Every cyclist and hiker that we met returning from their travels in the highlands of Scotland described the area as beautiful but rather brutal. Midgies (very small biting insects) were out in full force. Those beasts, plus non-stop rain, curtailed many outdoor adventure seekers’ plans. With a pint of Scottish lager under each of our belts, Steve and I asked one another what we would each do if we were on our own. After talking to survivors, would I opt to cycle Scotland? We both responded that indeed we would go for it. Ha! That’s the strange difficult part to explain about the appeal of bicycle touring. There is some odd attraction to personal challenges –perhaps a yearning desire for some sort of experience –ideally good, but even enduring experiences can make for a good adventure.
And so it was decided, we would indeed cycle through the highlands of Scotland, but not without provisions. We acquired midgie head nets and repellent. After a few days finishing off a final draft of my dissertation and doing some planning, Steve and I departed Achnasheen for the coast. We took the looong way to Ullapool. Yet again, the road less traveled proved to me the worthy option. As far a cycling goes, Scotland now ranks as offering some of my favorite. Our first day on the road was sunny and dry –notable conditions for Scotland. Purple heather coated the rocky hillsides, and sheep laughed at us as we rode by. We made our way to the oceanside town of Gairlock. We slept soundly with sheep on one side of the campground fence and ocean on the other.
Per our usual, we were on the road the next day by noon. I should mention that we picked up a fine little electric water kettle, and a mini-french press, so we’ve now gotten in the mode of enjoying a good cup of java and often times frying up an egg before hitting the road. The sky looked threatening but we decided to give it a go. More beautiful scenery up and over the rolling “hills” and along the western coastline of Scotland. We were in the midst of a great ride until the rain set in, but we were not concerned because we knew if didn’t make it all the way to our destination in Ullapool, there was a campground about half way. We arrived at that campground shortly after the rain began in earnest. However, immediately a rather large problem presented. The sign announced: “Closed due to road subsidence”. Indeed -holy sinkholes! Fortunately, just a few miles further, we came upon a hotel (pretty much the only one for the next 20 miles). We asked the owner if we might be able to camp somewhere near by and enjoy the hotel’s amenities. You see…Scotland has this “Right to Roam” law which we were told means that you are allowed to walk or camp on any land, you just need to be respectful about it (i.e., don’t harm it or leave waste). The owner kindly suggested a spot next to a building that housed his staff. Score! We ducked in the hotel for a coffee, and then more coffee, and then dinner as we waited for the rain to subside before setting up the tent. Monday nights at the hotel offered some sort of Scottish folk music jam night, so we enjoyed a little sing-a-long activity with some locales and guests. The songbook included the classic song “Banks of the Ohio” -a lovely ditty I had never heard before about obsession and killing one’s mate over it. Gotta love my Ohio roots!
The little plot for our tent was located strategically close to a babbling brook and the road –both sounds made for some interesting dreams. The skies were again threatening in the morning. Fingers crossed, we decided once again to give it a ago. We were rewarded with a stunning ride over more open undeveloped rocky hills with lakes, through forests, and along side rivers with wild goats running, playing, and butting heads. The rain pretty much held off for 35 miles until we dropped down into Ullapool –where we intended to depart from on the ferry out to the Isle of Lewis and cycle down through the chain of Islands off Scotland’s west coast. We got turned away from the campground located actually in the city as we learned that a large popular 2-day music festival, Loopallu, was happening that weekend in Ullapool. After some grocery shopping, I finally got to test my fine new rain parka that I scored from a second-hand shop in Edinburgh for $2. The oversized black contraption petty much acted like a large sail as I struggled to keep it on me and not in my wheels as we cycled the three, extra hilly, miles to our ocean side campground.