Island adventure a tour by SBT.

Kirkcaldy to Port Charlotte.  I was meeting my “tourist” at Ardrossan terminal so travelled from Kirkcaldy to Ardrossan on my own.  On the Edinburgh to Glasgow train I shared the cycle storage with 3 other bikers and it turned out they were on the way to Glasgow Green to meet Marcus Stiltz after his single speed world trip!

All the trains were on time I managed to get across Glasgow without getting lost, knocked down or mugged so all was good with the world.  Tom had stayed at friends and arrived at the terminal before me, I went in to buy the tickets and he was waiting when I came out.  We did introductions and had a chat over a cuppa before boarding the first ferry of the day from Ardrossan to Brodick.  All told we will have gotten 3 ferries and did 3 bike legs before we reach the YH at Port Charlotte and that, to me is what makes it an adventure you feel as if you are crossing borders without getting a passport stamped and it takes almost as long as flying to Beijing!

We headed north from Brodick heading for the sandwich shack and lunch before the second ferry to Cloanaig.  The cycle from Brodick starts off nice and flat following the coast after about 5 miles it starts to climb there is then a short descent and the main climb starts.  You are biking along by Goat Fell by this time and the views are pretty good.  Having climbed you are then handed a great wee descent but beware of sheep on the road!  We reached the sandwich shack and had some food and drink whilst we waited on the ferry departing. 

Brodick to Lochranza 15 miles 1098 feet of climbing 1:11:45.

A short ferry ride and we were in Cloanaig.  I suggested to Tom that we take a look at Skipness Castle and chapel as we had plenty of time before the ferry from Kennacraig.  We headed right from the dock and pedalled along to the castle.  It’s in ruins although you can get on the roof and there are some excellent views of Arran.  We then walked to the chapel which has some interesting gravestones including some Pictish ones and a grave stone for a soldier killed in Belguim in WW1.  

Once we were satisfied that we had seen all there was to see we walked back to the bikes and headed for Kennacraig and the Islay ferry.  The road is mainly single track with passing places and quite undulating but all the undulations seem to accumulate and you have a great 14% descent before the road joins the main road and you turn right for the ferry port.  We arrived with about 50 mins to spare time to bask in the sun!

Cloanaig to Kennacraig 10.8 miles 715 feet of climbing in 52:49

The Islay ferry takes two hours to reach port and as it was 6pm we decided that food was in order.  Was it good or were we just starving??  Book a tour and find out!   After getting off the ferry we really had to put the boot down to cover the 18 miles to the hostel before the advertised reception closing time of 21:30.  I had called ahead so they were expecting us.  We rolled in at 21:30 and to my surprise the wardens recognised me from my stay last year for the marathon.  Bikes stowed, bodies washed and some fresh clothes on I headed for the kitchen and a cup of tea whilst Tom headed out for a walk round the village and a visit to the pub.

Port Ellen to Port Charlotte 18.6 miles with 533 feet of climbing in 1:13:33

The tour spends two whole days on Islay one of which is a free day Tom elected to go to an RSPB loch and do some bird watching.  So left to my own devices I ran and I biked.

A short 4 run miles after breakfast, too soon after breakfast actually!

I followed the run with a bike ride to the south of Port Charlotte to Portnahaven the start point for the Islay marathon back up the east coast of the Island-next landfall Canada!
Heading up the coast from Portnahaven I met these buggers as they were bigger than me I back pedalled for a bit so they could squeeze past.​
​After the cattle passed I continued north, it’s the only way really, and reached the hostel right on tea o’clock which I had in the garden looking out over the beach and water.   After I had finished I decided to set out on another cycle ride just up to the nearest big town heading  North this time, Bridgend.  It was just an out and back ride but I caught the last rays of the sun as it started to set.

Totals for the day:

Run 4 miles 268 ft of climb in 37:02

Combined cycle 33.9 miles with 1300 ft of climb in 3::21:55

Day 3 Jura!!

After breakfast we headed to  Port Askaig for the ferry to Jura.   The cycle to Port Askaig follows the route to Port Ellen as far as Bridgend then takes a left.  As with most roads on Islay it is twisty and undulating with a great wee descent to the ferry terminal.

Port Charlotte to Port Askaig 15.4 miles 514 feet completed in 1:00:00

We arrived at the ferry terminal and Tom visited the shop for some carbo loading.  After a short trip we got off the ferry and turned right onto the only road on the island we wanted to catch the 2:25 back giving us approx  4 and a half hours on the island.

Straight away you are on the type of climb I am happy to call a friend, not too tough but long and gaining height with every turn of the cranks!  You know what comes next is a long easy descent and that was the pattern of the trip we passed through the village of Craighouse home of the Jura distillery and enjoyed a nice flat stretch along by the shore.  We continued until we reached the 18 mile mark and decided that if we were going to have lunch on the island we had best start back.  So back we went more rolling hills and a lunch stop at Antlers in Craighouse which we enjoyed outside in the sun.

​There is an amazing amount of wildlife on and around Jura and on our short visit we saw seals, raptors including a golden eagle, deer and gannets.   Our visit at an end we headed back to the ferry terminal and the trip back to Islay.

Jura totals 36.2 miles with 2394 feet climb in 3:05:31

Once we were on Islay we headed back for the hostel,Tom stopped off at Finlaggan once the home of the Lord of the Isles.

Total 15.4 miles 460 feet of climbing 1:17:19

Day 4 Homeward Bound

On the way home we took the low road to the ferry mainly to try and avoid the strong winds blowing unfortunately it didn’t seem to make some difference!

Ferry Dist 20.6 miles 475 ft of climbing in 1:33:37

We wanted to spend a bit more time biking on Arran to do that we had a tight deadline to meet on the next bike section especially with the wind against us.  By the time we had unloaded for the ferry we had lost 5 precious minutes so it was heads down and PLF!!  The descents we enjoyed just a few days ago were now our enemies.  Thankfully we made it.

Kennacraig to Cloanaig 5.7 miles 469 ft in 30:00

On Arran the plan was to pedal down the west coast and head over the String road, Arrans highest,  which would mean a big climb and the an impressive white knuckle descent as we were buffeted by the wind on our way down.  Reaching the port it was time for some food as we waited to board the ferry to Ardrossan.

Final bike of the tour 22.3 miles 1550 ft climb in 2:18:14.

That’s it the Scottish Bike Touring Island adventure.  A mix of history, wildlife amazing scenery and great biking.


Author: Jim Taylor

I am a 60 year old Scottish cyclist. I run, bike, walk and do the odd race. I have taken outdoor qualifications and coach others. I am the owner of and guide for Scottish bike touring.

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