which brought us in 10min to the west side of the Loch Linnhe, so we could cycle on a small, low traffic road north.

The low hanging clouds from the morning had lifted and the blue sky and only few clouds allowed great views across the Loch towards Fort William and Ben Nevis towering behind.

Usually, 10 miles crossing with the Corran ferry to the west side, there is another ferry in Camusnagaul to bring pedestrians and cycling back to the east shore and into Fort William. But this ferry doesn’t go on Sundays. We had read about it, but never thought it to be a problem. But with our rest day in Oban our schedule changed, and yesterday evening we realised that the short 30-35 km ride bringing us into Fort William didn’t work out and that instead we had to cycle around Loch Eil to get to Ft William and the campsite. A cycle along the busy A82 would have been much shorter – but far too dangerous!

I had a lot more in my mind to write today. Cycling gives a lot of head space, just pedalling, looking around, and letting the mind wander. But the days simply are too short. We arrived at 5pm at the campsite, had to check-in then decide about the right place and pitch the tent, had a biscuit, checked out the facilities, sorted out bags, had dinner, washed up, had showers – and there you go, it’s 10pm! And we still haven’t decided about tomorrow’s tour: it’s 70km to the next campsite. 50km flat, then a stiff 10km uphill cycle from sea level to 400+m followed by a swooping descent to the campsite. And all that on a 25° day with full on sunshine and no wind!

Day 14 – Oban to Duror, Lagnaha Farm Campsite

Two weeks of cycling! And today was a really nice ride of about 50km from Oban, first back over the same hill we came into town two days ago on a minor road, then almost all of the rest of the ride along a former railway line, mostly flat, often through woodland, easy cycling, little wind.

More tomorrow, off to sleep!

Day 13 – Oban: sunshine, fish & chips, and ice cream

After twelve days of cycling from one place to the next, we stopped for a day.

It rained all night, and when at my usual getting-up time between 7 and 7.30am it still was pitter-pattering on the tent, I simply turned round again and added another hour and a half of sleep, only crawling out of the tent past 9 when the sun had come out.

We cycled – but only 5km to get into Oban, and had a good fish & chips for lunch, walked up and down the high street, had an ice cream sitting in the sun.

Day 12 – We reached Oban

No photos today, and no route and profile screenshots either – because Robert recorded and the WiFi as well as the phone reception is rather weak here on the Oban campsite, so any data transfers are tricky. Text usually works fine, so I’ll at least give a quick update.

As mentioned yesterday, we stayed at a hostel. The second most expensive stay on this tour, and one of the least nicest ones. We had a room with a double and a single bed, our own bathroom, and a shared kitchen. All warm and dry, but in dire need of a thorough clean. After being on bikes for over ten days, wearing only the second set of clothes, using shared facilities on campsites or public toilets, eating on benches etc. we are used to basics and I accept a lot more these days to what I did years ago. So, it was bearable, but definitely neither worse the money we paid, nor what a hostel could and should be like. Anyway, we slept well enough, could use the kitchen and sit on table and chairs inside, and didn’t need to strike a tent and pack up. So we left at ten o’clock sharp to head to Oban.

Our ride was about 56km from the hostel in Torran Bay to the big Tesco supermarket in Oban, plus another 5km out of town to reach the campsite. It started with a tough climb over a first hill followed by a second climb before we reached a Post Office plus shop plus cafe in Dolovich – perfect for a cake and coffee. Another two hours of pedalling including some ups and downs until we reached Taynuilt, a wee village with another post office and shop (which sells ice cream – guess what we had after our lunch stop on a bench in the middle of the village) next to an award winning butcher, a grocery store, and around the corner of spotless public toilets. Ingo mentioned that the person running the hostel should get some advice from the person looking after the public loo …

And from Taynuilt it wasn’t too far – but again rather hilly – to Oban. We got thereby about 4pm, which is pretty good. We had the two options of cycling to the campsite, pitching, and cycling 5kmbsck into town without luggage for dinner, or to buy and cook food at the campsite – I called for the second option, I wouldn’t have been up for a ride back and out again. It turned out to be a good call – not long after we had cooked the rain set in. And it’s going to be a very wet night, heavy rain is forecasted for most of the night.

If it was for me, we have a rest day tomorrow – take it easy, cycle into Oban for coffee and lunch and ice cream and cake and dinner, and plan for the last three sections: from Oban to Fort Williams, and from there to Fort Augustus and Inverness along Loch Ness. 115 miles, the next 80 or so rather flat.

Night night for now.