Three days, two wheels, one sceptical cyclist

Kathi Kamleitner of Watch Me See explores Scotland’s west coast by bike.

As I cycle down the hill through Glencruitten towards Oban, my hair is flying in the wind.

My chest is filled with pure joy and my mind is flashing with childhood memories of sunny family outings on two wheels. But then, a thought crosses my mind and the joy quickly makes way for worry.

In less than three hours, I would have to climb back up that hill again to continue my journey. And that would put my electric bike holiday on the Caledonia Way to the test. Would the steep hill ruin all the fun?

This is a story about a cycling sceptic who goes on a cycling holiday in Scotland. What could go wrong?

The Caledonia Way is one of Scotland’s coast-to-coast long-distance cycling routes. The scenic journey begins on the west coast in Campbeltown and finishes 234 miles further north on the Moray Firth in Inverness. 

The route follows the west coast of the Kintyre peninsula, crosses through the Heart of Argyll and passes by Oban. It runs along the Argyll coast to Glencoe, sails over to Ardgour and back to Fort William. On its final stretch, it traces the big divide of the Great Glen, trails the Caledonian Canal and hugs the shores of Loch Ness.

Avid cyclists will be rewarded with breathtaking views of mountains, lochs and coastline. But what about people who are less enthusiastic about pedalling, or simply new to the sport?

During the lockdowns of the past two years, many people have discovered the mental and physical benefits of cycling. According to the Bicycle Association, bike sales in the UK have increased by 45% since the start of the pandemic. It is not just the regular bike market that has taken off though. Electric bikes are expected to even triple their market share by 2023.

For cycling sceptics and beginners alike, electric bikes can offer the perfect solution. They make challenging cycle adventures like the Caledonia Way accessible to many more people.

Cycling the entire Caledonia Way takes anywhere from 6 to 11 days, but train connections on the West Highland Line from Glasgow to Oban and Fort William make it easy to tackle sections of the route at a leisurely pace whether you have a weekend or a week to spare.

My journey began on board the Highland Explorer train from Glasgow to Taynuilt. The brand-new adventure carriage has additional bike storage and charging stations for electric bikes.

With the Glen Etive mountains at my back, I set off to explore Glen Lonan. The Caledonia Way follows the quiet single-track road through the enchanting woodlands of the glen. I cycled past fields dotted with sheep and spent an hour surrounded by Highland coos and their calves, who grazed by the roadside.

The sun stood low when I reached the standing stone of Clach na Carraig. It was only eight miles from the train station to my overnight stop at Inverlonan and I’m glad I took the time to marvel at the scenery and encounter animals along the way.

The next day, after a quick detour to Oban and a swim at Ganavan Sands, I continued my journey north across Connel Bridge, past Benderloch and Loch Creran and the Jubilee Bridge. The night was spent at the Pierhouse in Port Appin and the west coast treated me to one of its magnificent sunsets over Lismore.

To round off my journey, I set sail across to the island and followed tracks to castle ruins, brochs and viewpoints. From there, the ferry took me back to Oban, I jumped on the train and before I knew it, my cycling holiday on the Scottish west coast was complete.

So, did the hill ruin all the fun, in the end? No, no it didn’t. Thanks to a little help from my electric bike, the hill became history and I was back on the road, feeling the wind in my hair, enjoying the beautiful sight of the Scottish west coast on two wheels.

Find out more about Kathi’s writings and journeys at Watch Me See