By 1015am, we were standing outside a wooden cabin below Glenaros Lodge, waiting for the owner of the bicycle hire business to attend to us. He was up in the lodge, which we assumed he was renting from the Estate. His wife (or was it partner?), who was rather well built and wore a kaftan, making her look rather like an aged hippy, came out to tell us that her partner would be down soon. He arrived soon afterwards and was definitely the other half of this aging hippy couple. He had long, grey hair, a pot belly (it must all those mung beans and lentils) and wearing a grey, long sleeve t-shirt and faded jeans.
He was telling us that his main business was a bicycle shop in Edinburgh and that his season on Mull was only three to four months a year. We followed him to what Penny described as something he had bought from a circus’ garage sale. It was a star-spangled yurt in which were a number of bicycles for us to choose from. He continued to say that he was taking some bikes to Edinburgh that afternoon and was then flying to the Netherlands for Easter.
The bikes he gave us were aluminium framed ‘Ridgebacks’ with internal gears on the back wheel and disc brakes on both wheels. I had a different type, also a Ridgeback, but with derailleur gears. As we were walking back down the hill I mentioned that we had run a cycle tour business some time ago (briefly). He lit up and asked if it was one which was based in Warwickshire. I said it wasn’t and he retold how he had nearly bought a cycle tour business there but had dithered and missed the opportunity.
Penny started to write a cheque out for the bike hire, and the owner told us he had to drop his prices from £20 per day per bike to £15 per day because a competitor had started up in Tobermory and was charging that amount. He laughed at his competitor, saying they had no bikes to rent out. Walking away soon after, we laughed at his lack of business prowess. ‘If they’ve no bikes then why are you matching their price?” We also noted that there was another algae covered yurt on the right hand side of the drive as we walked to the road to set off.
On the bikes, we headed up the road towards Tobermory and soon turned off to the left by Forestry Commission offices, following the marked cycle track. Emily was soon trailing and Toby was looking at though he had had enough already.
The track was stony in places and took us through the pine woods laid out by the Forestry Commission but soon opened up onto pastures with plenty of lambing sheep. A slope took us to a junction with another track from which point there was a magnificent view to the north over Loch Frisa. On the southern shore was a beautiful farmhouse which had a paddock and a school. Penny and Emily were drooling over it.
There were two other cyclists behind us as we dropped down on the track in glorious sunshine to one of the ‘Eagle Watch’ hides which are there so people can view the Sea Eagle nests. This was one was empty although a green van was coming down the track towards us looking rather official. It was driven by a friendly looking woman who waved as she came up to us and parked nearby.
She hopped out of her van and come over to ask us to make as little noise as possible and not to stop before we got to the other hide up the track which was through the woods ahead. This was because of the Sea Eagle’s nest in between the points. We set off, obligingly, on our bikes to the next point, the road taking us through cool pine woods until, up ahead, we could see a group of people wearing outdoor clothing and sporting an impressive array of binoculars and monoculars.
Coming closer to this group of people, with age ranges from about nine to ninety, I could not help but feel as though we were an intrusion to their view. I overheard the woman in the van from earlier, who had now returned, saying that were two groups of cyclist coming up the track (one was the Hawkins family) and it was like “Piccadilly Circus” along the trail today and that they knew we were coming because we had crossed an infrared beam which set of an alarm. What with this alarm and the signs nearby talking about the CCTV system in place, it felt like a Big Brother was watching in this remote part of the world.
However, on looking at some of the posters in one of the two huts they had there it was clear why they were so scrupulous about security. I had not realised just how much damage was caused by people who collect eggs and chicks illegally.
Nevertheless, the Eagle Watch staff were generous in their offer for all of us to use their ‘scopes’ to take a look at the Sea Eagle chicks in their nest. It was wonderful to see such a bird in situ.
Not long afterwards, we were all zooming down the track towards the road to Dervaig, still giving Emily a hard time about being so slow on her bike. We paused at the road side and said hello to a lone cyclist at the junction who said he was waiting for two friends behind him. The other two cyclists were the people we had seen earlier.
From there, we joined the smooth tarmac road and turned off a couple of kilometres down the road onto a cycle track which was to take us around the hills to Dervaig. We stopped for lunch in a grassy area off the track but not before Emily, jokingly, said she hated me (for taking her on such an arduous route. After our picnic lunch, we shot down the muddy track which brought us into the outskirts of the tiny village.
Here, we cycled down the hill to the high street of the village, past a shop called ‘Books & Coffee’ which the hippy owner of our bikes had told us about the eccentric owner who took ages to serve coffees. We were heading to the local shop but it was shut for lunch so we returned to the local Inn, which had been there since 1608, for a drink while we waited for the shop to open for the children to buy chocolate bars.
Outside the Inn, we saw three other bikes which turned out to be those of the other cyclists we had met earlier. They were inside eating. The friendly waitress (a very busty black haired Scots girl) served us our tea and cokes. Once finished, Emily and Toby went to the shop to buy chocolate bars for us all.
Penny and Emily went to the local church nearby to take a look at the stained glass window while I waited for Toby to go to the loo. The church had a spire more like a minaret.
Will Hawkins lives in Lincolnshire with his family and is now a magazine editor and occasional adventure cyclist.
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