Saturday, 15 June 2013

On Arran

Arran is a popular place to bike if I am any judge, based on the evidence. To begin with, there were a pair of other cyclists on the boat train to Ardrossan from Glasgow. They were of the spandex or MAMIL (middle aged men in Lycra) variety with next to nothing in the way of gear. At the ferry terminal, they joined another group of MAMILs. There was also a couple on what appeared to be a folding tandem. They came across as day tourers.

The ferry made its journey with out incident. Midway across, it passed a sister ferry going the other way. Evidently, the run merits two ships. Incidentally, bikes travel for free on Caledonian MacBrayne. On the ferry, I snaffled a map of Arran which had advice for cyclists on it as well as advice to drivers which include how to deal with cyclists. One particular pointer is that drivers should refrain from honking at cyclists unless truly necessary (i.e. the cyclist is doing something stupid). *glares at the paternal unit*

There is an unusually strong food branding on Arran with numerous products being labelled "Arran this" or "Arran that". In no particular order, I have consumed Arran beer, cheese, ice cream, mustard, oatcakes and whiskey. The first experience of the latter was on the ferry where free samples were being offered of the Arran distillery's ten year old. I am afraid I can't recommend it. Among other things, it lacks the complexities of my beloved Springbank as well as tasting a tad of raw spirit.

As the day was young, I thought I would go to Lochranza the long way round. I stopped for lunch in Whiting Bay where I discovered that my decision was based on the dodgy conclusion that I would be able get past the construction South of Blackwaterfoot. As I backtracked, I found that the experience was different due to the change in direction. I therefore adopted the rule that all other factors being equal, if I have to ride a section of my route more than once, then I should try to ride it in the opposite direction if possible. 

After leaving Brodick for the second time, I rode beside the sea for several miles before I came across a Norse longship about to head out to sea. Seriously. There was a reproduction of Norse longship, or a least a knarr which was being prepared to be towed down the coast were it would be picked up by the Discovery Channel in order to be used in the filming of some documentary or other. I learnt this as I stopped to photograph the scene. The preparations seemed somewhat haphazard so I made the comment that they weren't going to get to L'Anse-Aux-Meadows at that rate! ;-)  I chatted for a while as preparations were made. The boat had a carved head which as per Norse tradition was detachable. At the request of the Discovery channel, the head was left behind as presumably, they had their own heads.

The road to Lochranza then took me over a dramatic and beautifully wild pass with high crags across the valley. I dropped into Lochranza's valley and rolled down past the Arran Distillery to the youth hostel. As the reception would only open in more than an hour, I rode back to the distillery to see if a tour was possible. I was in luck, I am afraid that the distillery is far too young to be interesting. In fact, if it were a human, it wouldn't be allowed to drink in the United States! The tour included both a dram of its 14 year old whisky which wasn't that much better than the 10 year old from the ferry and a dram of the cream liqueur derived from the whisky which was very good. I suggested they use it as an ice cream flavor.

Back at the youth hostel, I was assigned a room with two other cyclists. One was a neophyte who was in awe of the other who was 78 and had recently ridden 160 miles in a day that ended somewhere on Islay! That is 160 hilly miles. To put this in perspective, on my best day of biking I only covered 230 kms which translates into 143 miles and those were flat miles with the benefit of a strong tailwind.
I rang John in Campbeltown to enquire as to whether he could give me a lift on his yacht as the possibility had been offered previously. Owning to contrary wind and weather, as well as a malfunctioning engine, the answer was no.

That night, I had supper in the Lochranza Hotel. There was a contingent of yachtsmen from Southern England who were up for some sort of charity yachting event. They were enjoying many a pint and I asked who was the designated rower!

The next morning, I pored over my maps to work out the day's cycling. I opted for a loop around the Northern half of Arran that would take me back over the pass to Brodick and then over another pass to the West Coast of Arran along which I would return to Lochranza where I would retrieve cachéd saddle bags and catch the ferry to Cloanaig on Kintyre from where I would ride the 13 miles which separated it with Campbeltown.

As I left the youth hostel, the elder cyclist was also setting out and was grumbling about the midges. I offered him the use of my Canadian bug dope which he readily accepted.

A little before Brodick, I stopped at a folk museum to learn more about the history of Arran. I then did some shopping for the some of the local food. I also popped into a store selling outdoor equipment to see if there was anything of interest to me. I don't believe I bought anything there, but I was interested to see that products for care of waterproof clothing were displayed quite prominently. Evidently, there was a considerable market for them! 

Lunch seemed to take an inordinately long time. Partly for this reason, I narrowly missed the sailing of the ferry I had planned to take to Kintyre. I had to wait about an hour before it returned.

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