2009 Scottish Isles Trip May 23rd To 28th (Mike's Version)

This trip had the highest number of GASBAGS cyclists ever at 17, with this being Rachel’s and MikeW’s first ever rides with GASBAGS. Could MikeW slow himself down enough, would he shoot off-road? Would Rachel turn up with her shopping basket on her bike? What would be in it? Rob and Karen were back after 6 years – would Karen be different after her heart attack last year? Would she be quiet, reserved, be careful what she ate and drank, a shadow of her former self? Everyone was excited to find out! Jamie was back after 9 years, now a real man with a wife and responsibilities – would his youth offset his sedentary life in London and allow him to keep up with the elderly GASBAGS?
RayV was still concerned about his wrist after his concertina-type bike fall on May 7th where MikeW had blamed himself for what had happened and bought RayV all sorts of food and drink to compensate – very generous! Could we all get free trips by arranging for MikeW to bump into us all on a daily basis? RayV was so concerned about his wrist that he had decided to detour round to Claonaig and leave his car there so he (and of course the ever-compliant Bridget) could travel by car at times – strange as this meant they had the most difficult cycle ride to get to the first hotel! Alec and Ann were going onto Skye after the ride so they also left their car at Claonaig and somehow managed to cycle the 15 miles to Brodick much faster than the Vamplews.
Meanwhile RayT was concerned about the group being too large – his annual concern. Would the group be able to stick together? His real concern was his farting ability – would he be able to get such a big group to cram into a room before he let off one of his powerful ones?

Friday – Ardrossan to Brodick - 11 miles

Mike & Naoko arrived early at Ardrossan after their epic tour around Scotland, taking in Pitlochry, Forres near Inverness, Loch Ness, Fort William, Ben Nevis, Loch Lomond, and meeting thousands of midges with cloud and rain being the predominant weather. They were both looking forward to sunshine for the GASBAGS tour as predicted by Jeff in a text message. They found a new ASDA right next to the ferry terminal and a cheap breakfast – this turned out to be the largest breakfast of the tour.
MikeN received a phone call from Rob – they were arriving a day early and assumed they would be the only ones there so quite a surprise to learn that Mike & Naoko were at Ardrossan and John & Rachel would be on their ferry.
Mike & Naoko jumped on the early 1pm ferry and arrived at the MacLaren Hotel to a very-friendly welcome but a room that did not match the price. However the view from the front of the hotel was excellent (and better than John & Rachel’s hotel view!!). After wandering around for a time Mike & Naoko walked to the ferry terminal to meet the other four. John appeared first with Rachel (and shopping basket) close behind. John said that they had met Rob & Karen on the ferry and just by chance had told them his life story since they had last met (50th, divorce, love life, Rachel, etc etc) – it would be easier to publish it in the Daily Mirror then the whole world would know. They disappeared off to their expensive hotel then Rob and Karen appeared in their car and parked up. Karen jumped out as perky, bouncy, outgoing and larger-than-life as ever. Rob was his normal cool, calm, unflappable and attentive self. They explained that Rob would be cycling up hills with Karen cycling on the flat and downhills. They disappeared for the night to their twice-as-expensive-as-the-McLaren hotel where they had booked dinner that probably cost as much as all their subsequent dinners. They were in for a surprise for their second night where they would be joining the rest of GASBAGS in the MacLaren.
Naoko was tired after a long day and didn’t join Mike, John and Rachel on a ride to Lamlash in the evening. The hill out of Brodick was never-ending and within a short time Rachel was a distant blob as Mike and John cycled faster in front. John realised that he should be more attentive and cycled back. Just as he arrived across from Rachel he moved out into the road. Mike had stopped and watched as a car swerved all over the road and just missed John. John stated later “To get killed on the same day that I’ve sold my house would be very unfortunate”. Mike was in shock – all sorts of thoughts crossed his mind – picking up the pieces, comforting Rachel, phoning John’s family, informing GASBAGS that we had one less on the ride.
We arrived at Lamlash and decided to eat outside at the sea-facing pub with Holy Island providing a beautiful backdrop. Just after eating Rachel stated that she was being eaten by midges so we cycled on for a short time then turned round. At this point John and Rachel started an argument which could have left them in Lamlash all night. Rachel would not move unless John went in front and John would not move unless Rachel went in front. After 5 minutes Mike gave up and cycled back alone. After a time he looked back to see them cycling side-by-side – no winner no loser!

Saturday – 36 miles around the south of Arran

The six early GASBAGS met at 9:30 to cycle around the south of Arran. It was raining heavily when we set off with Rob on the one Nicholson bike as there was the difficult hill climb initially towards Lamlash. At the top of the hill Karen jumped out of the car and shot off down the hill. At Lamlash Holy Island was lost in the mist. The rain stopped for a time and the group settled into cycling up and down hills with the Rob/Karen changeover times getting slicker. At one point Karen continued on cycling up a small hill and shouted out “Tell GASBAGS that I’ve cycled up a hill”. The other GASBAGS that were waiting for the ferry at Ardrossan probably heard her shout out as she was so delirious with excitement. By Blackwaterfoot Karen was too tired to carry on and disappeared back to the hotel in the car. The rest arrived back at the hotel by mid-afternoon with no sign of the later GASBAGS who had set off on their own ride in the rain after arriving at 2pm. Nige and Jess ensured that they didn’t meet up with the hotel-GASBAGS again by cycling to the far side of Arran for their first night of wild camping.
The evening arrived and the group wanted to eat together to start bonding. The Chinese restaurant turned out to be a take away, the pizza place could not be booked, but then we found an enormous Conservatory attached to the Hotel Ormidale. Everyone turned up there but where were Ray & Bridget? Nothing had been heard of them since they set off! Had Ray’s heart pacer packed up as he cycled up the hill out of Lochranza? Meanwhile in the Conservatory Karen was laying into the beer and wine to prove that her lifestyle had not changed – would the island need more supplies? Finally Ray & Bridget arrived at the MacLaren just as the rest of us were due to walk back. Back at the McLaren we all descended upon the bar, and sat down close to a superb untouched buffet. A young woman came up and asked if we would like some sandwiches but RayT said “How about some chocolate cake?” Straight away the young woman, our friend for life now, carried across an enormous sliced Black Forest Gateaux. Just to prove even further that her lifestyle had not changed Karen had a large piece, whilst MikeN had 2 pieces – frowned upon by Naoko! MikeW and RayT now started on the malt whiskies, determined to sample everyone made on these Scottish islands.

Sunday – Brodick to Machrihanish - 50 miles

Breakfast arrived and Mike & Naoko were expecting an explosion from Jeff as the day before someone had asked for brown-bread toast and been informed that the hotel only had white bread. However Jeff accepted the situation without a murmur – Jamie’s calming influence! This was the breakfast with the most-plate on show – to RayT this is a sign of a poor breakfast.
We had planned to get the 10:45 ferry from Lochranza but decided that we wouldn’t make it in time so set out at 9:15 on the dot to get there in time for the midday ferry. The fifteen of us raced along at a tremendous pace, even Rachel with her shopping basket. The steep hill just before Lochranza slowed us down but we all realised that we might make the 10:45 ferry. Naoko, who had been leading up the hill, was overtaken by everyone zooming downhill – but to no avail as the ferry had just left as we arrived. Nige and Jess had arrived first and waited for us. There were hugs, kisses, handshakes and introductions. We said our goodbyes to John and Rachel who were staying on Arran until Tuesday for further cycle rides and some walking. John informed us that he was being dropped off at Carlisle for a 4 day 90 mile walk along Hadrian’s Wall by himself!! RayT walked around taking photographs of anything and everything – very strange as had cycled 900 miles across France without taking one photograph.
After the short ferry to Claonaig we all cycled on towards Campbeltown, a mere 26 miles away – however this was to prove to be the most difficult ride of the tour due to the many hills. After 3 miles someone spotted a sign that said “Free tea”. Everyone was unsure about stopping but Karen enquired. An elderly unkempt man stated that he would gladly give us all tea. Some were still unsure and were about to go when Karen stated “You are stopping – don’t you dare go!”. Everyone stayed though Nige and Jess were nowhere to be seen – probably taking photographs of cloudy scenes. RayT and Mike stood around not drinking, either because that they had a concern that the tea might be laced with poison or that that they were now used to nothing weaker than whisky. The elderly gentleman stated that he had had a breakdown a few years before and didn’t go outside his home (except to clear away the bodies!).
MikeW shot off like a bullet on his fixed-wheel bike, acquiring the nickname “Fixed-wheel Willy”. He was closely followed by RayT (certainly not RayV), who assumed that Mike would stop at some point but he never did so Ray stopped at a pub a few miles short of Campbeltown. The rest of us became very spread out with Ann being left totally alone at one point, with not one GASBAG to be seen in front or behind. Alec was racing up hills then racing back again to say to Ann “Hello” then racing off again – he probably covered twice the distance. Midway along we all stopped for a rest at a pub, except MikeW who by now was in Campbeltown and RayT who was waiting for us in a pub!
Finally we all arrived in Campeltown with Jamie zoomimg around to find somewhere to eat. He learnt that everywhere was full, due to a festival, except for one Indian restaurant so Jeff can blame Jamie for what happened next! Nige and Jess went to search for their campsite whilst the rest of us bought wine to take back to our hotels then entered the restaurant.
Just before entering the restaurant Jeff had learnt that his beloved Boro were relegated so his mood was sombre. Six of us (Rob, Karen, RayT, MikeW, MikeN, Naoko) at one end ordered starters whilst the rest did not and these arrived reasonably quickly. The main courses arrived quite a bit later with other later arrivals in the restaurant being served main courses, and takeaways being sold. Rob & Karen were given their main meal first then others began to get theirs. In the meantime there were discussions about the need to get breakfast the next day at 7:30am. Everyone who needed to get breakfast at 7:30 was staying in the Warren Guest house except Jeff & Pam. Jeff proposed to Rob that they switch guest houses but Rob gave a firm “No” as he and Karen were checked in – Jeff’s guest house was actually £5 per person more but it is unlikely that money even crossed the minds of these two wealthy GASBAGS both enjoying well-paid jobs. However Jeff’s mood looked blacker. Meanwhile just Mike & Naoko and Jeff & Pam & Jamie were left to be served. Mike & Naoko were served their meal and the King threesome had now been waiting one and a half hours for food. The King honour was at stake and Jeff jumped up like a volcano but both of the waiters had disappeared. Jeff went round and round the restaurant searching for them (it was only small) but to no avail so opened the door to the kitchen. The mouths of the rest of the GASBAGS were wide-open watching this aghast. Jeff was politely asked to sit down and within no time their food was served – our GASBAGS hero had won the day!
We met up in the lounge of the Warren Guest House in the evening. Jeff was back to his relaxed amusing self. MikeN requested that from the following day we ought to stop to regroup about every 5 miles, staring particularly at young Mike. Bridget brought out enormous packets of crisps and jumbo nuts but asked her husband to keep them out of MikeN’s reach…but his reach was long!

Monday – Machrihanish to Craighouse, Jura – 45 miles

Most of us were up early in the morning as we had agreed to set out at 8:30 as we had a 36 mile cycle ride before the 1pm ferry. Rob & Karen lay in for a time as they were on the way home – hopefully they will make more appearances on the GASBAGS Annual rides.
MikeN set off at a cracking pace and shot past Pam. The wind was behind us and all of us were cycling fast with very few inclines. We all stopped after 5 miles but Jess shot past – probably keen to find her next photo shoot. Our pace was so quick that we had plenty of time to stop at a garage to recharge with tea/coffee and cakes. On arrival at the ferry terminal Ray & Bridget loaded their bags onto their bikes and joined the real cyclists.
“Fixed-wheel Willy” and RayT were joined by MikeN in malt whisky tasting on the boat whilst several slept with their mouths open – some great photographs were taken!
An announcement came across the loudspeaker system, “One engine has failed and with the tide being too strong at Port Askaig we may have to divert to Port Ellen.” Pam went crazy, “I can’t cycle an extra 18 miles, I’m too tired, I’m in my fifties, Help! Jeff – go and help them fix the engine.” Alec was worried as he had booked the Hotel on Jura. Could he get everyone to cycle to Jura? Would he need to act like a shepherd for the exhausted team cycling back and forth, giving an encouraging word here and there? Would he need to contact the hotel about a rebate? Jeff and MikeN went off quickly to the Information Desk, but no-one was there but then the Information Desk Manager was spotted talking to the Sweet Shop Manager. Jeff and Mike vied for who could say the most. Jeff said, “I have an hysterical wife”, Mike said, “We have 13 (unlucky) elderly cyclists whose legs are knackered.” Both said, “Can you arrange a taxi to take us to Port Askaig? There are also many Scouts on bike?” Jamie bobbed around behind Jeff trying to get a word in – two Kings are better than one. An expression of anxiety crossed the crew members’ faces. The Information Desk Manager ran back the 5 metres to his booth followed in close pursuit by Mike and Jeff and phoned the captain who said he was very busy and would come back to us later – he actually meant, “Fuck off.” Jeff and Mike reported back to the rest of the despairing GASBAGS - despairing except Alec who was looking forward to acting as a shepherd and the probable extra 36 miles – going forward then zooming back etc, and Nige & Jess who could wild camp anywhere with their little plastic trowel. RayV stated to anyone that would listen, “I’ve got a bad wrist, I’ve left my dear car behind, I will have to walk, woe is me!” Bridget quickly came in, “I will walk with you, my dear husband.” If only Karen had been here! As GASBAGS Matron she would have been round to the Captain’s Office telling him to fix the engine fast or he would get her wrath. Naoko meanwhile was sleeping with her head laid back unaware of all the commotion. After a nail-biting wait an announcement came over the loudspeakers, “The engine is fixed, we are turning back to Port Askaig.” A loud cheer went up in the lounge led by GASBAGS. A smile came back to Pam’s face – had her Jeff actually helped to fix the engine? RayT broke wind and burped simultaneously to show his expression of delight. Ann said, “Stop acting like an adolescent!” MikeN went back to the Information Desk to complain that some GASBAGS members (meaning Alec) were upset about the turn around!
On arrival at Port Askaig MikeW and RayT were off fast and jumped on the Jura ferry with 36 scout cyclists (24 children and helpers). They waited patiently until the rest of us crossed then the scouts and GASBAGS set off at the same time to cycle 8 miles to Craighouse. White vans zoomed past us, almost knocking us off our bikes. MikeW stated “Jura is a very unfriendly bike island”. Just before arrival at Craighouse, with GASBAGS now well in front of the scouts, the rain started.
Alec believed that Jeff had agreed to stay in the more expensive double room (£8 per person more – a lot of beer) with the en-suite but it was probably Pam that agreed. Jeff objected so MikeN agreed to share the cost with a toss-up for the rooms. Jeff won so Mike owed Jeff £8 but then Jamie agreed to give up his tent/midges and to sleep in the bunks in Jeff & Pam’s room. This made matters even more complicated!
We all, including Nige and Jess, sat in the bar drinking beer and watching the scouts being attacked by midges as they erected their tents. Most were scratching and aimed to get covered head to toe. Even the dogs were scratching…and Nige and Jess were still determined to sleep in their tent.
There was little choice about the eating establishment as it stated in the Hotel Jura rooms “We have assumed that you are eating here if we have not been informed”.

Tuesday – Jura to Port Charlotte – 34 miles

MikeN walked to Nige & Jess’s tent to see if they had survived the night. Nige spoke “I have been out but had to retreat because of the midges”.
Nige and Jess set out first cycling north up Jura – aiming to checkout the Keils village that still existed. The rest of us set out a few minutes later to cycle up north for up to 5 miles, though Ray & Bridget stated that they would turn back after a short time – it’s surprising how Ray’s wrist injury affects Bridget’s cycling ability! By 5 miles the Paps of Jura were very clear and outstanding in the distance. On the way back MikeN heard a shout “Naoko has a puncture” and turned back. Naoko had carried on cycling despite feeling that the bike was bumping more – fortunately the flat tyre was spotted by “Fixed-wheel Willy”. MikeW and Jamie set to changing the inner tube and had the tyre and new inner tube back on in double-quick time. Then someone found the hole on the old inner tube to prove it was a real puncture. MikeW had the tyre/inner tube off again in a jiffy but still nothing was found on the tyre.
Everyone set off back to the Jura ferry terminal to find Ray & Bridget huddling up close to each other as it was rather cold – they had missed 3 ferries as they felt they should wait for us! We arrived at Port Askaig but then noticed then Nige & Jess were tiny dots back on Jura, and weren’t with us after all! MikeN was all for cycling on to avoid the midges but “Fixed-wheel Willy” stated we must wait for Nige and Jess. By the time they arrived the women (Ann, Pam, Naoko, Bridget & Ray) had set off. No sooner had Nigel’s foot touched the ground than the rest of us set off.
The wind was blowing very strongly against us and Naoko, with her slight frame, was having difficulty – for every 2 metres she cycled forward she was blown 1 metre backwards. After 8 miles we arrived at Bridgend and collapsed on the ground. After a lengthy recuperation we set off just as Nige & Jess appeared – the last that was seen of them that day as they took the huff and camped as far away from the rest of GASBAGS as they could on the Rinns of Islay.
The final 8 miles to Port Charlotte was into an even stronger headwind, and then the rain started. On arrival on the outskirts of the town Ann spotted a refectory-type of restaurant that looked clean and claimed to sell fresh fish – cooked of course! MikeN stated that we shouldn’t book till we had checked out the hotel – he had booked it!
The Lochindaal Hotel appeared – a hole in the wall of a long block of terraced houses. MikeN suggested that Ann should check out the restaurant first incognito so she went in with her bike helmet on! The pub in the hotel had wooden floors and looked rather run down. Ann swung the vote in favour of the refectory-type restaurant quickly. Jeff and Jamie had disappeared to the Youth Hostel whilst Alec was nowhere to be seen – he had cycled off to Portnahaven. The rest of us piled into the hotel, anxious to get our rooms and to get ready to eat out. The barman was astonished when MikeN said he had booked 2 twins and 5 singles “We don’t have that many rooms!”. He went on, “I am just the barman and the cook. The owner will be back soon. I can’t be expected to look after the hotel as well. I am Manuel of Fawlty Towers. Come through and all have free drinks.” Some stood and some sat down on the odd-shaped chairs not knowing what to do. RayT grabbed the first pint and started drinking, looking calm. Within a short time our jolly Manuel stated that there were 3 rooms ready upstairs. Ray & Bridget took the only twin-bedded room, Ann took a double room and dashed into the shared shower room. Mike & Naoko took a double room with a block of wood holding the window open with Naoko dashing into the shared bathroom – there were numerous used soap blocks on the side of the bath. A fourth empty bedroom was found and Pam plonked herself down on the double-bed but did not look happy. Young Mike by this time was getting rather distraught at the prospect of no bed for the night, “I’m going to try the Youth Hostel. I’ll find a B&B, I’ll sleep on the beach etc etc.” Meanwhile RayT continued to consume pint after pint of free beer. MikeN emerged from his bath, after Naoko, to find that the owner had returned, Ray and Mike had been given a whole house by the beach to themselves and were very happy, and RayV arguing with the owner. Both of their sets of arms were flailing around and the owner said, “Stop waving your arms around in an aggressive manner. If you like to stay elsewhere you can get back your deposit.” Ray replied, “You know we can’t get accommodation elsewhere.” (I think he might have said to be conciliatory, “My arms normally wave around.”) At any rate by RayV’s efforts he obtained excellent rooms for Mike & Naoko and himself and Bridget – both double beds – proving that they can sleep in doubles after all. Finally everyone was happy.
After the refectory-type restaurant with expensive fish & chips and no peas, we all descended into the Port Charlotte Hotel, whose fittings and attire looked rather better than the Lochindaal’s. It was packed out but we found a seat for a short time in the Conservatory, rapidly driving out the rest of the guests, before returning to the packed bar. A Scottish group was playing, one man with an accordion, one with a guitar, and two with wind instruments. Naoko was so taken by the music that she bought their CD and had it signed by all 4 musicians – it should sell for a fortune in Japan.

Wednesday – Port Charlotte to Tarbert – 39 miles

The owner, Iain, now our close associate after shaking hands with RayV and MikeN, served up an excellent breakfast cooked by Manuel – much to RayT’s liking as almost no white plate was showing – covered in four halves of toast. When RayV and MikeN paid Iain asked where we had eaten the previous evening, stating, “You wouldn’t have fitted in here as we had 50 guests over 3 sittings. We get the best fish in town. I have cousins, aunts, uncles in all sorts of establishments to ensure we get the cheapest freshest fish”. Mike and Ray nodded but out of earshot agreed that it sounded unbelievable!
The wind had almost died when we set off south towards Portnahaven. The harbour view was like out of a picture book, very picturesque. We cycled down towards the lighthouse but found that we would have to swim across a bay to get there. An old lady said that we could loop around to get back to Port Charlotte but it was fortunate that Alec had cycled this way the previous evening as it would have been easy to have taken the odd wrong turning. We landed back at the Lochindaal Hotel after a very steep climb that most had to walk up, including even Naoko.
Naoko said, “Let’s cycle to Bridgend before we stop.” Pam said, “Let’s picnic here on the beach.” Jamie came in, “Let’s stop just before Bridgend for a picnic.” Pam set off fast leading the pack determined to stop before Bridgend, and found a spot about 3 miles from Bridgend. Everyone stopped then agreed it was too open and windy. RayT raced off towards Bridgend followed by Mike & Naoko. Jamie and “Fixed-wheel Willy” shot past Mike & Naoko and went chasing after Ray – Pam’s honour was at stake. But Ray out-cycled them and finally everyone arrived at Bridgend to find Nige & Jess already there. Had they actually camped in the bus shelter after all? This time there was no escaping their company, and very pleasant it was as always.
Three miles before Port Askaig MikeN answered a phone call from Jeff as he was concerned about midges – he proposed that we stop at an historical site to avoid midges but it was too late – MikeN had his firm destination as Port Askaig.
On the ferry Ray & Bridget had a dilemma. Should they get in their car and drive home or should they honour their pledge to the Tarbert Anchor hotel and stop overnight? No-one can ever call Ray tight again as he decided to pay out the £80 accommodation fee and to continue with his beloved GASBAGS’ friends.
Nige & Jess & Jamie set off to find a campsite but returned to Tarbert as they couldn’t find one. A few of us walked with them up to Tarbert Castle where they found spots to wild camp. Meanwhile RayT had found a cheap café that could take us all and would allow us to bring our own booze. At last Nige & Jess decided to eat with us. What a difference from the Indian restaurant! Most had starters, and the food appeared on the table at a fantastic speed plus we had alcohol to fill the gaps. MikeN made a short speech to thank everyone for their work in booking the accommodation, including himself for the wonderful Port Charlotte experience. He called on Jeff to say a few words and as always he obliged whilst RayV’s words were just, “Nothing to say. Shut up.” Knowing that Jamie had his father’s ability with words Mike asked him to say a few words, and of course he came up with a few very amusing sentences about cycling with old GASBAGS, how wonderful we all were (?), drinking, whisky etc. Everyone else remained tight-lipped.

Thursday – Tarbert to Ardrossen – 26 miles

We had an early indifferent breakfast in this expensive hotel and even Ray&Bridget turned up though they would be driving – they had paid £80 and wanted to enjoy the GASBAGS atmosphere for the last time – fortunately RayT did not add to the atmosphere. Ann texted down to say they were staying in bed and wished us all well – she could have been even nicer and said she would pay all the hotel bills! Jamie joined us all packed up and had left Nige & Jess back at the campsite to fend off the midges. They intended to cycle around the Knapdale loop, the GASBAGS optional loop that we ran out of time to cycle, and to head north.
The remaining seven cyclists (Mike & Naoko, “Fixed-wheel Willy” & Ray, and the King trio) were led off by Pam on the 10 mile trip to the ferry – a tough climb initially. Once at Lochranza the remaining team was faced with another very tough 2 mile climb but it was followed by a 2 mile descent. Everyone relaxed for the remaining ten miles. We stopped at a wood carver’s cottage and bought coffee. Pam became reflective, “I don’t want to go home. I’m really enjoying myself.”

There had not been one hot day and we had cloud continually with some rain. However the weather was not allowed to spoil the holiday. The following day it turned very sunny and hot. Ann texted to say it was very hot in Skye. Nige& Jess texted to say that they were on the way home after completing the Knapdale Loop. John arrived home on the Saturday after walking 88 miles and becoming dehydrated.

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