I was recently back from riding the Highland Trail 550 and was due to go to Scotland again the following month. My close friend Jayne Thompson was on a three month adventure bikepacking the Scottish Hebrides, and two months into her journey she invited me up to join her for a week on the Isle of Skye. It didn’t take a lot of convincing to squeeze in another trip, so I booked the sleeper train to Inverness to create a circular route to come back via Fort William. Fully organised as usual, there I was in a mad panic getting the last few bits packed before heading out of the door to catch the train when I got a phone call from Jayne. She was off road heading to a bothy at the north of Skye and had toppled off her bike and twisted her ankle severely, blowing up to the size of a small melon within in a few minutes.
Awaking in Inverness, I just wanted to get to Skye as quickly as possible, but still had to ride a cheeky patch of off road. I headed down into Strathconon as the heavens opened. After 30 soaking miles of undulating quiet countryside, the road came to an end. I was so happy that it started out as a double track rather than the footpath it had shown on the map. This then quickly disappeared and I was pushing through boggy long grass in a very remote landscape. I stopped and giggled to myself, just 12 hours before I was in London. Here I was in the real wilderness, the most incredible feeling in the world. The following 10 miles of pushing my bike put me slightly behind schedule. I spoke to Jayne who had been amazingly taken in for the night by a local couple who gave her ice, whiskey filled tea and a bed. The next day they drove her down to Broadford in the south of Skye, to the only Hospital which had an x-ray machine. The greatest news was it was not broken but she needed a week off the bike to recover. So when I arrived the following day, we spent the day catching up, exchanging amazing stories of our travels. She needed the time to recover and was hoping to spend at least a few days riding with me at the end of the week, so she sent me off to ride solo for a few days.
The Isle of Skye is the largest of the Inner Hebrides but still gets the weather generated off of the Atlantic Ocean. The following day an aggressive wind had picked up, combined with rain drops now being fired at me at an alarming speed. The Cuillin Mountains loomed before me disappearing into the clouds, it was then I weirdly started to feel alone. I have travelled a lot solo but had really been looking forward to spending the week riding with great company. It was riding there all alone that it suddenly felt wrong. I was back off-road and the elements were now really against me, making my original plans very hard to execute. I knew at the bottom of this descent was the Camasunary bothy, so I took shelter for what was only meant to be a few hours. The bothy started to fill up with bedraggled looking hikers off of the mountains whilst I stared out of the window just watching the weather get worse. Rain I can deal with, but wind is another matter.
After a night with 12 in the bothy it was no drier, but at least the wind had calmed a little, making it possible to ride the 10 miles of spectacular single track to Sligachan. I had ridden this a few years prior on a full suspension bike and had found it really challenging. But after the Highland Trail anything looked easy, so I had a great time riding over the technical terrain, fully loaded on a rigid bike, and cleared almost everything with only a few dabs.
That night I made it back to Jayne to see how she was doing and we caught up over a few beers. She was in a hostel for the night, so I went off about midnight to find a wild camp spot, and what a spot it was. The sun was still setting as I set my tent on a grassy spot on the beach. The morning brought angered elements as I sat there in my tent being blown around violently trying to have breakfast. Suddenly I heard a rip, a pole had snapped and pierced the outer. I panicked as the rain had joined the wind again somehow packing away a broken soggy tent and belongings. I arrived at the hostel to meet Jayne, she looked at me as by this time I was late. She went to tell me off but then I divulged the story of the morning’s excitements. We had only a short day planned to see how her ankle adjusted back to pedalling a bike, so a few hours spent bodging my tent back together didn’t affect the day too much.
It was great, finally after all the dramas to be riding side by side. She was so happy to be back outside after being cooped up indoors for a week not being able to do anything. We found the perfect spot to camp for the night and also a favourite holiday spot for the local midge population. An hour later of trying to cope with the wee beasts, we were forced to batten down the hatches in our tents.
The next day the rain still hammered down. We rode to the most south westerly point of Skye to get the ferry over to the mainland of Scotland at Mallaig. It was here I had camped before and knew of some stunning beaches along the coast. Even in the rain, the white sands stretching out before us were breath taking. Our very windy spot was going to be a test for my tent bodging skills, but it’s worth it just to camp with such a view. We both hunkered down in one tent for the evening as the rain came through horizontally. The party took place of a whole hip flask of whiskey, a few beers and a bar of chocolate all to the soundtrack of the creaking of my handy repair skills.
As I unzipped my tent in the morning, I was surprised for one to see my tent still standing. Outside I was treated to blue skies and the sun beating down on a perfectly clear turquoise sea. We lazed about having a relaxed breakfast and even a paddle in the sea. Then the time came for me to start the forty mile pedal to Fort William for my train home. It was weird to leave her there. She still had another three weeks left of her trip to go and had many more exciting adventures to come. We have unfinished business on the Isle of Skye and Raasay, so many more places on the Islands to explore. We will defiantly be back for more.