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Published: July 12th 2010
Route map: http://www.bikemap.net/route/586047
Morning Day 2 we woke to find a perfect sunny sky and an even more dramatic view of the valley and sea-loch perched as we were up on our rocky escarpment. I'm not sure why Mike was grinning in the photo, but I remember clearly that his grin was gone a little further down the road when we hit the first two big climbs of the tour (only 200m but still on a tourer this a slog). Near the top of the 2nd climb was the fantastic viewpoint down the Kyles of Bute. I waited up for Mike there (I should add now that Mike's currently undisputed King of the Mountains, but at least last year I had him on the tourers) then we rolled on over down towards Portavadie.
Portavadie is nothing more than a ferry dock (reminded me a lot of the numerous ferry terminals on Highway 11 in Norway). The wee ferry over was pretty scenic and took us over to Tarbert (there seems to be lots of Tarberts in Scotland, so not to be confused with other bigger ones further north). This town is pretty picturesque and has a huge bay-cum-harbour and
a few nice kitsch painted houses and some cafes selling real coffee for the day trippers from Glasgow. So we loaded up with a rather nice late lunch followed by a coffee, dipped into the Co-op and then headed out initially south on the a quiet B-road towards Kilberry.
It turned out that this road is actually another national cycle route and I can recommend it (except the surface is a little rough in places, but no worse than Leith Walk that's for sure!). The road was a little bit rolling, by small farmsteads, and through wild looking copses of trees before eventually coming out on the true west coast. The first place you reach around the bend has a nice path down to explore the beach and some caves in the cliff. From the beach you also get your first fantastic view of Jura, and its famous Paps rising up in the distance. We also got a view of some other tourists, one of whom was taking a pee in one of the caves. That cave did appear particularly dank.
The road then turns north, following the coast for some time with Jura in view the whole
way. The landscape is a lot more open, punctuated with dry-stone walls. Well according to the map we passed a castle, but I don't remember seeing it. We did see some old standing stones in a field. Beside the standing stones was a (dead) lamb tethered to a shepherds staff. The lamb was more than dead, it had been eaten by whatever had found it tied up there first. I guess it was still-born and the shepherd just left it there.
By this time we picked up a pretty nice tailwind, which kept us just ahead of a rather nasty looking storm. We raced along back inland and up the 3rd and nastiest climb of the day. For some reason I was on a roll and made it to the top with plenty to spare. Mike had cracked, and trundled in a few minutes down. At the top we had a wee rest and Mike demonstrated his agility to the camera in a rather perverse way (photo not shown). Down the other side made the slog up all worthwhile as we hit our top speed of the day (>35mph with full packs). The road joined the main road to
Lochgilphead and I briefly led a bemused looking roadie at a good pace (23-24mph) along the nice flat section into town.
Lochgilphead it has to be said is not the prettiest of towns - a mass of uninspiring grey, possibly an army town. However there is a nice green overlooking the sea loch (I think it's Loch Fyne) and just off the front a Fish'n'Chip restaurant that was doing extremely good custom. The fish supper certainly hit the spot.
We headed back west to Loch Crinan. I had my eye on some interesting looking terrain just south of it. As it turned out we just followed the canal (nice and flat!) all the way to the town at the end (Crinan Ferry I think). There's a brief climb up before a sharp drop down to the coast proper where there's a few houses and a private island. Unfortunately there's not too much in the way of obvious camping spots. We hunted around for a while and chatted to a local who reckoned our best chance was to back head out and to the other side of the canal further north, I detour of several miles. That we did,
and were greated with a spectacular sunset just as we were crossing the canal which my camera work doesn't really do justice too. We headed north some way across the flat flood plain that dominates the landscape before veering west again this time to the north of the canal, eventually reaching a place with a few more houses perched on a rocky outcrop only a hundred metres but on the far back from where we'd started. Here there was a communal flat for camping, but as someone had beaten us to it we decided to head back up the road, and to the entrance of an estate. Just there was some slightly rocky land with a few scrub bushes for cover. As it was already pretty much dark we didn't have too much choice. The tent went up in a hurry - but now we were a well drilled team. Dinner also passed by without mishap. I've even a vague recollection that we cooked up a gastronomic feast, or maybe it was just that we'd been cycling all day and were really hungry (yes, despite having that fish supper only 2 hours earlier!)
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