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Virtual Lands End to John O'Groats .... Week 6

Saturday 2 May. Patna- Lochranza 43 miles. Total 638 miles

From Patna, it is easy cycling across to Ayr, on the west coast of Scotland. Ayr has an affluent town centre, and local industry is centred around tourism (birthplace of Robert Burns), golf and Prestwick airport. The route from Ayr wends its way up to Troon via idyllic cycle paths across the local golf courses.

After Troon, we returned to riding the roads, because the cycle path, idyllic though it was, ended up meandering and increasing the distance. We were on a time limit to arrive at Ardrossan in time for the ferry departure to Arran.

The ferry crossing to Brodick, on the Isle of Arran, takes only an hour, and does one return journey in the morning and another in the afternoon. Current prices are £4 single for passengers, and bikes go free. On arrival at Brodick, the motorised traffic is allowed off first, which means for cyclists, the roads are clear and easy to ride. From Brodick the route turns right to follow the coastline. The terrain is flat and goes through Corrie and Sannox , which are incredibly picturesque villages, before starting to climb – a 3% incline increasing to 13%!

The last 4 miles hammer downhill to the campsite at Lochranza. The campsite was populated with a lot of young stags and hinds wandering about munching the grass, which made me hope they were not in the habit of wandering over tents in the middle of the night. When we walked down to the ferry on the north end of the island to buy tickets for the following day, we noticed 6’ high wire fences around the local gardens, so it appears the deer are used to roaming at will and are unwelcome garden visitors. There were birdwatchers in one of the caravans, who told us there were golden eagles nesting on the northwest side of the mountain on Arran and they had seen them flying.

Monday 4 May. Lochranza -Kilmartin 37 miles. Total 675 miles

Waking up in the tent was fine, but going to the shower block involved being attacked by midges – necessitating a very quick exit from the tent, and an attempt to keep all flesh covered. A speedy pedal down to the ferry meant the midges were not able to keep up with us, and then we waited in the most windy spot at the slipway, so they did not alight on us.

This ferry, from Lochranza to the mainland peninsula at Claonaig, runs about 10 times a day, costs £3.10 single, cycles are free and only takes half an hour. From the ferry, the ride started with a climb up from the harbour. This route took us across the peninsula to Kennacraig, then north to Tarbert. There are several places called Tarbert in Scotland, as it means ‘boat drag’ from the Gaelic. Apparently a Scottish King from ancient times, agreed to give authority to a Norwegian king, over all the isles around which the Norwegian King could sail his boat. So, the Norwegian king sailed his boat around the Mull of Kintyre isthmus, then stood at the prow while his men dragged the boat over the hill from Tarbert to the other side, thereby gaining kingship over these lands. Notably there are several places called Tarbert (Loch Fyne, Loch Lomond, and Harris at least), each located at a narrow waist of land which links two bigger areas

From Tarbert, the route heads up to Lochgilphead where we came across the Crinan canal and discovered that it runs parallel to the silted up top of the loch for a couple of miles before entering the loch where it is deep enough. The canal was built to shorten the journey for boats from Crinan to Lochgilphead. The alternative is a 120 mile route around the Mull of Kintyre. While we were there, some boats went through the last couple of locks at the Lochgilphead end of the canal. Jim assisted the sailing crew to push the gates open and closed. 

Thursday 7 May. Kilmartin – Benderloch 38 miles. Total 713 miles

This route varies between flat riding along the coast, with some sharp ascents over the passes. Although the ride is on A roads, it is fairly quiet until Oban is reached. Oban, known as the Gateway to the Isles, is sited on a perfect horseshoe shaped bay. Oban means The Little Bay, coming from the gaelic An t-Òban. Scottish whisky distilleries are sited where there is a good water supply and the two stills of the Oban Distillery with their subsequent need for workers, led to the town growing up around it. Another key form of employment is the Calmac ferry terminal, which encourages tourism to Oban and the Scottish islands. Jim and I have found the captains on the smaller ferries to be particularly helpful. One time when we were on a 20 minute crossing, Jim’s bike punctured just as we boarded the boat, on a cold, blustery day, and Jim was not sure he could get it fixed during the crossing. So the captain suggested we cross on the ferry 3 times, so Jim could change the inner tube, in the warmth of the cabin, with no time pressures. Another example of the kindness of strangers.

From Oban there is a Sustrans route towards Fort William. Unfortunately, although it is a beautiful green woodland cycleway, is very circuitous, and Jim and I soon returned to the roads.

Soon before the end of this day’s ride, the route ascends up to Connel bridge over Loch Etive. Then it is just a few miles to Benderloch. This village name means mountain between two lochs and has a campsite, with a very helpful village shop ‘the pink shop’.

Sixth week of virtual end-to-end completed. Roads in Scotland are idyllic for cycling. In reality, all my cycling has meant I’ve dropped a dress size (but only 1lb in weight!).


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