Fat Bike Jura
I had a few days spare at the end of May for my 5/12 of #BAMfatbike2018. I must admit I wasn’t feeling like using them up as I wasn’t in the zone for a trip away. However as the weather forecast was looking hot here in the UK it would have been a shame not to make the most of it. So with a couple of days to go I put a rough plan together and I was travel the 400 miles north to a ferry port and then catch a ferry for 2 hours to the Isle of Islay, Scotland.
The crossing was stunning, the sea was calm and the afternoon sun was hot. There’s something about starting a trip from a ferry, it just feels like an adventure. After docking at Port Askaig on Islay I had a short walk with the loaded Salsa Mukluk onto a much smaller ferry for the 5 minute sailing to Jura. Jura is part of the Inner Hebrides on the south west coast of Scotland. There are approximately 200 people living on the eastern side of the island but they are outnumbered by the huge population of deer at around 5,500.
Within 80 yards of docking I left the only tarmac road and took a left turn onto a double track that feeds a newly built hydro scheme a further 6 miles along. After 5 minutes of pedalling I saw my first group of deer of what would be the first of many sightings. The evening sun was still warm as I made my way along the track until I had to veer off to ride the coast. There were some bits where I had to push the bike down the steep embankment to the beach below which was a little awkward. The coast line was stunning, natural arch’s and little bays where dotted all around. The pedalling on the otherhand was intermittent due to the terrain. There were parts were I had to push back up the embankment so as to avoid the rock formations that went down into the sea. It was energy zapping! As I took some time out and took in the views I watched a pair of seals down in the sea. Up on the moorland there were deer tracks zig zagging all around. As I followed a track it came to a deep ravine and I was in no mood to struggle climbing down and then to get back out so I came up with plan B. I thought of heading over the moorland and back to the track with the idea of camping close to where I started. After 20 minutes or so of struggling with the sun setting on my back I thought of pitching right where I stood before the infamous Scottish midges came out to feast on the Welshman! Within a few minutes the tent was up and so were the midges, good timing. A dramatic sunset cast some wonderful colours into the darkening sky and I soon got off to sleep.
I woke fairly early in the morning with a nice gentle breeze hitting the tent. I decided on ditching plan B and get back on plan A. I knew it was probably going to be difficult but if I don’t try I’d never know. I set off inland so as to find a good spot to cross the ravine and then followed a deer track towards the coast. The tracks were good but when they shot off in another direction the grass was too clumpy to ride on so it was walking again. After more cursing and with morale getting low again I found a 2 foot deer antler just lying on the track. As it was a clean break it must have come off during a stag rut, obviously I wasn’t leaving it there so it went on the Apidura front roll, I just had to make sure I didn’t take a fall and get impaled! I managed to get back down to the beach again for more stop start of riding. It was frustrating but the scenery was amazing. Up on the hillside deer would be staring at me and probably thought ‘who’s this daft guy with a bike up here’. More climbing and pushing saw me get to a remote hostel at GenBatrick in a lovely sandy bay. I was pretty happy to have got here as I knew there was a path that was marked on the map so I thought it was rideable, it wasn’t! More pushing and cursing with the afternoon sun cooking me. Luckily I was right next to a stream so I was fine for water and it was great to dunk my head in to cool down. Again deer would stop and stare at me from the hill tops just like a scene from Zulu! The top of the climb seemed to go on and on and I was relieved to get to the top. With just a few miles to go I perked up a little but again that was short lived as the descent just the ascent proved to be tough going with plenty of pushing. After getting closer to the road the track disappeared and I was left trawling through waist high grass and bog under my feet. It was energy zapping once again but I got to the road on the eastern side of Jura. After a few miles of gentle pedalling I got to Craighouse where I pitched the tent in front of the hotel and distillery. After a great shower I decided on rewarding myself with a fish pie and several beers.
Next morning I rode the undulating 10 miles back to the ferry along the single road. Once back on Islay I ditched my intended route of following the coast south and decided on using the lanes of the island for an easier day. Some off road tracks and very quiet roads later I got to Bowmore, famous for its whisky. Hordes of tourists were on the streets and making their way to the distillery where a band were playing in the midday sun. I enjoyed my lunch on the beach with a beer in hand. Then it was a southerly direction along the road passing touring cyclists heading north. The bike was fine on the road as my Nates are getting pretty old now so there wasn’t much resistance when pedalling. I got to Port Ellen on the southern tip of the island and bought my tickets for the 7am ferry the next morning.
I pitched up close to the shore and enjoyed eating fish and chips looking out at the bay. A few drinks later sent me off for another good nights sleep.
So despite a very tough #BAMfatbike2018 number 5, I was happy I carried on and pursued my initial plan. I tested myself and have made another great memory from the bivvy a month challenge. Would I do it again though? Probably not but I’m glad I challenged myself.