Following my sponsored walk of all 214 'Wainwrights’ in the Lake District in only 55 days in 2009, last year I cycled 4,440 miles around the coast of Great Britain, raising £30,000 for Cancer Research UK. Now I have just completed another ride – a cycle tour of 42 Western Isles in under a month, which finished on 26 May 2012

Fund-raising was lower key but your donations to Cancer Research UK or The Rosemere Cancer Foundation ARE still welcome. Just follow the links below. You can also follow me on Twitter - @CancerBikeMan.

Cancer Research UK is the world's leading charity dedicated to beating cancer through research, whilst The Rosemere does fantastic work for patients in Lancashire and South Cumbria.

To make a donation clickhere

www.justgiving.com/BillHoneywellHebrides or

www.justgiving.com/BillHoneywellRosemere

You can also sponsor from your mobile - Text 'BREA88 £5' to 70070 for Cancer Research UK or 'BREA77 £5' to 70070 for the Rosemere. Thank you – together we WILL beat cancer!

Monday, 11 June 2012

Cycling the Hebrides 2012 – Day 7, Saturday 5 May 2012: Seil Island, Easdale & Luing


















Loch Fyne, near Tarbert

The wind didn’t seem as bad as forecast and after leaving Suse and John for the last time we made good progress past Tarbert and on to the shores of Loch Fyne. We passed a bus shelter where I remembered sheltering from a cloudburst last year, and a road-kill deer in the verge.  










Another view of Loch Fyne

In no time at all we had arrived at Ardrishaig – but we still stopped for coffee and scone!


















Ardrishaig

This is where you would come if you were travelling from Glasgow to Fort William or Inverness before the railways – steamer to Ardrishaig, then through the Crinan Canal, steamer to Oban and Fort William, and last the Caledonian Canal to Inverness. Who needs roads?  There is still a bit of activity as the enormous pile of logs testified.


















The Crinan Canal

The scenery as the road follows the Crinan Canal is drop-dead gorgeous, although the road sign soon afterwards is a bit confusing…


















I thought it was cold and as we were greeted by a light snow shower soon afterwards, I reckoned I was right!  Once we rejoined the main Lochgilphead to Oban road the hills started – one after another, through Kilmartin and other villages – funny how I didn’t remember the hills much from last year – perhaps it was the lighter bike I was using then which made them easier.

Despite the fact that we were on a main road there were very few watering holes, but we managed to find one with a great view towards the southern end of the islands we were soon to visit. It was a bit worrying to see the time going by, realising that we had barely covered half the day’s planned distance.


















Left-Luggage Office near Seil Island

Nearer to Oban we turned left towards Seil Island, and almost straight away I saw a steep hill sign. It occurred to me that we could travel a bit faster if we could get rid of the heavy panniers and collect them on the way back, so spotting an empty phone box we put them in there. It was only an hour or so afterwards that the thought occurred that the police might not take too kindly to such activities. Still, I reckoned the chance of getting the bags blown up was pretty remote, as we were, well, pretty remote I suppose!


















Bridge over the Atlantic, Seil Island

So, more hills and then the steepest hump-back bridge you ever did see, otherwise known as the ‘Bridge Over The Atlantic’ – and we were on Seil Island, passing a pub called the ‘Tigh na Truish’ or ‘House of the Trousers’, so called because after the Jacobite Rebellion local soldiers were required to remove their kilts when they left the island and put on trousers.  I don’t know what they would have made of Lycra back then.


















'The Tin Church'

Seil Island has lots of bungalows with pretty front gardens – I guess it’s a popular place to retire to.  We reached a junction where it was right to Easdale and straight on to Cuan Ferry for the island of Luing, so we tossed a coin and turned right. Up another hill with a former church at the top now converted to a B&B – and made completely out of corrugated iron (hence the name ‘The Tin Church’ I guess), then down to the village of Ellanabeich for the wee ferry.


















"Where do I sit?"

A car arrived at the same time, carrying masses of musical instruments and sound equipment – the band ‘String Driven’ were playing at the Easdale village hall tonight. 


















So we acted as impromptu roadies, helping to get all the stuff on to the tiny boat, then thought we’d better jump on or there wouldn’t be room for us!  The journey across the narrow sound takes about 30 seconds – you could almost skim a stone across…

















Definitely rock stars...

…which is a coincidence because the World Stone Skimming Championships take place on Easdale Island every year.  The island is basically one big worked-out slate quarry, and one of the old workings, now filled with water, hosts the competition.  The rest of the island is rather odd, with lots of sheds filled with rabbits and budgerigars. All quite strange, and also capable of being visited in about ten minutes, so when the ferry came back with the rest of the rock stars, we returned to Seil Island, retraced out steps to the junction, and this time turned right for Luing.

















Typical Easdale scene

Cuan Ferry needs a traffic warden.  Cars were parked all over the place, presumably abandoned by people going across to Luing for the day. It was a nice day for it by now, sunny and warm.  The small car ferry comes in at one angle to let the cars off, then backs away and docks again at a different angle for the new cars to get on.


















We only rode half a mile, if that, from the slipway, and, having had a very brief look at the place and being conscious of the time, we returned again.

On our second pass we decided to call in at Tigh na Truish for a coffee, before heading over the Atlantic Bridge and then collecting our belongings (safe, sound and definitely not exploded) from the telephone box. Dr Who would have been proud of us.  A few miles more to Oban, then a stop at Lidl for some provisions and a bottle of wine before a further 5 miles to our final destination – North Connell.


















Not far from the bottom of Dave & June's garden - the shore of Loch Etive

We were stopping chez Dave and June Bleazard but they were away on a kayaking weekend at Tayvallich. However, we’d arranged a key and there were a few notes telling us where everything was, and after a quick shower we found the local pub and managed to get an evening meal.

Today had been the longest day so far, with three islands, 84 miles and nearly 2,000 metres of climbing.  Coll tomorrow, with a 9.00 am boat from Oban meaning an early start as we had the five miles to cycle back again, but it would be a much less demanding day, that’s for sure.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Cycling the Hebrides 2012 – Day 6, Friday 4 May 2012: Islay, Jura, and back to Kennacraig.


Before I go any further I should point out, for the avoidance of any confusion (which can be caused by the date at the top of the blog!) that I am now writing a more detailed account of the Hebridean Cycle which Richard Dugdale and I completed on 26 May, but due to restrictions on the amount I could carry, I had no laptop and had to rely on my iPhone to post rudimentary blogs, using only photos taken on the phone.  As I took lots more photos, some of them not bad even though I say so myself, I wanted to follow up with blogs containing more detail and more photos – so this is it. I hope you enjoy it – if you do (or don’t) feel free to post a comment at the end.













Port Ellen, Islay

After tearing ourselves away from Gerry and Linda’s hospitality we cycled into Port Ellen, where there is a big maltings factory serving various distilleries, and then went to have a look at the Laphroaig distillery where there is a rather confusing road sign – perhaps they’d had a few when they made it?  

















Which way? - the road to the Laphroaig Distillery

It was cold and grey, and as we turned back to head north back up to Port Askaig the wind was once more in our faces, and feeling pretty relentless.


















Bleak? but beautiful

It was a long ride up the middle of the island and it felt like it would take all day.  There were a few Buzzards, Goldfinches, and I saw a Chough, a rare red-billed crow with a call that sounds like a cross between a Jackdaw and a ricochet.  The countryside was bleak, with the occasional farmstead and no traffic at all.


















The Jura ferry battling against wind and tide

Eventually we arrived at Port Askaig with just enough time for me to nip to the loo before the ferry across the narrow sound to Jura.  But when I came back out, with five minutes to spare, the ferry had gone!  We hadn’t realised that they use the timetable as merely a rough guide.  It looked like we were in for a wait of over an hour, although it turned out that they decided to do the 1310 crossing at 1300.  This ferry is run by Argyll and Bute Council and the operators seem a little surly.

Mind you, perhaps they had good reason, because the combination of strong winds and a fearsome tide through the narrows made navigation a tricky affair – the boat seemed to be sideways most of the time and looked like it would miss the landing stage.  There was plenty of construction work going on at a hydro-electric scheme on the Jura side, so plenty of big wagons on the tiny ferry.


















Feolin, the first port of call on Jura

If you look on the ferry website you’ll see that it runs to a place called Feolin on Jura. This consists of one or two houses only.  In fact Jura, despite being quite a big island (the fifth biggest Scottish island, I think), has very few houses altogether – fewer than 100 people live on the island, making it the most sparsely populated piece of real estate in the country, I reckon.


















Looking back along the Jura coastal road - the picture doesn't do it justice!


















The Jura Distillery at Craighouse

But the first mile or two of road on the way to the ‘capital’ of Craighouse are absolutely totally unbelievably beautiful, looking out over the sea and back to Islay and across to Kintyre.  After that it became another bit of a slog over moorland for the eight miles or so to yet another distillery – Jura malt – the pier and the little cluster of houses that makes up the village. Fortunately there is a tearoom so we had the obligatory cuppa and scone.













Craighouse jetty

The distinctive hills known as the Paps of Jura dominate here. Richard recalled that sad day in 1993 when four of our friends were killed when their plane crashed into the mountains en route to Mull.  Richard should have been on that plane but had to cry off at the last minute, so he must still have a strange cocktail of feelings – sadness mixed with personal relief I guess.

















The Paps of Jura from near Craighouse

We turned around and cycled back to Feolin, where the contractors were all getting ready to leave for their weekend off.  The ferry really struggled to berth (the tide was now running in the opposite direction) but we made it, although not without the bikes getting a good spraying of salt water.


















Luvverly....


















On the way back to Islay

After a brief wait in Port Askaig we boarded the big ferry back to the mainland, and after the two-hour crossing we were soon back at Suse and John’s house. Their daughter Emily was visiting with her husband (also called Richard). He is planning to cycle from Land’s End to John o’Groats later this year so there was no shortage of conversation over dinner!  The following day they were planning to do the Gigha Challenge, while we had a long day ahead – 80 or 90 miles to Oban, via Seil Island, Easdale and Luing – and with full panniers and a headwind, it could be hard work!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Cycling the Hebrides 2012 – Day 5: Heaven is the Island of Distilleries


It wasn’t quite like Groundhog Day but at least I woke up in the same bed as yesterday morning, which in itself was a bit of a novelty.  From Suse and John’s house it’s only half a mile or so to the ferry terminal at Kennacraig, from where a fairly big Calmac ship plies the route to the island of Islay, carrying a good number of HGVs.  Usually the ferry alternates between two ports on the island – Port Ellen and Port Askaig – but due to work which is being carried out at Port Ellen it currently goes to and from Port Askaig only, about a two-hour trip.

The day started overcast, dull and cold, but we hadn’t sailed far before the sun came out. The warm, sunny, sheltered rear deck contrasted with the shady, windy, cold bows of the ship.  It was warm enough as we arrived at Port Askaig, and got even warmer as we cycled up the long steep hill out of the village.  Straight away we passed signs pointing to the distilleries at Bunnahabhein and Caol Ila.  The scenery was green and agricultural, and there was a gorgeous view back to the Isle of Jura, which is just across a narrow strait from Port Askaig.


















Port Askaig ferry terminal; Jura in the background

At Bridgend we turned right towards Loch Gruinart (where there is an RSPB reserve), past an odd-looking standing stone in the middle of a ploughed field, and then across rougher and wetter ground, where Lapwings were displaying and Mute Swans fed serenely on patches of water. 



















Another island standing stone

We talked to a birdwatcher who had been mesmerised by the sound of Corncrakes the previous night, then called at the RSPB reserve centre.  I’ve probably said this before, but it IS a small world:  the lady manning the centre was Susan Hall, who originated from Lowerhouse near Burnley and is a good friend of our good friends David and Janet Barritt.  Greetings were exchanged over a cup of coffee and I borrowed Susan’s scissors to tidy up some loose ends on my cycling pants.



















We set off into a moorland setting, with Stonechats and Wheatears everywhere, and then a gorgeous male Hen Harrier made an appearance, a beautiful pale grey with black wing tips, smaller-bodied but longer-winged than a Buzzard. A true bird of the moors whose only breeding site in England is near our home, in the ‘Forest’ of Bowland (the name is misleading as Bowland is moorland too).


















The lighthouse at Port Charlotte

Reaching the coast we turned right for Bruichladdich (another distillery) and Port Charlotte, with its pretty harbour.  We had wondered about buying a bottle of whisky at the distillery shop but with the top-priced ones at £200 and no room in our panniers we decided against.


















Like being let loose in a candy shop - Bruichladdich 'Visitor Centre'

Then on to Bowmore (yes, another distillery!),  a really pretty harbour village with a main street overlooked by church at the top of the hill (it reminded me of some French towns like Angers) and the harbour at the opposite end. We had an appointment to visit the local island newspaper – The Ileach – for a quick story and photo-shoot. I made a great impression with the front of my shorts unzipped (it must have been like that since I tidied up the loose ends!) but all was returned to decency and decorum for the photograph.


















Bowmore

Down at the Harbour Inn we had a quick coffee and I got into Spanish conversation with Maria, the waitress who was from Galicia.  Trabaja mucho en el hotel pero se gusta la EscociaOh yes.  I noticed some Japanese gentlemen with carrier bags containing bottles of Bowmore whisky, settling their hotel bill and charging it to Suntory, a Japanese whisky company.  (I’ve checked, out of curiosity, and Suntory do ultimately own the Bowmore distillery.)



















Peat cuttings

Now for a long straight road stretching almost nine miles to Port Ellen, with the wind behind us fortunately, past peat cuttings and the island’s airport (where one of the Japanese gents was standing outside having a quick fag).  Coming in the opposite direction we met a man from Exeter who was riding a strange Danish bike, half-tandem, half-grocer’s bike, with all his camping gear and a small dog sat on top.  It looked a great outfit and the dog was getting a free ride for no work!



















The Bicycle - it's the future! 

Our friends Gerry and Linda were holidaying in a luxury cottage on the Oa peninsula, and when I found out I sort of invited us to stay (Gerry and Linda are actually incredibly hospitable).  So we turned right on to the Oa peninsula and then after the final steep hill of about 1 in 4 (I had to get off and push as my front wheel was lifting right off the ground and I was in danger of falling off backwards) we found the house and couldn’t believe our luck.  What opulence! What luxury! What a view! And as well as alcohol and a prepared meal, we got the laundry done too!  We were in danger of suspending the cycle and staying here for the rest of the week!


















Gerry and Linda entertain...

Monday, 4 June 2012

Cycling the Hebrides 2012 – Day 4: Gigha


Peter Cocker tweeted me whilst I was on Gigha to ask if the cafĂ© was called the ‘Gigha-byte’ – ha! ha! – so before I go any further I ought to point out that it’s pronounced ‘Gee-ya’. So if the island had a Job Centre (which it doesn’t) it would be called ‘Gee-yaz a job’.  Enough of this…



















Before we set off I looked out of my bathroom window and looked straight into the eyes of a Roe Deer. Very pretty, I thought, but Suse was not so happy as it has recently eaten lots of her garden plants which she reckons add up to about 250 quids’ worth – ouch!!  It was still bery pretty though.











Fabulous view towards Jura

The 15-mile stretch of road from Whitehouse to Tayinloan was hillier than I remembered (I did this stretch last year on my coastal ride), but the great descent into Clachan village is worth it. Then there is a very scenic stretch along the shore, with dramatic long-distance views to the Isle of Jura, and there were more Great Northern Divers, Shelduck, Red-breasted Mergansers, whilst in the scrub at the side of the road Sedge Warblers were singing their wonderful scratchy, yet tuneful song.















Another Great Northern Diver

The ferry terminal at Tayinloan is like a bomb-site: major reconstruction is underway, for two reasons, we were told. Firstly so that articulated lorries can be accommodated on the ferry – which seems daft, as I can’t see that there is any room for them on the island! And secondly, the new ferry is going to be solar powered. Not with panels on the roof – no, the ferry will have a huge several-ton battery which will be recharged whilst it is berthed at night. Now I don’t know what you think, but I can see a bit of a problem with using solar power to recharge the batteries at night… I’m sure they know what they’re doing!


















The weather looked so good first thing that I put on shorts and short-sleeves, starting with arm- and leg-warmers.  I was beginning to regret this, as it was perishing cold and seemed to be getting colder. The warmers were not to come off all day.  In fact, when we disembarked on the island I put on full waterproofs, just to keep the wind out!























Ancient standing stone on Gigha called 'The Giant's Tooth' 

Gigha is quite small – about five miles end-to-end, but is quite green and pretty.  Towards the north, which is the way we went at first, there are a few farms, then a narrow isthmus with a beach on each side, before a rocky point with stunning views towards the Paps of Jura.



















At the north of the island, looking out to Jura

After returning to the village, where we met two couples on holiday from Rossendale (one was a recently-retired policeman who knows my nephew, also a Rossendale bobby), we had lunch in the only hotel/pub before cycling all the way (!!) to the southern tip of the island, past the famous Achamore Gardens.  Lots of huge arum plants by the roadside here have presumably escaped.



















The Hebridean Princess

We reached the alternative pier, where the ferry berths overnight, then cycled back to catch the next service back to the mainland.  The luxury small liner, the Hebridean Princess, formerly the Caledonian MacBrayne ‘Columba’, was just offshore.  This is the ship that the Queen has chartered following the sad demise of the Royal Yacht Britannia.  Why don’t we buy her another one? – It would only cost about 20p each!

Back on dry land we turned south – the ‘wrong’ way – because I wanted to do a detour to see Alison Clements from the Muasdale Caravan Site who kindly let us stay for free on last year’s ride AND baked me a cake! Today there was a warm welcome, a cup of tea and… some cake! Hooray!



















Alison at the Muasdale Holiday Park

On the way back we had a great piece of luck. The wind, which was behind us this morning, had changed direction and was behind us again. I can assure you that this only normally happens the other way around – i.e. when it’s a headwind. It was very welcome, especially as that long descent into Clachan was now a long ascent out of the village.

We just managed to see Suse and John on the way back to the house as they were setting off for an evening’s kayaking, but of course they had left us a lovely meal.  So that was one more island in the bag, and we prepared to head off for the Island of Distilleries – Islay – in the morning.