Monday, 12 July 2010

Biking the Kintyre Way



I had planned a 3 day ride with 2 overnight camps to cycle the Kintyre Way,
The 87 mile route is split into 7 sections crossing the Kintyre penulsia from coast to coast from Tarbert to Dunaverty.
Enquiring about cycling the route revealed that section 6 from Campbeltown to Machrihanish was on Tarmac, and i was advised not to cycle the final section 7 from Machrihanish to Dunaverty as it crosses open heather moorland for around 4 miles to the finish,so although the finish on the south coast looked very scenic i decided to ride from Tarbet to Campbeltown and finish at the stunning Macrihanish beach.

so sections 1-5 total 66 miles...i decided on one nights camping and ride to either Tayinloan on the west coast to camp or push on and over to Carradale depending on how i felt,weather etc on the first day... the weather for cast wasn't looking good with heavy rain for casted both days late in the afternoon.
For anyone wishing to cycle this in parts or all the way i have split the 2 days riding into the route sections with the pictures i took to give you an idea.
I cannot recommend the website and the leaflet enough as both worth reading for excellent detail which matched the excellent way marking and information boards,the best waymarked off road route i think i have biked...

Section 1: Tarbert to Claonaig, 11 miles (18km)

so the route starts at the lovely fishing town of Tarbert...



Up the steps to the castle ruins...



And the start with the first of the information boards,they have a detailed map of the route ahead as well as the complete route,distances of the section as well as distances from all other section ends/starts on the entire route and they have local history information and wildlife to look out for, excellent...



Ian who has run the entire route before was going to run the first section with me...


The only hike-a-bike of the entire route to Campbeltown i did was in the very first 2 miles!
The track climbed quickly  and in places is was steep with cold legs. On a normal 2-4 hour day ride you could ride all these climbs on an unladen bike, loaded and with an estimated 30-46 miles and 9-10 hours riding i was pacing myself for the day.
Ian here jogged off into the distance as always on the really steep stuff.
Here is the 1 mile marker above Tarbert...

The all weather track joined a forest road and climbing was easy now and i caught up with Ian as we passed through some mixed forest.
Usually forest roads wind through timber production forests of mainly spruce and pine and apart from views can be a bit dull but i discovered a lot of forest on Kintyre is mixed with a lot of Ash, Rowan, Willow, Hazel and Silver Birch between the usual Spruce and Scots Pine.
I kept my eyes peeled for red squirrels through these woods.
Onto a flat plateau at around 400m...



I left Ian and sped up the forest road passing the only walkers i would meet all the way to Campbeltown, a man and his son. Then down a soft raised grassy trail which looked wet but was firm underneath and started descending...



This would be the norm for most sections which i liked, a climb up, a bit level with views of the coast and islands-here Arran to the east...



Then long easy descents on grassy tracks, all weather trails and forestry roads...



Here passing some ruins marked on the map as shielings, once summer huts used by shepherds...



A short climb then a blast down to the village of Claonaig...



Stunning views here across to Arran. For some reason i didn't take a pic but did do some video film.
My sister and kids were here waiting for Ian who unsurprisingly wasn't long behind as he later said had pushed hard on the long descent.
It was getting really windy now which i would find would be a burdening headwind for alot of the climbs ahead today, but cant be helped you just endure the Scottish weather as it comes,
anyway a strong wind means no midges!.


Section 2: Claonaig to Clachan, 10 miles (16km)

I really liked this section. After a scenic road cycle around the coast the next section climbed through an oak wood on forest roads, steep in places but all ride able...



And onto what looked like a recently made section of all weather track...



Onwards and upwards...



To the top of the section at 220 meters at Lochan Fraoich...



Although overcast out to sea the `Paps of Jura` dominate the skyline...



Then a cracking descent on the track around the loch and down a forest road...



Then an all weather track again...



After a short hike-a-bike for a few hundred meters the way enters woods and a nice bit of descending trail down to Clachan village...




A great descent only spoiled by being slowed a bit higher up by the buffeting headwind...

Section 3: Clachan to Tayinloan, 9miles (14km)

Good to get on the coast again and i looked forward to riding along the coastline here though read it is hard going on the pebbles. I made my first error in that i cycled past the entrance into Ronachan House.
Maybe because i was cycling on the road where if walking you would be on the pavement on the opposite side. Only a short section and i rejoined the route at Ronachan above the coast...



For the next few miles i rode parts of the way above the coast along strimmed trails between Whin bushes (Gorsh) and the road where the trail crossed rocks and small headlands between the small sandy beaches...



Then just past Balochroy rode along the beach itself. Could of done with the other Surly bike now on the sand but it was firm and ride able for a bit.
Better still it was sheltered along here out the wind and a light rain shower passed over...



The view across to Gigha island...



The sand gave way to pebbles. Lovely rounded pebbles...



The eroding cliffs here are full of pebbles...



Soon i had to hike-a-bike over the pebbles but i did find some nice unbroken scallop shells before i could get up the now much lower cliff onto the grassy field above and ride along to Rhunahaorine Point which has the lowest trig point in Scotland at 2 meters above sea level!...



Then i passed a WW2 coastal defence lookout post...





Passing the campsite here i had already decided it was just too windy to camp here and would do another section over to the east coast today and find a sheltered wood to wild camp tonight which would leave just one section tomorrow.
It was only 4pm and there was very threatening looking rain clouds approaching. The view back along to the point...



Again into that strong wind along above the coast until i reached the ferry pier at Tayinloan...




A lovely stretch of coastline which i would love to spend a clear evening at in the future using the campsite...



Section 4, Tayinloan to Carradale, 16 miles (26km)

I was maybe biting off more than i could chew doing this section today looking at the climb ahead after today's riding so far with the constant headwind but it would mean i could probably reach Campbeltown tomorrow lunchtime and get to spend the afternoon with my sister and family at Machrihanish beach.
So up we went on a really long climb...



As low cloud blew in and the rain came on the wind swung round to the east!, curses!, legs were feeling a bit weak now already and i was getting a bit hungry and the headwind didn't help.
Oh well soon be over the top and down to Carradale.
Eventually i reached the wind farm on top of Deucheran Hill at 330 meters...





Just after i had a break and some snacks the heavens opened, and i mean really opened!.
With the howling wind and turbines churning round it was actually pretty cool to be up here alone experiencing this...



But only because it wasn't cold. If it was cold it could be quite dangerous getting soaked up here, time to get off the hill and find a camp spot and get out of the weather.
Mistake number 2 was i hadn't switched on the helmet camera for the descent down the fire road after stopping at the end of the switchback all weather descending path from the wind farm where the camera was also pointing to low!.
Pity as it was funny riding down the long fast descent on the forest road as rain drove across the road making visibility through both eyes quite hard. I couldn't get any wetter now but i was still warm while cycling and although the merino wool top was now wet it was nice and warm next to my skin under the (soaked) showerproof but windproof paclite.
Past the cottage where Paul Mcartney`s father once lived it was just too wet to stop and take a pic of this decorated cottage. It was still wild weather when i reached the tarmac road and soon another trail which would descend to Carradale...




Deucheran Hill behind...



The camera was getting too wet taking pictures as i descended down through lovely woods to Carradale. Looking now for a good spot to camp i just wanted to get the hammock up, cook some food under it then get into my dry clothes inside the hammock now.
Not seeing anywhere that looked suitable i rode through Carradale to the coastal section.
The guide says check tide times as only passable at low tide, guess what? yep high tide!,
On the film i made you will see the weather here was like a typhoon!.

So i rode along the road to Saddell and up a steep climb when over a crumbling wall to my left across from a small waterfall was an old beach wood on a slope, a perfect camp spot!.
Now i felt good about still camping out in this weather and as i knew the Hennessy hammock was worth its weight in gold in these conditions.


wild camping, the Hennessy Hammock

I quickly pulled out the hammock and strung it up between 2 old beech trees then used the bike to secure one side of the tarp guy rope and a hanging branch for the other side.
Now up i could sit underneath out the rain. In here it was just large droplets that would fall from the trees and every so often a strong gust would hit the wood and a shower of them would hammer down on the tarp.

Next i got the stove on to boil up a pot of water while i unpacked everything,the sleeping bag kept dry in the 15 litre dry bag (which now empty and flat with the end sealed i used as a seat to get off the wet mossy ground) and a 5 litre dry bag in my back pack with dry clothes were stuck inside the hammock.
I then poured a hot brew, topped up the pot and added a pasta meal to simmer while i took some pics and film. The camera now had water on the lens.
The perfect spot for the Hennessy Hammock. The slope makes no difference...



Waiting on the pasta, hot food is great for moral...




And after a hot meal a nice malt whiskey...Glenmorangie... -:)


There were a few midges about so i had the midge net on and did my legs with the old skin so soft and i sat here sipping the whiskey until i felt myself getting a bit cold and walked up to the road to fill the water bladder for tomorrow morning to warm up at a roadside waterfall.
Returning i stripped to my Lycra shorts hanging gloves, socks,top and 3/4 trousers under the tarp around hammock out the rain (why i brought the clothes pegs) and leaving my boots underneath got inside the hammock. First thing a quick spray with the `Skin so Soft` to drown any Midges on me then i changed into the dry lycra shorts and long sleeve merino wool top, then and hung the wet shorts above my feet on the cord that runs through the hammock. I pulled out the sleeping bag and lay in it open feeling quite smug that i was out the weather, fed, dry and warm.

This weather scenario was what i prepared for and why i brought the bulky but warm Down 3 season bag.
I need to buy a synthetic bag really for this type of wet scenario.
I had topped up the half empty hip flask with water and now lay sipping away reflecting on the day...

What i cant imagine lying there was getting into a bivvy bag on the ground in those weather conditions.
There seems a lot of critics of survival hammocks on forums but i love the Hennessy Hammock.
Granted i would need to add a 3/4 thermarest to stop my back getting a chill if colder and while you could use a bivvy bag and a tarp over head. I think the Hennessy Hammock is great for here in Scotland because of the midge free and condensation free space inside. Zipped up in my bag i drifted off to the sound of the surf crashing on the beach below at Saddell Castle.

I slept right through the night and woke later than expected at 9.30am!.
Rain was gone and some clear sunny spells shone through the wood.
I slipped on my damp clothes from yesterday as they would soon dry, with the exception of my spare socks-summer sealskinz for my damp boots.
Lots of black flies were buzzing around outside so with the midge net on i packed up to ride up to somewhere in a breeze for breakfast. I would skip making porridge and just have oatmeal biscuits with jam as just the one 20 mile section left to Campbeltown,
Weather was clear now and i could see out the wood down to the beach below at Saddell. I would need to get the camera dried off too...



Repacked i pushed up onto the road and a short cycle up the steep road to the last section to Campbeltown...


Section 5: Carradale to Campbeltown, 20 miles (32km)
Once more we left an information sign for another climb...






Over the short climb and up top in the sun and warm breeze i stopped for breakfast and got the camera dried out in the sun...



Then a good descent on the forest road down to Lussa Loch...



This would make a good bothie...




Plenty firewood to heat it...




There was a detour in place around the east side of Lussa Loch due to forestry work which climbed up above the loch with a great view...



The off roading of the route for me was nearly finished and soon we descended the forest road to a 5 mile tarmac minor road...




Some quite steep climbing crossed over the Ballywilline hill where views out across to Machrihanish MOD base and beyond it the dunes and beach...





Then tucked in an eye watering descent down onto the road into Campbeltown...




Finishing at the harbour...






I signed a book at the tourist information centre and got given a Kintyre Way patch and also filled in a survey form which i hope helps the Way become an attraction to cyclists.
I didn't need to cycle the road to Macrihanish as the clan were there to give me a lift. And it is indeed a great way to finish 2 great days biking given the previous evenings weather with a walk on a fantastic west coast beach...







The bike & gear
It all preformed perfect. I love the 29er for cranking out miles and all the kit i took was fine.
I don't think it is any harder to find a decent spot for a regular small tent than it is to find a good pitch for the hammock as with a bivvy bag all 3 forms of camping have there place and use`s.


Cycling the Kintyre Way
My views of the Kintyre Way is it is very good to cycle for originally a walking route.
It is all ride able after a few short steep parts near Tarbet by any confident cyclist.
There is some tarmac road to ride between sections and there is alot of forest road, not every ones cup of tea but most of the forests you ride through is mixed forest and to have 99.9% of the route to Campbeltown to myself is for me the attraction, a real feeling of remoteness up in the hills.
The scenery is stunning esp out to the surrounding islands and it is a shame i did not get nicer weather down at Carradale as around there is lovely and would of been nice to see the coastal section there too.
I imagine that in time more of the forest roads will get replaced by sections of narrower all weather track and if undulating will be better to cycle.
My advice to someone wanting to do the same 5 sections and camp is maybe take 3 days to get to Campbeltown then spend a night or two at Macrihanish campsite spending a day resting and enjoying the beach there.
You could then maybe have a crack at that last section to the official finish at Dunaverty and then let me know if i missed a nice trail :) .

Here`s a film of the trip.
Keeping in the Scottish theme,  music is Peatbog Faeries then Michael Mcgoldrick...

7 comments:

  1. Great trip!!!

    Coastkid on his best!!!

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  2. as we call it here, an epic!

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  3. Fabulous report Bruce, you certainly upped your game there mate!

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  4. Thanks for posting! Truly epic ride! =)

    Must make some longer rides so I can justify bringing a flask of Glenmorangie along... ;)

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  5. Btw. Really like that first photo, very nice!

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  6. Thinking of organising a race over the Kintyre Way in 2014, what do you think?

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  7. Be a good route, though public paths, but if right time of year you will probably have very few walkers on the trails,

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