Campbeltown to Gigha via Southend
Distance: 46.28 miles
Average speed: 10.7 mph
Total distance: 100.04 miles
Maximum speed: 31.0 mph
Not unusually we were feeling thirsty after the strenuous efforts of the day, so we headed down to the lounge and asked for a couple of aperitifs outside overlooking the harbour. The weather was a little threatening, but we managed to stay out for a short while and enjoy our drinks and, of course, the view towards Campbeltown.
We’d been warned that the restaurant was running a little late, which was not of great concern to us. When the weather finally forced us indoors and back into the lounge, though, it gradually became apparent that all was not well. Some stony-faced residents were sitting there, well past their booked eating time, and the waitresses were rushing back and forth looking flustered, and offering free drinks. Our meal time was pushed back, and further back. It transpired that the regular chef was away on holiday, and his temporary replacement was struggling. Some dishes had been sent back! Trouble at t’ mill! At one point they tried to persuade us to go and eat elsewhere, but we didn’t fancy putting our cycling gear back on and heading in to town.
We remained fairly relaxed, a situation aided by free drinks. Eventually all the grumpy (and some ungrumpy) guests had been seated, and we were alone in the lounge. Finally, nearly two hours late, we sat down to eat. The meal was fine if not spectacular, and the proprietors even insisted on absorbing the cost of our wine – an excellent way of recovering the situation in our view.
We were delighted to find that Campbeltown has three distilleries, giving us plenty of choice for our digestifs. The stoker opted for a 12 year old Springbank Gaia, aged in Barolo casks, which was sweet to the nose and slightly fruity. The captain chose a peated 14 year old Glen Scotia, which was surprisingly pale in colour (paler than the unpeated Springbank) but slightly smoky with gentle peat flavours – both were delicious.
The weather forecast for today was poor, and we woke to gloomy skies and light rain showers. After breakfast we headed out (sans panniers, as we were returning to Campbeltown for lunch) through the town, then east along the waterfront, aiming to cycle clockwise around the southern tip of the Mull. Four flattish miles warmed our legs, before we hit a succession of strenuous five hundred foot climbs, each one succeeded by a descent virtually to sea level. We were feeling strong today though, and were definitely feeling the benefit of cycling without heavy panniers.
In the early part of today there were a few showers, but the visibility was fairly good and we had views over to the southern coast of Arran and Ailsa Craig and, beyond Ailsa Craig, to the northern coast of Northern Ireland. The roads were tiny and the traffic negligible, and despite the hard work involved we were really enjoying ourselves. After the final climb we descended towards Southend, on the southern coast of the Mull, into increasingly heavy rain, past an attractively situated roadside water mill.
Had the weather been better we would probably have chosen to linger a while in and around Southend; as it was we tried to get to the beach through the golf course but the road stopped short, leaving us time to witness the rather embarrassed efforts of one poor chap who had struck his shot into the shallow waters of a course-side stream. Not wanting to appear to enjoy this too much we struck north, away from the golf course and the coast, back on the main road (such as it was) towards Campbeltown.
With only a further eight miles to negotiate before lunchtime we made good progress despite increasingly torrential rain. On arrival at the Bluebell Café the waitress looked bemused to see us arrive in a similar state to yesterday: absolutely drenched. Lunch was taken, with several hot drinks, before we left (apologising for the pools of water around our table) and returned to the hotel to collect our panniers.
With twenty miles of pedalling remaining we bore west past the airport (and the McCartney farm) across the peninsula towards the west coast. By this point we were so saturated that the best way to stay warm was to pedal as hard as possible, and before long we were making rapid headway along the coastline in a northerly direction towards Tayinloan, the ferry port for the Isle of Gigha. With the benefit of a tail wind we were racing along at up to twenty-five miles an hour on the flat, feeling strong. We suspected that under more benign conditions we would have enjoyed striking views over to Islay. As it was it was difficult to see past the raindrops on our glasses.
Eventually we started to catch glimpses of Gigha through the clouds – it even looked slightly sunny over there. Arriving early in the ferry port we took shelter from the lashing rain in the café and watched the arrival of the ferry. On wheeling our trusty steed aboard with water pouring from our rain jackets we were greeted by a deckhand:
“You’re brave in this weather!”
“More like foolhardy…”
We sheltered indoors during the short crossing and emerged, shivering slightly, onto Gigha. What a stunning place. Better still, the rain had stopped, and, for a tantalising moment or two the sun emerged from the clouds, showing Gigha in its best light. The turquoise waters of the beaches looked positively Caribbean. Tomorrow’s weather promises to be better – we hope that turns out to be true as the whole island looks very photogenic and we’d like to have a good look around before catching the return ferry.
Tonight we’re in the Gigha hotel, dry and warm, in an airy room with views to the sea in two directions.
Later we’ll be dining at the Boathouse. Tomorrow, after exploring the island we plan to return to the mainland and head north, past Tarbert towards Lochgilphead, finishing at Ardfern.