CYCLING KINTYRE

Forget the song, have a couple of days cycling on the Mull of Kintyre. You won’t regret it, though Steve Dyster hopes to have more gears than his Brompton offers next time round.

 

Campbeltown is Kintyre’s town, a busy little place at the head of Campbeltown Loch. A surprising place in many ways, it still has three distilleries, though there were once over thirty; coal was mined at nearby Machrihanish and canal and, later, a railway once linked the two; Highland and Lowland parish churches; Westport beach is popular with surfers; and even the occasional fast logging-lorry can’t stop this being an ever so peaceful cycling paradise.

A couple of Steve's routes on Route You Campbeltown and the Lighthouse and A Kintyre Loop.

Kintyre's terrain is a real mixture. Around Campbeltown there’s some delightfully flat riding and along the west coast main road, there are a few undulations amongst the gentle miles; to the east the views of Arran relieve the frequent switchbacks a little, before things level off around Skipness; in the interior and on the way to the lighthouse, I pushed up some long ascents ….

 

The first day’s main objective was the lighthouse at the south-western end of the Mull of Kintyre. Opting for the long gentle climb on the direct B842 in reference to the hilly lane round the eastern coast, Southend is not far. A short ride, but this is not an area to ignore an open cafe, so I didn’t.

 

You’ll possibly see the waves crashing into the beach and take a walk round to the rocky outcrop of Dunaverty; a little further on you’ll find an old church and Columba’s Steps and caves; but what really grabbed my attention was the decrepit hulk of the Keil Hotel. Timely completion just before the Second World War saw it became a naval hospital. Between 1947 and 1990 it operated as intended as a hotel. Its grey-white facade behind the warning signs sums up its current depressed state.

Gently onward, the turn to the lighthouse appears just as kindly, but soon delivers a shock to the system with some real highland riding. Even after walking the twists and turns, there’s a good deal of climbing as views get broader, and then magnificent. The descent to the lighthouse itself involves a beetling set of hairpins.

 

You can’t avoid admiring the Antrim Coast and Rathlin Island off Ballycastle in the not so far-off. The lighthouse appears squat, but must be dramatic enough from the sea. A couple of self-catering apartments must make this one of the quietest holiday spots in the country.

You can’t avoid admiring the Antrim Coast and Rathlin Island off Ballycastle in the not so far-off. The lighthouse appears squat, but must be dramatic enough from the sea. A couple of self-catering apartments must make this one of the quietest holiday spots in the country.

 

Once returned to the top of the zig-zags, there are great views as you coast most of the way down. Most, only most.

 

The easy way home is to return to the B842, but there’s a tempting minor road up Glen Breackerie. Take your legs with you. The map shows a handful of arrows pointing up and down the route. For those with an MTB there is an even more tempting hill track loop. Sticking to the road which rises into the forest amidst bracken-banks, it struck me that i seemed to be cycling much further than i had expected to. I wasn’t, but I did enjoy most of the minutes, even when power was outwitted by the gradient.

 

From the road junction, where the good old B842 is joined, it is a roll back to Campbeltown and a choice of cafes, bars and accommodation.

My second loop was an obvious one, requiring almost no navigation. Leave Campbeltown on B842 (NCR78); explore Carradale; reach Claonaig and divert to Skipness; follow B8001 to the A83; return to Campbeltown.

 

Easy. Navigationally, yes, but expect lots of stiff gradients as far as Carradale and the odd one or two after. Strangely, the A83 is largely flat. Scenery contrasts, too. The Isle of Arran and the Sound of Kilbrannan dominate on the east side; Islay, the Papas of Jura and the Antrim Coast catch the eye on the west; to the east the sea is comparatively calm; the rolling Atlantic hits the west full force.

 

For me, that contrast makes this a classic ride. The A83 can carry rapidly moving traffic, but by the standards of anywhere other than Caithness and Sutherland has just about as low traffic volume as you’ll find on a main artery int he UK.

 

The ride up the east side could take a long time. There are too many beautiful coves hidden to the right of the road to make continual cycling easy. I took in just a couple and had a wander round the ruins of Sadell Abbey (important medieval carved stones - enthusiasts will be pleased to discover that there is even a themed trail around sites where similar may be found).  Others will be pleased to grab refreshments in Carradale, after the most vigorous section of the ride. It s worth noting that Carradale is the largest settlement you’ll pass through until one returns to Campbeltown, so make the most of it.

North of Carradale, on the now single-track road, the view of Arran, or rather the changing views of Arran, will keep you occupied as the pedalling eases off. Campervans were a prominent feature of my ride, but everyone seemed to know how to use passing places.

 

In the distance you might pick out the Lochranza to Claonaig ferry plying between Arran and Kintyre. A right turn near the ferry terminal leads to Skipness. A wonderful spot, not only because the cycling is genuinely flat, as it heads past the little village shop (please support it) past the Kirk and up to Skipness Castle, but because it offers much more than might be assumed at first sight.

Skipness Castle is free to enter and explore. If nothing else climb to the top of the hall-keep for more views of Arran. Fans of medieval stone carvings will head off to the wee kirk to sate their passion. There’s a Smokehouse where one can stock up on tasty picnic stuff and a rather good sea-food cafe. Sea-food includes cakes in this case. There are several friendly dogs and a domesticated deer that frequent it, too.

 

I left Skipness a little reluctantly. A genuinely relaxed spot so far off the beaten track. Great to see families of cyclists having a big day out with young children; ferry from Lochranza, bike ride to a castle and cafe by the sea, tame deer … there’s more to cycling than riding a bike.

he climb over to the west coast is long rather than excessively steep. A fine highland road with views over forest that occupies much of inland Kintyre. The descent, on the other hand, is steep, so check motor vehicles coming up are playing the passing place game properly.

The A83 takes you all the way back to Campbeltown. At its best when close to the sea, there are long flat stretches and no real alternative route. On this occasion I ignored the ferry from Tayinloan to Gigha and passed Glenbarr Abbey without a visit. Having had a slice of cake at Skipness, food was in order. I can thoroughly recommend the Argyll Hotel at Bellochantuy for food and the accommodation look pretty good, too. It is as good a place as any to the seascape, too.

 

Kintyre’s headland comes into view, but almost constant companions will be the Isle of Islay, a low flat wedge, and Jura’s generously rounded Paps which rise to the north of Islay - though they’ll often look like parts of the same island. Admire and get down to a beach or two if you can. Especially if the sun is on the waves as a steady southwesterly breeze blows in and late afternoon showers scud curtains of rain across the islands.

The most renowned beach is Westport, or Machrihanish, Beach. A fine long sandy strand from which to watch the sun go down - as I did later that day having found enough energy to pedal out to Machrihanish and have a pint in the Old Club house bar.

 

 

Back in Campbeltown I took a morning to cycle towards Davar Island - accessible by foot at low tide - and looked around the town. There’s a really good Heritage Centre which has, in addition to the artefacts, superb home-baked scones and shortbread. Add a distillery tour and a town walk, I was kept happily occupied until home time.

 

Kintyre - a grand place to cycle.

Information

 

Getting there

 

The long road to Campbeltown via Lochgilphead and Tarbert - including by coach from Glasgow (with your folding bike) - is unavoidable without the use of ferries, or a flight to Campbeltown’s airport.

 

A seasonal ferry runs from Ardrossan to Campbeltown, but not every day. On some trips it also calls at Brodick on the Isle of Arran. Alternatively, the Ardrossan to Brodick ferry can be combined with the Lochranza-Claonaig ferry to reach Kintyre at the northern end of the loop. Or, get the ferry from Gourock to Hunter’s Quay, travel across Cowal to Portavadie and cross to Tarbert. Even more complex, take the ferry form Wemyss Bay to Rothesay, then another form Rhubodach to Colintraive and head to Portavadie, for Tarbert.

Ferries add expense for the motorist, but for the cyclist they remain cheap and what are a few trips between ferries in such magnificent highland scenery? 

 

https://www.calmac.co.uk

 

Accommodation

 

There’s plenty, but be aware of festivals that draw in the crowds and fail the beds. For general tourist information http://www.visitkintyre.info or contact Campbeltown Tourist Information Office https://www.visitscotland.com/info/services/campbeltown-icentre-p332421

 

Cycling

 

There’s no actual bike shop in Campbeltown at he time of writing, but the local Recycling Centre has a bike workshop attached with a qualified mechanic and spares.

 http://www.kintyrerecycling.com

 

Carradale Bicycles and Buggies http://www.carradalebikesandbuggies.co.uk hire out MTBs and trailers, including two which are available in Campbeltown through the Tourist Information Office.

 

The Kintyre Way originated as a walking route, but a stile removal programme and various upgrades are turning it into an adventurous route for MTB, gravel and cycle-crosses - or just rough-stuffers. http://www.kintyreway.com/get-cycling/

 

There are MTB trails at Ben Guilean, to the south of Campbeltown.

 

Maps

 

A variety of maos cover the area. Try Sustrans regional maps and their Campbeltown to inverness route map https://shop.sustrans.org.uk

 

OS 1:50 000 sheets 62 and 68 cover the area and would be best for off-roading, including the Kintyre Way, but for road cycling the 1:250 000 Road series Sheet 3 for southern Scotland is plenty.

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