Fully loaded

Thorn Club Tour loaded with Caradice panniersKit list… check; pre-trip pang of excitement… check; pre-trip doubts over a slightly sore knee… check; bike service… check; ferry timetables printed… check; Skin So Soft (for the wee beasties)… check; Long Wave radio for Test Match Special… check; carrying too much stuff… check; fears that bike is too heavy… check; leave some stuff at home… check; …and go.

Back in a week or so.

The Hebrides by bike – planning

Part of the immeasurable fun of going on a mini-adventure is the planning. Be it a dirty weekend in the Lakes or Peak or sorting logistics for fortnight on the trail or road, the sense of anticipation is keenly felt.

Cycle touring planningEach year – bad back permitting – I try to get away for a week or so on my tod. Due to the creaking spine, it has become increasingly difficult to spend that week on foot. I’m still working on it, but the demands of walking 15 miles a day for more than three days in succession is still proving to be one step too far.

The bike is an option, however, and this year will see me heading far north to take in the Western Isles… somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit.

I’m hopeful of some decent weather and, being an angler, I’m a firm believer in cultivating luck. Consequently, I’m steering clear of black cats, walking around ladders, avoiding women with a squint and taking solace in the thought that a wet April will be a sour precursor to balmy May.

Starting point for this diminutive Odyssey is the busy port of Oban. From here, I’ll get the ferry to Barra and the fun can commence. I’m delighted to report that Caledonian MacBrae make passage easy for the touring cyclist. Not only does CalMac offer a great value HopScotch ticket for my route – Number 23 coming in at a very reasonable £34 – it no longer charges for the carriage of bicycles.

Unencumbered by a motor vehicle, the HopScotch gives me the flexibility to travel pretty much as I please, albeit within the confines of the ferry timetable.

This quality is a vital for is trip, though. So much of life is governed by time and, for a week or so, I want schedules to take a back seat and let space rule. In a landscape of distant horizons largely devoid of urban geometry, I’m hoping this transition will be swift.

Sadly, I am not able to travel by train to Oban. As much I like to use public transport, costs and timetables have been a problematic. I have already found myself contorting my itinerary to fit the regimen of train availability and so I’ve opted for the car. A start date and a possible latest-end date are my only constraints. If I finish early, then I’ll go home early.

In some ways, this is fitting… This is likely to be my last big trip in a car that has served our Scotland adventures so well. A change of job will see me in London more and more and the motor will sit on the drive, gathering dust and rust and costing me money. I’m trading it in for a Brompton.

Anyway, I now have a rough idea of a route that will be more than manageable in a week. The diversions are where the real fun will lie, though…