(so, a circuit of the island then – and what about that road in the middle?)
I wanted to see Holy Island (Holy Isle) even if I couldn’t visit, yet after three days of 130km to 150km rides I needed a day without feeling I had to “be” anywhere. Thankfully I had two nights reserved in the Shore Lodge Hostel on the grounds of Brodick Castle I could leave the heaviest of my luggage in my room.
The temptation to do a loop of Arran, to ride around the island in one go, was in the back of my mind and I had read that it was only 85km and typically takes touring cyclists up to 6 hours. Anyone who knows me will be aware that I fall for this sort of temptation all the time. Some rest day. Directions for this ride were quite simple. See that road? Ride down there and you’ll be back here eventually. Heading south for Lamlash I passed through Brodick with one eye open for breakfast but didn’t see anything appealing.
When I crested the first hill of the day, and swept at speed down to Lamlash, I saw Holy Island off the coast. There is a Buddhist retreat on Holy Isle and they are fully aware of the Celtic Christian history, with details on their website about the cave of St Molaise, the 6th century Christian hermit.
Holy Island (Holy Isle) looks much larger than Holy Island (Lindesfarne), with a significant height to the hill in the middle. It actually looks welcoming, much more gentle a place to live than the Farne Islands. My suspicion is that if St Molaise lived there as a hermit he would have been supported by a large community also living on the Island.
The Celtic Christian history is reflected in town names, house names and church buildings; this building was called St Columba’s Old Church but I couldn’t tell whether it was still a church building or a private residence… a bit of googling later shows it to be a self-catering holiday let.
March is outside holiday season, so as I cycled around Arran I was treated to almost entirely empty roads. One car every now and again and the drivers happy to smile and wave at me. The sun was shining which meant I could remove the waterproof shoe covers and ride with bare arms as well. The was no breeze. Could the day have been better?
The roads to the south of the island are twisty and strewn with gravel, through shaded woodland sections and out onto exposed farmland. Experienced cyclists recommend riding the island in a clockwise direction from Brodick, this gets the hilly section over while legs are fresh and gives a generally undulating downhill western section.
Long empty roads. Wide open views. I was as relaxed as I could possibly be. This was beginning to feel a bit like a holiday and less like a pilgrimage.
Looking back along a road running next to azure blue sea water. The water was so clear that even from up here the sea-bed was visible. All I could hear were the tiny waves lapping against the stones, the trickle of water on the cliff faces behind me and the occasional bird call. The silence of this isolated location was barely broken.
On the approach to Blackwaterfoot, the road had been resurfaced. Unless you cycle frequently it is difficult to express the joy of finding a long sweeping downhill section of buttery smooth tarmac that is free from all other traffic. Picture a cyclist with arms outstretched, singing for all he’s worth. Could the day get any better?
After stopping for a sugary snack and drink at Blackwaterfoot, I set off on the northern half of the island, with mile after mile of sun-drenched coastal road. There were all manner of sea birds, with a variety of black and white markings, with and without bright orange beaks. Also ducks, geese, seagulls and cormorants – easy to spot when fully stretched out drying their wings in the sunlight. I was even able to spot a seal poking its head above the water and looking for all the world like a naughty Labrador.
When I found this isolated pebble beach I rolled up my cycling trousers and went for a splash. The water was warm simply because it wasn’t moving much and the shallow beach was heated by the March sunshine.
On the road to Lochranza a jet fighter burst over the top of the hills shattering the silence.
Lochranza Castle at the head of the bay, this marked the end of the gentle riding and the beginning of the only tough climb of the day. However, after four days of fairly flat cycling I was looking forward to a meaningful hill.
It was very hard work, but not once during the day had I felt any pressure. I was utterly relaxed.
One last climb remained, as I passed the Shore Lodge Hostel as set my sights on the climb in the middle of Arran – just a quick ride up, turn around and ride back down again.
I didn’t learn much about Celtic Christianity today, but I did practice both contemplative and meditative prayer while riding. I believe there is a difference. In contemplative prayer I simply held the input from my senses without judgement; making no comment on them; just allowing the experience of being fully present to the world in which I was placed.
Meditative prayer was slightly different. I practiced the prayer of thanks, saying simply “Thank you Father, thank you Jesus, thank you Holy Spirit” over and over again. This allowed me to accept the input from my senses; my legs aching on the climbs, the sun on the back of my neck, the seawater lapping against my legs, the sweat drying on my forehead, the breath in my lungs. I didn’t need to create prayer; I was living a prayer of thanks for the creations in which I was living.
Can cycling bring you closer to Christ? I doubt that cycling is an evangelistic thing, but being able to immerse myself fully in God’s creation and feel nothing but thanks – no matter how hard or easy it was – I wonder if simply saying “thanks” to God brings me closer to Him.
Today was an unexpected gift, I knew it was a rest day, but I hadn’t expected a 100km hilly ride to be such a blessing. I’ll just quote Kuklos’ 39 Articles of Cycling: Article 37: Because travel is the finest educational system of all; and cycling the cheapest, easiest, and most educational means of travel.
To continue the story… days 5-7: Ardrossan to Oban (Port to Port)