Cycling round an entire island within a day certainly feels like a worthwhile activity for both children and adults. How achievable this is, depends on the island in question! A day out on the Isle of Cumbrae —oft called ‘The Cycling Island’ offers a satisfying ten mile ride around the circumference of the island with plenty of chances for fun diversions along the way.
Where is the Isle of Cumbrae?
You can access the Isle of Cumbrae by ferry from Largs, a seaside town west of Glasgow, which was popular as a fashionable seaside resort in the nineteenth century. It still has enough to occupy holidaymakers today with its amusement attractions, bars, restaurants and cafes. Our favourite is Nardini‘s, offering a fabulous selection of Italian ice-cream.
The pull for us, however, is the ferry over to Cumbrae. In peak season, two ferries, ordinarily Loch Shira and Loch Riddon, spend the day pootling between Largs and the Cumbrae slip. The journey takes ten minutes and it’s free for bicycles, although adults pay £3.40 for the round trip and children half that.
Cycling on Cumbrae
There are no separate cycle paths on the Isle of Cumbrae; all the cycling is on road. However, bicycles more than outnumber cars. We guesstimate the ratio to be 10:1, bicycles to cars. There are cyclists with children in trailers, friends whizzing by on tandems, groups of people on six person hire bikes, dogs in baskets and trailers and families enjoying a day out on bicycles. Cycling is certainly top of the list of visitor attractions on Cumbrae.
On arrival, there are three choices to make: turn left and follow the bus along the coast into Millport, the only town on the island; turn right and cycle anti-clockwise round the island; turn left, then right to take the shorter, steeper inland route across the island to Millport. We choose depending on which way the wind is blowing. We prefer to cycle into the wind first while our legs are fresher. Either way, the route is undulating, but no hill is particularly arduous.
If you’re looking to hire bikes on the island, then you’ll need to take the bus the four miles from the ferry into Millport and sort out your bicycle hire from one of the many cycle hire shops.
Views Around Cumbrae
The views are stunning and always slightly different, depending on the weather and the clouds. While cycling on the north side of the island, there are views across to the Isle of Bute. We enjoy spotting the Wemyss Bay – Rothesay ferries as they journey between Bute and the mainland.
Three miles anti-clockwise from the ferry is the High Tide Cafe at Fintry Bay; an obvious place for hot drinks, cake and ice-cream. There are lots of picnic benches here too as well as public toilets. Watch out, though, for the wasps in summer! It’s also a great spot for exploring on the beach; there are various coves on this side of the island, some sandy, some rocky. Our children love to jump from rock to rock, pottering around to see what they can find.
Continuing on the west side of the Isle of Cumbrae, the mountains on Arran loom ahead, sometimes sharp against a clear blue sky, at other times lurking behind a hide-and-seek mist.
While cycling on the east side of the island, the views are across to Fairlie and Largs on the mainland; it’s often fun to watch the frequent summer regattas at Largs marina, with identical white-sailed boats racing across the Firth of Clyde. Occasionally, there is the treat of spotting the Waverley paddling by.
Further along the east side of the island, towards the ferry slip is the Sport Scotland National Watersports Training Centre which is a great place to sit and watch the activity on the water. For older children, it’s a fabulous place to learn to sail, although we haven’t used it ourselves – yet.
Millport is the only town on the island and, though small, has enough to while away many happy hours. We certainly keep returning. Firstly, if you want to hire a bike, then you need to take the twelve minute bus journey into Millport from the ferry slip.
There are three main bicycle hire shops in Millport: Mapes of Millport; On your Bike; and Bremners Store. As we typically take our own bikes, we have no need to hire them. Occasionally we have visited Cumbrae with a friend who is visually impaired. We have hired a tandem more than once from Mapes so we could cycle round the island with him. We were happy with the bike and the service.
One of the main draws of Millport is the beach. The bay is sheltered, with views across to Arran and the mainland. The sand itself is quite grainy and not the smoothest underfoot but still very enjoyable and well maintained. We visited Cumbrae shortly after climbing Goatfell on Arran and we enjoyed looking across to the peak we had recently reached the top of. There are lots of benches and picnic tables if, like us, you usually bring a packed lunch to keep costs down.
Crocodile Rock is one of Cumbrae’s most famous landmarks. An aptly-shaped rock on the beach has been painted as a crocodile and children delight in climbing on top of it. I remember hovering with baited breath while my confident almost three year old climbed onto the crocodile’s head. However, last summer, aged seven and nine, our children scampered up easily, yet still relished standing on the crocodile’s head.
Around Crocodile Rock are plenty of other rocks to clamber on, pools to explore, as well as a sandy stretch for serious building projects. Jellyfish can add an extra level of interest but be careful of getting stung. Last summer our youngest did brush into one while swimming, imagining it was seaweed. The pain was quickly alleviated by applying some vinegar freely given from the nearby fish and chip shop.
Although the beach provides hours of cost-free fun, there are a number of paid amusements which the children enjoy too. On the sea front, there are old-fashioned swing-boats, operated by pulling a rope to swing higher and higher, trampolines to bounce off any remaining energy after cycling round the island and a fun mini-golf course. Over the road, in the grounds of Garrison House, are three different bouncy castles in summertime. Garrison House also contains a library and a small museum (entrance free), detailing some of the island’s history. There’s also a cafe, toilets and a couple of shops selling local wares.
On the outskirts of Millport, slightly to the west of the town centre is a large children’s playground. Adjacent to this is a field with a helicopter landing pad. This is the perfect spot for kite-flying as it usually experiences more than its fair share of wind.
|So for a cycling family, Cumbrae has lots on offer: easy, safe cycling; beaches; views, refreshments; amusements and a ferry ride. Highly recommended!|