You would think in a country as small as Scotland, after 50 years of exploring its landscape you might run out of new things to see. But you'd be wrong. It was my birthday recently and I was keen to do something different as part of it. Somewhere I'd never been. In Scotland.
Catching the earliest train available, Pauline and I set out from Edinburgh bound for the west coast, via Glasgow. The forecast was for overcast skies, but dry, though given a little time that could change. In a little less than two hours we were off the train at Gourock and aboard a ferry crossing the Clyde toward Dunoon. Five kilometers north along the side of the Holy Loch and we turned west, toward our new adventure destination.
The road was mostly single track all the way, and around two thirds of the way along we hit a 12% gradient.
Which then changed to a 20% gradient!
Ordinarily, with no kit on the bikes, I would have managed, albeit slowly, to climb the road, but as it was, 200 yards from the top, I dismounted and pushed. And made the top quicker than I would have pedaling!
By mid afternoon we were trundling our bikes onto another ferry and onto our destination for the weekend. Somewhere new for me, the Isle of Bute, and we camped in a forest clearing overlooking Loch Ridden and the little ferry we had just been on. As darkness fell, a full moon rose and illuminated the landscape in soft light, with the only other lights those of the ferry, twinkling on the still water as it made its way back and forth across the 500 metre crossing into the night.
Early morning and the forest was filled with the golden light of the rising sun, and a myriad of different bird song.
We struck camp and headed off to explore. All roads lead to Rothesay, it seemed, as at every junction there was a sign, with different mileages, to the capital. On occasion we came across old stone block mileage pillars, with distances in fractions. Nowadays we simply round them up.
As we rounded Kames Bay we came upon Kames Castle. More accurately it is a castellated mansion house, and the 18th century house was built upon a 14th century tower.
Originally the seat of the Bannatyne family it is one of the oldest continually inhabited houses in Scotland. Behind the castle was a walled garden, with a turreted building at one corner, and as you turned your head west, looking up a sweeping grassy plain, you came to a church tower, standing guard over the local grave yard. Though the church is a ruin now, the graveyard is still in use today.
Following the main road directly south, we reached its furthest point by early afternoon. We could have carried on along the road, turning north, and head toward Rothesay, but something drew us along a track heading down toward the southern most point of the island. It was a misty murky overcast day, and as we trundled along we could just start to make out the outline of the mountain peaks of the Isle of Arran to our right.
Two and a half kilometres on and we came to the end of the road. A small sign pointed up a grassy path toward Blane's Chapel. We had no idea what to expect, and there was not a single glimpse of it as we walked up the rise.
In what we both described as reminiscent of Inca stone work, stood a remarkably well preserved chapel dating back to the 1200s. It sat in the middle of a grassy mound, and was circled by a series of walls. In the graveyard of weathered stones, dates went back to Norse times. There has been a religious site here since the 500s, when a monastery was founded, and at one time this little chapel served the whole island of Bute.
The sun came out as we wandered round the site. It is flanked on the north and east by small woods, while to the west was a natural cliff face, rising up some 20m offering natural protection. Open views to the south led your eyes to the Holy Isle of the Isle of Arran. Maybe this had been on purpose. It was a magical place, so peaceful, and the highlight of the adventure. A real hidden gem.
Further back down the track we stopped a while a some standing stones, before heading to Rothesay and the ferry home.
As we approached the fringes of the town, having negotiated a muddy cross-country path, we arrived at a natural depression in the landscape called Loch Fad, meaning Long Loch. It is interesting geologically, as it was formed along the edge of the Highland Boundary Fault.
Having satisfied our need for coffee and cake in the centre of Rothesay, we just had time to wander round the outer walls of Rothesay Castle, described by many as one of the most remarkable castles in Scotland, for its long history and unusual circular plan.
Built in the 13th century, it fell into ruin in the 17th century and is now looked after by the state. But for me the most striking part of the castle was the unusually shaped moat, defensively surrounding its walls.
With photographs and memories of a two day adventure, that seemed altogether longer, we boarded the CalMac ferry and left the Isle of Bute behind, heading for Wemyss Bay and the train home.
It had been a great birthday weekend.