Cycling the Caledonian Way

By Jenny Graham

Jenny Graham is our latest Sonder Rider. Wow! She holds the Guinness World Record for being the fastest woman to circumnavigate the planet by bike. 18,000 miles unsupported in 124 days 11 hours. And she had an absolute blast in the process. Jenny is deeply rooted in her community in the highlands of Scotland, which she says is the best playground in the world. For a little light relief she goes bikepacking there.

If you were to spend one week riding your bike, with the first rays of the year shining down on you, you’d be hard pushed to beat the West Coast of Scotland as a location.

Am I biased? Yes, most definitely! As a native to the Highlands, I have rose tinted glasses. But even a Scottish sceptic would be hard pushed to resist this rugged coastline. Untamed jaggy peaks and long sea lochs that guide your eyes into mystical glens. The sea is sprinkled with islands and home to many castles and ruins. Every turn on the road gifts you a new view, leaving you feeling exhilarated by the wild landscape. This week, I was trying out The Caledonia Way. It stretches 234 miles up the West Coast of Scotland from Campbeltown in the south to my home turf of Inverness in the north.

I didn’t ride the whole way. I chose the most accessible sections between Taynult and Inverness. I used the route as the backbone to my trip ensuring forward momentum, filling the days with add-on miles.

I would mix it up with some quirky inside stays and some stunning nights under the stars.

And to add an extra element of FUN into the first few days, I had Scottish travel blogger Kathi Kamleitner joining me as she tried out an e-bike for the first time. Although we would follow different itineraries during the days, we still shared miles and meals.

Day 1

Day 1 was a short ride having caught the Highland Explorer train from Glasgow to Taynuilt. The ride was so short that I had almost discounted it from the plans. How wrong I was – Glen Lonan has so much to offer!

After a short climb out of Taynuilt through some tight wooded lanes, the glen opens out into rolling meadows and fields with the Glen Etive mountains making a grand backdrop. The sweeping tarmac road is home to more highland cattle than it is traffic. After a long selfie-shoot with these iconic hairy cows, we spent the evening in luxury with a stay at the Glenlonan Bothies where we baked pizzas by the lochside.

#AimHighThenHaveALongLieIn

True to form, the second day was overly ambitious. #AimHighThenHaveALongLieIn is a standard joke amongst friends as my extravagant plans often get squeezed with a lax morning start. Today would be no different.

The Caledonia Way took me to Oban then on to Port Appin where I was due to spend the night. But I set off in the other direction, following the Oban Sportive Route south to Kelmeford before cutting across the hill to the shores of Loch Awe.

The riding was great, but it was a greeting from Janine at Catch-a-Carrot Vegan Pop Up Café that fuelled both my body and soul. I found out about Janine by using Wild-About-Argyle’s Taste of Place website which is just unbelievably exciting to use. It’s a genius, interactive map that means you can plan your bike ride around the food and beverages you fancy that day… I’d welcome this kind of map on all my bike rides!

I topped off my long day with a mammoth climb up to the Ben Cruachan Dam. Although it’s a long detour, it’s a classic and well worth doing.

I met back up with Kathi by the Falls of Lorn and we rode together into Port Appin where, after sharing some great food at The Pier House, I opted for my first night under canvas. I ate breakfast the next morning looking out at Castle Stalker.

The Real Magic

Now the big miles were out of my system, it was time for the real magic. I let go and relaxed into a different pace. Catching the small boat over to the Island of Lismore, I dropped down to the west shores to check out the ruin of Castle Coeffin.

With not a soul in sight, I lay on the grass beneath it, with the sound of the sea bashing against the rocks and the heat of the sun beating down on me. I felt I could stay in that exact spot for the rest of the trip. Reluctantly, I made my way back to the mainland for the afternoon, where I bid goodbye to Kathi.

From Port Appin to Kentallen, the cycle path is amazing! After a long flat section on an old railway line, the route climbs up at Inshaig, taking you through Highland Titles Nature Reserve. Sweeping around the hillside, the busy road is completely out of sight and mind. The sunset was incredible and, as I climbed the last high section of the day, I watched the Ardgour hills morph into layers of greys against the contrast of the burning sky.

Day 4 on the Caledonia Way took me to Fort William via the Corran Ferry but, with plenty of time on my hands, I looped around by Kinlochleven in search of cake. The town itself doesn’t hold the charm of its neighbour Glen Coe, but it does hold the excitement of being a true hub of adventure. It’s surrounded by some of the biggest peaks in the country and has multiple bike, hike and run routes passing through.

Across the Corran Ferry, I followed the quieter west side of Loch Linnhe. I had a welcome surprise as I stumbled across a new brewery and beer garden on route. Ardgour Ales affectionately have pictures of local goats on the labels – apparently the beer is good too!

A Perfect Ending

The rest of the trip was on familiar ground as I made my way up the Great Glen Way, stopping for a long brew on the shores on Loch Lochy then for pizza in Fort Augustus.

I carried it around to the edge of Loch Ness to watch the sun go down then climbed Glen Doe in the dark with the promise of some camping buddies at the top.

I was only 3 hours from home when I woke on day 6 but I was in no hurry to end this trip. Instead, I lay on the shores reading my book until midday then spent all day meandering around local trails. That night, I watched the sun set on the north end of the loch at Dores beach. I skirted around the busier section to my favourite secluded spot and lay on top of my tent with a fire going gently by my side all night. What a perfect ending to a wonderful adventure.

PipeDream 400 down sleeping bag

PipeDream 400
an ultralight 3-season down sleeping bag with a -6˚C sleep limit, weighing 865g.

Cloud Base inflatable sleeping mat

Cloud Base
Lightweight inflatable camping mat weighing 420g and 5 cm thick to soak up uneven ground

ALT TEXT

Aeronaut 1
One of the most packable 1-person tents available: an inflatable pole 1-person tent.

Kepler long sleeve merino top

Kepler Long Sleeve
Breathable and comfortable long-sleeved premium merino base layer

MyTiPot 900 Titanium Camp Mug

MyTi Pot 900
900 ml titanium cooking pot

Bruler lightweight meths camping stove

Bruler
Meths camping stove weighing just 150g

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