Duart Castle guards the Sound of Mull as you approach the island on the ferry from Oban. The stone castle, seat of the clan Maclean, has looked out from Mull to the mainland since the 13th century, the sharp ridgeline of Dùn da Ghaoithe providing a dramatic backdrop.
I’m on Mull to cycle the first couple of days of the new Bikepacking Argyll’s Islands trail, a 308-mile route through Oban, Mull, Jura, Islay and Bute that passes whisky distilleries, beaches and miles of rugged Scottish coast.
The bothy sits at the foot of Beinn Talaidh, surrounded by a horseshoe of mountains. The skies are busy with buzzards, and a stag runs down the glen as I boil some water on a camping stove – the dramatic scenery enough to make even my dehydrated carbonara taste Michelin-starred.
The bikepacking trail starts and finishes in Glasgow, celebrating its status as host city of the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships. By linking up the famous West Highland railway line and various CalMac ferry routes, the trail is one of many new people-powered adventures that’s drawing outdoor types to Argyll, now named Scotland’s ‘adventure coast’.
The sun glimmering on the waters off Mull is a sight to behold. The only traffic lights here have four legs and a woolly coat, so roads run fast. A mix of asphalt and gravel trails looking on to the Morvern peninsula quickly guide me to the small town of Salen.
I detour past shipwrecks and over a tough climb before descending to the colourful houses of Tobermory, the island’s capital. There, I munch on fish and chips and watch local folk musicians play the Mull Music Festival.
Backtracking to the bothy, I don’t see another soul until I rejoin the road the next morning, passing herons and Highland cows. Ditching my bike at Salen, I take the Ulva Ferry Community Transport out to the north-west of the island. It offers cheap transport for tourists and locals to rural areas. There, I board a Mull Charters boat, hoping to spot white-tailed eagles on the water (£50 for three hours, from Mull Charters).
Reintroduced to Scotland in the 1970s, the eagles now account for between £4.9 million and £8 million of spend on Mull every year. Their wingspan can reach 8ft, and my jaw drops as I watch one pluck a fish out of the water with its huge, yellow talons.
I then cycle by Loch na Keal to the rugged south of the island. Following the Lussa River, Duart Castle eventually comes into view. Soon, I’m on the ferry back to the mainland, where I squeeze in a tour of the 228-year-old Oban Distillery before departure (£22, from Malts).
A long fermentation process and slow distillation gives the renowned whisky its fruity characteristics. The west coast, I’ve learned, is not a place where people like to rush.
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