Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Arran and Kintyre - Waterways part 1

Cycle touring on Scotland's west coast may not guarantee sunshine but it will guarantee one thing- water. Hopefully that won't be in the form of rain but rather the form of sea crossings, coast-hugging roads and old canals that make up a network of watery ways. l headed to the west coast for my September holiday week and spent the first few days pedalling the watery ways around the Isle of Arran and the Kintyre peninsula.

As my ferry pulled into Brodick harbour on Arran there was an explosion of cyclists from the boat. There had been about 30 to 40 bikes onboard as the quiet and scenic single track roads of Arran make it a good day trip from Glasgow. Undulating roads and a forest trail took me on a southerly circuit via Lamlash, Arran's main settlement, and back over to Brodick on a high road called The String where I made a wild camp in the woods above the village.

Next day I pedalled north along a narrow coastal road that passed little hamlets and harbours with boats pulled up. The route was dominated by the jagged ridges of Goat Fell, Arran's mountain, that towered above. The road pulled into Lochranza whose 16th century castle sits on a prominent spit looking out to sea and guarding access to the land. It's a reminder of how important our waterways once were as the major routes for transportation and invasion. These days you can still be transported by water here by taking the slow ferry from Lochranza to Claonaig at the top of the Kintyre peninsula. On a grey morning my boat chugged across calm waters as a few solitary gannets wheeled overhead.

At the other side I set out along the single track road that runs down the east side of Kintyre. In my books at least, it's one of the most difficult in Scotland being a rollercoaster of a dozen or so stiff climbs and descents, some as steep as 16%. But it's worth the effort to enjoy a landscape of rugged, forested headlands and rocky shores. Every now and then the road dipped to the sea at an idyllic bay with a sandy beach and a cluster of cottages looking across the blue waters of the Kilbrannan Sound to Arran.

I stopped halfway down Kintyre at the pretty spot of Carradale set on a crescent - shaped sandy bay washed by wild surf. The village is quiet now but was once a holiday destination when the old Clyde steamers brought tourists here across the sea from Glasgow. What a contrast it must have been to the city then. It still is.

After a wet night when rain hammered on the tent,  I continued pedalling south to the romantic-sounding Machrihanish Bay near the foot of the peninsula. The pristine sandy beach stretched as far as the eye could see as Atlantic rollers washed in and threatening clouds the colour of bruises gathered on the hills. The last few miles were completely flat and graced by a stiff tailwind on the way back.

After Machrihanish Bay I repeated the rollercoaster ride back up to Claonaig and turned west to cycle into a very quiet little corner of Scotland called Knapdale. Over the next few days, I would be pedalling around more waterways, one of them man-made and the other mammal-made by a very intriguing little animal!

All the photos on Flickr. Click here.

Fact File
Start: Brodick, Isle of Arran by ferry from Ardrossan. Regular trains from Glasgow Queen Street to Ardrossan Harbour connect with ferries.
Map: OS Western Scotland 1:250,000
Route: I cycled south out of Brodick on the A841 which was quiet to Lamlash then took the minor road inland shortly picking up a signed cycle route on a forest trail through to the south coast. I followed the coast road round to Blackwaterfoot - it was pretty hilly - then climbed The String road to return to Brodick. I rejoined the A841 north to Lochranza. Took the Lochranza to Claonaig ferry which runs regularly through the day then cycled south down the B842 on the east side of Kintyre. It's gorgeous but genuinely pretty tough especially with a loaded bike. I camped at Carradale which has a lovely campsite overlooking the beach and lots of great little walks in the immediate area for an evening stroll. There's also a cafe with bike hire, repairs and wifi. They gave me free cake. Small shop in the village. Continued south to Campbeltown and took the B843 to Machrihanish - the only flat road on Kintyre I think. Campbeltown has a big Co-op supermarket. Cycled back to Claonaig the same way.

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