Day 2 – Thursday 13th June
Fort William to near Eriska
Although the train I had booked was a single Caledonian ticket from London to Fort William, the sleeper train ended at Glasgow Central at 7am, so from there I was off to Glasgow Queen Street for a Scot Rail train to Fort William at 9. The walk between the stations was more stressful than it should have been; it’s only a two-minute walk if you head in the right direction. I’m not sure the sleeping pills had worn off. On the Scot Rail train I missed the obvious signs to hang your bike by the back wheel, and as a result the whole carriage was roused by the ticket instructor shouting for the cyclist “You’re handle bars could have someone’s eye out!” It sounds like an over-exaggeration, but she did have a point.
However, after my apologies, it turned out she was the friendly sort of train instructor, who was also in charge of the food trolley. I had already had one breakfast yes, but what about about second breakfast?! So as she came through I splashed out on an incredibly stodgy Scottish Oats bar, twice the price of the 1kg pack of Scottish Oats I had bought from ASDA the day before, but unfortunately the flapjacks I had made from them that were so bad they hadn’t made the trip. Although the journey skirted the shores of Gare Loch, Loch Long & Loch Lomond, the cloudy weather and constant tree line meant views and photo opportunities were limited. The best photo I managed was looking down into Loch Tulla soon after Crianlarich.
At Fort William I bundled my gear off the train, picked up some 29p Scotch Pancakes for tomorrow’s breakfast and set of south towards the ferry port at Oban. Seeing as the ferry wasn’t until 1.30 the following afternoon it wasn’t essential to make all the 50 miles to Oban that day, but I didn’t want to have to rush the following day so the aim was to get most of the way there before looking for a spot to camp along the coast.
The initial A82 south out of Fort William isn’t the nicest road for cycling, what with all the lorries on their route to south. After about 10 miles I stopped at the picnic area by the loch, not because I needed a break, but because we had camped on the hill opposite during a driving tour two years before, hidden amongst the trees. The spot couldn’t have looked more different, the trees had been recently cut down for logging and with that the hill seemed much more vertical than I remembered. How we had managed to find a flat spot for a tent I don’t know…
Off on the road again there were a couple of nice short descents before the impressive Ballachulish Bridge over towards the A828. This is where the A82 continues on towards Glen Coe on an impressive but busy road, whereas the A828 along the coast made a nice change, with a distinct lack of lorries. There is also is a cycle path (route 78) running alongside this road, sometimes dropping alongside to the coastline or up through the trees the other side, but the odd stretches of gravel along it meant I mostly stuck to the road. I made an exception along the Sound of Shuna where the cycle path follows a route past the Castles out to sea and is well tarmacked into Appin.
By this point the afternoon was getting on and I set my sights on finding a nice camping spot in the Benderloch peninsula, about 10 miles north of Oban to allow for a nice short ride the next day to the ferry. Initially the peninsula seemed a fruitless camping choice, as the one-way road was largely lined with houses (some pink and very interesting) before it started to descend through open and exposed fields towards the Isle of Eriska and the Eriska Hotel, which from a distance looked like something from a Bond film.
I was about to turn back before the ascent back out became too much when I came across a sign for a rather empty looking nature reserve just before the hotel. As nature reserves go it was far from special, but as a camping spot it was almost ideal. After getting through the cow gates, there was a short forest trail with steep areas either side, so I was able to wheel the bike over the top of a ridge to a completely secluded area not far from the path. After setting up my attention was caught and confused by the occasional aircraft-like sound, but which only lasted a few seconds, making me wonder if there was any military presence in this fairly remote area. But, after venturing out from the trees it turned out to simply be when a car crossed the short and noisy bridge over to the Eriska Hotel.
Before hitting the bed, I had experienced the main problem with wild camping in Scotland. The Midges. After discovering one in my eye and about 200 around my bare legs I quickly put my man tights and headed out of the forest and down to the loch, but they weren’t put off and only stopped attacking my face when it started to rain. Due to the rapidly changing weather systems over the distant mountains of Ardamurchan I was treated to numerous sunsets before the sun finally disappeared over the peaks well after 10pm, and with that I already had a low battery icon on my camera… at least I had brought a spare battery!
Cycling stats and route
– Distance: 36 miles (Fort William – near Eriska)
– Route: https://www.komoot.com/tour/109256804
– Duration: ~3 ½ hours
– Ascent/Descnt: 1500ft/1550ft