One day ferry and cycle tour of west Scotland
Stunning weather, superb views, a total transport cost of £8.50 and a fabulous day of solo cycling. Don’t you just love it when a day of adventure turns out to be utterly perfect? I had a whole day to myself and bizarrely(for Scotland in September) the weather forecast was predicting blue skies and sunshine. So I hatched a plan to make the most of the sun and my freedom on a cycling trip on the west coast of Scotland that took in one island and two peninsulas and three ferries.
The day began at Wemyss Bay, a ferry port town on the west coast of Scotland. (My advice is to catch the train to Wemyss Bay unless you only plan to park your car for up to 24 hours. There is a £3 charge for parking at the ferry for one day. There appears to be nowhere to park your care safely for any longer than a day although I’m sure I recall a nearby car-park many years ago.) I paid £8.50 for an Island Hopping ticket (Zone 4!) and then boarded the half-hour ferry to the lovely Island of Bute. The water was flat, the sun was coming through and I felt excited to be enjoying my own adventure.
Armed with ferry timetables, route descriptions and (almost) enough food I set off from Rothersay to cycle eight miles north to Rhubodach, where another ferry travels five minutes across the stunning Kyles of Bute (a sea loch) to Colintraive on the west coast of the Cowal Peninsula. This is a beautiful route that hugs the isle’s shoreline and with a fabulous tailwind I made the first possible ferry. En route I cycled up alongside an islander who had already completed a circuit of Bute that morning. We chatted and swapped a few cycle stories before he asked, somewhat surprised, if I was cycling all alone. Er, yes, I like to sometimes!
Alighting the ferry at the tiny port village of Colintraive the friendly ferry man pointed me in the right direction along the A886 to my next ferry at Portavadie but warned of “lots of hills”. At first this seemed like a false promise and while there are a few hills in the first six mile stretch the inclines didn’t seem too bad. But then I found out what he meant. Turning on to the country road, the B8003, towards Portavadie the hills grw higher and longer. The leg work was worth the rewards in terms of views, however. I was treated to some of the best views of the Kyles of Bute that I have ever seen. Under a bright sky the water sparkled and the numerous white boats offered a picture postcard view of Scotland’s delightful land and waterscape. The beauty of cycling solo is that you can stop when you choose and take as much time to cycle uphill as you need. Bliss!
The roads in this part of the country are often single track but the majority of car drivers were polite and courteous and so I enjoyed the entire cycle, making cracking time as I went to meet the third ferry, from Portavadie to Tarbert, on the Kintyre Peninsula.
For some reason I had imagined I might come across a delightful cafe or tea shop on my final leg of the bike ride to Lochgilphead. I have no idea why I imagined this and in the event my theory was 100% flawed.
Deciding to cycle the quieter road, the B8024, from West Tarbert, along the western side of the Kintyre Penisnsula (instead of the more straightforward and shorter busier road immediately north) I thought my dwindling water and food supplies would be enough to keep me going… until I found that dreamed of cafe! Perhaps it was the name of a place a way along this road called Kilberry. It just sounded like a place for a cafe! It did have an inn open for lunch from noon til 2pm and evening meals from 6pm…. but no afternoon cups of tea and cakes.
So I nibbled at oatcakes, sipped on juice and then recalled that I had a Smart Gel stuffed in the bottom of a pocket for an emergency just as this. It was around 15 miles into this part of the ride that I could feel myself getting a bit wibbley. So I downed the Berry Flavour Smart Gel (with added Caffeine and Anthocyanin, whatever that might be.) These don’t taste that good and they have a texture that I really didn’t want to dwell on but it was all I had in my reserves and it was a great time to see if these gels really do work. (Thanks to Gear Zone for sending me these emergency supplies.)
Although I was looking for an immediate effect this didn’t happen… but about 20 minutes later I had forgotten that I was running on low energy and so, looking back, it seems likely that the gel gave me enough of a boost to get on with the continually undulating nature of the route. As well as taking too little food supplies, I had also forgotten that I had a group set with gears set up for flat time trialling! This meant I was pushing much harder gears up hills that I would have liked. No wonder I was cycling on near empty!
Ah, but there arrived a cycling miracle! I had stopped for another bite of oatcakes and heard a voice in the distance saying: “Well, she is wearing a red GTC (Glasgow Triathlon Club) top. So I think we might know her…” And along came my two cereal bar knights in shining armour, Almost-Posh Chris and Honey-Lovely Hannah. They were in Lochgilphead ahead of the following day’s Triathlon and had ventured out for a “short” cycle in the opposite direction to me.
They said that I looked a bit weary and immediately produced an Elevenses bar and gave me half of their juice. We chatted for a while and Honey-Lovely Hannah told me all about the route she had planned to cycle back down the peninsula with a short-cut “going somewhere but certainly not all the way to West Tarbert”. (It turns out, as I ‘d thought, that there was no such route and so Almost-Posh Chris and HL Hannah were forced to cycle some 50 miles with only a few bits of food left over after giving me an emergency ration!)
In contrast, the rest of my cycle was a delight. With food and juice on board I polished off a stretch of uphill and then enjoyed a long descent towards the main road to Lochgilphead. Cycling on a smooth road along the edge of Loch Gilp for the final few miles I felt a huge whoosh of pride and joy at my solo day of adventure road cycling.
And the return journey? While it was possible to stay overnight in Lochgilphead and do the cycle in reverse I opted for the kind offer of a lift by car. I’d already sent my overnight kit to the Gilp with HL Hannah in her car and she had agreed to give me a lift home with my bike after the Triathlon the following day. This meant I could cheer on some 30 members of GTC who were competing, and who seemed to win most of the prizes, head off for a lovely run along the canal and arrive home in Glasgow after two days away feeling up-beat and keen to try another Island Hopping By Ferry And Bike route soon.