The high road to Largs

June 2011
100 km

2011 is a year where I have started from zero health due to obesity and a serious illness. I was planning only to do golf this year. But the lure of the open roads has been too strong so I started up again in May this year and is planning to do bike riding as long as I can and preferable well into the winter. Winter and summer is more or less the same here in Scotland so why not....

I did the West Kilbride ride last year and became aware of the Moor Road during this ride. So this ride was earmarked for this year/next year. I had a good look at the maps and also found a Greenock bypass. Instead of going from Loch Tom down to zero again at Greenock and up the mountain again, I could take a dirt track from Loch Tom along another loch. Hence, the project became very tempting. Too tempting for a weak, weak soul as me to bypass.

The weak soul -me- found himself on the bike quite a late morning. At around 1000 in fact. I headed down to the traffic machines in Paisley and after a painstaking wait and quick spurts over the traffic machines, I caught the disused railwayline which is now a cycle path to Kilbirne, 25 km away. The cyclepath is a bit busy in the beginning with it's twists and turns. But it soon settled down after crossing the busy Kilwinning to Glasgow motorway. The weather was nice, but cold. I was fully dressed up in warm clothes until Lochwinnoch where I undressed down to my lycras. The disused railwayline is a quick but pretty boring way to get to the end of this line at Kilbirnie. I was sleeping on my bike while keeping half an eye on the tarmac and one half eye on the cycle computer to check my speed.
My sleep were disrupted by the end of the cyclepath at Kilbirnie and I took the pretty undulating road down the valley to Dalry. Up one small hill and down again at the other end. Short, but a hilly busy road. Not a favorite road of mine. I was soon in Dalry where I took the vertical hill up the West Kilbride hill.
I had printed out a map for me at home because I was aiming for a short cut over to the start of the Moor Road. At the 90 degree left turn at Giffordland, I continued straight forward and off the main road. Me and this small road aimed straight for a residential house with a farm up to the right. I almost gave up when it seemed like the road was taken me straight into the living room of this house. But a small narrow road took me past the house and onto a small, steep hill. A small drop followed and I was at the start of the Moor Road, one hundred meters after this house. I was relieved !
The Moor Road rises to 235 meters above sea level, but it seemed like the steep climb up from Dalry had also taken some sting out of this climb. The first part of the climb was hard enough before the road became more agreeable flat just before climbing up a vertical hill until it reached another road (coming up from Dalry..... I need to check this one out too). This road followed the hillside high above the valley floor before it entered a small valley and a climb up to a rather small water reservoir, now a fishing dam with several anglers trying their luck when I passed them. The road was flat alongside this loch before it vertically climbed up past a small bridge and up through some trees.

The reservoir with parts of Ayrshire in the background

This part of the climb was relentless, but not that steep past a farm and up a ridge above the farm. Finally, the road started to flatten out and I reached the top of the moor. The road followed the valley up towards a watershed and the top of the Moor Road pass at 240 meters above sea level.

Approaching the top of the Moor Road pass

The climb up Moor Road is very enjoyable and recommended. Just be prepared for a long walk due to some of the road having a gradient of ten percentages. But it is not anywhere near as bad as the descent on the other side, as I was about to find out.

From the top of the Moor Road overlooking Millport in the foreground, Isle Of Bute in the middle and the Kintyre peninsula (at Tarbert) in the background

Isle Of Arran with Goatfell and the other alpine Arran mountains from just below the Moor Road pass

I took some photos before the road gently sloped down towards Fairlie and the ocean again. After turning a corner, the road fell like a rock straight down the almost vertical hillside. I guess the gradient was around 15 percentages and my brakes and my neck got a severe workout. A cattle grid was also awaiting me and my fingers was gripping my brakes for dear life. A new corner followed and an even more severe descent followed. I guess 20 percentages is a correct estimate. A hedge was awaiting me if slipping up. My neck were in severe discomfort by now. A new turn took me round and under the Largs-Kilwinning railwayline before hitting the mainroad again.
Despite of the severity, Moor Road was a brilliant experience and surely one I will do again. I was though grateful that my brakes had just been sorted out. The descent was hard, hard work.
I continued the flat road towards Largs through the small village of Fairlie and switched over to the bikeroad which took me along the very scenic seafront straight to Largs without having to go over the small hill the road is crossing over.

I went to a small Greggs outlet and bought something to eat while observing the life at the seafront from a park bench. It was now very hot and I also got myself a bottle of Irn Bru for the climb up the next mountain. Largs was really busy with old people and their careers. This was a Friday afternoon and everyone was enjoying themselves. I was full of trepidations about the next mountain, the hard Old Largs Road up to Loch Tom.

Well, no reason to sit there anylonger so I headed out of town in direction of Wemyss Bay for a couple of hundred meters before taking the Brisbane Road up to the start of this climb. I did the same climb last year (see the West Kilbride tour) and had some problems then with this climb. For some reasons, I found this climb a lot easier this year. The small climbs up the valley to the water reservoir was pretty OK, although it was now very hot and humid in this valley. I surprised myself when I spotted the dam up in the valley. The climb up to this small water reservoir was hard, but not vertical. The climb from here was vertical though for almost a mile. The landscape was stunning and I got the feeling of being at over 1000 meters above sea level in Norway. I was only approaching and then soon topping 265 meters above sea level on this road though. The Old Largs Road is a proper mountain road and one of my favorites. It has a proper mountain feeling all along and even down and past Loch Thom on the other side. This area is in my view a proper gem and a mini tourist attraction. But we don't want tourists up there so keep quiet about it, please.

The descent down to a bridge and a small climb up to the hillside overlooking Loch Thom was easy enough. I was aiming for the dam at the eastern side. I found it and took a sharp right turn up over a dirt track where I dismounted from the bike. This dirt track is marked on Google Earth as the bypass of Greenock up and down the mountain. I broadly follows Gryfe Reservoir. It took me 20 minutes to walk the bike down to the tarmac road at the other end. This is not an elegant solution and it misses out on the brilliant views overlooking Greenock and the Clyde River. But the descent down to Greenock and the straight up again climb is a pain, to say at least. I saved 40 minutes and a burst lung/cramped up legs on this bypass along Gryfe Reservoir.
I reached tarmac again just after the dam at Gryfe Reservoir and a pretty good road it was too. In no time, it took me down this small valley to the main road called B 788. There is a lot of small roads in this area too I will want to check out. The road first took me up a small, but vertical hill.

From B788 towards Kilmacolm (left) and Bridge Of Weir. In the far distance, Paisley and Glasgow.

The road down to Bridge Of Weir is pretty hilly, but also very scenic and technically funny. I really like this road. I soon arrived at the main road which took me down to Bridge Of Weir. From there, I took the road over to Houston. I was in really good form here and managed to keep a high tempo over the flatlands past Houston, Inchinnan and Renfrew back again to my flat. This after some good hours in the saddle. But it had cost me because I was dead last in the golf tournament the morning after. But I did not mind at all. This tour was well worth that pain.


Another brilliant tour after studying Google Maps. Moor Road is the third way from Kilbirnie to Largs and the most scenic of them all. It is also the most hilly of them all. But the traffic is almost zero. It is a pity it is so difficult to find. But it is still worth seeking out. It comes with my warm recommondations. But check the brakes before doing this tour. The descents were scary, scary.