On Monday morning I woke up to a fresh blue sky – the perfect day for a two-wheeled trip someplace new. And where better than Kintyre, the mysterious mass of land across the loch. I caught the ferry from Portavadie to Tarbert, stocked up on snacks from the co-op, and set off along the single-track road that winds its way along the western coast of Knapdale. After climbing up through shady woodland, I emerged into dazzling sunshine. The road stretched ahead of me, shimmering in the heat. Beyond the rolling, rough farmland and dark patches of pine forest, there was a splash of blue loch. White butterflies passed like pieces of tissue paper caught on the breeze. Foamy meadowsweet, thistles and harebells filled the verges, and honeysuckle draped in the trees. I raced on, listening to the bleat of sheep and wondering if my rattling bike chain was anything to worry about.
Further on a streak of yellow caught my eye and I pulled up by a gate. There, beyond a grassy field dotted with clover and freshly shorn sheep, was a wide, empty beach. It would have been a perfect place to stop for lunch and a dip, but for the sign on the gate that said: ‘BULL ON SHORE’. I dithered, and like a big chicken decided not to take the chance and pedalled on. As I rounded the next headland, Jura and Islay came into view. They seemed to float, other worldly, in a sea of misty blue. It was as if I were looking down on a mountain range, the islands the peaks poking up through the clouds. A beetle landed on my hand, turned a few circles like a dodgem and then flew on its way. I too went on my way, hurtling along the road next to the sea with the smell of salty, sun-dried seaweed ripe in the air.
I was thinking how perfect this all was and how I might describe the paps of Jura that rose, in a matronly manner, before me, when I heard a loud crack and my bike careered off into the verge. The derailleur had snapped off. The bike couldn’t be cycled or, indeed, pushed, and I was in the middle of nowhere in the midday sun. I sighed, fiddled half-heartedly with the chain and then resigned myself to hitching a lift on this, the quietest of roads. In a stroke of luck, a postvan rounded the bend. I flagged it down and begged a lift back to Tarbert. ‘Nae bother’, said the postie and threw my bike in the back of the van. As we motored back, stopping to collect the post and chat to passing farmers, he told me his story. At school his English teacher, a young Ian Crichton Smith, had spotted his talent for writing, but he was too young, too restless, to follow it through. Later in life, after years spent in the hills along the west coast working as a forester, he began to write. He was inspired by the landscape, its wildness and his place in it. ‘It seeps into you.’ ‘Aye’, he replied. ‘That it does.’