A nice ride around Isle Of Bute and the Cowal Peninsula

May 2012
115 km

A tour I had always wanted to do. But I did not pluck up the courage to do it before this year. When I was pondering the choices for what I believed was going to be the best day of the year so far, I noticed that the weather forecast said rain in the east and sun in the west. Those bikeride plans in the Campsie Fells was dropped and I chose this ride instead.

The alarm clock went off at 0500 and I had a breakfast before I cycled down to the trainstation in Paisley for the 0619 train to Wemyss Bay. A forty minutes long train journey followed before the train reached Wemyss Bay. I noticed there was no ferry there and the ticket office was just opening. I learned the first ferry of the day was in one hour time. That did not make me happy because I would then have to start the ride from Rothesay close to 0900. A loss of at least two valuable hours. I spent the hour observing the traffic.

In Wemyss Bay, waiting for the ferry (white dot, middle of picture), overlooking Isle Of Bute and the mountains at Isle Of Arran

The ferry to Rothesay arrived and so did two other bikeriders who were going over to Rothesay too. I spent the forty minutes talking to this pair who were doing the hard Five Ferries Challenge over Tighnabruaich, Tarbert and Arran. Rather them than me, I reasoned. We reached Rothesay and they headed north while I headed south on my full circuit of Isle Of Bute. A 35 km bikeride I was really looking forward to. The first part was down the east coast to Ascog.

Looking north from the road near Ascog with the ferry in the middle of the picture

The road was both good and flat along the seafront down to Ascog. A short, sharp climb took me up to the famous Mount Stuart castle. The admission prices and the lack of view of the castle from the road meant I gave that castle a miss this time. I continued up this road through a forest and down to a farmfield where the landscape opened up in some stunning views.

Looking down at Kilchattan Bay and the village

Goatfell and Arran from the descent down to Kingarth Hotel

The descent was good until I reached the 180 degrees turn at the most southern end of my circuit of the island at Kingarth Hotel. The ride up north again took me past the graveyard and up some farmfields.

Looking back at Arran from the return up the west coast, just after passing the graveyard

The ride was moderate undulating with stunning views all the way. The hardest hill was out of Scalpsie Bay up to a good viewpoint which strangely enough is not marketed by the tourist authorities. They should do that !! This whole 35 km circuit is a brilliant ride for both families and single persons like myself. The views over to Isle Of Arran and Goatfell is stunning from this road. Pictures below proves my point...

Looking down the west coast on the way up to Scalpsie Bay

Looking inland towards Rothesay from the climb out of Scalpsie Bay

Scalpsie Bay and the west coast from the viewpoint

Goatfell on Arran from the viewpoint

The sound between Arran and Kintyre from the west coast of Bute

Looking up the west coast towards Tighnabruaich on the Cowal Peninsula

I was feeling like the luckiest man on earth after this ride up the west coast and did not mind when crossing the island again over to the east coast for the ride from Port Bannatyne up to the ferry taking me over to Cowal. The landscape was still stunning beautiful.

Looking towards Kyles Of Bute to the left and Loch Striven to the right

After a twenty minutes ride with headwind, I reached the Rhubodach ferry port where the ferry was just approaching. This is a stupid two and a half minutes short crossing which should had been replaced with a bridge ages ago. It is shorter than River Clyde and that has been spanned with several bridges and the Clyde Tunnel. But the islanders still want this expensive ferry and that is how it is. But it is still one of the most stupid things I have ever seen in my life.

The ferry and the Kyles Of Bute

Looking further up north towards Loch Riddon

The ferry took me over the narrow Kyles Of Bute sound to Colintraive on the mainland. It is almost wrong to call Cowal Peninsula the mainland. Technically it is. But getting anywhere from it requires a ferry or two. Driving over Rest And Be Thankful and Loch Lomond to Glasgow instead of taking a ferry is a 150 km long detour. I have done it on a bike so I know. But I was now back on the mainland and I started on the 30 km long ride up to Strachur. After some hundred meters past the ferry, I took the old shore road, bypassing the big hill on the mainroad. A very wise choice. The road was a bit undulating, but not as hilly as the mainroad. The views was also excellent. A definate improvement on the main road.

Looking towards Kyles Of Bute and Tighnabruaich at the end of it from the shore road

I reached the main A886 road again which climbed up to a good viewpoint over Glendaruel. A valley and a road I only call Glen Dull. I am not a fan of it.

Looking up Glendruel towards north

I kept a good steady tempo on the, at first, pretty undulating road. The road took me up this not particular scenic Glendaruel valley. One of the most remote main valleys in Scotland, if not United Kingdom. A look at the map explains why. I had done this road many times before. I passed the crossroad over to Glen Striven and just continued up the valley. The road crossed a bridge at the end of the valley and the start on the hill climb to the 250 meters above sea level mountain taking me over to Loch Fyne started. First on a very steep road before it became more agreeable up a narrow valley before the last vertical bit up to the highest point of the road. The descent down towards Loch Fyne was first gentle and then ended up in a vertical drop towards the sea. I did not like it at all. A short ride alongside Loch Fyne took me to Strachur.

Loch Fyne near Strachur

I had a piece of chocolate here before I turned my attention to the climb up A815 towards Loch Eck and home again. The climb was pretty agreeable and the descent down the valley towards Loch Eck was a nice descent on some really good tarmac. I had been here two years ago and knew this road.

Looking down Loch Eck towards south

The ride down to the Ardentinny crossroad was both fast and nice. I reached this crossroad and the vertical climb many had warned me against. I was a bit apprehensive when passing the Whistlefield Inn hotel. With some good reasons, I have to say.

On the climbs just after passing Whistlefield Inn

The 1:5 warning signs was justified. I had problems walking this steep road. But the climb was completed in less than half an hour. Short and very brutal. Which is the typical Scottish hillroad. The road topped out in a col and I had a short glimpse of Loch Long on the other side when I started on the vertical, descent down to the sea again at Loch Long. A short and brutal descent where my brakes took a severe pounding. But I survived that too and was soon down at the sea level at Ardentinny and the final twenty kilometers of flat bikeriding alongside the sea.

The bay at Ardentinny, looking up Loch Long

The road alongside Loch Long took me past Blairmore to Strone and the 180 degrees turn to the beginning of Holy Loch.

Looking up Clyde River with Kilcreggan to the left and Greenock to the right

Dunoon and Hunter's Quay (the ferry port)

Looking in Holy Loch and the 11 km long bikeride around it

I hit some headwind on the ride in Holy Loch. But I had no complaints and the ride was great. I was soon back on the A815 on the final five kilometers out the fjord to the ferry at Hunters Quay . The ferry was there when I arrived in the port and I rolled straight on.

From Hunter's Quay back towards from where the two previous pictures was taken

I paid the ticket on board and enjoyed the twenty minutes long sailing over to McInroy's Point.

One of the ferries with Kilcreggan in the background

On the ferry, looking up Loch Long with Strone to the left

On the ferry, looking down towards Goatfell and Isle Of Arran

A two kilometers short bikeride took me up to the trainstation at Gourock for the final thirty minutes train journey back home after a wonderful bikeride.


A bikeride in two halves, really. Isle Of Bute is an exceptional great ride with good technical roads and stunning views. It is highly recommended. The final 2/3s up Glendaruel to Strachur and down over Ardentinny is very good too. The Glendaruel bit can be replaced with either the detour over Otter Ferry (very hard) or the short cut over Loch Striven (hard). But I would still very much recommend the road over to Ardentinny as the road from Ardentinny to the ferry is a fabelous bikeride. The whole 115 km bikeride comes with my recommondations and I would even put it on my top ten list of the best bikerides in this area. It is a hard bikeride though so be prepared.