Pete moved to Argyll 15 years ago. Last year, along with his wife Sue, he started the Crown House B&B in Ford. He is the coordinator at Blarbuie Woodlands, a mental health charity/social enterprise in Lochgilphead, and also finds time for some maintenance at Kilmartin Museum, the occasional roofing job and to volunteer for the Scottish Beaver Trial. A keen cyclist, walker, coastal rower, photographer and wildlife enthusiast he can usually be found attached to a bicycle.
The Faery Isles is somewhere you might just find yourself looking over your shoulder! You may not see any fairies but this long finger of land surrounded by Loch Caol Scotnish and Loch Sween is home to a wide array of animals and plants including otters, ospreys, red squirrels, pine martens and herons. Add to this the many weird and wonderful types of fungi and lichens of the Celtic Rainforest with names such as ‘Dryad’s saddle’ and ‘Elf cup’ and it’s not difficult to imagine yourself back in a more mystical age!
If you are looking for a family ride, that includes both forest and seashore, pack a picnic and head for the Faery Isles. The route is fairly short (10km), but there is a lot to see and a few hills along the way, so make a day of it. If little legs are getting tired there is a shorter, but no less interesting, alternative.
Set off from the Forestry Commission Loch Coille Bharr car park, beside the B8025, 1 km farther on towards Tayvallich beyond Barnluasgan, (grid reference NR 783 906). Although the route to the Faery Isles is no longer an official cycle ride this just adds to the sense of adventure.
Follow the broad forestry track south to the deserted settlement of Kilmory Oib. This village was built in the 16th Century and its inhabitants displaced to make way for sheep 200 years later. There are several buildings and a ‘holy well’ with a carved stone.
Carrying on downhill you arrive at the ruins of a mill that dates back to the 14th Century. There is a flight of steps and a short path that takes you to a viewpoint overlooking Loch Coille Bharr. If you are lucky you may spot one of its resident beavers, particularly if it is close to dawn or dusk.
A little further on the Faery Isles are signposted. Bear right at this fork and then a sharper right a few hundred metres on. At this point you can take a shorter route by bearing left instead: In 500m or so you will be cycling alongside the lagoon containing the Faery Isles and there is much to explore on the shore and a number of picnic places.
Otherwise carry on, turn left and eventually come to a gate. Go through and the track becomes a little more overgrown and the forest starts to creep closer. There is a mixture of very old trees and recent regeneration, following the felling of conifer plantations a number of years ago. Watch out for the bumps and lumps in the track as you travel downhill.
Rounding a corner, the trees fall away and you are cycling next to a sheltered lagoon. To your left are the Faery Isles and it is worth carrying on quietly as you may see ospreys and otters, attracted by the rich variety of fish and other marine life.
You briefly plunge back into the forest again before emerging at the point alongside Starfish Bay. There is a picnic bench with marvellous views down the length of Loch Sween. Suitably refreshed you will find there are a number of inlets and bays to explore. It is here that I spotted an otter with a scarred nose busily working its way along the shore looking for food.
The return is via the same route, although if you have the energy there are a number of other trails to explore, one of which emerges a little further along the B8025. A map is an essential (OS Explorer 358), as is letting someone know when to expect you back. Mobile phone coverage in this area is poor.