SBS Mag Destination Guide: Argyll and Bute
SBS Mag Destination Guide: Argyll and Bute
As the organiser of the Garbage Run (Land’s End to John O’Groats tours), Nathan Millward certainly knows his stuff when it comes to beautiful riding routes in Scotland. But instead of heading straight for the North Coast 500, Nathan suggests heading towards Argyll and Bute instead, to enjoy a quieter taste of the Highlands…
Why would I go there?
When people head for the Highlands, they tend to ride straight up the M74 and pass right between Glasgow and Edinburgh. If you’re doing that then you’re missing out, because with a slight detour to the west you can begin your Scottish adventure much sooner, riding some of the quietest and most scenic roads on the north side of the border.
The A82 sits on the eastern border of Argyll and Bute, with the area running from the south of Glencoe and up west to include the Isle of Mull. It also goes south to the tip of the Kintyre peninsula. It includes the towns of Oban, Dunoon and Tobermory and offers the best of Scotland in a manageable geographical area; perfectly doable in the space of a couple of days.
The best part about it is that you can miss out the Glasgow-Edinburgh corridor completely by catching a ferry across the Firth of Clyde, either into Dunoon, Bute or Campbeltown. You can also team it with a ride up through the Dumfries and Galloway region, taking the A713 up from west of Dumfries to Ayr. Some might call this region ‘Scotland-lite’, but take no notice, there’s some great riding to be found in these parts.
What is there to do?
To the south is the Mull of Kintyre lighthouse, with the stunning Machrihanish Beach just to the north of that, whilst various whisky distilleries can be found around Port Ellen on the island of Islay.
Inveraray jail and castle are worth checking out, as well as Argyll Forest Park if you fancy some hiking. Ultimately, you’re here for the biking and whichever route you take you can’t go wrong. The roads are generally quiet, most incorporate breath-taking views of lochs and mountains and you’ll always come across an old castle or ruins to photograph.
One of my favourite rides in this area is the logging road – the B836 – that runs from Dunoon to just outside Glendaruel. It’s single-track so you must watch out for fully laden timber lorries hurtling the other way, but the tarmac is fresh and the views of the loch and the forests you pass through are some of the best you’ll ever see.
At the far end of the road, if you’re camping, there’s an excellent biker friendly campsite called Glendaruel Caravan and Camping, which also has private bothies to rent out for a reasonable fee. Accommodation is never much of a problem in these parts, with Mull kept quiet – thankfully – by the absence of a bridge, unlike Skye which tends to be a little overcrowded these days.
For those heading out to Mull it’s well worth checking out the beaches, which have been compared to those of the Caribbean, with Calgary Beach one of the most famous. There are also some nice sands near the coastal settlement of Fionnphort. For the athletic amongst you, whilst on Mull you can also bag a Munro (climb one of Scotland’s many 3000ft mountains) and climb Ben More.
Know before you go…
Fuel availability isn’t the issue some think it to be, with plenty of 24-hour card payment pumps dotted around, meaning that even with a range of less than 100 miles you can still explore these parts without fear of not being to fill up.
The Green Welly fuel stop at Crianlarich can get busy and effectively marks the start of the main tourist thoroughfare to Glencoe and beyond. For a quieter route into Glencoe try the Glen Orchy road that runs up alongside a river with some stunning waterfalls to stop off at on route.
Meanwhile, if you fancy island hopping then the best bet is an ‘Island Hopper’ ticket from CalMac ferries. This allows you the freedom to link islands together and plot a route that’s different every time. You can find out more on CalMac’s website.
Best time to go?
The shoulder seasons of May and September are often the best. The traffic is likely to be thinner, so too the haze of midges and there’s a good chance you’ll get less rainfall than the summer months as well. It is Scotland though, so in all cases plan and prepare for rain, because you will more than likely get some.
The beauty of this part of Scotland, in being that bit more accessible than the Highlands, is that many people from the Midlands and upwards can keep an eye on the weather and if it’s looking good head up at short notice for a quick long weekend lap of the area.
1. Pack your waterproofs and midge repellent; you’re almost guaranteed to need them.
2. Service your bike before heading out. Check the basics; tyres, chain, oil level, nuts and bolts etc. If you do break down, you can be waiting a while before recovery comes. With that in mind it’s always worth carrying the basics for puncture repair with you.
3. For accommodation it’s worth considering youth hostels. They’re reasonably priced, usually clean and well managed and give a break from the rain, without breaking the bank. You’ll find them in many key locations, including Oban, Inveraray and Crianlarich. Find out more at www.hostellingscotland.org.uk
4. Another option, for the campers amongst you, is that you are legally allowed to wild camp in Scotland, meaning that within reason you can erect a tent by a loch or in a forest and have the world to yourself. It’s something that’s not permitted in England.
5. Whilst no one can knock ambition, it’s always worth being modest with daily distances up in Scotland, especially where single track roads and short ferries are involved. Generally, between 150 and 200 miles per day allows plenty of time off the bike for sightseeing and long lunches.
There are some great routes here: www.motorcyclescotland.com
For ferry tickets, including the island hopper tickets, check out: www.calmac.co.uk/island-hopping