The Kintyre ride
3 Days – 250 km
I did not have a camera back then, I am afraid. So no pictures from that tour. But click on the button below to open up Google Maps.
Enter "Ardrossan" in the search field & Google Earth for xtra pictures
A tour I had always wanted to do. One of my workmates in 1999 and 2000 had done half of this tour some years before and he told me about vertical hills and absolute nightmare like roads on the way down to Campbeltown on the east side of the Kintyre peninsula. I am always up for a challenge so this really stirred me into action. The weather forecast for the bank holiday on June was very promising so I decided to give this a go. A B & B at Isle of Arran was ordered and I decided to take the afternoon ferry to Isle Of Arran as a springboard to the following two full days on the bike.
Day 1 – 25 km
I set off with a rucksack and my bike to railwaystation in Helensburgh for the forty five minutes train journey up to Glasgow and then the one hour long train journey down to Ardrossan harbour and the corresponding ferry over to
Isle Of Arran . No drama on the train at all for a change. I got on the ferry and the 50 minutes long sailing to
Brodick . It was a Saturday night and I had plenty of time to get up the east coast and over to my B & B hotel near Lochranza. The weather was fine and I was eager to get on with these 25 km on the road. The road up the east coast of Arran past
Corrie is dead flat until until hitting the steep hillclimb at Sannox which took me over to Lochranza . This climb topped out at 200 meters above sea level and was/still is vertical at places. But it was not that bad that night (never is... I am a fan of this climb). I cycled past Lochranza, the ferry port and further a couple of kilometers down the west coast down to the overnight stay at Catacol Hotel at
It is a small hotel with a pub in the groundfloor. I got a room in the first floor with a good view over the sound to the Kintyre peninsula and the road that awaited me the day after. I got a pint of Arran Blonde and then went to sleep in my room while a folk music artist enterained the other guests at the pub. I had some hellish hard roads to negotiate the day after.....
Day 2 – 90 km
After a good night sleep, I woke up and got myself a proper Scottish Breakfast down in the pub, paid up and went up the road early that morning to Lochranza again for the ferry to Claonaig. There was some other cyclists there too, but they were all going for the Islay ferry (as I did in 2009, btw). After waiting for the ferry to arrive from Claonaig, we bordered the ferry and the half an hour tour over to Claonaig on the
. The weather was fine and there was hardly any waves on this pretty exposed fjord. I have been here in far worse weather too so I should know. We arrived at Claonaig and I bade my farewell to the other cyclists at the crossroad some hundred meters past the ferry port. I took the B842 road, which is designated at the cycle route 78 by the Systrans cycle network. I was a bit amazed by this (still is !!) and them putting up a cycling route on this very remote coast line.
The road started with a sharp vertical climb up past a farmfield and then the very narrow road went gently along it. The views over to Isle Of Arran was fantastic and the views would remain fantastic throughout the full almost 50 km of bikeriding down to Campbeltown. Which was a saving grace and what kept my spirits up. The first kilometers was reasonable gentle. But the road became pretty undulating after that. The sharp bends and not so tempting bushes and drops in all directions did not tempt me to become careless. The narrow road did not leave any margin for error. The cycling was hard down and over a rather big hill down to the crossroad at Carradale.
I did not bother go down to this village which I have heard is very pretty. I continued on my way down the east coast of Kintyre. The road down to Carradale was hard. But it was nothing compared to the hellish nature of the Carradale to Campbeltown road. It is the hardest road I have ever done on a bike. And that says a lot. The 50 km from Claonaig to Campbeltown is indeed regarded as the hardest cycling road in United Kingdom.
This hellish hard bikeride started a couple of meters after this crossroad with a very steep climb on a zig zag road. It continued like this past Kildonan Dun and the caravan park at Peninver to just after rounding the corner in the small loch to Campbeltown itself. 25 km of unrelenting climbs and descent with hardly a single meter of flat tarmac inbetween. The climbs was vertical. The descents hairy and very dangerous. Both my brain and my body was aching like it has never done before or later when arriving in
Campeltown . I found a pub and got a good meal there after completing the hardest road in United Kingdom. Something I am still pretty proud of...
After the meal, I visited the tourist information down at the harbour and ordered a B & B hotel room up the road at Clachan, 40 km up the road. I had a look at this very remoted located town. A very nice town though. After the touristy part, I took the A 83 road over the Kintyre peninsula. Not the most interesting bikeride. But I got my reward on the descent down to the west coast of Kintyre.
My jaw dropped down to the floor. The views was truly fantastic and some of the most spectacular views in the whole of Scotland. Behind me down to the left; Mull of Kintyre and Straight ahead of me, a flat road and Northern Ireland. A dead flat road, Isle Of Islay and the Paps Of Jura was straight in my face. I did now know where to turn my head. The road was dead flat and I had the wind in my back too which carried me along a rocky coastline. Fantastic. Absolute fantastic. It is one of my best ever experiences on a bike. The whole rid up this very wild and rocky coastline was mostly dead flat and the total opposite of the east coast. We are talking fundamental opposites here. There was hardly any traffic on this very good road too and I enjoyed myself like I have never done before on a bike. A pretty big hill at Glenbarr did not dampen my spirits at all. The views was truly fantastic and I loved every minute of it. The descent down to the flat road at the coastline was pretty gentle. I continued up the coast line while racing the Gigha ferry which was making it's way to Tayinloan with hardly any effort. I cannot remember if I or the ferry won the race. The Tayinloan Hotel had closed down a year ago, but the owner had forgotten to turn of the alarm. An alarm blasting off. Very annoying for the hardy souls living in that village. I went down to the ferry to have a look before I left Tayinloan and set off up the west coast again. I spotted the
Islay ferry in the far distance passing Gigha on it's way to Kennacraig. Another race followed. I hit a pretty big hill some kilometers up the road and the ferry did not so I think it is fair to say I lost that one. A descent to the sea followed again before the final kilometers up the flat coast line took me up to the foot of the climb up to Clachan and the B & B hotel called
Balinakill Country House. A very posh castle it seemed and I was afraid I was going to bankrupt myself there on the prices. But the price was OK and I spent the night resting in some opulent hotelroom and bed after one of the most memorable days I have ever had on a bike.
Day 3 – 125 km
I woke up the next day to a another quality Scottish Breakfast again. I bode my farewell to the young pair who owned this hotel. To my knowledge, this is no longer a B & B hotel so that was my only chance in my life to stay in this posh castle.
I set off up the small valley to the top of the hill between Clachan and Kenacraig. A very steady and long climb. The descent down to the Tarbert and Claonaig crossroad was pretty good. I visited the ferry port where there was no ferry and not a single human being. The next ferry was due three hours later and Kennacraig is not a tourist destination. I set off again up the road towards Tarbert. A pretty undulating road. I reached the end of West Tarbert Loch and the small hill which took me over to Tarbert . I turned off the road and down to the ferry port for the ferry over to Portavadie. I reached the ferry when it was just arriving and went on board for the 20 minutes long sailing over Loch Fyne to this remote ferry port called Portavadie.
The road from this port was vertical steep for some hundred meters before it became flat to the final, vertical climb up to a moor and a forest. It went into a vertical descent to the crossroad at Millhouse. I took the B8000 to the left from there up a pretty good road over some farmfields into an old forest and some newer forest. A lot of climbing in dense forest followed before the road went into a vertical descent to Kilfinan Hotel . I decided that this was a nice place for a lunch and I got myself a nice lunch there. The road over to Otter Ferry started with a vertical climb to a moor and a forest before it descended vertically down to Otter Ferry at Loch Fyne. The remote B road from Millhouse to Otter Ferry is pretty unknown and with some good reasons. It is pretty dull to be honest. But I had read somewhere that the road from Otter Ferry to Strachur was very good. After cycling it, I disagree. It was a pretty dull road alongside Loch Fyne with a pretty nasty and boring climb up to the mainroad A886 at the end. I rolled in to Strachur in a pretty foul mood.
The final part of this tour took me alongside Loch Fyne on the flat road to St Catherine and the small shop there, where I stocked up with some drink before tackling Rest And Be Thankful. A pretty boring climb it was too. I don't like climbing Rest And The Thankful from this side due to the dull nature of the bikeriding. My tempo dropped a lot and I was not too happy. I was very relieved to top out on this mountain pass and to descend down to Arrochar at Loch Long again. The road now took me along Loch Long to the steep hillclimb at the naval base over to Garelochhead. My temp increased a lot because this was far more interesting bikeriding. I could also see the end of this bikeride and it duly appeared when I rounded a bend at Rhu and could see my beloved
Helensburgh again. I was so excausted that it took me ten minutes before I could collect myself again and climb the stairs up to my flat in the second floor. A very hard day on the bike was over.
The main part of this ride is an excellent ride on roads not often visited by bikeriders. The ride over Arran and around Kintyre is excellent. The ride from Tarbert and back again is not a ride I will repeat again. The ride from Strachur to Arrochar is too boring for my liking. I am planning to do this ride again as soon as possible. But then only to Otter Ferry and then the return over the hill to Glendruel and possible over to Dunoon or Rothesay again. That is an excellent ride and highly recommended.