Friday, 18 October 2013


I cycled past Jura's whisky distillery at Craighouse on the island's only tarmac road. I wanted to watch seals that I knew were just ahead. How did I know this? At 6am in the morning my wife got me out of bed to find some wildlife. It was completely dark. Now I enjoy watching wildlife but this seemed faintly ridiculous. Anyhow I got up and washed with whisky scented soap from the Jura distillery. This is how to get intoxicated without any of the risk. You just wash with whisky scented soap and the aroma stays with you. We set off to find some wildlife with the morning light beginning to appear. Our first encounter was nearly walking into 3 deer obviously with bad eyesight. We discovered a blissful sunrise and lots of seals.

Late in the afternoon, I decided to check these seals out on my own. It was high tide. I watched two seals for several minutes. They swam together, then bumped each other and dived only to come up and do it all over again. Sitting on a rock is a favourite pastime for seals. This is their way to chill out. One such seal was sitting on a rock just underwater. It had its head and tail in the air and looked like Moses walking on water. It sat there imperiously until a few minutes later another seal came along, grabbed it by its tail and pulled into the water. There was great flapping and commotion as it tried to stay on but tumbled off. Two more seals gave a display catching fish.
This is yet another Hebridian island friendly to cyclists and many locals have old mountain bikes.

A road bike is of limited use here as many of the roads are rough tracks leading you to isolated farms and coastal bays. This is however what makes it very interesting on the bike. A cross or mountain bike is best. My Trek X1 is built like a Landrover so it was really happy. The west coast is virtually unaccessible due to the mountainous landscape where the Paps of Jura are almost as famous as Skye's Cuillins but don't be deterred as there is a track to Loch Tarbert. The east is hilly and full of tiny inlets from the sea with several tracks. The whole island is full of deer. It is rutting season and stags are calling all over the place. I had many sightings. What with deer and seals, there are also plenty of otters, salmon, trout and lots of birds.

What should you take home from Jura? Whisky, whisky scented soap and venison. A good place to stay is the Jura Hotel, opposite the distillery where you will receive one of the finest welcomes in the Hebrides

Sunday, 13 October 2013


I will set the scene. I am on a day ride around western Islay. I am looking over a wide view and the sun is shining gloriously. To my right is Loch Gruinart famous among bird lovers for vast numbers of wading birds while behind can be seen the Paps of Jura, a spectacular mountain range on a neighbouring island. In front is Loch Gorm while beyond is Machair Bay where eagles fly. To my right is a whisky distillery.
Islay has eight whisky distilleries and nature so spectacular that it is hard to believe. Moreover cycling is easy by Scottish standards with few hills and very polite drivers.

I met several people who were determined to visit as many distilleries as possible. It is not just Scots and English fascinated by Islay's distilleries as people were coming from Sweden, Germany, France, USA and Spain to name a few.
As for nature, it feels like Islay is a little part of heaven. In fact if you are a whisky drinking naturalist who loves cycling it would be hard to leave this island. On 9 October, 32,000 barnacle geese arrived from Greenland via Iceland. They joined white fronted geese, brent geese, numerous waders, vast numbers of tiddly size birds and various birds of prey including the occasional white tailed eagle which is Britain's largest bird. The corncrakes had just left for South Africa.
As for the scenery, it is as good as anywhere in the Hebrides. It is more gentle on the legs for cycling as there less hills. It has magical machair beaches, a spectacular rocky coastline, fine little white washed houses in the villages and plenty of open moorland. Oh, the motorists are very polite to cyclists and this is another attribute in common with elsewhere in the Hebrides. Here is a small selection of images.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013


Scarastaveg, Horgabost and Seilebost are places I cycled past today. The names sound Scandinavian but they all have wide sandy beaches and are on the west coast of the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. The dunes behind the beaches are covered in fragile wild flower grassland known locally as machair. The east coast is granite where the sea goes in and out with little inlets and lochans behind. Man has made little impression on this landscape. A circular tour is 50 miles and these are a few images of the ride.

Saturday, 5 October 2013


Is the climb Belach Na Ba on the road to Applecross summit in the Northern Highlands one of Britain's most challenging for cyclists? It climbs 2,053ft, there are no flat bits, it reaches 20% with several hairpins and the weather is likely to be challenging.
I did it today and here is my story.

Starting at sea level beside Loch Carron, the first mile is easy enough. It is bright but I can see low cloud in the hills. The slope increases and as I turn a corner a head wind meets me. A motorist stops me. He says that it is very steep and nothing can be seen in the cloud at the top. He also tells me to watch out for deer. After another mile I see a herd of deer to my right. The road turns into the hills and I watch the loch getting further away. The wind varies depending which direction the road is going. Two motorists overtake and I receive sympathetic waves.

Half way up the slope is now steep but the wind has ceased. Clouds are now swirling just above me in a steep sided valley. It is time for a snack stop. I perch on a rock, eat chocolate and take a drink. It is quite cold so I do not stop for long. Shortly after my restart, I round a bend and am hit by a fierce headwind. It is now a struggle. My mind wants to carry on but the body is feeling limp. The road looks steep and clouds are swirling fast. It feels dramatic. More cars pass and there are sympathetic waves.

I walk for about 200m. It is too steep and the wind is too strong but then some energy comes back. I am in the saddle again and pedalling where previously I was walking. The chocolate must have kicked in. There are now a series of hairpin bends and the wind drops. However at the third hairpin a mighty gust throws me off my bike. I get back on and hear a stag roaring in the hills above me. What a time to be calling for a mate. I am thrown off my bike by another mighty gust. I resolve to cycle more purposefully.
I seem to be almost at the top and now the wind is behind me. It is now easy cycling although still uphill. A mile further on the summit is reached. I meet a German motorcyclist. He is from Dusseldorf and we swop notes of our rides. He is very worried about colliding with a deer.
There is a small stone pillar to mark the top and it has distance markers to lots of places but none of them can be seen as I am the middle of dense cloud. I want to take a photo of my bike against this pillar but the wind is so strong that it keeps blowing the bike over. All I can do is take a rather boring image as it is impossible to photograph wind.

I have cycled to the summit of Belach Na Ba and I am really happy. I look at a couple in a car. Their windows are misted up and they do not look to be enjoying themselves. I turn round and start to cycle back downhill but the wind is strong and coming straight towards me. I round the hairpins and lady motorist coming the other way stops me. She was totally amazed to see anyone on a bike and made all sorts of flattering comments which I lapped up. Half way down I realised the wind was behind me and it was a joyful ride back to Loch Carron.

Friday, 4 October 2013


The Kylerhea ferry connects Skye to the mainland at Glenelg. It carries 6 cars or 12 bicycles and has a turntable which is pushed manually by two seamen. I was listening to a fellow cyclist who was telling me about his home of self suffiency when a crewman interrupted to tell us that that we had just missed Sean Conway who is swimming from Lands End to John O' Groats. This guy is doing something that has never been done before. He has a great motto "Adventure, in its purest form, is simply a way of thinking".
Well, back to my bike ride today, it climbs a pass close to Ben Aslak then drops an unbelievably steep hill to the ferry. I wanted to see Glenelg and some nearby Brochs.

My journey involved cycling through Glenelg village to Glenelg Brochs where I found the home of my new cycling friend. Sean Conway's website is All I had to do was retrace my route which involved that seriously steep hill.

Thursday, 3 October 2013


Some of the lanes around Broadford here on Skye are just wide enough for a car and bicycle to overtake and most motorists are very polite. There is great waving of hands with saying thank you for waiting.
I was pedalling up a hill on one of these lanes when a minibus stopped ahead of me and waved me through. Well, Bradley Wiggins I am not and I made my best effort to reach the bus in the shortest time possible. As I approached I waved my thank you and as I came alongside, the driver wound down her window and both she and 20 passengers clapped as I passed. I am not sure who laughed loudest.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013


I am on the Isle of Skye in the Hebrides. The names evoke Nirvana and I am drawn to the Hebrides for yet another visit.  My base for 5 days is Broadford and it is just 15 miles across the most stunningly beautiful landscape to Elgol, a tiny coastal village looking west. The islands of Rum and Soay can be seen from here but most importantly the mighty Cuillin Hills look dramatically towards Elgol.