In 2008 we decided to ride the Southern Hebrides which encompass the lower part of the Inner Hebrides and Argyll. We had been to the Isle of Arran a few years earlier, with friends, but had never really experienced some of the other Southern Hebrides such as Islay (the home of peaty Single Malt), Jura or the Mull of Kintyre.
We contacted our old friends Phil and Krystyna to see if they fancied the ride. We met up with them at their house in Thornton Dale North Yorkshire to go through what we had in mind. Krys was adamant that she was not going to camp, which was disappointing as from our perspective half the fun of touring the Southern Hebrides or the Outer Isles is the wild camping. So with that negative thought firmly embedded we set about planning our itinerary.
We would be arriving from two very separate parts of the country, we from Inverurie and they from North Yorkshire. After much deliberation we decided that the best starting point for our Southern Hebrides ride would be Ardrossen on the Argyll coast. We could leave the cars at the Ferry Terminal. CalMac only charge a nominal fee for this and it was more economical and convenient than catching the train.
The Southern Hebrides route would take us to the Isle of Arran, across its centre and up its west coast to Lochranza. There would then be a short ferry crossing over to the east coast of the Mull of Kintyre. After a pleasant ride around the peninsular we would take the ferry to the Isle of Islay followed by a quick hop, onwards to Jura. Following a couple of days on Jura we would return to Islay and eventually back to the Mull of Kintyre. From Tarbert at the top end of the Mull we would have a short crossing over the lower stretches of Loch Fyne to Portavadie. From here we would ride across the peninsular to Colintrave, over the narrow waterway to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute, before returning to Wemyss Bay on the mainland and back to Ardrossen to collect the cars.
We used various sources of information for our Southern Hebrides tour, but found
Gilbert Summers' web site Must-See-Scotland particularly helpful.
Our ride descriptions give an account of the ride that we completed. As part of the description we also provide links to Wikiloc or Google maps and elevation profiles based on mapping data available through the internet. The ride profiles are smoothed to give what in our opinion is a more beneficial view of the profile. We use paper maps, GPS and on line data to plan and conduct our rides. We are happy for you to use our descriptions, but be aware that we do not guarantee the accuracy of the information provided as situations surrounding any ride change over time.
Southern Hebrides - Ardrossan to Lamlash, Isle of Arran Ride Profile
The above profile only reflects the ride from Brodick to Lamlash
Our Southern Hebrides tour started from Ardrossen on the 3:15 ferry, arriving in Brodick just 45 minutes later. We took a short and leisurely ride down the A841 coast road to the lovely Lamlash Bay that looks across the Holy Island. The Island is now used as a retreat for Buddhist monks and nuns. Lamlash is the largest settlement on the island and one of the prettiest. The Bay is a haven for small boats and yachts and there were many of them sailing around whilst we were there.
We had pre-booked at the Aldersyde Bunkhouse. It doesn't seem to have its own web site anymore but we found details here. The place had seen better days and was fairly basic, but the sheets and toilets were clean and the welcome was warm and genuine. After a walk around the bay (which doesn't take long) we eventually returned to the local pub next to the Bunkhouse, which also served as an Indian restaurant. Not quite the unique Southern Hebrides cuisine that we were expecting, but the beer and poppadums kept coming and we had a good night.
Southern Hebrides - Lamlash to Lochranza, Isle of Arran Ride Profile
The next day of our Southern Hebrides tour gave us our first ride of any distance. All of us were out of condition having not ridden for several months prior to this tour. The climb out of Lamlash is a long stretch of a hill, but a beautiful ride, especially as you get to the top and then continue on along a plateau making up a broad flat valley called Glen Scorrodale that eventually descends towards the sea on the other side of the island at Sliddery.
From there we cycled up the coast taking a welcome break at the Blackwater Foot Lodge for lunch, as the heavens opened.
As we finished our lunch and just on cue the rain stopped and we continued on our journey. From here, the road runs next to the sea and it is an easy and scenic ride with views across the sea towards the Mull.
Lochranza Youth Hostel where we were made to feel most welcome. I understand the hostel has now been renovated since our visit. After drying out we took a taxi back to the Catacol Bay Hotel for dinner.
As we ate we listened to a group of local musicians playing traditional Southern Hebrides folk music and watched the sun go down over the Mull of Kintyre.
Southern Hebrides - Lochranza to Campbeltown Mull of Kintyre Ride Profile
In the morning the rain had stopped and it was relatively warm. We took the ferry cross to Claoriaig Bay on the North East of the Mull of Kintyre.
The ride down the eastern coast of the Mull is wonderful. Mainly single track and next to no traffic, the road lead us gently downhill along the coast in the summer sunshine. We detoured slightly off the main route to the village of Carradale where, carefully watching our budget we stopped and bought lunch from a local store and then spoilt ourselves and our budget with coffee and cakes at the Carradale Hotel.
Fully satisfied we continued on our Southern Hebrides tour along the coast, which becomes less rugged as you come near to Campbeltown or "The Wee Toon" as it is commonly known locally.
As you come over the rise on the main road you get a lovely view of the town across the Loch.
In the past, Campbeltown had obviously been a very busy port and prosperous industrial town.
Its sheltered location and close proximity to Ireland and the Atlantic ideally suited it to the development of a large fishing fleet, with some 400+ herring boats at its peak.
It was an important port for coastal shipping and a significant boat building center. Coal was shipped through the port and the town boasted 34 distilleries at its peak.
Due to its closeness to Glasgow many rich industrialists had their homes there and the town has many Victorian and Edwardian style villas along both sides of the Loch.
Today all of that industry has gone with only a few fishing boats and just one distillery left. The town is run down and lacking the buzz that had benefited from in the past. The place was a disappointment, but worth the visit if only to understand its history.
Our B & B was up on the hillside overlooking the town and we had a pleasant nights stay.
Southern Hebrides - Campbeltown to TayinLoan, Mull of Kintyre Ride Profile
The next day we set off North, heading up the West side of the Mull of Kintyre on the main A83. A little more traffic, but still not over busy. This road is pretty flat all the way along and doesn't have the appeal of the east coast road.
We stopped half way there for a coffee and then continued on, arriving at the Ferry Farm B & B at TayinLoan.
This place, run by Loraine and Alistair is lovely and their food and presentation is excellent.
The location is stunning, with views across to the small Isle of Gigha. The Island is owned and operated by a Trust established by its community and is a thriving and expanding Island with ambitious development plans.
Unfortunately we didn't have time to visit this lovely Island, but we did have time to take some nostalgic evening shots, like this one looking towards the island...
and this one at dusk.
Southern Hebrides - TayinLoan to Craighouse Isle of Jura Ride Profile
After a hearty breakfast we set off to catch the mid morning ferry from Kennacraig for the 2 hour journey to Port Askaig on the Isle of Islay. After a wee stop there we took the short crossing across to Jura for the lovely ride to Craighouse, the only significant settlement on the Island and home of the Jura Single Malt distillery. Unfortunately due to the drought throughout the islands, the distillery was not producing any whiskey so we couldn't sample the nectar. It was a little early to go to our accommodation so instead we enjoyed a pint in the local hotel.
The name of the Island is understood to derive from the Norse, meaning "Deer Island". Today there are over 5500 farmed deer on the Island.
We sought out our accommodation Sealladh Na Mara, run by Linda and Iain Mullholand. Another great find. We had booked an evening meal and it was downed with ghusto, (and a drop of red wine).
We had booked for two nights. The next day Krys and Phil decided to take it easy, spending time around the bay and relaxing.
Steve and Karen couldn't stay put and headed off to look at the Northern part of Jura. The day before we had heard that the road North eventually petered out into a track that was very muddy and unridable. This was a real disappointment as at the very North of the Island, lay The Correyvrecken Whirlpool. This amazing natural phenomenon is caused by the massive tidal flow that runs between Jura and Scarba and is not to be missed - but we missed it!
George Orwell (aka Eric Blair) lived at Barnhill from 1946 to 1948 while he wrote his novel "1984". One day in 1947 he went sailing with his nephews and nieces and fell foul of the Whirlpool. The boat was wrecked and they were all lucky to survive with their lives.
It was a lovely ride up the single track coast road, which rises up past the famous "Jura Paps".
The Paps dominate the landscape and comprise the three mountains - Beinn an Oir (Mountain of Gold) at 785m, Beinn Shiantaidh (Sacred Mountain) at 757m and Beinn a' Chaolais (Mountain of Sound) at 569m.
The appearance of the Paps is unique. Greys whites, purples, greens and browns play with the light to form an unusual colouring of these stunning hills.
If you fancy a challenging walk you have almost total access to walk over the Paps, as long as it isn't stalking season.
On the way we saw several herds of deer...
When we had gone as far as we could go we headed back and stopped on the way at Tarbet. Tarbet used to be a port until a few years ago with a regular ferry coming over from the mainland, but it has long since stopped.
We sat on the side of the harbour in total peace and quite. A solitary seal swept into the bay and bobbed its head up to see what we were up to. After a few minutes of curiosity he dived down and headed off.
As we sat there we spied a number of tiny, transparent jelly fish rising and falling in the crystal clear water. They were so delicate and perfect in ever way. Jura certainly got our vote for the most beautiful island in the Southern Hebrides.
When we arrived back in Craighouse Phil and Krys told of an exhibition of photographs dating back to the 20th century in a building around the back of the chapel. The exhibition was free and worth a look. Later in the evening we walked down to the bay north of Craighouse and watched seals and cormorants on the beach.
On the morning of the third day on Jura we had planned to stop at Jura House on our way to the Ferry. The house was built in the 1880s by the Campbel's of Jura. Today the gardens of the house are open to the public with stunning views towards the Kintyre Peninsula. Unfortunately it was pouring with rain and the thought of trailing around a garden no matter how pretty did not appeal to us, so we got our heads down and dashed for the ferry.
For us, Jura was the prettiest and most enjoyable part of our Southern Hebrides ride.
Southern Hebrides - Craighouse to Port Charlotte, Isle of Islay Ride Profile
We returned over the Sound of Islay to Port Askaig where we settled into the local pub to dry out and down a warming coffee.
Once the rain had ceased we set off up the steep hill out of Askaig and cycled across the island, 8 miles to Bridgend. Time for lunch at the Bridgend Hotel. Do we really just eat and drink all the time??
After a pleasant lunch we headed around the bay, in the rain again arriving at the Youth Hostel in Port Charlotte.
The hostel was really nice. We had a four bedded room to ourselves and lovely hot, clean showers. The warden recommended the Lochindaal Hotel for dinner so we booked a table and later wandered up the road in a light rain.
It was very traditional but the menu on the bar was a standard laminated pub-food list.The chef discussing with us what he could offer. Unfortunately he had a party of young local people coming in and they had ordered all of the lobster, but we had some delicious seafood. The party arrived young and full of energy. The lads demolished their lobster, but the girls were a little too self conscious of breaking their finely manicured nails. There was lots of lobster left over, made only worse when the cook told us that the leftovers all had to be thrown out. They were not even allowed to use it to make soup.
Southern Hebrides - Port Charlotte to Port Ellon Ride Profile
The next day, we awoke to lovely sunshine and set off back along the bay. Fifteen minutes down the road took us to the Bruichladdich Distillery, one of the most traditional distilleries in the Southern Hebrides.
We had heard about this particular distillery on Radio 4 and were particularly intrigued by its story.
Built in 1881 by the Harvey Brothers Whiskey Dynasty, it grew until in 1975 it was producing 1.5M litres. It then passed through the hands of various different owners and finally closed down in 1994 apart from a brief period in 1998 and lay idle until May 2001.
Mark Reynier an ex London wine merchant, who holidayed in the Southern Hebrides, had the vision of restoring the distillery to its former glory and to produce the best Islay Single Malt whiskey in the traditional way.
Gaining the backing of 45 private investors including Islay landowners, he managed to buy the buildings and stock for Â£6.5M and after a painstaking restoration of the original buildings and machinery the BriuchLaddich Distillery re-opened on May 29th 2001.
Their philosophy - "Authenticity, Purity and Individuality. The Malt Crusaders: fiercely independent, non-conformist, innovative - the enfant terrible of the industry".
Wonderful BruichLaddich - Keep it up!!!
Having sampled the malt and made our purchases in the distillery shop we set off again for the ride to Port Ellen on the south coast of Islay.
Arriving at Bridgend we cut off the main road and took the much quieter B road that cuts over the moors.
We were quickly in Port Ellen and sought out our accommodation for the evening, which was a small modern bungalow set up on the hillside of Port Ellen. It lacked any character, but the rooms were very comfortable and the welcome was warm.
Southern Hebrides - Port Ellen to Tarbert, Mull of Kintyre Ride Profile
Port Ellon has a pretty little harbour.
After a good breakfast we cycled down for a look around before catching the morning ferry back to the Mull of Kintyre.
As we left the harbour we spotted the Admiral Nelson sail training ship. It really looked a spectacular site.
The ferry docked at Kennacraig and we set off along the A83 towards Tarbert on the North of the Mull.
Along the way Steve spotted some road kill at the side of the road. A dead "Rabbit"!!!
After great hilarity and several photos we left it for some more deserving souls and continued down the hill into Tarbert.
There we did a bit of shopping and looked around the town. As we sat having a coffee by the harbour a waste lorry pulled up and the driver asked us what we had been doing up the road as they passed by us. We told them about our little purple friend. They were very amused and were last seen going back up the hill. I guess one of their wives was in for a pleasant surprise that night!
We had pre-booked at the Glenorchy Guest House in Tarbert - pride of the Southern Hebrides, so we popped in to the tourist office to find out where it was. To start with they didn't seem to know where it was, but then seemed to remember. There were a few sideways glances among the staff. We were soon to find out why.
We arrived at the guest house, which looked decidedly run down. We parked the bikes and rang the bell. An old geezer opened the door, coughing and spluttering. At the same time we were hit by the smell of cigarette smoke billowing out of the doorway. When we had booked the place everywhere else seemed to be full, so we were reluctant to try and find somewhere else. We went in and were shown to our rooms. To be fair, the rooms where reasonably clean, if a little dated. The sheets and towels were clean. We went out for dinner that night, but needless to say we were not looking forward to breakfast.
Breakfast was served in the owner's living room, which stank of smoke. Fag Ash Lil and Rab C Nesbit were in attendance. We were pleased to eat up, saddle up and high tail it out of there.
Southern Hebrides - Tarbert to Rothsey, Isle of Bute Ride Profile
We caught the morning ferry for the short journey over the lower part of Loch Fyne to Portavadie. Portavadie was a strange place. Apart from being where the ferry sails from, it had been the possible site for building oil rigs. The site was even developed to the point of having a whole village of 1960/70s style apartment blocks to house the future influx of workers. The expected contracts unfortunately didn't materialise and the whole scheme was abandoned. The village fell into a state of disrepair and frankly is now a real eyesore. However, large colonies of bats have the made the dilapidated buildings their homes. The bats are protected and hence nothing can be done with these awful looking buildings. In an attempt to regenerate the area, a sparkling new marina has been built.
We continued up the hill out of Portavadie along a lovely single track road to Millhouse and then down to Kames on the other side of the promontory. We took the steep hill up and away from the loch along the main A8003. As we reached the highest point and started our descent, the heavens opened, but we continued riding.
The rain got heavier and heavier until we were drenched, but we carried on skirting around the top end of Loch Riddon and down to Colintrave, the point for the Ferry to the Isle of Bute. On the way we saw a number of traditional yachts that were in the area for the Fyfe Regatta.
Again we had pre-booked our accommodation, but this time we had chosen better. We stayed at the Palmyra Hotel. A little bit more pricey, but worth the extra. The rooms were large and clean with large and powerful showers.
After we had rested we walked into the town for something to eat.
Rothesay was a Victorian spa town and there are many lovely Victorian and Edwardian villas along the sea front, which in the Town's hay day were owned by wealthy Glasgow industrialists. Today many of these magnificent buildings are hotels.
The town itself has suffered from its decline as a major spa town, but still has some notable features.
Not least the lovely Winter Gardens and Esplanade Gardens, Rothesay Castle and the promenade.
Southern Hebrides - Rothesay to Ardrossan Ride Profile
Our final day and we didn't have to catch the ferry until about 1-00pm, so we took a taxi up to Mount Stuart House.
This magnificent gothic mansion was built by the 3rd Marquis of Bute in 1877 after the original house had been destroyed by fire.
Now I am not one for traipsing around old houses, but I have to confess that it really is a stunning place, very interesting and well worth the visit.
You can eat in the modern visitor centre and walk around the gardens. We were just disappointed that we didn't have longer to look around.
We arrived back in Rothesay with time to visit the historic and best preserved Victorian toilets in the UK. We just had to take a look. Unfortunately the lady's has been updated to a modern toilet block, but the gent's is still in its original form.
Then it was time to take the ferry over to Wemyss bay on the Argyle mainland, but before we did there was just time for a team photo. Looking around for someone to act as photographer we discounted the old lady and spotted a young couple walking across the grass. Phil suggested asking them, but we had already pigeon holed the lad as a bit "dodgy". We asked him anyway. He looked at as us as though we had just been born as we handed him our expensive camera. He joked about running off with it, but thought better of it. He obliged, gave us the camera back and here is the result.
The last part of the Southern Hebrides ride was not the most enjoyable as we had to follow the busy main A78 road along the coast south. To top it all we had our only puncture of the whole ride.We did manage to find a few side roads to avoid the main road and we headed on through Largs. West Kilbride and finally arrived back at the cars around 5-00pm, our tour of the Southern Hebrides complete.
We said some sad goodbyes, loaded up the bikes and were on our way home.
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