There’s something about cycling and small ferries that complement each other. Maybe it’s that both travel at a pace that enables an appreciation of the journey not just the destination. Or maybe it’s a different perspective that arriving by sea adds to a bike ride. Cycling and the ferries of Western Scotland provide endless opportunities for some memorable trips.
This short trip starts in Arran, crosses onto the Kintyre peninsula then goes across to Jura and Islay before heading back to Kintyre and then Arran – 7 ferry crossings in total!
Starting in Ardrossan, on the coast south of Glasgow, there’s a 1 hour ferry crossing to Brodick in Arran. From here head to Lochranza at the north of the island by one of three routes: head south and around the island, head west over the central hills to the east coast or head north for the direct route. All the routes provide hills, wonderful scenery and little traffic once out of Brodick. From Lochranza it’s a 30 minute hop to Claonaig on Kintyre. There are dramatic views back to Arran’s mountain ridges from the ferry.
From Claonaig it’s an undulating ride of about 6 miles to Kennacraig on West Loch Tarbet. The next few miles to Tarbet are on the main road but not too bad traffic wise, unless a ferry has recently arrived in which case just take a break for 10 minutes while the traffic disappears. Tarbet is an attractive village on Loch Fyne with a harbour that’s busy with fishing boats and yachts. It’s a good place to stock up with food or stop at one of its cafes. From Tarbet take the coastal road along the west coast of Kintyre which twists, turns and climbs for the next 22 miles to Ardishaig. The road sometimes hugs the coast, other times goes further inland through lush woodland covered with a carpet of moss and lichens and dotted with tiny lochs.
After following the Kintyre coast you eventually drop down to Ardrishaig on Loch Gilp and is where the Crinan Canal starts. The Crinan Canal is the 9 mile long canal that enables yachts to avoid the Mull of Kintyre by providing a link between the Clyde and the Sound of Jura . From a cycling point of view it provides easy riding on a well-surfaced towpath to Bellanoch. From here it’s about 6 miles back to the Kintyre coast to another attractive coastal village – Tayvallich. As well as being a popular yachting destination, Tayvallich also has a passenger ferry to Craighouse on Jura which also takes bikes – this is a great resource as it enables a round trip through Jura to Islay
The ferry is only 15m long and so has limited space so booking is a good plan. It’s another great boat trip – about an hour – the first going down Loch Sween and then across the Sound of Jura with a backdrop of the distinctive Paps of Jura hills.
The ferry (white boat in photo) arrives in Craighouse, the only village on Jura which also has a campsite perfectly located outside of the Jura Hotel, next to the Jura Distillery and overlooking the bay.
There’s only one road in Jura so it’s worth doing an out and back ride to the north of the island and if you’ve got time explore the hill tracks as well.
From Craighouse it’s about 9 miles ride to Feolin for the short ferry trip from that takes you across to Port Askaig on Islay.
Port Charlotte is a good destination from the ferry – it has a good campsite which is part of community facilities that include a popular café that serves food until 8.00 PM. The village also has a shop and pub. The obvious loop from Port Charlotte to Potnahaven is a good excursion especially if you go out over the hills and return along the coast. Ferries from Islay back to Kintyre run from both Port Askaig in the north of the island and Port Ellen in south The ride to Port Ellen is across windswept moorland that’s fairly flat so not too demanding unless there’s a headwind.
The ferry from Port Ellen takes you in 2 hours to Kennacraig on Kintyre and from here you just retrace the route out – first to Claonaig and the ferry to Lochranza on Arran and then to Brodick for the ferry back to Ardrossan.
There are good rail links to Ardrossan from Glasgow Central – see Scotrail for details. If you drive and want to leave your car in Ardrossan there’s a car park at the ferry terminal and also you can park at Asda which is a couple of minutes ride from the ferry – advance booking necessary through this link . The route needs careful planning with the Calmac ferry timetable, Jura ferry timetable and the Jura- Islay ferry to make sure you end up in the right place on the right day. Only the Jura passenger ferry needs booking as it has limited spaces, although it might be worth checking if bookings on other ferries are needed at busy times.
The route is quite straight forward as there are few roads to choose from in this part of west Scotland.OS 50,00 maps are useful but not necessary: a larger scale road map is quite sufficient. The route follows Sustrans NCN 78 for part of the way so the NCN 78 Oban to Campbeltown map is useful too.
The route details are as follows: Brodick- Lochranza. Ferry to Claonaig. Claonaig- Kennacraig – Tarbet – Kilberry-Ardrishaig- Bellanoch- Tayvallich. Ferry to Craighouse on Jura. Craighouse to Feolin. Ferry to Port Askaig on Islay. Port Askaig – Port Charlotte – Port Ellen. Ferry to Kennacraig on Kintyre. Kennacraig-Claonaig. Ferry to Lochranza
There are lots of extensions that can be added on to this route
On the route as described there are campsites in Lochranza on Arran, Kilberry and Tayvallich on Kintyre, Craighouse on Jura and Port Charlotte on Islay. There are also hostels at Lochranza and Port Charlotte – see Hostelling Scotland for details