Oban to Isle of Barra (9 miles, 670 ft of ascent)
We arrived at Oban in the car, parked up and set about the transformation from car travellers to cycle tourers, wheel bags and frames out, reassuring ourselves we definitely had 4 wheels with us. With bikes assembled we finished packing bits and bobs into the panniers and loaded the bikes up. We decided to walk the bikes the short distance to the ferry so we could enjoy the 5 hour journey to the Isle of Barra in ‘normal’ clothes. We got to the ferry terminal and bought the 7 (!) ferry tickets we needed for our trip. Ready to go we queued alongside the other 20 or so cyclists waiting to catch the ferry to the Isle of Barra.
We felt slightly better about the amount of luggage we had when a chap from Adelaide who was cycling round the world turned up with his bike completely laden with what looked like everything but the kitchen sink! Apparently 28kg of gear!! After chatting to him for a while and hearing his amazing stories from his travels he then started asking us about our trip and our bikes and then said ‘you guys don’t have many gears’ 😱. It’s true our bikes are more or less set up for road cycling without gear in Leicestershire, although I do have a 32 which I chose when I recently replaced my group set for times like this but even so!! Ah we’ll be fine we said!
We boarded the ferry, cyclists first and tied our bikes in with ropes, all bikes stacked together in a tangled mess, you definitely can’t be too precious when travelling like this! We found ourselves a nice spot and sat admiring the beautiful scenery of Oban bay with all the islands framing the port. The sailing was going to be 4 hours 45mins!
The first couple of hours was spent negotiating the ‘Sound of Mull’ a narrow’ish channel between the mainland and the Isle of Mull, even without the sun shining the scenery was still stunning. We looked out for the ferries we would be taking on our circular route back. Once we’d passed Mull we headed out into the ‘Minch’ and even though it was apparently a calm sea there was quite a bit of swell, or maybe the smallish boat (compared to the big cross channel ferries I’d been on before) just accentuated any swell there was. As we sailed the temperature dropped further still, we left Leicestershire basking in a heat wave of around 30 degrees, the temperature in Oban had been 10 degrees cooler, at sea it was now down to 13 degrees and we were surrounded by a curtain of sea mist. It was around now that it really sunk in just how far north we were going!
With around 40 minutes to travel we transformed ourselves into ‘cyclists’ donning our Lycra and prepared for our first few miles. As we approached Castlebay harbour on Barra the sun was out and the beautiful beaches the islands are famous for were glistening, we were both excited to be finally arriving.
We had an hour an a half before we needed to arrive at our hotel on the north of the island so we decided to cycle south to Vatersay where the official Sustrans route begins. The profile of the route (18 miles) appeared flat but we soon realised that the route was made up of constant very short but steep climbs followed by descents. With panniers on we knew we couldn’t cycle 18 miles of this terrain in the time we had so we decided not to cycle all the way to the start, we turned around and cycled north.
Barra didn’t disappoint at all, the white sands and turquoise seas reminded us of the Bay of Islands on New Zealand’s north island, I’ve heard others describe them as reminiscent of the Caribbean. Before we knew it we were arriving at the hotel, the island really is very small, we’d navigated the western side of the island from south to north in just under 9 miles.
We arrived at Heathbank Hotel and were treated with the most warm welcome, something we would become accustomed to on these islands. We asked where would be the best place for us to leave our bikes and was told “you can lean them up against the side of the hotel or pop them round the back, no need to lock them, nobody locks anything on these islands” and we could really believe that, it was like being in a different world. So we propped our titanium bikes which we wouldn’t even dare leave locked up in Leicestershire against the building and didn’t give it another thought!! How different this place was!
We had a lovely meal of fish and chips (again) and I had a glass of wine too many! We went for a walk after dinner and couldn’t believe how light it still was at 10:30, sun set is about an hour later than in Leicestershire!
Ferry from Oban to Isle of Barra – arrived Barra at 18:15 on Sunday.