Planning a route around the Atlantic Seaboard of Scotland would certainly include the Western Isles, but planning a route across the Inner and Southern Hebrides had infinite possibilities. I resign myself to doing a route around the islands at a later date and to catch a ferry to Barra to complete the Hebridean Way.
I was a delight to see so many cycle tourists waiting for the Islay ferry at Ballycastle. Our bikes were loaded swiftly and we settled into our aircraft like seats and lifejackets. The weather was set fair we were all really looking forward to crossing the North Channel.
90 minutes later we disembarked at Port Ellen after a wonderful high-speed crossing in the powerful RIB used by The Kintyre Express service. The winds are slight and the skies are clear as I set out to explore the distilleries along the south eastern shores. Suitably refreshed I set off across an inland route to Port Aksaig to catch a late afternoon ferry to Kennacraig on the Mull of Kintyre. I dawdled gentle along the lanes in no particular rush to reach the terminal, busy with happy tourists delighted with the weather. The Paps of Jura dominate the skyline.
After a mill pond crossing, without any sightings of Dolphins or the like, I settled into a campsite in process of being constructed. Before I slept I noticed a delay on the CalMac App to Barra the next day and calculated that I could make that ferry if I got up early enough. The roads were excellent and a fresh tailwind saw me pushing a great average speed all the way to Oban, via the Crinan Canal and National Cycle Route (NCR) 78 in part. I meet up with cycling friends I met in Ballycastle and after a good shop at Tesco before sailing to the Western Isles, we wait by the quayside in glorious weather. At least 20 other cyclist join us, all resplendent in bikepacking rigs.
At last we saw Dolphins as we cross the Sea of the Hebrides to Barra, chasing the ferry bow waves in crystal clear water. We dock and go our separate ways, some to wild camp on Vatersay, some to stay at the hostel. I camp further up along the west coast and rest well, to be woken by Sandpipers in the early morning. I’m now on the Hebridean Way (aka NCR 780).
My rules for this trip did not mean that I had to religiously follow the Wild Atlantic Way (WAW). Any route by bike or ferry that kept to the Atlantic Coast was acceptable. I also wanted to visit the Aran Islands again, after a 25 year absence, to see what has changed.
I could catch the ferry to Inisheer, then later to Inishmore and stay at the campsite. Question was which ferry to catch, the competition being fierce between the MV Happy Hooker and Bill O’Brien’s Doolin Ferry. The latter won out, giving an opportunity to see one of the smaller Aran Islands.
I had been cycling with a strong westerly wind that morning and the sea state was rough. This didn’t seem to worry the Doolin Express which coped easily with the swell as we left the harbour, much to the excitement of the passengers aboard. You certainly needed your sea legs for this journey.
Safely deposited on Caherard Pier, Inisheer, I set about exploring the island before the later ferry to Inishmore. It didn’t take long, so I settled on the beach to absorb the peace and tranquility of the island. The upturned Currach’s waited patiently to be put to some use, but needed experienced rowers, who perhaps now had turned their attention to providing horse and trap trips for visitors.
It was nice to just sit and reflect for a while, but soon I was ushered aboard the Doolin Express for Inishmore. I was the only passenger, the ferry really making the journey to collect day trippers for return to Doolin. Inishmore has changed significantly in the 25 years since I last stepped ashore. Kilronan harbour has been enlarged and more commercial activities predominate, not least huge fleets of hire bicycles.
Cycling from Land’s End to John o’Groats (LEJOG) via the Wild Atlantic Way. Google MyMaps plan completed at https://goo.gl/raAtwt
I think I have a plan. Follow the NCR 3 and 4 from Land’s End to Fishguard and then catch a ferry to Ireland. Connect to the Wild Atlantic Way at Kinsale and follow the Irish coast to Ballycastle. Ferry to Islay, Colonsay, Oban, Barra (maybe Mull), then the Hebridian Way to Stornoway. Ferry to Ullapool and then coastal to John o’Groats. About 4,000km I think. Mostly Eurovelo 1, but with many diversions.
After cycling the North Sea Cycle Route in 2017, the Wild Atlantic Way has caught my eye. The Irish Tourist Board do a great job of selling this route and have a wonderful App for your smartphone that couldn’t be more helpful.
The plan is to cycle from Plymouth, around the South West peninsula crossing the Bristol channel at Weston-super-Mare to Penarth, then catching a ferry to Ireland. After cycling the WAW, I’ll then catch a sequence of ferries to cycle the Hebridean Way, and then from Ullapool to Cape Wrath and then perhaps to John o’groats. Some 5,000km and 50 days, thereabouts. Better take a good tent.