GREAT CUMBRAE: Paul Kirkwood and his son get on their bikes to explore the North Ayrshire island on two wheels.
AVING in the past cycled around the Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland, riding Great Cumbrae was always going to be a breeze. “Scotland’s most accessible island,” proclaimed the leaflet I picked up before boarding the ferry from Largs. Indeed. After just four hour’s drive from Yorkshire and the 10-minute crossing we were on the island. For me Great Cumbrae was almost not remote enough – although it was perfect for my nine-year-old son, Bertie, with whom I hoped this was the first Scottish island adventure of many. No point in hitting him with the hard stuff quite yet …
We began our 10-mile circuit in the merry, little Victorian town of Millport, the only settlement on the island, strung out around a large bay in the south. In keeping with the pint-size of Cumbrae the town contains the Cathedral of the Isles, the smallest in Europe, and what is “recorded as” the narrowest house in Britain called The Wedge, which squeezes into a two-yard gap next to a bistro on the seafront.
You can’t go wrong with the route as it follows the B-road that tightly hugs the coast. We set off by cycling around the back of the island’s best and biggest beach, Kames Bay. We rounded the bulky south-eastern headland and past Lion Rock. Just across the sea to the south we could see Portencross Castle and Goldenberry Hill and, next to them, Clydeport freight terminal and the Hunterston marine construction yard and power station, further reminders that Cumbrae is anything but a far-flung Scottish island.
There are lots of natural things hereabouts too – including shag, cormorant, eider duck and grey seals. The Clyde sea area, swilling around on a shallow plateau of glacial debris, is one of Britain’s classic marine heritage regions as we found out at a small museum and aquarium at the University Marine Biological Station. Its origins date back to 1884 when the station was a floating laboratory on a boat called The Ark.
To all intents and purposes the coast road is a cycle track. We encountered a large group of roller skaters, a four-some on a covered quadricycle and, most extraordinarily, a team of seven on what’s called a conference bike. You can also hire a Raleigh Chopper to really cut a
BEASTIE BOY: Bertie makes a new friend on his ride around Great Cumbrae.