Sunday, July 24, 2005

Cycle trip to Arran

Today's challenge would be a day spent cycling around the Northern half of the Isle of Arran and the willing participants were myself, Ryan, Ann, Kath and Jim. The Isle of Arran lies of the West coast of Scotland and from my house is a thirty minute train journey to Ardrossan and an hour on the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry to Brodick on the Islands East coast.

For more information on how to travel to Arran go to

Map of Arran

The day got off to a bad start when I woke up at 8.10, thirty minutes after I had set my alarm, so I jumped out of bed and raised Ryan from his coma and we washed and dressed as quickly as possible. We left the house at 8.45 and cycled the short distance to Miliken Park train station and got there seconds before the train arrived. Phew, that's today's hiccup out of the road, nothing else would go wrong, thought I. Little did I know....

As we boarded the train with our bikes, I spotted Ann at the back of the train and Kath at the front. No Jim or Wendy though, then I realised that they must be putting the bike on the bike rack of the car and going directly to Ardrossan and Kath called me a few seconds later to confirm this.

We purchased our tickets and relaxed on the short journey before the rigours of the day ahead and at 9.20 we arrived at Ardrossan Harbour station. As Ryan and I disembarked, Kath came to join us and we turned to see Ann approaching with an evil grin on her face (nothing new there!). She broke the news that Jim was back in Neilston getting his spare bike as the one that he been transporting on the bike rack had fallen off while he was driving and was a right-off!

He had phoned Ann and said that he would try to make it there in time for the ferry departure at 9.45 and knowing Jim Arthur's driving, this was a distinct possibility. So we had no choice but to sit tight and hope that he could make the deadline.

Ann & Ryan, waiting to board the ferry

Ann went to buy the tickets to take our bikes over on the ferry and while she was away I sent Jim a text asking if he was going to make it. The reply came back a couple of minutes later, "only if the ferry is running late!".

At 9.40 we decided that we had better board the ferry as it was almost time for departure and Kath, Ryan and I cycled to the bow of the ferry to load our bikes. The rather sombre ticket man asked me for my tickets and I handed him the ticket for our bikes. "Where's your ticket" he snapped. "I thought I paid you!" I exclaimed having forgotten I was on a ferry, not a train. "Well, you can't get on" he replied, "What?, Are you joking?" I exclaimed, my voice rising several Octaves. I had that sinking feeling which is never a good thing when going on a boat!

The man shook his head, obviously thinking I was a complete idiot (no argument from me) and said that since the wee fella was there he would let me on, but don't let it happen again. I thanked him and climbed onto my bike after removing the tail from between my legs!

We looked up to see where Ann was, only to see her abandoning her bike on the quay and running to the ticket office to purchase a ticket for Jim. Despite us shouting on her, she disappeared and we had no choice but to get into the ferry. We cycled down the ramp and as we turned round the huge door began to close. Kath and I turned to each other in disbelief. Now Ann had missed the ferry too. Things were not going to plan at all, but there was nothing we could do.

We secured the bikes and the three of us climbed the stairs to the main deck. All we could do was look over the side of the boat and wave goodbye to Ann. Just then, we looked over to the gang plank only to see Ann scuttling up with her bike. The staff had stopped letting people on the ferry as it was full but had asked if anyone was on their own and Ann lied through her teeth and was let onboard.

We went to the side of the boat and Ann's phone rang. It was Jim just arriving on the dock with the replacement bike, but by then it was too late. Ann tried to talk him into getting the next ferry over and joining us, but he was too pissed off by then and I can't say that I blame him. Jim returned to his car and as the ferry pulled away from the quay, we watched as he drove away into the distance.

The ferry was absolutely packed and the reason for this became clear as we overheard someone say that there was a round Arran road race. For a minute we assumed it was a race on bikes, but fortunately it was a bunch of nutters jogging round the Island. Rather them than me!

By 10.30 we had arrived in Brodick without any more catastrophies. We let the crowds disperse and had a toilet stop before setting off on our expedition. Ryan was champing at the bit to get going and I wondered if he was going to be as keen in forty miles time. I had a feeling that he wouldn't be! Ann suggested buying my return ticket just now to avoid the crowds later on, and after the debacle on the way over, I agreed.

As we set off Kath informed me that Arran is known as "Scotland in minature" and it is clear to see why, as you could have easily have been in the Trossachs as the scenery was reminescent of Loch Lomond with Goat Fell dominating the landscape for miles around, hills, valleys and small villages. It is a beautiful place.

Ann cycling for "Team Ferrari"

Ann set the pace and was obviously a Woman on a mission as she set off like a woman possessed and I had the feeling that she was feeling a bit maternal as so many things had gone wrong this morning, I think she wanted to get us back in plenty of time to catch the ferry home.

We travelled up the A840, past Corrie and Sannox which had a pony treking club and just beyond that there was a a group emerging from a van fully dressed for a good day's hillwalking. The explorers were part of a team from the Arran Adventure Company, details of which can be found at Suffice to say that there is plenty to see and do when you visit Arran.

We carried on cycling up a lot of steep hills, stopping every so often to catch our breath, but eventually we arrived in Lochranza and decided to stop for lunch. We found the perfect spot, right beside Lochranza Castle and settled down to eat. I had packed ham & cheese rolls, bananas and cherry tomatoes, Ann had her sandwiches, however, Kath had really pushed the boat out and produced a couple of small bottles of red wine, Napoli salami, Cambazola and a host of other tasty treats. I was only too happy to accept the delicacies that she offered me, but of course it was all in the name of reducing the weight of her bags!

Lunch at Lochranza Castle

Ryan imprisoned and not before time!

Ryan at Lochranza Castle

Click here for a clip of Ryan climbing the castle walls.

Ryan, Kath & Ann, stand guard

The main stairway in Lochranza Castle

After we had finished lunch Ryan and I decided to explore the castle which dates back to the 16th Century and I did my best to terrify the life out of him as we climbed through the ruins. I particularly enjoyed when I entered a pitch black room, that had been the prison, and I let out a blood curdling scream. The look on his face was priceless!

By 2.00 we were ready to head off again and we headed towards Catacol. There were some pretty steep hills to negotiate but of course the good thing about that, is descending the other side.

At this point I began to get a little concerned with Ryan's cycling as he was trying his best to keep up with Kath and going a bit too fast for my liking. Despite me telling him several times to slow down a bit he was riding at brake-neck speed at some points, but boys will be boys and I used to do the same when I was a kid.

As we travelled a bit further, we started to decend a particularly steep hill and our speed increased rapidly. This time I would definently have to get Ryan to take it easy so I accelerated so that I could catch up with him and as I looked down at my speedometer I was shocked to find myself freewheeling at 42 mph!

I passed him and began to shout instructions to use his brakes and slow down incase he crashed. I turned round repeatedly to check that he was cycling safely, but in a moment of irony suddenly realised that there was sharp turn ahead and I was not going to make it. I lost control of the bike and aimed for the grass verge to try and have a soft landing. As Ryan cycled passed me I shouted "keep going, I'm fine". But I don't think he was too convinced as I had my bike more or less wrapped around my neck!

Kath takes the lead with Ryan in hot pursuit

Anyway, there was no damage done and we carried on up the B880 without any further disasters and were on the home straight to Brodick at 4.30. Ryan, Kath and I arrived with 39.6 miles clocked up on the mileometer and found a pub where we could have a drink before the ferry departed. Ann arrived 10 minutes later and a round of drinks were purchased.

The four of us just sat and relaxed and enjoyed the scenery which was only spoilt by the large group of holidaymakers being loud and wearing sombreros at the next table and the three lads at the opposite table who had drank so much that one of them fell out of his chair! It just seems like a big shame to come to such a beautiful place and not even remember it because you are blind drunk.

The ferry

By 7.00 the ferry had docked and we finished our drinks and made our way to the front of the queue in order to make sure that we would all get aboard without any problems. As we waited Kath did some Yoga to relax and managed to convince me that I should give it a go, and promised to get a DVD to teach myself how to do it. I am expecting to get the rip taken out of me by Thomas, sometime soon!

Kath relaxes after a hard days cycling

The ferry home was pretty uneventful, but it was such a beautiful night that I spent most of the journey on the main deck with Ryan, enjoying the view. He was thrilled to spot Jellyfish in the water and Cormorants diving in headfirst to catch fish.

Ryan & I

Goat Fell, as seen from the ferry

An hour later and we were approaching Ardrossan. I could see the blades of the wind turbine spinning gently in the breeze and I couldn't help but admire them. Some people think they are a blot on the landscape, but I think they have a strange kind of beauty. I love them.

The wind farm above Ardrossan

We left the ferry and cycled the short distance to the train which was sitting waiting patiently for the ferry to arrive and stowed the bikes away. We all sat together reminicing over the day's events and making some plans for our next trip, but before long it was time for Ryan and I to leave, so we said our goodbyes to Ann and Kath and left them, back where we had started at Miliken Park.

Ryan and I cycled home and made it in just in time for Big Brother. Sweet! Fiona was sitting out the backdoor relaxing and commented that our friends, Susan and Ian were wanting to come up but thought that I would be too tired. Never one to miss the opportunity to have a beer with some friends I phoned them and told them to get their backsides up to the house (but only when Big Brother was finished) and they agreed.

At 10.00 they arrived with their kids and I told them of our adventure and plugged the camera into the television to show them the video clips and pictures. We had a good laugh and the party grew a little bigger when Astrid and Billy from next door popped in to join us at around midnight.

Astrid and Susan

By 1.00 I was starting to feel the pace and I could see that Ryan was too and fortunately it wasn't too long after that, that everyone headed for home. I climbed into bed shortly before 2.00, relaxed, happy, a wee bit drunk and with a bit of a sore bum!

Would I do it all again? Absolutely, but not for a week or two!

A big thanks to Ann for taking the time and trouble to organise the trip and a big thanks to Ann and Kath for being good company. I just wish the rest of the gang could have made it too. Maybe next time,eh?