Thursday, 8 September 2016

A cycling weekend in Ayrshire

Castles, Sea and Sunset


I had been scouring the internet for two days, looking for cycling routes by the north Ayrshire coastline. The forecast was of a beautiful weekend, which looked even better on the west coast of Scotland. I was itching to take my bike out for a relaxing weekend ride, which meant no big climbs and definitely no busy roads. Unfortunately, there seemed to be a complete lack of information on cycling routes connecting the quaint towns and villages of the Ayrshire coast. The coastal path wasn't deemed suitable for cycling. While some said a cycling route was still under construction, others said there were still stretches on busy roads. Even Sustrans wasn't of much help. I had decided to stay in Largs and visit Greater Cumbrae for some fun cycling. The rest was to be decided by available cycling routes which, I hoped the locals could help me out with.

And so, on a Saturday morning, I found myself seated on a very quiet train to Glasgow Central, Apart from me there was only one passenger, a guy in his outdoor gear and walking polls. It is not an uncommon sight on a train this early on a weekend. He helped me put my bike beside his. Even though the helpful conductors go beyond themselves to get a bike on busy trains, it is always recommended to book bike space by calling up Scotrail. 

From Glasgow I had to change train for Largs, but needed to fuel up first. Getting the bike on the train while balancing my coffee is a skill I have gradually started to master. The spillage is within acceptable limits. I would be getting off the train at West Kilbride, a couple of station prior to Largs. My plan was to first visit the castle at Portencross, then cycle to Largs. Unfortunately, when I had called up the castle information centre, I was told there are no cycling routes to Largs unless I took the busy road. Since I didn't want to ride with cars whizzing past, I would have to return to the train station and take the train. However, after a short climb, the road went steeply downhill for the two miles to the coast. My resolve to return to the station started diminishing. The thought of the excruciating return journey was pushed back for now as I cut through the wind effortlessly.

Portencross castle Ayrshire Scotland
Portencross castle

The fourteenth century castle at Portencross stands right at the coast overlooking the Clyde of Forth. Portencross had been the site of a castle since the Iron ages, with ruins found on the hills behind the current castle. It was only after the Vikings were defeated and their threat diminished that work on the current castle started. The Friends of Portencross do a commendable job in preserving this site of historical importance. It is a fascinating place to visit with good information and good views all around. www.portencrosscastle.org.uk

At the time of my visit there was no entry fee to the castle, but a donation is happily accepted.

Portencross castle Ayrshire Scotland
Portencross castle

Portencross castle Ayrshire Scotland
Portencross castle great hall

Portencross castle Ayrshire Scotland
Views towards Clyde of Forth from Portencross

Portencross castle Ayrshire Scotland
View from the castle

The tiny place apparently gets very busy on a weekend and the staff were surprised I was still the only visitor on such a beautiful day. I spent some time chatting with them and the locals. An elderly couple stopped by to ask where I was travelling from. I was surprised to find out that they are regular visitor to Kolkata, being involved with charity work. It was fascinating to hear about my hometown from people in this far corner of the world. As I had hoped, being locals they told me about the cycle route to Largs. The first one mile from the castle was off-road track, which they said was all right for my mountain bike. There would be a short stretch near Fairlie where I would have to walk the bike, rest was all meant to be good path.

Every bone in my body was jittering as I took the off-road track hugging the sea. The path ends at the Hunterstone nuclear power station after which a proper tarmac road leads all the way to Fairlie. It was easy riding and at one point I was even feeling guilty for indulging in a Snickers bar.

Cycling in Ayrshire
A nice 8 miles ride

Cycling in Ayrshire
Through the shaded woods

As I had been warned, I had to get off for a short distance in Fairlie where the path becomes rocky and narrow and ends in the beach. Not sure if I missed the signs for the coastal path at this point, but getting back on the road seemed to be the right thing to do. I spotted a guy by the beach and asked about the path, but he was oblivious to its whereabouts.

Cycling in Ayrshire
Fairlie round the corner

Cycling in Ayrshire
Fairlie

Cycling in Ayrshire
The bit to walk the bike on

From Fairlie I took a detour as I headed off for Kelburn castle and country park. It was gradual uphill slog once I got through the main entrance, all the way to the ticket counters. I locked my bike and looked around. This thirteenth century castle is the seat of the Earl of Glasgow. What makes the castle stand out is the graffiti art on the outer walls. These were created by Brazilian artists on the request of the Earl and is now considered among the top ten finest examples of urban art. Though it came up as a temporary feature in 2007, the Earl with permission from Historic Scotland took the decision to make it permanent. Unfortunately the cement work on which the paintings have been created is causing damage to the original castle walls and hence currently in the process of being removed. I could see the evidence of work already in progress, was glad could catch a final glimpse of the artwork before it completely disappears. The country park was busy with families and young children on this beautiful summer day. Trails run through the greenery and beautiful waterfalls. I did not do the mountain bike trails though, never had the heart for it!

Kelburn castle Ayrshire
Kelburn castle

Kelburn castle Ayrshire
Kelburn castle graffiti details

Kelburn castle Ayrshire
Kelburn estate

Kelburn castle Ayrshire
Waterfalls in Kelburn estate

From Kelburn I now headed to my final destination, to Largs. I would be staying the night here. It was a hot day by Scottish standards. The heat had tired me out. After a shower, I headed off for an early dinner to The Three Reasons. It was extremely busy and sweltering hot inside. A cold lemonade was more than welcome. In that heat, it was difficult to believe I was still in Scotland. Even the fish and chips I ordered felt out of place.

After food I walked over to the promenade where I sat for a while, taking in the atmosphere. It was a busy afternoon in this seaside town. The huge Nardini Ice cream parlour was beckoning from across the road. Eventually I gave in and joined the queue.

The sun was due to set just after ten. I was tired and needed bed desperately, but the scene had already been set for what I believed would be a glorious sunset. It was too tempting to ignore. Fortunately, I had a perfect view from right in front of my accommodation at the Broom House. I was not disappointed and rewarded with one spectacular sunset.

Largs war memorial
Largs War memorial

Largs promenade
Enjoying the views from the promenade

Afternoon sun Largs
Largs afternoon


Sunset in Largs
Sunset over putting greens

Sunset in Largs
War memorial silhouette

Sunset in Largs
A couple watches the setting sun 

Sunset in Largs
Setting sun

Next morning, I left early for Greater Cumbrae. I was checking out, but did not have cash to pay the landlady. I was taken aback, when she told me to take money out of the ATM and pay her once I returned from my visit. The trust she had, is totally unheard of in most parts of the world. But then, my experiences with people in Scotland has always been unique.

I took the first ferry out while it was still quiet and did the perfect 10 miles island circuit at a leisurely pace. I was thinking of doing a second loop, but the island had started to get uncomfortable busy. I wanted to escape. The ferries approaching Greater Cumbrae were now full and the ferry terminal in Largs had a long queue building in front of it. I am glad I went early. I took the cash out and went back to the accommodation. The landlady accepted the payment casually, as if it wasn't such a big deal that I was honest. 

My return train was in the afternoon. I thought I could spend the rest of the day cycling around Largs on the coastal path, but the sun was scorching. Finally I lazed it out in the shade by the sea, sipping on multiple glasses of icy lemonade..

Sharing some photos from the perfect ten route in Greater Cumbrae. As I eventually found out, with mostly flat terrain and good paths, cycling is the best way to visit this beautiful part of Scotland.

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Greater Cumbrae
Greater Cumbrae

Millport

Millport with crocodile rock and Arran
Millport with the Crocodile rock and Arran in the distance

Millport Ayrshire Greater Cumbrae
Millport

Crocodile rock Millport
Crocodile rock close-up



2 comments:

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