From a distance

DSCF1186.JPG We think we’ve found our new home (upper villa flat in Edinburgh Colinton, missives in the process of being concluded, more details to follow when confirmed) and Jo is just about settled in her new home (Camilla House, Edinburgh Morningside) – so we decided to celebrate these two achievements and miss the Royal Wedding with a cycle tour of the Kyles of Bute and Arran.

DSCF1193.JPG We left the car at Wemyss Bay and took the first of our many ferries across to Rothesay. I haven’t been to the Isle of Bute for a very long time – more than 40 years anyway – but Rothesay doesn’t seem to have changed much since the sixties. It’s still a little summer holiday enclave. The Pavilion is a bit more dilapidated but still dominates the bay, a wall of near-tropical heat hit us as we left the ferry, and the strikingly tall palm trees still seem incongruous in the Firth of Clyde.

DSCF1201.JPG A brief cycle round the north of Bute and another ferry back to the mainland at Colintraive was followed by a lovely run up and round the Kyles. Then the first really big hill of our trip up the hill on the Tighnabruaich road. The views were worth it though, and we heard a cuckoo or two.

We thought we might reward our efforts with an ice cream in the village DSCF1209.JPG but my memories of Tighnabruaich were ever so slightly rose-tinted and no delicious fresh home-made Italian ice cream with real raspberry sauce seemed to be available at the village Spar. So it was back up over yet another stonking hill and down again to catch our third and last ferry of the day from Portavadie to Tarbert. Day One: 40 km, three ferries and lots of hills.

We spent a very comfortable night in the Knap Guest House – we don’t usually go for the whole guest house experience but this was very nice indeed, just what tired and muscle-weary cyclists need, and an excellent breakfast to set us up for day two of the Not the Royal Wedding tour.

DSCF1211.JPG Enjoying the breakfast so much (best coffee I haven’t made myself in a very long time) put us under a certain amount of pressure to make the ferry from Claonaig on Kintyre across Loch Fyne to Lochranza on Arran, up a few more mountainous slopes and into a headwind, but we made it. In search of a cup of coffee (and a potty stop) we were again almost despairing of the facilities for tourists on a bright Spring holiday weekend, but were saved by the nice lady in the village hall and post office who provided coffee and biscuits and even sold us some tablet in aid of hall funds.

DSCF1215.JPG That interlude prepared us well for the biggest hill of the tour over the top of Glen Sannox in the north of Arran. An ascent of 200m in just under 3km is generally classed as ‘difficult’ in most contexts outside the professional cycle touring circuit. It was made even more difficult when my bike decided it didn’t like going into first gear. Again, the views from the top were just stupendous. An interesting one for me – I watched the ridges of the Arran massif emerge as I reached the top of the pass and for the first time felt genuinely pleased to be viewing the hills from my bicycle rather than climbing them for myself.

DSCF1204.JPG Descent to Brodick, ferry back to Ardrossan, then a somewhat arduous end to the tour up the coast, into an increasing headwind. We did have that west coast Italian ice cream, at Nardini’s in Largs, just as the first large drops of rain were falling (there is something inevitable about Largs and ice cream and rain) and made it back to the car. Day Two: 70 km, two ferries, lots of hills and a headwind.

From a distance, the Kyles of Bute are a microcosm of Scotland in the sun – blue skies, crystal clear sea, sparkling sun, rhododendrons in an array of intense colours, eider flypasts, basking seals, the sound of silence but for wind and water. Here are some pictures.

DSCF1218.JPG From a distance, Dee could see me rounding a bend a bit farther on up the hill and I could look back to check she was still following (her bike being more laden than mine).

From a distance, we planned our wee west coast island-hopping tour when we were still in Belgium. We planned lots of things, most of which have worked out, perhaps not exactly in detail, but certainly in terms of the big picture. And the big picture is bright.

From a distance, we saw this Scotland, uncluttered with the detail and the dross of everyday life, the wee things that ground us down and drove us mad. Sometimes you need the perspective of time and space to appreciate what’s been under your nose all the time. We have come home.


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