The Isle Of Mull ride (Northern Loop)

July 2000
85 km

I did not have a camera back then, I am afraid. So no pictures from that tour. But click on the button below to open up Google Maps.
Enter "Oban" in the search field & Google Earth for xtra pictures

Isle Of Mull is one of the great islands on the west coast of Scotland and a cyclist's paradise. It was also very high on my wishlist when I started cycling in Scotland.
I cannot remember why and when I decided to go for this tour. But it was very badly planned from the outset and verging on being a disaster throughout due to this haphazard execution. It was sheer luck that made me pull this tour off.

It was a very nice morning when I set off from my flat in Helensburgh up the steep hill to Upper Helensburgh railway station to catch the early train to Oban on the West Highland Line . I got on the train and settled down for the two and a half hours long journey past Loch Lomond to Oban. The train ride was great on a comfortable train. I arrived in Oban where I headed towards the ferry port and the ferry to Mull.
The ferry took 45 minutes over to Craignure on Isle Of Mull. I had not ordered any B & B for that night and found out it was a good idea to do that on the tourist information in Craignure. I got that ordered in Salen up the road where I was heading, but was also told I needed to be there at latest 2130 that night. I had 85 km ahead of me and the clock was 1300. So I set off up the coast to Salen. The 15 km up the reasonable flat A849 road to Salen took ate into my time and I cycled past my B & B for the night and waved good bye and au revoir. I had 8 hours to complete the 75 km Northern Loop of the island.
I took the flat B road over to the west coast of the island. I hit a new crossroad at Gruline and took the road towards Ulva and Calgary. The road was pretty flat in the beginning, but the single track B road has a rather nasty climb over to Ulva. The views towards the south and west was stunning and remained so the whole way. I soon discovered this was a fantastic scenic road with very little traffic. The bikeriding was very hard at times too over the hills past Ulva and down to the sea again, out the loch, past Kilninian Church and down to the beginning of the climb taking me over to Calgary Bay. This is some of the best bikeriding I have ever done. I was keeping an eye on the clock too. But I was very sad to leave this scenery behind when I pressed on up the climb up to the top overlooking Calgary Bay. The climb was not hard to the top around 200 meters above sea level. But the scenery was breathtaking. And the views down to Calgary Bay was breathtaking too. The sheep who did not move from the road and whose face my bike almost clipped almost became my murdererer. A very scary episode. The road in the loch to Calgary Bay was very hilly too. Small, short climbs. I was also out of water, but I managed to get some water from a small spring.

Calgary Bay is a stunning beautiful place. White beach, beautiful hills and a good hotel (now closed down). Calgary has it all. Calgary has also give it's name to a famous Canadian town, the Winter Olympic Games town in 1988. During the highland clearances, the whole population from Calgary Bay and this part of the island was shipped out to what is today the Canadian town of the same name. They established that town. The Calgary over here on Isle Of Mull is very remote with hardly any population at all. The sheep has taken over the place. The campsite in the bay is very popular though during the summer and with good reason.
I left Calgary behind and climbed up a hill towards Dervaig. I was in deep problems with the 2130 deadline and was seriously considering bypassing Tobermory altogether on a road taking me directly down to Salen again. The road over to Salen was a bit steep at places through the forests. Arriving in Dervaig after a not particular interesting bikeride from Calgary, I decided to crack on over to Tobermory. But it was touch and go, timewise.
The climb up from Dervaig was very steep and I thought this was the only climb over to Tobermory. I had actually based my whole decission to crack on to Tobermory on this being the only climb on this road. I was wrong. When arriving on the top, I had a souldestroying overview of the road up another hill. Between me and that hill, there was a deep valley which I had to cross. Achnadrish, it is called. The descent down to this place was very hairy. The climb up to the top again very steep and hard. I gave it everything here and was very fast up the steep hill. The road topped out on a couple of lochs and I followed these two lochs on a flat road towards Tobermory. The descent down to Tobermory was vertical and very hairy.
This fishing village is one of the prettiest villages in Scotland. It also doubled up as the village in a very popular BBC children TV series called Balamory . It was all the rage on the TV at that time and small children dragged their parents all the way up from London and England just to visit this village. Quite a journey and a considerable income source for the Scottish economy at that time. It still is, even in 2011 I have been told. I have to admit I never watched this TV series. But I noticed in Tobermory the rather strange, eclectic colours on some of the houses there. No doubts they were a part of the Balamory TV series. The whole village is magnificant though. The same goes for the distillery in the village. I was running out of time though and had to crack on the final 20 km down to Salen again. A mad race up and over two hills started. The scenery was fantastic, but I was in deep trouble timewise. My lungs almost burst during the ride to Salen. I gave it everything I had. I made it to the B & B with 15 minutes to spare.


No doubts on the top 5 of the best rides in Scotland. The whole Northern Loop is brilliant on a small, narrow B road. The scenery is brilliant throughout. I only wish I had better time and did not had to race like the loony I was. I took risks I have never taken again. But it teached me a lesson and I have always planned my trips and overnight sleeps after this experience.
This tour can also be combined with the Southern Loop (take the road to the left towards Iona) to complete the full Isle Of Mull circuit. A bike ride very high on my wishlist for the coming years. That is why I highly recommend Isleo Of Mull and the bikerides there. Both the full circuit and the ride I did. Brilliant cycling and fantastic scenery.

The day after I did this ride, I returned to Helensburgh again on a bikeride described here