I live in the Kingdom of Fife and on an atlas Islay looks like a hop skip and a jump away I can promise you though that it isn’t. It takes 3 trains 3 ferry rides with 3 cycle journeys to reach the old distillery building in Port Charlotte that is now the island’s Youth Hostel. That, though is the point of cycle touring it’s the journey not the destination that matters. Already and I am not yet out of Edinburgh I have spotted a new path that needs exploring, that is for another day though.
The train station is literally a stones throw from the ferry terminal at Ardrossan, with my client due at 1205 and it being 1110 I wandered into the terminal bought the tickets and settled down with a tea and a scone!
Client collected, tickets distributed we dutifully followed instructions to board the first ferry of the day. David had never cycled in Scotland before and was truly excited about his trip to the Isles I went through some of the details on the hour long trip to Brodick.
Upon disembarking we started on our first ride of the day 14 miles to Lochranza and the second ferry of the day to Claonaig. Not even I would call this a flat 14 miles. Initially the road winds it’s way around the coast and is flat with great views across to the mainland and of Goatfell then at Sannox it takes a left turn and an upward sweep for approx 30 mins. The descent into Brodick though makes the climb worthwhile. We arrived at Lochranza with time to spare and looking for some sustenance at the sandwich shop. Zut Alors it was closed as was the public toilets. We boarded the brand new ferry to Cloanaig and in no time we were back on the mainland with a 6 mile ride to Kennacraig and the final and longest ferry trip of the day to Port Askaig on Islay. The. Crew let bikes onboard first which as far as two ravenous cyclists was concerned was the correct decision. We headed for the restaurant on board and were first in the Q when the shutters went up. Silence descended as Fish and chips and a Beef and ale pie were consumed.
Leaving the ferry at Port Askaig you don’t even have time to ask “where is the first hill” when you are on it climbing out of the port on the way to Port Charlotte. The final ride of the day undulates it’s way across the island passing 4 distilleries and the House of the Lord of the Isles on the way. It wasn’t long and we were booking in at the YH and partaking of a very welcome cuppa. Day one came to a close as did our eyes!
Stats: Miles biked 36.5 Feet climbed 1895.
During a leisurely breakfast we made plans for day 2. David wanted to visit a distillery so we set off in the general direction of Bowmore and Port Ellen. Traveling along one of the island’s main roads David commented how quiet and still everything was and I had to agree with him I think a total of 3 vehicles passed us in about 30 mins. When we arrived in the village of Bowmore we had a quick look around and then popped our heads into the visitors centre at the distillery. Having just missed one tour we decided to continue to Port Ellen and pick a tour once we got there with 3 distilleries there was no shortage of choice.
We arrived in Port Ellen and as this was where we would return from I showed David the harbour and bought our tickets for the return. Whilst buying the tickets the Calmac employee told me of a new cycle/walking path that had been laid out to the distilleries of Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg. The path had been a joint venture between the distillers and public funding. We found the path and headed up it arrivimg at Laphroaig in time to book a slot for David on the next tour. After availing ourselves of a free coffee we set off to follow the path till it’s conclusion and then turned around so David could take his tour. A happy client returned over an hour later with a miniature of Laphroaig.
We headed back to Port Charlotte taking a slightly different route and with the wind at our back. I had promised David that we would see seals on our return alas there were none in spots I had previously seen them so we hatched a plan to head south on the morrow to Portnahaven and go seal spotting. WE had our evening meal in the Lochindaal hotel two very fine burgers!
Stats: Miles biked 49 Feet climbed 1041
Day 3 being a Sunday we had a long lie and a leisurely breakfast. I managed to borrow a pair of binoculars from the hostel staff and we headed south to Portnahaven and, hopefully, the seals. We took a small detour to look at the Ancient burial ground by Ellister. We travelled ever southwards to Port Wemyss and finally Portnahaven where there was indeed seals! Heading north once more we stopped at an Island craft store for some shopping and a chat with four other cyclists. Heading north there are a few climbs and descents and we soon left the others behind we reached Kilchiaran and headed east back towards Port Charlotte.
Once in the hostel we settled down to some serious tea drinking! David then headed out again whilst I waited for the village sore to open so I could buy some rations for the evening meal.
Our loop stats were Miles biked: 19 with 992 feet climbed.
We left the hostel at 0800 for the first ride and first ferry of the day. Once more the weather was kind. Wet roads indicated that it had rained during the night but we pushed on as the day brightened. When we boarded the ferry I asked the crew if we could disembark first as we had a tight schedule for the second ferry as David wanted a longer ride on Arran. The crew agreed and as soon as she docked we were off!
This cycle is only 6 miles and we had 25 mins to do it. Heads down we headed up the first and steepest climb. Once conquered we took advantage of a tail wind and set to as fast as we could and then hail!! As we drew close to the ferry port a stream of cars headed towards us on the single lane road delaying us as we let them pass. We could see the superstructure of the ferry over the tree line. David was ahead and reached the ferry as the final foot passengers were walking down the ramp! Success!
With rumours of service disruptions ringing in our ears we headed straight for Brodick from Lochranza. The climb which had taken 30 mins on Friday today took 20. A hard climb followed by an exhilarating descent. Back along the coast road we went, with a ferry in view as it left Brodick. We reached the ferry port in time to learn that the 4 o’clock ferry had been cancelled and a decision would be made about the 6pm one by the Captain. With the 6pm cancelled thoughts began to turn to a night in Arran however we managed to get back to the mainland when Calmac decided that the 7pm ferry could go.
We managed to reach Glasgow and I caught my train East arriving home just before midnight. David however had o spend the night in Glasgow and get the first train home in the morning.
The Island adventure tour-a tour with adventure!!
Stats: Miles bikes 41 Feet climbed 1800.