Cycling and Scotland are both things that I love. Encouraged by my daughter we decided to do the Five Ferries challenge – a cycling route around the Scottish islands linked by CalMac ferry routes.
Mode Stage Time Distance Cycle Weymss Bay – Adrossan 07 35 – 09 30 19 miles Ferry Ardrossan – Brodick 09 45 – 10 40 Cycle Brodick – Lochranza – 10 50 -12 00 14 miles Ferry Lochranza- Claonig 12 00 – 12 30 Cycle Claonig – Tarbert 12 30 – 14 15 10 miles Ferry Tarbert – Portavadie 14 15 -14 40 Cycle Portavadie – Colintraive 14 40 – 1700 19 miles Ferry Colintraive – Rhubbodach 17 00 -1705 Cycle Rhubbodach – Rothesay 17 05 – 17 40 8 miles Ferry Rothesay – Weymss Bay 18 15 – 18 50
We left home at 6.30am after a very Scottish breakfast of porridge and drove down to Weymss Bay.
Driving down in the car nerves were getting the best of me and was glad to get my feet in the pedals and underway. We cycled the first leg to Adrossan, 19 miles, in balmy sunshine.
Half a mile out from the Adrossan ferry terminal there was a dramatic bang and my back tyre immediately deflated. A quick inspection revealed that the inner tube was not protected by the rim tape and a new tube was required. Rachel cycled to the corner shop and bought insulation tape, to repair the rim tape, another bicycle repair kit and a sewing kit as they contained scissors she said, just in case……. I fixed the puncture and we cycled off to the ferry in search of a fellow cyclist with a better pump. Rachel had insisted in taking her pump which she had assured me was so much better than mine, not so it would have had trouble blowing out a candle.
I managed to find 5 guys who were also cycling the five ferries with a fabulous pump who immediately volunteered to pump the tyre up for me as well. We boarded the first ferry, disaster averted, breathing a sigh of relief to have made it and picked up the pre-booked tickets.
On arrival in Brodick (and every other ferry port), the cars leave first and then the cyclists are allowed off. We were at the head of the bike disembarkation queue as we knew we had to really press hard. This is the tightest part of the challenge and whilst it is only 14 miles to Lochranza, there is a huge hill and you only have 70 minutes before the ferry departs.
We made it with 10 minutes to spare and the predicted band of rain rolls in to greet us. The guys with the pump arrived at the ferry with only few minutes to spare.
Lochranza to Claonig ferry – The parking lanes seem to be ignored by some tourists so we are squeezed on to the ferry, wherever we can fit. Fortunately we are under some shelter. When we disembark at Claonig the rain has stopped, and our legs have seized. There is no time pressure and there is much talk of long lunch at Tarbert. We pass the Islay and Gigha ferries en route to Tarbert prompting much discussion that we could do this challenge again and cover more ferries!
The luxury of a 45 minute break in Tarbert goes slightly to our head and we stock up with pancakes and Ribena at the Co-operative and then go for lunch. As we are eating our toasties we see our fellow cyclists (with the pump) cycling to the ferry which is in 10 minutes. Regretting ordering large coffees, we drink as much we can while quickly getting dressed for the rain, did I mention that it was raining again?, then it’s out to the bikes and on to the ferry.
As we sail from Tarbert to Portavadie, the rain becomes really heavy and for the first time today the cyclists on the ferry outnumber the cars. The heavy rain creates camaraderie and we swap “rainy weather stories” with our 5 fellow cyclists.
As ever when the weather is bad you question why you are doing this and where you would rather be at this point of the day and as we disembark at Portavadie the rain gods must have heard us and decided to truly make our day. The rain was hosing down and we team up with the famous five to work as a group, towards Colintraive. Their banter and the fact that I had company to ride over all the hills, help boost morale. The pancakes from the Co-op are a hit and provide much needed energy for this rather damp leg of the challenge.
After a hilly and wet 19 miles, we eventually reach Colintraive. The ferry is in but there were no staff on board prompting much speculation that the captain was:
b) Checking the charts for the 5 minute ferry ride or;
c) Both a and b.
Eventually the Captain appears and we are allowed aboard, we all enjoy the sit down for 5 minutes and try to get warm after getting quite cold whilst waiting.
It’s the last leg of the day, Rhubbodach to Rothesay, and it’s flat! It felt like we were on a leg of the Tour De France as we all cycled along in a group. Rachel and Chris, the fastest of the five, were at the front. It had been funny to watch the two of them on route as Chris (as described by his fellow cyclists) is very competitive and would try and beat Rachel up the hills. He was in good company though as Rachel is also extremely competitive but alas for Chris 15 years younger.
Rothesay is in sight and rounding the corner, we see the ferry terminal. Once we reach the terminal, we decide to refuel with a cup of tea and half a mars bar and then with the warmth of the waiting room it does the trick. More fuel was required on the ferry and we head straight to the bar for a celebratory glass of Rosé.
As we disembark at Weymss Bay, waving good-bye to our companions, their earlier fighting talk on the Portavadie – Colintraive stage that they were going to cycle home abated. We rode off to the car park, I was so glad that we decided to take the car down, rather than the train and that we had dry, warm, clothes to change into . Once changed and packed up Rachel and I took time to congratulate ourselves on 71 miles well done. 19 miles more than our companions….
So my top tips for this trip, if you are mad enough to do it are:
ü Be prepared for all types of weather as it is Scotland waterproofs and your sun cream SPF 30.
ü Pre book your tickets – Hopscotch 4 and 5 – £20.10 are the tickets you will need.
ü There is no strict definition of 5 ferries challenge. Starting and ending in the same point would be my definition
ü Take plenty of food. The Co-operative in Tarbert is a good mid-way point but failing that unless you are an expert forager, complex carbohydrates are not easy to come by.
Five Ferries (featured image) courtesy of the Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice charity.
- Posted by Trisha Harvey
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