Forty years ago I visited Scotland with my older sister, Betsy, and a friend. We hired a car, but only Betsy was old enough to drive it. That little red car took us all over the countryside. We had a very detailed map which was excellent. However, it was so large we had to exit the car in order to unfold and refold it to the section we needed. What I remember most are the ubiquitous single-track roads. Narrow lanes with passing places. Harrowing encounters when other cars approached. And sheep encroaching on the road.
That map has since been replaced by Google Maps and a cell phone. But the single-track roads remain. Little did I know I would return many years later to cycled down those very roads.
When the roads are quiet, they make idyllic cycling paths. It's when cars invade that the going gets dicey. Many drivers are courteous and wait for us to pass. Others are in too much of a hurry and insist on squeezing by. That's when my whole body tenses up, I cringe and stare straight forward as they pass in close proximity. I find myself taking to the drivers in my head. “Thanks a lot.” (Insert sarcasm here.) “You just couldn't wait, could you?” And sometimes, “Oh, that was nice of you.”
The Isle of Mull has only two short stretches of two lane roads. All the rest are single-track. The narrow bit leading into Tobermory is particularly steep, with switchbacks to take the traffic up and over the headland. It was in that section that the single-track roads ceased to be quaint. We made halting progress as we were continually sidelined in the passing places, waiting for large vehicles to pass.
But Tobermory was worth it. We arrived late in the afternoon, with the sun at the perfect angle to light up the vividly colored buildings surrounding the harbor. Sailboats and fishing craft bobbed in the calm water and visitors strolled among the shops and restaurants. We had booked into the Scottish Youth Hostel, which unlike some of the more posh lodgings was located right on the harbor. In fact, it's the salmon colored building in the picture. With dinner just a few paces away overlooking the waterfront it was prime accommodation in our books.
A leisurely morning took us back along the northern side of Mull. The day before, I had eyed the Coffee Pot as we passed and stopped to inquire what time it opened. When the shop owner learned we would be returning before her opening hour, she invited us to knock on the door and offered to serve us early while she was baking. True to her word, we were able to enjoy her fresh baked scones and a latte, and even a Diet Coke for Rich, in the warm morning sun. Her gracious customer service was not without consequences. Our presence flagged the coffee shop as “open” and other customers soon flooded in. Fortunately she was good natured about it, knowing that would happen.
A trio of old boats resting on the shore begged a photo. They've been there over 40 years we later learned, one of them a “puffer” which transported goods and services to the islands.
Our final stretch of single-track road took us on a quiet lane outside Craignure, right to the door of our Warm Showers hosts for the night. We laughed over the introductions, with Mally and Richard hosting Molly and Rich. We didn't have to Mull that over. We knew we'd like these people.