SBT does the Five Ferries

Start timeThe Five Ferries is an iconic Scottish road cycle on the west coast of Scotland.

Regarded by many as a one day challenge and indeed run as a challenge in one of it’s guises, the Five Ferries is a approx 100 miles long, you travel on Five Ferries, two islands and 3 peninsulas.

There are a number of ways to cycle this route my preference is to start at Ardrossan and get the ferry to Arran and head south around the bottom of the island.  Arran has a spectacular coastline and it is laid out before you as you head around the island.  This is the longest cycle leg with the most climb and is an ideal stopping point if you want to do the ride over 2 days rather than 1.Climb from Brodick

Ferry number 2 takes you from Arran to the Kintyre peninsula and a ride north to the village of Tarbert an ideal lunch stop.  You have cycled 50 miles by this point and climbed almost 4000 ft!  Alas if the group speed is not sufficient to build a cushion its no lunch and straight on Ferry No 3 to Portavadie and the Kyles of Bute.Tarbert

If you would like some luxury rooms for an overnight stay this is the place!  This is the third cycle leg and the scenery is just awesome.  You cycle round the Kyles of Bute to board ferry No 4 at Colintraive travelling to the Island of Bute.  A short fast 8 miles sees you in Rothesay for the final ferry to Wemyss Bay and the final ride to Ardrossan.

This is not an easy one day ride and the added pressure of ferries to catch with the chance that they might be cancelled for one reason or the other makes it an adrenalin raising ride!

There is plenty to see on this tour I would recommend that you take your time and take the two day tour and as I said there are a number of ways to do this ride it can be shortened reducing the 100 miles to something more like 80.






It’s not about the destination-Island adventure tour April 2017

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.bowmore-distillery

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.

Day 4.

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.



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.