My time in Donegal was a treat. Moving up along the coast the weather struck and two rest days were spent in pouring rain. On one of those I took the bus to Giants Causeway, and despite the hype, and the brand new visitors centre, it was a special trip.
In order to get there I had to make a choice about route. The north of Donegal is a ribbon of headlands. In the end, I couldn’t resist the pull of Malin Head, the mot northland point on the Ireland.
The wildness was something that I was missing. Arriving at Malin Head threw me emotionally and I sat and cried at the grandeur and pure serenity of the place.
I met another cyclist, Peter. He was retired and spending some time riding Ireland too. From Sligo to Cork to begin with, he would then join some friends and sail around the island before picking up his cycle once again.
After that the scenery softened, and I made my way to a hostel on the north coast where I could rest, and watch the tennis. As I said at the beginning it did nothing but rain. I hadn’t had a dry rest day for most of the trip and was getting worn by the constant battle to stay dry, warm and motivated. Using the hostels facilities and the local pubs chef, life rebalanced and I felt ready to go after my visit to the causeway.
I became the tourist for the day, catching a bus to the Causeway centre and Walking down to see the causeway itself. Despite the people with plastic information machines stuck to their ears, ir was magical. I stopped and cried, my emotes overflowed, the pillars were working their own magic on a soggy day.
My visit was curtailed by a landslide. It had been so wet that the hillside collapsed, unable to support the weight of the wet soil. It happened just before I arrived, luckily on a quiet Monday. It didn’t spoil it, and I took many photographs to try to capture the magic. Somehow, I doubt I have.
The following day led me to Larne and the ferry. It was dry, and the Antrim coast stunning. The riding got e asker as the day went, and I had two hours to wait on arrival at the terminal.
Arriving late in Scotland, I dived into a hotel, spending the evening watching Nick, of Carry Freedom, changing the troublesome axles on my trailer. A minor celebration followed, and then bed beckoned.
So here I was, in bonnie Scotland. Sustrans cycle route along the Ayr coast led me to the ferry. The sun came out, and I pedalled around the coast of Arran, riding on over Goat fell to Lochranza for the night. On arrival, a stag was grazing on the campsite, and eagles flew overhead. The magic of last year had started already. The stags antlers still had perfect velvet on them and it was obviously used to people, allowing me to walk up to within twenty feet and take a photograph.
Another ferry saw me cross to Kintyre, and I was in the mood to ride. I didn’t stop again until I shopped in Oban, some seventy miles away by the time I found a campsite. The sun still shone, and I enjoyed my first day lazing in it, cooking in it, and feeling relaxed.
It was now the moment of truth. The journey out to the Outer Hebrides beckoned, and as the ferries don’t run every day, I had to get on this one. As it turned out, the sun kept shining, dolphins swam in its wake, and the journey had a great sense of adventure about it as we sailed serenely past the beautiful islands of Rum, Eigg, and Muck, and out into the ocean.
Arriving in these isles had a very different feel to it. The barely rise above the sea, and are peppered with lochs. The east side had hills, it my road, the only one, followed the west side. Riding with two other cyclists, we headed for Howbeg, a hostel known as a gatliff, privately owned by the gatliff trust.
What we found was a two white cottages, complete with grass roofs and nets held down with stones.
The next two days saw me riding the length of the isles from here to Stornaway. Heavy rain overnight cleared and I was treated to mountains on one side, and machair grassland, like prairie, on the other. The beaches were huge and white, the sea duck egg blue or turquoise. By the time I stopped on Berneray, now joined to south Uist with a causeway, I felt I was in heaven.
Up early to catch the next ferry, I was in for a treat. The Sound of Harris is full of rocks and refs, islands and sunken dangers. At low tide, the ferry makes twenty seven changes of direction before it docks on Harris.
Leaving the ferry you find yourself in a totally different environment. Mountains of rock, similar to norwegian fjords lie in front, you’re job is to pedal over them to the falter lands of Lewis. the beauty is in its majesty and barrenness, as you progress, the beaches and the rolling surf appear like paradise and then disappear again as you turn another corner. At times, the glaciated landscape belies your ability to believe what you see, even when it pours with rain as it did on this day.
Another 70 plus mile day saw me in Stornaway, a rough tough little town, hewn from bog and rock.
I’d seen enough, and my body needed to rest. I decided to catch the afternoon ferry the next day, and then have another rest day.
The journey back to Ullapool would have been just another journey but for one thing. Just over half way across I thought I saw a a spout of water. Concentrating on the area I saw it, a minky whale surfaced several times,,blowing as it did. I watched it’s back arch and roll, displaying its fin. It was a lovely moment, and one I will treasure.
A little later, the captain suddenly cut the engines and out in a hard turn. My mind turned over and started playing games, negative games. To counter it, I spoke to another cyclist about the reality, and tried to ignore the rest.
It worked, and eventually we were on our way, none the wiser as to what we had been avoiding.
So, now I’m in Ullapool having had a days rest. A few more days and I’ll be travelling across the roof of Scotland again, bound for the Orkneys and Shetlands. It stormed last night, with wild winds and rain, and I felt my absolute tiredness for the first time.
I’ve been battered and blasted since I left the Uk. It’s been amazing despite that, and I’m still excited to be here once again.
I love this area, and weather permitting I will travel through Inverpoly again via the Assynt peninsula. If not I’ll head for Scourie using the main road. I say main road, but it isn’t far until it shrinks to one lane with passing places.
After that, all I have to do is pedal, catch two more ferries, and pedal some more. Then I’ll be at the most northern point, of the furthest flung outpost of the UK, with time to work out how on earth to get home.
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