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Ride Scotland Rally 2022 – West & Islands

One of the best gravel roads of Scotland

I can’t believe that this is the first blog post that I’ve managed to write in the whole of 2022 so far. It’s not like I’ve even been so busy that there not been sufficient time, or any excuse like that. Anyway, let’s put that behind me and tell you all about this year’s RSR and the time I spent with friends old and new, cycling my way around the beautiful Scottish west highlands and islands.

Ride Scotland Rally or RSR as it’s known to it’s friends is a relaxed, organised, but not too organised, bicycle wander around Scotland. Apart from the Scotland part it’s actually quite hard to define, pigeon hole or put in a box in any way. And in many ways that’s what makes it so good. And I realise here I seem like I’m speaking as a veteran, when actually this is the first year that I’ve ever done it. That said, there’s only been one other year in 2019. I did try to join the 2020 ride but that was cancelled due to the CovID19 virus outbreak and 2021 wasn’t organised for that same reason. But I do fully intend to be a part of the 2023 ride and maybe that will define me as a ‘regular’!

Never pass up an opportunity to take a photo of your bike!
Never pass up an opportunity to take a photo of your bike!

Essentially it’s a 7 day gravel adventure and I came across the website in Spring 2019 when I was searching for these kind of things. As well as fancying it myself, I immediately thought of my cycling mate Phil and thought that it would right up his street and he might be interested too! Only to discover that he’d already signed up and was planning his trip. Great minds think alike, or so they say. I couldn’t go that year due to other commitments but knew that it was definitely something for the future.

When I’ve done multi-day cycling trips in the past I’ve blogged about them as a chronological, 1 day per post, series. Don’t worry I’m not about to subject you to 7 posts of hour by hour recall, all the hills, town names and kms passed this time. Which is probably as well, because at my current rate of posting on this blog, 7 posts will take me another 7 years! Instead I plan to make a couple, maybe three, posts about the event and my ride but following themes rather than chronological recall.

On the Isle of Arran - Ready for Day 1
On the Isle of Arran – Ready for Day 1

The 2022 Roam Scotland Rally was set in May, right at the end and took in a beautiful route around the Scottish Highlands and west islands. Which, for anyone reading this from another country, is a fantastic place to go. Maybe on bike as we did, but also just for a holiday, which coincidentally I did with my family the summer before, in 2021. We hired a VW campervan and toured around Scotland and even across to the Isle of Mull, where the RSR also went.

So Phil and I drove up to Scotland in my new electric car (trying to make the trip that little bit greener) and we parked up near Greenock, where the returning ferry from Dunoon would leave us with minimal additional miles at the end. We then cycled down the coast to Ardrossan to catch the first ferry across to the Isle of Arran where the ride officially started the following day. Our plan for the entire event was to wild camp, except for 1 night mid way through in Oban when we had a hostel booked and also the final night when the ride returned to Oban, where we had a night booked in at the same hostel. So night one was spent under the stars on the Isle of Arran in a forested area just off the ‘main’ road. Of course a main road on the Isle of Arran is not the busy type of main road that you’d be used to!

Our wild camping plan was a mixed bag. The first night was pretty good, a good spot generally, a few too many midges, but hey, that’s Scotland. After leaving Arran and going back to the mainland our second night was spent near Tarbet and it was then that we realised that the midges weren’t actually so bad back on Arran! That second night in a sheep field and also a night, later on, in the woods near Strontian were the two worst nights of the ride. A better night was had near Lochgilphead despite being woken in the night by the barking of a local deer. I think maybe we were sleeping on a deer track!

Breakfast by the Loch
Breakfast by the Loch

The best wild camping spot of the week was definitely the one on the edge of Loch Leven, just outside of Balachulish. By the water, with a slight breeze to keep the midges at bay and a lovely waking view of the Loch. Good wild camping spots like this make it all worth while. That morning even the breakfast porridge tasted so much better and we found a big rocky area baked in the morning sunlight that we were able to layout all our kit on, before rolling it all up and packing it back onto the bikes for the day ahead.

Plenty of Woodland trails in Scotland
Plenty of Woodland trails in Scotland

The riding was a mix of minor roads and gravel where possible and the route went from the Isle of Arran, across to the mainland, up through Tarbet and Lochgilphead and up to Oban. Then onward up the mainland through Glencoe before reaching the most northerly point at Fort William. The route then headed west and back down through Stontian and then across to the Isle of Mull before returning by ferry back to Oban. Having a different end point to where we’d started did then mean we had an additional final day to get from Oban back to the car in Greenock.

There were lots of gravels tracks and beautiful lochs
There were lots of gravel tracks and beautiful lochs

For me the ferry connections were something of a novelty, having never taken my bike on a ferry before. The previous year I’d crossed to Mull as part of our family campervan holiday but that’s quite different, as you book ahead and plan your crossing. By bike it’s a different matter, you can literally just turn up at the terminal, buy a ticket and get on the next crossing. This is of course perfect because although you have a plan to cross on a specific ferry, the speed at which you end up riding, the number of stops you make and all manner of other incidents can change things. You just have to make sure you don’t miss the last one.

I think if I could describe the week in a few keywords I’d be saying: Adventure, Scenery, Photos, Hills, Lochs, Gravel, Food, Camping, Cyclists, Friends, Remote, Fun, Awesome & Scotland.

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