Day 3. 9th May.  Crinan to Castelbay, Barra:  38 miles cycling and 5 hours on the ferry.

We woke early to another cloudless sky and sunshine – although cool in the morning at 6.15 at 5 degrees. Breakfast and great coffee with Richard and Sally set us up for the day before chugging back in the little motor boat back to the mainland and back to the boatyard to pick up our bikes. We said our goodbyes to a very special place and vowed to come back and visit again, when they can put us to work. We peddled out of Crinan  along the tow path (thus avoiding the hill into town) sandwiched between the canal and the loch.  It was perfectly still and the reflections meant the canal water worked like a greenish mirror.  
Just a couple of miles took us to the turn to Oban – a tiny road across the ‘golden moor’, where the reeds in the bog glint in a sea of yellow. 5 lovely flat miles over to Kilmartin Glen – which has the highest concentration of iron age excavations in the world.  We pedalled past burial mounds and standing stones, which in truth if they were signposted we might of missed.  The Neolithic activity here left lots of burial mounds and smaller stone circles to show for it.  We passed one in a bluebell wood which oozed ancient wonder.

We climbed slightly up to the village of Kilmartin and then properly up into beautiful highland scenery.  We cogitated briefly whether to take the cycle route to Oban rather than the main road but it was much longer and we had a ferry to catch so opted for the main route – but at only a car or so every few minutes and the odd lorry or campervan, the road was hardly overrun with traffic.
A well timed hotel in Kilmelford did an excellent coffee as we sat outside in a sun trap which boosted us for the next shorter but steeper climb. More fantastic scenery before swooping down to the very pretty Loch Fauchon here we fairly sped along the shore. This produced a “first” for this trip as David asked me to slow the pace a little! This was a brief respite before a sharp 100m climb over to Oban.

We arrived in good time to buy our ferry ticket to Barra, which sits at the bottom end of the Outer Hebrides line of islands,  We topped up with shopping and then made our way back to the port. Bikes were ‘boarded’ first so we ate our picnic and settled onto the ferry before it set off for the almost 5 hour trip to the island. The first part of the journey took us through the sound of mull with the Island of Mull on our left and the jut of mainland to which it presumably was attached many millennia ago, on our right then out into the open sea. We saw flocks of Manx Sheerwaters, cruising over the waves.  On 2 or 3 occasions, pods of dolphins came to play next to the ship, jumping out of the water in 2s, 3s and 4s, a wonderful site. The ship’s tannoy announced that, as well as the dolphins, a whale was out in front of the boat.  This presumably had been picked up on their radar system but the combined straining of eyes and binoculars by passengers peering out of the large front windows could not spot even an imagined hump or blowhole. 
Finally, land came into site and we cruised into Castlebay harbour in the evening sun. The small but perfectly formed Kisimul castle in the middle of the bay had nobly defended to islanders since the 1400s. It was built on  small outcrop of rock that amazingly had a supply of fresh water. No one was marauding today so the ferry slid past to its docking without trouble.
Just a few hundred meters from the ferry port was our destination, Dunard.  This proved to have comfy rooms, a good hot shower and lovely sitting room overlooking the bay.  David cooked and I wrote this blog – a fair division of labour.  Castlebay seems a great stop for the night. 


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