DAY 5- PORT ASKAIG / OBAN (ALL FERRY)

We duly arrive on the dockside of Port Askaig, in the drizzle for the 8 am ferry, unfed and unwashed. Both hungry and looking forward to our breakfast or at least I was until Chris produced from his bag a green thermal mug……full of cold porridge, remember the porridge? New Lanark? Yes, the very same. Now I am neither a food snob nor a fussy eater (anything but) however, it was quite a sight watching Chris tucking into this grey congealed mess. The porridge was the colour of the sky currently hanging over the Sound Of Jura. How could he do it? I might add my hunger pangs were such that disgust went out the window and it was one of sheer admiration. The ferry carrying my breakfast did make its way slowly up the Sound, absolutely on time. It was one of the bigger ferries and it totally dominated Port Askaig, it left bang on time as well. We did spend a little time on deck to admire what views there was available but were soon driven into the cafeteria for a full Scottish breakfast – even now writing this months later I can tell you it was brilliant, a symphony of animal meats, majestic proportions, a complete picture of culinary delights, unpretentious, fulfilling, etc. CalMac breakfasts are the best! I was able to introduced Chris to that rare Scottish delicacy – the square sausage!

The run to Oban would have been quite superb if only the weather improved. The ferry stopped at Colonsay which looked a bleak and windswept island. There is a lot to see as it glides past the Isle of Jura and the Sound of Kerrera. The Chinese Olympics were coming live over the screen in the lounge and it was quite a memorable moment when Chris Hoy took the gold medal. The Scots on the boat could not believe it. There was quite a cheer that went up when he easily took the gold. Too soon we took a sharp right-turn into Oban harbour even that had its appealing moment (even if Oban itself doesn’t live up to any particular high standard). Unfortunately, we saw most of it from within the upper deck lounge as the drizzle ran down the windows.

So far we had cycled about ½ a mile today and just about to double that distance as we loaded up the bikes and pedalled off, like the seasoned explorers we were. The Youth Hostel on the sea front is a magnificent Victorian house. It was full, but having pre-booked it took a lot of the stress away. I was given a bed in the old part of the house with a superb view over the harbour. Chris was in the back extension; the view to him didn’t matter because he spent most the time repacking yet again. Needless to say it was raining which added to the dismal feeling I always get when in Oban. It was at Oban that our journey really was to begin in that the 7am ferry tomorrow was to take us the Outer Hebrides.

Over for the last few days I had become aware that there was in my panniers a certain amount of luggage that was surplus to requirements – books, bike covers etc. They all added to the weight and volume being carried needlessly, so I went down to the Post Office and bought a large self-seal bag. The amazing thing was I filled it! Despite years of thoughtful consideration as to what I was going to bring on this tour I sent back to Edinburgh 5 kgs of unwanted goods and chattels.

We decided to have a cooked meal at the hostel rather than eat out, so on the way back from the Post Office we hunted out the bargain counter at the local Tesco’s for our tea. On our return, we agreed to meet in the kitchen for 6pm. Off Chris went (to repack). I sat in the lounge and watched a re-run of the Olympics…did I mention a Scot today won a gold medal in cycling? Anyway 6pm came and went and no sign of Chris. I started the tea - tuna pasta, all cycling explorers eat this sort of food…..so I am told. Then everything went a bit strange – Chris appeared about half an hour late looking very grey and subdued. I opened the wine and we sat down to an enormous plateful of pasta. Chris took one spoonful and said, “Sorry I can’t eat it – I have toothache I am going to bed,” and off he trotted, leaving me jaw dropped, perplexed and worried. I just assumed that was the end of the tour (for him anyway). He clearly was unwell. Anyway, I had my tea on my own and finished off the bottle of wine. I had made the decision that I was going on this ferry tomorrow if Chris wasn’t there then….. sorry. Arriving at Oban along with the constant rain. Just before I went to bed I took a stroll along the sea front. The tide was at its highest. For a September night in Oban it was quite pleasant, visibility was such that you could see the Sound of Mull navigation lights flickering their nightly red and green messages for a considerable distance down the Sound. Nearby and distant lighthouses were signalling Morse Code messages to each other. No two lights flashing at the same time. Tomorrow is a five-hour ferry ride, the longest ferry crossing staying in British waters. I should add here that I doubted this statistic as I was aware that the Aberdeen to Lerwick ferry takes 12hrs. However, ferry anoraks will point out that’s in fact, over International waters. Anyway, while on the mainland Scotland or even one of the larger nearby Islands, home is but a bus ride away. The Outer Hebrides are remote, sparsely populated, and exposed – and the weather for September 2008 was not good. And, unfortunately at the start of this stage, I seriously, thought I was now doing it by myself. So it was to bed for a sleepless night. The morning came none too quickly.