Words by Rutland Cycling staff member Dan Murtagh
By now you'll no doubt have read the blog posts for our last 2 adventures and earlier this year we set off on our 3rd Adventure to Scotland. We have experienced all kinds of weather, incidents and mechanicals so with our now vast experience and dialled in luggage solutions courtesy of Ortlieb we set off to Scotland for a few days. It would be a short warm up trip in advance of our ride across the French alps later this year and a further snagging test to make sure we really know what we are doing when we go in at the deep end.
In other words. We have now taken the arm bands are off and are actual experts in lightweight speed touring.
We set off on the Caledonian Sleeper from London with the aim of riding to and the around the Isle of Mull before heading back to Fort William. The 4th day would be a shorter ride home from with London or somewhere a bit closer like Bedford or St Neots. Normally Alex breaks a bone before any long trip and this time it was no different - Just a few weeks before he visited his friends at Nottingham A&E to have his wrist plastered up following a short mountain bike ride which started better than it ended. In fact, he now has a parking sport reserved for him and is on first name terms with the doctors. He was just about OK enough by the time the trip came around, so here we were again setting off with everything we needed to survive for 4 days and one freshly healed bone.
We got to Scotland on the sleeper train from London which would get us to Fort William for breakfast. The first thing you need to know is the Caledonian Sleeper is not the Orient Express. We had a romantic view of what it would be like, but it turns out its not like we thought. Partly (entirely) our own fault, but we ended up in a furnace (Called �sleeper cabin�) and it was really quite noisy! So, if you want a good nights sleep I would suggest you book a hotel rather than a moving train. And, if you go all the way to Fort William be warned, you have to wake up in the middle of the night to move your bikes from one carriage to another when you are in Edinburgh. Great start...
Its not all bad, don't get me wrong - But know what you are in for in advance and you'll be better served than us. If you live in London, or the south Its definitely worth travelling on the sleeper train but by the time we had got to London and then travelled up we could have driven from the midlands to Fort William and got a hotel. Still, we arrived just after 10am after setting off from London at 8pm the night before and did get some sleep so it wasn't all bad. Oh, and one more tip - you do need to know the person you are sharing a room with - If you don't before, you will be the end of the trip.
Day 1 - 55 Miles to Oban
Within 15 miles in started raining with some force. This was combined with the small detour across the West Highland Way and by the time we had reached Kinlochleven we were soaked though. Our waterproof jackets were fine, but our shoes were filled with water and my hands so cold they wouldn't operate my smartphone - I had to use my nose to unlock it! That's when you know you are in trouble. Alex bought, and consumed a whole Co-op rhubarb crumble to see him through the next part of the ride which would be down to the Ferry Port at Oban. At this point, some hours in, we took the route on road given how bad the weather was and surprise surprise it stopped raining properly a few miles before Oban. From here we got the Ferry over to the Isle of Mull where out accommodation would be. The �Isle of Mull Hotel and Spa� - They were very accommodating with our bikes, letting us keep them in their staff room. From here we would start our daily ritual, which being expert cycle tourists was nailed. Wash our kit in the shower, wipe the bikes down, charge Garmin/Wahoo's, eat, sleep.
Day 2 - 87 mile lap of Mull
I think this was the best day cycle touring ever - Or at least that is what I'd quote afterwards! The weather was perfect and so was our route. It was all on road and took in a full lap of the island. It's the same route they use for the Isle of Mull Sportive (www.mullsportive.co.uk) and unlike anything we ride at home there is almost no traffic. When vehicles did pass, there were normally passing places so if felt like you were genuinely on your own for long periods of time. We stopped just once at Calgary Beach where there was a caf� (No rhubarb crumble on offer though...). Without trying hard and just cruising round we averaged 15mph and the route is enough of a challenge given the amount of climbing (just 1600m) We would arrive back at the same hotel and repeat our ritual.
Day 3 - 68 miles back to Fort William via Tobymory
This would turn out to be Alex's �best day cycle touring ever�. On a high from yesterday we would ride 20 miles to Tobymory and get the ferry across north before heading past the Glenfinnan viaduct (or Harry Potter fame) and back to Fort William. We had all day to do it but I always feel some pressure when trying to get to a train, especially when there is only 1 a day back to London. The scenery was amazing and much like the Isle of Mull it was very, very rolling. We were riding along the coast ride for a good while (B8007) before turning north and towards the one busy road of the trip, the A830. We had our longest climbs and therefore longest descents - It really was a fantastic ride and the weather was great. I ended up with all of my extra clothing (arm warmers, gilets, long gloves) in my back pockets and the worlds worst tan line. Yep, it wasn't short/sock tan lines, I ended up with a sharp band of leg between sock and knee warmer. Just a few inches of dark skin which meant Id be committed to wearing knee warmers the next day too....
We make it back to Fort William with a couple of hours spare to get our train back. We are pretty cooked though so I went straight to McDonalds for a recovery Milkshake and Alex went off to buy some wet wipes which would be out only option for a getting clean - All was going well until I realised (in McDonalds toilet) that he had, in his words �spend the extra� and bought exfoliating wet wipes. Not ideal if what you really want is less friction, not more after a few days riding. Ill leave you what that image for a second...
It then went from great to bad and then worse. We went to our train after some food only to learn that the sleeper carriage of the train had broken down and didn't make it to Fort William so we had seats instead of a bed. That was OK and we would get a refund after but it was probably worse for everyone else - genuinely I think we might have stunk a bit by this point and all of our cycling kit from that day was in a carrier bag in the carriage too. It would be 2am when we finally got to Edinburgh and hooked up with the 'sleeper' carriage so we and others could get to sleep.
When we got to London we would have to get changed back into our kit from the day before (fresh out of the carrier bag), and in the worlds smallest room. (Id given up on exfoliating wet wipes by now) We decided to get the train to Bedford and take a shorter 40 mile ride back home rather than going all in on a 100 mile ride from London. It made a pleasant end to the trip rolling back home after 4 days away.
And that was it! No mechanicals (just some tyre inflation), no items lost, just 1 small dose of bad weather, a sleeper train with no sleeping and a small wet wipe learning curve. Our next mission is approx. 500 miles and 20,000m of climbing over the alps in 6 days. I might have to take more than 1 pair of pants, but other than that we are ready!
Kit we used
- Ortlieb YouTube channel for tips on packing your Ortlieb framebags
- Sustrans has an extensive National Cycle Network perfect for planning a route
- Booking.com or Airbnb apps are useful for booking accommodation on the move
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