DAY 15- Tobermoray to Burnt Porridge Bay

A good dreamless night’s sleep for me at least, the B&B Dutchman had breakfast (porridge and a full fry-up) ready for us and we would appear to be his only guests. We only paid £15 each and it was good value even compared with what we would have paid at the Youth Hostel.

Off and out into another grey day but we did not cycle far, we were only half way up the hill that gets us out of Tobermory and this is where it got steeper, Today’s route is north and west over the top of Mull and we were not to be disappointed. The gently undulating countryside west of Tobermory, beyond the freshwater Mishnish lochs, provides some of the most beguiling scenery on the island. The only village of any size on this route is Dervaig, which sits beside the Loch Chumhainn. The roads were quiet, scenic and in good condition. Some of the hills though were absolute stinkers. The B8073 is exceptionally dramatic, with fiendish switchbacks. The road continues cross-country to Calgary Bay – this area has a superb beach and clearly had people wild camping there for the whole season. It was the weather again that became the dominant factor, never really drying although it was warm enough. We stopped occasionally at the top of a hill to admire the view and have a quick snack and stopped at sea level to admire the beach and oh, stopped at any other significant point of interest – waterfalls, interesting beaches etc - but in general we plodded ever southwards. Eventually we came off the mountains and back to civilisation and on to the main road south to Salen. Despite it being signposted for miles the small village of Salen is easily missed. All roads on Mull lead to it as it is at the narrowest part of Mull. The village was the birthplace of the ‘Father of Australia’, the splendidly named Lachlan MacQuarrie. This information begs more questions than it answers in that – how does one ‘father a country’?

It was interesting to note that the sun came out after reaching Salen. It had been our intention to stop for the night here but we were well ahead of schedule and after a quick discussion we decided to carry on to Oban and to get in as many miles in as possible.

So onwards and southwards for the Craignure ferry and back to Oban. Despite it being after five pm, we decided to continue pedalling south and look to camp site outside Oban itself. We felt there was still a good two hours riding available. As it turned out we did not pass one campsite in the next ten miles the only one on the map turned out to have been converted to timeshare log cabins. So it was onwards even more until it was well past 8 o’ clock before pulling off the main road and finding a spot by a loch. I was to name this place ‘Burnt Porridge Bay’.

The camping spot I now call 'Burnt Porridge Bay'

Despite it being by water, despite it being a calm evening, despite camping in the long grass we were not bothered at all by midges – you cannot predict these creatures at all. I had a comfortable night’s sleep especially after the day’s 53 mile journey. I was conscious at times during the night of traffic going by but I can’t say it bothered me. In the morning however, I heard movement outside the tent and on peering out was totally amazed to see Chris not only fully dressed for the road but his tent packed away and bike ready to go. I was convinced something was wrong, this was just unreal. It turned out that it was the sound of the traffic that was the trouble. I left Chris with the usual gallon of porridge to make and, while loading up the bike, became conscious of a strong burning smell - the porridge was burnt. The fact was that in his keenness to get away the gas had been turned up full – his lack of stirring then lead to this culinary disaster. We did not know where the place was we had stopped at, but I now call it Burnt Porridge Bay. By the way, burnt porridge tastes horrible, it is absolutely vile – well perhaps not that vile - cause you-know-who, ate it all!

DAY 16 - Burnt Porridge Bay to Lochranza

Our route south was with the Oban/Lochgilphead commuter traffic which, as you can imagine was no great threat. The trouble with wild camping is also the lack of facilities, especially hot water for a good wash. However, as luck would have it, a short distance down the road was Craobh Haven. This is a modern marina built around a collection of time-share villas. Architecturally, it’s a strange place – modern housing built in the style of an old fishing village. I knew there were showers available in the marina and prepared to blag my way in. Actually we both had good hot showers etc and nobody bothered us and it cost 50p. We finished in the café with a hot chocolate and cake and duly headed on our way south. This was always going to be a long day – and it was. The journey was on the main A816 but it wasn’t too bad in terms of hills / traffic etc.

We did have time for a detour to do the Crinan Canal which I must say was a very pleasant experience. Very quiet and picturesque in places, we joined it just a few miles from Crinan (sea end) so after a quick cup of tea we scooted off a fair speed along the towpath heading ever further south. It was at the Lochgilphead end that I caught glimpse of ‘The Vital Spark’. Chris was totally bemused by me taking pictures and getting all excited about this rusty wreck. His bemusement further increased when I tried to convince him that this was as good as a national monument. I pointed out that this rusty wreck was very dear to our Scottish hearts; every person weaned on Scottish Television in the ‘60s would be able to name the entire crew of this boat.

The ride along the Crinan Canal was a very worthy detour.

From Lochgilphead the road follows the shores of Loch Fyne and remained level as it hugged close to the water’s edge. Well it did until as far as Tarbert, where nearly both East and West Lochs nearly meet. The port of Tarbert was more interesting than I expected, tucked away in a snug dip in the hills (short steep downhill in and long winding climb out). The tide was out and the mud was in. This was once a busy and prosperous fishing port, the important word being ‘once’ – despite the grandeur of the buildings it was distinctly fraying at the edges.

The road was one of those that invites you to see what is around the next corner, so we decided to keep going. We ended up at Kennacraig ferry terminal (the one we sailed to Islay on, 12 days ago). We were by this time pretty knackered and the intention was to look for a place to wild camp again, thinking that if we found a place near the ferry terminal we would have a café, toilets etc. But after hunting around it become obvious that there wasn’t anywhere. So with a slight dread we again went over the Mull of Kintyre Mountains (again), this time in the other direction towards Claonaig.

The road was just as horrible the second time of doing it. We occasionally slipped into the woods to see if a suitable camping place was to be found and occasionally we would find just a site, but very quickly dismiss it as swarms of midges descended upon us. Towards the end it started to rain quite heavily and we decided that the next place to aim for was the ferry terminal (a bus shelter really) at Claonaig and spend the night there. There was thought that the ferry would not be running this late into a Saturday evening but it was with absolute amazement, on turning the corner to see, a short distance away, that the ferry still running – a car being loaded on it was the big clue. No sooner had we looked at each other and smiled when almost on cue the ramp went up and the ferry moved off. Chris had the foresight to wave and shout at the ferry – a wave of desperation if there ever was one – much to our amazement the ferry reversed back and dropped its ramp. This was our big break and very soon Chris was hugging the big ferryman as for the second time it made its way for its last run to Lochranza. This was our last ferry using our rover ticket and I need to say CalMac Ferries during the whole trip were simply BRILLIANT.

On arrival at Lochranza it was miserable - yet again, heavy rain. Tiredness did not help. The first stop was the Youth Hostel and after fighting our way through a full car park to the reception desk we had the next horror of being told it was not just the car park that was full. So off we went in a wasted tour of the local B&B's and ended up at the entrance the Lochranza camp site. It did not look inviting – our last night of the tour was going to be a cold wet miserable one. I took no further persuading when Chris suggested we try the Lochranza Hotel. So that’s where we ended up – with the best room in the house – a balcony overlooking the bay and the castle. We ate a good meal in the busy bar, finishing off with the usual malts and retired happy.