Outer Hebrides "tour". Train to Oban or car?

Cycle-touring, Expeditions, Adventures, Major cycle routes NOT LeJoG (see other special board)
mikeymo
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Outer Hebrides "tour". Train to Oban or car?

Postby mikeymo » 5 Sep 2018, 11:23pm

I've not toured before. But I do know the southern Outer Hebrides (Eriskay, South Uist) very well, and have cycled there. So I know the landscape, roads and most importantly the Calmac timetables well.

I'm considering doing Barra to Lewis on the bike. And maybe back again. I've got a good touring cycle wot I built myself and took it around the islands a bit this summer. I'm sure it would cope fine (lowest gear inches is 22, so probably OK?). This will be "credit card" touring, I'm too old to be putting up tents, I want a warm shower and a soft bed at the end of the night.

Question - do I try to get to Oban (or possibly Mallaig) on the train, from Leeds? Or just drive up to Oban and find somewhere to dump the car for the duration?

The train is more eco, and more in "the spirit" of touring. But reserving space for the bike, two changes of train etc. looks like a damn nuisance. Plus I probably can't make it to the ferry in one day, so would have to B&B in Oban. But I could come back from Stornaway.

Whereas driving to Oban I can get an afternoon ferry. Plus if I can persuade any of my cycling friends to do it with me the cost then comes down, per person, to less than the train fares. Three people and we're quids in. Drawback is we'd have to go back down the islands. Or else cycle from Ullapool down to Oban.

What experiences has anybody got training it, with a bike, from England to Oban/Mallaig/Ullapool/Uig?

Thanks.

mikeymo
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Re: Outer Hebrides "tour". Train to Oban or car?

Postby mikeymo » 5 Sep 2018, 11:43pm

Ah, right. No railway station in Ullapool.

andrew_s
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Re: Outer Hebrides "tour". Train to Oban or car?

Postby andrew_s » 6 Sep 2018, 12:54am

Trains are Oban, Mallaig or Kyle, or cycle from Ullapool to either Lairg or Dingwall/Inverness.
IIRC, the Ullapool ferry gets in late enough that you couldn't make the train the same day.

The trouble with trains, in my view, is that the weekend is prime time for engineering works on the line, in which case it will probably be a replacement bus service that doesn't take bikes.
That's not actually happened to me, but when returning from Aberdeen to Cheltenham after visiting the Shetlands, I did have a scheduled 3 hour transfer time between Glasgow Queen Street and Glasgow Central evaporate to an announced 2 minutes, partly due to being an hour and a half late leaving Aberdeen, and partly due to problems on the line into Queen Street. Fortunately the driver told us what was going on in time for me to abandon the train at Springburn and cycle to Central, which gave me a comfortable 10 minutes to spare. It did rather put me off trains.

I've taken (twice) the "dump the car in Oban" option, with the tour being ferry to Barra, cycle up to the Butt of Lewis, return to Tarbert, ferry to Uig, cycle to Armadale, ferry to Mallaig, cycle to Kilchoan, ferry to Tobermory, cycle to Craignure, ferry to Oban. The second time, I didn't go much past Tarbert, and spent 3 days on Mull.

22" should be plenty low enough.
The only steep climb you've got to do is Clisham (4 miles after Tarbert). The other steep roads are mostly on dead end roads on the east coast, like the one to Rhenigidale hostel.
Last edited by andrew_s on 6 Sep 2018, 1:06am, edited 1 time in total.

mikeymo
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Re: Outer Hebrides "tour". Train to Oban or car?

Postby mikeymo » 6 Sep 2018, 1:02am

Thanks. Yes, it's the unreliable nature of trains that worries me. My other half does lots of trips to her parents in Devon, and has taken daughter to London a few times this summer. And even then the endless delays and so on are a pain. But at least it's just her with a bag on a train. If I had a bike and connections to make, especially a ferry, it could be horrible. And frankly too stressful, in anticipation. I've driven it so many times that I'm sorely tempted to do that, find somewhere (paid if necessary) to leave the car in Oban, and maybe make the cycling a bit shorter. Barra to North Uist and back. Depending how long I want to spend of course.

mikeymo
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Re: Outer Hebrides "tour". Train to Oban or car?

Postby mikeymo » 6 Sep 2018, 1:07am

I thought about starting from either Oban or Mallaig, crossing to Castlebay/Lochboisdale, cycling to Stornoway, ferry to Ullapool, then cycling back down to where I started, either Oban or Mallaig (over two or three days).

But I don't know what the cycle down from Ullapool would be like. To be honest whenever I've driven through Glencoe and seen cyclists I don't really like the look of it. There's a fair bit of too fast driving and too close passing, as far as I can tell, at least on that stretch.

I think I might be happier going up the islands, then back down. After all, if I'm using a car (or a train) to get to my starting point it's not like I'm doing a "genuine" unsupported tour, so A to B and back to A the same way would be fine.

LollyKat
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Re: Outer Hebrides "tour". Train to Oban or car?

Postby LollyKat » 6 Sep 2018, 10:38am

If you come back via Ullapool you don't need to cycle as far as Dingwall -- the nearest station is Garve. Another possibility would be to take the ferry to Uig, cycle down Skye to the bridge then get the train from Kyle of Lochalsh.

But alas, the unreliability of trains is always going to be a worry. That said, I've found Scotrail quite good. Once when I was going to Thurso, a breakdown made us miss our connection at Inverness. The staff laid on a bus with a trailer for the bikes, and we caught the train up at Brora.

ambodach
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Re: Outer Hebrides "tour". Train to Oban or car?

Postby ambodach » 6 Sep 2018, 11:32am

As things stand at the present parking in Oban is difficult to put it mildly. Short term if you are willing to pay is ok but any free long term is now virtually impossible. Residential streets where there is free parking are getting clogged up to the rage of residents. If leaving a car in Oban the only solution is using a commercial business. Try Google for details.

PH
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Re: Outer Hebrides "tour". Train to Oban or car?

Postby PH » 6 Sep 2018, 11:35am

If I was going to find taking the train stressful I'd drive, but the opposite is true for me and I've enjoyed the train journeys as part of the holiday and in the dozen or so times I've done it any issues have been minor and easily resolved. And what great train journeys they are, the route to Mallaig over Rannoch Moor is an experience in itself.

mikeymo
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Re: Outer Hebrides "tour". Train to Oban or car?

Postby mikeymo » 6 Sep 2018, 12:36pm

andrew_s wrote:I've taken (twice) the "dump the car in Oban" option...


Thanks. Whereabouts did you "dump the car"? I know Oban isn't exactly a crime ridden inner city, but I'd still like to be confident it would be there when I got back. Is there any paid option that you know of?

mikeymo
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Re: Outer Hebrides "tour". Train to Oban or car?

Postby mikeymo » 6 Sep 2018, 12:38pm

Thanks for the replies folks. Sort of confirmed what I thought, that even on my own, taking my car, leaving it at a ferry port then doing a circular route of some sort (or just up and back down) is probably less stressful than the train. Sad that the rail network is like that, but there you go.

The car would probably be a bit more expensive on my own, at least than a cheap advance rail ticket (I drive a 3.0 litre monster), but split between two or three or four it quickly becomes the obvious answer.

mikeymo
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Re: Outer Hebrides "tour". Train to Oban or car?

Postby mikeymo » 6 Sep 2018, 12:53pm

PH wrote:If I was going to find taking the train stressful I'd drive, but the opposite is true for me and I've enjoyed the train journeys as part of the holiday and in the dozen or so times I've done it any issues have been minor and easily resolved. And what great train journeys they are, the route to Mallaig over Rannoch Moor is an experience in itself.


Yes, I know what you mean. And I'd like to experience it too. We've driven through Glencoe (and I think that included going over Rannoch Moor?) and I've seen the Portillo thing about that rail line. I'd like to see it.

But:

1. I'll be coming from Leeds, so there will be => 3 separate trains to get on and off, find my reserved bike space (or not), and 3 possible trains to get delayed/cancelled/replaced by a bus without bike facilities. If I already lived in Glasgow it would be a lot more tempting.

2. I may do it on my own, but I'd prefer to persuade one or more of my biking friends (who are all sports cyclists) to join me. Once it gets to 3 or 4 people the chances of staying together through any cancellations start to diminish, I would have thought? And it starts to all get a lot cheaper with 3 people in one car, compared to 3 lots of train tickets, plus the extra overnight B&Bs in Oban/Mallaig or wherever.

PH
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Re: Outer Hebrides "tour". Train to Oban or car?

Postby PH » 6 Sep 2018, 1:13pm

mikeymo wrote:1. I'll be coming from Leeds, so there will be => 3 separate trains to get on and off, find my reserved bike space (or not), and 3 possible trains to get delayed/cancelled/replaced by a bus without bike facilities. If I already lived in Glasgow it would be a lot more tempting.
They're all things that I can appreciate some would find stressful. All I can say is the more I do the less I worry about it.
Once it gets to 3 or 4 people the chances of staying together through any cancellations start to diminish, I would have thought?

3 becomes difficult, 4 probably impossible and yes the economies for more than one tend to swing against the train.
As an alternative you might consider long term parking in Glasgow, which would still let you do a circular route rather than having to ride back to where you started.

mnichols
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Re: Outer Hebrides "tour". Train to Oban or car?

Postby mnichols » 6 Sep 2018, 1:26pm

I drove and dumped the car because there were three of us travelling up from the South West of England, we met our friend there that got the overnight train from London. Both options were fine. For me, I prefer to be in control of my own destiny, so prefer delays in the car than cancelled/late trains where I'm at the whim of the train companies

mikeymo
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Re: Outer Hebrides "tour". Train to Oban or car?

Postby mikeymo » 6 Sep 2018, 1:36pm

Thanks for all the advice folks.

A lot of this I should know. I was actually born (almost) literally on the banks of Loch Lomond, my parents had Inverarnan Farm, now part of The Drovers, at the very top end of Loch Lomond, and dad was from South Uist. Just that I don't know about the cycling in the highlands, though I do know about cycling in the islands.

I've got a cousin in Fort William, and am pretty sure I could leave the car there. In which case Fort William train to Mallaig becomes an option.

I'm wondering what the cycling is like from Ullapool (or maybe Uig) back down to Fort William (or Mallaig or Oban).

I see there's the Great Glen Cycle Route, but from what I can see some of it is rough tracks. I'll be on a touring road bike. I've taken it on the odd farm track when I've been on the islands, and it was OK, but I wouldn't want to do any distance. Especially with the increase in chances of broken spokes, punctures, bent rims etc etc. Or there's something called the Caledonia Way. I'm fine on roads, just that spending hours and hours on a busy trunk roads with too many trucks close passing isn't my idea of fun.

Norman H
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Re: Outer Hebrides "tour". Train to Oban or car?

Postby Norman H » 6 Sep 2018, 2:19pm

The ride back down from Ullapool to Oban or Mallaig is well worth considering, I'd recommend the coastal route via Gairloch,Torridon, and Kyle of Lochalsh, include Applecross if you have time. From Kyle ride over the bridge to Skye and take the Armadale ferry to Mallaig. If you're leaving the car at Oban there are a couple of ferries that cross to Mull, from either Kilchoan or Lochaline, before a final ferry back to Oban from Craignure.

There are a couple of threads here that may be helpful.

https://forum.cyclinguk.org/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=117492

https://forum.cyclinguk.org/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=113336