Our two plus week trip cycling in Scotland was an amazing and epic adventure that I will never forget. Everything went smoothly, our plans were flexible enough to allow us to seek out new adventures while we were riding, yet secure enough to know we'd be able to get from place to place. You can read all about our cycling trip to Scotland in the Travel section by clicking here, but now, read all about how we managed to fly across the country, over the Atlantic, and travel through the UK with fully loaded bicycles on our self-supported trip.
Flying with Bikes
We chose to fly Virgin Atlantic from SFO to London for two reasons: one - it was a nonstop flight, and two - at the time of booking they did not charge to bring bicycles along with our check baggage. We booked our tickets in April, but as of September 1st their policy changed. Before you could bring your sports equipment as a checked bag in addition to one free checked bag, but now your sports equipment will be your checked bag. Its still included, no extra fees, unless you check a second bag. Click here for a direct link to their new policy.
That being said, I can't say enough good things about flying with our bikes on Virgin Atlantic. We knew Virgin allowed one checked sporting goods equipment in addition to the one free checked bag at the time we flew, but when we trollyed up to the Virgin Atlantic counter at SFO we were both hesitant about what would happen. And then nothing did! We checked our bags and our bikes with no problems. Amazing.
The actual flight was one of the quickest feeling long haul flights I have ever been on! It was scheduled at 10 hours and 40 minutes, but we managed to get in and land an HOUR early. When does that ever happen. The crew treated us like champs, even in economy class, and I can say it was one of the best flying experiences we have had.
Getting From the Airport to the Hotel
Our other main concern after flying with our bikes was getting our bikes from the airport to our hotel so we could build the bikes and then sleep. London has it figured out. There is a shuttle bus called the Heathrow Hoppa that was ready to take us to our hotel. At about $20 roundtrip for two people it was a bargain not having to worry about getting our oversized luggage to the hotel with us. We paid for a return ticket as well so we could hop back on the next morning to get to the Heathrow Express to take us into the city.
Getting From Heathrow into Central London
The next morning we needed to take our bikes back to Heathrow to get on the Heathrow Express, which is a direct train into London where we'd then hop on the tube to get to Kings Cross Station for our train up to Inverness.
We booked our tickets in advance and saved 20%. Bikes are allowed on the Express after 10am so we made sure we waited until after the morning rush hour. Again we were expecting someone to say something that we couldn't be bringing our bikes on, but no one even gave us a second look. An operator even helped us get on the best car for all of our equipment. Easy peasy fresh and squeezy! 15 minutes later were were at Paddington Station hopping on the Circle Line that took us directly to Kings Cross for our train.
We booked with Virgin East Coast Trains for our journey up to Inverness and made sure to book a reservation for our bikes as well - the trains have limited number of spaces for bikes so if you're bringing yours be sure to call ahead and save a space. Since the train to Inverness was going to be another eight hours of traveling, we decided to treat ourselves to an upgrade to First Class and we had two full meals and endless drinks (including alcoholic) all included. The seats were incredibly comfortable and we literally spent the entire 8 hours gazing out the window. It was a perfect way to start our adventure.
Caledonian MacBrayne Ferries
Following a few days of riding after Inverness we arrived in Ullapool to take the ferry across the sea to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis and Harris. We weren't exactly sure what to expect with Caledonian MacBrayne Ferries, but our ferry ended up being a massive ship that not only carried passengers, but cars, buses, caravans, and semi trucks. It included two restaurants, a gift shop, and super comfortable seats. If you are traveling by car you do have to book in advance, but pedestrians and cyclists can purchase their tickets right at the ferry terminal. And the best part - its crazy cheap! Our two hour ferry ride to Stornoway was about $25 for the two of us. We were the first to bring our bikes on the ferry, cars followed behind, and the crew was amazing, helping us tie our bikes up for the journey. Then we went to the upper deck, enjoyed a full vegetarian Scottish Breakfast and the beautiful journey across the sea.
Not all ferries are the same. Some services only run a few times a day like our journey to Stornoway, some, like our journey from Armadale to Mallaig, run much more frequently since its only about a 40 minute crossing. We started off with the biggest and newest ship of the fleet, and our last ferry ride to Mallaig was one of the smallest and we stayed in the open air for our crossing. Overall, an amazing experience!
We also rode a few trains with ScotRail including from Mallaig to Fort William, Fort William to Loch Lomond, and Loch Lomond to Edinburgh.
ScotRail is awesome - there are trains in many areas that can take you from major cities to tiny villages. ScotRail also lets you bring your bicycle on for free, just make sure you call and book in advance. We did hop on a few unplanned trains without bicycle bookings and we got lucky and they had space for us, but if you can plan in advance you should.
All in all traveling with our bicycles was a breeze. If you are thinking of doing a cycling trip in the UK - DO IT. It takes a little bit of logistic planning to get everything settled, but its easy, fairly cheap, and absolutely worth it!
To read about our adventure Cycling in Scotland click here! Or watch our video from our epic adventure below: