Ardrossan, Arran, Brodich, cycle route 73, cycle touring Arran, cycle touring Islay, cycle touring Scotland, Islay, Isle of Arran, Isle of Islay, Kennacraig, Kildonan, Lochranza, Port Askaig, Skipness
As we rode around Arran we there was a feeling, much like Salmon returning up river to spawn, we were going in the wrong direction. We were battling a very strong headwind and the 100 bikes coming the other way were not. They were, on the whole on top-end road bikes from the exotic carbon end of the bike hierarchy. Many were ‘ middle aged men in lycra ‘, most looked happy enough.
When they had bought their bikes many had apparently taken a vow of silence. Our cheery ” Hello ” to our fellow cyclists were not being answered. This is strange, and yes, there were half of them responding as they shot past us. None were needing to turn the pedals with much labour. But there were those that did not. Did they look at us as inferior, or just plain stupid for going clockwise around Arran today.
Saturday morning and we head out of Irvine. Within minutes we are lost, and this time we have fallen foul of some scallywag turning the sign. Luckily I have looked up the route just a few minutes ago and this does not feel right. We regain Cycle Route 73 in what is now the right direction. Luckily the ferry is delayed as the connecting train is late and I do not have to continue thinking the murderous thoughts about the youth of Irvine.
It is a 1 hour crossing and the weather is perfect. Brodick is even from afar is looking beautiful. Clouds hang over Goatfell and we walk down the ramp into a stiff breeze. It is a layer of clothing cooler than the mainland as the wind is coming directly from the North. A bite to eat, and then we are on our way around the island in the wrong, clockwise direction.
Arran is lush. Most years you can point at it and say ” Temperate Maritime ” and you would be spot on. There is a climb forcing a stripping of clothing and the warmth is full of the earthy aroma of bracken. It grows tight into the road, a warm smell, and for me a smell of summer dens and school holidays. Holy Island is to our left just the other side of Whiting Bay. There is a Buddist retreat on the island, and you can see why.
Our first night on the island is at the campground at Kildonan overlooking the beach. We sit watching clouds gather and throw strong shafts of light across the water. We are on the third cup of tea before we even bother to change out of cycling clothing. The island of Pladda is just off-shore and beyond the Ailsa Craig looking impossibly angular. All of the Curling Stones in the world come from here, which is a nice fact.
A cold night, our coldest since we got into the UK. In the morning the air is still and as sharp as a knife. The lighthouse on Pladda that was a light grey smudge yesterday is now Gannet White, and feels close enough to touch. The coast of Ayr stands out in sharp contrast. The tide is in and there on the rocks is an Otter and its youngster. The Kit is being tought how to fish and they look impossibly happy. We climb out of the bay and as we round the southern tip of Arran the full force of a cold wind hits us full on.
The road rises and falls. On the exposed parts of the road it is cold enough to have on your winter clothing. When you climb, often protected by high walls and hedges it is warm enough to comfortably ride naked. It is an impossible compromise to strike. We get to Blackwaterfoot just in time for coffee and cake.
These are familiar roads for us, we have biked here many times. The last time was 4 years ago and riding our light road bikes. Things feel unfamiliar. It feels so much further today with the heft of touring bikes to propel up short sharp climbs. Travelling a little slower today has advantages. To our right, a single standing stone that we have not noticed before.
A wild camp at the side of a fast moving stream. Here in Scotland you have the right to walk just about most places and pitch a tent if the fancy takes you. Catacol Bay is just in front of us and we take a sunset walk along the beech. This brings to the end a near perfect day of cycle touring. The only downside is the song “Maria” from Westside Story which has been in my head all day. It is harmless as ear-worms go, but annoying none the same.
The night is even colder than the previouse one. There are cows, no this is deeper and with more passion. The Red Deer are begining to call the start of the rutting season and the poor sods will be doing this night and day for weeks. Some will not make it into winter, worn out by the effort. Morning, and the still air is alive with Midges. Horrid flying Pyrana that drive you close to madness. We make breakfast and throw our stuff into the bags. The ferry is coming in and we have a race to meet it at Lochranza.
The ferry across to Cloanaig on the Kintyre peninsula is full of cyclists and the sea flat calm. Last time we were on here we thought we were going to die it was so rough. We have time before the next ferry to go exploring. Skipness Castle is at the end of the road to the right. There are wonderful views back along the straight. Arran is wearing a hat of clouds. This is perfect touring, and the great thing is that this is where we live. We could get in our car and be here in two hours or so.
The road climbs steeply out of the bay. One disadvantage in being almost local is that we know the nasty things that are ahead. It is a stiff pull out away from the bay. The views are worth the effort. A right turn, and it is just a mile or so to the ferry terminal and our ride to the island of Islay.
As ever, there is quite a thrill in pushing a laden touring bike onto a ferry. It feels such a perfect fit, a combination of transport that opens up the remote islands of Scotland’s West Coast. To look at a CalMac timetable with a map on your knees is to enter a dream world of possible travel plans. It costs just £12 for the two of us and our bikes for the 2 hour crossing. You could hardly find a better trip in a boat any where in the world that would match that.
The landing at Port Askaig comes at the end of half an hour of riding up the narrow sound between Islay and Jura. The poor touring cyclist now has a horrid climb out of the port. We have a camp for the night at our friends in the first village – last but 3 houses on the right in Keils.
The next day is without panniers. A ride around our favorite bits of Islay with the joy of half the weight under us. To have a run of good weather that last more than two or three days is to consider yourself blessed in these parts. It is too close to Atlantic storms that can roll in at a moments notice and spoil your day or even your week or month. We are being lucky, too lucky, but we do deserve it.
We go to Bowmore and then it is around the island to the distillary of Bruichladdich. The island is looking wonderful and riding around there is a feeling of being at home. It feels good, very good. There is time to look around, to smell the sea air, to feel the earth. We turn left down the road to Finlaggan, the ancient seat of the Lords of the Isles or Fionn Laggan as they say in Gaelic. In the morning we cross to Jura and ride to Orwell’s house. You must come and do something similar.