Post 28 - 2015 Biking Adventure

Day 59, 60 & 61- Ireland - Scotland
29th & 30th June, 1st July - Larne - Troon - Ardrossan - Arran
Total biked - 1,592 kilometres ( 995 miles)

Getting to the ferry was a breeze - basically rolling out of the tent and biking for five minutes. The 2-hour crossing was smooth despite tales of rough seas on the Irish Sea’s North Channel. We easily found route 7 of the Scottish National Cycle Network and were off along a varied landscape to catch the boat to the Isle of Arran further up the Ayrshire coast.

The cycle network is government supported and managed by the non-profit charity, Sustrans, which mobilises a cadre of volunteers to help maintain the routes. We met a few of these volunteers along the way, usually retired bike enthusiasts. Check out Sustrans at www.sustrans.org.uk.

The cycleway took us through some varied and beautiful landscapes, along former railway paths, river paths and in one case a one-meter wide strip of macadam (tar) meandering through a cow field. The great beasts were placidly chewing their cud right next to the path as we rumbled past trying to avoid their steaming mounds of poop.

There’s even art along the cycleway. We passed quite unusual free form metal signposts by sculptor Andrew Rowe. Embedded in the posts are Masonic-type symbols. Perhaps one of you can take a look at the attached photo and let me know what significance, if any, is attached to the unusual alphabet and symbols.

We stopped off at the Kilwinning Community Sports Club for a cup of tea. This is a public facility for the use of all residents of Kilwinning, a working class/middle class community. The immaculate sports fields and gym facilities sparked a conversation between Sunita and myself about the extent of public facilities in the UK. We had heard from many people about the cutting back of government services and benefits, and I am sure that’s the case, yet almost everywhere we went there are beautiful and well maintained parks, sports centres and other facilities available to the general public. The Community Sports Club in Kilwinning was at a level of an exclusive country club in Israel, available to only a small fraction of the population there. We passed a similar facility in nearby Irving.

It gives one pause this ponder the varieties of ways that quality of life can be enhanced. A wealth of public facilities can help offset private poverty and enable the less well off to enjoy a shared standard of living with their wealthier co-citizens.

As we entered the port town of Ardrossan we noticed a church with a Star of David built in to one of its windows. Not sure if this meant that the building was once a synagogue, or if the Christian denomination now in the church also venerates the symbol. We passed a small printing shop just before the port so I decided it was time to have our dedicated cards printed, which I had designed and prepared for printing just the day before. I hopped into the shop and transferred the file via USB stick and an hour later, just after lunch, they were ready. We are hoping to raise more money for our charitable causes by handing our the cards to people we meet along the way.

The ferry ride to Arran was pleasant. Cyclists always usually speak with each other and compare destinations and gear. We shared the ferry ride with a guy who was biking the length of Britain with his teenage son. The classic Lands End in southwestern Cornwall to John o’Groats, the most northern point of Scotland. That would be a great trip for another time! On arrival in the port of Brodick we visited a cycle shop to see if our rear wheel spokes could be replaced, but the proprietor was unfamiliar with the gear transmission rig and did not want to take the wheel off. It will have to wait until we arrive in Linlithgow where a full servicing has been scheduled.

The 8-mile ride to our hosts home in Whiting Bay had two enormous hills. Half way up the second hill our host, Heather, passed us in her car and pulled over. She relieved us of our baggage and so the remainder of the trip was pure bliss despite the rain.

Heather and Les live in a cottage on the side of the hill overlooking Whiting Bay. It’s a lovely little village where everyone knows each other except during the summer months when the tourists flow through. We settled in for a couple of days, getting more writing done, and generally organising our next week or two. Heather is a harpist and was referred by Susan, (the harpist in Wales that we stayed with last month.) I love networking, especially when it results in a warm bed at night instead of camping in the drizzle.

The colours of Arran are subtle and enchanting. Whenever the sun pokes out, the island and the water change dramatically as if a veil has been lifted. A thousand shades of green cover the landscape, and the shimmering evening water looks like the artist of the Universe used the entire colour palate, and then photoshopped the result into an impossible interplay of visual splendour. We witness all this during an evening music session with Heather’s Ceildh Band, sitting, after hours, in the back porch of a restaurant/pub owned by one of the band members.

The lady in the Indian/Nepalese shop had never heard anyone describe the HolyLand as Israel/Palestine. I gave her our new trip card and she immediately donated £10 to the cause. How lovely. We bought some citronella intense in the store to light near our tent. Sunita hasn’t truly experienced the midges (small mosquitos that come in swarms). I bought two midge nets to be worn over our heads when needed. Sunita thought this was just a tourist gimmick. But, when we finally need them, she will understand.

I finally get to see standing stones. Heather took us out to visit the Machrie Moor Stone Circles on the west side of the island. We hike in a couple of miles from the road, past the interesting partially ruined Moss Farmhouse to the Stones.

Not much is known about the stones except that they were the result of tremendous human effort during prehistoric times. In addition to the sandstone and granite stone circles there burial cairns and hut circles, likely the remains of successive settlements.

I get out my 5 juggling bean bags and have a juggle at the intersection of the stones at the first circle.

Heather and Les have been great hosts. We will always remember their warm hospitality and hope to host them in Jaffa one day. Heather even drove us and all our gear to the 8:20am ferry back to Ardrossan. We felt completely spoiled.

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