Isle of Mull – October 2019

My adventures are often the result of impulsive decisions based around family commitments, inspiration, finance and weather!

On Friday 18th October I’d managed to tick all the right boxes to get away the following morning. The weather was looking dry for 3 – 4 days and I was yearning for the offski following the Isle of Skye adventure last month with a bunch of good friends.

My solo trips are generally wild camping, I enjoy that (for the time being) yet always have the option to find accommodation if needed. It does of course mean carrying extra gear. Even more so when out in winter at the edge of existence along the wild North West Atlantic coast! That’s not a problem on the BMW F800GS Adventure.

I’m quite well organised with the gear I need. It’s in panniers and bags ready to attach to the bike at very short notice. I can be out the door within an hour without having to think about packing. One pannier is tools, air pump, jump start and other options for recovery from a crisis. The other contains stoves and fuel (I don’t use gas), kitchen stuff, water filtration, axe, saw and significant first aid kit. The top box is mainly for food. Pannier top bags are (1) sleeping bag, pillow and sleeping mat, (2) hiking boots and clothes. The across the seat bag is tent, groundsheet, tent mat, tarp, chair, table, tripod and stool.

I keep checklists of what should be in each bag and pannier. Buying food is always the final task, I like to cook as much as possible when wild camping. Of course that also means ensuring sufficient water for cooking, washing and personal hygiene. I include 2 x 4-litre water bladders and have a 3-litre bladder in my back pack. The 12:20 Saturday ferry from Oban to Craignure was booked.

The following morning I was rolling by 08:30, it was a damp start, however by the time I reached Inveraray the clouds were clearing. It was time for a quick coffee and bacon roll before picking up the A819 and A85 into Oban.

Connel Bridge

It turned out to be a cracking day for the sail out of Oban. The pics below show the waterfront with McCaigs Tower overlooking the bay and Dunollie Castle. Also an inbound ferry and Lismore Lighthouse.

Oban
Dunollie Castle
Ferries – it’s our west coast way of life – Isle of Mull in the distance
Lismore Lighthouse

After disembarking it was a left turn at Craignure to first travel south then west through Glen More tracking alongside the Lussa River. Ben More came into view, the highest mountain on the island and one of the Munros at 3’169 feet.

Ben More
Glen More

By this time it was approaching mid-afternoon, with the sun setting now about 18:30 it was time to find a pitch for the tent. I know Mull well and spent many working hours there and assisted with the annual Tour of Mull Rally several decades back.

The B8035 is a cracking coastal route from Pennyghael to Gruline so it was a right turn to find a camp spot. My priority was to find a SW facing spot to maximise the available daylight from the early setting sun. I didn’t have to wait long and within a few miles found a cracking grassed area shore side of the road.

Loch Scridain
Knobbly tyres for this environment
Home for the night!

My camping gear is good and I’ve spent years saving and building it up. The tent is a Terra Nova 4-season Super Quasar, although 10-yrs old it’s still in good condition. To protect the inner tent I use a second groundsheet along with a picnic rug inside. It’s takes away the feeling of cold and provides a tiny tiny bit of luxury!

None of the roll up foam sleeping mats here, rather an Exped SynMat that provides protection down to -25C. And of course a £5 pillow, well sleep is important! Dinner was potatoes boiled on the Trangia stove, sweet corn and sliced cooked chicken breast, mashed together in true camping style.

And what a sunset!

Camp food!
Sun setting over Loch Scridain
Sunset over Loch Scridain

It was a wild night though with fierce gusts blowing off of Ben More, at more than one point I was expecting the bike to topple over! That, along with barking red deer made for a restless sleep. It was an early start with breakfast; muesli, banana and honey. I brought along some UHT milk, that lasts a few days in these cooler temperatures once opened.

Once saddled up it was time to ride NW to Gruline, a fabulous single track route (most roads are single track) along the shore of Loch Na Keal and below the steep cliffs of Ben More and associated peaks.

Looking north over Loch Na Keal towards Isle of Ulva
The coast road to Gruline below Ben More

Once at Gruline it was onto the B8073 for Calgary, the planned stop for Sunday night. This road has some significant switchbacks and cracking views looking south across Loch Na Keal back towards where I’d been riding just an hour earlier.

Loch Na Keal
Ben More looking down on Loch Na Keal
Looking back over Loch Na Keal

There’s an area at Calgary Bay set aside by Argyll and Bute Council for wild camping with public toilets nearby. The toilets were quite poor though; no lights, no loo paper and grubby, although still preferable to the ‘Bog-in-a-Bag’ option I carry with me when wild camping. Personal hygiene is important so in addition to the ‘Bog-in-a-Bag’ I carry Reynard bath-in-bed wipes and have a sprinkler attachment for the water bladders.

Personal hygiene arrangements!
Wild camp Calgary Bay
Wild camp Calgary Bay
Calgary Bay
Calgary Bay

It was time for food and whilst I do most of the cooking with the Trangia I also carry a woodgas stove. That boiled the potatoes, I then threw in the beans followed by chopped up Melton Mowbray Pork Pies!

Woodgas Stove
Camp food!

I always bring along my hiking gear; boots, trekking jeans, Paramo jacket. I know some bikers when not sleeping are never out of their biking gear but I need to exercise after spending most of the day on the bike. After dinner it was a hike up a nearby hill before returning to camp to catch the sunset over Calgary Bay then get the campfire lit.

Calgary Bay looking NW towards Island of Coll
Sunset over Calgary Bay
Campfire at Calgary Bay

I know when the temperature drops below freezing overnight as the capillaries in my toes close down to prioritise blood flow to the vital organs. The pain when that happens is significant and it got me up at 05:00 Monday morning. The tent was solid with ice as was the bike, there had been a significant amount of dew overnight, that had frozen like a sheet of glass over everything.

Covered in ice at 05:35!

Banana texture is rather odd at these temperatures and achieving a honey flow over the muesli is quite challenging! I reached the iconic town of Tobermory later that morning and found a nice restaurant for a much needed full Scottish breakfast.

Tobermory

I caught the last ferry off the island at 17:00 arriving at Oban about an hour later and was home by 20:30, it’s great to see the native language taking priority. It had been a fab mini adventure and great to return to the Island of Mull after a lapse of a few decades. It’s on my doorstep and I’ll return now on a regular basis.

On board the MV Clansman
Cal-Mac a lifeline for our islands