Scotland's islands are fantastic places to take your bicycle. They are the ultimate escape where the pace of life is always more relaxed, the roads are quiet and the scenery breathtaking. Travelling to them is always exciting because of the sea voyage. The Caledonian MacBrayne ferry timetable is something I love to pour over and plan island adventures.
The contents page lists the islands, their magical names (Gigha, Tiree, Skye...), enticing you to turn the pages and find out how to visit them.
The timetable for each island provides you with lots of information, such as ticket prices and connections with trains.
Every fare table has a bicycle symbol with the words "pedal cycles FREE" next to it, so you only ever pay the price of a passenger to take your bike on a ferry.
As you make your way through the pages you can tell how remote an island is by the infrequency of the services. These islands excite me the most as they require a lot more planning to work out how to get there and how to get back.
Each timetable has a collection of symbols that indicate what facilities are available on the ferry. On the longer ferry journeys the most important symbol to look for is the knife and fork because this means that there is a "Mariner's Restaurant" on the boat where you will be able to buy a hot meal.
Calmac favourites include fish and chips, curry of the day and macaroni cheese. This is tasty and filling fuel if you have been on the bike all day. Calmac are proud that they source the best of Scottish food, so there is fish caught from the shores of the island of Barra, venison from Argyll, and Rannoch Moor smoked chicken.
So, there is plenty to look forward to when planning a trip to Scotland's islands. The Calmac ferry timetable provides plenty of inspiration and is always worth having in your bag. A true icon of travel.
There is nothing quite like it. Boarding a Cal Mac (Caledonian MacBrayne) ferry with your bicycle is one of the best things about cycling in Scotland. There is excitement about the quiet roads on a far-flung or not so far-flung island. There is a sense of escape that the separation of the island from the mainland provides.
Now there is a new ferry route that opens up new possibilities of discovery. The summer only sailing from Ardrossan to Campbeltown was inaugurated this year. It is a three year pilot service so we should all try to make use of it so that the trial is a success and it keeps running.
A short BBC report recorded the first day of the ferry’s operation.
There are plenty of reasons to take your bike on this ferry. It gives direct access to the southern roads of the Kintyre Peninsula. Before this ferry service the most direct way to reach this area involved two ferry crossings, a 14 mile cycle on the island of Arran and then a 38 mile cycle south to Campbeltown. Then you have to come back the way you came. This, of course, is a great route if you have the time. But if you are short on time and only want to explore the south of the Kintyre Peninsula then the new ferry is ideal.
The route also gives another option to reach the island of Islay. From Campbeltown to Kennacraig where the Islay ferry departs is a 33 mile cycle.
For me, the excitement of this new ferry is that it will make it easier for me to reach the island of Gigha. This tiny island is only 6 miles long and 1.6 miles wide and has a population of about 110 people. There are not many roads to cycle on, but this is a place to combine cycling with other attractions. There are beaches, standing stones and walks. There are seals, otters and seabirds to watch. Achamore Gardens has over 50 acres of unusual plants and there is even a golf course.
To get to Gigha from Campbeltown involves a 20 mile cycle to Tayinloan from where the island ferry departs. The ferry crossing takes 20 minutes.
Looking at the Ardrossan to Campbeltown ferry timetable there are early evening departures on Thursday and Friday. These arrive in Campbeltown for 9.20pm, meaning staying overnight in the town will be necessary. The next morning I could cycle up to Tayinloan to catch the ferry across to Gigha and spend one or two nights on the island. On Sunday there is a ferry from Campbeltown back to Ardrossan at 5.55pm. From Ardrossan there are regular trains to Glasgow.
This sounds like a perfect weekend of cycling. Why not give it a try? I will be.
Calmac website and ferry timetables
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.