Saturday, 12 March 2016

Largs. Great Cumbrae. Millport. Arran. The Magical Firth of Clyde.

                                              ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
For me the Firth of Clyde and its cluster of magical islands have always meant access to paradise on my doorstep. Sure Mull, Skye, The Hebrides, Islay, Jura and all the other Scottish islands are great in good weather, when I like to visit them, but it usually takes some planning and intention to go there and by the time you arrive the weather might have changed. Scotland in drizzle, clag or wet weather is not for me as I like technicolor scenery not grey and black despair. Pastel landscape I might settle for at a push but I don't do rain these days. Not a raindrop for the last 10 years. Just like Elphaba in Wicked.
Also £40- £100 or more in petrol and campsite fees is a deciding factor on an always tight budget as I'd hate to shell out good money for a soggy weekend.
With some decent weather predicted in early March and the mountains plastered with fresh snow I decided a visit to the island of Great Cumbrae in the sparkling Firth of Clyde was a good idea. The Firth of Clyde islands are magical places at any time of year but in early spring sunshine they offer world class views. 30 mins to one hour's drive from Glasgow and the central belt towns yet it's always a surprise to me how quiet and peaceful they are. Fashion is everything these days and they are obviously not fashionable... which suits me just fine. Looking at some of the buildings and outlying benches however they could do with some maintenance in an era of endless council cut backs and a few more tourists might provide some extra revue for local shops and infrastructure. It's a hard balancing act to pull off as many popular destinations get trashed by too many visitors and that in turn can ruin the charm and special magic of areas that attracted and enthralled tourists in the first place. (Certain over frequented bothies spring to mind here)

Anyway, off I toddled down to Largs, wondering if the peaks of Arran would have any snow on them and half an hour later I was delighted to find they did. Parking free on a shoreline street with great views over the Firth of Clyde I locked my car and set off for the nearby Largs to Great Cumbrae ferry. A ten minute hop across the water for £3:20 pence return delivers you to this island where you can either get a bus into Millport, connecting with each ferry, or walk across the island into its only town on foot or bike by a number of different routes.
I opted for the cross country version and said goodbye to the bus and most of the ferry folk as soon as I stepped off the slipway. From here minor roads or tracks take you over the island via the Glaid Stone Summit at 127 metres, or alternatively, you can follow the coast road in either direction. Great views open up right from the off. This is looking across at the upland hills above Largs.
Largs again. This time the town and the wonderful Brisbane Glen minor road leading up through the woods to the high moors behind, which takes you the adventurous way over the uplands to Greenock/Gourock and my Queens of the Stone Age in the last post who still live there.
Might as well plug my photographic guide books here as they are two of the most colourful and comprehensive books on Scotland, away from the Munros, in modern times. A glossy paper published equivalent of these guide books would easily set you back £20 to £30 so a couple of quid on kindle is very good value. First few chapters free to read in here. Loads of ideas for exciting trips at any level. By bike and foot.

Once you get a bit higher the snow covered peaks of Arran (Winter or early spring if you are lucky) dominate the views as you summit out at the trig then walk downhill into Millport. This is heaven on earth for me. It doesn't get any better than this. The dark volcanic lava flows on the Garroch Head peninsula on neighbouring Bute show up well in this photo.
A close up zoom of the Arran Ridge. The ridge walk over these granite summits and serrated towers can be a serious undertaking in full winter conditions requiring a good level of skill, ice axe and crampons. From Garroch Head on Bute or Great Cumbrae however you can experience all the grandeur, passion and majesty with none of the perils or freezing conditions. For instance...half the time, being much higher, the Arran peaks were in shivery dark shade while I basked in my usual tropical climate for a full 6 hours on the magic island. T shirt time in early March. This boy's no fool and bakes like a bun at every opportunity.
A view looking over the town reservoirs to Garroch Head, Kilchattan Bay and Bute. Bute and Rothesay are also great cheap places to visit for a day trip in fine weather. Also covered in this blog and in the Firth of Clyde book which describes many fine walks and bike rides on the islands and along the Clyde coast in one handy volume.
Another of Arran's magnificent summits.
Even in Millport itself the mountains on this neighbouring jaggy island create a fantastic backdrop to almost every view. It is a magic island. It even has crocodiles in the sea to match its palm tree climate.
And wonderful seascapes like this one. A dream destination for boat lovers, island baggers, cyclists, tourists and walkers.You can hire bikes in Millport at the cycle shop to tour the island, a favourite pastime for generations and they have family bikes for all ages here including individual enclosed toddler carriages attached to the back if memory serves. Traffic on Millport and Bute is still very light as soon as you leave the town centre and even there it is rarely a problem.
Two young cyclists on the pavement which rarely sees pedestrians walking along it outside of town limits so is suitable for multi use activity like this as it's easy to step aside.
Kelburn Castle Gorge in the distance.
The shoreline path into Millport.
Cathedral of the Isles. (open to the public.)
The Costa Del Clyde. Downtown Millport. With cabbage palms.
Tee shirt time for Bobby, having lunch in a sheltered sunny nook. I have an unfortunate affinity with certain animals. They cant leave me alone. Must be my witch/ warlock side coming out. Intelligent creatures can tell when you like them and they like you back in turn.
This was acceptable behaviour but they had to push it further. They always do.
Now it was more like the film "The Birds." They were starting to draw attention to me so I had to will them away after a while as fifty jackdaws might be good in a pie but when they are following you around a small island town it's not normal behaviour for most humans. I try to blend in with humanity as much as possible but they were spoiling my cover. Every rock around me had a tapestry of jackdaws on it.
On the way back I picked the coast road. Still plenty to see here.
The Lion Rock. (from this angle it looks most like a stone lion, stalking its prey) and two cyclists.
Hardly any money spent. A great cheap day out and only 4 to 8 hours total trip depending on speed, mode of island transport and inclination. Pick a nice day for it, like here, and it is truly magical. My golden ticket island.
I've always loved the colourful, the wonderful, clever visual entertainment, and the bizarre so this seems fitting somehow.  My very last Bioshock indulgence from the early period. Boo... Shame.
Ah, to find another world half as intriguing, unexpected, and enjoyable as this one over the last fun filled year. And I've always agreed with the words of this great song from W.W.
 Beauty is created from within and it's so easy to do. It is pure imagination and it can brighten many a dull day in the real world we all live in. Wish more people used it more often but sadly it's squeezed out or smothered at birth in some :o) Retain that inner child and the world is a sunnier, brighter place.


Carol said...

I've only been to Cumbrae once when I was on a car-kipping trip in my Cortina. I don't think I've done the road across the middle - I just hired a bike and went around the perimeter - that was really nice though!

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol, the inner circuit route shown on the map is good as well with one of my favorite minor roads in Britain for mountain views. If you combine all the roads together by bike or foot it makes an excellent outing any time of year.
As regards the last post, cant believe how many clubs I've been in over the years where most of the members turned their collective nose up at visiting Great Cumbrae, Bute and even Arran as areas not worth bothering about, despite them being so close to Glasgow.
An attitude that still baffles me to this day.

Linda W. said...

Oh how lovely! Someplace I'd love to visit (on a non-rainy day of course!)

Neil said...

One of my favourite islands, especially outwith the tourist season. I try to get over at least a couple of times each year and after my visit go to Nardinis' in Largs for a fish tea. The road down the west side of the island in particular is usually pretty quiet and the views of Arran are ace.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Linda, Yes, I think you would enjoy the Firth of Clyde islands in good weather. Very varied scenery and dead easy to visit.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Neil, Every time I go there in winter, or even summer, I really enjoy it and think it's perfect in sunny weather for families on a day trip. They are more likely to be stuffing their faces in a shopping mall though. Cant understand it as it's a cracking little island to explore on foot any time of year and always has been.

Carol said...

I can't understand the junk food and shopping mall mentality at all! What boring lives some people really do lead - how sad!

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol, I forgot to ask. How did you first find out about the Arrochar caves? Was it "Always a Little Further." Alistair Borthwick's outdoor classic about exploring Scotland in the 1930s which details weekend life spent living in the caves or some other way?

Carol said...

It was Always a Little Further where I first saw about them but then I also saw them mentioned in the 'Mountain Days and Bothy Nights' book I read a lot. I'm not sure we found the exact cave Borthwick used though as we didn't find one as big as he described. I found the usually used one though which was very comfy :-)

Tom said...

I grew up on Cumbrae and what a place it was. A lot of the time as a stroppy teenager i actually thought it was a bit boring and wished i lived somewhere else, particularly in the winter, but looking back on all the memories now i realise how lucky i was.

Endless summer evenings playing golf (the golf course essentially has the same views you getf rom the inner circle road), messing about on the water in various ways, using my dads old windsurf board as a kayak being my favourite, jumping off the pier, spending my £1 pocket money in a fruit machine and being overcome with guilt afterwards. Fishing from the rocks night after night, catching obscene amounts of mackerel then trying to sell them to the old ladies at 50p each. And all those winter nights watching the weather forecast praying for a windy day so we got the day off school! Getting beaten by a visiting team of students from the marine station at football every thursday night.

Learning to drive when my dad needed the patience of a saint as he sat in while i drove round and round and round the island.

Even now after ten years in the glasgow area, i still dont quite feel right if i have to go more than a couple of weeks without visiting the seaside.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Tom,
Cheers for the local insight and memories. I've loved all the Firth of Clyde islands since childhood holidays there in the 1960s and it was nice to see a good collection of local children come off the ferry onto Great Cumbrae from schools in Largs then fill up the bus into Millport so there's still plenty of local youngsters living there yet on the island. Probably doing much the same things you did back then. Even any modern children I've been over with forget their smart phones for one day and seem happy exploring and visiting the beach and town shops. Long may that continue.