On the right track: Scotland’s new bike-friendly trains are opening up Argyll to cyclists
The carriage doorways open to disclose a scrum of unsympathetic passengers glowering at my wheels. By way of the sardine crowd I see the pokey bike area already nabbed. Sound acquainted? Mercifully, the nightmares of prepare journey with a motorcycle are prior to now on the Glasgow-Oban line, due to the inexperienced shoots of Britain’s first devoted cycle carriages; a brand new sustainable artery into Argyll’s mountain and ocean-sparkled community of biking trails.
Usually cyclists are, at finest, a begrudged afterthought. Not right here. Actual thought – and design (the hanging exterior is the work of Scottish artist Peter McDermott) – has gone into the ‘Highland Explorer’ carriages, with a large passageway both aspect of racks holding as much as 20 cycles. There are 24 seats too – for a small complement you get a path map desk, snack field and sizzling drink, although you keep away from the complement sitting elsewhere.
The timing of the initiative is good, with Glasgow on the cusp of holding COP26 in November. Carron Tobin of Argyll & The Isles Tourism Cooperative explains the considering: “We’ve all the time had an curiosity in selling a extra sustainable and accountable strategy to tourism throughout Argyll and the Isles, respecting our excellent atmosphere and supporting our native communities, and consider this new carriage could possibly be transformational if we and our companies grasp the chance.”
One of many beauties of the Highland Explorer is which you can hop off at any intermediate station. Tobin’s organisation and sustainable transport physique Sustrans Scotland have conjured up a Rail and Path map that highlights a number of the points of interest en route: how about Ardlui for Loch Lomond, or Taynuilt to hyperlink into the Loch Etive Loop cycle, or the gravel Fearnoch Loop MTB check?
My goal was Oban to deal with a bit of the sweeping 234-mile Caledonia Method, which soars up from Campbeltown, by way of Oban and throughout the Nice Glen to Inverness. In search of gasoline, I dipped into the brand new Style of Place Trails and found companies grabbing the chance Tobin hailed. I joined a sprinkling of cyclists within the vegan and vegetarian Little Potting Shed Café, the place I tucked into ‘no hen tikka masala’ and an Argyll-roasted, sustainably-sourced correct espresso at newcomer Hinba, an immediate cyclists’ favorite.
I met Mark of Oban Cycles at Hinba, a font of data on the dizzying community of Argyll biking choices – they’ll type you out a motorcycle too. Mark is a large fan of the Caledonia Method, however suggested I divert barely, sensible recommendation that quickly had me immersed in greenery, with hulking hills beckoning. Dropping down over the Connell Bridge the panorama opened up – these gnarly mountains vying for consideration with the salmon-rich Loch Etive, the Atlantic and Argyll’s isles shimmering to the west. Scotland the postcard, one I used to be easing by way of on two wheels.
The Caledonia Method veered away from the street to Fort William straight after the bridge, gaining tempo on the outdated railway. Zooming by way of outdated tunnels, catching sight of a buzzard and slowing for a deer, I solely stopped to review the data boards highlighting the railway historical past, and bountiful native wildlife.
Extra temptation awaited at Highland Fold, one other of the native produce-driven new companies opening as much as cater to cyclists – contemporary meadowsweet ice cream, anybody? Barrelling on, I crossed one other bridge spanning Loch Creran, earlier than leaving the Caledonia Method behind to hitch the Port Appin Loop. I hugged the coast, discovering a spot simply to cease. An otter furrowed alongside the closely indented rock-strewn coast and I caught a fleeting glimpse of a flighty porpoise.
Port Appin is the tip of the street, however not the tip of journey, as a wee youngsters’s TV-esque ferry bundles over the narrows. As I waited I tucked into boat-fresh sustainable Argyll seafood on the bike-friendly Pierhouse Lodge, scanning the waters for marine mammals, and chatted to cyclists from Yorkshire who’d taken the Highland Explorer, however whose adventures had been waylaid – they’d popped in for espresso, however have been tucking right into a heaving seafood platter.
I’d anticipated the boatman to be grumpy heaving my bike on, however he couldn’t have been cheerier and lifted one other trio on, with extra cyclists than Lismore island residents among the many half dozen passengers. The ‘Nice Backyard’ is appositely named, a verdant velvet blanket strung out over rocks thousands and thousands of years outdated, bringing life to the customarily inhospitable Hebrides. Easing south I encountered extra sheep than folks and never a single automobile – bliss. And the views. Pound for Scottish Pound Lismore maybe provides a number of the finest panoramas within the Internal Hebrides: as Lismore is low-lying you gaze to the ridges of Glencoe, lofty Ben Nevis and to ever-mysterious Morvern. They have been all bathed in sunshine; Mull skulking within the mist to the south, extra Hollywood Scotland.
The cinematic surroundings continued as I puttered again to Oban on a bigger ferry I rolled my very own bike on to, the 50-minute crossing sufficient to catch sight of dolphins and seek for sea eagles. And to satisfy Hendrik and Ana: this Dutch couple insisted I “needed to go throughout to Kerrera too, it’s so stunning, our favorite biking island”.
So I did. Selecting up my teenage daughter the subsequent morning, we grabbed a 100 per cent Argyll picnic from Meals from Argyll on Oban’s pier and pedalled a few miles south to tinkle over to Kerrera on one other dinky ferry. There was area for one automobile, a moot level once you’re not allowed to deliver a automobile over; in Argyll, the automobile is refreshingly typically not king.
I had no expectations of Kerrera, however it delivered anyway. To a ridiculous diploma. We sauntered south as college stress and work hassles drifted off throughout the glass-calm waters. We handed a ship wrecked earlier than by daughter was born, watched a heron fishing for lunch, and have been ambushed by Fort Gylen. Edging round a grassy nook, some of the strikingly positioned castles in Scotland seared into my senses, vaulting atop a rocky outcrop. There isn’t any street to a fortress Disney can solely dream of.
We sat alone within the stoic ruins of this outdated MacDougall stronghold taking part in title the island and shedding rely of the passing seabirds – an expertise you’d by no means get to savour should you couldn’t even power your bike on to a sardine-packed prepare. We toasted the Highland Explorer with domestically smoked salmon sandwiches and unfeasibly giant homebaked gluten-free desserts. Very Argyll.
Scotrail tickets and bikes are bookable by way of the web site. From London you possibly can take bikes on the in a single day Caledonian Sleeper to Glasgow. Go to wildaboutargyll.co.uk for extra info.