The Isle of Arran: Beaches, Midge Bites and Mountains
With the passing of weeks and then months back in England, the pace of life once again gathers momentum as I find myself juggling my time between work, a new business, friends and family and establishing a daily routine in a new part of the country.
An adventure in its own right, my time back in England has continued to challenge, suprise and delight me as much as any of my previous travels over the past two years providing a series of new experiences, opportunites and friendships.
Yet the sad fact is that modern life offers little time for solitude and reflection, a date in the diary penned many weeks before serves as a timely reminder to tune out and run for the hills, to answer the call of the wild.
An early dash from work, and a missed train I default to plan B and make the drive north to Scotland, as the weather slowly detoriates and the downpours verge on the biblical, I begin to wonder why I can’t be content putting my feet up in front of the TV and winding down with a beer in hand like most normal people.
Fortunately there is someone equally stupid as myself, I find Paul my partner for this weekends adventure sheltering out of the rain at the ferry terminal building. With ferry tickets in hand, an announcement advises us the ferry will be delayed giving us plenty of time to discuss where we may sleep, what we have each forgotten and perhaps most importantly whether we will make it to the pub in time.
As the rain begins to ease, patches of blue appear in the sky, before unveiling the mountains of the Isle of Arran and a range of vivid colours as seen from the harbour in Ardrossan.
Both tired from our respective weeks sitting at desks, we leave the ferry and decide to bypass the pub, making straight for the coastline to find a place to sleep. The full moon overhead makes our lives easy, as we eventually settle on a quiet spot tucked amongst long grass.
By morning we wake early as midges begin to nibble the smallest bits of skin exposed outside our sleeping bags. Packing up our things we elect to ride down the beach for breakfast in Brodick rather than following our route of the previous evening.
Over a relaxed breakfast we discuss the ride, and our destination for the day whilst swilling down our second coffee. At a little over 14 miles away as the crow flys, Lochranza is hardly one of the biggest days either myself or Paul an experienced endurance racer are likely to encounter. But as we were to find, what Arran lacks in size, it makes up for in other ways.
Leaving tarmac behind, wide double track slowly peters out as we enter Glen Rosa. The path narrowing as we ride along the stream fed from the mountains above.
Rocks and water bars, quickly have us hopping on and off our bikes and pushing over obstacles. At times the path narrows and constricts barely wide enough for our bikes to pass, reminding me of the Ecuadorian paramo, were it not for the flashes of deep purple goarse and the clawing and scratching at our legs.
Pressing bikes over our heads, we negotiate one of several deer fences our volumous tyres simply too wide to fit through the gates.
From Israel to Arran, Paul’s custom built Ari Cycles bike sits in the grass, whilst Paul goes in search of his Spot tracker. Never to be found, a gift to the trail gods.
Onwards toward the Saddle and our days high point.
Branching off we begin the hike a bike to the Saddle amongst jumbled granite boulders that pepper the hill side.
Views across the valley to the A’Chir ridge and Chir Mor, these fine crags draw many climbers to the island in search of their elusive Classic Rock ticks.
As height is gained, the river snakes back down the glen, a classic u shaped valley perfectly framed.
Goat Fell stood high amongst the clouds.
Between rideable sections, we push and haul our bikes over the Saddle before casting our eye down Glen Sannox and out to the Firth of Clyde.
Expecting easy riding from the saddle, we’re suprised to find steep ground and a chimney blocking our way. Eventually man handling our bikes one at a time down the chimney, as rain and hail to begin to produce waterfalls that run in to our shoes.
Somewhat relieved to get ourselves and the bikes down, we’re both left wild eyed.
Looking back its easy to understand why.
A small river crossing, and we’re in to more rideable territory.
The mountains behind us. The numerous water bars conspire against a speedy plummet to the sea.
After an intense couple of hours its time to chew the fat, and prop the bikes up against felled trees.
From the high mountains to the sea within touching distance, we join the Coastal Way.
Cutting through dense bracken.
And past the white washed Laggan cottage, a land mark to the once thriving community driven out by the land clearances which affected vast tracts of the Scottish Highlands.
Pushing ever onwards to The Cock of Arran, as the coast becomes steeper and more jumbled, our arms begin to tire, and progress feels slow and laboured. Arriving in Lochranza by early evening its been a long day, exceeding both our expectations in its physicality for such a modest distance.
Hacking back down the road the following morning we arrive in Brodick as the weather closes in, ideas to explore the man made trails are shelved as the rain patters on the cafe window. The lure of an early ferry too much to pass up. Aboard the ferry back to the mainland, low cloud hangs once again in Glen Rosa.
Dropping Paul off in Carlisle its time to say our good byes. Sated with a small slice of adventure, we shake hands and transition once again back in to the buzz of modern life, ready to once again pencil another date in the diary and the start of another adventure.