Land's End to John O' Groats

Chapter 4: Southern Scotland from Dumfries to Ardgour

9. Day, Sunday: Dumfries - Kilmarnock - Irvine
9.30-19.00, 107 km trp, 13.3 km/h avg, 35.4 km/h max, 1148 km toal

Some words have to be told about my hosts at Dumfries. This is a typical British (be careful in using the word English in Scotland) home, Victorian or Georgian or so. There is a lot of decorative stuff like clocks, vases, shells with biscuits or vegetables, cans and boxes, doileys and pillows etc. etc. An electrical illumination of a chimney glows with a red light like real coals. Then there is a book containing numorous poems of a certain Robert Burns, who lived during the 18 th century. You can never learn enough: this is the most popular poet of Scotland and he spent parts of his life at Dumfries. Another information: just now they celebrate a "Good Neighbours" festival or something like that.

Now clap your hands, we want to continue. After the big rain last night the bike's chain needs some oil, a look to the sky: the sun shines bright again. But when I start I realize: no tailwind today for I'm going west. The road follows the valley of the river Nith parallel to a rail track. The name of the first village is Holywood, but that is all I can tell about this place.

At the Valley of the River Nith
The landscape is nice, green waves of hills aside the valley. The area is named Southern Uplands. Up the valley the river gets wilder and there are canoists and river rafters. The waters are brown like chocolate today. At the highest area of the route there is a wide plane and the river Nith has it's spring somewhere.
There is a wide view and far ahead some mighty blue mountains come in sight. Some time later they are recognized as the Isle of Arran. At the town Cumnock there are some nice houses and streets, they had coal mines around here in earlier times.

At the last stage down to the town Kilmarnock I end on a main road again (A76). I had a hard ride today against the wind all the time. So I want to finish a  Kilmarnock, but I don't like this town. A sterile pedestrian street, a large shopping center and a lot of building sites. A girl with incomplete teeth comes by and it is hard to get rid of her. "I like your bike" she says and strokes the frame of powder plated chrom molybdaen (or something like that). I like my bike too and better take it with me for some more miles.

The next town is Irvine and for half of the way I find a side road. At Irvine I have to ask some times in vain again. You mostly find the word "Hotel" at the Inns and Pubs, but they always say that they have no rooms. I have some difficulties to understand for they speak a hard dialect here. I end at "Laurelbank Guest House, 3 Kilwinning Road" and I quote the caretaker while I enter the front yard: "I think you will have no problems to get a room here". Fine! Some streets away there is the restaurant - you know meanwhile. And I promise you now: for  the next days we will have no Chinese food.

At my room the heating is on and so I can dry the rest of my wet clothes.

10. Day, Monday: Irvine - Ardrossan - Isle of Arran - Lochgilphead
8.15-18.45, 90 km trp, 13.7 km/h avg, 45.4 km/h max, 1238 km total

Ferry Ardrossan - Isle of Arran
Before breakfast I get a timetable of the ferry from Ardrossan to the Isle of Arran. And I can calculate, that there is not so much time to get the next ship, otherwise you have to wait two hours. They explain a bike route along the river, I get a sketch again and this time it works. There are signs for cyclists and once more I enumerate the magical items: National Cycle Route, Sustrans, Coast-to-Coast. As usual the cycle path ends somewhere and we ride - guess - on a 4 lane road again. If you would like to avoid the traffic you should turn to the center of Ardrossan. But I want no risk today and stay to the signed ferry-route. I arrive at the pier 30 minutes before departure (9.45 am).

This time I am so pleased to get to this Island that I would not like to stay at any other place of the world now. I buy a ticket, take a photo of the ship and then I enter the car deck. There is a Bicycle Area and one can tighten the bike by ropes. After departure it soon gets so windy that you better go inside.

Off the Mainland and

up to the Isle of Arran zu
Now there is time to study the numerous ferry-lines of the Caledonian MacBrayne (Hebridean and Clyde Ferries). As there are lots of islands, peninsulas, lochs and sounds in Scotland it is possible to choose between a manifold of variants for a journey. I think of a extraordinary route but this will be discussed later.

After about one hour the ship arrives at Brodick on Arran. It's hard to believe: one and a half hour before at that nasty 4 lane road for to be in paradise now? It's true, I enter the most beautiful landscape until now. I will cross the island and then continue at the western coast up to Lochranza, where another ferry goes back to the mainland.

Brodick at Arran

Begin of Paradise
The road across the island is a little pass. If you walk up there you have time to admire the plants and views. Remarkable here is the change of different climate areas wihin short distances. Down at the sea there are forests of knobby trees and rhododendron jungles. Some 100 m higher there is the timberline and areas with heather and ferns follow (it is difficult for me, to translate all the plants up there, so believe: it's beautiful).


After I have reached the summit - guess what happens. You are right - a downhill. No - that is not enough! For now there it is, this feeling for the first time on this tour. You get showers at your neck and goose bumps, may be wet eyes too. It's caused by the loveliness around and the feeling to come here that long way on your own. Does anyone understand me?


At the Westcoast
I hope so. At the western coast I get cool again for there is a proper headwind. From the village Pirnmill the road turns for some grades to the east and now there is a proper tailwind. We have a wide view across the Killbrannan Sound to the peninsula of Kintyre which has a shape like a finger. There are grey curtains of rain showers, at other places the sun shines.

Ruin and strange Boilers
One of those grey curtains takes pity on Arran but it only lasts for minutes. I observe the remaining walls of a house. There are some curiuous big rusty boilers in there and I cannot explain their former destination. I have so much time for the ferry, that I often stop and look around. As I arrive at the pier, the boat is just coming in. But isn't it more than half an hour too early? Later it turns out, by mistake I have learned the departure times from the opposite direction.

Ferry Lochranza - Claonaig
Another bike tourer enters the ferry and we have a chat. He will go to Campbeltown on Kintyre and enter a ferry to North Ireland there. We find out, that his mother is a German from Bückeburg where I once visited the gymn and always was annoyed of the British occupants. We leave the ferry at Claonaig, I get some useful hints and we part.

Now I cross the peninsula riding through upper moor land. Once I watch a grey bird on a meadow with a long beak. My book says it was a Curlew. Behind the mountains of Arran get pale, they look like the humps of an egg carton from here. Then you reach Loch Tarbert and some time later the small town Tarbert. This is very nice as the biker before told me, and he is right. So I sit at a bench and then enter a baker's shop. I sign on a piece of cake but the lady says this would be cheese. So she signs to the cake but these are biscuits for me. I insist to buy the cake/cheese and it tastes fine.

We continue along Loch Fyne and now there are the first Salmon Farms. At another place there is a sign declaring the characteristics of the Artilligan Forest growing from the sealine up the hills. They name it the North European Rain Forest. Everyone is invited to have a walk there but I think you would do hard to do some steps in that rocky jungle.

At Ardnshaig there is a swing bridge. The biker told something of a canal and here it is, the Crinan Canal. Let us read the sign:

The canal was built nearly 200 years ago to encourage trade with the islands and avoid the hazardous route round the mull of Kintyre.

They need about 10 sluices to overcome the height difference across the land. I head on for a short distance to Lochgilphead. This town is not as nice but I soon find an accomodation at the Argyll Hotel. For dinner I enter the bar and tonight I have the "typical British" meal: Fish 'n Chips.

During the rest of the evening I work out my extraordinary plan. There is a ferry from Oban to the Outer Hebrides resp. Western Islands. There one can make a two-day-ride to the north and then return by ship to Ullapool. The only drawback is that I have to wait one day at Oban until the ship leaves. May be a rest day wouldn't be bad!

11. Day, Tuesday: Lochgilphead - Crinan - Oban - Conan/Ardgour
8.30-18.15, 128 km trp, 16.43 km/h avg, 51.0 km/h max, 1366 km total

Sluices of Crinan Canal

Loch Crinan
So today I will ride half of the day only and so have much time. At first this curious canal is to be investigated. So we ride at the B841 along the Loch Crinan and watch the numerous sluices. To reach the village Crinan you have to climb over a hill (later I found out, that a biker can stay to the canal, but then it was too late).

Now at Crinan you can think of the Shangrila award again. The silence, two old rusty steamers at the harbour, a lighthouse, fishing gear and the view to the Loch. Unwillingly I leave this place.

Pictures from Crinan
At first we pass flat marshland until we hit the A816. At this place named Templewood there are some ancient relicts like some menhirs (standing stones) and a stone circle. At a sign they suggest to sit down, watch the menhirs and argue about their destination. No more informations.

Some time later I meet three funny guys. We find out immediately that we all are from Germany, otherwise we would have chatted in English and that is ridiculous. They have come by plane from Frankfurt to Glasgow and want to go to Oban and the Island Mull. But they will not be so fast, for they often stop and drink beer, as they say. I wonder if beer is the right stuff during the day. "Let us drink a beer tonight at Oban" I say (and think it to come true).

Eventually I watch the landscape around. The blank green hills look like those of the virtual landscape of a model railway. So on this stage once more you ride up the hills and run down to the sea line in turn. There you have nice views to the Lochs. If you stop at a nice place you have not to wait long and a car stops, someone jumps out to take a photo and then they go off again. Once I find myself standing among purple orchids. And the cattle on the meadows look with different interest and intelligence to the passing cyclist...

I arrive at Oban in the early afternoon. Much traffic, crowds of tourists. I enter the tourist office to arrange the various bookings, tickets and accomodations of my exactly elaborated plan. There are queues at every counter and I get nervous more and more. Now guess what happens: I run out, my plan bursts into dust: what to do one long day at this crowded place, is the landscape at the Outer Hebrides as nice as that of Middle Scotland, can I not continue for a nice distance today? I can!

I only buy a postcard for my friend Roland, as we were at Oban 30 years ago. And I have the usual tailwind - feel free now from this constricting plan and make a good speed now.

Brridge over Loch Etive

Brridge over Loch Creran

Stalker Castle
I head towards Fort William, may be I reach it today if I stand a 100- miles-day (The Americans call it "century", but this is made with racing equipment and without baggage). We will find another end...

There are two bridges on this way to avoid the long way around deep Lochs. At Loch Linnhe there is a ferry boat to the other side, and there you will find a road nearly without traffic. But it's too late today for this, and so I first enjoy the cost-free ferry passage, then enter the "The Inn of Ardgour" for an accomodation. This time the computer doesn't want me but the chef's command is determinant and so I get my key. In the backyard they just build a shed for cycles because they have realized, that more and more cyclists come to this beautiful country.

I write to my friend: "Cycling in Scotland is so much fun, why didn't we do that 30 years ago?" But we were hiking up above at Glenn Affric and that wasn't too bad as well...

The dinner is offered in the bar and today I choose a slice of salmon. At a table aside there sit some people from Switzerland (Helvetica). Their language is more foreign to me than English. As the waiter asks the Suisse people for a pudding or a dessert they say "No, one more beer please". So I do.

From my room I have a wonderful view to Loch Linnhe and when it is dark see the lights of Fort William.

Chapter 5: Middle Scotland
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