Pete Creech 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.
An arch of trees illuminated by powerful lights, the ground squirms underneath the tyres as they skip from rock to wood to mud to water. Shouts and whoops from up ahead as another obstacle is negotiated. Emerge from the woods into an open field under a sky blazing with stars. The bulk of a castle punches a black hole into the night sky. Red lights dance and spin as the chain of cycles winds its way down the hillside and lights the way ahead.
Riding off-road in the dark in midwinter may not be everyone’s idea of a night out but it’s just one of the ways two wheels can get you off the beaten track and into wild Argyll. Winter riding at whatever time of day is at least as exhilarating as anything you might encounter in the summer months. The sound of your tyres hissing through snow, ice crystals spinning away from the wheels and who can resist riding through frozen puddles?
This winter I have cycled in brilliant sunshine high above Loch Awe with everything below me enveloped in frozen mist, the birch trees swathed in purple buds and bracken transformed into a blaze of russet. I’ve seen a fox disappearing off the trail, his footprints in the snow marking his passage; and heard the soft cries of eider riding out the winter in one of our many sheltered sea lochs.
Some of my favourite rides include the Ardnoe Trail, a good route for the more experienced cyclist, with the advantage of a fine café stop at Tayvallich; good food that tastes even better when you feel you’ve earnt it! The Fire Tower Trail is great fun if you fancy a more technical challenge, want to try being airborne, and like fording streams. A gentle trip to the Faery Isles or along the Crinan Canal both make a good family ride out, and there is lots to see en-route from deserted townships to a fantastic bird hide overlooking the Add Estuary. The Forestry Commission car parks at Barnluasgan and Dunardry also offer a range of routes to suit all abilities.
If you prefer to stay on the road, try the Kilberry Loop, a 40-mile challenge with awesome views of Jura and Gigha. For a gentler introduction to Mid Argyll start at Kilmartin and cycle alongside the cairns and Temple Wood stone circle, traverse Moine Mhor Nature Reserve and return via the Crinan Canal and Kilmichael Glen.
Alternatively grab a map and make up your own route. There are an infinite number of tracks and trails and you have a right to responsible access. A guide to your responsibilities can be found at: www.outdooraccess-scotland.com/Practical-guide/public/cycling