Every now and again I get some spare time and the complete freedom I need to follow my heart. Guess what it wanted this time? A cycle tour around Arran! With France off-limits, due to the pandemic, Scotland had been calling me for some time. For too long I’d been dithering over booking a tour in the Outer Hebrides (beautiful but incredibly remote), so I found myself drifting towards Arran – Scotland in Miniature – for a bit of escapism and adventure.
Further north than I’d initially thought, the road to Ardrossan wasn’t particularly busy. Looming beyond however, for a good 20-plus mile stretch out of Glasgow, were the seemingly mighty mountains of Arran: both thrilling and intimidating in equal measure.
Leaving my car at the long-stay car park on the departure dock, I gathered my panniers and boarded the waiting Calendonian MacBrayne ferry with my ebike for a mere £8 (the same price as for a foot passenger). It was a clear, hot and sunny day with an almost completely flat sea.
Around 45 minutes later (enough time for a coffee and blast of air on the deck) I arrived in Brodick. With a population smaller than my home village, it’s the only part of Arran where I saw more than a handful of people. As this was technically a rest day, I didn’t stay there long and headed uphill alongside a pine forest towards my accommodation in Lamlash.
The view from my window was incredible and I woke during the night to admire the silvery moon and sky full of stars. I didn’t know then, but I found out later from my mum, that my much-loved aunt Stella had worked at the hotel in her twenties. It’s very special to think that I have followed in her footsteps.
To say I was nervous about the 91 km around-Arran ride that lay ahead would be an understatement. The “perfect” cloudless weather was, frankly, too hot to cycle in. I planned an early start for the following day and spent the evening chilling out in comfort at my hotel.
Waking with the sunrise, I only had my own faffing to delay my departure. The most time-consuming activity was taking all of the other bikes carefully out of the bike shed so I could get to my own (and then putting the others back again). Arran is a cycling mecca of course and one of the only places in the UK where you’re likely to see more bikes than cars.
Having decided to head clockwise, alongside forests and up to the headlands, the southern part of the island is a roller-coaster of ups and downs (and according to blogs I had read, the most challenging part of the route despite Goat Fell in the north). Practically traffic and town-free, it took me two hours to reach Blackwaterfoot for a second breakfast of coffee and cake. Actually… I was getting pretty desperate, but having made the massive mistake of not eating enough on my training ride in the Lake District, I managed a couple of what-my-mum-used-to-call “sick-cakes” (also known as “millionaire short-breads”). Strictly one at a time, you understand?! I still had a long way and time to go (a further 5 and a half hours).
Out of Blackwaterfoot, I great views of the mountains in the interior and glimpses of moorland before the hills of the south then gave way to a road that hugs the north-east coastline. Flagging again, I was happy to reach the Post Office at Pirnmill where I had some locally produced ice-cream and maybe some more chocolate (I can’t remember)! Lochranza was just around the corner… or was it? …The distances between settlements being a bit further than I wanted them to be at the time!
Lochranza was somewhere that I was really looking forward to visiting, having experienced a spiritual connection with the place when I was 16 (well – my friend Fran faking a ghost with a vague “tap-tap-tap” when we stayed in B&B run by a Bates-like landlady and her strange son). Essentially the village and the castle were the same: atmospheric with a stereotypically scenic Scottish castle in the bay giving out a Bond-movie vibe. The cooling mist helped too… though somewhat less exciting was the enormous tourist-destination distillery on the site of the mysterious B&B we had stayed in years ago. Perhaps that decrepit building had disappeared and crumbled away? Maybe it was only a figment of my imagination? Certainly, I didn’t see it or feel it’s creepy vibrations (a tad disappointing).
Back to the cycling… Climbing out of Lochranza on the ebike was an epic climb surrounded by rugged Scottish hills. Despite the long day, it looked like I wasn’t going to out-ride the battery again (yes some of my time on the ebike is spent doing the maths!). I also saw loads of roadies (road cyclists) struggling up the other way who’d be only a third in to their around-Arran day and having done the other two thirds, I was glad I’d left the big climb towards the end of my journey because the multiple mini climbs I’d done earlier were harder, mentally speaking.
Reaching a bit of flat road at Brodick again meant I was just an extra 4 miles away from Lamlash. The last stretch was enough and I ended my circular journey after nearly 7 and half hours… back where I’d started but completely elated. It was TOTALLY AWESOME!!!
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