Say velo to Scotland!
The Voice of Ireland and RTE 2fm presenter Eoghan McDermott spends his working life like a bird in a cage, cooped up in TV and radio studios. It’s an environment that he loves.
But Ireland’s fast-rising media star is also a passionate fan of the great outdoors, and in summer he can be found unwinding in his favourite place on earth… Connemara. So when his bestie pal Niall ‘Bressie’ Breslin invited him on a cycling trip around the Scottish Highlands, McDermott didn’t have to think twice about accepting.
“I’d been to Scotland a few times, but never to the Highlands,” Eoghan tells Magazine.
“Bressie got invited over by Visit Scotland [the national tourism organisation] to sample a cycling holiday because he’s an avid cyclist, and he asked me to tag along for the company. He would soon find out that I was a foolish choice.”
Travelling by bicycle is a great way to see Scotland, McDermott says. Cyclists can enjoy rolling countryside, dramatic coastlines, atmospheric glens and idyllic towns and villages using country roads and a choice of dedicated cycle routes.
Cycling in Scotland enables you to take your time and truly experience being away from it all in some of the most remote areas in Europe. National Cycle Network (NCN) routes take you through many areas of natural beauty – from desolate moorland to vast forests, shimmering lochs, tranquil glens, and tumultuous rivers to spectacular coastlines.
It also passes castles and historic settlements. And if you enjoy city life, the Network takes you into the centre of all Scotland’s major cities.
There are approximately 3,379 km of National Cycle Network routes in Scotland, with over 480km of traffic-free walking and cycling routes on railway paths, canal towpaths and forest trails.
The network provides long-distance cycling opportunities, and Eoghan and Bressie were all fired up for their adventure.
Eoghan and Bressie take a well-earned break
However, Dubliner McDermott hadn’t taken into account the fact that he and his Mullingar mate Bressie are not a match made in cycling heaven.
“Bressie is a top-class cyclist and has been training for an Iron Man challenge for a year, whereas I hadn’t been on a bike since my schooldays,” Eoghan reveals.
“In your 20s you have an air of invincibility, but I’m in my early 30s now and I still have that, and it was absolutely misguided.
“Even though I had no cycling experience I thought I’d be fine, but then I discovered that I was going to be doing 120km on day one. That day in early June was windy and wet, and there were a good few hills.
“I died a death after about 30km. Then I got a second wind and I got through it. My God, the pain after. But that was my own fault for not preparing in any shape or form. Bressie was absolutely fine.”
Despite the challenging exercise, Eoghan was mesmerised by the natural beauty that greeted him around Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. Loch Lomond in central Scotland is the largest inland waterway in Britain. Eoghan says it made a perfect base to begin the journey.
Travelling on the regional Route 40, the boys were able to take in the stunning vistas in one of the country’s most idyllic and unspoilt areas.
With a backdrop of mountains looming in the distance, the wind and rain proved tough, but determination saw the boys conquer all the hills and they even found time to take their bikes on a Cruise Loch Lomond boat trip towards Loch Katrine, passing the quaint towns of Inversnaid and Stronachlachar.
“It was like a more rugged Connemara, with the landscape magnified: everything was bigger, grander, wider,” Eoghan recalls.
That night the weary cyclists recharged their batteries with an overnight stay in the opulent five-star Cameron House hotel.
The next day, the boys set off from Tarbet, a Scottish village and gateway to the beautiful peninsula of Kintyre in the south west portion of Argyll.
Eoghan and Bressie defeated some more epic hills before reaching their destination of Ballachulish Hotel, situated in a breathtaking Lochside setting at the foot of dramatic Glencoe Mountain.
“Cycling is a nice group activity, and it’s also a lovely solitary activity, which is just as well as Bressie would be about 20km ahead of me every day,” Eoghan smiles at the memory.
The lads on a boat trip
“It’s such a beautiful way to spend time. We cycled on primary roads where we didn’t see cars for an hour, and you just take in the scenery. That sense of being truly on your own was really liberating.”
On the third day, Eoghan and Bressie travelled from Glenfinnan to Fort William. The sun was shining and they were looking forward to seeing Glenfinnan’s famous viaduct, where the Hogwarts Express steams along in the Harry Potter films. The boys’ pulses began racing when the Express came steaming along like a scene from the movie during their cycle. And like school children, the two lads tried to race it before being left for dust.
“It wasn’t all cycling, as we took a few boat tours and got the history of the place from our guide,” Eoghan says of the trip that left him totally rejuvenated. And it was the people as much as the magnificent landscape that has made a lasting impression on the TV and radio presenter.
“Scotland has that type of hospitality that Ireland is noted for. Everyone was exceptionally helpful,” Eoghan says.
“One night we stayed in a family-run place that was very old and creaky, which was the charm of it. Our cycling gear needed to be washed and we asked the lady if there were any laundry facilities. She said, ‘no, but throw it in a bag there’. She took it home, washed it and brought it back the next morning!”
At the end of each day’s cycle, Eoghan and Bressie were transported to a hotel for an overnight stay at their next starting point.
“We never drove in the evenings for longer than an hour to our new base. Each evening we had beautiful meals, and we usually hit the road at 9.30am after a civilised breakfast. We stopped for lunch at midday, and each day’s cycle finished around 3.30-4pm.”
Their cycling trip was eventually cut short after Bressie injured both his ankles jumping off a waterfall in an adventure centre. But by then McDermott was bitten by the bug and had started a love affair with the Highlands.
“I’ve been in the gym and cycling loads since I came home,” Eoghan says. “Bres has so many contacts in the cycling world and he’s going to get me a full carbon bike. I’m looking forward to returning to Scotland and maybe next time I won’t see Bressie disappearing in the distance.” :
If you would like more information on cycling in Scotland, and to plan your trip, visit www.visitscotland.com