Cycling in Scotland

scottish cycling
Start as you mean to go on!

Cycling in Scotland

Cycling has never been more popular. I arrived in Scotland with absolutely no idea of what I was letting myself in for. 5 ferries around a few islands – I’m sure I could do that bit I thought, with some cycling in between, what could be so difficult?

I turned up at the bike shop in my tartan mini dress with my handbag and my novel. ‘Is that what you’re wearing? ?’ I was asked. We were at the Bicycle Room in Troon who were lending the bikes to us for the trip.

5 ferries fun!

Cycling in Scotland – the 5 ferries challenge

The 5 ferry challenge is an exciting journey through some of Scotland’s most breathtaking scenery. It incorporates 4 cycle sections and 5 ferry crossings in and around North Kintyre and the Firth of Clyde. However, I had neglected to read the 5 ferries website which stated quite clearly:
“This is not for the starter/novice cyclist – stretching 52 miles with some extremely steep  and arduous climbs.”

On reflection, it was probably a good job I hadn’t read it. Also I was somehow under the impression that my rucksack would be transported for me. If you’ve ever tried to cycle up a four mile 1 in 2 gradient with a rucksack on your back, you will know where I’m coming from..

Scottish CyclingNOT cycling for softies

Scottish Cycling – take your snacks!

My bike from Alan, at the Bicycle Room – was a sleek black model called a San Anselmo Marin. It had lots and lots of gears, which I got the hang of eventually. There was a bit of reorganising of luggage and the handbag and the novel were left at the bike shop.

I consumed the snacks for energy before we left the shop. We took our bikes on the train from Troon to Androssan where the fun was about to begin. Trains in Scotland are quite cycle friendly. You can spot the little bike image on the carriage so you know there will be room for your wheels. The ferries are also cycle friendly with handy parking spots designated.

Cycle friendly trains

Calmac ferries take centre stage

The 5 ferries challenge is 52 miles long divided into 4 stages through some of Scotland’s finest scenery. There are 5 Calmac ferry crossings from island to island along the way.

We actually cycled a lot more than 52 miles as we managed to get lost and were forced tocycle up an extra gruelling hill we didn’t need to.  We also added on a cycle along the coastal route when we got back to the mainland.

You need to get the timing right to do it all in one day. We missed a few of the ferries but luckily there was another one along before too long. We did it in two days which was still quite tough going.

Scotland in September – I kid you not

Scotland at its best

The weather on day one was amazing. Debbie, our host at the St Rules bed and breakfast said it looked we had the best day this year.  We set off in the sunshine on the first ferry across the Firth of Clyde in the from Androssan to Brodick on the isle of Arran.

cycling in scotland
Breakfast at St Rules

The first part of the route along the coast was stunning and flat. We stopped for picture opportunities and to chat to a few artists who were painting coastal scenes. The view could not have looked more like that mouth watering Visit Scotland advert if it tried.

cycling in scotland
Pretty as a picture

The first daunting hill presented itself, and we engaged our thigh muscles for the ascent. Descents were equally interesting. You go downhill so quickly that you need to really have the brakes on all the time. Otherwise you could go spinning off into the heather and the rocks if you lose control. I hung on for dear life and hoped for the best.

scottish cycling
Going down!

Cycling in Scotland – electric is best

One of our three bikes was an electric bike. It was a life saver. An electric bike is exactly what you need if you have very large steep hills to climb. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a mobility scooter or a motorbike. You still have to pedal quite hard but it can take you up those hills in the style of Bradley Wiggins rather than the style of Wee Jimmy Krankie.

Cycling in Scotland
The trusty electric bike

We stopped at the famous Arran distillery in Lochranza. We sampled a ten year old and a fourteen year old single malt, plus some Arran Gold (a bit like Baileys) I’m not a big whisky fan but it tasted great to me.

We had a lunch time snack of cheese and haggis toasties before we set  off for the next ferry from Lochranza to Clonaig. 

scottish cycling
A nice drop o’ whisky

The 5 Ferry Challenge was dreamed up 10 years ago by Paul Grant. The challenge was originally conceived to see if you could cycle a circular route around the west coast of Scotland taking in as much sea and scenery as possible all within one day. The result was the Five Ferry Challenge. Check out the Ayrshire and Arran tourism site for more details about this amazing trip

cycling scotland.
A lovely day for dogs

Check out the second part of this incredible journey here