5 Ferries Spring

This weekend seem to go past quite quickly. Saturday morning I was up early to get the first train from Glasgow down to the ferry at Ardrossan.

 Getting tickets i was advised that I MAY NOT get on the ferry it was that full.  I hurried to join the queue going onto the ferry and I was greeted by possibly 60 to 70 other cyclists also enjoying the good weather we’ve been having and planning either a circuit of Arran or a loop of some sort.

As I strap my bike to the side of the hold I have a tap on the shoulder to turn round to see my friend stuart who is dragging some friends around on the charity ride –  he was also doing the five ferry challenge.

I did this ride last September at that time I was on my steel Mercian touring bike this time I had my Ti bride with me Lynskey Cooper – today was going to be quicker

First off I wasn’t sure if it would make the 2nd ferry which leaves from the Lochranza and goes across to the Argyll peninsula 11:50am so I bomb off head down I arrived with time to kill as ferry is only 12:05. Had a chance to see a campervan a large Winnebago type trying to exit the ferry and scraping half of the tail off on the ramp.

Stuart and the rest of his colleagues had caught up at this time so we all joined the 2nd ferry together. On the other side I noticed that one of his colleagues had his saddle about 3 inches too low – hideous leg angle and I was worried about the knee pain that he was sure to have a week later so I just had to adjust his saddle for him. We then proceeded to catch up the rest who were a stint up the road.

The weather was pretty incredible (for Scotland at least) 9-15C –  it seemed to be a type S europe enjoy for most of the year but for us it was rare I stayed with the group for all of the ferries and all the chat. Fore some uphills and sections I would occasionally shoot off ahead just to burn off some steam or to stay warm.

Sad it is over 

 By the time I got back to Glasgow it was evening but what a great day out on the bike.

The 5 ferry route – what is all the fuss

Friday morning, I look at the forecast and it looks good for the weekend. I decide to do the 5 ferry challenge and take the touring bike with panniers and spare just in case the scottish fine weather also includes hail, snow, sleet and pouring rain as it is want to do.

Friday evening and a few too many whiskies whilst listening to my new valve amps …. so Saturday 7am blurry eyed I wake and zip into town to get tickets and the 8:30am train from Glasgow to Ardrossan. There is comic con in town so lots of weird and wonderful kids (and kidults) in costume are everywhere.5 ferries bike ride-2 5 ferries bike ride-3

long weekend and on this Saturday morning everyone with a bicycle is getting squeezed onto the Ardrossan ferry for the sailing to the island of Arran. I have done trips to Arran many times and have never seen anything like it. There is carbon and ti bike porn everywhere, skinny tyres and portly riders in a long snake pushing onto the vessel.

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Breakfast on the ferry is a custom so despite only cycling 5km so far – I have to partake.

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Up the east coast – its 19 miles to Loch Ranza but its slow going as I stop about 5 times to take pics – letting the portly 3 musketeers overtake me 3 times and then i catch up again.

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The road throws in one fairly stiff climb before the descent into Lochranza. Quick photo and i just make ferry number two.

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We climb and then drop down to work our way up the coast road to Tarbert. It has a busy harbour fringed by tourist shops, cafes and bars we miss this ferry by 3 minutes and see the ferry pulling out so I head back with 2 other roadies to a cafe for soup …

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The ferry takes us across Loch Fyne to Portavadie and another climb. There are stiff little grunting climbs, but the views are wonderful.

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Over on ferry number four to the small island of Bute for quite an easy section of riding. This is a good thing as my legs are shot. In Rothesay I admire the loos as I have been here a few times on the yacht … but I don’t need to pay to spend the proverbial penny this time …

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Boat then train home – a very quick steak then out to the pub with a pal and a perfect excuse for 4 pints

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Me arse !!!!! – a weekend on the bike

saturday 5am and the alarm goes off – up pick up some others then drive down to to ardrossan to get the 7am ferry to Arran.

Great ride but suffered from lunch onwards as my legs were shot – 120km nice

Today was easier went up to Loch Katrine with the lady for a jaunt down the lake – stop for lunch – then ride back. No Lycra no helmet 

Great day great weekend

Saturday Ride – or why I didn’t leave the flat today.

yesterday decided to go down and get the ferry across to the Isle of Arran and do the circle route around it. Looked at the weather and initially it seems to show the weather as being fine with 5 degrees C temp. But this being Scotland you have to be prepared so I had rain cape in my jersey pocket and velcro bootie covers on.

on the ferry I checked the weather again and it said the wind was up to 20mph from the north west so decided a anti-clockwise route was on the cards – that way I would have the wind on my quarter for the west side of the island.

stormy 'changeable' weather
stormy ‘changeable’ weather

Straight off the ferry and the wind came up and the ice and sleet descended. Sheltered behind a rock for a while – luckily the weather arrived horizontally and I stayed pretty dry PRETTYDRYno1

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then up the road to Loch Ranza – but I had to stop to take some photos of Goatfell and the other hills still beautifully snowcapped.

selfie wrapped up
selfie wrapped up
panorama – click to see larger
that road in detail - sweet
that road in detail – sweet

The descent to Lochranza was a bit cautious as the road was pretty wet still. The west side of the island was then baked in sun but the wind had swung more west so no tailwind for me.

Stopped at the great Machrie tea room (this place is mobbed by cyclists on nice summer days) for a bowl of soup as a toast. Missed squall 2 here PRETTYDRYno2. Today there was only two of us cyclists in  – an older lady from the ferry on a touring bike that was doing a shorter jaunt.

post soup  yumm
post soup yumm

Then further down to Blackwaterfoot – but by now there were squalls crossing the sea every 15min and bringing with them sleet,snow,driving rain and wind.

here comes another squall
here comes another squall

Luckily I made it to Blackwaterfoot just as one hit and took shelter in a bus station – no the chair wasn’t mine – just something a kind local had left in there. PRETTYDRYno3

waiting it out
waiting it out

Then with 11 miles to Brodick and time running out before the ferry I decided to cross the centre of the island up the String road. About 1/3rd of the way i was trying hard to stay ahead of the next squall and as i hit the most desolate section armageddon arrived. I kept going as the thin trees wouldn’t give any shelter. The descent was icy hands blurred vision and failing light.

Arrived in Brodick drenched brushing bits of ice off me.

Quick change – warmed up then got the ferry back to the mainland – and oh how the beer tasted good.

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On strava I seem to have some best sections for 2015 and that includes stopping – not because I was fast rather because the season has yet to start properly.

strava summary
strava summary

Cycle around Arran – fekkin brilliant

Arran route and elevation profile

Sunday morning and the day breaks just as the weather app told me it would … bright but cold. So a quick dress and a scoffing down of some raw oats and I cycle down to the station to get the train that connects to the ferry to Brodick on the Isle of Arran. Arran is a bit of a mecca for cyclists, walkers, twitchers and climbers. This being a bank holiday it was busier than normal with about 30 bikes on the early ferry crossing over.
Last time I came down here I was very tired and slept most of the way on the train … but this time was bushy tailed and felt that the journey was a tad long. The problem with having only the space in my back pockets for things, so alas no reading material.
Departing the ferry it is a simple case of hang a left and keep the sea on that side of you for a clockwise circuit of the island.
Some cyclists opt for the road straight over the hill to Blackwaterfoot but I opted for the slightly longer route that takes you past Holy Isle.


onwards pushing to the south looking at some menacing clouds on the Kintyre peninsula that never came my way until I got to Blackwaterfoot and caught up with some of those cyclists that had taken the shorter route. The roads on Arran are a mixed affair … some sections including the extra south loop are actually pretty crappy in places.


Up the west coast is great – generally the wind is from the west or SW so this section is pretty quick – cruised up here at close to 30km/h.

The next good place to stop os Lochranza for a pic of the castle / a bite to eat / a trip to distillery or perhaps all 3 …. I did the castle as i wasn’t really hungry despite it being 2pm so started the climb out of Lochranza …. this is a pretty nice climb – I was in my lowest gear for the bottom but then was able to shift up a gear or two as the incline lessened and the two riders in front egged me on to passing mode.
Over the top the section os very rough then suddenly ‘sublime city’ there is brand new tarmac and the loveliest of sweeping descents that is buttery smooth and allows you to really fly … I hit 64.3kmh on this section which was very sweet …. not sure of the incline degrees but probably could only get a tad more next time. Not quite as steep as the one hill I hit in Shetland on the steel pinarello ….
then finally into brodick after 90km and 3h28? (26kmh average so something to aim for on my next attempt.)
I had missed the 2pm ferry so went to Bilsland the outdoor shop and sat down and ate a massive steak pie … the things that become fantastic after burning 2000+ calories (2239 according to Polar and 3000 on the Garmin)
Then the ferry home chatting to a lovely man who at 74 was burning around on his Flying Scot.


A trip to Arran

Arran Jolly on a bike

With an imminent work trip to the Middle East trip scheduled, I said goodbye to the lovely lady and the kids who were headed north to Shetland for a holiday. Mmmm a few days before I go so I could either work on the showreel, go kitesurfing with Ed or go for a bike ride or two.
Jolene was on the ferry already when she texted to say that Tom was going walking and camping on Arran for a few days. His wife and kid were also on the ferry so it was a case of 2 dads banishing the boredom.

So a plan was hatched catch the 8:40am train from Glasgow to ardossan, get the ferry to Arran and then head north to try and find Tom. Now the thing about Tom is that he is low maintenance – happy to rough it, happy to exercise, happy to change plans. Now there is the rub that he might change his mind and campsite and he doesn’t use a mobile phone so the chances of tracking him down are slim.

Well he is planning to climb Goatfell and the only campsite is in the north of arran at lochranza right opposite the Arran malt distillery…. The distillery was the last bit of temptation I needed and hastily packed. I thought that I didn’t find him I could catch the last ferry home at 8pm after a nice 100km cycle, but if I did find him there was the matter of camping … He had a small tent so should I carry a sleeping bag and try squeeze in to his tent. ‘Mmmm no’ so plan b was hatched that if I found him I would also try get a room nearby and just go out for a drink or two. Arran is also home to the Arran brewery with some very fine ales but more on that later.

Bike on the Train

So up and packing I realised the time was going past a bit quickly – no time to change the flats over to clipless pedals. I sped out the house down to the station and bought a ticket with just 40 secs to spare .. Whew a bit close that was a bit stupid as the next train was an hour away. This train is great gets you to the harbour (ardrossan) with enough time to wander over to ferry terminal and buy ticket (subsequently found out you can actually buy a joint rail ferry ticket at the train station)

On the Ferry and the sun is out

The ferry was fine – loads of French schoolkids and more than a few day-trippers and road cyclists.
Headed north on the road to Lochranza and it was mighty fine. I was on my Klein singlespeed geared 32:14 cruising nicely at 22-25km/h with a camelbak HAWG stuffed to the gills mainly with raincoat and spares for the morning. After 25ish min the road suddenly goes uphill which is all fair but on the singlespeed it felt a bit brutal at times.

the hill for a heart rate hike

Had to stand and stomp pushing so hard that I saw the handlebar flexing. One roadie passed me spinning happily as I neared the top. Over the top the descent back 200m to sea level. Great to blast down this but road surface pretty crappy so glad now not to be on roadbike bu rather my schwalbe big apples (I think they are 1.5 or 1.75).

Got down to Lochranza looked at the castle and the little keelboats marooned at low tide…

Lochranza castle

Then carried on to find the campsite. ‘you’ve already passed it mate… ‘ so spun back to try locate Tom. ‘yes there is a tall blond chap here .. And yes he does look Norwegian’ so penned a note which the site manager promised to give him then hopeful for accomodation went to the Lochranza hotel. £55 they wanted from me as only a family room left – that was taking the piss so took a number and decided to try my luck further along.
2 miles on came to catacol hotel ….

not the key to paradise

– basic but clean and let’s face it I would be wearing the same cycling shorts tomorrow.

Left the heavier items from the bag (great I packed a shock pump for an adventure on a rigid bike) then carried on down the west coast of Arran. No midges to worry about and cycled on the road as some paddle boat steamed up the coast.

Dead quiet spot for lunch

Stopped for a bite then headed back to hotel for shower but was in such a daze I cycled straight back into Lochranza – divine providence and ended up at the distillery having a mosey and buying a small bottle of malt didn’t want to carry a litre bottle with me back to the ferry.

Whisky Galore

Got back to hotel had a shower (no en-suite here) then read for a while before heading back to campsite in Lochranza to hunt down Tom.
Was having a bite to eat when ‘woops there he goes’. Heckled him from the door and he seemed hugely surprised. He quickly dropped his kit bit on discovering the crap choice of beer at the local bar/ hotel we proceeded around the corner to my hotel where we had 2,3,4,5,6 err 7 pints of Arran brewery (can’t even remember which one – not Arran blond, dark or witch on) played a few rounds of pool – Tom is even worse at pool than me which is pretty funny.
‘meet you at 7:15am’ for that was when we would meet to cycle back over that hill and to the ferry.

geared up ready to go

The next morning it was howling and pissing down.

Cant see howling wind and rain in the photo

Met up at campsite then headed off to ferry – the Lochranza hill from the north wasn’t so bad – the misery of the rain and wind was quite funny. Over the top and Tom was a few hundred metres behind so decided to wait at the bottom where there was some tree cover .. Tried to coast but the wind was bringing me to a halt (on a downhill) but once on the steep bit I tucked down and tried to get a good speed.
Once down and Tom had caught up came up with a plan to slipstream north… I told him to call speed he was happy with and I would do it and take the wind … He was dealing with panniers, a tent all on a heavy kona smoke bike.
Pretty coast road then ferry and train back to Glasgow …

Tom looking tired

Tom was looking a bit tired after his Munro climb (or corbett) double bike adventures and said he was going home to sleep. I had football that night but that’s another painful tale to tell……..