Bikepacking Scotland | Part 2

By Matt Bark

It seems almost commonplace for people to take this sort of journey as a way of breaking away from the influences (and influencers) of social media on our daily life. It would seem that by not going "off-grid", you're somehow not doing adventure correctly. But for me, sharing my story, through the photos taken during the trip, had positive effects of promoting social interactions. Firstly, there were the obvious electronic relationships that developed with those following my stories and posts, replying to scenic views or funny moments. Those who had admitted they were vicariously living through me kept me company in some way when I needed it.

In my Instagram stories, I developed a few recurring themes including "roads like these" and "Ferry No. X". However, the most popular was a series of photos entitled "Doggos of the Scotland Tour" which, as simply as it sounds, involved posting pictures (with names) of dogs I met along the way. People love dogs, so it gained a lot of affection over the weeks. But this also meant I had the start of any conversation with the many dog owners found along the way. Once the "hi, what's your dog’s name?" part of the transaction was dealt with, I often mentioned how I was sharing these dog photos along my journey, which would of course lead to a) a discussion about my journey and b) the life history of said dog. Regularly, before I knew it, a half hour had been lost talking to a complete stranger.

However, not all social interactions were based around four legged ice-breakers. I was sat appreciating the uplifting effects of the sun shining down whilst drinking a beer in the surprisingly busy front garden of the hotel on Jura. In the harbour below, I observed two cyclists, with laden bikes, emerge from the recently arrived foot ferry. Soon they were looking for a table to eat at and, with all others being taken, I offered for them to join me. Mike and Mark, a father-son-duo had just arrived for 5 days on the island. They would cycle as far up the island as they could, before setting off on foot to walk around the North of the island, wild-camping along the way. Mike had got married in 1973 and, following an unfortunate incident involving an exploding engine in a Mini, spent his honeymoon on Jura, but had never returned since. Mark was a seasoned bike tourer, who took great joy in telling me crazy stories of an unplanned and underprepared trip cycling through Northern Norway and Finland. We spent the entire evening chatting of climbing, walking and cycling before pitching tents as neighbours on a nearby beach.

mountain view Scotland

Oban, though only a small town, became an important hub during my tour, passing through it on a number of occasions due to the ferry routes it serves and a friend with a caravan nearby. The fact that it acts as a local transit hub means I met various people here. On one of many passes through, I met Josie and Dan. They were both on their own adventures, but our three paths crossing in the busy harbour town on the same day. I pedalled along the sea front, watching their ferry winding through the maze of small islands back to dock on the mainland. We sat and enjoyed fish and chips overlooking the harbour, comparing notes about our differing experiences so far on our trips.

Dan, having successfully run a hostel business in Romania, had just moved back to the UK and was taking time to explore his home country. A four month long, 10,000km figure-of-eight tour of the UK, raising money for the Mind Over Mountains charity. His story is one of the generosity and characters met along the way, his gregarious nature leading to a huge number of interactions. This would be the first of four times I would see him on his tour; also bumping into him randomly on the North Coast, riding for two days with him through East Anglia and joining him for his final day of riding back into Kendal in Cumbria. I look forward to reading his story when he has it down in writing.

Josie rode an e-bike, the electric assistance made essential on the hills by her companion, Connie the border collie, sat in an open crate on the back. A border collie sat aboard a loaded bike garnered the attention of many of those that we passed in the town. It was a comical sight, Connie either lying down half asleep or sat up watching the world pass by. Her presence on the bike went mostly unnoticed unless she made a sudden movement; a price worth paying for the companionship on her trip. This instability was proven later in the year when, riding together on his last day, Dan climbed into the crate for a short way, made a sudden movement and almost sent the pair of them careering towards the verge.

bridge

On Mull, I sat feeling slightly dejected. I’d ridden across the island that morning hoping to spot a nice camp spot to return to later in the day. But nothing had particularly jumped out at me as the perfect spot. I sat having a sandwich pondering what to do as a ferry to Iona turned up. In my loose “plan”, I hadn’t really thought of heading to the island, thinking its small size (at only 3 ½ miles long) would not make it worth the crossing. As I sat there, feeling low, looking at the gaggle of tourists boarding the ferry, I made another “ah, go on then, why not” decision. I ran down the slipway to board, almost dropping the bike in my haste. Once on the island, I abandoned my bike and set off on foot across the rolling machair dunes, which were just coming into bloom. Beyond these, I stood looking out across white sands and turquoise waters bathed in sunshine with hills just visible in the haze on the horizon. It was one of those scenes that people don’t believe is Scotland, but is repeated all along the West coast.

I spent the evening in the hotel bar, enjoying a few beers, chatting to the guests in for a drink and playing with Sid and Henry, two dogs who also featured in “Doggos of the Scotland Tour”. Returning to my camp, Iona gave me a final treat for the day - a glorious sunset observed from atop a nearby mound.

As I rolled up to the harbour for the ferry the next morning, I spotted someone whose path I had crossed a few times on the previous day. The friendliness I had encountered on the trip meant that speaking to strangers had become a normality.

“Are we just going to keep bumping into each other?” I asked as I leant my bike up against the railing.

“Well, if you’re going anywhere near Tobermory then we might,” came her response.

“That’s exactly where I’m heading!”

Isabel and I chatted on the short crossing back over to Mull and arranged to meet up for a drink later in Tobermory. She moved up here for an easier work life earlier in the summer and was using her days off to explore parts of Scotland. We chatted over beer and compared notes on our favourite whiskeys in the brilliantly named “Mishnish” pub and arranged to meet up the next morning to search for a local stone circle and rumoured swimming spot.

That last minute decision to jump on a ferry led to one of the highlight 48 hours of the trip, spoiled only by losing my flip flops somewhere along the way! After this, I resolved that last minute decision like the ferry will be the ones that make the memories for this journey. I’m also still hoping Isabel chances upon my flip-flops somewhere on the island one day.

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