Scotland/Hebrides.

 

When did it happen? When did it not happen?

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An escape to the wild Isles of Coll, and Mull in particular, had been a long long wait over several busy years of toiling on the treadmill of modern existence. Finally at last, a wild camping and cycling trip to the inner Hebrides, started to feel like it was actually going to happen. After some grovelling and emotional blackmail on my part, work offered me just 11 days, a little later in September than I had hoped for…..but no complaining! The space had arisen, absolutely nothing was going to stand in my way…..Tui the parrot was booked into the parrot holiday park, plants left to fend for themselves, grown up kids told not to pester, and ‘man in my life’ generously accepting the inevitable. With the promise of a joyful and rejuvenated Julie!

Working till the last moment, meant a mad rush to pack everything needed for 10 days of 24/7 living outdoors including cycling, sleeping and eating. Being outside in the wild for the whole time would be absolute bliss, but also a challenge. ‘Be prepared’ is a motto I try to adhere to, which works most of the time!

When one starts to make a list of lists then one knows it means inevitable confusion! Eventually bike, panniers and bar bag were squeezed full to the brim, bulging actually,……with tent, sleeping mat, sleeping bag, waterproofs, down jacket, hats, gloves, sunglasses, merino clothing, first aid kit, MSR stove, fuel, pans, water bottles, water filter,maps, camera…..more, and even more. Food was to be added later. I had the usual momentary thoughts of; this bike is definitely overloaded and it’s going to be far too heavy, but shrugged my shoulders with the self-righteous thought of, ‘Oh well, I will get very fit, very quickly’!

My only real worry was that the Isle of Coll ferry could be cancelled due to the forecaster’s bad weather and exceptionally high winds. A couple of ferries had been cancelled the previous day. My fingers were tightly crossed, as I had vowed almost nothing was going to stand in the way of my escape from the Lakes.

Ariganour Houses

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After a trouble-free journey north, arriving in Oban to the sharp salty air, was an absolute pleasure and brought a rush of excitement! Friends, Christina and Mark who own the Oban Cycle shop, gave me a warm welcome, lovely meal and a comfy bed for the short night. Thankfully, the Coll ferry was going to run the next morning at 6.15 am. A small weather window had opened between the heavy rain and gale-force winds, giving the ferry an opportunity to nip through via Tiree. Jogging my bike down the sloping gangway into the ferry’s mouth, I could hardly contain my excitement, breaking into spontaneous smiles, making even the most hardened looking Scottish ferryman, smile broadly in return. In fact, the only scowling person on board the ferry was in the cafeteria, he probably wasn’t keen on the open scrounging of free cups of hot water, to add to my Sencha green tea. Tea rather obviously not bought from the ferry cafeteria!

Next stop Ariganour on the wild  Isle of Coll. Clear bright light, scudding clouds, blue deep-sea, glowing white cottages, singing birds and the building wind, which was going to cause me a lot of later stress. Eyes hungrily drinking in the beauty, taking deep breaths of the fresh living air, ‘At last, now I can breathe out’.

A quick stop in the main food store, to buy a few provisions, distracted me into the wooden hut style community art shop next door, where there was Barbara. Barbara has been appreciating island life for the past 26 years, escaping the rat race to bring up her children in the freedom and beauty of the Hebridean landscape. She also works with glass and makes some lovely pieces, pendants glowing with the magnificent and vibrant colour palette of Coll. Barbara kindly gave me lots of tips as to where the best, most sheltered, wild camping beach spots were, on the north side of the island.

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So it began.

I cycled or rather sat on the bike, the south-westerly wind did the rest, bowling me along a mostly flat single track road to the north. After around 7 miles of trundling along under big open skies, wide fields and glowing light, there appeared a small picturesque beach with turquoise waters, white sands and strings of broken creamy shells. Right next to the perfect camping spot, down among the prickly harsh grasses of the guardian sand dunes. Heaven! The spontaneous smiles became wider, especially as my comforting old friend, an almost bomb-proof Hilleberg Acto specialist tent was duly pitched, providing shelter and a safe haven from the heavy dark clouds creeping in from the south.

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Coll North Beach

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With a singing heart, all four panniers were unloaded, sleeping bag laid out on the groundsheet and only just in time. The rain shattered noisily onto the flysheet as a sudden wild 40 mph gusting wind slammed into the back of the tent. Innocently and dreamily I noticed the weight of the flysheet at the back had dropped down, popping outside to investigate, unbelievably revealed a fast-growing rent right across the whole width of the flysheet. I let out a loud gasp of astonishment, along with the realization that there was no opportunity to cry, scream, rage or even feel any feelings whatsoever.

The tent had to be left tethered at each end, flapping and flailing on the grass like a broken bird, whilst I launched into quick action to save my belongings from saturation, and therefore short-term uselessness. Senses reeling and head spinning, everything was stuffed into dry bags and shoved into panniers at a speed of operation and deftness that was rather unusual for me. The situation felt like an emergency and it was, the tent was my shelter, one of the three basic needs in life, along with water and food. Also, it was a very good tent which had survived many a gale in New Zealand and the Outer Hebrides, devastatingly and disbelievingly my mind could hardly accept the cold hard truth that it had failed and let me down. By now I was drenched and cold, but everything else was safely packed into the waterproof panniers, with no danger of getting totally saturated. Turning to the soaked sorry mess of the tent, which was now fast behaving like a wild banshee, in its attempts to become a kite and join the wind. Scowling hard like a petulant child, angry at the Acto for letting me down in a time of real need, rammed it unceremoniously into the tent bag and tightly strapped it onto the bike rack.

However, in my heart of hearts there was a knowing it was mostly my fault. Months of cycle camping in the fierce New Zealand sun had thinned the flysheet to a dangerous level, thinner in retrospect than had been understood.

Lesson learned the hard way, yet again.

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Meanwhile, there was a lot to think about. Thoughts jumbled with fear, of no tent for the rest of the trip. Even if it could be replaced in Oban by a similar standard tent, spare funds were low. A cheaper tent literally would not stand up to the wild weather on Mull. Where was the coming night going to be spent on Coll? Bed and breakfast? A hotel? None of which would be cheap even if there was any room. Was I going to have to return to the Lakes prematurely? The certainty of my trip, suddenly in one short blast of a venomous wind, had now become very uncertain indeed. So with a heavy heart, head down, I started to cycle back the few miles to Ariganour. The rain had become heavier and the south-westerly wind stronger. At that point, a few tears of despair crept out.

It was definitely a low point.

However…..the desperate need for shelter had become paramount. A quick check of the sketch map obtained from the Post Office showed a campsite which also had one or two huts, about 12 miles around the looped single-track road. So with a strong side wind and heavy passing rain, pulling myself together, pedalling onward seemed the best option. After struggling up and down rolling hills for what seemed like a very long way, to my horror and gradual comprehension the road ended turning into a muddy cart track. With no idea of the condition of the track after heavy rainfall, it would have been foolish to continue on.

Cursing myself for not having paid better attention to the sketched map meant retracing the miles yet again. Resignedly I pointed the increasingly heavy bike, back along the road, towards the one and only right-hand turn leading to Ariganour. Meaning hopefully, after another 11-mile circuit in tortuous winds and harsh rain there should be the promised campsite huts………

Struggling against the ever-increasing wind, at last, the turn to Arignour appeared. Thank you, thank you I breathed, to no one in particular. Moments later realised I had spoken too soon. Wham, the strong south-westerly wind, fast becoming a  serious gale, set the bike and me off balance……over we toppled. Luckily no harm was done, apart from a lot of swearing, frustration and annoyance. The only solution was to push the bike through the strongest gusts, and that was how I made it to Ariganour. On and off the bike seat in a game of musical chairs!

Two swallows joined me for part of the journey, swooping alongside and around my head, showing off, as if to say, this is how you manage the wind on Coll! Even the bike joined in, singing eerily through the wheel spokes like a ghostly Coll  widow. Suddenly a thought flashed into my mind. What about the crumpled Coll brochure, picked up in the Post Office that morning, perhaps there will be a comprehensive list of available accommodation. All fingers crossed, the bike wobbling jelly-like in the wind and pelting rain obliterating the lenses of my specs, I peered hopefully at the disintegrating brochure. Lo and behold, there actually is a hostel on Coll, built-in Arignour only two years ago. The relief was tangible. There was a warm dry place for the night and at a low cost……thank you to the Coll community.

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On reaching the Hostel I was greeted warmly by one of the visitors Helene, from the Sunderland. Helene and her friend Therese were staying in the hostel for a few days and doing some cycling day trips around Mull. They were both very friendly and chatty, which distracted me from my tired glum mood and melancholic thoughts about a tent-less future. The hostel was beautifully designed, clean, spacious, well equipped, warm and bright with lovely views of Coll from the kitchen/dining area. Eventually, all my belongings along with the useless flysheet were dried out and life started to look brighter!

The next day one of the Coll residents took me along to ‘Recycoll’ to see if they had a suitable tent, but to no avail…..an Argos tent was just not going to do the job, in the next bout of crazy weather!

All that was left was the slim hope that friends Christina and Mark might have a suitable spare small lightweight tent. Heading back to Oban was the only option now, fate was going to decide the rest. Cycling to catch the ferry deep in thought, I was surprised to hear mobile beeps, having been out of signal since arrival on Coll. Now was my chance to text Christina with the sad exploits. In less than a minute a text came shooting back……’ We’ve got a Northface Tadpole you can borrow’. Tears of absolute relief rolled down my face, the trip was still on!

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A quick turnaround in Oban enabled a grateful collection of the North Face Tadpole. The ferry journey to Mull is a short one, just enough time to have green tea, relax and enjoy the sea air. Mull is a diverse island with forest, glens, woodland, 1000 foot high sea cliffs, lots of wildlife including sea otters and the white-tailed eagle. The coastline is 300 miles around, there are almost 3,000 people populating Mull, with around 1,000 living in the capital town of Tobermory.

Arriving at the port of Craignure, the spontaneous smiles crept back and a feeling of internal peace descended. Cycling up the east coast, there emerged a great little wild camping spot. After some tent pole confusion the Tadpole was pitched, a meal enjoyed and devoured in sight of the local sandpipers, having their sand eel supper.

The morning dawn brought an impressive silver sunrise! Later, a weak sun with scudding white clouds and light wind, perfect for cycling.

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The next decision was a tricky one. Was it going to be the campsite at Tobermory for the night? Or my favourite sheepfold!

Thoughts of a busy campsite, strangers to associate with, plus the cost, meant that the sheepfold, with its peaceful walls and visiting wildlife, was the winner at that point in time. Though a rapid change of mind came over me 12 hours later!

Storm clouds gathering over the Loch.coll-and-mull-sept-2016-078

Luckily by the time the storm clouds appeared, the Tadpole was pitched and each peg weighed down by an enormous stone acquired from the sheepfold wall. It has got to be bomb-proof I thought, surely there will be plenty of shelter here from the wind. It is always surprising to me, how one’s thoughts can trick one into a hopeful reality, that simply does not exist. For instance; ‘the forecast is often wrong in the Hebrides’, ‘those clouds will soon blow over’, ‘it will be just as windy on the campsite’……..and so on!

It was so cosy in the tent. There is something comforting about an organised tent. Warm fluffy sleeping bag, colourful dry bags filled with clothes/equipment tidily arranged, torch, book, specs and mobile all to hand. Next morning’s breakfast waiting in a pan, bike panniers and waterproofs stored in the vestibule…..blissful order. Or a false sense of security? The wind was rising and my diary entry reads, ” Think the gales have come early”…….a slight understatement.

Adam Nicolson has written an observant and poetic book about the history, geology, spirituality and archaeology of the Shiants, a trio of remote islands located over the Minch close to Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. The book titled ‘The Sea Room’, is filled with stories of seals, seabirds, fishermen, boats and ancient sites, making it a beautifully descriptive, evocative read. As I snuggled down in my sleeping bag, much engrossed in the Shiant puffins, rain resounding heavily against the flysheet and the wind starting to roar. A sixth sense must have made me sit up with a start, yanking any thoughts away from the text…..the Tadpole vestibule had become a pond, all I needed was a few frogs to make it complete!

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Donning waterproofs and venturing outside into the storm, revealed the creeping water levels linked to a new stream, pouring down the nearby rock face, into the sheepfold and my tent. The realization dawned on me, that I was going to be forced into moving the tent in a howling wind and torrential rain, or the obvious would happen. What followed was a rather haphazard operation and a rather poor example of how to move a full and upright tent.

The flysheet and inner tent pegs came out easily, having heaved all the rocks away, leaving the now vulnerable tent at the mercy of the wind and my skills. With adrenaline racing, I grabbed the laden tent hauling it back to a drier spot. That successfully completed, now meant quick action to peg the fly securely into place. As I held the flysheet with one hand and pegged with the other, a mammoth gust of wind slammed in, yanking the flysheet out of my hand, and it soared like a bird released from a cage. Over the other side of the wall were the shore and the sea loch. With gusts up to 50 mph skating across the surface, the Tadpole fly sheet wildly flapping its wings looked set to join them. Only panicking quick reactions stopped the bid for freedom, plus four timely pegs were driven in to secure it, before the next blast of wind hit. Adding, what at the time seemed like most of the stone wall, piled onto each peg. That really was a bad moment, as I played it over in my mind later, the realization that I had been rather irresponsible with a tent that wasn’t mine, did not make me feel good.

The rest of the night passed in a nightmarish haze of worry, tension and broken sleep, stressing about the heavy rainfall, and listening out for the next crash of wind. I could hear it coming up the loch like a train, the deafening rush, then the collision, slamming into a small stand of nearby birch trees. A slight pause, wham, as the tent shook like a thing possessed….. afterwards a palatable sense of relief, at the realization we had survived another hit.

It was the sheer power of the wind that terrified me. I knew though that the worst-case scenario for me, would be a flattened tent, soaked gear and a long wait for the dawn, whilst cowering in the corner of the sheepfold.

The song lyrics that suddenly sprang to mind were from my childhood Sunday school days.

”Oh hear us when we cry to thee, for those in peril on the sea”

Sung with the complete innocence and non-comprehension that is natural for the young.

Now it was different, my thoughts turned to those who have been lost at sea, particularly in past times, whilst trying to feed their families. Adam Nicholson writes vividly about the  Men from Lewis, their customs, beliefs and tragedies in the treacherous water of the Minch, off the Shiants coastline.

By comparison, I had very little to worry about.

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The next morning dawned, not bright and clear as I would have liked. The wind was still well ‘up’ but thankfully the rain had blown over.

The tent was still intact and upright. My feelings were now mixed, they included relief and elation at having coped with the challenge of being totally on my own, in a remote place during a crisis. Including successfully using and relying on my inner resources, to meet and survive, everything the 50 mph gusting gales had literally thrown at me. No time to daydream though, as the wind definitely had not abated. Eating breakfast and breaking camp was an absolute priority. After a bowl of oats, nuts, dates and seeds which hardly hit the sides, it was time to leave. With the bike fully loaded, I battled along the road away from the sheepfold, close to the loch shore for several miles. The interminable wind tried very hard to separate the bike and me yet again, and there were a few close moments, but we rolled on safely towards the Tobermory highway.

Tobermory the capital of  Mull, is on the east coast and the most populated, well-stocked place on the whole island, the plan was to head there as fast as possible, to dry out my damp gear. Before the next bout of bad weather blew in.

In Tobermory would be a tumble dryer! Which at that point in time felt like the greatest luxury ever invented!

Tobermory’s famous houses….in the rain.coll-and-mull-sept-2016-095

On reaching relative safety, searched out the Harbour building, which houses the well equipped public laundrette.

Everything went in the dryer, including sleeping mat, shoes and the clothes off my back, sneakily stripped off out of sight, around a little corner. It doesn’t take long to lose a few inhibitions when wild camping!

With all belongings dry and warm, a feeling of inward peace and enjoyment descended. One that can only come from putting on dry socks and footwear, after days of soaking wet feet! Next stop, the relative shelter of the only Tobermory campsite. This particular campsite has been in place for many years and is in a great rural position away from the hum of Tobermory’s centre. Fairly recently there has been the delightful addition of a substantial wooden shelter, including a table, benches, electricity, gas rings and a kettle. Absolute luxury for a wild camper.

That evening a small group of students from Nottingham University, shared the only table. They were having an end of finals holiday in Scotland, before embarking on their professional careers in various parts of the country. What a delightful uplifting bunch of young people they were, full of vitality and laughter, ready to launch into their adult lives…….exciting

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Surprisingly after heavy rain all night, the next morning looked brighter and to my pleasure, gradually cleared as the morning progressed. Labouring over the hill, up and down the twisty road towards Dervaig eventually brought its rewards. Sea filled with blue sky, along with clear views out towards Coll and Tiree. A quick stop for provisions, at the not-so-friendly shop in Dervaig, a picturesque old village on the much-travelled road to Calgary.

The name Dervaig means ‘Good Inlet’ in old Norse. The village’s history can be traced back to the Viking times. It has a beautiful white church, with an unusual tower that can be seen from a long distance away, along with some stunning stained glass windows that are worth a visit.

Winding on the road to Calgary was wonderfully uplifting. With the sun beating down, no clouds and little wind. So different from the previous few days. Meandering on a bike is not for everyone but it suits me, photographs can be taken, views admired and special treats emerge that would be missed if cycling any faster. In fact from the seat of a dawdling bike very little detail is missed! Every honey bee, foraging bird, twisted old tree, shy fungus, fat blackberry and singing stream are observed, relished and absorbed inwardly, especially when struggling uphill.

Calgary is among my list of favourite places on Mull. It sits on the north-west coast and was the origin of the name of Calgary Fort in Canada. It is a small deeply peaceful hamlet, its name coming from the Gaelic language, meaning ‘Beach of the Meadow’. The white shell sand beach is surrounded by a backdrop of wooded hills, and a craggy headland, along with a nearby stone fort.

There is a nearby arts centre/sculpture trail as well as a cafe. The arts have a strong influence in Calgary. Many locals exhibit their work which is inspired by the colour, light, and natural materials to be found in Mull, the exhibits are unique and of a high standard. Don’t miss it if you visit Calgary.

The beach would not look out of place on the coast of Greece. In fact, I am convinced if Calgary had a warm dry climate, it would be overrun by lots of visitors and building developments. Thankfully it is often cold, wet and windswept. Luckily I had an evening to dream about.

Whilst erecting the tent, a couple of dashing French cyclists appeared. They were very fit. Also wild camping like myself, with loaded panniers, but covering about 3 times my mileage each day. They had started at Glasgow three days ago and were heading to the Ardmurchan forest, Loch Lomond and the West Highland way. All this in a week, I was bowled over!

After an icebreaker inspection, of each other’s bicycles, panniers and various items of bike gear. Including their washing up bowl and Indian pressure cooker! We all gelled.

Yves-Marie spoke very good English. He and I had some interesting exchanges of conversation. Hearing about his four-month cycling trip from Kyrgyzstan, through Tajikistan, Iran, Turkey leading onto Paris, was inspirational. I momentarily yearned for a cycling mate to embark on a similar bike touring adventure myself!

Yves said he was a beekeeper. However, it turned out that he, his brother and sister-in-law had a honey farm in Dammarie, south of Paris. Producing 20 to 30 tons of honey per year. A jar of the honey was produced from the depths of a pannier, not surprisingly, it was delicious.

We breakfasted together the next morning, and as while waving them goodbye, they made a joke about the next cycle leg, and how I would soon warm up! I chuckled to myself, they had even worse hills ahead of them, after Dervaig!

They were both such inspiring men, in their thirties and still full of ‘Joi de Vivre!’

Rain on the hill, out of Calgary Bay.coll-and-mull-sept-2016-172

It was a hard push leaving Calgary Bay, up and over the hilly west coast, towards the Ulva Ferry access for the island of Ulva. There was plenty to distract my thoughts from burning pain in my legs, especially as the weather became brighter. The sun was beating down by the time Ulva came into view.

Ulve is a privately owned island with a population of 16 people. The name Ulva is from the viking name, Ullfur or ‘Wolf Island’. Which means there is a possibility wolves may have lived on the island at one time. Ulva is home to many species of wildlife, including red deer, mountain hares, sea otters and hedgehogs. Porpoises and bottlenose dolphins can be spotted off the coast in the open sea, at the right time of year. Boats leave from the ferry point, for Staffa and the Treshnish Isles, both are historically famous islands.

Photos were the order of the day after Ulva. Hazy blue sky, sparkling sea, ochre seaweed, auburn bracken and mixed greens gave breathtaking views. Literally, wherever my gaze fell there was such beauty.

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I rolling onward, drinking the colour in, trying to capture and pocket the treasured scenery into my mind’s eye. Particularly to revive and savour on a cold grey winters day in Ambleside!

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Eventually, day came to an end on the far shores of Loch Na keal, in a well-hidden little camping spot. Loch Na Keal my most favourite place in Mull. Her moods are fickle and changeable. Light moves rapidly, silver-grey mists, orange, pink, and yellow sunsets, early blue light, pearly mornings, indigo fierce waters. All this can be seen in the space of spending 24 hours beside the Na Keal’s sea loch shore.

The windswept mountain Ben Mor towers behind Loch Na Keal. Sending a wind that blows gently or fiercely, depending on its inclination, often a tempest to be reckoned with. The effect on the loch can be dramatic, white tops on the surface or as calm as a proverbial millpond. The slopes of Ben Mor are wild, isolated often grim and harsh. The rain lashes down often, there is plenty of snow and ice in the winter. The water looks bleak, frightening and unfriendly when the wind and rain are tearing along its surface. Thankfully in the summer months, Ben Mor is softer and kinder with Loch Na Keal seeming to respond in unison.

During the majority of my time spent in Mull, there was no mobile signal for a phone! For some people that would be a severe hardship, for myself it was heaven. Spending time in a social media desert was a release. No radio, laptop, newspapers, T.V. or phone calls, any happenings in the world didn’t reach my ears, and it didn’t matter. Mull was everything to me at that time, all else became a shadow. Mull was my friend, lover, enemy and family. The sea, hills, wildlife,  light and landscape inwardly absorbed and entered.

After a peaceful nights sleep lulled by the lapping water. Full of porridge, packed and ready to cycle away, remembering to brush my teeth brought the gift of a special moment. There appeared to be a man dressed in camouflage, crawling around on the rocky shore, apparently gazing into rock pools, or closely inspecting the ochre coloured seaweed! Eventually, I noticed a little head bobbing around just offshore. A sea otter! The camouflaged crawler, was a photographer with £14.000 worth of camera and lens, waiting for the perfect shot. He got it.

Luckily I got some photos too but from a distance. However it was enough of a treat to be able to watch the little otter, feasting on a fish breakfast.

I could scarcely believe my luck!

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Leaving the shores of Loch Na Keal made my heart twinge, it is such an awesome, peaceful and spiritual place.

Salen and the well-stocked, very friendly shop was the next stop, and maybe a green tea in the even friendlier local Coffee Pot cafe.

Trundling along the quiet single track, tree-lined road. I spotted a cyclist coming towards me. The cyclist passed a middle-aged man walking in the opposite direction, with two large labradoodle dogs on leads. The brown labradoodle lunged at the cyclists rear pannier, the strangest thing was that the man made no attempt to restrain its threatening behaviour. The cyclist and I passed greeting each other. I continued on getting closer and closer, to the gentleman’s back.

Hesitatingly, in a nice sweet voice, said,” Excuse me, please can I sneak past”.

To my amazement, the man launched into a tirade of swearing and shouting about, cyclists, bells, panniers and tourists. Absolutely taken unawares by this verbal abuse, I carried on cycling, with him shouting loudly at my retreating back. Stopping the bike, the suggestion was made by me, that he should go and pick on someone else. He actually became louder!

Stopping the bike again, I asked him if he was local, ”Yes” he said so proudly.

”Good” was my reply. Pointing my finger at him.

”Because I have just started a blog, and You, are going to get a special mention on it”

He stopped, open mouthed…….I cycled triumphantly away down the lane!

Fortunately, everyone else in Mull was friendly, and only too pleased to answer questions or give general information.

Next stop the Coffee Pot, and a tasty green tea.

Then came a decision. Where to camp for the night?

Cycling up the remote road, through the Glen Aros forest across to Dervaig appealed to me. This is Forestry Commission land and close to their Mull office is a historic graveyard, where a medieval chapel was once sited. Named Cill an Ailean. The graveyard is peaceful and the ancient headstones brim with the mystery of other people’s lives.

Graveyards in Mull tend to be placed on the coast overlooking the sea. In my opinion who could want more, whilst resting in their grave!

With heavy drizzle turning the landscape into silver silence, I pedalled away from Salen Bay towards the Glen Aros turning.

The single track road was beautifully quiet, with the peace that comes only from light rain settling on pine-forested valleys. Just two vehicles passed, one during my uphill struggles. A young couple stopped their landrover, to ask if I needed any help! Oh dear, very kind, but did I really look that fatigued?!

On reaching Dervaig after much mind wrangling, a luxurious night on a campsite won the argument. So now it was my turn, to tackle the twisty steep switchback road over towards Tobermory. It was tough, a couple of short rests on a couple of bends, and it yielded, much to my delight. That night I had a well-deserved shower, ‘to remember forever’! Along with a proper table to eat from.

The next morning became drier, with less rain giving an opportunity to dry out the tent by dangling it from the campsite trees. Which anyone who has ever camped in the rain, will understand, the importance and relief of getting the tent dry, before the next pitch!

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Farewell then Tobermory campsite, back over the hill, to pick up an off-road forest trail, alongside the four-mile Loch Rosa. The track is described by the Forestry Commission as being, ‘remote and wild’! It certainly felt wild and was very rough terrain, the stuff of punctures. Loch Frisa is the largest freshwater body on Mull, the conifer forest and surrounding moorland are home to a variety of birds. These include a pair of breeding white-tailed eagles who have lived in the area for 18 years. Short-eared owls, merlins, hen harriers and golden eagles can be spotted at the right time of year.

How I didn’t sustain a puncture on the first half of the trail, I’ve no idea. The stony track travels alongside the eastern coast of Loch Rosa, no cars are admitted, there was not another human soul around, until the last couple of a hundred yards. It was another peace filled ride.

Turning a tight corner, enclosed on both sides by dense woodland, two merlin’s flew across my path, swooping past and down into the dark trees, until out of sight. Their distinctive curved bat-winged silhouette, silently cutting through the air. A well-deserved sighting after the rugged struggles.

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Blackberries were in abundance in the hedgerow, and I probably ate more than I picked!. Just like I used to as a child, when out down the back lanes in Almondbury, Huddersfield, with my spinster Great Aunty Margaret. Who can resist the fattest, juiciest jewel of a blackberry! Later, numerous jars of bramble jam, magically emerged from the pantry, along with blackberry and apple pie, with a pastry to beat all pastries! Childhood memories are always the best.

Almost at the main road to Salen Bay, I re-met Juliette.

Juliette was another french cyclist, visiting from Grenoble in France, and studying at University in Germany. As she was occasionally wild camping, we discussed a couple of sites, but it seemed that she and I would be in different places, albeit close by for the night. So we said farewell to each other yet again.

After another stop at the Post Office in Salen, it was time to keep pedalling south, towards my last wild camping night on Mull. The coastline along this road is typical of Mull. Opalescent, ochre yellow, burnt orange, multi greens and many hues of blue….all to be found in one short stretch of curving coastline.

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Even the otters get special treatment in Mull!

Setting up camp had a bitter-sweet feeling. A beautiful evening but also my last one in Mull, before returning to the humdrum of Ambleside.

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Then along came Juliette, racing down the track on her bike. She set up camp nearby and we had supper together. Plus lots of conversation about controversial subjects, probably best not mentioned here. For only 21 years old she was a clever, mature, young woman.

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” I slept as never before, a stone on the riverbed, nothing between me and the whitefire of the stars”…………………by Mary Oliver

 

Opening the tent door and waking to an opalescent, pearly pink daybreak, I wanted to stay within the bubble of the moment forever.

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Juliette cycled onward to catch an early ferry.

All too soon the panniers were packed and ready to go. Not wanting to rush away, deciding to write my diary, read a book, and extend breakfast with extra cups of green tea, seemed like a good plan

One or two people appeared with their dogs. So I made my facial expression look as though it was perfectly normal for a woman of my age to be incredibly scruffy, weather-beaten, and rather obviously preferring wild camping to a hotel!

Just then, a local older lady wandered by with her spaniel. We struck up a conversation, surprisingly she was from Coniston, close to Ambleside in the Lakes! Ann, who lives at Ulva Ferry, was widowed a year ago when her husband died four months after arriving on Mull for their retirement. Very sad. She was surprisingly upbeat, saying that the Mull community, especially in Ulva Ferry, had been fantastic.

Meeting Ann reminded me of the old saying; ‘There is always someone worse off than you are’.

In Yorkshire we add…..’So you had better count your chickens’!

Which I did, when boarding the ferry back to Oban.