Sunday, 24 August 2014

Great Cumbrae Island

Largs Ferry
Our holiday this year took us to some different parts of the UK that we had either not visited for a long time or even at all.  It was rather refreshing to explore some more of our own nation after heading overseas in the last few years.  Our main reason for staying in the UK was that we had arranged to visit the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and we worked the rest of our holiday around that.  We based ourselves in Largs, a small town on the Ayrshire Coast about 30 miles from Glasgow.  It was a rather delightful place and even though the weather was rather mixed we thoroughly enjoyed our stay.

Leaving Largs
Across the water from Largs is the small island known as Great Cumbrae.  It is only ‘Great’ in comparison to its smaller neighbour Little Cumbrae (or Wee Cumbrae as I believe some of the locals call it).  The ferry crossing across from the mainland is only 10 minutes and ferries run frequently thoughout the day.  When looking out across at an island I always think it begs to be explored and so on one of the days when our Games event was later in the evening we decided to take the ferry across and take a look.  The island is mostly rural but has the small town of Millport hugging the southernmost bay.  Strangely despite being so close to Largs it is impossible to see one from the other.

Millport Harbour
We decided to have a go at walk number 6 from the Pathfinder Guide no 36 of Glasgow, the Clyde Valley, Ayrshire and Arran.  It was modest in length but we felt that it would give us a flavour of the place in the short time we had available.  The weather was rather a mixed bag and so it suited us not to have to go too far in case of a deluge of rain.

Old Cemetery
We parked up along the seafront in Millport, which is a delightful little town much loved by tourists due to its easy proximity to Glasgow. In days gone by it was a regular stopping point for paddle steamers heading down the Clyde from Glasgow but I think these days most people come over on the ferry from Largs.  There seemed to be some thriving shops on the seafront, many of which had a rather bygone character about them.  It is claimed that Millport has the smallest cathedral in the UK, seating only 100 people.

View to Bute and Arran
Our route took us away from the harbour and up the hill leading inland from the town.  As we climbed the hill we soon came upon the old cemetery.  Looking inside we could see that some of the old graves were very old indeed and there was a sign up saying that it was no longer in use.  We were surprised at how much housing development there seemed to be further up the hill.  I cannot imagine that there is a huge amount of work on the island itself and commuting every day by ferry must get a bit tiresome especially during the winter months.

Eventually the housing ran out and we passed a very popular looking campsite and the new cemetery before the route took us out into farmland.  Now the walk got rather more interesting as the views across from this ridge were superb.  It was a rather changeable sort of day with lots of clouds billowing and scurrying across the water on the west side of the island.  Across the Firth of Clyde we could see the islands of Bute and Arran as well as peninsulas of land that jut out between sea lochs.  In the far distance we could also see Kintyre.

Heading Down Into Fintray Bay
My girls were quite inspired by this view and we had taken the precaution of packing some watercolours, pencils and pads just in case the opportunity arose.  We sat for quite a while trying to get our impression of the view onto paper although sadly our efforts were cut short by a pesky rain shower that passed over.  We packed up our things double quick and resumed our walk although annoyingly it stopped very soon after.

Fintray Bay Cafe
The path headed for about a mile over this section of high ground and I really enjoyed the view out to the west of the island, which seemed to constantly change with the sun finding gaps through the clouds and lighting up sections of water and the coast in the distance.  About 10-15 minutes after our painting stop we headed down off the high ground and down to the coast road below.  The coast road makes a complete circumference of the island and is approximately 9 miles all the way around.  It stays largely at a few feet above sea level and has no major hills (or traffic) and that makes it very popular with cyclists, not just enthusiasts but also families who can safely come with their children and not have to worry too much about road safety constantly.

Fintray Bay
We had clocked a cafĂ© at Fintray Bay on this stretch of the Cumbrae coast and as it was lunchtime with more rain threatened we decided to see what was on offer.  We took the opportunity of settling into the window seats and within a few minutes some hot and steaming jacket potatoes came out of the kitchen, perfect grub for such an unsettled day.  We enjoyed our leisurely lunch while the weather outside cheered up considerably and the threat of rain appeared to dissipate.  The girls were anxious to complete their watercolours and so after lunch we abandoned the idea of taking the official route in the guide book, which was back to Millport via the coast road in favour of retracing our route back over the high ground.  We had earlier driven around the coast road and while I can vouch for its scenic beauty, in my mind it was probably a good decision.

Exploring the Millport Coast
We paused again at the top of the hill for about half an hour to allow paintings to be completed before heading back into Millport where we split up.  I took youngest daughter with me down to explore the rock pools and sea front area while the other two headed to the shops.  I found Millport utterly charming and the view across from the seafront was amazing.  The smaller island of Little Cumbrae looked rather mysterious with some small buildings evident but looking otherwise like one of the Hebrides rather than an island in the Firth of Clyde.  I gather that the island is privately owned and access is not available to the general public.  Further across the Firth is the industrial site of Hunterston which houses a nuclear power station and coal yard.
Millport Seafront

As we headed along the increasingly busy seafront as we headed eastwards we found a bustling shopping centre, plenty of people enjoying the seafront and a bagpipe band entertaining visitors.  Who knew that such a little gem could exist only 30 miles from the heart of Glasgow?  It was like another world entirely…

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