My departure from Resipole that Wednesday morning was tinged with a little sadness. This would be the last full day on the road. For just a short while, life had taken on such an agreeable tempo I didn’t want it to end.
It’s all too easy to become lost in romantic notions of living hand-to-mouth on the road. I hadn’t travelled that way and I had responsibilities waiting for me at home… but just another week wouldn’t have hurt, would it?
I rolled along Loch Sunart at a languid pace, savouring the peace of morning. I stopped soon after at a lay-by and gazed at its waters for a while. I’d been lucky enough to bag another perfect day to cycle what is, ultimately, the most westerly point of the mainland.
I had a pretty big climb to negotiate, and the temperature was already high. I peeled off layers but kept the knee-warmers in place to fend off the sting of the sun rather than any chill wind.
I passed another cycle tourist similarly weighed down with kit. He simply said ‘Lovely!’ and gestured to the loch. It was all that needed to be said.
The road dipped and climbed along the shore. I met walkers and joggers but no cars. My initial thoughts that the peninsula would be heaven by bike were coming to pass.
Passing yet another lovely bay, the road turned inland and the gradient increased. ‘Here we go’, I thought.
The climb was fabulous. You’ll have to forgive the lack of photos. I was locked into a climbing cadence into a headwind and, when I did take a breather, I couldn’t seem to do the view justice somehow.
The heat was intense: sun on my back and radiating back off the road. My eyes stung with perspiration, my skin was gritty with salt.
After several false summits, I finally reached the top and sped down the other side to Kilchoan. I screamed at a group of sheep in the road to move as I crested a low rise on my descent and they sprinted across the fields.
I just made the ferry and sat on deck surveying the peninsula and admiring my morning’s effort. Another long lunch earned at Tobermory.
This turned out be a plate of deep fried scallops and fries – or ‘posh fish and chips’ to my other half – washed down with more beer and water (well, why break a successful formula?). The venue was MacCoghan’s, handily located next to Tobermory distillery. This was an opportunity too good to miss so I went hunting for a dram and maybe a bottle for later celebrations.
While I’ve tried Ledaig, pronounced ‘Lead-chig’, I’ve never had the standard Tobermory. I had a snort in the shop… very nice… almost honey like on the nose. I was soon rearranging kit so a bottle could be stuffed in the front pannier.
And so started my last proper ‘shift’ of the trip. I had 18 miles or so to Craignure, where I would pick up the ferry back to Oban in the morning.
The road was unremarkable at first as it ploughed through extensive areas of forestry. Later, it improved, with sections of Mull’s coastline opening out to my left. Quicker than expected, I reached the ferry port put pressed on to the Shieling, a curious campsite with austere plastic out-buildings and chalets but with a great aspect on the hill to watch the boats, now becoming a favoured pastime!
I made camp on an Astroturf pitch (I told it was a curious place) and threw together dinner. A decent breeze kept the wee beasties at bay and I uncorked the Tobermory and sat back.
I thought about my trip. Mull, like Skye, felt distinctly ‘mainland’ while Harris, the Uists and Barra rang of ‘island life’. The remote lands of Moidart and the Ardnamurchan fell somewhere in between, but seemed to share more characteristics with the smaller islands, despite the distinctly different landscape.
I also appreciated the nuanced sense of place. You can look at photographs, read books and watch videos, but your encounter with a place reigns supreme. Your senses are, of course, valuable, but so are your frame of mind or your emotional state, and the personal context of previous experiences.
My journey through this stunning area had been rapid, perhaps too rapid, but as I write this back in Manchester, in the rain, I can fix on these new experiences. The quiet moment on the beach at Camusdarach, sitting by Loch Sunart, long and expansive conversations with strangers, struggling for sleep as my tent break-danced around me on Berneray, returning an enthusiastic wave to a farmer ploughing a distant field, boring the attractive girl in the distillery shop about malt whisky.
These moments, and others, are the true souvenirs of travel. No tacky trinket, they are ever-present and can be recalled, relived, as normal life demands.