Do you ever see stories of adventures and wonder whether they were actually that perfect, or whether it has been edited to look just so? I do, and maybe I’m a bit skeptical. I’ll hold my hand up- I’m guilty of some Insta-crimes. However now and again the perfect of most perfect unedited adventures comes good.
Isle of Arran, you’re up.
Take one island and one pre-loved paper map borrowed from a lovely mate. Find a table, preferably in a pub or at least with a beer in hand, and get that map wide open (all the way, no folds), smooth down those creases and let all of those roads, tracks, peaks and contours soak right in.
Some adventures require weeks of planning. This one required an hour or so. More so because being on a tiny island you can’t go that wrong…right? This lack of planning probably (definitely) showed what I thought was possible compared to what was actually achieved. My one main objective was achieved though; to get away from ‘it’. Whatever ‘it’ is. Granted, there was a wee bit of luck involved with this adventure, and that luck mainly came from the abnormally beautiful weather that was bestowed upon our shiny-helmeted heads.
Friend met off the ferry, and a quick tightening of the bike bags, we set off towards the north side of the island towards the small but perfectly formed village of Lochranza, where the sun sets into the jellyfish-inhabited sea, rabbits hop around your feet, sheep sleep on the beaches and deer graze on the lawns of the tumble-down castle like some crazy, beautiful, drug-induced dream.
Bags deposited at the hostel, a small evening trip around the rocky headland led us past Fairy Dell and down a flying track quite simply to the door of Reg, the Arran dairy ice cream seller (amongst many other titles). “Are you twins?” he exclaimed with more than a hint of joy as we asked for two tubs of his finest vanilla. “I can’t believe it” he continued. “I need to sit down”. And so he did, chatting to us as we polished off our ride winnings. Turns out Reg was a tester and lived and raced in South London. He had lived in this magical little croft high on the cliff for 40 years. Popping our heads into Reg’s little world with a pair of white trainers for sale amongst hanging wax candles, spooky little stone models and well plenty of miscellaneous items we had clearly stumbled across the Lochranza Aladdin’s Cave. Time for tea. Scampi, of course.
Morning. A hint of blue sky through the stuffy hostel room velux and stiff backs from beds that are too soft and too small. Arrived downstairs too late for hostel croissants but small early morning wins with finding a cafetiere in the kitchen set the scene for the coming hours.
Sometimes tracks on maps are lying little bastards. They lure you in with their meandering paths that look like they lead to greatness, when actually they just stop dead. In the case of this unedited adventure, I’m not sure the path even started. Having more than just a drop of stubborn in me can sometimes lead to nothing apart from thigh ache, and at other times lead to fallen antlers and finding the most beautiful road on the island. The road, literally, to nowhere.
Pushing our heavy bikes up a boggy sheep strewn mountainside, pausing every couple of minutes to catch our breath, and also consult the map for the path that was inked on the paper but lost to the hill, rewards were many. The big expanse of blue framed the vivid green of that steep hillside. A knitted together wire fence physically stopped my stubbornness in its tracks. Even with an optimistic climb over the wire and a prolonged stare at the wall of rich green forest it was clear that the party was over. Time to point the nose downwards and head back towards the big old blue.
Rolling along the Western coastal road there was simply nothing in our way. No traffic. No junctions. No air, seemingly, but that is clear madness. The wind was gently aiding us on our way and the sun beat heavily upon the quiet tarmac as we tapped it out in near silence. A remote small coastal cemetery sheltered gravestones that paid their respects to entire families that had passed over 150 years ago. The big blue that ran consistently to our right would have been exactly the same then, howling in winter and peacefully lapping the shore in summer months, just as it did on this day.
Reaching a white sandy beach with a couple of small boats laid up on it, it would have been a crime not to stop and enjoy the peace for a while. A khaki green battered Landrover pulled up and a chunky black Labrador called Laddie came waddling over to us, his yellow furry tennis ball slotted perfectly in his jaws. Bikes leant against the stone jetty to enable sufficient rummaging in the bike bags to find snacks, the quickly deteriorating paper map was pulled out again to see what the next move would be.
A slow pedal commenced though the middle of the island up a beautiful road flanked by green mountainside. The road felt positively alpine like as it weaved its way up towards the center of the island, before tipping us over the top like kids on a see-saw all the way down to the Eastern side again, the CalMac waiting to take my pal home.
And then there was one. Sitting on a beach side bench with the remainder of a co-op carrier bag picnic. There had been some discussion about a track that led up into the belly of Arran past several waterfalls. With a final check of the by now battered paper map the pedals turned along the same coastal road that we had ridden 24 hours before, the ferry making its way back to the mainland in the corner of my eye and just me and my thoughts to keep me company.
Turning off the road onto the gravel path I was hit by the sheer beauty of the water at the first fall, as it tumbled in the bright light over the rocks. I had the track to myself as I pushed the bike up slippy gravel, brushing past purple heather and pausing every now and again to look back down the valley as where I had come from. It was utter magic. The only sounds coming from the gushing of the water and the birds soaring above. Reaching the top of the track I sat for a while on a stile, looking around the bowl of the mountainside around me, wishing that I was better prepared to go further and bivvy that night. It wasn’t easy to leave that spot, but with the sun starting to dip below the ridge I turned back down the hill, riding where I could and lifting the bike over the massive gaps of stone along the way.
Nearly reaching the road again, a steady pool of water at the foot of a small fall caught my eye, inviting me to dip my toes in, to which I obliged. Before I knew it, I was in, jersey off and bobbing around in my bibs. Sheer, sheer, heavenly delight. After attempting to get out at one stage, I got back in for one more dip, then as the light really started to fade I pulled myself out over the slippery boulders to try and dry off a little before making the rest of the journey back up the hill to my hostel in the harbour. With soaking wet bibs and cold toes the pedalling recommenced. I do not believe that there was a happier person in the world than I was at that moment in time. Stopping at the top of the hill with dusk gradually drawing in, I stopped to look around one last time and let the gentle wind blow about my hair. A herd of deer were up high on the hillside, them watching me, watching them.
I was treated to one final delight that day of the sun dipping into the sea at Lochranza. Deer grazed around the village and the water swayed silently around me. Otherworldly. Peaceful. Beautiful. It’s fresh and raw. It’s burnt into my mind and and I hope it stays that way forever.
Words by Beth Hodge @brynridesbikes
Photos by Karly Millar @karly.millar