Cycling on Islay, Jura and Arran, May 2003

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Tales for another cycling trip organised by Ian. This time to some of the inner Hebrides and managed to involve Jim, Anne, Andy and, for at least some of the time, John.

Saturday, 24th May 2003
click The bulk of the party made their way to Ardrossan and, with just their bikes, got the ferry over to Arran on Friday night. Anne didn't finish work until late on Friday, so it was early on Saturday morning when we finally set out for Scotland. We all planned to get the 15:30 Calmac sailing from Kennacraig but an overturned caravan on the M6 meant that we just missed the boat and had to wait for the 18:00 instead. This was taken just as we sailed away from Kennacraig where we left my van.
click As we pulled in to Port Ellen the others we there to meet us and direct us to the campsite.
click Of course, this turned out to be not very far away at all - in the beer garden of the White Hart Hotel. And very nice beer and food they had too.
Sunday, 25th May 2003
click There are few roads on Islay so, as we were in the area, we decided to head to the end of the road and back. Just by chance, this happened to take us past the Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg distilleries - all in the space of three miles. But we didn't stop at any of them to do the tour.
click Later, we passed the ruin of Kildalton Church...
click ...which contains the only surviving complete Celtic high cross in Scotland. It was carved about A.D.800 probably by a sculptor from Iona, from local blue stone. The biblical scenes on the front include the Virgin and Child while on the back (shown here) are animals and carved bosses.
click At the end of the metalled road is a gate with a sign that reads "If you do not close this gate, chasing cows will be our fate". As we all milled around, I wandered off towards the sea to get a picture of the bay. After a while, my eye was caught by something moving in the water. At first I thought it was a seal but then I heard it call and realised it was an sea otter. I ran back to fetch the others and we all watched it feeding. It was a way off so I've had to ring it in the photo - but we had a good view of it through Ian's binoculars.
click On the way back we stopped to watch some seals basking on the rocks.
click This is at the Ardbeg distillery after we had had lunch in the cafe. These casks are from Jack Daniels in the States where they only use them once. Apparently, th flavour of Scotch is improved by using second hand casks. We didn't realise it at the time but we also had our first encounter with the crew from the Malt Project here.
click We returned to Port Ellen and then took the coast road, past the airport, to Bowmore where they have this round church - and yet another distillery! The coast road was tedious - long and straight and directly into a head wind. Andy, with his superior muscle power, took duty at the front while the rest of us snuk in as close as we could behind.
click The wind got easier as we headed round the bay to Bruichladdich and yet another distillery. Ian had carefully arranged our trip to coincide with the Feis Ile festival of Malt and Music. The distilleries take turns organising events to entertain the locals and visitors. Here we are dancing 'strip the willow' to a live band in the courtyard. The big camera belongs to the Malt Project who were making a video about malt whiskeys - watch out for us!
click This is the pretty village of Port Charlotte. We didn't have time to stop as we had an appointment with a ceilidh at the village hall in Portnahaven. There are no official campsites but after a bit of asking around we were directed round the corner to Claddach where we pitched by a little inlet.
click We noticed some geese in the water and, as the sun was setting, they took it upon themselves to walk back to the farm where they belonged.
click After something to eat we headed up to the village hall where the ceilidh was in full swing with lots of singing and dancing. Once again the boys from the Malt Project appeared. It was very entertaining and made a lovely ending to a wonderful day.
Monday, 26th May 2003
click In the morning our first stop was at the public toilets back in Portnahaven - very clean and with very hot water. This is a view of some of the cottages. One of the locals, who recognised us from the ceilidh, befriended us and gave us some insight into the local way of life. He also dissuaded us from attempting the coast path to Machir Bay so we followed the small road round past Kilchiaran back to Port Charlotte. This time we stopped to visit the Wildlife Information Centre and have coffee and cakes at the good cafe.
click We detoured round the back road past the RSPB visitors centre at Aoradh. They own several acres of land and form it in a manner that encourages wildlife. Then we pressed on to Port Askaig which has little more than a shop, a house, this hotel and a small ferry terminal.
click We took the short crossing to the Isle of Jura and carried on round to Craighouse where we camped in yet another beer garden. Unfortunately, by this time, it was all very damp and the midges were out in force. We were reduced to running around in our waterproofs to keep the little buggers at bay.
Tuesday, 27th May 2003
click Tuesday dawned even wetter and our trip out to see the Dun near Ardmenish wasn't very exciting. Just visible in the background is a group of houses known as 'The Light Houses' which can be reached only by boat or on foot.
click We cycled back to Craighouse and packed up our tents. This time it was the turn of the Jura's distillery to host an event. There were many people about - including the Malt Project, again - but we had a ferry to catch and headed back to Islay. Here we are getting back on to the small ferry to Port Askaig just as the next lot were arriving. We just had time for a meal in the Port Askaig Hotel and the caught the big ferry back to Kennacraig. Anne and I packed our bikes in the van and then followed Ian and Andy who cycled over Kintyre peninsula to Claonaig.
click Here we are, just about to get off the ferry at Lochranza on the Isle of Arran.
click Ian's information that the Catacol Hotel allowed camping proved to be several years out of date so we ended up here next to the river a bit further on. This was to be our fourth night camped by to the sea.
Wednesday, 28th May 2003
click Wednesday was particularly wet as we pressed on round the West coast of the island. We were rewarded for our efforts (well the other two's efforts - we were nice and dry) when we came to Machrie and its substantial collection of stone circles. This one has two concentric rings.
click And this is just one stone of another. Imagine how much that must weigh. Then we took the road known as 'The String' over the middle of the island, back to Brodick and the ferry and home...