stravaiging on coll

Thu, Apr 16, 2015

Easter! Dust off the Brompton, fill up the 120L sac and head for the Armadale ferry, train down to Oban then cycle down the road to the Gallanach campsite, ready for the early ferry on the Saturday morning to the Isle of Coll.

That was the plan but in my haste to get moving, I forgot to put the spacer back on the folding pedal and as I was cycling round Mallaig waiting for the train, it began grinding into the crank. Loosened off it was ok.

A grand plate of soup and coffee and sandwiches at the lovely tearoom at Crianlarich station and it was onto the Oban train, past Kilchurn Castle and the Pass of Brander.

Three mile cycle to the campsite, then back into town for grub and another bimble around, remembering the sights.

I’d camped here about 30 years ago with a big heavy canvas tent and even heavier rubber groundsheet, all of which teetered on the back of the bike and I popped by the site to reminisce. The tree was still there, having aged considerably better than I!

With a very tasty box of fish and chips from Nories strapped to the rear rack, I headed off towards the far end of the front to indulge in the traditional Scottish Easter pastime of eating al fresco next to the sea. In a gale force wind and horizontal rain.

Fighting off seagulls and hypothermia.

That last thought caused me to burst out laughing. There I was, sitting next to what looked like half a bike (the rear wheel folded as a stand), surrounded by marauding gulls, cackling like an idiot. A passing pensioner momentairly turned his back to the storm and stared at me.

Grub finished, I cycled back to the campsite but a mile or so before reaching it, the left pedal began to grind ominously and spin in a very odd way as if it was about to fall off. I coaxed it onward and at the tent tightened it up and tested it down the road a bit. It seemed to hold but it was the end for the crank as the inside face of the pedal was covered in scurf. It was slowly stripping the crank threads. I worked out later I’d forgotten to put the spacer on when putting the pedal back on the crank and it was tightening as I rode, slowly eating its way into the crank metal and stripping the threads. What a plonker! I just hoped it would hold ‘til the ferry, three miles up the road tomorrow morning.

The gale continued to blow into the night but eventually petered out and I slept quite well. Up and away sharp the next morning with the wonky pedal threatening to fall out of the crank all the way but I made it to the ferry in plenty time and met up with Penguin, to give him the bad news that the bike was knackered. A very misty crossing with the captain blowing the foghorn, waking us up from our comfy seat slumbers.

It was cold and grey when we landed and I popped into the hotel for directions to the ‘campsite’. Up the hill behind the church, stay on the left side of the road were the instructions. It turned out to be a bit, hmmm, uninviting if truth be told. Rather wet, sloping, with what looked a big scorched area in the middle and the whole place covered in sheep poo. We pitched nonetheless and went down to the community centre to see about the 24hr toilets and showers. They did indeed exist and what’s more, the bunkhouse had spaces so we hummed and hawed after a walk along the road to Arnabost and back (the bike was knackered remember!).

To cut a long story short we ended up unpitching the tents and moving into the bunkhouse and that night, after superb dinner at The Island Cafe, we spent a fantastic evening at the local community gathering. Lots and lots of talented actors, singers, songwriters, musicians and comedians. It really was a cracking event.

The next day I took my toolkit to the centre and asked if I could purloin a pedal from one of the many abandoned bikes and the chap said yes but if I wanted, he’d lend me his own bike. Turned out he’s in the process of gathering up all the forgotten bikes, renovating them and offering them to the tourists. So I managed to salvage our cycling holiday on a nice bike with beautifully swept back handlebars.

So we went on a circular tour, Penguin on his Brompton, me on my classic, taking the road round to Totronald RSPB

and onto the beach at Hogh Bay

with an ascent of the highest point on Coll, Ben Hogh on the way back.

That night we dined at the Isle of Coll hotel on superb food and had a right old banter session with the locals.

The next day we had to catch the afternoon ferry back to Oban so we cycled up to the beach at Cliad Bay for a wonderful wander on the expansive sands

watching the seals watching us

and watching a front sweep in from the Atlantic and make its way inland at a fair old speed.

The return to the ferry was a bit Laurel and Hardy as I’d given the bike back and was now pushing the one pedalled Brompton furiously up the hill as the ferry was in! A little bit of descent to the terminal let me freewheel and we made it in good time.

Coll is a fantastic place. The locals are wonderfully friendly, the average age seems to be young with lots of kids and a vibrant community atmosphere. Not to mention the superb facilities at the community centre and the spotlessly clean bunkhouse next door. The islanders even have their own 4G mast and it was a real treat to be able to sit in the tent (before we decamped to the bunkhouse) surfing laterooms.com for a cheap alternative to the youth hostel in Oban. Eventually I got a good value for money room at the Regent Hotel (31 quid B&B!). I had planned to camp again but with the Brompton knackered I couldn’t cycle to the campsite.

A fantastic trip and no doubt we’ll be back to Coll.

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