Having not ridden with Colin since this years edition of the Five Ferries (Le Cinque Bateaux in 2021 for sponsorship reasons), it was a welcome WhatsApp notification when he asked if I fancied a pre-Christmas spin. We initially planned to meet at the Whitelee Windfarm, to explore the expansive gravel tracks that sprawl away from the visitor centre, but a change of transport availability led us to look for somewhere accessible by the train. Not being able to resist the urge of a ferry, we decided to meet at Wemyss Bay and head over to the Isle of Bute.
At the ferry terminal, as I unpacked my bike from the car, the first thing that hit me was the biting cold, so I layered up for the day. The cold was a given in November, but the sun was splitting the sky. We really could have not asked for a better day for bike riding. A coffee on the boat soon warmed us up. As it happened, there was some cyclocross racing happening on the island, so we were one of many cyclists grabbing the boat over. Our paths diverged at the other end, with most turning left to head to the race, whilst we heading straight on, climbing out of Rothesay up a short but sharp climb. We took a left turn off the tarmac and the fun began.
We’d used Komoot to plan the route, asking for some gravel and it didn’t disappoint. We spun along nicely for a few hundred metres, before hitting the first descent, the rock beneath the wheels a bit of a shock to the system. I’m a big fan on the Panaracer Gravelkings and the 38mm tyre was giving me plenty of grip, as well as soaking up the more severe bumps. I can’t recommend those tyres enough, I also use the slick 32mm version on my road setup.
At the bottom of the descent, we did our best Mathieu van der Poel impressions and hopped over a low stile, before hitting quite a brutal rise, hitting double figure percentages according to Strava. We huffed and puffed to the top, maybe regretting the layers we’d needed earlier. We were rewarded at the top with some stunning views over the Western side of the island, towards Arran. Some lovely rolling gravel descent was next on the menu and we soon lost in interest in ditching the layers, the cold biting us at speed. A quick stop for a few sips of tea and coffee from our flasks and we were off again, myself being a bit too ambitious on the descent to the main road, clinging on for dear life. Still, I got the K.O.M. Worth it.
We spun along the main road for a short section, taking a left up a small rise and then back down again to the sea. With wonderful views across the West Coast of Ayrshire, we took at left at some crossroads down toward the coastal path. Our plan was coffee at a small lighthouse, then back round to the hotel we’d passed for a bite to eat.
The coastal path started with some light gravel and heavier pebbles to test us. We rolled round for maybe a mile or so, stopping to chat to a few families as we got out the way to allow them to pass. The first group laughed and said we’d probably get to the lighthouse, but we might have to hike-a-bike a little. The next group doubted we’d even make it to the lighthouse on foot with the bikes. With ignorance being bliss, we continued on. It got rough and narrow pretty quickly, with the steep drop to our left being too much to ignore. After struggling to get the bikes up and over a stile on near vertical slope, we decided to turn around and head back. We met the group again on the way back and were greeted by a laugh and a “told you so” look. They suggested we head back to the hotel for lunch, then go the long way round to see the ruins of an old church on the other side of the lighthouse. It sounded like a plan to us.
After some wonderful soup, we headed back out into the nippy winter air and took on the rolling single track road to St Blane’s Church, an early 11th century ruin. We stopped when the road ended and took in the magnificent views of Arran and Kintyre. Heading back round to the main road we noticed the time. Light was fading and shadows were getting long. We climbed back up over the main road to Rothesay, before realising we had around 30 minutes till we had to board our desired ferry home. A little bit of team time trial followed, my legs finally bursting as we got into the town. Riding fast on gravel tyres isn’t easy!
Alas we made the last boat, ate the last of our food and reminisced about a wonderful day on the bike. With a handshake, we parted and heading home. Another great day out on the bike, with great company, on Scotland’s magical West Coast.