Camchain and tensioner seen up close in a cutaway bike engine

Home Travel StoriesBute And Kintyre 2019

The Long Way To Machrihanish

Ride Date 15 May 2019

By Ren Withnell

Another chilly night and Sharon has slithered to the foot of the tent once more. I poke and prod her with a long stick until she stirs then we begin the painful process of transferring from her happy sleepy place into the cold harsh reality of the woken world. 

The night's chill has gone and it seems we're facing a most peculiar situation. More dry weather? There it is, the sun. There it is, blue sky with only a few wispy clouds and a light haze. There it is on my phone, the BBC assures me we will have a dry day. I've enjoyed and endured mixed weather in Scotland over the years, this good weather is most peculiar. Welcome, but most peculiar.

It is easier to wake Sharon when the weather is good. She believes she is a lizard and I have no reason to argue with that logic. 

I bravely avoid the Serpentine road as I lead us back into Rothesay. The petrol station in town harks from around the same time as I started motorcycling. The price here, though not as cheap as my local supermarket, is not as devastating as I expected. 

The road from Rothesay to Rhubodach and the ferry terminal is a delight because Sharon is leading and she's not dawdling, not at all. The terminal is swathed in warmth as the sun is now high in the sky. £8.50 for 2 bikes and 2 riders and my second ferry crossing this trip, fabulous. This is a short crossing and we remain seated upon the bikes. I take the lead and hang a left onto the A886 northbound. 

Looking out over the hills and loch from the ferry, looking over the ramp
Grand scenery seen from a ferry. I'm in heaven.

I, well we, we have a choice to make. We could take the shorter route to Portavadie via the A8003, a distance of around 18 miles. Or we could take a longer detour continuing along the A886 then taking the B8000 through Lephinmore and Otter Ferry. This detour is only 42 miles, hardly an epic detour. I have a brief word with Her Worshipful Lizardness and she thinks this fine weather deserves the detour.

I am home. 

I don't know where "The Highlands" start and finish but this landscape and this road is very much like The Highlands. The broad twin lane tarmac ribbon swoops and rises then corners easily then follows a contour then rolls over undulations into another fluidic bend. We're cruising at 60(ish) all alone. Between or over the trees the hills lead to bigger hills with perhaps mountains in the distance. I'll admit it is not quite as "est" (big-est, high-est, steep-est...) as The Alps or The Picos De Europa but it is wondrous and I feel so at ease here. I feel at home.

The bikes near the white scottish houses surrounded by steep tree covered hills and blue sky
If the weather is on your side Argyll has a lot to offer. Bliss.

We stop briefly at Kilmodan which comprises of a workshop, a school and perhaps 3 houses? There's a ramshackle public toilet we use and I admire the remnants of an old tractor. Just a little further along I stumble upon the Glendaruel Caravan Park. I pull in. According to the interweb thingy this place only takes caravans but the signs suggest they take tents. A lady warmly welcomes us and advises they do indeed allow campers under canvas. The site looks good, this may well prove useful on our return leg.

The rusting remains of a tractor, missing everything forward of the steering wheel
Needs a polish and maybe an engine, but otherwise it's fine.

The A886 is blissful, it's the kind of road that makes life worth living. As I take the turning for the B8000 I reckon there'll be more of the same. After all this leads to the towns and villages along the south eastern shoreline of Loch Fyne. 

Ah, single track. Well there'll be a couple of miles of this then we'll get the 2 lanes back, after all there's hotels and cafes and villages down here, it's not like we're in the middle of nowhere. Anyhow we like single track because we HAVE to slow down and this allows for a better appreciation of the scenery.

And what scenery we are treated to. This is absolutely classic Highland scenery. Loch Fyne provides the waters, our shoreline is craggy then sandy then craggy once more. Across the water hills rise then fall into the Loch as we pass occasional lonesome houses. These are an odd mix of houses. Some are sharp, modern and fresh, others as ramshackle as a hill-billy's hideout complete with rusty engines and tumbledown sheds. 

Trees, a small flat rocky shoreline, calm waters, blue skies, distant mountains on the B8000
The road is narrow and slow but the scenery is worth slowing down for.

We're approaching Lephinmore, I think it's time for a brew. Ah, right I see. Lephinmore is it seems merely a cluster of 2 houses and 2 farms. Not to worry we'll enjoy the scenery again then stop in Largiemore. Erm, Largiemore is a small static caravan site. Otter Ferry isn't far away and I know there's cafe there. I'm ready for that brew now. The single track remains single track.

The ribbon of narrow tarmac set between the trees with hill on one side and the loch on the other
And the single track winds its way ever onwards.

Ah, right I see. At Otter Ferry there is a place for refreshments but it appears to be closed. Well maybe we could get a drink from the shop? What shop? Otter ferry is bigger than the other places, there must be what, 4, maybe even 5 houses and the closed cafe. Relatively speaking it is a sprawling metropolis and yet it seems we must stand and drink the last of the water I have in my tank bag. 

The Oystercatcher at Otter Ferry, a white building that is firmly closed for business today
The Oystercatcher is closed, there'll be no refreshement here today then. Dagnammit.
A sandy and stony beach, a very calm Loch Fyne and endless hills in the distance
Despite the lack of refreshment it has been worth the effort. We'll survive. I hope.

The sun shines and it is a fine day, we are healthy and our location is gorgeous. It is once again my expectations that have caught me out. I did not expect Otter Ferry to be a big place but I did think there'd be a corner shop and quaint cafe or two. It's not like I'm new to Scotland either, I should by now know that just because a place is significant enough to make it onto the map does not make it a town. Or a village. Or a hamlet. Stupid boy.

11 miles on the broad open sweeping Highland roads is 11 minutes ride. 11 miles on this never ending perpetual single track at 20mph to avoid the risk of clashing with oncoming traffic is a half hour ride. A long time passes on the ride from Otter Ferry to Portavadie. At least there'll be tea at the port town of Portavadie. 

Oh come on, you already know don't you. No, of course not. Portavadie is essentially a ramp into the waters of Loch Fyne. 

I'm being unfair, sorry. There appears just before the ramp into the waters an almost brand new hotel, spa and leisure complex. There is also a workman toiling who overhears Sharon and I discussing tea, "Ya con geet a coffee up theer, but I wouldn'y advise it, damn expensive it is". Well that's that sorted then. I know Tarbert across the water, we can get refreshments there.

A fresh modern and trendy building just up from the ferry ramp at Portavadie
Very contemporary I'm sure. 

Sharon heads off to use the toilets, apparently they're open to the public. As I wait I'm joined by a convoy of 3 VW campers in the queue. Sharon returns and we chat with one of the camper owners as the ferry comes into view. Sharon can't find her key. 

Oh poop. Check pockets. Check tank bag. Check bike. Oh poop. She has spares but, well, you know, they're spares. Check again. She is adamant she's left them in the toilet. Oh poop. She runs off. The ferry gets closer. I'm getting deja-vu from Monday. She arrives back, breathlessly holding her keys aloft. It seems the wife of the camper owner had spotted them, handed them in and they were waiting for Sharon's return at the hotel.

A small ferry on the incredibly calm waters of Loch Fyne
The ferry is coming Sharon. Sharon? SHARON!!

Sheeez woman. I recall my recent lost key event at a cafe in Frodsham. Easily done. Too goddam easily done. What is it with the human condition? We like to think we are so smart and intelligent yet we can lose a set of keys in a mere moment. The next time I get all smug about how clever I am, just mention "10mm socket?"

We're relieved of about £14 for this crossing. I'm pleased to have experienced 3 ferries on this trip but it's not a cheap hobby is it. This is another sit on your bike crossing but it does take quite a while. Luckily the waters have barely a ripple on them, this weather is disconcerting.

calm waters blue skies, the wake of the ferry and the rugged shoreline of loch Fyne
Another ferry. And the promise of civilisation in Tarbert.

So here is Ren. Wild Adventure Type. Crosser of great oceans and deserts. International man of mystery. Survivor of many an expedition. Never has he been so happy to see a Co-op shop after 42 miles of wild, remote, treacherous and 
yet properly surfaced road. He and his faithful sidekick Sharon stagger around collecting crisps, triangle butties and fizzy pop survival food. They pay with their dusty dirty credit card, then sit on a bench outside and gorge themselves. 

The tide is out at Tarbert Harbour, a seagull is close up and begging for food
Ahhhh Tarbert, long time no see. No seagull, you haven't got a hope in hell.

Look OK despite the peace and tranquillity and the stunning views and the incredible places I can still appreciate the benefits of our modern world. A note to myself and anyone else taking the B8000. It is a cracker of a road and well worth the efforts. Just bear in mind to take your own refreshments and leave plenty of time.

The A83 on the other hand sees the return to the 2 lane and fast flowing type of road. Time is marching on, we're getting close to tea time and we still have over 40 miles to cover. At this pace though that should be around an hour, taking into account the villages we must slow down for and maybe getting a little lost. 

I have chosen well. As we make our way down the western coast of the Kintyre Peninsula the villages are sparse, the Isles of Jura, Islay and Gigha look mysterious in the haze across the water and while we are on the mainland and south of Glasgow with each mile it feels more and more remote. 

Across hazy waters in the distance the isle of Islay has steep hills pointing up
Islay in the distance I believe. Very atmospheric and mysterious.

I take a wrong turn and end up somewhere around Campbeltown Airport. You might envisage anywhere with an airport as not being remote - but don't go thinking vast car parks and huge terminals. Think ex military base, nissin huts and wire link fencing. There are to my surprise though, aeroplanes.

Machrihanish Caravan and Camping Park presents itself as simple, thankfully flat and effective. The cherry on the cake are the toilets. There's only 8 but each is a self contained large cubicle complete with loo, shower, sink and radiator. Oh to be able to poop then wash your hands rather than having to pull your pants up with "dirty" fingers. Why, why, WHY is the rest of the world not this civilised?

What the campsite has in simple practical toilets it lacks in shops. There is a tiny selection of food within reception that would suffice in an emergency and my internet research suggests Machrihanish only has a pub. Fear not we have a bike or two and Campbeltown is about 5 miles east. Sharon hops onto the back of my machine and off we go.

The land here is flatter making for good farmland. There's cows in broad fields filled with grass and rolling hills behind. Contrary to this rurality Campbeltown on first inspection appears to consist mostly of drab, grey, flat, plain, soulless, life draining and disheartening houses and apartment blocks. I don't know what happened here but it sure ain't pretty.

That said there are shops with life and the town centre manages to gather itself up into the acceptably average league. Contrary to my misgivings of the outskirts I must remember I live in Bolton. This small town is a breath of fresh air in comparison. Tesco comes up with the goods we require and we're soon back at the tent cooking once more.  

The sea breeze gently shakes the tent but out of the breeze it is comfortably warm with a light jumper on. There's no midges. We shower in the smashing cubicles and settle in for the evening. I'm worried because I am contented. We are where we ought to be and we're in a new place with a day's exploring awaiting us tomorrow. We're doing alright ain't we.

The light is fading over tents, pods, campervans and caravans at the site
It'll be dark soon, time to settle in.


If you'd like to sponsor a page contact ren@bikesandtravels.com

Bute And Kintyre - But Why? Ren is trying to justify why he's not taking Sharon abroad to exotic places. He blames Brexit but we all know the real reason is because he's mean and miserly.
Getting Mentally And Physically Ready Before Sharon leaves for Scotland she's both excited and yet pensive? She's normally a chilled out traveller so what is different this time?
Ayr For The Third time Familiar roads to familiar places, theoretically, if Sharon can work out which way is up.
Air Head To Ayr Sharon is having one of those days. Still, she's keeping positive and her motorcycle upright.
Boating To Bute An easy and leisurely ride up the coast of Ayrshire and an evening on the Isle of Bute.
Breathtaking Bute Sharon would like a lazy, laid back and chilled day. Unfortunately she has brought a Ren with her. He's not so bad when he stops flapping.
The Beauty of Bute Is Bute a Beaut? It's a most peculiar day to find out though. There's no rain and a big yellow thing in the sky.
The Long Way To Machrihanish Using ferries to get from Bute to Machrihanish ought to be a most pleasant and easy ride. So how do Sharon and Ren manage to turn it into an epic exploit?
Exploring The Mull Of Kintyre A little look around The Mull Of Kintyre on two wheels and a short walk that Ren makes a big thing of.
Of Batteries and Glendaruel A bit of an issue this morning. Can Ren pull himself out the poop or will Sharon simply tear him limb from limb? Serves him right for being an idiot.
It's Time To Go Home It's the saddest part of any adventure, the return home. All good things must come to an end. Fear not Ren is more than man enough to cope...?

Reader's Comments

Jim said :-
Visited Machrihanish last year on a veterans rugby tour - a great time had by all. There's more to the airport than meets the eye - if you can get up the hills around it you'll see that the runway is absolutely enormous - the biggest in Scotland, I think. Why a runway that can give Heathrow a run for its money was needed in the middle of nowhere is anyone's guess. Might be an American Cold War relic. Lovely part of the world, anyway.
10/6/2019 10:15:43 PM UTC
Borsuk said :-
Macrahanish was originally an RNAS base then an RAF base until 2012, hence the big runway.
10/6/2019 11:58:35 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
According to Wiki, it's 10,000 feet long and developed for NATO and the US's big planes. Basically it seems it was a quiet out of the way place for Cold War shenanigans. I did wonder why Sharon was glowing at night while we were there.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAF_Machrihanish...
11/6/2019 9:40:03 AM UTC
Borsuk said :-
Macrahanish was originally an RNAS base then an RAF base until 2012, hence the big runway.
11/6/2019 11:58:40 AM UTC
chris said :-
I enjoyed your blog Ren keep em coming.

19/6/2019 5:38:10 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Thanks Chris, I'll try my best.
20/6/2019 6:55:46 PM UTC

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