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Hebrides 2011 - The 'Single track' Odyssey

Part 1 - Coll & Tiree to Barra

25.07.11 - Home to Moffat

We left home at 11am and after dropping off the cats at the cattery we headed north. Fortunately there wasn't too much traffic on the M6 so we had a good journey up and made good time in getting to Mrs longs at Moffat at just before 7.00pm.

map link26. 07.11 - Moffat to Coll

We left Mrs Long's at 9.30 and headed up the A74 and had a good run through to Glasgow. It was slow going up the A82 as there was someone doing only 30mph by the side of Loch Lomand, I don't think they were admiring the view but just not sure about the road. The weather was absolutely lovely as we drove across from Crianlarich so we had some great views of Ben Crucahan, Loch Awe and Loch Etive. Just after Connel Ferry we got stuck for 20mins in roadworks just before Oban but we still got to Hazelbanks just before 1.00pm. It took a little longer than we had thought to get the bikes off and load the bikes but there was still time to nip into Tescos to get some milk and buy a map at the station newsstand. In my hurry to get to the ferry I missed the turning and we had to go around the one-way system again to get to the terminal, what a Donkey! By then it was 2.30pm and they had already started to load so I hurried to the ticket office to get the tickets. As soon as I got back with the ticket they hurried us on to get us loaded. With the bikes stowed and lashed to the side of the deck we headed up on deck.

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon as we set off and we had a lovely calm crossing with some great views through the sound of Mull. We decide to have dinner on the ferry so that we didn't have to cook when we got to our campsite on Coll. The ferry got into Coll on time at 5.30pm and we had a lovely cycle in the evening sun to the campsite that is at the western end of the island. We were both knackered by the time we got there so after getting the tent up it was a quick cuppa before settling down for an early night. It was a clear sky with not a cloud in the sky so it looked like we were in for a very cold night.

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map link27.07.11 - Coll

We were right about it being cold in the night, half way through the night we had to put fleeces, bikesters and socks on to warm ourselves up and we had regretted not bringing our warmer duvet that we had used in Iceland. We didn't think it would be quite so cold at night in Scotland in the summer.

They did say it would rain today but in fact it was a beautiful morning. We decided to cycle to the shop at Arinagour to get supplies and then cycled up to the Kirk behind the village for a good view of the harbour and to suss out a wild camping spot for Friday. It was then back to the campsite for lunch and to put things in the fridge before setting off to the nature reserve at the west end of the Island. The flowers on the machair were absolutely beautiful and we enjoyed our walk through the dunes with Pyramidal Orchid, Field Gentians, Red Clover and Bloody Crane's-bill all over the place. Whilst we were in the dunes we found our first cache on Coll that turned out to be a 'First to Find' that surprised us. Our route to the next cache took us along a lovely white sandy beach and then up to a rocky promontory and the cache was easy to find and again was another 'First to Find'. As we were leaving the cache site we noticed a big black cloud coming in from the west so we hurried back to the bikes and managed to get back to the campsite before the rain started. They were right about the rain but fortunately for us it came late in the day!

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map link28.07.11 - Coll

The rain had stop early on in the night and it was quite cloudy when we woke but as we had our breakfast the sun was just getting out. The wind was northerly with a bit of a bite so we needed our windproof yellow jackets as we cycle to the RSPB reserve at Machair Mhòr. Unfortunately we couldn't see any sign of the Corncrake viewing platform that was shown on the leaflet that we had seen in the kitchen at the campsite so we headed into the machair to find one of the other caches on Coll and spent ages getting to it as there were so many wonderful flowers to photograph. The cache turned out to be our third 'First to Find' on Col. We were obviously the first geocachers to visit the island since the caches were put out last October. We returned to our bikes which we had depo'd in the dunes and pushed bikes along white sandy beach of Hogh Bay, which was hard work in the soft sand. When we got to the Hebridean Centre we again left bikes locked this time to a fence and climbed Coll's highest summit Ben Haugh at a lofty 106m above sea level. We had great views of all of Coll, it was just a shame that it was a little overcast to get any really stunning panoramas. It didn't take us long to find the last of the caches on Coll near the summit. We walked to trig point and then back down the way we had climbed to the bikes. We then cycled off along the B 8071 past Coll's one and only golf course back to Arinagour. We stopped at the shop for a few supplies and had hoped for a snack at the cafe but it was a bit too late as it had shut but managed to get a can of juice and some savoury snacks in the shop part of the café. At least it was something, as we hadn't had anything for lunch. The weather had improved as we cycled back to campsite. As the evening looked good we had a quick cup of tea and a snack before setting of for a corncrake walk behind the campsite via the sandy beach of Loch Breachacha. It was a good walk but unfortunately we didn't see any Corncrakes.

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map link29.07.11 - Coll

Frank had the bright idea of spending tonight at the wild camp behind the hotel at Arinagour so we didn't have to get up too early to get the ferry tomorrow. So after breakfast we packed up and headed off to Arinagour. It was a beautiful morning and it took us just under an hour to get to there and we got to the Post Office at 12.45am, which was lucky as it closed at 1.00pm. We sent the maps back that we didn't need and I bought a book on the flowers of Coll & Tiree for Frank. We decided, as it was lunchtime to have some lunch at the Island cafe. I knew that they had free WiFi and we could send off some emails. Well it ought to have been called a restaurant as it didn't seem to offer much in the way of snacks and the dizzy waitress didn't seem to know her menu as I asked if they did something light as a snack and she just said it's all on the menu.

We ended up with 2 Prawn salads that were £7 each and 2 cans of ginger ale, which turned out to be organic from Belgium, and when we got the bill they were £2 each! Well at least we did get free WiFi and it was lovely sitting outside in the sunshine with the lovely view over the harbour. With our e-mails sent we popped down to the ferry jetty to check out where we could buy the ferry tickets for tomorrow, when we got there it was obvious that there was a ticket office. We headed back to the shop to get some supplies before going to the hotel to ask about the camping. We met another tourer there, he was having a pint outside. He was just up for a few days to tour around Coll, he was in the oil industry and worked 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off and he said it was so easy to get lazy with his time off and as the weather was so good he just had to make the effort to get out. We wished him well and headed around to the hill behind the hotel to pitch our tent, with the tent pitched on a lovely spot overlooking the Loch Eatharna and the harbour we set off for the NE corner of the Island.

It was quite rugged terrain and we passed several white sandy beaches as the road twisted and turned through hay meadows. We had some great views over to Canna and Rùm. It was very much like interval training as we went up and down little hills and in amongst rocky outcrops. We eventually got to the end of the road at Sorisdale where there was another lovely white sandy-beached bay which judging by the ruined crofts had at one time been a vibrant little hamlet. It was 6 o'clock by now so we headed back. It seemed much quicker on the way back and only took an hour, as the hills seemed to be much more in our favour. It was a beautiful evening and we watched seals in the harbour as we cooked our dinner, which were some really tasty pork chops that we had bought earlier from the local shop.

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map link30.07.11 - Coll to Tiree

We were up at 7 o'clock and impressed ourselves by being breakfasted, packed and ready to go by 8.20. It was another bright and beautiful day but the wind had dropped which brought out the midges so I suppose that gave us some urgency. It wasn't far to the ferry jetty and we had a good hour to spare, which gave us time to brew a cup of tea and buy the tickets. The guy at the ticket office was very helpful as I asked him about the Island hopscotch ticket and he worked out that we wouldn't save anything by buying it, which was nice of him. Whilst we were waiting for the ferry we spotted an Otter swimming quite close in to the jetty. The ferry was on time and we were first on. During the crossing we saw 2 basking sharks from the ferry well at least we saw their dorsal fins. It only took an hour to get to Tiree. After disembarking at the ferry jetty it was only a short ride to Scarinish where we stopped at the Co-op to pick up supplies before setting of for the campsite. Tiree is much flatter and less rugged than Coll and without the close views across to Mull is not quite as picturesque but it is still quite beautiful in its own right.

As we cycled along the B8069 through hay meadows it opened out to an unfenced road across the machair, which was still in full colour with the flowers. It is a single-track road with passing places and there was a bit of traffic but we didn't mind stopping as it gave us an opportunity to look at the flowers and hear Corncrakes calling but try as we might we just couldn't spot the little blighters. As we got to Crossapol we got a great view of the white sandy beach of Hynish Bay. We soon picked up signs to the campsite and made our way up several single-track roads to a turning up a track, which led to the campsite. A lady came out to greet us and confirmed our booking and pointed us to a spot for our tent, it did seem busy so we were glad that we had booked. We spent a bit of time trying to work out the best place for the tent as the ground was a bit bumpy, the lady must have seen us and came out. If that is a bit bumpy for you you can go to on the left side or if you like you could go in the far field and showed us through to a lovely open field with no one in it and a great view. We pitched the tent and got the chair kits out and had some lunch. It was absolutely glorious sunshine and we both sat and read but we enjoyed it a bit too much and got ourselves a bit sunburnt.

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map link31.07.11 - Tiree

Frank unfortunately wasn't feeling too great and seemed to have a bit of a sore throat and a cold so we cycled over to the Co-op at Scarinish for some cold remedies. On the way back Frank now dosed up with Cavonia felt a bit better so we headed off to find the only cache on the island. As we turned onto the road to Hynish I noticed a woman pushing her bike so I stopped and asked if she had got a problem with it. What had happened was that the chain had got jammed between the cassette and the drop out. It didn't take long to sort out as I released the axle skewer and moved the chain over. Oh she said I hadn't thought of doing that! I told her that she needed to adjust the rear derailleur to stop it from doing it again, if I had had a screwdriver I would have done it for her. She said that she would take it to Macleod's who hire bikes as they do bike repairs. She thanked me for our help and we headed on our way.

As you cycle towards Hynish your eye is very much drawn to the Victorian buildings on the point, as they stand out as very different from the small crofts. When we got there we found what these strange Victorian building were. They were built by Robert Stevenson to build and serve the Skerryvore lighthouse. The Hebridean Trust now owns the whole area and they have a very interesting exhibition of how they built the Skerryvore lighthouse. Afterwards we had a good look around the harbour, which Stevenson had even built with a reservoir and sluice system to flush the sand from the harbour when it built up. It was near the harbour that we found the only cache on Tiree. It was quite easy to find although we were a bit concerned about its condition as the lid was cracked and it was half full of water. Whilst I was coming back from photographing the Lighthouse keepers cottages I saw Frank looking through the binoculars at something in the field on the corner, she was beckoning frantically at me. She had spotted a Corncrake but unfortunately it had slunk away by the time I got to her, lucky thing!!!

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map link01.08.11 - Tiree

It was one of those slightly overcast days with only a few breaks in the clouds. We decided to have a cycle around the island. As we cycled through Barrapol we came across a great example of a traditional Tiree croft complete with thatched roof. As I stopped to have a look a couple were unloading their car so commented to them how lovely it was. It turns out they were renting it for their honeymoon and that it belongs to a chap in Belgium. They very kindly let us have a quick look inside to see what it was like. We congratulated them on their wedding and hoped the weather would be kind to them for the next couple of weeks. On the way to Port Bharrapol we did a bit of Corncrake spotting from the roadside, we heard several calling but didn't see any of these elusive birds. We cycled across the dunes on a grassy path to Port Bharrapol and then south to the wonderful white sandy beach of Tràigh nan Gilean. As well as the lovely beach in the middle were some rocks which had some great rock pools, which we enjoyed searching through for sea anemones and starfish.

From Tràigh nan Gilean there was a great path come track that took us north Sandaig and on the way we passed the shingle bay of Port Mòr where we came across the memorial to HMS Sturdy which tragicaly floundered off the Tiree coast in 1945. At Sandaig we had hoped to have had a look at the museum but unfortunately it didn't seem to be open. We decided to head north along the B8069 and had a look at the ruined Kilkenneth Chapel which dates back to the Middle Ages. As we headed on to Sraid Ruadh we passed Tiree's second highest summit Beinn Hough at 119m. The beach at Sraid Ruadh (Tràigh Baile a' Mhulinn) was quite interesting as it was obviously popular with the surfers who had an audience of grazing cows joining them on the beach. On our way home we passed Loch Bhasapoll which is currently used by the local windsurfing school but in past times served as the reservoir for the now ruined Tiree water mill which is right next to the youth hostel. We returned to the campsite via the B8066 and the B8065 past Heylipol. That evening as we came back to our tent after having cooked our dinner in the campsite kitchen we were treated to a lovely sunset and the old tractor in our field made for some good foreground interest.

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map link02.08.11 - Tiree

We were woken up by heavy rain on the tent at about 6.00am and the clag was down and you couldn't see a thing. I guessed that it would clear later so we had a lazy morning reading in the tent. By 12.00 the rain had stopped and I decided to cycle off to Macleod's to get some bread for some lunch. Unfortunately when I got to Macleod's they were closed for lunch so I cycled on to the Co-op at Scarinish, by the time I got back to the tent Frank had been doing some washing and as expected the sun was just starting to come out. After a bit of a delayed lunch we headed off to have a look at a couple of the other beaches on Tiree. The first beach was Tràigh Shorobaidh, which was just at the end of the road from the campsite down a small track from the main road near Balemartine. The tide was out so there was a large expanse of sand and we met the family we had seen on the ferry. Mum and dad were kite buggying and the two lads were on landboards, they were all enjoying the good steady wind and the wide beach. From there we headed over to Balephuil bay under the shadow of Tiree's highest point Carnan Mòr with its distinctive white golf ball shaped Radar station on its lofty 141m summit! The beach was obviously the surfer's beach as there were about 30 or so enjoying the swell. We cycled up through the dunes and machair towards Ceann a' Mhara. It was a shame that it had been such bad weather in the morning as we would liked to have explored further over the back of Ceann a' Mhara as the map showed some caves, a natural arch and the ruins of St. Patrick's chapel, but it was getting late so we headed back to the campsite.

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map link03.08.11 - Tiree

We were woken by the sun and when I looked out I could see from the clear blue skies that it was going to be a cracking day to explore the east end of the Island. After a quick breakfast we headed off towards Scarinish and had some great views across to Mull and the beaches along the way looked beautiful in the brilliant sunshine. At Scarinish we stopped to have a look at the 'An Iodhlann' centre, which has a very interesting exhibition on the history and flora and fauna of the island of Tiree. From there we cycled east along the B 8068 and passed the great sandy beach of Tràigh Mhór which stretches the length of Gott Bay, it again looked wonderful in the bright sunshine. About half way along we stopped to look at the Kirkapol Chapels, the older 13th century chapel is dedicated to St. Columba who established a monastery on Tiree in 565AD. Although ruined the chapels are quite interesting as the 14th Century chapel has some 15th century gravestones interestingly carved with Celtic decorative motifs depicting zoomophic bird designs and an early example of claymore. The gravestones were also covered in the most amazing lichen, which gives a good indication of the air quality on Tiree. It is quite interesting as you look at the place names on Tiree as some have Norse derivations such as Kirkapol meaning 'Church Farm' as well as others which are obviously later Gaelic names (there is some more information on Tiree place names here).

At the end of the B8068 at Caolas we had hoped to find a nice place for lunch, however the beach there wasn't so nice so we went on to Salum bay where there was a lovely grassy area above the beach for lunch. We sat there for ages eating our lunch and watched loads of seals swimming around in the bay. From there we headed around to Vaul bay and they to the end of the road where there was a Broch, Dun Mor Bhalla. It was the first Broch we had seen in Scotland, it dates from 60 AD but unfortunately only the base remains but it was quite easy to see the double wall construction. We spent quite a bit of time exploring around it and photographing some of the wonderful wild flowers that were in the meadows. We finished our circumnavigation of the east part of the island by returning via Balephetrish and Cornaigmore. As we were passing a small croft just after Cornaigmore Frank spotted a Linnet with its lovely red breast and cap, unfortunately we weren't quite quick enough to get the camera out before it flew off across the farmland. That evening there was a lovely sunset but unfortunately the weather didn't look good for the next day.

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