“That was brilliant”, pipes up a little voice from the back seat.
“Oh yes”, says I, “which bit?” thinking it might be the ice cream, the one with the raspberry sauce and the chocolate log; the one I didn’t get to share as I was cycling up ahead and hadn’t stopped.
” Everything”, she says. “The whole day, I loved every bit.”
“Me too”, chips in little brother, sleepily. And a glance in the mirror, with the head twisted round into that position that lets you see what’s going on, reveals heavy eyelids, sleep not far distant.
You don’t get many days like that to the pound, many warm glows of satisfaction, sans whining, free of complaints. And the car was filled with warm glow, as muscles relaxed, clothes and shoes dried, and sleep took over.
It must have been at least twenty years since I last cycled round Cumbrae, visited Millport, yet it is on the doorstep and easily reached. ‘Scotland’s Most Accessible Island’, boasts the leaflet available at the ferry ticket office in Largs. Perhaps that’s why we’ve been such rare visitors, seeking the adventure of harder to reach parts. But with Urchins and bikes it is the perfect place to go, and for us the ideal way to ease ourselves into cycling on home territory after the joys of safe cycling around North Brabant.
But it’s not our backs that need patted for making this day so good, for two cars made the trip. Ours was left quayside on the mainland, crossing as cyclists and all the other odds and sods, picnic boxes, spare clothes, bats & balls, dumped with Favourite Uncle who was compelled to a vehicle crossing ferry by the need to take, amongst other things, one inflatable canoe and one barbecue; oh and a little chilled chardonnay for the non-canoeist.
A circuit of the island was first up; legs fresh, energy high. The weather was not unkind. The rain stayed away, the first drops of the day being a mere hint as we awaited the return ferry, and the wind was never more than a rumour. For an island in the Firth of Clyde, with views to Ben Lomond; the Kyles of Bute; and the ragged ridge of Goat Fell, seen as a distant smudge on the horizon from the garden but now stark and close, this may have been a rare day indeed. Sun was not needed. Some even managed ice cream without it.
And so twenty years rolled back, as views became familiar. Down the west coast, the treasures of Mount Stuart across the sound on Bute tempting another day away, and into town. Millport was everything our seaside towns once were, humming and happy. The cycle hire shops were doing good business and the road round the island peppered with tandems and trikes, bikes hauling carts and just about every type of wheeled transport without a combustion engine you could imagine. It might have been the first ‘bent to have been seen though, such was the consternation in the wake of the creaky old Grasshopper.
Off in the distance was Paddy’s Milestone, the perfect granite for curling stones. The big lump of rock that is Ailsa Craig comes into view as you head into Millport Bay and suddenly traffic is a consideration, and weans running across the road toting cones and single nougats. By the time of the second circuit the Craig was but a shadow on the horizon, a memory of ancient holidays down Girvan way, or ferry crossings to Belfast and Irish adventures.
Ten miles, or thereabouts, is the full circuit. I had expected the Urchins, notwithstanding their cycling in Holland, to go so far and then turn for base, for distances of that length had tended to be afternoon jaunts, laced with picnics and map-reading stops. But on they went, Boy Urchin eventually racing ahead of the wimmenfolk on the homeward stretch. That final section, up the east coast was easier riding, smoother tarmac and what breeze there was urging you on. That said the distractions were fewer, the scenery of the mainland lacking the grandeur of the isles to the west or the hills to the north. The west coast road brought home the differences from the continent where we had been spoiled with good surfaces wherever we went. But they don’t have views of Goat Fell in Holland. In fact they don’t have views at all. Oh it was good.
But I can’t ramble on about the roads all day for there was much more to it than that. The wager was won by The Grasshopper, predicting the opening gambit from the returning wimmen querying as to why the sausages weren’t ready. The aches and pains coming in a close second. The barbie was getting there, but clearly not fast enough . On the other hand, it was not until later that we heard, from the mouths of babes and sucklings, of the ordeal that old auntie had found the tour. Admittedly she rode an unfamiliar steed, one with wheels almost as small as The Grasshopper, and had become unused to an hour or so in the saddle as the years whizzed by. But it was only on the road home that word was out of Urchins having to wait atop the odd rise for a certain bike to be pushed onwards. But the entire peloton made it back, and the bangers filled the rolls. Ginger beer appeared in lashings, chardonnay in a just a little soupcon, while the discerning palates continued to be quenched with the Iced Tea that had become a favourite under the continental sun, though we could run to neither straws nor ice cubes.
And then the boat came out. Off they paddled, Girl Urchin and Uncle together, disappearing first round one headland then another. The Genealogist had a go too, and that after a second circuit of the island, without the shackles of youngsters in tow. It is little wonder why there were so few eyes open on the trip home.
And it wouldn’t be a day by the beach without rockpools and sea urchins, anemones and dead crabs, skint knees and wet feet. Oyster catchers pecked about, taking to the wing noisily in quads. Cormorants dried wings on lonely rocks, as they do. Even the Navy put in an appearance, the latest hunter-gatherer, looking anything but a killing machine, heading down the Firth for sea trials. It seemed to plough through a dozen or three of coloured spinakers, red ones and blue, a purple near the rear, as some flying fifteens, as I was reliably informed by the yachtie amongst us, tested their skills with keels and winds and sheets and lines. We had it all, but the lasting memory will always be:
“That was brilliant, every bit of it.” Thanks all, it makes an old man very happy.