Solo Travel: Making New Friends on the Island Explorer
Posted on Sep 08, 2017 by Russell Murray
Solo travel can be a bit daunting, especially if it’s something you’ve never done before but I think this wonderful quote from WB Yeats sums up the reasons you should give it a go:
“There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t met yet.”
When I joined our Island Explorer road cycling trip at Glasgow train station experience told me I’d be spending a week with a great bunch of folk and I wasn’t disappointed. From our expert guides, to fellow road cyclists and the friendly locals we met along the route – they all contributed to lasting memories of a fabulous road cycle tour around Arran, Islay and Jura.
In addition to sharing a superb week in the company of my fellow travellers, for me the trip combined three of life’s great pleasures: stunning riding, breathtaking scenery, and outstanding food and drink! And with a dram or two thrown in for good measure this will remain a firm holiday favourite of mine for years to come.
Riding Past History
We were mostly intermediate riders on this green, ‘easy’ graded trip and enjoyed gentle day rides of 4-5 hours long along largely undulating coastal roads. As with much of Scotland, the landscape and history are intertwined and on the Island Explorer there are many fascinating opportunities to unearth remains of Scotland’s ancient past.
Our attentive guides kept us on the right route so we could enjoy drinking in the rich history of the islands as we rode past historic outposts. There were a few that really stood out:
- On Arran we came across the otherworldly standing stone circles at Machrie Moor and skirted past the beautiful lochside ruins of 13th century Lochranza Castle.
- Over on the Mull of Kintyre we rode towards Skipness Castle and Chapel which encapsulates centuries of changing ownership in its mishmash of architecture.
- We marked the end of an epic day of riding across Islay on day 4 with a historic finish at Kildalton Celtic Cross.
In short, the riding on this trip was superb and made all the more enjoyable by the rich scenery and the fact that guide support was always at hand.
Other easy road cycling trips:
Rewards Around Every Corner
Our guiding team were brilliantly flexible at tailoring each days ride according to our individual levels or goals. There were optional short and steep climbs thrown if you felt inclined to work off the goodies enjoyed at the plentiful cake and coffee stops en route.
Food and drink was a real a highlight of this road cycling adventure. One lunchtime we rolled onto the pier outside Bowmore Distillery for a gourmet picnic lunch expertly prepared by our guides using delicious local produce. Another meal that stood out was the locally sourced seafood platter enjoyed at one of the hotel’s award winning restaurants. It seemed every ride had a culinary reward just around the corner.
For the whisky enthusiasts among us we were temptingly close to many of Scotland’s iconic single malt whisky distilleries – I passed at least six on Islay alone! Our reward came in the form of an insightful and entertaining whisky tour and tasting led by an Islay local at Ardbeg distillery.
Slainté: Cheers to New Friends
Each evening we enjoyed all the comforts of boutique hotels that added a touch of luxury to the trip. Relaxing with a pre-dinner drink was a great opportunity to get know to each other better and reflect on the day’s ride. Our hosts often allowed us to peruse the menu in a relaxed manner while we waited for the full contingent to arrive and it was clear each of these hotels had been handpicked for their fine local cuisine, friendly staff and 5-star service.
It’s hard to select a favourite hotel as each complemented the last but the award for best view surely goes to the Loch Melfort Hotel and its breathtaking, Inner-Hebridean sea views back towards Jura and Islay. You arrive at this stunning setting in style and from the moment you wheel your bike off the boat on to the beach you’ll be wowed. From solo travel to a fitting farewell where we could toast the end of our trip as firm friends.
Fancy an Adventure on the Island Explorer or another cycling adventure? A full list of our various Road Cycling tours can be found here
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