Saturday, 14 July 2018

West Fife - Into the bad lands

Bordering West Fife and Clackmannanshire is a big, green splodge on the map dotted by blue lochans and cross-hatched with a network of paths and trails. It’s called Devilla Forest. I’d seen photos of it online with early morning sun casting beams of golden light through old pine trees and I wanted to be there. So I strung together a summer cycle route into deepest Fife.

Devilla means “bad farm” and it’s thought that the name derives from the bad farming land to the north. Like much of Fife, the area today is largely devoted to farming but there are pleasing pockets of woodlands and flowery hedgerows with an ever-present sense of the sea to the south. Devilla is conveniently linked to Dunfermline by the West Fife Cycleway, a former railway line that speeds you out of town towards the Ochil Hills. But before it gets there, a rough farm track branches off and bumps its way into Devilla Forest. Despite the proximity of towns here, there was a wild atmosphere to the place and it was a while before I saw another soul.

The forest itself is a rich mosaic of habitats. There’s plenty commercial forestry of course but also open meadows and sections of track that pass through leafy broadleaved woods and skirt the edges of reed-fringed lochs. The highlight is a trail that loops through the ancient pine woods in the forest, a lowland stronghold of red squirrels. The dark waters of the lochan here reflected the bobbing heads of bog cotton and were danced over by dazzling blue damselflies.

There are interesting little snippets of history in the forest as well. I cycled by the Standard Stone, a large, flat stone with deep depressions. According to local legend, MacBeth and Banquo were defeated here by a Danish army in the Battle of Bordie Moor in 1038. However, the exact origin of the stone is not known, although usually such stones were where Scots placed their battle standards. But it could also be the placement for an ancient boundary marker or a wooden gallows.

As I cycled south out of the forest towards the Forth Estuary, I made a detour to a poignant little memorial. The bike bumped along a narrow path, pushing aside the overhanging, lush summer vegetation. The afternoon air was thick and hot now and filled with the buzz of busy insects. Where a stile crossed a fence, I left the bike and picked my way through thick bushes and trees, not really sure what I was expecting to find. But a little way further on I came upon the Plague Grave. This simple grave in the woods marks the last resting place of Robert, Agnes and Jean, the three children of James Bald who all died on the same day in 1645 of the plague. It was custom then to bury people who died of the plague out in the fields and presumably in the intervening 350 plus years, the woods had grown up around it. Despite the passage of so much time, local people obviously care for the grave because it was decorated with flowers, baubles and toys. 

From the Plague Grave, a rough farm track then continued south to the coast at the pretty village of Culross. Founded in the 6th century and once a busy port, the village has retained many of its beautiful historical buildings, such as the palace and town house, and numerous old cobbled streets. From Culross the cycle route travels east along the north shore of the Forth, passing old harbours and quiet beaches, before it reaches the Forth Bridges. From here you can turn north back into deepest Fife or, as I did, turn south and cycle over the quiet old Forth Bridge to Edinburgh.

Fact File
Start: Dunfermline
Finish: Edinburgh
Transport: Train to Dunfermline Town train station.
My route: I crossed to the east side of the train line, cycled downhill then swung right at the roundabout. Straight ahead a little further on is the south entrance to Pittencrieff Park. Cycled the main route through the park and out the top end. Straight up the road opposite, then left at the T junction then right on the next busier road. The Cycleway begins soon after on the left. The branch trail to Devilla is signed and is a bit rough in places though the trails are good once in the forest. I cycled the Red Squirrel Trail then followed signs for the Coastal Cycleway which picked a nice off-road route through to Culross.  From here the National Cycle Network can be followed to and over the Forth Bridges back to Edinburgh.
Info: A lovely coffee shop in Culross next to the palace – Bessie’s Café – with gluten free cakes. 

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Deeside Way - Rails to trails

If people were given the power to travel back in time, most people might choose to travel back to some tragic event and change the future for the better. For example, you might wish to travel back to April 1912 and persuade the captain of the Titanic to take a different course; or to Linz in 1898 where you would slip into the bedroom of a young Adolf Hitler and smother him with a pillow. But on a sunny Sunday in Deeside when my cycling friend Graham asked the hypothetical question as we pedalled along the trail, the answer that popped into my head was travelling back to 1963 to derail the Beeching Report. Dr Beeching’s 1960s review of railway infrastructure led to a massive cull of our railway network. It’s never really recovered and the line closures were a crucial factor that set in place the move to car-based transport systems and the deterioration of our public transport networks. And we all know the problems that’s brought.

That might seem a slightly random answer to Graham’s question but not if you realised that we were cycling along the Deeside Way at the time. It’s a long distance walking and cycling trail that mostly uses the bed of the old Deeside Railway which was … you’ve guessed … closed by the Beeching Report. Mind you, in some ways I shouldn’t grumble because all over the country these old railway lines have been turned to cycle trails, offering easy, flat cycling away from traffic. But I think I’d rather have the trains back!

The Deeside Way runs for 41 miles between Aberdeen and Ballater, and we were cycling it as day trips from a campsite base in Aboyne. For much of the way we were ensconced in woods where the straight-as-an-arrow trail could be seen for miles ahead as it formed a tunnel through green, broadleaved trees or between tall, majestic pines. In warm sun, the pines cast their sweet aroma on the air which always reminds me of cycling through the mountains in Portugal. Added to this, the trackside gorse was still in bloom and added its canary colour and coconut aroma to the scene. In other places, the trail was not straight but a pleasing meander through the woods with gentle curves wherever tree trunks formed a chicane.

I said above that rails-to-trails routes are mostly flat but between Aboyne and Banchory the Deeside Way leaves the old railway line and does a couple of stiff climbs. The first was a series of “s” bends on a singletrack path that wound its way up into wooded hills before dropping back down to the River Dee at Kincardine O’Neil, the oldest village on Deeside. 

The second climb was a more gradual but longer pull up through Slewdrum Woods. Near the top it swung by the popular walking and biking trails of Scolty Hill, which had a nice outdoorsy vibe. It then plummeted down to Banchory and our hearts sank – this was an out and back ride so we would have to do both climbs again on the return leg. Luckily all the smart, little towns around here have great coffee shops for refuelling with cake. Our favourite was the beautiful café in the old waiting room of the former train station in Aboyne.

The cycling on the Deeside Way itself was great but there were also a couple of brilliant detours from the route. The first was the ancient pine wood of Glen Tanar, a short ride from Aboyne along quiet back roads and then forest trails. Sitting for a while up here we enjoyed the evening sunshine and the peace and surrounding nature of St Lesmo’s Chapel on the edge of the woods. Bluebells nodded in the breeze while swooping swallows and the gentle ring of the chapel’s bell filled the summer air.

The second detour was near Dinnet to a place I’d always wanted to see – the Burn O’Vat. We parked up the bikes and set out walking along a gorgeous forest trail passing huge boulders called erratics, left by the retreating glaciers of the last Ice Age. Suddenly the trail appeared to end at a wall of these big boulders but, on getting closer, we could see the stream flowing out and a narrow gap through which we could squeeze. We stood in awe and delight on the other side as we found ourselves in the Vat, a huge pothole measuring 18 metres across and 13 high.  

The pothole was formed by the melting of the vast ice sheets that covered this area 16,000 years ago. It is thought that a rock from the meltwater stream became lodged in a hollow on the river bed, causing the water to flow around it in a spiralling motion. Over a long period of time this created the pothole and over subsequent millenia the pothole half-filled with silt which was what we were standing on to gawp up at the Vat. 

The Deeside Way ends at the beautiful Victorian train station in Ballater which is currently in the latter stages of its renovation. Later in 2018 it will re-open as a new museum when it will be a fitting end point for the route. My friend Graham and I both agreed that we would love to ride this rails-to-trails route again for that reason alone, never mind the pretty towns and scenery. 

Until then I’ll be working at perfecting my time travel skills so I can go back to 1963 and thwart the dastardly Dr Beeching.

Fact File
Start/finish: Aboyne
Transport: On this rare occasion we used Graham's car to save money on train fares and to cycle for a change without carrying all the kit. But the route can be accessed by train from Aberdeen and starts there in Duthie Park.
Route: We stayed at Aboyne Loch Caravan Park which has a small area for tents. The Deeside Way is right at the entrance to the camspite and links it to Aboyne itself. First day we cycled east beyond Banchory. Second day we cycled the west section to Ballater, leaving the route as it neared Cambus O'May to take the A93 then the B9119 to Muir of Dinnet Nature Reserve where there is a visitor centre and waymarked trails including that to the Vat. For the detour to Glen Tanar we cycled south over the Dee at Aboyne then right on the B976. Glen Tanar is signposted at Bridge o'Ess. Again there's a small visitor centre and a network of trails. The whole Deeside Way route is very well signed.
Info: The best coffee shop (of many good ones in and en route to the area) was in Aboyne, called Spider on a Bicycle, a beautiful place in the old station waiting room. 

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Kintail - Meandering Munroist

I have to confess that I'm not a very committed Munro bagger. Of course, I really enjoy getting up a Munro but I just can't be bothered if the cloud is down and I'm not going to get a good view from the top. And, after all, the views and encounters can be just as enjoyable down in the glens or along the coast. So my ideal backpacking trip in the Scottish outdoors is a place with lovely low level walking but also the chance to nip up a Munro if a good, clear day happens along.

Kintail fitted the bill perfectly when I was there for my May holidays. There are gorgeous, interconnecting low level trails plus an ample pick of close-at-hand Munros if the sun should shine. I set out from Morvich on a beautiful day of clear blue skies. As the trail climbed away from the village up towards Bealach an Sgairne, I was really heartened by the natural regeneration here that's turned a barren glen into rich woodland thanks to the stewardship of the National Trust for Scotland. How lovely it was to meander through the cool woods. Eventually the trail left the woods and zig-zagged up towards the pass. 

As it was such a gorgeous day, I decided to pick off the beautiful Munro of Beinn Fhada. I'd climbed it once before a long time ago and its beauty had stayed in my memory for all the years since. A super stalker's path climbs up through Beinn Fhada's stunning corrie, a huge bowl enclosed by ragged, snow-streaked cliffs, then pops out onto the vast, flat plateau. The last time I was up here a thunder and lighting storm had moved across and I remember crouching behind a boulder until it passed. No crouching this time, just an easy stroll to the top for views across Kintail, Knoydart, Skye and Monar. 

I dropped back down to the trail and continued through the tight, rocky pass of Bealach an Sgairne. I love this route. Having been transported through this narrow cut between steep hillsides without a view, the pass suddenly spits you out on the other side and there is a new panorama. Below your feet are the sapphire blue waters of Loch a Bealach and ahead the pointed peak of Mullach Fraoch Coire, tinged with the soft evening light of a sinking sun. I pitched the tent on the loch shore and watched the black-throated divers on the water. One of my favourite birds.

The next day was a low level day. It was raining and the cloud was down over the tops. So I meandered. I meandered eastwards into the remote headwaters of Glen Affric, marvelling again at the forest regeneration around here and stopping to take a photo of a group of tree-planting volunteers who are making it happen. This long, low level trail eventually emerges at Cannich. It passes by the most remote youth hostel in Scotland, Glen Affric Youth Hostel, which is well used and much loved by walkers and, increasingly, by the more adventurous cyclists. 

As the afternoon cleared up, I had a real treat in store. My trail turned into Gleann na Ciche, a stunning place where the river meanders through a valley of lush birch and pine woods hemmed in by a horseshoe of shapely Munros, still touched by the snows of a late winter. I pitched the tent and dreamed of a good day tomorrow for picking off another Munro.

The day dawned grey but clear and dry, a useable kind of day rather than a stunning one. It was a long, rough walk along the remainder of the glen followed by a steep pull up the back wall. I saw not another soul, neither in the glen nor along the ridge to the top of my Munro, Sgurr nan Conbhairean, which means Peak of the Keepers of the Hounds  . It was marvellous to sit up there with the world to myself. Although not for long in a chill wind that was blowing in a new weather front.

The weather front brought rain and wind throughout the next day so I was glad I'd got up a hill the day before. I meandered back to Morvich on a different trail that runs along the south side of Beinn Fhada along the Fionngleann. There are two nice things about this route. The first is the pretty Camban Bothy, a great spot to escape the rain and sit a while looking out the window with a brew. The second nice thing are the waterfalls as you descend the other side of the pass. The trail itself passes right over one of the waterfalls and that day the wind was so fierce that it was actually blowing the water back uphill into my face. 

The route finishes by returning to Morvich along the long, green valley of Gleann Lichd. It's bounded on the south by the steep sides of the Five Sisters of Kintail and today their secretive summits disappeared into swirling grey cloud. I might have had an easy wander along the glen but the thought of a hot shower back at the campsite at Morvich turned the final few miles into a march rather than a meander. 

Fact File
Start/finish: Morvich, near Shiel Bridge
Public transport: Citylink Glasgow-Skye bus stops at Ault a Chruinn, then it's approx 2km walk along a quiet back road.
My route: Continued to the road end beyond Morvich then followed the signed hill path through the crofts here. Signed for Falls of Glomach but where the path splits in an open meadow, I took the right hand fork for Bealach an Sgairne/Beinn Fhada. The path climbs up the side of the valley, crosses a side stream (can be tricky in spate) and above here there is another split - I took the right hand split again which is an excellent path up through Beinn Fhada's corrie to the edge of the plateau. No clear path to the top but no problems in good visibility. Returned to the main trail and continued through Bealach an Sgairne then on passed Glen Affric youth hostel to the cottage at Athnamulloch. Just passed here the track junctions - I turned right into Gleann na Ciche. A track then path of variable quality/clarity continue to the head of the glen. A faint path zig-zagged up the back wall and was easier to find on the way down. I continued along the ridge towards the top, eventually a path appeared where the more popular route comes up from Glen Shiel. Returned via same route to Gleann na Ciche. For the return to Morvich, I went back passed Glen Affric youth hostel and soon after the trail splits (signed). I took the trail passed Camban Bothy and into Gleann Lichd, a nice contrast to the outward route and now part of the Affric Kintail Way. Returns to the road end at Morvich. 

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Glen Dessarry - Bothy night

I don't often sleep in bothies when I'm out in the hills, preferring the privacy and cosiness of my tent, but I do like to visit them, perhaps for a lunch stop or to briefly escape the rain. But recently I did end up over-nighting in one to escape some extremely wet weather. 

For those uninitiated in the Scottish outdoors, l should explain that bothies are basic, open shelters out in the hills which anyone is free to stay in for a night or two. Generally they are very old buildings with a wee bit of history attached to them and often set in stunning, remote locations. All this sounds good but the reality is they are cold and dark and infested by mice. You may not see the little chaps during the day but, boy, do they party after dark. Despite these negatives, it's wonderful to see a bothy appear on the horizon on a long walk because they do convey a pleasant sense of place and homeliness. Needless to say, some of them have achieved legendary status amongst hill folk, for example Shenavall Bothy which nestles below one of Scotland's shapeliest peaks, An Teallach. And some are simply lovely places like Suardalan Bothy near Glenelg, pictured above.

As well as the rampant mice population, the following standard items are found in every bothy:

  • wooden sleeping platform to keep you and your belongings off the floor (see mice above)
  • fireplace and often a stock of dry wood
  • leftover food from previous bothy guests (explains the mice above)
  • candlesticks (often an empty whisky bottle but often something quite elegant)
  • a spade for those . .. ahem . . visits outside
  • a bothy book where all guests record the vivid stories of their stay (usually involves the mice above)
I ended up having a bothy night after four days of rain put the rivers into spate and blocked my walk west. l headed round to A' Chuil Bothy in Glen Dessarry to camp on my favourite camp spot beside the river. But on this occasion my favourite spot was actually IN the river. The ground all around was sodden so I creaked open the door of the bothy, a former shepherd's cottage. Aside from the mice, there was only one other occupant - a rather posh chap from Kent with a BBC accent. He was in the area to bag some Munros. When l entered, he was bandaging his shins which were gushing blood as he'd fallen crossing a swollen river. As well as this, much of his gear was sopping wet. He must have been really relieved to have made it to the bothy.

A' Chuil Bothy has two separate rooms so we took one each and settled in for the night. The wind rattled the windows, the rain battered the roof and the mice sounded like they were tearing the place apart. But l was quite cosy and comfy in my sleeping bag. As I drifted off to sleep, I could hear the fire crackle in the other room and the voices from my housemate's long wave radio. It was rather nice and reminded me of being put to bed as a kid but lying awake listening to your parents' voices and the TV downstairs.

Next morning rain swept across the view from the bothy window in wind-driven sheets. The man from Kent decided to stay on and dry out. l decided to trek out east, said farewell and creaked closed the bothy door.

Fact File
Start/finish: Glenfinnan
Public transport: Trains to Glenfinnan from Fort William.
Route: A road then track heads north from the station up Glen Finnan, signed for Strathan. Beyond Corryhully Bothy it becomes a path with high pass to trek over into Gleann Cuirnean. In spate, I would cross the river high up not where the crossing point is shown on the OS map. The trail crosses the River Pean by bridge then enters forestry. Turn right on the forest track then left at the next track junction. This leads to the bothy - after a little under 4km look for a small cairn and path on the right heading down into the woods.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Glen Loin - Right turns

A low cloud day in the Arrochar Alps equals a low level circuit equals a day of turning right to complete the Glen Loin loop. A lush woodland path connected the train station to the village then our walk meandered for the rest of the day below crags and snow-filled gullies. A more promising outward leg than the map suggested, with open views to the bits of Ben Lomond and other hills not in the cloud. Then a gorgeous walk over the pass of Glen Loin as early evening sunshine broke through the clouds. We pitched the tents in thin birch woods filled with birdsong.

Fact File
Start/finish: Arrochar and Tarbert train station
Public transport: Glasgow to Oban/Mallaig trains
Our route: At the bottom of the platform steps, turn right and a beautiful path undulates through the woods to Arrochar. We walked along the waterfront then picked up the signed hill path. Where it met a track close to a mast, we turned right and followed this track. Eventually it crossed a side stream at hydro station and we turned right. This track eventually joined the tarmac road to Sloy dam and when it did we turned right again and soon another right, picking up the signs for the Three Lochs Way. A delightful path then returned to Arrochar via Glen Loin. We camped near its head.

Monday, 16 April 2018

The Slate Islands - Cobalt and copper

Cobalt and copper were the colours for my cycle tour south of Oban to the Slate Islands. With the sun still low early in the year, the clear skies were deep cobalt with a few brush strokes of white. And before the first flush of spring greens, the hills held their copper tones from last year's autumn.

The Slate Islands are a cluster of small islands off the west coast of Scotland, south of Oban. I had to cycle over the Atlantic Ocean to get there! Or at least I had to cycle over the bridge over the Atlantic, as the old Clachan Bridge is called. Its single arch crosses the narrow Clachan Sound which, it is said, is directly linked with the Atlantic. In the 18th and 19th centuries the islands had a thriving slate industry that roofed some of our most prestigous buildings such as the cathedrals of Glasgow and Iona, and Castle Stalker. The slate was also exported worldwide. Catastrophic flooding during the great storm of 1850 closed many of the quarries though the industry continued on a smaller scale up to the 1950s when the last slate was cut. 

Cycling across the islands to the tune of skylarks, I wouldn't have guessed at this industrial past. The remains of the quarries are dotted about the place but nature has softened their edges and it's become a peaceful part of the country. The cycling, if short, was wonderful along empty, single track roads surrounded by acres of sea and sky. The Clachan Bridge connected me from the mainland to Seil and little ferries connected Seil with Easdale and with Luing, on the other side of the fast-flowing waters of the Cuan Sound.

Drifting along the road that rises and falls along the top of Luing, I felt a million miles away from the modern world. I pulled into its two main villages, Toberonochy and Cullipool, cycling along the narrow road between rows of quaint whitewashed quarriers' cottages. The island is famous for its indigenous breed of Luing cattle. 

Easdale is also a breed apart when it comes to islands. There are no cars or roads and the ferry is little more than a rowing boat with an engine. The locals move their goods around by wheelbarrow and when I landed at the slate-lined harbour, the first sight that greeted me was a row of wheelbarrows, each with a house number painted on. Easdale is famous these days for hosting the world stone skimming championships. It was easy to see why as I ambled along the shore, crunching over millions of perfectly oval, smooth skimming stones. 

I explored the islands from my base, a quirky little campsite at the Cuan Sound. The comings and goings of the ferry were a pleasant backdrop with its softly rumbling engine and the regular boom of the deck opening onto the slipway. I sat on the headland here with my evening cuppa and watched the sinking sun paint the cobalt sky pink and peach.

Fact File
More photos on Flickr
Start/finish: Oban
Public transport: Train to Oban from Glasgow Queen Street
My route: Followed cycle route 78 out of Oban and at the top of the hill, followed cycle signs for Taynuilt then down the west shore of Loch Awe. Half way down, just before Dalavich, I took the road west to Kilmelford which was fab. At Kilmelford I turned left then right for Melfort. Followed the coast road towards Degnish and just before a right of way signed for Armaddy climbs over the hill. It's mostly cyclable, just a couple of very short steep and loose bits. On hitting tarmac again, I headed for the Clachan Bridge onto Seil. The routes for Seil, Luing and Easdale are obvious! Easdale is tiny so I didn't take the bike over. The campsite was at Cuan House, to the right just before the Cuan ferry to Luing. Highly recommended.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Appin - There's been a murder

On 14 May 1752, Colin Roy Campbell of Glenure, the government-appointed factor to the forfeited estates of the Clan Stewart of Appin in North Argyll, was shot and killed near Duror. The search for the killer targeted the local clan, the Jacobite Stewarts of Appin, who had recently suffered evictions on Campbell's orders. The chief suspect had fled so James Stewart (also known as James of the Glen) was arrested and tried for the murder. Although it was clear at the trial that James was innocent, he was found guilty and hanged on 8 November 1752 on a specially commissioned gibbet above the narrows at Ballachulish, now near the south entrance to the Ballachulish Bridge. This episode of history is known as the Appin Murder. My friend Graham and I recently explored the murder scene by bicycle on a three-day mini tour.

Our cycle started at Connel Ferry station as we jumped off the train at the stop before Oban. The cycle north from here is sublime as it’s mostly off-road on specially built bike paths on a route called the Caledonia Way. It uses a variety of methods to travel north – disused railway line, bits of old road and farm tracks. At times you are drifting through woodland and at other times you’re hugging the coast, right at the edge of the sea.  

In mid March the temperature was bracing and every now and then the east wind blew in light flurries of snow across our route. But when the sun was out the views across the sea to the snow-streaked peaks of Ardgour set against a cornflower blue sky were stunning.

Late afternoon on the first day, we left the Caledonia Way at Duror on the trail of James of the Glen. We climbed up high into the hills above the village on forest tracks, pushing the steeper sections, and wondering, as the track seemed to go on forever, if we would find what we were looking for. But eventually we came out into a clearing in the woods and arrived at Duror Bothy, once the home of James of the Glen. 

It’s a one-roomed dwelling with sleeping bunks at one end and an open fireplace at the other. Standing looking out the door the view stretches south across the snow-covered steep slopes on the other side of Glen Duror. There were the remains of farming enclosures on the hillside behind which is the back side of the shapely peak of Beinn a'Bheithir above Ballachulish. As we stood taking in the atmosphere of this old place, a stiff wind with an Arctic edge was screaming through the pass that is the exit from the glen to the east. So we might have stayed in the bothy but for its other occupant lighting a stinking fire. Instead we pitched the tents just outside.

Next day, after the morning sun had eventually climbed above the peaks and raised a faint warmth in our tents, we enjoyed the fast downhill back to Duror to rejoin the Caledonia Way and cycle further north. Before long we were approaching South Ballachulish on the old railway line that once dropped passengers at the Ballachulish ferries. We lingered a while below the bridge, near the place of James’ hanging, before cycling on to Glen Coe. Up the calm waters of Loch Leven, the Glen Coe peaks and the Mamores were a dramatic, snow-covered backdrop.

It was time to turn tail and head back south but we had a different plan for the return, taking in the island of Lismore. As we passed for the second time the atmospheric battlements of Castle Stalker, we turned off for the village of Port Appin, a sleepy little hamlet on a peninsula of the mainland that’s a stone’s throw from the top of Lismore. 

There’s a tiny passenger ferry here that would take us and our bikes onto the island the next morning. But before that, for our second night out in tents, we found an idyllic camp spot on a grassy headland. The panorama stretched across snow-covered mountains, islands and skerries, and a sea that was like a mill pond. Geese drifted offshore and a seal patrolled up and down, curious to our presence. 

The gorgeous weather prevailed next day as the little ferry deposited us on Lismore for more sublime cycling. A single track road bounded by drystone dykes undulates gently along the spine of the island. Some daffodils were making an appearance, despite the cold, and the air was alive with birdsong. But what is truly remarkable about Lismore is its slightly detached and low-lying nature such that the 360 degree views were astonishing, taking in the snow-covered peaks of Ballachulish, Ben Cruachan behind Oban and Ben More on Mull as well as other islands and the squiggly coastline of the mainland here which is sculpted by sea lochs and peninsulae. It was absolutely beautiful. 

Conveniently for us, there is a another, larger ferry that leaves the bottom end of Lismore. We jumped on it mid afternoon and marvelled at the stunning coastal landscape that passed by the windows – it was a little too bracing to be out on deck for more than a few minutes. In just under an hour, the ferry was pulling into the busy harbour at Oban. 

With a few calorie-burning miles under our belts and time to kill before the evening train, we thought we might take advantage of Oban’s reputation for fresh seafood … and decided we could fair murder a fish supper! 

Fact File
All the photos on Flickr - click HERE
Start: Connel Ferry train station
Finish: Oban
Public transport: The start and end points are on the Glasgow-Oban train line. Route uses the Port Appin-Lismore passenger ferry and the Oban-Lismore car ferry.
Route: Exited Connel Ferry train station and immediately picked up cycle signs for the Caledonia way, direction of Fort William. At Duror the Way crosses a side road, we turned right here to cycle into Glen Duror. Once the road ends and forest tracks begin there are signs (yellow on blue Saltire) for the bothy. At Ballahulish Bridge we left the Caledonia Way to detour into the west end of Glen Coe on bike path for a nice lunch at Crafts and Things. On the way back south, just after Castle Stalker, we left the Way and crossed the wooden Jubilee Bridge then joined the single track road down to Port Appin. We camped near here then took the hourly passenger ferry across to Lismore. Cycled the main road of Lismore south, doing a nice wee offroad loop by following signs for Sailean - looks like private farm road but it's actually public road. The farmer here is just about to finish renovating a bothy and will offer camping plus use of the bothy. It's a gorgeous spot, will be great for kayakers as well. Took the Lismore to Oban ferry.