Hebrides: Day 4

hebrides4Broadford – Back of Keppoch

On the fourth day we were aiming to reach the ferry at Armadale in time for Norah to catch the afternoon train from Mallaig back to Edinburgh.

As the main road leaves Broadford it divides – straight ahead for the bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh and right for the south of the Island and Armadale. The contrast between the two routes was immediately obvious and the rest of the journey to Armadale was in ideal conditions, the heavy metal keeping straight on for the Kyle bridge and leaving the southern route to us and the sunshine.

Near Duisdalemoor we followed a sign for a sculpture exhibition by the harbour in Isle Ornsay. The gallery was closed on that Sunday but we were able to admire Laurence Broderick’s sculptures of wildlife through the windows before investigating the Eilean Iarmain Hotel which served us coffee at a bay window seat in the comfortable lounge overlooking the sea, one of those cosy country hotel moments that take you right back to the 1950s.

Then up rode Tom and Elisabeth, now respendant in bright yellow lycra having whizzed round Harris and Lewis and down Skye. Elisabeth’s immaculate turnout impressed us. It was clear that doing 70+ miles per day in all weathers was no excuse for neglecting your hair and make-up. We exchanged travellers tales and Tom, who had done a great deal of sailing in the area talked about Gavin Maxwell, of “Ring of Bright Water” fame. Maxwell had done his conservation work with otters in the isolated region spread before our seats and Tom shed some light on Maxwell’s character. He was one of many men who were trained to be ruthless killers and survivors in the commando forces of the 1939-45 war and could not settle to civilian life. Choosing an isolated existence in the Highlands was one way to live with your demons and avoid conflict with normal society.

On down the coast we stopped by the Gaelic College at Ostaig, eating our pork pies in sight of Armadale a couple of miles further on (cue for very weak, end of journey joke – “see Armadale and Pie”) and wandered around the impressively designed building, with an outdoor arena overlooking the Sound of Sleat.

Then it was off for the last short leg to Armadale and a wait for the ferry. Tom was stocking up on couture at a designer clothes shop that considerately posted your expensive purchases straight home to await your return and I would have enjoyed a cup of tea on the balcony of the cafe if not for the piper who was determined to hoot and skirl until the last tourist from the previous ferry had climbed on to their bus. I’m not against the bagpipes as a rule but they are very loud and the next 30 minutes was not relaxing. Norah had to cycle a quarter mile up the road away from the noise to be able to use her phone.

Tom was also a ferry spotter and he got very excited to see that the little ship to Mallaig was an unusual one for that part of the world, one of the Firth of Clyde ferries that normally operates from my boyhood home town of Gourock. So during the half-hour crossing he regaled me with ferry lore and we were awed and repelled in equal parts by the largest motorhome we had yet seen.

In Mallaig Norah caught her train and I felt sad for quite a while. After stocking up with some tomatoes and mushrooms and another lemon I set off again down the coast towards Moidart and Ardnamurchan, which promised to be the toughest part of the ride.

The route out of Mallaig followed a busy road as far as Morar where a new road strikes off inland leaving the coast route for local traffic and cyclists. From Oban to Morar there is a separate cycle track which is probably essential at busy times but just as you are thinking good thoughts about the local planners who have taken such care over the safety of we cyclists you realise that the signposted cycle route has taken you off the beautifully graded bypass and up the steepest imaginable hill into Morar itself. It’s an attractive town well worth a visit, but the experience of hauling yourself and your kit up a long muscle-straining, heart-pumping, lung-burning climb, only to find the road going straght back down to sea level a mile later, is deeply dispiriting and just proves my theory that cycle planners are either ignorant of cycling, or sadists.

So I suggest that you keep on the main road that sweeps past Morar and in a few minutes you will turn off down a twisting road that hugs one of the most beautiful stretches of sandy coast you could hope to find. A setting for the perfect childrens’ beach holiday, one of my work colleagues later referred to it as the “Gold Coast” which sounds about right. As I bowled along in the afternoon sun Tom and Elisabeth caught up with me having stopped for a swim in the sea, Tom swiftly instructing me to turn right at Back of Keppoch and go the the end of the lane where I would find Sandy MacDonald’s campsite, possibly the best in Scotland then they were off into the distance heading for Mull and Oban and a return home well before mine.

Sandy, an enthusiast for traditional highland agriculture, lived up to his billing, with a laundry as well as excellent showers and a beautiful setting. I had a false start pitching my tent in an attractive but damp spot that soon proved to be a paradise for midgies. So I moved my tent to a dryer more open area, where the midgies were bearable as long as I gave myself a through coating of “Shoo” (of which more later).

days | 0-1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 |

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