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Friday, 24 June 2011

Meeting the Neighbours: CalMac’s Five Ferries Ticket

Arran’s nearest neighbour is Kintyre- a long protective arm of land to the west- and it is mainland. At Lochranza we also look out over the Kilbrannan Sound to the Cowal peninsula, which is mainland too. On maps it looks like a fist of stubby fingers about to nip the Isle of Bute. However Bute is spared by the narrow channels of water around it that are named the Kyles of Bute.

Nigel and I have an ongoing debate about whether you can tell if you’re on the mainland or an island if you can’t see the sea. Cal Mac’s Five Ferries ticket was a means to explore this question as well as to get to know the neighbours.

The early ferry from Lochranza took us to Claonaig on Kintyre- an area marketed as “the mainland island” due to its atmosphere of remoteness and the fact that the sea is always in walking distance. But road signs show the mileage to Glasgow and remind you that you’re on the mainland and can travel in straight-ish lines instead of circles. Tarbert (where you catch the next ferry to Portavadie) has a lively atmosphere of comings, goings and passings through, with brightly painted houses round a busy harbour. West Loch Tarbert and East Loch Tarbert almost connect the Atlantic and Loch Fyne here, but a low rocky ridge remains firmly in place keeping Kintyre attached to mainland Scotland.

We stopped at Tigh-na-Bruaich on the pretty, wooded Cowal peninsula (marketing slogan: “Argyll’s Secret Coast”) and explored the Kyles of Bute in our kayaks. This is sailing country with boathouses of all shapes and sizes tucked in along a coastline of little rocky bays and islands.

The next ferry crossing from Colintraive involved a three storey vessel to Rhubodach on Bute. From mainland solitude we found ourselves in island bustle and urban traffic at Rothesay, which is like a little Glasgow afloat in the Clyde, with its stolid Victorian architecture making the moated medieval castle look small. The splendid Victorian toilets at the pier have won awards. However, Bute, like Kintyre and Arran, has contrasting east and west sides, and lonely beaches with views of Arran’s Sleeping Warrior mountain skyline weren’t far away.

Finally, the ticket took us to Wemyss Bay. We had enjoyed getting to know the neighbours and stopped in Largs for Italian icecreams at a ridiculously early hour, before heading homewards on the Ardrossan to Brodick crossing. As we drove up the coast to Lochranza we surveyed the now indistinguishable mix of long lochs, islands and mainland where we had just been. There was as little traffic on the Lochranza road as usual and certainly no traffic lights, no roundabouts, no white lines, no advertising hoardings- in fact nothing that reminded us of anywhere else.

I get excited about journeys on Calmac ferries and seeing different Scottish ports (sometimes just a slipway and a heated Portaloo!) but the distances we covered were not large and certainly do-able by sea kayak. Alternatively you can cycle or even walk the route using the ferries. Don’t hurry though- you’ll find a lot of unique places to explore along the way.

The photos show:


Kayaks in the Kyles of Bute

View of Arran from Bute

Monday, 6 June 2011

The Storm

Hard on the heels of my last blog about The Humming Tree, came the destructive face of nature in the shape of violent storm-force winds that bombarded West Scotland on May 23rd. The trees, in full, lush summer leaf, suffered. At Lochranza, for most of the day, the gales funnelled down the loch from the north-west and and down Gleann Easan from the south-west , sounding like approaching express trains, and colliding on the golf course, whirling and gusting. Occasional explosions were the crashing down of trees. The deer lay as flat as hearthrugs, chins to the ground. If I see them behaving like that again I’ll know it’s time to worry about what’s heading over the Atlantic.

The trees which bore the full brunt of this battering are now brown and even bare from the burning salt spray. However, I am assured by Rab Logan from the Forestry Commission that they will compensate for this trauma by going into frantic seed production to ensure their future survival. And the blackened bracken will actually allow for more diverse new growth on the hillsides.

After a year of extreme winter temperatures, followed by an April that saw us outdoor swimming, then an unseasonally wild and windy May, I wonder how future historians will regard our time now? Are these just wobbles in the weather or the harbingers of significant climate change?

Better weather arrived for our Texas Scramble, sponsored by Arran Distillery, on the Bank Holiday.