One bike to rule them all?

Think of it as a mid-life crisis motorbike, but without the motor.

Actually, don't.  I've already had several of them and I'm probably past mid-life now.  Just think of it as a treat to myself.  

My excellent road bike is showing its age.  My gravel bike is great, but a little heavy.  

Could I find one of the new generation of carbon, lightweight gravel bikes that would be at home on virtually any surface, road or trail.  

Spoiler alert - I still don't know.  

I bought one but it'll be a while before I know whether it fulfils every criteria.  Still, it'll be fun finding out, and that's the thing which counts.  Unlike most of the videos on Always Another Adventure, this one is a personal blog involving a trip back to my roots.

Report & Advice from the Scottish Sea Kayak Trail

In June/July 2021 Hannah and Frodo completed the whole trail in under two weeks. 

 They have some great advice for doing the shuttle at the end of the trip, and some warnings for anyone thinking portages around tricky bits might be easy - they're not.  

 Hannah has kindly allowed me to publish her email to me, because I think others will find it helpful.

In the spirit of helping others, I'll put her most practical comment first:  

 Checking in at Ardmair Campsite allowed us to find a safe place to leave our kayaks whilst we went to get our car back.

In terms of car shuttling logistics the quickest way to get back to Tayinloan turned out to be to get the coach from Ullapool to Inverness and then hire a car to compete the rest of the journey, returning it the next day whilst on route home. The car hire worked out at the same cost of a bus ticket for two people and took 4 hours off doing the whole trip by coach, allowing us to compete this round trip in one day.

That's a very useful, potentially cost saving tip, so thanks Hannah.  Here's the rest of her email and a little from a follow-up she asked me to include.


We’re just on the way back home having completed the Scottish Sea Kayaking Trail.  We started on the 22nd June in Tayinloan and did the whole route in a single push finishing at Ullapool yesterday early morning (5th July).


We just wanted to say awesome book and thank you for providing us through it with the idea for this epic adventure.


We were hoping at this stage to recommend some portage options to avoid crossing around headlands and high winds but unfortunately we can’t really recommend any of the following;


We portaged from the end of Loch Sween to Loch Crinan after sitting out a day of rain at Kilberry Head and not wanting to loose out another day to strong north westerly winds. This portage however turns out to involve the negotiation of a very steep and slippery embankment at the end of the Loch.

 


Four days later at Ardnamurchan Point high winds forced us to detour down Loch Sunart and portage the next day from Salen to the River Shiel at Ardshealach. A most enjoyable detour with bacon butties and coffee at Salen and an ice cream stop before launching at the pier on an outgoing tide. 

 


That is until we encountered an unexpected 8ft drop, which would have made a nice Grade 3 whitewater rapid, barring our access to the south channel off Eileen Shona which as the river appeared to be tidal was the last thing we expected. Remember the bacon button and ice cream... yeah we should not have missed high water. 

 

We press ganged our throw lines into action to repel the kayaks down the rapid, climbing down behind and enjoyed the rest of the day thinking....well not quite sure what we were thinking. This is an awesome portage depending on our appetite for white water rapids.

 


 

We finally reached Mellon Udrigle on the evening of the 3rd July falsely thinking we were pretty much there and woke up the next morning to smooth seas. Setting off to the Summer Isles the conditions drastically changed with force 4 wind gusts coming in several hours ahead of the forecast. 

 

 

So we decided to bail for Ullapool. When crossing the mouth of Little Loch Broom we realised something was up when a sailing yacht passed us heading hard for shore to shelter and figured we better check the weather forecast, which now implied our location to be right in the path of an incoming thunderstorm. 

 

 

Looking at the map we decided we couldn’t really fail so short with only 10km to go and an obvious solution would be to portage from the campsite at Badrallach over the hill to a jetty at a hotel shown on our 1997 eBay acquired OS map. 

 

Well, it turns out this portage involves (beside the obvious height gain of 270meters), the negation of a locked 5 bar gate and a gravel track down the hill signposted as only suitable for 4x4 vehicles. And if you were hoping for a pint it turns out the hotel is permanently shut. We had happened to meet the owner at the top of the hill and he kindly gave us permission to launch from his garden/pier.

 

 

So far the day had involved some rather rough water, getting completely drenched in a thunderstorm having clambered ashore to escape the lightening and spending the best part of 4 hours pulling two fully loaded sea kayaks up to a spot height of 230m. All this to have both trolley axles break within the space of 25m of each other whilst Ullapool's lights were mocking us from only 2km away across the bay. This portage is definitely not recommended unless you are training for a Strong Man competition as even calling it “leg day” does not do justice to the effort involved in what followed next.

 


The trolleys, purpose built for this trip, had so far survived 18km of pothole-ridden roads without any complaint and had allowed us to leave the car in Tayinloan and attempt the whole trip as an unsupported continuous push endeavor. This also meant we were now slightly stuck. 

 

So we unpacked our kayaks into IKEA bags, carried each kayak down separately the remaining 1.5km to the pier and, having walked up the hill yet again for the third time to collect the bags, decided that we might as well camp here as 1am is late enough. After three hours sleep we lugged our remaining belongings down the hill to load up the kayaks one last time to finally make it to Ullapool yesterday after 14 days of the most enjoyable kayaking experience.


We would be interested to hear if you are aware of others having done the trip as a continuous self supported push and if so how long it took them.


The only problem now is it’s going to be a challenge to find a holiday that tops this one.

Thanks so much to Hannah and Frodo for the advice and entertainment!  It shows what I've said all along - you can decide how far you're going to paddle the trail, or how long you're going to paddle the trail, but not both.  

 Of such stuff is adventure made.

Kayak Fishing in the UK

How big is kayak fishing in the UK? More to the point - how big will it become? Because in the US it is big.
Pesda Press (who also publish my book) clearly think there is potential to grow.
Hence this new publication in their Practical Manual series. It's the first on the subject this side of the Atlantic, with our different fish species and fishing techniques.
It's aimed less at the kayaker, more at the angler who fancies trying kayak fishing. Andy Benham has written for angling magazines for 25 years, is addicted to kayak fishing he says, and is keen to share what he know, including:
* Choosing fishing and kayak equipment.
* Modifying the kayak and installing a fish finder
* Fishing skills - tips on anchoring and 'downtiding'
* What to fish for
* Freshwater fish and wreck fishing
* Staying safe at sea
* Seamanship
* How to use handheld GPS and VHF radio
In the USA kayak fishing is big. Our DVD distributor there, Heliconia Press, has produced DVDs, book and even has a Kayak Fishing TV channel on YouTube. Here's the sort of thing they show.

The Caledonia Way

The Caledonia Way is a somewhat unusual long distance cycling route.  While it's mostly on minor roads, you can't ride the whole thing on a road bike.   

There are at least three sections where it heads into distinctly off-road territory.    

Not full mountain bike country, but rough enough to give anyone on a 23-25mm skinny tyre a hard time with skids and pinch flats.  Touring 28mm and upwards would be fine.

The other curious thing is that the National Cycling Network seems to dis-own a few sections.  NCN78 signs are rare between Campbeltown and Oban, confined to the few off-road parts which aren't the Caledonian Canal towpath.

 

If that wasn't confusing enough, at Fort William the Caledonia Way acquires a second name, and for part of this final section it's better known as the Great Glen Way.  The walker's Great Glen Way (which can be ridden on an MTB) splits off and takes a different, rough, high route as it approaches Inverness on entirely the opposite side of Loch Ness.

 

See what I mean about it being unusual?  Hopefully, our three videos will clarify things before you ride.  Should you choose to come this way, I have one request - please don't ride the A82 between Corran and Fort William unless absolutely necessary, and then make yourself as visible as possible.  This is my local patch, but I'd rather ride 35 miles around the loch than 10 miles with fast traffic skimming my elbow.

 

I've broken this down into the three sections shown in the video and added a few links I hope you'll find useful, including those to the mapping on Komoot and RideWithGPS.  I also have a direct download link to the GPX file.


There is a guidebook to the route and Sustrans has dedicated a page of its website to the Caledonia Way, both of which are helpful.  The more detailed maps are not needed unless you want a souvenir of your ride.

 



 
 
 

 

Campbeltown to Oban  121 miles 8025 ft ascent

Although it's the first section, this is the last one I cycled.  I rode it as a return ride after completing the Kintyre Gravel Bike Way with Sean McFarlane, and it was the only route on which I needed accommodation.

 

I'll list where we stopped for food and overnight accommodation.  The accommodation came courtesy of Wild About Argyll but I've also listed a couple of places I think would make good options too. 

 

Getting to the start: ScotRail trains from Glasgow connect with the summer only ferry by Caledonian MacBrayne from Ardrossen on the mainland to Campbeltown.  Alternatively you could ride down the A83 on the west side of Kintyre but it's a busy road and not recommended, even though it's part of the new 'KN66' marketing push.

 

Campbletown: We stayed in Campbeltown Backpackers which opened for us while it was still working out how it would deal with visitors during a pandemic.

 


We had a great dinner at Craigard HouseHotel and a frankly superb dinner at Ardshiel Hotel which is walking distance from the hostel and has a multi-award winning whisky bar.

 

 

Saddle Bay: You can find the Anthony Gormley statue GRIP in the grounds of Saddle Castle on the shore side of the road opposite Saddle Abbey which is marked.

 


 

Carradale: two great coffee stops here.  Dottie's Cafe is small and friendly with abike repair business alongside runby Ian Brodie.  Hopefully you won't need his services.

 

 

Torrisdale Castle's Bienn a Tuirc cafe is a little pricier but fabulous quality.  They make their own gin and their website is a useful source of local knowledge.

 


Tarbert: The Gather is a relatively new business where we were allowed to leave a vehicle for the duration of our ride.  As well as coffee and food, they have 'glamping' pods.  While they can't yet take touring tents, cyclists who camp on the wild land behind their business are allowed to use their showers and facilities.  There are many other options around Tarbet worth exploring and it's a good distance to ride on the first day.

 

We chose to cycle the Kilmory Loop, whereas some people prefer to head directly north towards Lochgilphead.

 


Kilmory: accommodation options are limited.  We managed to get a one night deal in a mobile home (usually 2-night minimum) at Port Ban Holiday Park although they seemed to expect us to travel with all our own bedding.  Book well in advance if you want to stay at the Kilberry Inn a seafood restaurant with rooms.

 

 

Inverneil: More modest but equally popular accommodation can be found in Argyll Backpackers' Hostel where the Kilmory Loop returns to the main road.  Run by Kate and Pam, we called in for a coffee and chat, and were impressed by their covid protection measures.

 


Bridgend: A short detour from route 78, but one of the nicest places we stayed, was King's Reach Vegan B&B.  In 2021 this was the only 100% vegan B&B in Argyll.  Sean and Sara were keen to learn how to be more cycle friendly, so might soon offer kit washing, track pump and bike washing facilities.  The Horseshoe Inn is walking distance away for a good meal or alternative accommodation.



 

Oban to Fort William  50 miles   1950 ft ascent

I regularly ride this route back from Oban after our weekly shopping and I've seen this improve from being a road ride with a few off-road sections, to being almost entirely segregated cycleway with a surface suitable for a skinny tyred road bike.  The newest section, which as you'll see in the video I rode while it was still being finished in 2020, is beautiful and inspired, passing through a nature reserve.  Just keep an eye on your watch for the ferry times.

Where the route reaches the outskirts of Ballachulish (pronounced Balla hoo-lish) you can divert east, still on cycle path, into the town itself or Glencoe village for food and/or accommodation.  (Glen Coe is the valley, Glencoe is the village).  The best supermarket is the Ballachulish Coop.  If it's a Sunday you might wish to do the because of the way the ferries work - this is explained in detail in the video.



There are four ways into Fort William, andthe two-ferry route is best.  The segregated cycleway continues to the Corran Ferry, then you ride a relatively quiet minor road to the Camusnagaul Ferry at the top of the loch. 

 

 

The service does not run on Sundays and only four times daily, but on running days it will make a special crossing for two or more cyclists.  Operated by Highland Ferries their Facebook is updated more frequently than their website.

 

If you miss the ferry, or the times don't work out, the safest option is to cycle around the loch adding 22 miles to the journey.

 

I can't recommend cycling the busyA82.  I have done, and I regularly see people riding it, but it's a scary option.

 

There is a great off-road option, but it strays into wild country and requires some hike-a-bike over possibly boggy ground.  You can see the route in this video where I tried a titanium bike.   There's a second off-road route here too along the West Highland Way.

 

 



Fort William to Inverness  68 miles   3100 ft ascent

This was one of the first videos I made, and I've re-cut it to fit the style of the other two.  I had to visit a dentist in Inverness, so I decided to ride there, carrying camping equipment that I could test on the return trip.


The twin-names can cause some confusion.  The Caledonia Way still exists, but it has acquired the additional title of the Great Glen Way.  That changes again shortly. 

 

A few years ago, parts of this section would be strictly mountain bike territory.  Sustrans has worked,  hard to improve these and added a new cycleway, so now it's all rideable on touring tyres.  I still wouldn't take a skinny 23-25mm road tyre on it.  A mix of Caledonian Canal towpath and off-road take you to the popular tourist town of Fort Augustus where many people overnight.

 

The walkers' Great Glen Way now climbs off up the West side of Loch Ness.  A version of this can be ridden on an MTB or Gravel Bike, but it's called the 'Loch Ness 360'.  Meanwhile, the Caledonia Way (aka cycling version of the Great Glen Way) head up the steep road hill on the East side of Loch Ness.  This is probably the toughest hill on the whole Caledonia Way, so try to divert yourself by Nessie spotting in Loch Ness below.

 

The route follows the 'back road' to Inverness.  While this is much quieter and safer than the A82, it's still a popular road and, first thing in the morning, you find workmen's vans whizzing past. 

 


Lots of cyclists from Inverness ride the roads around here, and tend to congregate in Camerons' Tea Room which 78 passes on it's way to Foyers.  It's then a flat route beside Loch Ness into Inverness.

Kintyre Gravel Bike Way

The Kintyre Way was ahead of its time.  Established in 2006, it's a good 100 mile walking route, usually split over seven days.   

However, since its inception a new breed of outdoor transport has appeared, the gravel bike.  

 It's a hybrid of road and mountain bikes, ideally suited to mixed terrain, and utterly perfect for the Kintyre Way.  Almost.

A few sections of the walking route are just too narrow, too steep, or too fragile to be explored on bicycles.  What if alternatives could be found to these?  What if gravel bike riders could exploit the new rough roads installed for forest harvesting and wind-farm construction?  What if there could be a rideable, top to bottom, Kintyre Gravel Bike Way?  We decided that would be a good thing, and set out to create it.

Disclaimer: we safely followed the route given here but that does not guarantee it is safe for you or a Right of Way.  Please use your own common sense and cycle safely.


 

 

 

Also available on Ride with GPS


The Kintyre Gravel Bike Way is the perfect introduction to multi-day off-road touring, offering a level of safety that's hard to find in some parts of the Scottish Highlands.  It explores seriously wild country running down the spine of Kintyre, yet descends to towns and villages every night so cyclists can camp or seek out accommodation.  If this three-day, zig-zag route gets too much it's easy to switch to road riding.  There's a mobile phone signal almost all the way.  And then there are the views. 


Kintyre is a rugged, rounded, peninsula, arguably less dramatic than many parts of the west coast.  Yet its location means it's a perfect viewing platform for the mountains of Jura to the west and Arran to the East. 

 

We're not trying to detract from the original Kintyre Way.  Those blue post waymarks are very welcome when you see them through a haze of pelting rain.  They confirm you're on the right track.  Yet we think we've improved on it for cyclists.  Using Sean McFarlane's knowledge of racing the Kintyre Way on a bike (he came second) and on foot (Kintyre Way Ultra) plus that of James McNair who runs the KR Bike Project in Campbeltown, we've stayed faithful to the experience of the route while allowing the pedals to keep turning - provided you have a good set of lungs and legs.

 

We've plotted the route we took, having first removed the sections where we became (ahem) temporarily dislocated.  You can find and download the GPS tracks on Komoot and Ride with GPS above.  We made a video of the ride which you can watch here on YouTube.

 

Once down the south end, the obvious return route is to follow The Caledonia Way, a cycling specific road route that has been adopted by Sustrans to form part of Route 78 to Inverness.  We made a video about that too and it's coming soon.

 

However, in summer you can use ferries from the mainland to make a rather special loop. Either get the train to Ardrossen, or park a vehicle there, and take the CalMac ferry over to Arran. Ride across Arran, then catch the Lochranza-Claonaig ferry. You'd have to skip the first half of our first day and pick up the route at Claonaig. Then ride our three day route to Machrihanish, and back to Campbeltown where you can catch a summer ferry back to Ardrossen. 

 

 
The tourism associations Explore Kintyre and Gigha and Wild About Argyll arranged complimentary accommodation and some meals, for which we're grateful.  However, the businesses described here are those we feel are worth knowing about, regardless of whether they gave us free stuff.

 

Tarbert: The Gather is a relatively new business where we were allowed to leave a vehicle for the duration of our ride.  As well as coffee and food, they have 'glamping' pods.  While they can't take touring tents, cyclists who camp on the wild land behind their business are allowed to use their showers and facilities.   

 


Tayinloan: the obvious first night for accommodation.  Ferry Farm B&B is well placed and linked to Big Jessie's Cafe, where we stopped for coffee and cake.  However, you might have to travel a short distance up or down the coast to find somewhere, in which case we'd recommend The House at Glenbarr.  There's a cafe alongside, plus a local store and strangely a garden centre. As there's nowhere to eat evening meals locally, the owner kindly left a plate of food for us which we devoured in one of the big greenhouses.



Carradale: two great coffee stops here.  Dottie's Cafe is small and friendly with a bike repairbusiness alongside.

Torrisdale Castle's Bienn a Tuirc cafe is a little pricier but fabulous quality.  They make their own gin and their website is a useful source of local knowledge.

 

 

Campbletown: We stayed in Campbeltown Backpackers which Alan kindly opened for us while he was still working out how to deal with groups of visitors during a pandemic.  It doesn't look like it will be re-opening during 2021 for most guests due to the difficulty of making it Covid compliant, but please check for yourself.

 


We had a great dinner at Craigard HouseHotel and a frankly superb dinner at Ardshiel Hotel which is walking distance from the hostel and has a multi-award winning whisky bar.

 


Southend: The Muneroy Tearoom (not sure how well that website works!) at the south end of Kintyre is something of a legend thanks to chef Francis’ amazing cakes which are baked fresh every day.  It was take-away only on our visit but worth it.

 


Machrihanish: we only had a snack here but the Old Clubhouse Pub was good.  Dunlossit House B&B was excellent with a room overlooking the first tee of the world-famous golf course, and breakfast overlooking the start of the 6km long beach.  The family who run it are keen cyclists.



On our return ride up the Caledonia Way, Sustrans 78, we now feel the best location for first night accommodation would be around Tarbet, possibly at The Gather where we left our vehicle.

Instead, we chose to cycle the 'Kilmory Loop', although some people prefer to head directly north towards Lochgilphead.  If you're doing this, then head for Argyll Backpackers' Hostel where the Kilmory Loop returns to the main road.  Run by Kate and Pam, we called in for a coffee and chat, and were impressed by their Covid protection measures.

Kilmory: accommodation options are limited.  We managed to get a one night deal in a mobile home (usually 2-night minimum) at Port Ban Holiday Park although they seemed to expect people to travel with all their own bedding.  Book well in advance if you want to stay or eat at the Kilberry Inn a seafood restaurant with rooms.

Bridgend: A short detour from route 78, but one of the nicest places we stayed, was King's Reach Vegan B&B.  Sean and Sara were keen to learn how to be more cycle friendly, so might by now offer kit washing, track pump and bike washing facilities.  The Horseshoe Inn is walking distance for a good meal or alternative accommodation.